Tag Archives: homeschool

Homestead Happenings #7 ~ it almost feels like summer

The kids and I took a trip to Good Will this morning and outfitted our entire family with almost all new sandals for a grand total of $25.25. I’m so happy! I was expecting to spend closer to $35 just for the kids. Buddy picked out a pair for me that cost just $2, and we found a pair of L.L. Bean sandals that Papa likes for $10. Altogether it equals cool happy toes and extra gas money. Yay!

It finally feels like winter is a distant memory. We haven’t used the heater at night for a couple of weeks and we’re ready to pack it up until fall, the screen door is getting lots of use (and already has a hole from a little finger in it), and this week my in-laws and I mowed the lawn for the first time this year. There is nothing like the smell of freshly mowed grass that just sings of summer!

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Here’s what the rest of our week looked like ~

We wrapped up school for the year. Many kids still have another three or four weeks left, but we took fewer vacation days so we could get out earlier and spend more warm days where we belong – outside! In fact, the kids have been spending so much time outside that they hardly play with most of their toys. Since the toys have been spending most of their days all over the bedroom floor, I spent last Saturday morning cleaning out their room and putting many of them in the shed to wait for cooler weather when the kids will want to play with them again.

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Here’s what the kids have out for toys right now:

  • Two or three dozen books on the shelf
  • An Erector set
  • Lego and Duplo
  • Two small doll houses with accessories
  • A small Fisherprice barn with animals
  • Two dolls and one favorite stuffed animal per child
  • A wooden sword, a toy shot gun, and two Nerf guns
  • A box of select girls dress up stuff that they have been using recently
  • A small bag of play jewelry
  • Coloring and drawing materials
  • A few card and dice games
  • And a few other small random toys that are either favorites or were hiding when I cleaned

Sorting through the toys to reduce the collection down to what is actually used on a regular basis has served to both keep their room cleaner and make it easier to find the toys they like to play with.

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(Buddy bush whacks the bamboo every spring as the new shoots begin to take over)

Buddy worked hard on a job for us this week, helping Papa to dig out a small section of the leach field to connect the grey water pipe from the camper and foundation site to the leach bed. He spent a few hours diligently working on it so he could earn enough money to buy a large base for a Lego boat, so he could replicate a kit they sell. He was SO excited when it arrived at the post office, I think we all felt like it was Christmas morning!

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Papa bought the connection pieces he needed to attach the pipe to the camper and got it all welded together. The ditch flooded again after the drenching rain we had last Saturday and we’re hoping it will be empty by this Saturday afternoon so the leach field end of it can be connected together.

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On Sunday I finished the trash bin! Well, the construction part of it anyway. I’ve been waiting for a stretch of good sunny weather to paint it. They said it was supposed to be raining every day this week and all I’ve seen is cloudy weather – just enough to make me too nervous to start painting.

Last Saturday’s rain turned out to be too much for some of our starters. The tomatoes and bell peppers which I left under row covers in the garden area are mostly alive, but in rough shape. I hope they perk up. The onion starters are completely dead, but those started from seeds are beginning to sprout and look very healthy. The radishes are doing awesome and I found the first pea sprout. This weekend I plan to do some more planting. Until I get a greenhouse, I may just stick to planting seeds straight in the ground instead of starting them inside. It might lead to some late plants, and I may have to give up on making salsa, but I’ll probably have better luck!

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The starters weren’t the only thing suffering though. Saturday was a pretty rough day all around. It started with the starters dying, and then the water pump blew. We use a small pump to get water into our storage tanks and from the storage tanks into the RV tank. So Papa went to tractor supply to pick up a new one and on his way his truck stalled out. He came home with a new water pump and a new crank shaft sensor to install in his truck. By days end we were doing better than when we started, but you know, it’s just one more thing to deal with.

On a nicer note, I gave our cherry tree some much needed TLC. With some wire, a wooden stake, and a small piece of hose, the cherry tree is now upright, and using the following recipe for natural pesticide, the ants have been sent packing.

Natural pesticide for fruit trees.

  • 1 c canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4c dishsoap
  • 1 gal of water
  • 1T cinnamon oil
  • strained tea of 1c hot water and 2T cayenne or chili pepper powder
  • strained tea of 1c hot water and 2T garlic powder

(Spray onto the leaves so it is visible, but not dropping, first thing in the morning or in the evening. Reapply every two weeks or after heavy rains during growing season.)

Last week I shared with you a picture of the creatures in our well. I told you the larger tadpoles dove to the bottom every time I tried to take their picture. This was true, but the creatures on top were not tiny tadpoles, they were mosquito larvae – yuck! So here’s a picture of what the real tadpoles are looking like this week.

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How has your week been?

On self-initiated learning

Last week seemed like the perfect time to observe a concept in action which I’ve been thinking about discussing for a while. As is usual for me, this homeschool-related topic seems awkward to share about, simply because, even though I am confident about our family’s learning journey, I am not an expert when it comes to homeschooling in general. Meaning, I don’t read every book out there on the subject, I don’t attend or teach at homeschool conferences, I haven’t developed any breakthrough idea on teaching kids.

However, there is that little thing about personal experience. Something about it that can and does encourage others, and for that alone I would like to break out of our homeschool shell and share what our learning looks like when life gets crazy.

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The night before I wrote this post Papa and I were listening to a guest speaker on a Christian radio station speak about education and parents. She came from the perspective that most kids go to public school and that the main role of parents is to make sure their kids do their homework. It was almost comical, if not sad, how much she reinforced that concept, of placing such high importance on getting homework done that all else takes second place.

Now, when it comes to homeschool, all “school work” is homework. So for me, such a discussion would translate to spending time with our children, making sure they get their book work done, for each of the subjects mandated by the state.

Honestly, as a book worm myself, following such a standard, of buying a pre-designed curriculum and checking off prescribed assignments in the correct order would come naturally to me. It looks simple and easy that way. No guess work. You simply trust that those who have come before you know a little bit about education and it’s safe to rely on their hard work. The funny thing was, after Papa and I started having children, this method didn’t really make sense any more.

I looked at this new little guy in our life, curiously creating, dismantling, questioning, figuring, busy in mental and physical work, and I thought – he is doing it all on his own! This little boy wants to learn about his environment, and he’s going to figure it out!

Suddenly, pre-made curriculums looked like a distraction more than a tool, and the idea of enforcing book work to learn facts somebody randomly chose seems abstract and hindering. What if there was another way, I thought. What if we could encourage the curiosity and drive in that little boy to learn many things, simply because he wanted to know how the world worked and about the God who made it?

Though I have chosen to follow a loosely structured curriculum, which I designed around the strengths and weaknesses of my children, we are constantly returning to this theme of self-initiated learning. And every time I loosen the reigns, so to speak, I am amazed but what happens.

After short, simple lessons, or skipping the paper lessons and going straight to hands-on games and experiments, leaving my children to their own devices seems less an opportunity for trouble and more a chance to use those short lessons as a launching pad. And sometimes, when sickness knocks, or friends invite us over to play, we skip the lessons altogether, and (what I first thought was miraculously) they still learn.

It turns out that kids want to learn, all on their own. They don’t really need us telling them what they need to learn to succeed. By providing them with an environment full of opportunities, they will stumble upon questions and personal challenges, and they will answer and overcome them simply because they want to. We’re born with the love of learning! Perhaps some would disagree, but by surveying the vast number and variety of students there are, it appears that overuse of prescribed book learning, and a lack of freedom to explore, has stunted children’s interest in learning, to the point that teachers are now having to find ways to encourage children to want to learn!

I believe free time is essential to a foundation of enjoying learning. And learning a lot.

In fact, I believe parents need to protect their children’s free time every day so they have ample opportunity to explore concepts they are learning, to reflect, think, and imagine. All are crucial to fostering the love of learning.

In a recent post I mentioned that despite a busy week we had been maintaining our school rhythm; that we appreciate having routine to depend on. This is true much of the time, but I think it is important to point out here that school does not always look like sitting around the table with pencil in hand. Sometimes it looks like belly on the floor, feet kicking in the air, and crayons and paper spread out in front. Sometimes it looks like Lego flying everywhere as a child looks for a crucial piece to finish their creation. Sometimes it looks like digging for worms outside. Sometimes it is reenacting the use of a creature power suit they saw on Wild Kratts. And sometimes, it means cuddling up in bed together with a good book.

We believe learning is a life long process, and when life’s challenges creep up on us, sometimes the best learning experience we can give our kids is that family comes first and we take care of each other. We’ve had a number of those weeks this winter, providing ample opportunity to see how giving children freedom to explore personal interests continues to expand their knowledge. It’s not unusual for me to randomly hear a previously quiet child spout off some deep thought they had sitting on their mind. Perhaps a math problem, or spelling out a word by sound, pondering what life was like for another society long gone, or a moral dilemma they encountered and are debating how to respond to.

Obviously these expressions of thought are different for each of our kids as they are different ages, but for each of them, when they are not kept busy with activity after activity of my own choosing, suddenly start pursuing and accomplishing their own goals.

And sometimes it makes me wonder – what is the point of even trying? If they are going to read because they want to learn about something in a book, if they are going to figure out math because they want to save money to buy some special thing, if they are going to learn science because they want to rebuild a skeleton or mix ingredients together, if they are going to learn all these things through real life and love of learning, why bother with any curriculum at all?

In the end, I’ve settled on short and simple lessons from books, but place higher priority on encouraging personal interests, as they often have so much to teach. Not only does this mean my children are enjoying learning, but it means that when we get sick or we want to visit with that friend, we don’t have to say, “Sorry, we have to keep doing our school work so we can get it finished.” We can  instead put the books down and go live life, and learn at the same time.

Karen Andreola discussed Charlotte Mason’s concept of education being a science of relationships with God, man, ourselves, and the universe in her book, A Charlotte Mason Companion, saying:

“We can’t teach them everything. What can we do? We can expand their horizons with a wider range of interests and then practice the fine art of education – that art of standing aside to let a child develop the relations proper to him. It is needless to worry about the “holes” if we believe that ‘education consists in the establishment of relations’.”

If I want to ensure that I teach my children well, by teaching them how to learn, then encouraging the love of learning through a good environment and providing stimulating ideas will take them much farther than any curriculum I could ever buy, I’m quite sure.

from the inside of a whirlwind

Whew! What a week. So many activities and events, and while I don’t feel ready to make a whole post out of each by themselves, these goings-on do explain why the stories I have shared have been a little more spaced. I simply have been too distracted and too busy to focus on writing more consistently. But that’s okay! Your life carries on just fine without me! :::smile::: And when I do have time to write, I’m not quite sure where to begin.

Nevertheless, I’ll catch you up on the chaos that has been our life this past week or two, in no particular order. And embarrassingly, with only two pictures. Like I said, too busy lately.

Illness, recovery, and more goodbyes

Three more loved ones have left this earth. A friend, a friend of a friend, and my step grandmother. Then my great aunt had a heart attack and died six times on the operating table before stabilizing.

My aunt who I requested prayer for a couple of months ago regarding her cancer had a very steep low over the holiday season, but from what I understand her treatment couldn’t be going more smoothly at the moment. She is preparing to receive a stem cell transplant from her brother this weekend. It still isn’t going to be easy for her. at all.

We had a two to three week reprieve from serious illnesses and deaths, and now it seems to be back again. Not sure where to go with that except how thankful I am for God’s healing and saving hands.

Oh yes, and our family all had the 24 hour stomach flu over the course of 3 1/2 days.

Homeschool

Despite all that is going on we have been trying to keep up with our learning projects. It helps to have routine, normal activities to depend on.

This week (before the flu) we went to a local grocery store for a tour. Our guide (who happened to be an old friend of mine) did an excellent job providing lots of age-appropriate information. The kids were able to see how different machines work, meet the department managers, see how the shelves are stocked, and even got to use a cash register.

Girlie started reading lessons a couple of weeks ago, but we decided to stop for now. She was sounding out three-letter words, but still doesn’t recognize many letters (despite much practice). Now is not the time to be forcing it, so we continue to focus on letters instead.

Otherwise, school is about the same; reading Chronicles of Narnia together (starting the Silver Chair shortly), math and language arts workbooks, science projects, arts and crafts, etc. Tomorrow we are having an ice cream party with homeschooling friends to celebrate their five-year old son who just reached a big goal.

Another chicken story

A week ago we had 12 hens and a rooster. One of the older hens had been sick with a cold of some kind. She appeared to get better, and then one night last weekend… she was done.

11 hens and a rooster.

Then Monday my sister came over with her 10 month old puppy. She (the puppy!) had never seen chickens before, and I forgot to tell my sister that the chickens were out that day. Long story short, puppy wanted to play, chickens did not, and when I went to shut them in that evening I realized three of them were missing. Daylight was disappearing quickly and despite looking everywhere I could not find the chickens. The next morning Papa and I heard squawking three times around 6am, and so we believed that even though the minus zero temperature did not kill them, a predator had.

8 hens and a rooster.

This morning I went out to give the chickens water and heard a small cooing sound coming from the wild rose bush next to the coop. I looked over and saw one of the missing hens! Immediately I had to check the coop lock. There was no way she came back after two and a half days, one of them must have somehow escaped from the coop! But no, it was a miracle. The one hen had returned.

9 hens and a rooster.

This hen, a buff Orpington named Mustard, remained in the rose bush the entire day. She appeared fine from where I could see her, but when she still hadn’t come out by late afternoon I got worried and decided to find my way in. Not easy to do with a rose bush. I put on old clothes and used bush clippers to cut my way in the side. It was then I realized she had been injured. Something had bit her real bad in the rear. No idea how she escaped. I put a towel over my chest and as carefully as I could, amidst all the thorn-covered branches, picked her up and brought her inside the camper.

I hate leaving animals to suffer. I had no idea if she would live or not, but I couldn’t leave her outside like that. I put her in the bathtub and when Papa came home we took a closer look at her. She lost a little piece of what looked like her intestine. Never a good sign. But after she had had a slice of bread and a bowl of water she gained some energy and decided she didn’t like our bathtub anymore. After multiple escape attempts Papa decided she was perky enough to go back in the coop and brought her out. She seemed happy to be put on her roost. We prayed for her at bedtime tonight. Now we’ll see what happens.

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The garden 2014

On the rare night with no other projects Papa and I have begun working on our plans for spring. I finalized my seed order, though I haven’t sent it in yet. Hopefully that will be taken care of shortly.

Papa has been busy at the drawing board (or notepad) with ideas for a greenhouse, among other things. We’re not quite ready to share about these; I’m sure as spring gets closer we’ll share quite a bit about these plans as they become more firm.

A recipe book

I’ve started working on my next book, featuring recipes for the herbal remedies I create and use for our family. I’m very excited about this project, but because I’m squeezing writing time into spare moments, I don’t expect it to be ready before summer. Who knows! I may surprise myself!

This might be the first time I have shared publicly about this project, and if so, this is not a very good way of introducing it, but it has still been a big part of my thoughts, and I couldn’t hold in the news much longer anyway!

So! This book, which I can’t wait to share with you, will feature ~

  • ten original recipes
  • growing, harvesting, and storage tips
  • ideas for getting your own herbal garden started and choosing herbs to grow
  • personal stories from customers who have used our products
  • useful information about some of my other favorite herbs

It will be released at a low price on PDF so everyone can access it easily as they plan their next garden.

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(Buddy made his own herbal oil and salves during the holiday season)

A new company

A few weeks back, Papa started working on a personal project, which turned into a, “hey, this is something other people would like!” idea and now we are in the process of launching a new company to promote a specific product inspired by the original project. We’re not ready to share it with you yet, but I have to say, it’s really cool.

The launch date is March 1st. At that time we will share the website with you and have quite a few products ready for purchase. Part of the fun will be sharing the story of its creation, and the collaboration with others that this project is creating. It’s been fun.

And, just to be clear, this new company has nothing to do with AmericanFamilyNow.org. AFN will remain as it is, and this new company will be a separate entity.

For those of you concerned about how much we are taking on, this project is overall not taking much time. Yes, a lot of effort is being put in now, but we are not the only ones working on this project. It is something that will (if it takes off) require of Papa, mostly managerial skills and a little extra time at his workplace. It’s hard to explain without telling you about the product, so you’ll have to wait for the story to learn more, but its a good idea, folks will like it, and who knows, maybe it will help build our house!

New life

Papa’s brother and sister-in-law are preparing for the birth of their first child soon! We’re so excited for them. Plus, I was honored that they asked me to be their doula, so I will be able to attend the birth of three out of four of my niece and nephews so far!

Girlie has been telling me we need to have another baby and that it has to be a boy so we can call him Chap. Before Chickie was born, we didn’t know her gender, so we picked Chap as a boy nickname. Now the name Chap needs a purpose and she keeps reminding me of that. We decided that when we talk about him here, we’ll call the newest cousin, Chap.

I look forward to sharing baby pictures and bragging about the cute little guy, Chap.

~~~~~

Well, let’s see. I think that’s about it. There are dishes in the sink, something made a mess of the trash outside, and I’ve got to take care of all that before we have friends over tomorrow for sledding and ice cream. Life goes on… Thank goodness.

one day in January

The morning begins with a fire in the wood stove.

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And imaginations ready for play.

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The boys go outside and play in the snow…

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and come in to dry their gloves by the stove.

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Meanwhile, the girls work on puzzles together,

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followed by a few minutes work on a cross stitch project.

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Buddy pulls out his collection of Lego Lord of the Rings, and builds a trebuchet.

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Pal decides to play with dominoes.

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School activities are worked on. Here, Girlie is working on a narration of a tree with a tire swing for language arts.

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All play with Lego for a while.

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And Chickie chills out on my bed with the laundry after a long day.

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And Mama? Mama enjoys coffee, with water heated on the wood stove.

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This week we have been working on getting back into a routine. With colds and holidays, we haven’t had one of those in about a month! With school activities, household responsibilities, errands, and writing projects, I realized recently that I have been so caught up with living that I hadn’t even pulled out my camera since New Years Eve! This is in part why some of our recent posts have shown old photos.

So one day this week I took as many “what our day looks like” pictures as I could, and that’s what this post was based on. Nothing too exciting… just what it looks like in real life around here, mess and all.

Are you finding a return to routine since the holidays?

I call it a homestead reality blog

In the past week we have survived a wind storm of the caliber that destroyed our porch, Papa’s truck went on an adventure by itself, our power controller started melting, our fridge shorted out, and our wind turbine started tipping over. Considering it was also a holiday week and Papa’s Gram passed away, this has been a time of chaos and remembrance, peace and turmoil.

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(This and the following photo taken shortly before our snow flurries began coming. Today we have an inch or two on the ground.)

We’re learning to be thankful amidst hardship, and lighthearted toward the realistically (but hard to recognize them at the time as) minor issues of life. Before I tell you about each of these things in more detail, bear with me as I consider a thought I’ve been mulling over regarding this corner of the internet. You’ll see how it ties together in the end.

The eclectic nature of the story we share (a bit of homestead here, a bit of homeschool there, a bit of building project here…) pretty much guarantees that my posts will stay interesting enough to most of our readers, with a little bit of something for everyone, but without occasional evaluations I find myself losing direction and requiring some evaluation.

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Maybe it doesn’t look that way to you. It is hard for me to switch seats and see things from my readers’ perspective, but intentionally reviewing where we have been reminds me to focus on our mission here. What is the point of all this blogging? I’ve attempted to answer that question elsewhere, but a second question also pops up -

What kind of blog is this anyway?

I have found that a lot of homestead themed blogs focus on how-to’s – recipes, gardening plans, animal care, etc. We do quite a few of those types of posts, but they are in the minority. Most of our posts follow the story of our family’s life.

Some of that entails how-to’s based on our current projects, some are opinion or history based (why we made certain decisions, for example), but looking back over our posts I think I can say that the general theme of our blog is a homestead story – what our kids are doing for fun and learning, what projects we are working on, what’s on our minds, what our hopes and goals are, our family adventures…

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I think this separates me from a lot of other homestead bloggers. Yes, there are some really great story blogs out there (here is one of my favorites), but even though offering self-improvment type, how-to posts are said to increase popularity and value, I like to focus on the story – what it looks like in real life to homestead off-grid with family.

By the steady increase in followers here, and the personal emails we have received, I would say that such a “homestead reality blog” meets the desires of new homesteaders to know what it is like to live this way, and of long time homesteaders to find community.

We’re not just here to give you ideas and resources, we’re here to encourage and inspire you, to show you the ongoing adventure of one family making it happen. If we can do it, so can you. That’s our focus here.

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Back in the spring I started writing homestead updates to keep track of most of our summer projects. I liked the fact that it gave me a way to put all of our crossed-off check lists in one concise post. Now that winter is on our doorstep we have fewer outdoor projects. At least, fewer interesting ones; there is still a lot of wood chopping going on, and a few miscellaneous winterizing projects in progress.

Without the homestead update posts, I’ve been trying to find a way to incorporate the little weekly stories into other posts, to continue telling the ongoing day-to-day story, and do it justice. Sometimes I’m not sure what applies to this homestead themed blog and what is just mommy-blogging, which, though it comes through in my writing, is not my mission.

What does this mean? Well, nothing is really changing as far as blogging goes. I’ve stopped scheduling posts ahead of time for the most part, as part of my goal to keep family time first and foremost, lower blog-related stress, and keep it real. The lack of scheduling means I have to start balancing the number of posts I write with the types of posts I write. For example, if I used to post family stories on Monday, opinions and world view on Wednesday, and homestead projects on Friday, and now I’ve shared a homeschool project on Tuesday, but had an interesting family event on Thursday, do I post it next or wait till the following week?

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It all averages out in the end I suppose. This introspective post won’t help you much either I’m sure, but at least it gives you a little background of what is going on behind the scenes here.

So here’s one example of a “how do I house that in a homestead post” topic. Thanksgiving.

What did we do for Thanksgiving?

Did Papa shoot a turkey and roast it over the open fire? Did I bake home grown squash and bread made from our own grain? Or how about the classic desserts of apple and pumpkin pie? Nope. Can’t say we did. (Although I did make an apple pie a few days earlier).

Here’s what really happened this past Thanksgiving week ~

On Sunday the 24th we stayed home. Papa is working nearly 60 hours a week, and will likely reach that mark between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we have been taking advantage of any off-day we come across to not make plans. That particular day I worked on some insulating of the chicken coop, while Papa organized a few cupboards, among other things.

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Monday through Wednesday were pretty average. Work, homeschooling, errands, chores. There was extra baking going on for Thanksgiving gatherings at work and with family. The kids were a big part of the baking – giving them life skills and keeping them out of trouble! We also had a couple of light snows, and the kids played outdoors quite a bit on those days.

On Thursday, Papa was on his first of three vacation days for the holiday, plus his off day on Sunday. We had dinner with his parents and dessert with my dad and step mom. Then the kids spent the night at Papa’s parents so the two of us could finish up most of our Christmas shopping and see The Hunger Games (most of that on Friday – we’re not into overnight Black Friday shopping).

Actually, Christmas shopping in general probably deserves its own post, since our Christmas prep work has changed a lot in the past few years, but I’m not quite ready to do that yet.

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Late on Friday we picked up the kids and went home. Saturday we went to a Christmas parade in the morning. Sunday was a day of sadness and rejoicing, as we attended the memorial service for Papa’s Gram, who went home to be with Jesus on Sunday the 17th.

Meanwhile, things on the homestead have been rather crazy.

Holidays don’t slow down the normal busyness of life, that’s for sure! For one, the torrent of rain we experienced recently caused the bottom of the wind turbine to start moving down the hill, and with the guide wires holding it upright, the pole ended up leaning an uncomfortable amount to one side. Papa and I straightened it as much as possible and tightened the wires.

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We also had a major wind storm, the first since we put the wind turbine up higher, and despite the scarily large wind gusts it did absolutely no good at charging the battery. We’re disappointed with the wind experiment, and Papa is seriously considering selling the turbine.

Also, possibly because of issues with the wind turbine, Papa’s not sure, a wire connection on the power controller started melting. Right now we’re keeping it outside and covering most of the solar panels on sunny days to prevent the voltage from overheating the controller. Sunny days aren’t a problem right now anyway though. In fact, we’ve had so few of them that, as I write this, we’re actually charging the batteries with the generator for the first time since February.

As for the wire, this weekend Papa bought a set of thick jumper cables and intends to use part of that cable to replace the thinner cable we have right now so we can bring the controller back inside.

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To make things even more interesting, the starter on the fridge started acting up last week. You could hear the propane being released, but the starter wasn’t sparking. Papa was concerned we would have to dish out $150 to replace the module, but after a closer look he found a bug had gotten stuck on the starter, was burnt and caused a short, preventing the starter from actually lighting. A quick fix, praise God! And then there is the leak in the RV water pump we’ve had for a while, which means we have to shut the water off when we’re not using the pump…

Most of these issues don’t require large amounts of time to tend, but Papa has very little time to work on them until after Christmas when the mandatory overtime hours are eliminated, so in the meantime he does what he can to keep us safe and comfortable.

And, the most entertaining story by far – the morning after the wind storm Papa walked out to his truck to find it was missing! He thought at first that it must have been stolen, but knowing that the chance of someone walking up our field in the middle of a wind storm and stealing an old truck is very unlikely, he started looking at the tracks in the light snow and found that the wind had pushed the truck (which is a standard, and did not have the emergency break on because the cable is loose) from it’s flat spot in the yard, down over the hill, and half way through the neighbor’s untended field. Miraculously Papa was able to drive the truck out of the field and make it to work on time, but it just proved how strong the wind really had been that night, to push it out of the level area it had been parked on.

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Each of these challenges have been frustrating, but the illnesses faced by Papa’s Gram and my aunt, and the sudden death of a family friend, have us thankful that we are well fed, staying toasty (80‘s during the day!), healthy, and otherwise happy. God has been good to us, and we are ever thankful for his mercy and grace.

Now it’s back to life as usual for a little longer before the Christmas celebrations begin. Already we have most of our Christmas decorations out, including a two-foot artificial tree with lights and ornaments, and stockings handmade by my great aunt.

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And that’s the our homestead reality for now. How was your Thanksgiving?

the boy eats soup

Food has been a battle, almost ever since we started having children. Papa and I have tried every trick in the book and it has come down to – “if you don’t eat what we’re having for supper, breakfast is your next meal”.

Then eventually they start developing taste buds and actually eat something other than bananas and peanut butter sandwiches, as evidenced by Buddy and Girlie’s slightly reduced level of pickiness in the past year or two. I may be exaggerating a tiny bit about how little they are willing to eat, nevertheless, food has been a toughy, and soup is right up there on the no-fly list.

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Buddy would never touch soup with a 10’ pole. He likes his food separated and recognizable – mixing up seemingly random ingredients just looks plain disgusting I guess. And it never seemed to matter what type of soup it was – a creamy potato based soup, tomato soup, beef stew, chicken noodle soup… I’ve made many soups over the course of his short life and have yet to find something he liked.

A couple weeks ago I thought I might have found a recipe that he actually did like. It was a creamy leek and potato soup with dumplings. Buddy ate a little, said he liked it and wanted more… and then I realized he had eaten all the dumplings and simply wanted more of those. My kids like dough, don’t ask me why. The more flour-y the better – even stray flour straight off the table after making bread. Yuck.

Then, completely out of the blue, Buddy asked me if he could make soup for our supper. Uh, what? Come again? Yes, the boy wanted to make soup for supper.

Okay. I wasn’t going to stop him. I’ve tried letting the kids help me make soup and that didn’t make them like it any more, but if he wanted to make it himself, perhaps that would make a difference in his appetite?

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After perusing the options in our cupboard and fridge, and using my skills for cooking raw meat, he created a chicken and tomato soup that was surprisingly quite delicious!

I say surprisingly because, aside from adding ingredients to dishes that I directed him to, Buddy has had very little experience making his own meals. And what can you expect from a bowl of soup, made by a 7 year old kid who hates soup?

The big question is, did Buddy like it? Well, at first he liked it very much. He seemed pleased with his results and downed half a small bowl. Then he grew tired of it, and asked if he could still have his apple pie if he didn’t finish his soup.

Hey, for his first time eating soup, I’d say half a bowl isn’t too shabby. Plus, he got some life skills experience in the mix!

Among the topics I have lined up to write about, I intend to share more about life skills the kids have been practicing. Although I still have a very hard time getting them to pick up their toys, each of our kids have been learning some really cool skills that a lot of younger kids don’t get to learn, and [whispering so as not to scare the thought away] I’m wondering if we are coming into a neat phase of growing up where the kids take on some grown up habits.

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We’ll see. I’m not holding my breath. They are still kids after all. But each time I see Chickie go to the laundry basket to grab a dirty towel and mop up a spill (on her own initiative), or Girlie volunteer to dry the dishes, or Buddy stoke the fire, or Pal sort laundry, I see that my kids are growing up.

These kids are not just mouths to feed; they are young people who are beginning, just beginning, to contribute to our family economy, and it is so much fun to watch. Absolutely a joy to my mama heart to see them become responsible, skillful little people.

And soup is a reflection of that growth.

If anyone would like to try their hand, here is…

Buddy’s chicken and tomato soup recipe

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups stewed tomatoes with water
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes
  • dash of salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp each of: thyme, parsley, basil, and oregano

Saute chicken breasts and cut into bite-size pieces. Add carrots, garlic, tomatoes, water, and bouillon. Bring to a boil, simmer until veggies begin to soften. Add seasonings and simmer a bit longer.

(We estimated that it would serve 4-6 people but it really would be best for about 3)

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One more thing. I happened to realize that I have recently been talking more about Buddy’s learning curves than Girlie’s, Pal’s, or Chickie’s. Maybe that is in part because he is our first and so his learning experiences are always new to us as parents, but I think it is also partially coincidence, as I my writing thoughts seem to focus on specific areas for a while and then move on to others. In no way do I intend to suggest favoritism – not that I would expect any of you to think that, I just want to get it out in the open.

Have you been trying any new soup recipes lately, or making your own? I’m sure Buddy would love to hear about your experiences :::smile:::

organizing our busy, simple life

If I was paid a dollar for every time someone said to me, “How do you get anything done?!” or, “My, you have your hands full!” my house would be built by now.

Despite the fact that anyone with a full time job knows how busy life can get, the fact that a mother has more than two children apparently means that she suddenly doesn’t have any time at all. Yes, kids do keep us up at night. Yes, their needs are unending when they are little. However, by applying a few rules about time management from any other job to the full time job of motherhood, it is quite possible to have (most of the time) ample room in the day to accomplish one’s duties as well as extra projects.

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Keeping up appearances is easier to do on the blog than it is in real life though. I can selectively choose what to talk about and what to show you, while piles of laundry or dirty dishes remain hidden out of the view of my lens. In other words, just because I can show you some cool projects we are working on, or talk about our daily schedule doesn’t mean my home is always neat and tidy. Ha! I have four kids undoing my tidying while at the same time I’m doing it up again for the millionth time that day. Well, okay, maybe not the millionth.

I am nothing close to a perfect homemaker, homeschooler, and whatever other roles I play. What do I do? I keep my kids as healthy as possible, giving them stimulating things to do, provide a mostly tidy home for my family to be comfortable in, while also prioritizing my own personal hobbies, like this blog.

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(Porky the porcupine, a frequent visitor here)

With all the things I have dabbled in, it’s no wonder that people have asked me how I manage to do so much. The trick seems to be, that not only do I not try to do everything at once, by taking little bites at a time, I also use a flexible schedule to keep track of our life. In this way, most of the things I put on my to-do list actually get accomplished. And the rest? Well, the rest can wait another day or two and no one’s the wiser.

The magic thing about creating a flexible schedule is that the simple act of planning out your time somehow makes it feel like you have more time on your hands, at least that is how it has worked in our home.

I’ve had a mixed history with daily plans. Usually I set a lofty goal for myself, starting with getting up much earlier than I usually do, and I’m doing great if I get through the first day. Over time I’ve learned that in order to benefit from a plan I need to first notice how I already order our days naturally, and make small adjustments to make our time more efficient. In the end our schedule might look completely different and much more efficient than it was when I started the plan, but it happened one little step at a time.

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Now that Chickie is getting a little older (20 months) I have found that it is much easier to work with a plan than it was when she was less than one. In those days, flexibility and focusing on core responsibilities was where it was at. If everyone was dressed, the dishes were washed, and the floor was swept each day I was doing good.

Probably most stay-at-home parents have found at some point that they need some tools for organizing their lives. Contrary to what careerists believe, being a stay-at-home parent is a full time job. Actually, it’s a minimum-wage salaried job with overtime, which is to say, you work a lot without much pay! Of course the benefits are numerous – you maintain relationships with people in your family, kids grow up more confident, more intelligent, with more common sense, your home is more relaxed with less rushing around… while the monetary pay isn’t great, the non-monetary pay is excellent. Anyway, off that soap box now.

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Because staying at home with your kids is busy work, having a plan for each day makes life more peaceful and accomplished – if you use the plan right. The key is using the plan and not letting the plan use you. If at any point the schedule we are using stops working for us we change it up to make it work.

Here’s what our daily plan currently looks like ~

5:45 am Papa rolls out of bed and heads to work.

7:00 My alarm goes off and I hit the snooze button a couple of times before getting up. I head outside, let the chickens out and give them fresh water, than come back in to clear the table and prepare breakfast.

7:30 The kids (who have been awake for at least a half hour) fly out of bed as soon as I give them the all clear. We eat breakfast, I have a cup of coffee, and pjs are exchanged for day clothes.

8:30 Clean up time! Yesterday’s laundry, dishes, and toys are taken care, the floor is swept and school supplies are laid out. Some of these chores are shared, others I do while the kids play.

9:30 School starts. I used to do school with Buddy and Girlie while Chickie slept, but I’ve been finding that most days it is more peaceful to work through school projects during the morning while she and Pal play. When each of the kids are doing their individual work with me (math and language arts) the other plays, then they switch places, and at some point we share history, science, arts and crafts, music, and reading time together, though not all in the same day!

11:00 Free time for kids indoors or outdoors while I clean up from school and play activities and prepare lunch.

11:30 Lunch and clean up.

Noon Chickie goes down for a rest. She sleeps about 50% of the time now. Our kids have all given up naps early. While Chickie “naps” everyone else watches PBS for one to one and a half hours, depending on the quality of our battery charge that day. I have my second cup of coffee and do a little writing or reading. If I have any phone calls to make this is when I make them.

1:30 pm If there are extra things on my to-do list I wrap them up after our midday break. Otherwise the kids and I often work on an extra project now – sometimes an outdoor project, sometimes indoors. On Wednesdays we pack up and head out for the library, laundromat, and to make egg deliveries.

4:00 The kids play while I begin preparing supper, in between more straightening up.

5:00 Papa comes home and we sit down for supper. After supper I clear the table (I’ll wash dishes in the morning), sit down on the couch for family worship a couple times a week (hymn singing and family devotions), then pjs are put on and teeth are brushed. (The exception is Monday’s when one family we are friends with come out to share dinner with us and visiting for a couple of hours. On Mondays the kids stay up till about 8:30)

6:30 All kids are in bed, with lights on till 7ish. I’ll get out my project for the evening, whether blogging, letter writing, genealogy, or something else.

9:00 Papa and I watch a couple of TV shows, and then lights out. For a couple hours anyway, until a child wakes up crying or the fire is going out. After a few times of repeating that cycle the alarm goes off and we start all over again!

The weekends are a little different. We often have some gathering to attend or a homestead project to work on. Sunday afternoons we typically have dinner with Papa’s parents. Sometimes we mix it up and throw in an adventure, but either way, our weekends involve slightly less routine than our week days.

I do try to stick to the plan. Unless it just doesn’t make sense, keeping up with a plan ensures that there will be time each day for important activities. For example, if I get carried away with cleaning project in the morning (which believe it or not does happen on occasion) then either school time doesn’t happen that day or it runs into dinner prep. If we don’t finish what we set out to do in a certain time, it usually gets saved for the next day.

On the other hand, if something important comes up that requires more time right then, such as a good learning opportunity, we do carve out more time for it. I’m not a stickler for following plans exactly. They do have merit and that’s why I use one, but if it isn’t followed exactly it’s not the end of the world.

The next question would be…

How do I keep track of our days?

The organizational tools I use are our monthly calendar, a 2×3’ dry erase marker board, a notebook, and our daily schedule printed on an 8.5×11” sheet (as described above).

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The monthly calendar ~

We use a standard 12 month calendar to keep track of the big stuff. It is hung in our living area so everyone can see it, even though Mama is considered the secretary and coordinator of the family.
Anytime something is due, such as letters to be mailed, books to be returned, or phone calls to be made. Or anytime a guest is expected, or we are to be guests somewhere else, these dates are noted on the calendar. Birthdays and anniversaries are also noted here.

Though I have dabbled with keeping small calendars on me when I leave the house, I have found that keeping one main calendar helps to keep us all on the same page about what is going on, without risking certain appointments being noted on one calendar and not on the other.

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The marker board ~

In our bedroom is a magnetic dry erase marker board which I use for multiple purposes. If I have a quick thought about something that needs to be done, I put in on the board so I won’t forget. When I have more time, that note may be put in a better place depending on what it was, or it may stay on the board until it is no longer needed.

Working grocery lists, extra to-do’s, notes I want to include in the journals I keep for the kids, and seasonal priorities are the four major things I regularly keep on the board.

Since the board is magnetic, special notes or pictures the kids make for me also end up here. Whenever a drawing is made for me, the child who drew it happily suggests, “I’ll put it on your board for you!” And when there are so many pictures collected that I have no room to write I usually end up putting this pictures in the art section of their school binders.

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My notebook ~

For more extensive lists and planning I keep a notebook. Christmas lists, menus, plans for blog posts (when I’m saving battery on my laptop), plans for family events, and sometimes notes from books I’m reading, are examples of what I keep in this notebook.

At one time all my scheduling and planning were recorded in a notebook, but because that required always having it out, even when I didn’t have room for it, I decided to use the marker board for more immediate plans and reserve the notebook for things I didn’t need to refer to several times a day.

One more word about prioritizing ~

There is always something that needs doing. If you lose focus on the long term goals, either for the day or a longer period of time, the short term needs of your kids and home will take precedence every time. I find that by keeping a short list of priorities, including hobbies or personal projects, I am reminded that it is necessary to carve out time for those things to be done.

As I write this, the kids are having their afternoon rest time and I could be washing dishes or picking up toys. Instead I am writing this post because I know thoughts will come easier to me now while it is quiet and I am awake than it will after they go to bed. I’ve tried that and it doesn’t usually work.

The dishes will get done, but it is easier to push aside “unnecessary” projects indefinitely than it is to push aside a load of dirty dishes. If I’m going to write, I need to give myself permission to write when I am best able to do so, instead of pushing it to the end of my to-do list and find that it never gets done. This is not a matter of finding an excuse to avoid dishes, it is simply a matter of figuring out how much you can accomplish by playing around with the order in which you do them. By taking the time to notice how you arranged your day when it is going really well, you can repeat the techniques you used on a regular basis.

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How about you? What organization tools do you use to organize your family’s days?

Community Interview ~ Emelia of My Maine Homestead

My friend Emelia and I have a lot in common. She and I met through friends shortly before Chickie and her own daughter were born the same month, at home. Although we live too far apart to see each other regularly, our blogs have given us the opportunity to stay in touch on each other’s homesteads. If you enjoy our blog, I know you’ll enjoy following Emelia’s family and their own off-grid – homeschool – homestead journey! After reading Emelia’s interview, please hop over to her blog!
And, as an unrelated side note – I am working on the time management post I promised. Perhaps it is ironic that a post with that subject is later in coming than I said it would be, but I am trying to stick to my new relaxed method of blog scheduling instead of forcing things to happen before they are ready, and I think this post will be more helpful when I have it thought out better in a couple of days.
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Tell us about your family. Significant other? Kids? What region of the country do you live in and what do you do for work? 
We are a family of four, myself, husband, son and daughter living in southern Maine. I am a stay at home mom and homeschool our children while my husband is a cell tower technician or “tower climber”. Our son will be six in December and he has a form of Autism called Pervasive Developmental Disorder. He is very high functioning and copes better as he grows older. Everyday is a challenge and adventure! He loves being homeschooled and has made new friends in our co-op this year. Our daughter is 20 months old and quite the handful! She loves to chase “brubby”, terrorize the cat, ‘read’ books and play outside. Oh, and eat. A lot. She was born at home which was an experience I will look forward to having again in the future. Currently we live in my parents home while we are building our of grid house on land they gifted us.
What is normal life to you?
Normal life for us revolves around home, family and building our life thoughtfully. During the week my husband works long hours and my days are filled with caring for my littles, animals, cooking, schooling and house building/ planning. Now a days our weekends are about working on the house as we are in the active stages of construction! We do try to spend some quality time all together regularly as well as just hubby and me. Balance is hard to achieve at this particular stage in self building. We currently have a horse, a laying flock of 8 plus rooster and 15 meat chickens due for butchering in about another month. I also just put a deposit on two milk goats that we will bring home in April! Slowly building up the barn yard.
Tell us about your background – what aspects of your childhoods influenced the way you live with your family now?  
My farming or homesteading background was pretty limited from childhood. We raised pigs when I was five for meat when my brother won one from the fair. Then I got my first horse at 14 when I was able to have a job to pay for her. Other than that and a couple small gardens I didn’t have much experience, just a deep love for all things old fashioned and ‘earthy’. My husband on the other hand was raised in Vermont until he was nine on a full off grid farm complete with milk cow and over an acre of gardens as well as was home schooled. His family then moved to Montana, Oregon and then back to Montana where his/our was born in 2007. I met him at the restaurant we worked at when I came out to college in 2008. *You can read about my adoption of our son on my blog*
Are there other influences in your adult life, or your significant other’s that led to your current lifestyle?
After we got engaged in Montana (spring 2009), we realized the severity of the crumbling economy and rising cost of living. Being both independent souls, we decided we wanted to build a ‘disaster’ proof life. After moving back to Maine and getting married, we went back and forth between wanting to build or buy a farm and just waiting as life plowed on through. We are so happy to have decided to build. Each year we glean more homesteading skills and add something new like our laying flock that we started this spring.
What do you enjoy the most about your life?
We are slowly cutting out the middle man of life. We are investing in more concrete things like animals to feed ourselves, heirloom seeds, skills, raw ingredients, renewable energy sources, etc. Having confidence in a shaky world to be able to feed our children, keep them warm and safe.
What is the biggest challenge about living differently than others you know?
The biggest challenge is not being able to talk about it as freely! Some have no idea what you are talking about and others just think you are nuts! You are a curiosity. Weird. Some of this is my own insecurity I admit, but it certainly is difficult to strike up a conversation about this lifestyle with the average person on the street. Which is why I like to blog! It gives me a sense of community and security because people who embrace or wonder about or lifestyle can find us. It’s a safe zone.
Tell us about your website (if you have one). What is your mission for sharing your life with others? And how can our readers find you?
I started the blog a few years ago now. I had first written a handful of posts and then abandoned it. I picked it up again after our daughter was born as a creative outlet. It grew into a real hobby and joy as it opened new connections with like minded people. This blog is really my own, my husband doesn’t even read it (he lives it!), which I kind of like. I wanted to share our trials and errors as a way for people to not be afraid to try! Some days I just haven’t a clue what I got myself into but I love a challenge and the satisfaction of be self sufficient. You can find us to read more about our adventures at mymainehomestead.blogspot.com
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how to make Apple Heads with the kids

Here’s a cute project for kids that we worked on today ~

Apple Heads!

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It’s a variation of making potato heads, the real deal instead of the plastic version. Of all people it was the hair stylist at the salon we visited for a field trip that suggested the idea while the kids were checking out their toy bin, which happened to hold a bunch of plastic potato heads.

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Sounds like fun, I thought. For our afternoon activity today I set up three plates for all except Chickie who was napping, and put little piles of all sorts of foods I could find that might be useful for decorating their apple heads (I gave each a choice between an apple and potato – they liked the apple idea because it sounded more yummy to eat afterwards).

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Here is a basic supply list for making your own – with your kids of course!

  • Apples, potatoes, or other base to work with. One of my kids suggested a carrot.
  • Tooth picks snapped in half to hold certain ingredients to the base. Can be helpful in holding arms and legs on.
  • Popcycle sticks or knives for applying…
  • Peanut butter, frosting, or other sticky food to hold smaller ingredients on.
  • An assortment of small food items, chopped or sliced if necessary. Because we had these on hand, Buddy, Girlie, and Pal’s options included carrot sticks, onion slices, ritz crackers, carob chips, shredded cheese, fruit gummies, and cashews.
  • Don’t forget wipes or napkins!

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While working on their apples, Buddy mentioned, “this is not as boring as I thought it would be”. Apparently he though I would be telling him how to do this craft – what ingredients to use for what parts, and of course only using strictly healthy stuff that he had to eat afterward.

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They liked the freedom to choose how to make their own apple heads, and I loved how their creativity showed through. Girlie used a cracker to make a hat and cashews to make ears, Pal used gummies to make feet, and Buddy used carrot sticks for arms, all using their own ideas.

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And what the kids didn’t eat off their apples they gave to the chickens afterward, but having dog works just as well for the leftovers, if there any!

finding community with homeschool families

Two years ago, my little network of friends looked a lot different than it does today. Similar in some ways, but different. They are all Christian, most of my mommy friends stay home with their kids, and of those who do, all homeschool. But in my last little niche (of which I am still friends with some, including at least a couple who read this blog – hi there!) we talked a lot about the usual things – church gatherings, marriage, shopping, and homeschool…

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(making a teepee, a history project we shared with friends)

Yes, I can still relate to most of those things – all except for church – but without intentionally doing so, or at least consciously doing so, I have been meeting and pursuing relationships with moms who share additional values that I had only begun to develop myself a few years back.

Values like sustainability, financial independence, and political independence, with a touch of interest-led homeschooling.

It’s funny how that happened. I suppose that when you meet someone who you really connect with off the bat, you want to spend more time with them, and before you know it you’re going out of your way to get together regularly because you thrive off of that community. It’s the same with anyone, no matter your values. I guess didn’t really think about it until recently, just how much my network of friends has changed.

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(one of my new friends and her daughter)

Please don’t mistake this for an admittance of not liking my friends of years past, that is not what I’m saying at all. I like meeting new people. I like catching up with old friends. It’s all good!

But, truth be told, when I spend time with the women I have had the pleasure of getting to know in the past couple of years, I find that instead of talking about the usual parenting challenges, coupon deals, and whatever else is normal to talk about (although those conversations do come up still) we are often discussing more depthy stuff, like what to do about Obamacare since none of us are signing up, or how each of our latest off-grid projects are developing, or how we can support the freedom of our neighbors and be a Christian at the same time.

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(and her son, playing with Buddy)

Right now, in this time of our lives, I thrive off of friends who can freely talk about issues like those instead of feeling like I have to cover up my real feelings lest I offend someone (or just hide behind this computer). It is actually inspiring and motivational to be able to bounce ideas off of a friend who has the same beliefs instead of simply trying to defend my reasons for believing so. Having a community of friends with the same values is really a good thing for any mom, but since I felt that would be nearly impossible for myself a couple years ago, I’m really happy to have found a place I belong again.

Yesterday I was at a friends house talking with a woman she had met who is working on a documentary project about homeschooling families. Because we had been away from home quite a bit this week I couldn’t stay as long as a I wanted to – the kids really needed some down time at home. But the time we did spend around the dining room table, sipping tea and discussing the education system, our personal histories, philosophies and methods was stimulating – I came home with fresh ideas about homeschooling, blogging, and life in general. Maybe our conversation was limited to education, but I find that stimulating adult conversation (as in, talking with anyone over the age of 7 because that’s the age range I generally hang out with) inspires me to develop other ideas I’ve been thinking about.

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(a cave Pal and I built for the history project, building early civilization homes)

In this post I talked about ways I inspire myself to write. Talking with adults about something out of the ordinary is one of them.

Which brings me to a completely different point, about my blogging schedule. I’m going to be changing things up here again. I like to tweak things as I figure out how to make them better. When we moved here I scheduled posts to be released automatically on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays because I only had internet access once a week and didn’t want all posts coming out at once. It was kind of necessary to make reading easier and more interesting.

However, for almost a year now we have had internet access through Papa’s phone, so I am able to go online every night if I want. Despite this, I have been trying to follow through with my Mon, Wed, Fri schedule as it also helped me to plan when certain themes of posts would be published, and readers who didn’t subscribe to email updates knew when to expect something new.

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(A family we are friends with came for dinner – altogether we had three adults and nine children (ages 1 – almost 10) eating supper in our tiny home. Lego-building on my bed followed as you can see below)

Gradually over the past few months though, I have stopped scheduling and instead publish new posts on the evening before I plan to share. Publishing on Sunday evening instead of scheduling for 12:01am Monday, for example. I did this because it allowed me to post an update on our Facebook and Twitter pages when a new post came out, instead of waiting until Monday evening to share Monday mornings post. Anyway.

I’ve come to the conclusion that writing according to a schedule is more stressful than it should be. I hold myself to the plan more than probably anyone expects me to. So instead of posting exactly three times a week, I’ve decided to try working on the writing end of blogging every day, and then post when I am ready. Maybe there will be two posts one week and four the next, or even one post one week and five the next, but I think I will be happier about the stories I share, and it should also be easier on me and my family. And that’s what this blog is all about after all, right?

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How have you developed a network of like-minded friends? Where did you meet each other?