Saturday, October 13, 2012

Classical Homeschool: Mesopotamia Night

Classical education is one of the best things to happen to our family.
We have discovered that homeschooling isn't about the parents sitting at the kitchen table imparting their knowledge onto their children.  Over the past few months our home has become a learning community.  Much of what our children are learning either we never learned to begin with or have long forgotten so we are discovering (& rediscovering) right along with our children.  Learning has become a family affair.
Even though my dear, wonderful husband does the bulk of the nitty-gritty homeschool work with our children (I'm mostly just the language-arts, domestic arts, and fill-in gal), I hate to be left out of the fun.  In my spare time, I find myself trying to keep up with what my family is learning while I'm at work. 
Modern classical education traditionally runs in one-year cycles which repeat every 3 years.  In cycle 1 ancient history is studied, cycle 2  is medieval history, and cycle 3 is modern history.  Every 3 years and children age, the same material is covered but the challenge and complexity is increased.  We were fortunate enough to come into our Classical Conversations group during a cycle 1 year, which means we are currently studying ancient cultures.  There is a lot to cover, but we do try to do a larger project centered around one ancient culture from time to time.
Recently we had "Mesopotamia Night", which included food, clothing, writing, and games from ancient Mesopotamia (with a few modern dishes from that part of the world as well).  The picture above features lemon & egg soup (oh my, we'll never make that again!), roast chicken (cooked on an outdoor rotisserie), goat cheese, grapes, cucumbers, yogurt, unleavened bread, and peppers.  We weren't sure about the peppers, but had some from our produce box that needed to be used. 
In this post, I detailed our curriculum and resources for this year.  For the most part, my research paid off and we are happy with everything we are using.  It has all definitely set our course for an adventure in family learning. 

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Still Here

2 months since my last post!  I have high hopes to be a real blogger someday, but for now, I post when the mood takes me.  This is an update post to (hopefully) get me back on track. 

We are still on the farm!  After thinking we had buyers, the deal fell through.  My husband worked very hard this summer to pay off a few financial matters that were worrying us and I am so happy to say the matters have been resolved.  I am very fortunate to be married to such a hard working and determined man!  We were even able to catch up on tithing to a couple of great organizations this week, which has been such a blessing for us.  Although we are are under contract to keep the farm on the market until December, I find myself hoping more and more that it doesn't sell.  Yes, it is inconvenient to drive such a distance for work, shopping, activities, and just about anything, but we are trying to be smart about combining trips.   We have worked hard on our budget to make it work and things are falling into place.  There is still a chance the farm might sell and, if so, we will take the next logical step and end up right where I'm sure we are supposed to be.

I have found the best way to preserve my sanity while there is still uncertainty concerning the sale of our beloved home is to go on like we will be here forever.  That means keeping up with my farm chores.  The chickens have laid like crazy all summer and have earned me enough to at least pay for their upkeep.  We butchered all of our pigs and sold some of the meat.  I am happy to take a break from pig raising for a bit.  Our last batch had made a neighborhood nuisance of themselves by escaping on a regular basis and engaging in garden raids and knocking flower pots off neighbor's patios.  I was happy to see them go and they are oh, so delicious!  Our baby goats are almost fully grown themselves now.  I still have not taken the plunge into buying a dairy goat yet, but I'm still considering the matter.

Thanks to some naughty escaping goats, we harvested exactly nothing from the garden this year.  I have given up for the time being and joined an organic produce coop.  I never know what I will get every week, so we have gotten very creative with things we would never normally buy--arugula, bok choy, cilantro, etc.  Combined with homemade bread made from wheat ordered from the Oklahoma Food Coop, pork from our hogs, beef from a steer grazed on a friend's acreage, frozen tomatoes and peppers from my mother's garden, and a few conventional grocery items, we are eating very well (and very healthy) these days!  I've even been able to cut my grocery budget by a little bit with some couponing.

The most joyous change in our lives, of course, is that we are homeschooling this year.  After careful consideration on how to make homeschooling work in our family, I ended up keeping my 30 hour a week job and working from morning to early afternoon.  My husband does a bit of computer and phone work in the morning while guiding our children through the majority of their lessons.  When I get home in the afternoon, he heads to work and I finish up any remaining work.  It sounds hectic, but I find it less so that transporting 3 kids to 3 separate schools, keeping up with homework assignments that my kids don't want to do and seem to have no information on how to do, worrying about negative peer situations, and dealing with the relentless pressure that standardized testing has introduced into public education.  My children are thriving socially, emotionally, and educationally.  I can't express how good it feels to be able to say that.

The biggest challenge in our homeschooling arrangement has been to let go and let my husband teach out kids in a way that works for him.  I had very specific ideas on how our schedule and curriculum would be this year.  I knew I would have to make adjustments based upon our children's needs.  I didn't expect to have to totally let go of my expectations based upon my children's and my partner's needs.  I have spent the past 5 weeks thinking that our little homeschool was in total chaos and that we had accomplished nothing.  Today, I had the privilege to spend the day at home (thanks to a little girl with a fever) and was surprised to discover that not only are we right on schedule with lessons, but my kids are learning, discovering, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Yes, they do balk at doing certain tasks that require more concentration, but all-in-all they are eager to learn.  I think the joy of learning has been missing from our household for some time. 
Best of all, we are all left with more time to pursue non-academic endeavors that we enjoy.  M and I have been busy sewing dresses and skirts while my older son has been teaching himself how to make digital music.  As for my younger son, he has been trying to defeat all of the levels in his new Mario game and reading lots of dragon books.

With my husband set to graduate and start seminary this year, I have been reading a lot of theology lately.  I really feel the need for a good zombie story very soon . . .

And that's all the latest here at Dome Farm.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Farm Happenings

When my husband asked me what I wanted for Mother's Day this year, I told him I really wanted a raised bed garden.  Last year, we just tilled in a mix of topsoil and compost that we had delivered and planted right into the ground.  We did get big, beautiful plants and harvested a large amount of cantaloupes, melons, and cucumbers; however, our in-ground garden presented a few problems.  First, there is not one single spot on our property that is level.  Even after several once-overs with the tractor, our garden plot still has a slight slant to it.  By the end of the summer, rains had washed a several-inch layer of dirt into the areas between my rows and the weeds soon took over.  Weeds were a constant battle and I threw in the towel by early fall. 

So my husband and teenage son labored in the hot sun for several hours to build me a modest 4x8 raised bed.  I won't get the harvest that I did last year, but this has definitely been a year of downsizing.  Our first year on the farm, we did too much too fast and the stress soon followed.  I'll be happy with a few late summer tomatoes and peppers without all of the weeding and labor.

On a funny note, when I asked my husband if we should do anything special for him for Father's Day, he suggested it should involve me laboring in the hot sun for most of the day like he had to for my Mother's Day gift!  Needless to say, I just made him a special dinner and dessert.  Also, somebody left the gate open and the goats got out earlier this week.  My pepper plants are now little leafless nubs, but the tomatoes are intact.

Speaking of the goats, our babies are getting so big.  We started raising Boer goats so we could use them for butcher, but I have to confess that I'm emotionally attached.  I haven't had that problem with our hogs, but these girls are my sweeties.  If we remain on the farm (which is up in the air right now), I may have to switch to dairy goats.  At least they also keep the brush down so I can justify their keep for now.  The fact that we still have beef in the freezer from a friend's cow doesn't hurt either.  I can put off having to make a decision about whether my girls are pets or livestock for the time being.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Why I Am a Christian

I have been unable to write at all lately with so much transition going on in my life, but I have had several friends spurring me on to start writing again.  I am going to stay away from the chaos that is my life right now and write about religion for a minute. 

I am a Christian, although many Christians I know would be mortified that I use that word to describe myself.  I am a bit unconventional with my beliefs and I offer no apologies.  I am also married to a man who studies Christian Ministries and hopes to go to seminary and become ordained someday.  I am not your typical pastor's wife by any stretch of the imagination.  When I disagree with a commonly held belief in the church, I'm not afraid to stand up for what I believe in.  I have a foul mouth on occasion.  I have a tattoo (although I wish I didn't).  I don't think people of other religions are going to hell.  I love the synoptic gospels, but Paul really pisses me off sometimes.  I'm not an obedient wife.  I think it's okay to be gay, and not in a "God forgives all sin" way--I really think it's okay.  How I reconcile all of that with my faith is a blog for another day.

I am not always accepting.  A friend of mine recently came out as transgender.  I really had to pray about that one.  Not that I was judging her (now living as him) or weirded out, but I didn't understand much about being transgender.  I just cared about my friend and wasn't sure if she really knew what she was getting into and what being a good friend looked like in that situation.  (FYI, when I talk about my friend before he started living as male, I use she/her and when I talk about my friend now I use he/him although I still slip up now and then and he's okay with that.  I like it that my friend can also accept me as I am.)  I really had to pray about this and talk with other friends.  What I know now is this:  1.  There is scientific evidence to support the fact that being transgender is a real condition, probably caused by exposure to certain hormones during uterine development.  For some reason, that makes me feel better about all of this.  2.  My support of my friend doesn't mean my friend will be less likely to change his mind if he feels differently in the future.  In fact, loving acceptance from those closest to him probably empowers him to explore who he is wherever that leads him.  3.  Christ showed love and acceptance to everyone, especially those who did not have a place within the conventional societal structure of the day.  Being a Christian means trying to be as much like Christ as possible, so my job is to love my friend just like I did when he lived as female. 

So, why am I a Christian despite the fact that the church is really effed up right now in a lot of ways?  Here are some of the reasons I can think of:

1.  The primary reason is Christ.  Read the first 3 chapters of the New Testament and tell me that's not a guy you want to try to be like.  He came on strong sometimes and challenged those around him to be their best selves and even I struggle with some of what he said  (like to love strangers even above your own family and it's not good to get a divorce).  But, as one theologian put it, "Christ loved wastefully."  I want to love wastefully for the simple fact that if we all loved wastefully the world would be a better place.  It already is thanks to that kind of love.  It transforms the world in the best possible way.

2.  I like undermining Empire.  Christ wasn't just another cog in the machine.  He lived in a time and place where the rules for living were very rigid and the penalty for living outside of that structure was severe.  On top of that, the Israelites were under Roman rule.  The Romans were happy to let the Jews continue to live under the Law as long as nobody stirred up too much trouble for the Empire.  Jesus stirred up a lot of trouble for the rigid society structure of the Jews and for the Romans.  We live in a society that on the one hand has very rigid rules such as those Christian fundamentalism imposes on us and on the other hand tells us that God does not exist and we'd all be happier if we worked a lot more and bought more stuff.  Being a Christan reminds me that I can love the way Christ loved even if the loudest voices in my religion are telling me I need to shun those who are gay, liberal, or otherwise outside of their strict rule of  "Law".  Being a Christian also encourages me to remember that God clothes the lilies in the fields and feeds the sparrows, so I don't need to stress about how much money is in my 401k.  I don't need to buy a bunch of stuff to be happy and I can give more of my resources than I'm comfortable with because it will all be okay.  These days, our economy is set up to make a whole lot of money for a very few while the rest of us split what's left.  I'm more than happy to participate in that as little as possible. (For full disclosure, I don't have a 401k.  I have a pension. :-))

3.  I love a good story.  The bible is full of stories.  I've written before here about how I relate to the story of Jonah.  Who hasn't wandered in the wilderness, lived off manna from heaven, planted a mustard seed, followed a star?  I don't worry myself too much about literal truth and metaphorical truth because I don't think they are necessarily opposed. 

4. I need community.  My church is my community.  We have common goals.  We inspire each other to be better.  Obviously, community can be formed outside of church, but a large part of mine is there. 

I acknowledge that the church is the cause for a lot of negativity in the world right now, but I'm not giving up on her yet.  I hope that other people who don't buy into the judgment and hate will remain in the fold and become a force for transforming the church and the world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Country Roads/City Roads

We have some big decisions to make over the next few weeks and it's breaking my heart.  We are 100% committed to homeschooling our children next year and to my husband going to seminary in January.  Now we just have to adjust our current lifestyle to make those things happen.  We have wanted to close our construction/remodelling business or at least depend on it less financially for the past year or so, but that need has become more urgent in recent months.  The state of Oklahoma has started to heavily regulate how construction contractors do business and it's getting ugly out there.  Good, hardworking men (and a few women) are leaving the field because they can't operate with the autonomy they used to, which in most cases is the reason they were working in the field in the first place.  Unfortunately, the new regulations aren't really protecting anyone from anything.  Either they were put in place by some well-intentioned bureaucrat who thought he or she was protecting workers from harm or there is a sinister plot to drive the little guys out of business so the big guys can take over. 
Being for the most part a die-hard liberal, I have scoffed at my conservative friends' rants about government hindering business through over-regulation, but now I'm beginning to see that this idea is at least partially based in reality.  I certainly don't want, for example, oil companies drilling in a manner that endangers my water supply; however, the new regulations for contracting businesses and the way they are being enforced borders on insanity.  We have tightened our belt and will make it through this.  In most cases, anyone can make it through financial difficulties by doing exactly the things we are doing--eliminating eating out, utilizing library resources, seeking out free entertainment, turning the thermostat up, couponing and eating meals from scratch, etc.  These are things we do anyway so our lifestyle hasn't changed drastically, we are just more committed to these habits than ever.
The one thing we haven't done that would save us the most money is sell Dome Farm.  We owe very little on the farm compared to what it's worth thanks to my husband's amazing carpentry and remodelling skills.  We spend a lot in gas driving our children to activities "in town", attending church, engaging in service work, etc.  There are so many benefits to our family from being heavily involved in service work and community that it's hard to consider cutting back in those areas.  Thanks to recent tornadoes and wildfires, our home owner's insurance has gotten terribly expensive.  Unfortunately, it costs us a lot of money to live where we do.
We also moved here to create a more independent lifestyle, which in many ways we have.  We raise a significant portion of what we eat and could raise more given a few more years.  We heat our home almost exclusively from wood we cut from our own property during the winter. I would be fooling myself, however, if I thought that we weren't depending on "the system" (whatever that is) for our lifestyle.  We spend a lot of cash on gasoline to drive to all of the places we need to go and I hate it that the oil companies are getting so much support from us. 
We have looked at houses in town with big yards, green belts, etc. and could save significant money by moving.  We could still have a big garden and even our chickens (yes!).  My husband really wants to start bicycling again and perhaps even share one car for awhile.  There are many ways in which we could still live a semi-independent lifestyle.  Thanks to our awesome local food systems in Oklahoma, we can still have access to many locally produced foods without an acreage.
It all makes sense logically, but then I arrive here, where I am surrounded on all sides by the woods.  The butterflies have taken up residence at the end of the driveway by the hundreds.  I certainly can't bring my goats to town with me.  This place is so beautiful it hurts my heart to think of leaving.  I really don't know what to do.  I really wanted more time here in the home I love so much, but I'm willing to go where my family will thrive and be the happiest. 
We are praying about this with all of our might.  We have a realtor coming by to look at the farm.  We are going to look at a couple of houses that meet our criteria of a very large yard, enough room inside for our family, a nice bike-friendly neighborhood with lots of trees, and access to green belts and community outdoor spaces.  There are a few out there for a really good price, if I can keep my heart from breaking.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dome Farm Curriculum Fair

We are definitely novices with the whole homeschooling thing, but we have to make our best educated guess on what will work for our family and begin the process of purchasing and planning curriculum.  Our local homeschool resource organization recommends that if your children are withdrawing from public school that you purchase your curriculum before you send your letter of intent to homeschool to the principal.  Although homeschooling is protected by our state constitution in Oklahoma, schools can send the county Department of Human Services out to check up on families if they have concerns.  I don't see any reason why the school would have concerns about us--in fact, they are probably happy to see us on our merry little way.  We have always been, ahem, strong advocates for our children.  Nevertheless, I want to be prepared for any possibility, so we have already purchased all of our curriculum for next year. 

I have done a LOT of reading over the past few years on home education.  (We librarians tend do do that with a large dose of overkill.)  I can see benefits and drawbacks to all methods including Waldorf, Classical, Traditional, Unschooling, Relaxed, Charlotte Mason, etc.; however, I feel most drawn to a laid-back classical approach.  My children love to read and love anything with a narrative. Many of the classical resources are based upon stories so it seems natural to use them.  My children are also very artsy and active (labeled by the school system as ADD) and often choose in their non-school hours to knit, build models, paint and work with their hands.  Many of the resources I have chosen cater to their natural tendencies to engage in creative, kinesthetic activities. 

Although classical education emphasizes "academic rigor", including in some cases sitting for long periods of time doing tasks such as diagramming sentences, I have chosen resources, especially those for language arts, that are what I call "efficient".  What I mean by efficient is that they  thoroughly cover important topics without a lot of needless length or repetition.  Since my husband and I will both be working opposite schedules and sharing homeschooling responsibilities, I feel that efficient curricula is important for our family right now.   We will emphasize mastery over completion so we will stretch any topics that need additional practice over multiple lessons, possibly extending our home educating beyond the traditional school year.
Every seasoned homeschooler I speak with has emphasized that not everything we plan on will work and the worst mistake that we can make is to continue to use a resource that is not a good fit for our children.  I am well aware that we will have to adjust things along the way, but here is what we are starting with:

Classical Conversations is what I would describe as a coop.  They describe themselves better than I could, so I have included a link to their website.  My 9 year old (going into 4th grade) and my 12 year old (going into 7th grade) will be attending their Foundations class in the morning.  Here, they will work on memorizing certain history facts, bible verses, math facts, Latin basics, and grammar rules.  They will also have opportunities to speak in front of a group, learn to play the tin whistle, learn about geography, do science experiments, and create art projects.  We will supplement our CC experience with curricula of our own choosing, but I like having a "skeleton" on which to build upon.  I also like the social aspect of seeing the same families every week and interacting with them. 

My daughter will be using Math-U-See's Delta curriculum and my son will be using their Beta curriculum.  Math-U-See appealed to me because their techniques are largely based upon using manipulatives and real-world problems.  I have noticed that not only do my children prefer to use objects such as counters to solve math problems, my husband and I both tend to teach them with visuals such as drawings or manipulatives.  I'm hoping this method will help my daughter to get caught up in math, the one subject in which she is terribly behind.  She has trouble thinking abstractly about math, so I'm hopeful that something more concrete will help.  After she understands the concepts concretely, we can hopefully move her on to more abstract and complex problems.  I also like that this curriculum comes with a DVD lesson that we can watch together with the children. 
MUS container with all Completer and Starter blocksMy children, unfortunately, haven't memorized all of their basic multiplication tables.  They are usually so burned out after a full day of public school that it is difficult to work with them after school on skills they are needing additional reinforcement to master.  They do understand the basic concept of multiplication, but can't recall solutions with automaticity.  That makes completing math homework a very slow and tedious process.  Over the summer, we will be using Classical Conversation's memory work CDs to work on multiplication facts.  These are set to music, which always helps me with rote memorization, so hopefully this will have a similar effect on my kids.

I am in love with the Story of the World series and have listened to it on CD with my children (and a few times without) for pleasure.  There are 4 books--one on ancient history, one on medieval history, one on early modern history, and one on the modern age.  They are written in a narrative/story form rather than a textbook form and focus on the personalities of famous people throughout history.  Some of it is written from the perspective of a hypothetical common, average person as well.  Classical education is usually taught in 3 year cycles.  The first year focuses on ancient history, the second on medieval history, and the third on modern and American history.  Luckily, we joined CC on a year that will teach ancient history, so we will begin at the beginning.  We will be keeping a history timeline as well. 

Along with the basic Story of the World:  Ancient Times volume, we have purchased the activity book and I am so excited with the activities in the book.  My children love art, science experiments, and other hands-on experiences so this is the one curriculum source I am sure they will respond to.  One of the first projects, when studying ancient Egypt, is to taxidermy a chicken--not a live chicken (although we have a few of those around), but a grocery store whole chicken.  I hope I get to be the one involved with that one.
Apologia is a Christan-based science program, but it looks to be pretty scientific for the most part.  I haven't seen the biology program yet, and I have some concerns that we might have to look for alternatives the year we do biology.  We are not strict creationists or evolutionists; instead, we take a more "God as creative force acting through evolution" view.  My husband probably leans more towards creationism whereas I see no conflict between scientific fact as we currently understand it and religion.  We openly discuss our differences in opinion, so our children are exposed to debate (and a whole lot of hot air) fairly often. 

Apologia incorporates a lot of drawing, model building, and experiments, which is great for active/ADD children like mine.  It also has great graphic organizers and note-taking strategies incorporated into the student book, which will be great for any of our children who are college bound.  We purchased both the text book and the student book.  Both are necessary to really use this curriculum.  We are studying botany this year.
My daughter will be using the Institute for Excellence in Writing materials for language arts as part of the Essentials program with Classical Conversations.  I peeked at the book last week when it arrived and it looks to be very sequential and broken into small segments.  Since my children (typical of ADD-type children) are often overwhelmed by a whole project such as writing a paper, I am curious to see how a more stair-stepped approach works for them.  This was not one of my more well-researched purchases since it is part of the Classical Conversations resources, so we shall see how it works out.  I plan to look through it more in-depth next week.

Learning Language Arts Through Literature:Orange Teacher Book (4th Grade)I was all set to purchase a different language arts curriculum for my son when I ran across Common Sense Press' Learning Language Arts Through Literature series at our local homeschool convention.  I really liked what I saw, so I purchased their Orange Book for my 4th grader.  The 4th grade Orange Book consists of 4 literature studies (The Boxcar Children, The Sign of the Beaver, and biographies of the Wright brothers and Benjamin Franklin), a research project, a journaling unit, a poetry unit, a newspaper writing unit, and a book-making unit.  Like the resources from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, the units (especially the research project) are broken into small steps that culminate as part of a larger whole.  This curriculum does not have specific spelling words to study, but does have suggested words.  We will be taking his spelling words from misspelled words in his writing and using a computer-based program for spelling practice.  In my opinion, the teacher's manual is not necessary (I purchased it at the convention) and the student book is an adequate stand-along resource. 

So the above covers 2 of my 3 children.  We are still undecided what to do with our 15 year old son.  He is old enough to have a choice in the matter and is considering several options, but that is a story for another day . . .

Renovated Barn House

Lloyd Kahn's blog is one of my favorites for posts on homesteading, build-your-own, houstrucks, and all things funky.  I LOVED this post and picture of a renovated barn I found this morning. 

I am busy creating a "Dome Farm Curriculum Fair" post to share here tomorrow and at one of my favorite go-to homeschool blogs, Simple Homeschool.  They are having a reader's curriculum fair tomorrow and I'm so excited to share what we are doing to educate out of the box next year! 

Admittedly, we aren't unschooling or doing anything too radical, but it will be more out of the box than sending our kids to public school. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Time For a Change?

Since my son, now 15, was in kindergarten I have felt the call to homeschool, but I have largely ignored it.  Even before he was of school age, there were certain aspects of homeschooling that just made more sense to me--more time for physical activity, the efficiency of 1-on-1 tutoring for learning necessary skills, the family being the primary teacher, children not spending all day in what is basically a contrived, unnatural environment--the list is long and often highly philosophical.  To fully explain my attraction to homeschooling I would have to delve into my deeply held views of a mental, spiritual, and philosophical nature and I really don't think I have the energy for that today.  I'm not sure that anyone would want to read it anyway.  Let's just say I have lots of reasons why I've always thought homeschooling was a superior form of education.

Alas, I have spent 11 years NOT homeschooling.  Sound's crazy, right?  My husband was against it, citing all of the arguments society at large has against homeschooling.  As small business owners, we have never enjoyed the financial stability that others who work damn hard at "regular" jobs take for granted despite the fact that my husband has the strongest work ethic I have ever seen in another human being.  I have been afraid--afraid of discovering I couldn't handle being home with my kids all day, afraid we couldn't make it on one income, afraid they'd be odd and un-socialized, afraid of all kinds of things.  11 years is a long time to not do what your heart is crying out for you to do because you are afraid. 

When you take away all of the dogma that has been forced upon us by power-hungry folks that have co-opted this revolutionary movement commonly known as Christianity for their own gain, the stories of the bible can seem shocking relevant to our lives today.  I have been pondering the story of Jonah a lot lately.  I understand what it is like to hear a call and choose to run in the other direction.  I have tried every manipulation I can think of to help my children fit into a box that they can't be crammed into.  I have become a public school teacher myself, debated with my children's teachers, hired tutors, emailed principals, yelled at my kids about their grades . . . and still I have never felt comfortable with my children's education. At times I have thought it was just us, that we are all damaged goods incapable of fitting into a system that runs so efficiently if everyone follows the rules.  I have been in the belly of the whale.   I want out.

This year, I have devoted more time and discipline to prayer, meditation, and spiritual study than I have in my entire life.  This has fostered a lot of change in my life, both internally and externally.  There is a strength emerging in me that I find both steadying and shocking all at the same time. It is time to bring my children home to something better.  They have survived public education, but they have never thrived.

I have revealed my heart to my husband and he agrees that I can't ignore this call any longer and that he needs to join me on this journey.  We are praying about all of the possibilities to make this happen and are in the midst of some major changes in our lifestyle.  We have agreed to pray about these changes for a week, then reconvene to see how we will make this work. 

Some of the ideas that have come up in our marital "brainstorming" sessions are downright unconventional.  My heart feels lighter than it has in ages.  At my core, I am a radical and I've been playing at normal for far too long.   It was the radicalism of Jesus that drew me back to the religion of my childhood, that allowed me to see it with new eyes.  I don't have to be afraid.  God feeds the sparrows and clothes the flowers in the field.  We will be equipped to do this.  We already are.

Maybe it's time for a change.  I have been sitting in the darkness of the whale's belly for too long.  It's time to step into the light.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I came home from a long, exhausting day at the homeschool convention to discover that the mulberries are ripe. One thing I am slowly learning is that the housework will always be there tomorrow, but the harvest may not. My mother was an immaculate housekeeper so I have high expectations concerning the level of cleanliness I should be able to maintain. Of course, my mother had no use for gardens, pets, art projects, or meals from scratch. I have to make a conscious decision to put housework in the proper place on my list if priorities. So that means when the mulberries are falling from the trees, the dishes must wait.

What is the most effective way to harvest mulberries? Put a sheet on the ground, get a long pole and a ladder, and beat them out!

As my dear son said while lying in the sheet as berries rained upon him, "I can make berry-juice angels!"

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Things I've Already Learned in 2012

Here are some of the things I've learned already this year:

1. Don't take your goats off pasture while they are pregnant.  We housed our mama goats with our hens when they grew near birth to keep the buck away from them.  During that time, they experienced a host of health problems, including parasites, which normally we do not have a problem with. 

2.  For that matter, don't house goats with hens.  They tore nesting boxes off the walls trying to get at the feeders we had placed out of their reach and generally created havoc in the hen house.

3.  And furthermore, know the exact day your goats conceived.  You'll have a much better idea as to when they will give birth.  My calculations were off by 3 weeks since we just threw the buck in the pen with them when we got him and 5 months later we couldn't recall the exact date we got him to begin with.

4.  Goats can retain their placenta for up to 3 days after giving birth without much danger.  I didn't know this and when one of or mamas hadn't birthed her placenta withing 24 hours, I called the vet to ask.  The secretary at the vet's office told me to bring her in immediately.  I would like to interject at this point that loading a goat who has just given birth onto a stock trailer is--er--difficult.  Even if you intend the load the baby with her to avoid separation, getting her to realize the plan is a whole other story.  In the end, she went without baby and was none too happy about it.  My husband missed class that evening to help out as well.  When we got there, the vet went ahead and removed the placenta and loaded her up with antibiotics so we wouldn't have to come back if things didn't proceed on their own.  (Let me tell you, it's not a delicate process and one best avoided if it can be!)  She also told me I could have waiting up to 3 days before any real danger of infection set in.  Wish I had been told so on the phone so I could have avoided the time, stress (to mama human AND mama goat), expense, and having my husband miss class. 

5.  A lesson learned throughout our time here on earth is that death is a part of life.  One of our 3 babies died a few days after birth.  We don't know if he got too cold, if he had a disease, if the mama rejected him (he was a twin), or if he had a congenital problem.  He just got weak and died, despite our trying to bottle feed him by the wood stove.  It's especially hard for my kids, but I do think it prepares them for when we lose someone really special.  Not that it gets easier . . .

6.  There's no such thing as a free horse.  I was offered 2 Ponies of the Americas ponies in December, and they were delivered in January.  I learned the hard way, after much stress and expense, that horse and pony ownership are not to be launched into lightly.  Luckily, I was able to find them a good home and even trade them for riding lessons for my kids from their new owner.  We can still visit them!  I also made the difficult decision to put my beloved Belgian Tervuren to sleep.  He could barely get off the floor anymore and I was cleaning up after him daily.  We also decided to get rid of our Boer buck that we could not keep pinned away from the girls with 10 ft high fences, hot wires, etc.  My stress level went from a 10 to a 2.  The real lesson is:  know when it's too much.  The "homesteading" lifestyle is supposed to bring us peace, presence, and joy.  Those have come back to me in abundance since I pared back down.  I may now have to find the "services" of an off-farm buck, but I'll deal with that when the time comes!
7.  When you hear a calling to do something in your life, answer it!  I have felt called to homeschool my children for years; however, fear, my husband's reluctance, fear, a tight budget, fear, and, um, did I mention fear? have kept me from it.  I am making the change this fall because the pain of not answering the call has been unbearable.  Unfortunately, this transition would have been easier if I had done it when first called to.  Jonah and the whale, anyone?  But more on that later . . .
8.  I've always been good at not buying things I don't need, thrift shopping, cooking from scratch, etc., but now I am learning how to coupon and wait for deals for the things I do need to purchase.  This is helping my budget immensely.  It is like having a part-time job, but I'm getting more efficient at it and it's a part-time job I can do from home while homeschooling. 
9.  Pray about EVERYTHING.  I have been wrapped up in a million forms of fear, self pity, resentment, etc.  as I've made some necessary changes in my life.  When my prayer life is consistent, it all seems to resolve despite of me.  I've also seen the hearts of those close to me change as I've done the things I've been called to do.  Why didn't I think of that sooner?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I am the worst blogger ever . . .

So, now that I am actually able to post after a mysterious technological problem with blogger, here are the 3 babies born on the farm in late February.  Unfortunately, the little boy goat died,but we have 2 happy, healthy girls running through the woods with their mamas.  Hopefully, I can post what I learned about goat birthin' very soon and save someone out there an unnecessary trip to the vet!

Here are the 2 girls about a month ago.

AND my new batch of hens are finally laying.  Here are some blue Araucana eggs, brown Rhode Island Red eggs, and 2 white eggs from our Leghorns, who laid faithfully for us all winter.  I guess there's something to be said for hens bred for commercial production!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Planning Meals One Month at a Time

Every 4-5 weeks I sit down with my meal planning calendar and plan dinners for our family for the next month.  Breakfasts consist of some variation of oatmeal, healthy cereal, toast, fruit, yogurt, eggs from our chickens, home fries, waffles or pancakes, and bacon or sausage from our hogs.  Lunches are usually leftovers from our dinners or our kids sometimes take maceroni and cheese, bean burritos, or cheese and crackers with a fruit leather to school.  They are not big sandwich eaters, which forces me to be creative when packing school lunches. 

I always bring my lunch to work.  After dinner on the evening, I pull out a few small lunch storage containers (glass or BPH-free plastic) and fill them with leftovers so that I have lunch packed for a few days.  If it is something the kids are likely to eat, I pack a few for them as well.  If not, their lunches get packed in the mornings.

I use this template to plan my meals:

I simply fill in the dates and start writing.  I plan for leftovers 2 days a week and cooking 5 days so we aren't wasting food.  I plan a few easier meals and a few that require a little more effort as well as some crock-pot meals.  Since we have leftover night a couple nights a week and we are using our meals for lunches, I make large portions.  Sometimes, I intentionally make an extra-large portion or 2 of whatever I'm making and freeze half for those extra-busy weeks.  Sundays nights I always make a soup so I can freeze a portion and also because it makes great lunches for the week.  Because my husband and I have an ongoing obligation on Wednesdays, my 15 year old babysits so the kids get maceroni and cheese with a fruit or veggie every Wednesday.  They don't mind! 

I also don't get specific with the veggie when I plan so that I can buy whatever is in season, available from local farms, or is available as organic when I get to the store.

Here is my menu for this month (starting on a Tuesday):
Tuesday- Leftover night
Wednesday- Maceroni and cheese with fruit or veggie
Thursday- Pork chops, baked potatos, veggie
Friday- Homemade vegetarian pizza with baby carrots
Saturday- Leftovers
Sunday- White bean soup
Monday- Nachos
Tuesday- Leftovers
Wednesday- Maceroni and cheese with fruit or veggie
Thursday- Steak, roast potatos, veggie
Friday- Lasagne, salad
Saturday- Leftovers
Sunday- Potato escarole soup
Monday- Chilli
Tuesday- Leftovers
Wednesday- Maceron and cheese with fruit or veggie
Thursday- Roast with carrots and potatos
Friday- Whole wheat spaghetti with veggie
Saturday- Leftovers
Sunday- Minestrone soup
Monday- Pinto beans and cornbread
Tuesday- Leftovers
Wednesday- Maceroni with fruit or veggie
Thursday- Crock pot barbequed ribs, mashed potatoes, and veggie
Friday- Ravioli with veggie

This month, I was in a huge hurry when I planned my meals, so I relied on old standards and didn't get too creative.  While I'm making my menu plan, I jot what I need for my monthly grocery store trip down on this template: which also jogs my memory about other items I might be running low on. 

Since we are busy with work, animals, scouts, 4-H, church and about a million other things, I don't make anything too elaborate.  Everything I cook is super-simple. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of my favorite simple and time-saving recipes.  I will also be sharing my progress towards a few household goals, including my goal to lower my grocery bill by $25 dollars per week.  Stay tuned!" class="pin-it-button" count-layout="horizontal">

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Once a Month Shopping

What does one month+ of groceries for a family of 5 look like?  Here it is . . .


I shop for all of my conventional grocery store items once per month.  This saves me gas, headaches, stress, and money.  The money is saved because I have less opportunity to impulse buy and because I can better organize my purchases.  Here is how my intricate grocery system works broken down by food categories:
Meats: All are farm raised an local.  I always have a freezer full of meat to plan meals around.  At the moment, I have 1/2 a cow grazed on a friend's farm.  We have very little pasture here on the farm and what little we have is quickly eaten by the ponies, so grazing a cow is out of the question.  Eventually, when we have a boy goat to wether and we are out of beef, we will switch to eating chevon as our red meat.  We have plenty of wooded acres and goats are browsers rather than grazers, so they stay well fed without pasture.  Of course, we have plenty of pork from our hogs.  In addition, we order a couple of hens from the Oklahoma food coop for white meat.  Occasionally, I splurge on some wild salmon as well.  I tend to eat more meat than most of my friends, but it seems an efficient way to raise a significant amount of what we eat here on the farm.
Vegetables:  In the summer, these come from my garden or the farmer's market.  Although there are more choices of local vegetables in Oklahoma than in many places thanks to a wonderful local food infrastructure, the choices in the winter tend to get a little meager.  Salad greens from local farms are available in almost every store in town, so that's not a problem.  Still, we do eat a  lot more conventionally farmed fruits and veggies in the winter, although I do try to buy organic as much as possible. 

Dairy:  If I can find time to run by one of our local farms, I buy raw cow or goat's milk.  If not, we have a regional dairy that runs its own stores and doesn't use rBGH.  I can also get items like heavy cream (if I don't have raw cow's milk to skim off of), sour cream, etc.  at the regional dairy stores.  Cheese, buttermilk, etc.  I can get through the Oklahoma food coop ( or at the regional dairy store.  I usually buy vegetables and dairy on a weekly basis. 

Eggs:  Come from our own hens, of course.

Baking goods:  Most come from my monthly grocery store trip, except my whole wheat, which I can get through the Oklahoma food coop.   Basically the Oklahoma food coop caries only locally grown foods or items that are produced in Oklahoma.  All items  have too meet certain criteria such as containing no known GMOs, not coming from a CAFO, etc.  Orders are taken online and are delivered one evening per month to several towns throughout the state.  It's a great system and very well organized.

Everything else:  All that is left comes from my once a month shopping trip.  This includes dried beans, rice, pasta, canned goods, a few extra loves of bread for when my baking can't keep up with family demand, popcorn, wheat crackers, soy sauce, spices, coffee, tea, Dr. Bronner's soap, toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc.  Again, I try to by organic when I can afford it, but I also need to stick to my budget.  In the future, I hope to start canning more of my own salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc. as well as freezing more vegetables from my garden and the local farmer's market. 

So, what about cost?  My absolute top budget for my monthly trip is $350, but I'm trying to slowly get that down to $300.  I should also say that we are slowly building a stockpile of dried goods for preparedness--not a paranoid "the world will end soon" preparedness, but a "you just never know" preparedness.  My weekly produce and dairy budget can vary from $30 t0 $50 and I spend another $25 per month averaged with the OK food coop  (maybe nothing some months and maybe $100 others).  That brings my spending to around $150 or less per week outside of what we farm ourselves.  I'd really like to lower that amount, but that seems to be the best I can do for now.  It does seem that as I learn couponing strategies (when there are good coupons for healthy foods), buy more in bulk, etc.  those amounts are slowly coming down. My costs for hay and feed are pretty minimal (maybe $25 per week maximum), so feeding a family of 5 with a teenage boy and a husband with a big appetite a whole foods, mostly organic diet for $175 per week isn't too shabby.

I will report back on any progress I've made on lowering my grocery amounts even further.  Take a look at my next blog for more on how I plan my menu one month at a time as well as my food goals for the future. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Real Manners for Real People Concerning Real Food

I eat this stuff we're all calling "real food" these days.  Mine and my family's diet consists mostly of farm raised meats, organic dairy, lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and natural sweeteners.  I try not to go crazy with sugar.  I avoid certain things like they are the plague--things such as artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, and high-fructose corn syrup.  I eat mostly whole grains (although I'm a sucker for a crusty white French loaf). 

All in all, I do quite well with my diet, but guess what?  I've got news for you--it doesn't make me superior to other humans just because I'm a little more conscious about what I eat.

It doesn't make God like me better than you because I buy organic.  It may not even make me live longer just because I eat more fruits and veggies.  It improves my chances of not getting an illness that might kill me, but it doesn't protect me from oncoming trains or zombie apocalypse.  I'm not extra-special just because I raise my own pork and eggs.  It makes me happy to lead a more independent and "back to the land" lifestyle, but I don't think it's going to get me a Nobel prize or sainthood in the Catholic church.  I'm not going to gain scores of admirers or have small children ask for my autograph just because my wheat has more bran than your wheat. 

I'm not saying that our food choices don't matter, because they really do.  I wouldn't be out feeding hungry pigs when it's 20 degrees outside or picking up food coop orders after an exhausting day at work if  I thought what I was doing didn't matter.  I have very healthy children.  My 15 year old caught a cold this month for the first time in years and was in absolute shock over it.  He literally thought he was going to die.  I've watched too many friends lose their woman-parts to cancer.  Healthy eating may not save me from that fate, but it's the one thing I can do to lessen my chances.  When I choose organic, acres of land and the surrounding environments are saved from pesticide poisoning.  When I choose local, I am strengthening my community in innumerable ways.  I could go on, but my point is that food choices DO matter.  They matter a lot.

Yes, food matters, but human beings matter more.  I know when I make good food choices a lot of humans besides myself get to be physically happier and healthier.  My actions, for good or ill, have a ripple effect in this world.  That's why when I act superior and dogmatic just because I eat this and you eat that, I'm negating my food choices by adding "junk thoughts" into the world.  Junk thoughts, with their stress-inducing negativity, can be just as poisonous as junk food.  My people don't need my judgement.  They need my support and encouragement to take better care of themselves, sure, but that doesn't happen when I treat them with scorn.
I see too many real food eaters adding those junk thoughts into the world.  I actually heard someone once state that feeding a child refined sugar was a form of child abuse.  Really?!  I had a pretty rough childhood and I can guarantee you that being fed sweet confections was the least of my troubles.  Let's try to have a little gratitude for the fact that we live in a land of such abundance that we can actually choose what we eat. Let's pray that someday soon all of the world's peoples can have enough nourishing food to fill their bellies and sustain their health.
To avoid us all going off the deep end with this whole real food business, I propose a few ground rules:

1.  When you are a guest in some one's home, unless you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food, accept what they offer with gratitude.  They used their financial resources, time, and energy to feed you.  Say thanks and eat.  Enjoy a little community.  Don't dictate do them what they serve to you when you are a guest in their home.

2.  Accept gifts freely given.  On several occasions when organizing pot-luck style meals with organizations I am involved with, I have been told to purchase specific brands because they are healthier.  Since I agree that those brands are "better for you" brands it was no big deal for me to comply, but the request really irked me.  What if I couldn't afford those brands?  What if I had already bought something only to find it didn't make the cut?  On another occasion, the food I wanted to bring was nixed for not being healthy--nevermind that there was nothing else there that my special-needs child would eat. This is especially bothersome when it happens at church functions.  I'd hate it if someone felt unwelcome in God's church because they didn't bring the right yogurt to the potluck.  If I remember right, Jesus had  a few things to say to those who wanted to get too dogmatic about other people's dietary habits.
3.  This is my own personal ax to grind, but keep in mind there may be extenuating circumstances to why somebody doesn't follow your ideal diet.  Although I believe that healthy eating isn't unaffordable by most people in America, it is expensive to consume an "ideal diet".  This is a complex issue.  I was shocked to hear on NPR that a family of 4 was forced to eat unhealthy because they only received $150 a week in food stamps, especially when they used the "soda is cheaper than milk" excuse.  Yes, soda is cheaper than milk, but water is free!  The beverages available in our house are milk, water, coffee, and herbal tea--and you have to be at least 15 years old for the coffee.  My children have survived for years on those limited choices.

Regardless, we all know the organic milk is twice that of the conventional milk.  I have at certain points in my life been so poor that I've had to choose the absolute cheapest options at the grocery store.  If you aren't in that place right now, say a prayer of gratitude and don't judge those who are. 

On another note, I have a child who has borderline Asperger's and a lot of sensory integration issues.  Food flavors and textures are a real issue for her.  We feed her as healthy as we can, but sometimes just getting anything into her little body takes priority.  She eats a lot of mac and cheese (no artificial colors!) and not many veggies.  Yes, I've tried all that "getting your picky eater to like veggies" advice and it still doesn't work.  I make her take one bite out of her veggies every night in the hope that she will become more used to the texture.  I send her to school with a fruit leather.  That's about all she can handle right now.  I'm probably not going to hell because my little girl doesn't get her 5 a day.

4.  Your family doesn't need your "lessons".  If they are kind enough to watch your kids, they don't need you to micromanage every aspect of the care and feeding of your children.  I used to be so guilty of this.  Now I realize that my kids don't belong to just me--they were born into a marriage, a family, and a community.  I have final say on their care and upbringing, but I need to pick my battles.  I figure that, in total, the meals fed to my children by extended family equals 3 weeks or less, so that leaves 49 weeks out of the year that they eat an above average diet.  My family knows my preferences so it's really not worth the damage to those relationships to press the issue too much. I try not to sweat it when I'm not in absolute control of what they are eating and enjoy the grown up movies, quiet car rides, and alone time with my hubbie instead.

5. Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  Some days I'm tired and our diet may not be as wonderful as it usually is.  Sometimes my kids get invited to a birthday party at (gasp!) McDonald's.  Sometimes we are traveling on the road, didn't plan ahead, and there aren't many food choices.  Sometimes, life isn't perfect.  I do pretty damn good, and that's good enough.

I'll end with a quote from Diet for a New America, which I read when I was 18, and has stuck with me these past 19 years:  "Better to eat beer and franks with cheer and thanks than sprouts and bread with fear and dread."  Gratitude is everything!

Farm Happenings

It has been so busy, busy, busy around here, I haven't hardly had time to post.  I have been building a very rough website for our farm to promote what we sell on a very small scale.  I don't want to sell through the larger coops, etc.  because I want to run the farm rather than have it run us!  I'm hoping that selling person to person will at least help the farm to break even and supply us and our neighbors with fresh, wholesome food.


Our girls are set to deliver any day now and are sharing quarters with the chickens for the time being.  The "goat yurt" has instead become the "pony yurt".  They are creating all kinds of havoc for the hens, but at least they are close by and safe from our buck, who has no respect for a lady who is with child.  He doesn't hesitate to butt them to steal their feed whenever the opportunity arises.  Despite his disrespect, he can't live without his girls and escapes daily to hover near their pen and bleat at them.  He's hardly ate or drank in days, poor baby!

M., my daughter, has started raising Jersey Woolies as a 4-H project.  They are primarily a fiber rabbit, but are much less expensive than angoras.  This is Moonshadow.

And this is Wildflower--she's a beauty!

My Zelda continues to grow and continues to be a well-mannered girl despite being mostly pit bull.  As long as she minds her manners, she can stay here at Dome Farm.  Our other 2 dogs are working/herding breed mixes and having a pit is something I never thought I'd do.  Maybe she has just enough of other breeds to even out her temper, because so far she's just a sweet and gentle soul! 

All of our hogs except this gal went to the butcher and I've sold a few pounds of pork to friends.  I'm hoping I can sell a few more!  This lil' 300 lb. lady hasn't gone yet, because she managed to escape the trailering process by knocking my dear hubbie flat on his back (don't tell him I told anyone)!  We created a chute to the trailer (thus, the old door) and have been feeding her in it to get her comfortable with it.  Last night while she was eating, I snuck up and closed the door on her.  She started pitching such a fit, I was afraid she'd tear my horse trailer apart and I'd have no way to take the ponies to riding lessons.  As I was debating whether I should leave her in, I'll be damned if she didn't jump over the door and out of the opening in the top.  Of course, I didn't see her do this, but my 15 year old son swears that she launched herself up, "swam" her front hooves in mid air, then landed unceremoniously on her face outside the trailer. 
At first, I thought he surely accidentally let her out and didn't want to admit it.  I told him I was going to look and see if she really had dirt on her face.  He gave me that blank look that only teenagers are capable of perfecting and said, "Mom, she's a pig.  Of course she has dirt on her face."  Good point!  I have concluded that T., who feeds the hogs every day, knows enough about them to have the good sense to not open the door once we had her in. The only reasonable explanation is that this girl is a superhero.  I have officially dubbed her "Spiderpig."

My dear hubbie had a day off work to spend at the farm and built this shelter for our does and their babies to live in when they have officially recovered from birth and their new pen is built.  We had very nice shingles left over from a remodel job.  Unfortunately, the very wealthy homeowner stiffed us for a considerable sum of money.  Why it's never the people who have to scrimp and save to have their homes remodeled and always those who can easily afford it I will never understand.  A least our goats have the nicest roof of any goathouse in town! 

Only the best will do for our girls!  Hopefully my next post will be of our new kids.  Until then, I have some great ideas for some new posts on real food, shopping, budgets, and livestock.  Now to find the time . . .