Holidays, Health and Houses

Happy Holidays!  Hard to believe it’s December already.  I guess that’s a good thing, as it means we’re that much closer to spring.  😉  I’ve never been much of a fan of Minnesota winters, though with global warming they’re not what they used to be.

Such a lot is going on here!  Where to start….

I can’t post the usual “fun ways we’ve learned and played lately” because a lot of it hasn’t been fun in the least, so here is just a bit of what’s been going on in our little corner of the world.

Victoria has been dealing with yet another medical crisis.  As her grandma put it last week, “Things just always happen to her, don’t they?”.  First cancer, then sepsis, then a long series of strange ailments.  Then, during the week of History Fest in October, one eye swelled up.  It went down over the next couple of days and then the other eye swelled up.  And up and up.

She went to a local doctor who had no idea what it was and put her on a 5 day course of both antibiotics and steroids.  It turns out that was a particularly terrible guess to make, as short term steroid doses like that tend to make things much worse, which they did.  Her eye swelled to a terrifying size and we rushed her to a specialist in Mankato.  She was diagnosed with an orbital pseudo-tumor (basically a swelling of the eye that causes pain and symptoms like a brain tumor but is not cancerous and not a true tumor that can spread) and put on high dose steroids for a longer time to see if it would control it.

To make a long story short, it didn’t help enough, things got worse, and she ended up at the Mayo Clinic.  Her doctor there did surgery a few weeks ago and performed a biopsy of the area behind her eye.

The biopsy revealed that the swelling is granulomatis and it could be related to any of a number of diseases or it could be idiopathic (just a random thing with no cause, which we highly doubt since she has had so many other strange things going on for the past few years).  She has been seeing various specialists at the Mayo and going for tests.

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It has been very painful for her and pretty terrifying. In addition to the pain and vision problems caused by the pseudo-tumors (which are now affecting both eyes, though worse in one), the high dose steroids are causing all the standard weight gain and medical issues, so she is also stressed about that.  The doctors are trying to wean her down off the steroids slowly since every time they lower the dose her eye swells to an alarming size but they can’t leave her on them.  For now she is just tapering down and letting her eyes swell (and I have started giving her supplemental herbs and such to help, which seem to be helping when the steroids aren’t).

There’s much more, but I have to make supper and still wanted to update quickly about the good things going on for Toria right now.  Firstly, her boyfriend Gabe proposed to her during the solar eclipse in August and secondly….  they have a house!

To say that it’s a fixer-upper is quite the understatement, but it’s a house!

We have been searching for months for a house nearby that would be cheap enough that we could afford to buy it outright.  We bought our own house for $2,000 cash 25 years ago and living mortgage-free is one of the reasons that we’ve been able to live on so little all of these years.  Our town is so small that homes are inexpensive but we needed a REALLY cheap house to be able to afford it.

House after house fell through, but this one house that we had called about for months finally opened up and we bought it this week for $4,000 (yes, really!).  I have money invested in a retirement account from my mother’s death that I have set to deposit a small amount of money into my bank account every 6 months to help pay expenses.  There is not a lot left in it but I was able to withdraw the money to buy the house outright and they will pay me $200 a month rent until it’s paid back, at which point I’ll transfer the deed into their names.  Or, if they decide to move to a larger house, a nicer house, or another city, the payments will just count as rent and we’ll keep the house for one of the next kids coming along who can use it as they start out.  🙂

The house is teeny tiny and in really rough shape, but it has good bones, so to speak.  The roof is solid, it has a fairly new furnace and it’s on two lots.  We are already talking gardens and fruit trees.  You know our family!

If you want to read more about the house or Toria’s health situation, I created a WeCare fundraiser to help them fix up the house and I’ve been posting pictures and updates there.

Hopefully they’ll have power turned on next week and things will start turning around on the health front and more.

I’ll post more about the rest of us soon!  I miss yapping here and really do want to start posting regularly again.  But for now, I have three children at home tonight who think food is a really good idea.  🙂

 

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50 Ways to Use a Pumpkin for Homeschooling

50 educational ways to use pumpkinsI should be doing a million things and need to drive part of the family to Mankato soon, but I miss this space and you all (or you one person perhaps at this point!) so I thought I would bop in here for a quick post.

Yes, only I would decide to post 50 ways to use a pumpkin for homeschooling off the top of my head for a quick post!  LOL  Some people play video games to get their minds off things and have fun.  I write.  🙂

So here goes….  All kinds of crazy ways to learn with that pumpkin before it goes in the compost pile or pie.

  1. Measure the circumference
  2. Guess its weight
  3. Roast the seeds and experiment with different seasonings
  4. Do a rubbing of its skin
  5. Find a recipe for stuffed pumpkins and bake dinner in it
  6. Draw it
  7. See if it floats in water
  8. Use a mallet and golf tees to poke a pattern of holes (immensely satisfying if not terrible educational)
  9. Write a haiku about it
  10. Print out these pumpkin life cycle printables
  11. Roast it and bake with it
  12. Leave it outside and see how it changes over time
  13. Finger paint on it, clean and repeat
  14. Plant some of its seeds
  15. Figure out its capacity (how much it holds)
  16. Think of an alternate way to figure out its capacity
  17. Compare its weight to other foods
  18. Bake two different pie recipes for pumpkin pie and see which one is better
  19. Write out pumpkin on a paper and see how many other words you can make with the letters (pump, kin, pin…)
  20. Write a short story about a pumpkin
  21. Use the seeds for math manipulatives
  22. Use the seeds for a collage
  23. Look up how to say pumpkin in another language
  24. Read books or stories about pumpkins
  25. Write letters on clean pumpkin seeds and use them to spell words
  26. Look up the history of jack-o-lanterns
  27. Look up the nutritional information for pumpkins
  28. Watch videos of pumpkin trebuchet launchers
  29. Or instead of launching pumpkins, use mini pumpkins to make small pumpkin catapults
  30. Build your own (or a small scale one for smaller objects)
  31. Make a list of as many words as possible to describe a pumpkin
  32. Estimate how many seeds a pumpkin will have and then see how close everybody got
  33. Read these pumpkin riddles and try to make up your own
  34. Write a song about pumpkins
  35. Make construction paper jack-o-lanterns with all kinds of faces
  36. Write the word pumpkin in your fanciest handwriting
  37. Think of 10 ways to use pumpkins besides for carving or baking
  38. Give a short report on the history of pumpkins and/or jack-o-lanterns
  39. Predict and observe what the inside of a jack-o-lantern looks like before and after having a candle in it for several hours
  40. Take artistic photographs of pumpkins
  41. Write or tell a funny short story about what it was really like for Cinderella to ride a pumpkin coach to the ball
  42. Put pumpkin seeds outside near a window and watch to see what kind of wildlife eats them
  43. Use pushpins and rubber bands to make a geoboard on a pumpkin
  44. Challenge the kids to think up other things you could make jack-o-lanterns out of besides pumpkins
  45. Ask the kids to describe a pumpkin using all 5 senses
  46. Invent a pumpkin spice drink or dessert together
  47. Use a small pumpkin as a ball for playing catch outside
  48. Use a small pumpkin as a planter and plant seeds in it
  49. Write a pumpkin acrostic poem (write the letters PUMPKIN down the side of the page and each line starts with the corresponding letter)
  50. After Halloween, cut your jack-o-lantern into one-inch pieces and put pieces in all different environments and record how they change (freezer, fridge, outside, in a plastic bag, uncovered at room temperature, in vinegar…)

Got more?  Leave them in the comments!  Happy Halloween!

Where Did Our Food Originate?

I stumbled onto this fantastic infographic showing where many of our foods first originated, and tracked it back to a scholarly article, Origins of food crops connect countries worldwide, published by The Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences).

Origins of food crops connect countries worldwide

(Click on the image to view full size)

The graphic and the article itself are published under a Creative Commons license, meaning it can be shared freely as long as the authors and original source are credited.

This could be used for so many ways in the homeschool — for geography, social studies, biology, math…

  • See what part of the world each component of lunch or dinner first came from.
  • See which common foods your family eats are not on the map and see if you can find out where they originally came from.
  • See which of the foods can now be grown in your area and which ones need a different climate.
  • See what part of the world has your favorite foods.
  • See what similarities you can find in foods from each region.
  • Categorize the foods into groups (fruits, grains, root vegetables, greens, etc.) and see if you can find patterns for the regions.
  • Which region has the most foods listed?
  • What percentage of the foods on the map are eaten at least once a month at your house?

The authors of the paper are:

Colin K. Khoury, Harold A. Achicanoy, Anne D. Bjorkman, Carlos Navarro-Racines, Luigi Guarino, Ximena Flores-Palacios, Johannes M. M. Engels, John H. Wiersema, Hannes Dempewolf, Steven Sotelo, Julian Ramírez-Villegas, Nora P. Castañeda-Álvarez, Cary Fowler, Andy Jarvis, Loren H. Rieseberg, Paul C. Struik
 .
Clearly they did a lot of work to assemble this.  Check out the paper itself for more graphics and a lot more information.

 

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Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

If you’re a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, you can read my books, Elderberries: The Beginner’s Guide to Foraging, Preserving and Using Elderberries for Health Remedies, Recipes, Drinks and More (with over 60 recipes for health remedies, desserts, jellies, wines, liqueurs and more), and A Magical Homeschool: Nature Studies (52 Wonderful Ways to Use Nature Studies in Every Season to Teach Science, Math, Art and More) for free!

Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

I’m enrolled in KDP on Amazon, which means these books are only available through Amazon and if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read them (and over a million other titles) for free.

We’ve been subscribed to KU for a few months and I’ve found a lot of great books for myself and the kids.  I started a Facebook group, Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited to share good homeschooling books available through KU if you’re looking for new titles, too.

Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

I have found and shared lots of great books on the Facebook page so far, from Harry Potter to classic literature to math and science joke books to secular Charlotte Mason homeschool books to books about Vikings and parts of speech and woodworking projects…

Authors subscribed to the KDP program get paid a tiny payment per page read when their books are read through Kindle Unlimited, so if you are enrolled in KU this is a great free way to support your favorite authors too.  🙂

You can find out more about Kindle Unlimited here, and also sign up for a free 30 day trial (which is what we initially did to see if it was a good fit and then we decided to keep it).

Please leave comments about good books you know of in the program or subjects you’re interested in!

(This page contains affiliate links)

 

Up for a Challenge?

I was thinking the other day about all of the challenges our family used to take part in as homeschoolers.  There was the Unplug Your Kids challenge, which issued a different word or theme each week as inspiration (such as purple or bug).  There was the Think! challenge.  I know there were many more, and we took part in some of them regularly.

The idea was that there would be a new theme each week, and families would do some sort of activity in the spirit of that theme and then blog about it and report back with the link.  People were encouraged to see what other families had done and it was also a fun way to find other like-minded blogs to visit.

We came up with the purple cabbage pH experiment for the purple theme.

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For the “fruit” theme, we made watermelon playdough.

watermelonplaydough

For the “smooth” theme we did sensory handwriting in flour, lotion and other materials.

write

We did crayon shirt transfers for the “wax” theme.

crayonshirt

And so on (check out all of the projects we did for Unplug Your Kids challenges here).

Of course, back then we homeschool bloggers were a different sort.  We blogged to share ideas and resources, record our days, and support each other.  It was informal and personal.  There weren’t always pictures and there certainly weren’t SEO words or Pinterest-worthy title pics.  It wasn’t for money or hits, it was just what we quietly did in some of our spare time to connect with each other, help other homeschoolers and log a part of our lives.  I’m not sure how many bloggers of that sort even exist any more, which is probably a big part of why challenges have mostly died off (on the other hand, I know there must be lots of you out there so please holler if you are!).

But in the spirit of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” I thought maybe I could start a weekly challenge if anybody wants to take part.

Each Monday, I’ll issue a theme for the week.  If you want to take part, do some sort of project or activity with your kiddo(s) and blog about it over that week (I think Instagram posts and public Facebook posts could count, too, if you don’t have a blog).  Come back by the next Monday and leave a link to what you did, and check out what others did.

Anybody interested?  Leave a note if you’d like to take part and if there is any interest then I’ll start this month.  🙂

Our Farmers’ Market Homeschool Project

Alex and I will be selling gluten free baked goods, herbs and several other items at the local farmers’ market this year.

He asked if we could do it and I thought it could be a great homeschooling project, so I (with just a tiny bit of terror) said yes.

I love baking, but I am not the sort of person who would ever take it upon myself to sell at the farmers’ market myself.  I tend to be quite shy at first in real life, and honestly prefer to just give my treats away to friends and family!  But my children are really good at getting me to do things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, and I think this will be a fantastic learning experience for Alex (and me!).

We’re planning on selling lots of gluten free items.  We’ve been GF since we decided to try cutting out gluten as an experiment when Alex was about to turn 4 (he’s now 10).  By the end of the month it was clear that gluten was a real issue for him (it was immediately noticeable in his skin and hair, and my tiny boy grew two sizes in the next three months!), and we also found out that most of the family was also sensitive to gluten and had just never known it.  My migraines went away.  Toria’s migraines went away and her skin cleared up.  Daryl’s eczema cleared up.  And on and on.

So gluten free items are going to be a big part of what we sell, especially treats that GF folks often have to do without.  Alex loves the idea of providing really delicious treats for allergic kids, since he knows what it’s like to have to pass by all kinds of wonderful stuff because it has gluten in it.

We’ve been testing cupcake recipes all week, and it’s been awfully fun!  🙂

Cupcake development day is going well. #glutenfreecupcakes #fromscratch #farmersmarket

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We’ll also probably sell some things having to do with foraged goodies.  I made a really wonderful ramp sale with wild ramps recently and it’s insanely tasty.

Ramp salt is my new favorite seasoning. #foraging #ramps #springforaging #wildedibles #wildfood

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We are lucky enough to have access to a huge supply of ramps (they’re over-harvested in many places so you have to be very careful not to take too many), so we dried lots to make ramp salt with, enough that I can sell some.

We’ll probably sell some fresh herbs, too, since we have a copious amount of some of them in our gardens, such as spearmint, chocolate mint, catmint and chives.

We may do GF bread too, though it is more expensive and more work than some other goodies so I’m not doing it the first week at least.

Alex and I have spent a lot of time going over possible sale items, projected cost, projected profits, marketing ideas and other business plans.

We’ve cuddled on the couch discussing which items to sell which weeks, what the most profitable goodies are likely to be, whether we should offer samples and more.

We’ve shopped for supplies, played with packaging and learned our laws.

He wants to be sure we give something away for free to anybody who’d like it, such as information teaching people how to forage.  I think that’s a very sweet idea so we’re working on that, too.

We’ll be selling on Tuesday afternoons, starting in June.  Wish us luck!  I’ll keep you updated!

 

A Little Jack Update

 

 

It’s only a matter of time before Jack asks me to quit writing about him online, so I’d better talk about him now while I can.  😉

Here’s a glimpse of our oldest baby boy, who turned 14 a little over a week ago.

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That’s Jack at his birthday pool party, with a good friend, along with Fiona and Alex, and here with some other friends.

Jack had such a good birthday 🎈🎈🎈

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And lest he looks like he’s all grown up and not a kid anymore, here’s another shot from his birthday party.

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Jack is finishing 8th grade, though we don’t pay much attention to the numbers.

He is much taller than I am — though that’s not hard since I’m just under 5 feet tall!  🙂  He’s nearly as tall as his dad, though, and Daryl is just over 6 feet tall.

He’s a huge help to me around the house.  He is probably the biggest help of all of the kids, and I thank him for it often.  He helps with laundry, cooking, taking care of Fiona, garbage, yard work, you name it.

He even took care of my artichoke seedlings while I was in Nebraska for nearly two weeks.

He loves gaming (video, board and role play), music, nature, animals and puns.  He also still loves doing crafts, particularly if he can invent them himself.  He collects and alters bottle caps, and loves all things weapon-related (from swords to nerf guns).  He’s rather introverted and very goofy when he feels comfortable enough to show his goofy side.  He is also the ultimate peace-maker, an important role for a kid in a family of 5 kids!  He would be well suited for any table at the UN with his skills at un-ruffling feathers and calming folks down!

He is still quite left-leaning.  This is a kid who happily pounded one of only two signs in our town that supported marriage equality into our front yard as a little boy, and he remains fiercely caring about the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks and other oppressed groups.

He is not sure what he wants to do with his life when he crosses that imaginary line into “grown up” but I suspect it might have to do with nature or science.  I could also see him as a writer, even though he still balks at any formal writing assignments.  He is so creative that I think he would do well as a writer or game designer.  I am guessing that he’ll come up with his own path that I’d never have seen coming, though.

He can be moody at times (what 14 year old isn’t?) but in general, he is my “easiest” teenager yet.  I have told him and Alex — often! — that they were so exhausting as young boys that they owe me easy teen years, and he seems to be keeping his end of the bargain!  😉

I could not be more proud of him than I am, especially of his soul.  He is so caring, so smart, so giving.  He is a wonderful brother, son and human being.

Jack and Elli at the Civil War ball. #reenacting #firstball #mylittleboyisgrowingup

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