Archive for homeschooling


Spring has FINALLY arrived in central IL!  We went from 20 to 40 in two days then up to 50s and even 60 in a week.  From ice and snow-covered everything, to mud puddles and flowing sap.  From the blessed rest of most farm chores to birthing and planting and boiling and planning and YIKES!  I wasn’t ready for the sudden change!  But hey, the Carhartt overalls are hanging on the hook waiting to be washed, and sometimes I can go outside without a coat – briefly.

So here are some pictures I’ve taken over the past month since my last post.  Kind of an update of what’s been going on around here.  They may be in random order.

IMG_5071You can’t have spring without new life – animal and plant.  About 6 weeks ago I started a small indoor salad garden.  It took long than I thought it would, but I’m harvesting a few things here and there.  This is my first salad.  I’ve also added the greens to smoothies now and then.  The basil is SO good, that it has me lusting after bruchetta.  Now that we have goat milk, I could actually make a batch of feta cheese, then I’d just have to buy tomatoes, because my tiny tomato plants aren’t going to produce soon enough.  If I wait about 2 more weeks, I’ll probably have enough fresh parsley available, too.


You can’t have spring without chicks!  These are our meat birds.  The day they arrived, the weather was fine.  Then winter gave it’s last big hurrah for two days, bringing temps back to 0 or below.  We lost 14 chicks over the next 36 hours, so I brought them in the house for a day until the temp came back up.  I moved the “garden” to the top of the wood stove and dining room table to take advantage of the rack to hang heat lamps rather than grow lights.  We’re thankful that it was only for 24 hours.  Chicks sure stink the place up rather quickly.

IMG_5109Baby goats!  We had a baby boom here – 12 goat kids born in 15 days.  Well, actually 12 goats born in 3 days over a 15-day span.  Here’s the abridged version of the events:  It started on February 24 when I went out and found Petunia in labor.  I had to assist with the first two, then the third came right out.  Three bucks for her.  About 6 hours later when I went to check on them, I found 3 more bucklings – those were Nightshade’s.  I was very glad she did just fine without my help, after the drama of the morning.  Nightshade has turned out to be a great mom.  She’s nursing 3 kids (2 of her own, 1 of Petunia’s) and I’m bottle feeding the other 3 that no one will take care of.  We got a good routine going and then on the evening of March 8, Marigold had one doe.  All was fine, apparently, and they’ve done great without my help.  Then two days later, on the 10th, I went out mid-afternoon to feed the bottle babies and found 5 more kids on the ground.  Dandelion and Rosie both had their kids between 9:30, when I’d last been in the barn, and 2:30 when I came back.  Rosie had 2 does (that’s her with one of them in the picture) and Dandelion had 1 doe and 2 bucks.  Dandelion is also not nursing her kids, so I’m bottle feeding those three also.  At least they were all born close together so I won’t have to deal with bottles for months on end.

IMG_5041This is the “before” picture, taken the morning of what was to be our first day in the 40s.  The next few are 2 days later.  Mud and water.  It’s like living in a swamp. But it’s warm! IMG_5114IMG_5115


What’s next…  Some random things.  Keith’s birthday.  No, he’s not 427!  That’s a funny thing we’ve been doing the past couple of years.  We’re missing a few of the number candles, so we put them together like a math problem.  The 4 for 4, then the 2+7=9 – so it actually means 49 :) IMG_5085

Andrew did most of the spring decorating for me last weekend.  It’s a much quicker process than decorating for Christmas.  Only one box of stuff, instead of 10 or so.IMG_5042

IMG_5052There’s our beautiful granddaughter!  Not the best picture, but I only took a few that day.  We just love her to death and the kids argue all day over who gets to hold her now.  Our son and daughter-in-law came over with her for the first time since she was born in November.  Heather got lots of pictures of Kilana observing the little goats and chicks and other animals for the first time.  We look forward to her growing up and playing out here with the animals.  If she’s anything like her parents, she’ll love them all.

IMG_5040Little Lucky dog – always finding a warm spot.  This was on one rare morning that we didn’t have someplace to go, so we relaxed a little on the couch looking at what Tasha has posted from her internship in Japan.

IMG_5129I started taking a permaculture design course in February, to get certified in permaculture design.  It was easy at first to fit in, now with all the spring things going on, it’s gotten more challenging, but it’s terribly interesting and exciting!  I’m learning so much about how we can improve this place and put our retirement property to good use.  Plus I will be able to teach others to do the same, or  hire myself out as a consultant/designer as an additional source of income.  I also foresee doing some charity work with those skills to help other people become more self-sufficient growing their own food.

IMG_5112IMG_5127IMG_5128With the sudden change in temperature came maple sirup time!  We don’t have sugar maples, but you can tap any kind of maple tree – you just need more sap to get sirup, and it will taste different.  We have one old maple that we can put three spiles into.  The wind wasn’t coming from a good direction to use our regular fire pit, so I found the least windy place in the yard and built this little temporary stove.  Keith was quite impressed with it, which made my day!  We both agreed we’d like it taller and not so close to the house, and to have a brick bottom, but time was limited and I just did what needed to be done for this one situation.  And everything was SO wet, the house was in NO danger!  Maybe this will be the year we finally build that brick stove/oven in the backyard we’ve been dreaming of since we tore out the old chimney in 2003.


While I was boiling sirup, the kids were doing their thing.  Some trampoline play, or just reading in the sun on the trampoline, swinging, going for walks, helping with goats and chicks, or – for the girl that prefers to be inside when it’s muddy – sewing.  Bethany has been very creative lately making her own skirts, and this time an apron – with no pattern!

IMG_5110IMG_5111IMG_5117Overall, it’s been a good week.  We all got some sun and fresh air, the stress of waiting for goats to kid is over, the chicks are doing well.  We just have piglets to wait for and need to fix their pen.  And we still have three piglets to take to the processor.  There are pens to clean out, hooves to trim, male goats need to be moved back to their regular home, garden clean up, then soon planting of spring crops will start, and on and on.  It never really ends.  The calendar is filling up fast and I don’t know how many blog posts I’ll get in.  I’m thinking of having the girls start to maintain the blog for me most of the time.  I take lots of pictures with blog post ideas that never get done.  Some get put on facebook, at least.  So, don’t worry if I’m silent for a while.  It just means I’m busy!

Enjoy your spring!  Get out and enjoy nature!  Check on us on facebook now and then and we’ll give you snippets here and there of the happenings on our little farm :)

Garden Update – End of August

Here are a bunch of pictures that show the current status of our garden – good, bad, and everything in between.

IMG_3583  We’re getting several quarts of tomatoes every few days, but most are cherry tomatoes, so we eat what we can and if they go bad, they are chicken food.  Next year I’ll have to make sure I plant more paste tomatoes instead.







The zucchini is doing wonderful in the straw bales.  I might not use the straw bale gardening for other things, but it sure worked well for zucchini.  No squash bugs or borers!  This is the first year in 2 or 3 years we’ve had enough zucchini to make Hannah’s favorite pineapple-zucchini.


IMG_3577Some acorn squash are arriving.  We won’t get a lot, but there are a few.



IMG_3585IMG_3588The kale has been taking quite a beating the past few weeks.  Cabbage moths like all the cole crops and kale is one of them.  Today the kids and I stripped all the old leaves off half of the kale and fed it to goats, chickens, ducks, and compost piles.  The picture above is after we stripped the leaves.  On the left is the other half that we’ll take care of tomorrow.  (It was lunchtime and we were hungry.)  I’m hoping that it will continue to grow up from the middle and in the meantime the moths will die off.  Or at least that we removed all the eggs and worms so the kale will be healthy.  Soon it will be colder and the worms will die off anyway.  But some of the kale stalks were rotting in the middle, so I’m guessing it won’t all come back.  I’ve considered replanting some, but it’s a little late and I don’t want to do all that work and then be disappointed.  Plus, I don’t have low tunnels to protect it when it gets cold anyway.  So I think we’ll just hope it comes back, at least for a little while.


In the middle of the kale is a bunch of eggplant, and between the two rows of eggplant were onions.  The onion tops were all dead or dying, so we just picked all of them and set them on the benches to dry.  With them is a bowl of tomatoes and a large bowl of super big cucumbers.  That’s what happens when you don’t pick them but once a week or so.IMG_3560











On an arch next to the driveway we planted some gourds.  They are just starting to form, as they were planted rather late in the season.  I’m not sure we’re getting anything out of them, but we tried.  The vines and flowers sure are pretty, though!IMG_3563 IMG_3564





Out front the sunflowers are finally blooming.  I planted a variety of colors and sizes.  They are so pretty along the road.  And the bumblebees are loving them!  IMG_3574 IMG_3572The VERY short one was knocked over by a garbage can that blew into it last week during the storm that dumped 5″ of rain on us.  We thought the two that got knocked down were dead, but they have bloomed anyway and are just continuing to grow up from where they are.IMG_3578




Other miscellaneous shots:  Sage.  Blackberries still ripening.  The arch leading to our back door which is covered with morning glories.  The black-eyed-susans which are slowing taking over our yard.  Dill and cilantro.  Cabbage.  Two large bowls of two green bean varieties.  I forgot to harvest the third kind.  Guess I’ll have to do it tomorrow.  It was a very pretty morning :)



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Rethinking Thomas Lincoln

100_1265I believe that in the past I have judged Thomas Lincoln too harshly.

You know Thomas Lincoln – the 16th President’s father?  (I was going to post a photo of him here, but I’m not sure I can find one that’s not copywrited, so if you want to see a photo, you can google it.)

I don’t remember when I got this impression – probably in elementary school when we first learned about Abraham Lincoln.  I just remember thinking that Abe’s dad was a bit controlling.  And it seems that they didn’t have a good relationship, by all reports.  All the boy wanted to do was grow up and live his own life.  But his dad wouldn’t let him go until he was 21, which was the age of adulthood in the early 1800’s.  He mostly kept him working on the homestead and also made Abe give him any money he earned elsewhere.  I know, I know – that was normal at that time.  Life was hard, yada yada.  But sheesh!  It wasn’t fair.  Let the boy live his life, keep what he earned, do your own work for pete’s sake!

Yeah – typical response of a late 20th Century American – and suburban – child.

Well, now I’m 46.  And I’ve been at this “farming” thing for just over 15 years.  I put “farming” in quotes, because we only own 1.65 acres.  Though we produce a good amount of our own food when things work out well, we are FAR (FAR!!!) from self-sufficient.  My husband has a job that keeps us from being homeless, naked, and hungry.  Which is a very good thing.  We are working at making our little place profitable, but we could give it up tomorrow – sell all the animals, replant grass where the gardens are, and go back to buying all our food someplace else – and survive just fine.  But we like raising as much of our own food as we can.  We know where it came from, if there were any chemicals sprayed on it (usually not), we pick it fresh and eat it almost right away, or preserve it for winter.  We like being able to walk out the back door and collect our eggs from our free-ranging chickens, and get milk from our dairy goats.

100_1298Back to poor, misunderstood Thomas…  We have only 1.65 acres.  I have no serious idea of what it was like to TRULY be self-sufficient.  To travel, by foot, from one state to another with just a wagon-load of belongings to find a piece of land and start to carve out a homestead out of it.  To have to grow, glean wild plants, or hunt all my food.  How hard it is to have to cut down – with a HAND-powered saw – EVERY tree you need to build your little log cabin.  And to cut down more trees, or dig up prairie grasses, to make a garden.  There were no seed catalogs, with hundreds of varieties, to order from.  They had to go long distances to find livestock to buy to start their farms off with.  And if all went well, in a few years they’d have a small herd and maybe be able to sell or trade some extra animals for money or something else they needed.  After doing this little farming thing for over a decade, and visiting many historical, pioneer sites, I have much more respect for the people that settled this land.

And I have more understanding of the elder Mr. Lincoln.

He had ONE son to help him.  With all that work, I can seriously understand why he wasn’t too keen on the boy leaving.  Especially now, after my THIRD boy has started to work part-time for ANOTHER farmer.

100_4849He’s 16 years old and can be really helpful around here.  When Keith isn’t home, he’s my right-hand man.  He’s almost as strong as his dad, so when I need to catch pigs to sell, which always happens on days when he’s at work – he’s the man.  He does most of the stall cleaning.  He hauls the water in buckets in the winter, through the snow, because the younger kids can’t.  He helps me dig holes when we have an animal to bury, fix fences, catch loose animals, etc., etc.




Our oldest son helping burn brush on a recent visit home.

Our oldest son helping burn brush on a recent visit home.

I’ve been through it before.  He has 2 older brothers, both of whom started working outside the home at the same age.  Sixteen.  They get their driver’s licenses, then they start leaving me to fend for myself with all these little children who are still in training.  JUST when they are the most useful to me.  They start disappearing.  So I have to do more work myself, while working on training the younger ones to do the work he was doing.  And I let them keep the money they earn.

Keith says that’s what we had them for.  Raise them up to know how to work, take care of themselves, and go live their own lives and  be productive members of society.  Sure.  That’s true.

But, after starting to lose son #3, I’m starting to think that maybe Thomas Lincoln wasn’t as bad as I first thought.

Arctic Chill and Cabin Fever

100_5114We’re going to remember this winter for a long time.  The last time I remember temps being this low was when I was in jr. high, around 1980.  I remember 5′ drifts at our back door, missed school days, and my best friend’s mom picking us up early from the skating rink because wind chills were down to -35 degrees.  January 2014 has brought us the “Polar Vortex”, as the weather people have called it, plus several other slightly less severe bouts of below zero temps, along with -20 to -30 degree wind chills, for 2-3 days at a time.  And snow.  We actually get snow when “they” say we will, though for our little place, since the great Polar Vortex storm, we haven’t gotten as much as the maximum possible.  This basket laying on the bathroom floor has become a very common occurence – though at least this time the contents weren’t strewn all over the floor.100_5098

The last time it was this cold this often, I was a suburban girl, and didn’t have to go outside except to go to school.  Now we have a tiny farm.  Yet another time I’m SO glad it’s tiny!  It’s only about 100 yards, give or take, to the barn and garage.  I’m also thankful that I have 5 children at home to help with the chores, so we all just get a little numb-ish, rather than me being frozen solid.  I’m including a pic of our barn, as taken from the back door of the house.  Not much to see, because I decided last night to shut the last door remaining open because of the wind and snow.  At 9 pm I found out that the main door wasn’t closed completely.  That door faces west – the very direction the 40 mph wind was coming from.  While it was snowing.  There was snow all over the inside of the entry/milking/hay storage area, and down the hallway between stalls.  My original intent was to leave the south door open for better ventilation, but then I saw that the whole area inside of that door was filling with snow and it was blowing into the stall where the ducks are, and the goats were in the opposite side as far from the door as possible.  Thankfully I only needed to move a little hay to get the door to close, so I was able to make the barn a little more user-friendly.  Earlier in the day Keith had set up a little warming station for the goat kids to get under heat lamps, if they choose.  So far the only creatures I’ve seen take advantage of that warm space is a cat or two, but I’m not in there all day.  All that battening of the hatches allowed the barn to remain at about 10 degrees this morning when it was 0 outside.  Not bad – and not windy, so it was actually somewhat pleasant.

My mama goats have been locked up in their stall for several weeks now.  The wind just keeps coming from the north, where their door is, and with Lily having had her little kids just 2 weeks ago, I don’t want them to have a draft.  For the most part, keeping the south door and main/west door open, has allowed there to be enough air circulation that it doesn’t stink bad in there.  But, for the next two days, it’s going to have to stay closed up again.  I’m sure all the animals will be quite happy when they can stretch their legs a little more!100_5099

In the meantime, the inhabitants of the house are doing ok.  All except for Andrew.  Wow, does he need to get outside more!  He’s taken to doing laps around the first floor, which is made possible by the walk-through bathroom.  He is not content to just sit and read all day or color like the other kids usually are.  He needs action.  This morning no one would play with him, so he brought Candy Land downstairs to the bathroom where I’d just gotten out of the shower, and asked if I’d play with him.  Poor guy – how could I say, “no”?  So in between getting dressed, putting on makeup and drying my hair, we managed to get in a game.  (I won.)  A little while later when I went upstairs I noticed the attic stairs were covered in stuffed animals.  Apparently the boys’ new game is to bombard anyone coming up to their room with stuffed animals.  But at least they aren’t fighting.  At the moment.  But now that lunch is over, it’s time to get down to math, history and literature.100_5113

Getting Ready for School

The Farm Crawl is over!  Not to mean it was a bad thing – just that it takes a lot of our energy during August.  While most other people are out buying school supplies and new clothes, we’re picking weeds, making signs, getting soap and lotion labeled, and deciding what we just need to leave as is because we can’t do it all.  When it was over I was then mentally free to concentrate on something else.  And the next something else was, of course, school!

This is our 15th year of homeschooling.  All my original “students” have graduated and are making their ways in the world.  I now have a completely different “class”.  Instead of three children in grades K, 2 & 4, I have five children in grades K, 2, 4, 6 & 10.  Actually, it’s not terribly different, is it?

While one part of my brain was contemplating our course of study for the year, another part was looking at this:

Ugh :(

Ugh :(


I KNOW there’s stuff in there that’s relatively important.  Like the new math books for my youngest boys.  And heaven only knows what else, because this pile hasn’t changed much all summer – except to get larger.  So, while I contemplated whether to continue with the next Cores of Sonlight, or do a unit study on all the states of the Union, I started to clear out our classroom.  (Actually, the term “classroom” is no longer accurate.  Library is better, but we’ve called it the classroom since 1998 and when I say something is in the library, no one knows what I’m talking about.  Change takes time.)

About 2 weeks ago I had about 60 minutes when I actually had the ambition to tackle the corner closest to my desk.  There was just tons of paperwork – things I wanted to read, bills, receipts, etc., that I didn’t have time to deal with when they arrived.  I apparently don’t have the picture I took of that pile anymore (and I don’t wish to recreate it) so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  It was bad.  But here it is after about an hour of work!

The cleaned up corner

The cleaned up corner










Then, this past Friday and Saturday, I had a yard sale.  Sort of.  In two days about 10 people arrived, which left me with a lot of free time that required my staying near the front of the house so I could hear cars pull in the driveway.  So I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and get that treadmill cleaned off.  I did part of it on Friday and the rest on Saturday.  On Saturday I also did some rearranging of some of the shelves.  I am SO excited!  Not only did I make it so we can actually get to the books on those shelves near the mess, but I can use the treadmill again, which I need to do since I’ve done very little exercising since our son’s wedding at the end of May.  Here it is:

A treadmill AND a floor!

A treadmill AND a floor!

In between all this I decided to do that unit study on the states.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years and didn’t think I could fit in.  This year, though, I decided it would work out fine.  Next year we’ll pick up where we left off in Sonlight and tackle world history.  This is for the four younger children.  The 10th grader is doing Sonlight Core 200.

This week is our first full week of school.  The Labor Day holiday (including a cousin sleepover) and the yard sale silliness ate up much of last week.  Today we started with Delaware – the first state to officially enter the union.  We’re doing them in chronological order.  The plan is to do each state in 2-3 days.  I know we could easily spend a week – or even a month – per state, but we need to complete it this year.  And now that I have a clean space to go to to get what we need, I’m feeling quite joyful about the new school year.

Spinning wool

Yarn Bethany made from wool and llama fiber

My first time using a drop spindle

I have been wanting to spin our llama wool for a while (we had llamas a few years ago) so when I got a drop spindle I was really excited to learn how to spin! At first we had to fix my spindle a little, it needed a little sanding down and it needed a hook. We didn’t know how well our llama’s wool would work so we went to our friend’s house and got some sheep wool that was ready to spin.  This is called roving. Then I went and looked at our processed llama wool to see if it was kind of like roving and it is. Then the real fun began – spinning the wool! First I did the sheep wool, then the llama wool. The good thing about spinning wool on a drop spindle is that it’s fun, it makes yarn that my sister can use to knit with, and it was really easy!  ~Bethany

Additional info…

This is Bethany’s first blog post ever!  Since she did the spinning, I thought she should write about her experience personally.  I’m just going to add a few notes to add some more specific information.  The drop spindle she bought came from the gift shop at The Little House on Rocky Ridge.  That’s not the official name of the place, but it is the house where Laura and Almanzo Wilder lived with their daughter Rose in Mansfield, Missouri.  We visited it last July.  The instructions that came with the spindle were confusing to us, so Bethany went to YouTube and searched for a video to see how using a drop spindle was done.  What we found is that the one we bought – as is – wasn’t going to work with any instructions we saw.  The video we liked the best was by Megan LaCore.  This is the link:  We noticed there was a little hook at the end of her spindle, so Bethany asked Dad to sand off the pointed end of hers and screw in a small cup hook.  It now works great!  The yarn with the llama fiber is a little thick, so we’ll have to see what, exactly, we can do with it.  It seems way too fat to knit with.  Maybe someone needs to learn to crochet?  We’ll see.  But for now she’s at least learning the basics of spinning.  From now on it’s fine tuning.

The sheep’s wool we used came from our friend and neighbor, Deborah Boehle of Antiquity Oaks Farm.  She’s had a flock of Shetland sheep for years and was nice enough to let Bethany have a little roving to practice on because we weren’t sure how well the llama fiber would spin with a drop spindle.   Thanks, Deborah :)


Homeschool Co-op Prep

…but what about lunch?

Tomorrow is our homeschool group’s co-op.  We call it Enrichment.  It’s a morning of learning based on a common theme.  This month it’s botany.  Though that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that life here at home is so nuts with all the animals and babies and garden prep, that I kept forgetting that enrichment was coming.  And now – it’s tomorrow.  I did manage to pick up some dirt at the farm store.  One of my meager contributions to the pre-K and Kindergarten class projects.  I already had some seeds that I could spare.  I still need to check the email to the class leader to make sure I remember to bring everything I committed to.  But as I was making dinner tonight (homemade pizza) I remembered that we always stick around after the classes to eat lunch and visit with our friends.  Lunch.  Hmmm.  Nuts.  I was IN TOWN.  I could have bought something for lunch.  I don’t really have anything.  Yes, I have lunch meat and peanut butter and jelly.  But that’s about it.  Not even bread to put that meat and PB & J on.

This is when it’s beneficial to have some basic know-how, and the basic pantry staples on-hand.  I know how to bake bread.  And I have the ingredients!  So, after I put the pizza in the oven, I filled the mixer back up and made dough for 4 loaves of bread.  No point in making only 1.  We’ll probably eat one for breakfast, since almost all the cereal is gone.  One for the sandwiches.  That will leave 2 that I can put in the freezer for another day.

It sat in a bowl to rise while we ate and did evening chores.  Actually, I forgot about it, until I looked towards the stove and saw the bubble of dough above the rim of the bowl.  Punched it down.  Got my pans ready.  Washed and dried the counter.  Rolled it out, put it in the pans and let it rise again.  Now, at 9:10 pm, it’s done.  It won’t be completely cool when I want to go to bed, so I’m trying to decide if I’m going to cover it with a towel, or put some of it in plastic bags.  If I just cover it with a towel, it won’t be quite as fresh as it would have been if it had been cool and I wrapped it in plastic.  But if I put it in plastic while still warm, condensation will form inside the bag and make the crust a little moist.  But, then it will be softer.  I’ll think about that in a little while.  In the meantime I’m trying hard to not cut off the end of one loaf and smear it with butter for a snack.

Onion Update (and other miscellaneous thoughts)

For the past couple of weeks we’ve watched our little onions grow with excitement!  This first picture is them after about 10 days.  At that point, I think I counted around 40 teeny-tiny onions.  The second picture was taken a couple of days ago.  There are some more – maybe a dozen more.  I didn’t count.  They are about 4″ tall, and according to the directions I have, when they are 8″ tall, I need to cut them down – back to about 3″ or 4″ high.  Hopefully, soon after that, we should be able to transplant them into the garden.


Just some various thoughts.  I’m wondering what to give up and what to keep.  In a few areas.  First is stuff.  Some stuff is going to have to go.  The house is crowded and we need to get rid of some of it.  In the next few months I see a purging taking place.  I might post more on that later.  But, more important is time.  Time is at a premium these days.  Since it’s winter, homeschooling is a little easier to do, since there are fewer outside things to do.  Animal chores can take as little as 10 minutes, when everyone is helping.  But that will change in about a months – when 3 of the goats are due to kid and then milking starts.  Then a month or so after that things will pick up in the gardening department. By then the chickens should be laying eggs back near full production.

But for now I have to keep these onions watered, with the warm weather I’m hearing I need to open my beehive and make sure they have food.  Dishes never seem to get completely done, not to mention laundry.  We get it washed ok – putting it away is the issue.  There’s just all the normal mom things.  I have five children I’m still responsible for all day along with their education and general training, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day.  I’m sure all the moms out there can relate.  I’m also addicted to learning all I can about homesteading, gardening, farming, etc.  Keith recently ordered two new books I’ve taken a few looks at, we’ve received a couple of free magazines I’ve browsed through, and I’ve been made aware of a new website that has tons of blogs on all sorts of subjects relating to small farming, homesteading, gardening, etc., that I’ve joined.  I take some time each day to check it out.  Fun stuff!  And through one of those posts, tonight I found, which is a site for a family farm in Vermont and what I’ve read so far has been great.  Then there’s email and facebook and normal interruptions of life, like grocery shopping, phone calls, mail, visiting with friends, 4-H, doctor appointments, and on and on.

I’m learning that I can’t spend all day learning, AND teaching, AND farming…   I go through this every few years till I’m at my wit’s end.  Then I purge some things, relax a little, and then slowly over time I do a little more.  And a little more.  And a little more, till I find myself back in the same spot again.  A little older, with slightly different activities, but basically in the same place.  I’m only one person with only one life to live.  Sometimes I wish I had a clone.  But, since that’s not an option I need to get my younger kids helping out a little more with the easier tasks to free up more of my time to do the stuff only I can do.  But, still – some things are going to have to go – or at least be reduced in scope – or delayed – or delegated.  This is going to be tough.

Easy Knitting for Kids

And an ingenious idea for balls of yarn!

Bethany and the hat she made

Last year my middle daughter got a knitting tool set because she wanted to make hats like a friend of hers was making.  She went at it for months on end, then it got laid aside.  Suddenly she’s picked it up again, and has taught her younger sister to do it, too.  Today they’ve completed one hat each.  It’s a nifty tool that we bought at Walmart, but probably exists in other places.  It’s just that we have just a few stores within 20 minutes of our house.  If we want more variety we have to drive at least 45 minutes.  But I digress…  The ones they are using are round and have a bunch of pegs around the circle.  The yarn is wrapped around the pegs, then a second time, then with a little hook, the bottom row is lifted up and over the top row and you have a row of knitted product.  You just keep wrapping and lifting and when it’s the size you like you stop, cut the yarn, thread it through the loops on each peg, pulling off the loops, pull it tight, knot it and voila!  You have a hat.  Or a scarf, or a tube that you could sew together with other tubes to make a blanket, or whatever.  If you buy one, you get instructions, so you don’t have to rely on the vague information I just gave you.  It’s wonderfully easy and the girls love it.

Earlier today Bethany told me about a wonderful gift Thomas Jefferson made for his mother.  She didn’t like the cat playing with her yarn or her feet while she knitted, so he made her a stool with a drawer in it.  The drawer was big enough to fit a ball of yarn and had a notch in it that the yarn could be pulled through.  So his mother was able to keep her feet on the stool away from the cat, and the yarn IN the stool away from the cat while she knitted, pulling the yarn out of the stool through the hole.  What a great idea!

Hannah knitting

While Hannah was working on her hat, the yarn kept tangling on itself in the skein.  So I showed her how to make a ball of yarn and sat with her taking it off the skein as she rolled so it wouldn’t tangle.  While we did this I was thinking that we need something to put the ball in, using a similar idea to Jefferson’s.  We don’t have cats in the house to play with the yarn, but balls of yarn do have a habit of falling and unrolling, which can be frustrating.  Just as we finished it hit me.  I went to the kitchen and found a small plastic drink cooler with a large pop-up spigot.  The yarn ball fit in it perfectly!  Then I threaded the yarn needle with the end of the yarn, dropped it through the opened spigot and screwed the lid on and removed the needle.  Now if it drops it won’t unravel all over the floor, and when she’s done for a while she can leave the yarn hanging out of the spigot and close it, which will pinch the yarn in there and it won’t have to keep getting threaded back through!  A great idea, if I do say so myself  :-)

Homemade Playdough

A cheap and easy arts and crafts project

WAY back in 1988, I had my first baby.  Sometime in 1989 I bought a book that has been a frequent kitchen companion, “Feed Me! I’m Yours” by Vicki Lanski. It’s got lots of great meal and snack ideas for babies and toddlers, but the most-used section in my house over the years has been the homemade play dough section. The reason I like it so much is that because it’s made out of basic baking ingredients, and unlike the stuff you buy at the store – it washes out of their clothes even after it’s dry.

cooking playdough

Playdough cooling and waiting to be kneaded

When I was in school, the most-used dough recipe was the no-cook, salty dough.  There’s a certain nostalgia for me in using that, but I never cared for the texture of it, and have found the stove-top recipe much more to my liking.  It requires a little more work, and arm strength, to mix it up (especially when you have to make 5 batches in a row), but the result is well worth it.  I have no idea if this book is still available.  It was first printed in 1974 and the 29th printing was in May 1986.  If you can’t find it, I’m sure there are plenty of recipes available online.  The one I like from this book uses flour, salt, cream of tartar, water, oil and food coloring, if you want.  But, there’s the old salt dough recipe, peanut butter playdough, and just today a friend of mine on facebook mentioned that she found a pumpkin spice playdough recipe.  So do a search and pick one and have a good time!  My kids have been going at this for 4 hours now!  It’ll last for a day or two, then it’ll sit for a few months.  By the time they want to play with it again, I’ll have to make new stuff, because it’ll be dried out, but it doesn’t take too long and is quite cheap to make.  Also, to add some aromatherapy to the experience, I added a couple of drops of essential oil to the dough.  Today we have lemongrass, lemon, lime, orange, and lavender.

So below are some of their creations.  Make up a batch for your kids and have some fun!