10 Fun Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

It’s been a while since I posted one of these updates.  🙂 Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

1. Fiona has been doing lots of writing and copy work.  She loves writing and fills up page after page of dollar store handwriting and spelling workbooks.

2.  Rhia is learning to play the electric guitar.  She is already a wonderful acoustic guitar player and is now excited to get an electric guitar and learn that.  She’s been practicing on a guitar that Gabe (Toria’s fiance) has lent her.  I got her an amp for solstice and she is hoping to be able to buy the guitar by her (18th!) birthday at the end of the month.  She is not just a great guitar player but also a great song writer.  With her love of music and the connection she already has with small bands in around the country, I’m pretty sure her future will be in music in one way or another.

3.  And she’s still busy with photography… Speaking of Rhia’s music connections, she took some photos for a small Mankato area band last month and she’s done some concert photography for some bands at Minneapolis and Sioux Falls concerts.  I’m pretty sure photography will be in her future, too.  Here’s her photography page on Facebook.  she’d be thrilled if you liked it!

4.  Alex has been enjoying the snow.  It’s been bitterly cold, but any time it’s above zero he’s pretty happy to be making snow forts, building snow zombies and so on.

5.  Fiona learned to play happy birthday on the lap harp.  She and Alex also learned a bunch of other songs.

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6.  Alex has been learning to cook more meals and treats.  His latest accomplishments are 2 minute microwave GF bread (which he made about 30 batches for family in the last month) and scrambled eggs.  He also helps me cook a lot, so he’s become a great sous chef for things like taquitos.

7.  Victoria and Gabe have been in their house for a month.  They got their first utility bill today!  Luckily the house is so small and they’re so frugal that it was a fraction of what ours is.  They come over for dinner just about every night but they are settling in well and finally have reliable heat (a big thing when it’s been 20 below zero!).

8.  We’ve been doing lots of visits to the Washington Pavilion science and art center.  I took advantage of a holiday special and renewed our membership, which Alex told me he really missed.  We try to visit every time we’re in Sioux Falls, which is often since Rhia’s BF lives there and it’s also where I do my bulk grocery shopping.

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They have great science presentations and Alex and Fiona got to take part in one about physics.

And last time we headed over to the art center and the kids got to do some pretty cool spin art projects.  The only thing better than messy art is messy art you don’t have to set up yourself.  😉

9.  Jack is crazy about Hamilton and it’s led to all kinds of history education.  He knows all of the songs by heart and is really excited that the show is coming to Minnesota in 2018.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I could effortlessly teach him his entire high school curricula if I could find musicals for every subject.  😉

10. We’ve been doing tons of learning with Cuisenaire Rods and other hands-on math tools.

Alex and I even tried doing long division with Cuisenaire Roads, which is really tricky to wrap your brain around!

I also published another book (affiliate link: Acorn Foraging: Acorn Foraging: Everything You Need to Know to Harvest One of Autumn’s Best Wild Edible Foods, with Recipes, Photographs and Step-By-Step InstructionsEverything You Need to Know to Harvest One of Autumn’s Best Wild Edible Foods, with Recipes, Photographs and Step-By-Step Instructions) and we’ve been reading lots of books, playing with friends, going to movies (since Daryl and Rhia work for a local non-profit movie theater, our family can go at any hour and put on whatever movies we like, which makes for some pretty fun late-night excursions!), playing music, watching shows and the usual mayhem.

Now, I’ve promised a little girl that we’d do crafts so I should sign off.  I hope everything is wonderful in your corner of the world!

 

 

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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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!  🙂

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.

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!

 

New Beginnings and Old Traditions

medshowLots of things started in our family last week.

The foraging/gathering season really took off for elderberries, wild plums, pears, apples and acorns.

photo 2Daryl and Victoria even gathered wild plums from the banks of Plum Creek yesterday.  How cool is that?  🙂

plumcreekI’ve been drying trays of elderberries for a week and now I’m searching for ways to best use the plums quickly, too.  (Since starting this draft this afternoon, I’ve made one batch of Young Country Wine with them! I’ll report back on how that turns out.)

Daryl’s parents have more apples than they can use, so he headed out there and gathered four bushels of apples to process.  One bushel’s worth has already has been processed and two big pans of apple crisp are in the oven as I type.

I also traded some apples and dried elderberries to a friend who had extra backyard plums.  Aren’t they the most beautiful plums you’ve ever seen?

plumsVictoria also started her new job.  She did training on Thursday and she’s been working every weekday since.  It will go in spurts when her supervisor is in our part of the state, but he plans to do a lot of work around our area for a while.  Her first paycheck should be awesome.

firstdayIn other new beginnings, Rhia (Anna) has her first boyfriend.  Eek!  She’s fifteen  now.  He’s sixteen.  I am probably not allowed to say any more.  🙂

And then some old traditions were continued…

Daryl and the boys took part in the Old Time Medicine Show at the historic Hubbard House in Mankato.  Daryl played his riverboat gambler character and also taught the audience how to play the spoons.  Alex and Jack played old time pickpockets and helped our wonderful friend Susan run some old time medicine show swindles.  🙂

med3It was a wonderful day and we had such a good time with wonderful friends.  I love taking part in living history events, not just because of all the kids learn but also because it’s quite simply just fun.

I also love that one of my kids’ best friends is a 60-something year old lady who dresses up and plays in the past at so many of the same events with us.  One day she’s having my boys swindle her audience with her medicine show scams (they’ve been cured of worms more than once with her diabolically clever pills!) and the next day she’s a temperance lady dressed in black, hollering at my poor husband to take his gambling and boozing elsewhere.  🙂

med2Lots more has been going on — bowling and billiards at a birthday party, a new box of books… lots of things that start with B, I guess.  😉  And more.

I’m starting to do my fall planning and I hope to get a tentative schedule figured out.  It will be very loose and organic, as always.  I’m excited to get into some new topics with the kids, though, and see what the new season brings.

secretgarden

Back to Blogging…

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I think I finally have things moved over here from our old site and am even getting some widgets and things added.  I’m going to try to get back into regular blogging now that the dust has settled. Here’s a bit of an update on things here, in as few words as possible….

1.  Rehearsals for the Wilder Pageant are starting soon, and most of our family is once again in it.  Daryl is the mayor and Reverend Alden again, Jack and Alex play boys in the mayor’s family, Victoria is back in it and is Mrs. Hansen (the Ingalls Family buys their sod house from Mr. and Mrs. Hansen) and little Fiona is in it for the first time ever, at age three!  I’m so excited for another family member to be taking part.  My little Annalee (aka Rhiannon Lee, who now goes by Rhia) was four years old when she started, so many years ago.  🙂  Fiona is playing Lucy Bedal.  It should be great fun.

2.  We just got back from another trip to St. Augustine.  This was our second time renting a condo on the beach in the oldest city in America.  We love it there, and we can stay in that beautiful two-bedroom Florida condo for less than we could stay for a week in a motel in Sioux Falls, thanks to visiting off-season (May is when kids are still in school and past winter months when people pay more to visit) and knowing how to get good rates.  I will always happily do without satellite TV and x-boxes, shop at thrift stores, cook from scratch and otherwise pinch pennies to be able to afford for travel to be part of our family life.

A little pirate art fun at a family event in St. Augustine

A little pirate art fun at a family event in St. Augustine

3.  We’re back to foraging now that the weather is nice.  Daryl and the older girls harvested easily 50 pounds of wild asparagus over the past month, along with loads and loads of ramps (a delicacy that bring as much as $15 a pound in some parts of the country) and some stinging nettles (they taste like spinach when cooked and are incredibly high in some nutrients — and no, they don’t sting you once they’re wilted, dried, blended or boiled!).  Asparagus season is winding down but lots of other goodies are coming into their own, including cattails next in our sights (they’re delicious with butter and salt).  Also coming soon or still going strong:  mulberries, raspberries, purslane, lamb’s quarters, dandelions (dandelion honey is a favorite here), milkweed pods (absolutely delicious battered and fried when they are still small) and loads more.  You can check out my Wild Edibles board on Pinterest if you want to start foraging with your kids.  I can’t recommend it enough for everything from nature studies to life skills to just a source of delicious (organic) foods you can’t get anywhere else.  This started out as a homeschool summer project for us three years ago and now wild foods are a substantial part of our “groceries” for half the year. Otherwise, a hundred other things are going on, as always….  I’ll try to start popping in to share more and also go back to sharing lots of fun resources I come across. It’s nice to be back!

Siamese Genetics, Zombie Volunteerism, Homeschool Freebies and More

10 ways we've learned and played here latelySorry to be such a lax blogger lately!  Life has been frantic, as usual.  I’m still working on balancing the blogs with my columns with homeschooling 5 kids and all of my home duties.  At least it keeps life interesting!

Here are a few ways we’ve learned through life lately…….

1.  We’ve had our first real snow and cold of the winter.  Toria and Alex went out and built an impressive snow fort with blocks made from a 5 gallon bucket.  The walls are about 18 inches high now (it’s got a huge circumference, like igloo sized!) and I think they’re hoping for a huge snowfall and help make more snow.  I personally am not! Perhaps I’ll ask them to figure out its square feet once it’s done.  Tricky, eh?  😉

2.  The kids all fell in love with a free math site online (I wrote about it here) and they all begged to upgrade to premium memberships, which would have cost a fortune.  I found out that there’s a group rate that’s far cheaper and ended up taking over a group buy that was a monumental amount of work but I was able to get all four of my big kids premium memberships.  Even my teenagers wanted in on it even though it technically goes to 8th grade (it’s a lot like Pokemon and they have fun doing it with their younger siblings).  I figure extra math practice never hurt anybody. They are now spending a ton of time doing math willingly so it was worth it to me!

3.  We went to Sioux Falls yesterday to look for new (to us) winter boots for the kids and to run errands.  We have a zoo membership, so Daryl took the kids to the zoo while I was at an appointment.

4.  Fiona napped in the car on the way home and that always means she won’t fall asleep at bedtime.  She was up until some insane hour (2 a.m. or so!) and Toria took her downstairs and read her dozens of picture books so that Daryl and I could sleep.  Bless her heart, she came down from her bedroom and held out her arms to our bouncy Fiona, and told me “I stay up later anyway, Mom, and you have to get up early.  This way you can get some sleep.”  Sometimes teenagers are pretty awesome!

5.  I suggested to Toria and Anna that they could each self publish a Kindle book for a homeschool project this semester.  It would give them writing experience but also work experience and a skill that they could use well in life to earn extra money.  I gave them the task of researching how to do it and left it completely open as to what sort of book they want to publish.  Anna is really excited and is planning on doing a book of her poems and may illustrate it with some of her poetry.  Toria is thinking of converting a public domain short story into a play.

6.  Toria and her dad volunteered at a haunted house set up as a fundraiser in a nearby city for most of October, every Friday and Saturday with lots of extra days thrown in.  It was an elaborate, impressive set-up in an old high school that is now a community center.  There were three floors of haunted areas and the basement was full of prom zombies.  Daryl played a homicidal principal in one of the offices, and Toria and a friend played dead girls (they would do things like twitch or suddenly turn and look at people as they went by).  They had a blast, and they helped with the clean up and the planning meetings for next year’s event.  Toria made friends, she helped a great organization, and she got some pretty crazy work experience.

7.  I’ve put out the art box again, and it’s been a big hit. The basic premise of the art box is that I keep a box or tray of art supplies that the kids can use to do anything they like.  Its contents change all the time so there are new things to do.  I also keep out a glue gun and the kids (other than Fiona) know how to safely use it.  Jack has made billions of adorable little creations out of odds and ends (he uses everything from little wooden shapes from the thrift store to knobs to broken toy bits).  I have to get some pictures of his creations, because they’re so fun. Toria made sweet little paper stars and multi-media collage projects, among a hundred other creations.  Fiona mostly sticks little foam stickers all over things and cuts everything up with scissors.

8.  We adopted a kitten and named him Boots.  Our other two cats were rescues as adults from a shelter, but this little guy needed a home and I broke down and said yes.  He is a real sweetheart, patient with all of the kids loving on him and playful.  His mother is a Siamese and we were surprised that he didn’t look Siamese at all, so we researched cat genetics and found out that the Siamese traits are recessive so a part-Siamese cat will almost never look Siamese (and will typically be black and white or all black no matter what the other cat looked like).  It was fascinating!  We learned so much and I had no idea about any of it.

Siamese cats have a unique coat pattern. The gradual shading of the extremities is caused by a recessive gene with temperature-sensitive expression. The resulting pattern is essentially a heat-map of the cat’s body…

The albino mutation in Siamese cats results in a defective form of tyrosinase which does not function at normal body temperature. Therefore, dark coloration can only appear in parts of the body that are cooler than the core body temperature. The extremities are always the coolest parts of the body. The face is also cooler because of air passing through the sinuses. The back is warmer than the extremities, being closer to the body core, but it is also exposed. The result is a medium degree of tyrosinase function, resulting in a medium degree of shading

You can read this article (read the comment too!) for more about the genetics and science of Siamese cats.

Wikipedia also has some interesting info like this:

All Siamese kittens, although pure cream or white at birth, develop visible points in the first few months of life in colder parts of their body. By the time a kitten is four weeks old, the points should be sufficiently clearly distinguishable to recognise which colour they are. Siamese cats tend to darken with age, and generally, adult Siamese living in warm climates have lighter coats than those in cool climates.

We will be fostering his Siamese mama for the next week before passing her on to some friends who are coming down for Thanksgiving and will be adopting her.

9.  I’m still involving the kids in as much cooking as possible, hoping they will enter adulthood really knowing well how to cook most foods from scratch.  We were talking last night on the way home from Sioux Falls about a conversation I had with a massage therapist earlier in the day about how she needed to switch her diet on her doctor’s orders and was going grain free.  I told her that soups and salads were good, easy meals sometimes where you didn’t miss grains and she said she couldn’t have soup.  I asked why not, and she said her doctor said it often has added flour.  I forgot that most people don’t make their own soup these days, but this lady is close to retirement age and had never made homemade soup!  I told her how to make an easy broth and she was excited to try it, and then I gave her tips on easy soups to make from there.  I consider cooking an essential homeschooling skill that is so important.  Homemade foods are generally ten times healthier, cheaper and tastier.  I have a Pinterest board of cooking and foraging with kids posts that Daryl has written up.

10. We got this free poster through the mail and I’m putting it up along the basement stairs.  I’m a big fan of sneaky homeschooling with posters.

And the kids have done lots of reading, watching documentaries, playing with friends, painting, photography, computer games, LEGOs, drawing, thrift store shopping, nature crafts, listening to music, blogging, decorating, researching, talking, and so on.

A Plan for What's Left of September

I’m working on plans right now.  Not in the typical homeschool mama scheduling sort of way, but as a sort of crisis management plan.

My issues are:

  • This summer, I was diagnosed with another autoimmune disease and some problems with my brain (nothing fatal, but apparently some form of epilepsy that is happening quite often each day).  I was also diagnosed with some issues with my blood and stomach, and some deficiencies, but those are the two biggies.
  • I need to find a new balance for homeschooling and properly parenting five children.
  • I need to find a balance for writing four columns that I rely on increasingly more to pay the bills.
  • I need to get my house in some sort of working order.  I have never been much of a housekeeper but when I am sick or overextended I get messier, and this summer was a whole lot of both of those.
  • I desperately want to get my book (A Magical Childhood) finished and published, in one form or another.  I know it’s not the best timing but it never has been and I don’t want to die someday with it 90% finished on my computer somewhere, having spent my whole life putting it off until that “right time.”
  • We had planned to move Victoria to the attic and move Anna into her room and Jack into Anna’s room, since Victoria was going off to art school.  She’s back home but all the kids want to move things around anyway and it was half done, so we’re working really hard to finish all that relocating.  That means major work right now in clearing the rest of the attic, getting it painted and prepped, getting other rooms painted and prepped and on and on.
  • It is fall, and that means a whole lot of work around here.  In-town homesteading is part of how we get by on next to nothing, and that means some major effort in the harvest season.  It doesn’t matter if my brain is short circuiting and Fiona is hanging onto my skirt when my kitchen is full of 4 bushels of free apples, 2 bushels of wild pears and a basket of acorns all needing to be processed and my garden is exploding with stuff to harvest, freeze, dry, dig and pluck.  That’s not even getting into the elderberries to turn into flu-fighting syrup and the others that need to be picked at the county park and the walnuts and the grapes and the plums and the pumpkins….

I have been feeling overwhelmed and overextended.  Truth be told, I have also been having a little bit of a pity party for myself.  I wish that I had more friends nearby.  I wish that I had help with the kids or the house or something, outside of Daryl and the kids themselves.  I wish I had any family alive, other than some long-lost (wonderful) cousins and a grandma and aunt in Ohio.  I wish I had a tribe.

I wish I had a girlfriend who’d come over and drink wine with me.

I had paid to have someone come and help with the house and that didn’t work out.  That person isn’t in a place to help me right now, and I need to just accept that and save myself instead.

So September is my month to save myself, migraines and seizures and clingy toddlers and messy house and all.

September is my month to get back in a homeschool schedule, to knock out that fall work, to take baby steps when I need to and monster steps when I can.

My goal is just to breathe, push, breathe, push, just like having a baby.  Sometimes you just need to keep on going, cuz it’s not going to get better until you get it done.  🙂

Wish me luck!

Our Winter Schedule

I like to keep a seasonal schedule to help keep myself on track in terms of homeschooling, meals, housework and so on. I am not any good at all with rigid structure, but a loose schedule helps immensely with a family of our size and with all the pans I always have in the fire.

Each day has a general theme in terms of food, activities and homeschooling focus. We are free to deviate from it, but it helps to keep things running more smoothly to have it as a general guideline.

Here’s our winter schedule, which I have posted above my desk.

Each day has a theme next to it, and the lunch is listed under it (kids make it when they can).  The dinner (or dinner theme) is listed at the end of the line.  I also list what area to clean and what HS area to focus on, plus anything unique to the day.  Along the side you can see what we have to do every day, chore-wise (dishes, laundry, pets, tidying) and at the bottom is the HS/personal stuff we do every day.

The schedule is very loose, like if we’re snowed in for Friday field trips we can still walk up to the library uptown (our whole town is like 8 blocks wide, so “uptown” is a relative term!).

And in case you’re interested, here was the fall schedule. I loved having it to refer to all during autumn.  I found that it made things just seem easier.

Since I cook from scratch and we have a lot of dietary needs in our house (various members are gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian, not to mention general tastes), it really helps me to have a general weekly meal rotation for the seasons.

Some of the benefits of this system are:

  • Weekly shopping lists are easy to compile since they don’t change that much during one season.
  • Meals are centered around seasonal foods, which are cheaper and fresher. In the winter, that means a lot of root vegetables and dried beans.  I also rely on the foods we put up earlier in the year.
  • It’s easier for me to quickly make suppers, since it’s rather routine.
  • Having a general theme instead of a specific meal plan lets me shop the sales and account for extras we have to use up. For instance, stir fries can include just about any vegetables and proteins.  Mexican can mean anything from burrito bowls to enchiladas to tostadas.  Baked potato night usually involves a horde of possible toppings, including any leftovers that sound like good toppers.  And obviously soup night leaves thousands of possibilities.  🙂
  • The meal themes are loose enough to still allow for variety. “Use it up day” lets me make use of things in the pantry and fridge, so foods aren’t wasted and I need to buy less.  Feast night on Sunday allows us to have a little fun and satisfy our cravings.
  • The general meals are incredibly frugal. With a family of 7 and our budget (and my insistence on still buying healthy, whole foods and lots of organics), this saves me a ton of money.  On Saturday nights, we have the comfort food from my childhood — cabbage, potatoes and carrots.  We just boil it up in a pot and top it with butter and salt.  A lot of families survived on that type of food five nights a week or more in the past, and while it’s not a favorite for any of my kids it gives me a night off of cooking (Daryl takes care of it).  Other meals in our rotation are heavily reliant on affordable staples like rice and beans.
  • Having this system lets it become routine to do prep work. For instance, knowing that Monday night is always Mexican night, I automatically put some black beans in the pressure cooker to soak overnight.
  • The kids know what to expect, which they like.
  • I don’t have to panic at 5 p.m. about what’s for supper. That’s the biggest plus for me!

The same holds true for the homeschooling routine and the chore routines. They are loose, but they allow for a little bit of predictability and just enough structure.  It is too easy for me to feel overwhelmed at everything that needs to be done in the house or all the things I “should” be doing with the kids, but if I can look and see that today is a day to focus on poetry, making the day magical and cleaning bedrooms, I can handle that!

Winter is actually our calmest season. We don’t have any work to do in the gardens and all of the harvests have been put up.  It’s too soon for starting seeds, the snow keeps us from going too far from home, and there are not many activities even offered this time of year.

In Homeschooling Through the Seasons I talked about the possible winter homeschool environments:

Winter is an ideal time for slowing down and doing longer projects. You can introduce lots more read-alouds of both fun fiction and history, science and other educational subjects. Winter sports can include ice skating, skiing and playing in the snow, but can also incorporate more inside activities like Wii fitness games, yoga and using mini trampolines. Homemaking skills can be part of the learning, teaching kids skills like bread making and knitting (if you don’t know how to do these, this is a perfect excuse to learn along with them!). Computers can play a bigger part in homeschooling this time of year, using educational sites like Khan Academy, online curricula such as the free ACS chemistry curriculum and educational online games. This is also an ideal time to use educational videos from Netflix or the library. The Christmas season offers its own challenges and opportunities. Homeschoolers are lucky that we can take full advantage of the season without having to squeeze in the same schedule as usual. Many homeschoolers cut back on the traditional lessons during December and let Christmas (from baking to budgeting to religious education) be a main part of homeschooling.

Today, however, our routine is off a bit because we’re deviating by traveling to Sioux Falls to pick up Victoria from the airport.  She’s back from a fantastic week and a half with friends in Oregon so we get to bring her home.

What do you think of the new hair?

I swear Fiona is more of a fan than she’s letting on there!  😉

And now I’m off to tidy the bedroom and grab some poetry books for the car……

 

 

Homesteading 101

We’ve been so busy “putting things up” the past few months, and we have one more big push to do now — pumpkins — before we’re nearly done for the year.

Daryl picked up 19 pumpkins from our local farm family source for $5 today.  Daryl told Mr. H that we needed one jack-o-lantern pumpkin and 9 pie pumpkins and Mr. H told him, “How about you take as many as you want for five dollars?”.  After Thursday, all the ones left over are going over the fence to the cows, after all.  🙂

We have 5 gallons of hard apple cider brewing on the kitchen counter right now and 18 pie pumpkins waiting on the lawn to become pumpkin puree tomorrow.

Oh yes, and Mr. H had a couple of extra flats of tomatoes and another big box of peppers he threw in cheap, so we need to prep those tomorrow too…

It is a lot of work, but I honestly really love this time of year and this work we do as a family together.

Over this growing season, we’ve canned, dried, frozen, foraged and otherwise “put up”:

  • applesauce
  • apple juice
  • hard cider
  • apple pie filling
  • chopped apples
  • green, yellow, red and purple pepper strips
  • roasted onions
  • shredded zucchini
  • wild elderberries
  • elderberry honey syrup (anti-flu medicine)
  • pears in light syrup
  • peaches in light syrup
  • roasted pumpkin seeds
  • simple roasted tomato sauce
  • rhubarb
  • refrigerator pickles
  • traditional pickles (various recipes)
  • corn (frozen and canned)
  • cattail stalks
  • cattail pollen (used as a flour and incredibly high in vitamins and Omega-3 fats)
  • acorn flour
  • mulberries
  • black raspberries
  • raspberries
  • triple berry sauce
  • mulberry fruit leather
  • dandelion syrup
  • tomatoes
  • roasted corn salsa
  • easy fresh salsa
  • fresh tomato bisque
  • grape juice
  • grape jelly
  • milkweed pods (when tiny, they can be cooked like breaded and/or sauteed and the insides are like melted mozarella cheese)
  • walnuts
  • various other wild berries (gooseberries, etc.)
  • whatever I’ve forgotten!  🙂

I love the fact that even 6 year-old Alex knows how to ID wild asparagus and he can’t pass by walnuts in the park without gathering them up in his shirt to bring home.  🙂

I get a kick out of teaching my kids how to do things like baking, canning, gardening and preserving the harvest. Most people used to think of these skills as those of our parents and grandparents, but I grew up with different role models.

My mother was a single mom who put herself through doctoral school and became a professor and then a prison psychologist.  Her mother was a teacher, then a principal, and eventually the dean of education at an Ohio university.  After retirement, she opened an educational resource center and ran that for over twenty years (she’s nearly 90 and just sold it and retired a few years ago).  Her mother was a factory worker.

My mom was actually a phenomenally terrible cook.  Not a single woman in my life seemed to know how to sew, garden, can, cook, bake or anything else remotely domestic.  Even normal jobs related to the keeping of a home were missing from my upbringing, since we moved at least once a year, rented wherever we lived and didn’t even own furniture.

Since my mother hid me from my father until after his death, I grew up not knowing anybody on my father’s side of the family.  I have been told that my grandfather loved to garden and my grandmother may have known all of the skills I missed out on from my mother’s side, but they were all dead before I found them.

So I had to teach myself.  I’ve become a regular pro at some of it (cooking and gardening, especially), and I’m still working on a few of those domestic skills (like using a sewing machine and keeping my house tidy).

I do love knowing these skills, though, and I love that my kids are growing up learning them.  They can choose to become deans of education and know how to grow an organic garden and pressure cook twenty-five quarts of back yard salsa. 🙂

Maria Montessori actually advised that the middle school years should focus on teaching homesteading skills instead of academics, for many reasons.  We loosely follow that during the middle school years, since it seems to suit the tween years so well, developmentally.  (Montessori taught that the high school years should see a refocus on academics, along with real-world work opportunities in the form of internships and volunteer work that provides helpful experience for later careers.)

I recently wrote up 10 Homesteading Skills Every Child Should Learn, and I pointed out some of the reasons it’s so good for kids to learn homesteading skills:

  • They have skills that can save them a lot of money when they’re on their own, since they won’t have to hire others to do them.
  • They are able to be self-sufficient and don’t have to rely on other people to help them or take care of them.
  • They are able to help their neighbors and communities. They can pass on their skills and use their knowledge to help others. Homesteading practices tend to help the environment, too.
  • They have the skills needed to not just survive but thrive even in difficult financial times.
  • They are prepared for emergencies and challenges.
  • They have what they need for financial freedom and are equipped to live comfortably within their means.
  • They have added pride and the sense of accomplishment that comes from “doing it yourself” and doing it well.

I’m still working on teaching a few of the top ten list to the kids (and myself!). I put links to lessons for each category in the article, like free woodworking pages and sites that help teach kids to sew.

If you’re interested in teaching your kids homesteading skills, I also have all my favorite stuff pinned on Pinterest to boards like:

You can see all my Pinterest boards here(BTW, if you’re on Pinterest too, leave a comment and let me know!)

Daryl also focuses on some homesteading skills like making applesauce, using wild foods, foraging with kids and “putting up” foods in his cooking with kids column and his urban foraging column.

I honestly think that teaching our kids homesteading skills is one of the most important parts of their education. It gives them so many advantages in life, and sneaks in plenty of science, math and other subjects along the way.

I also just find that it greatly improves our quality of life, and gives us some pretty neat memories together — and really good food.  🙂