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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Things Here…

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I’m just popping in for a long-overdue post and update.  I always say I’m going to get back to regular blogging but I’m really going to start making it a priority soon.  I miss this.  🙂

Things are as busy as usual here.  As an update on each of the members of our family…

Toria (18 now) is in North Carolina with my cousin Eddie and his wonderful family for the week, and visiting their home in Ohio as well.  They’ve rented a house in Nag’s Head on the coast and she’s hanging with her beloved second cousins and they’re wonderfully fun household.

She is taking a gap year this year, having officially graduated homeschool this spring.  She’ll be spending this year focusing on travel, volunteer work and finalizing her thoughts on which passion to follow first in terms of college and career.  She has already traveled to visit friends in Oregon this spring, then Ohio, and now North Carolina and Ohio.  We’ll be going to see Tiffany in Nebraska for a while after we come back from getting her, and our family friend Val (whom I’ve known since high school and is like family to me and to the kids) is planning to take her to Europe sometime this year.

She is also starting up her own little shop, selling whimsical glass jewelry.  Once she has it established, I’ll post a link!

Rhia (16 now) will be officially starting her new job next month, taking over Toria’s old gig since Toria aged out (it’s only for teens under 18).  It’s a fantastic job with good pay and pretty cool experiences.  She did all the training for it this spring and got her feet wet, but they have to wait until the new fiscal year starts in August to jump back in.  That’s about all I can say in a public forum. 🙂

She just celebrated her 11 month anniversary with her boyfriend, Tyler.  He is such a great guy and we all really adore him. She’s made some new friends that she really enjoys, and has been having a lot of fun playing with fashion and hair choices.  Her hair is currently green and yellow ombre with a partly shaved side.  She is one of the only people I’ve ever known who can look good with something like that!

She’s doing the hair and makeup for the Wilder Pageant, but otherwise just enjoying the summer off.  She has been going to quite a few cool concerts with Ty, his sister and friends, and she’ll be going to the Warped Tour soon.

Jack (13) is in the Wilder Pageant again this summer.  I forget how many years he’s been in it now.  Maybe six?  He’s suddenly growing like a weed, and is now quite a bit taller than I am (though that’s not hard as I’m only 4’11”!).  His voice is now deep enough that whenever I’m on the phone with Tiffany she says, “That can’t be Jack talking!”.  🙂  His blond hair has gone quite curly from the summer humidity and it’s so thick and full that I think it adds another few inches.

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He’s been getting into Manga books and fell in love with a series I brought home from a thrift store yesterday.  He is also quite a fan of Nerf guns and we’ve amassed a massive cache of them from thrift stores since most of the other kids have caught the fever too.  I’m not a fan of guns or the mayhem that ensues in their Nerf battles.  One such battle accidentally landed Alex in the ER and required an eye patch for a week, so protective eye gear is now a rule in our house.  But I also try to bite my tongue and let him do the things that bring him joy.

He’s one of my biggest helpers around the house these days and I don’t know what I’d do without him.  He helps a lot with laundry, Fiona, the pets and occasional cooking.  He is the one I rely on the most for little odd jobs throughout the day — putting canned goods away in the basement pantry, hanging clothes on the line, grinding a batch of millet or brown rice flour in the Vitamix, setting up Fiona with something fun so I can fix dinner, and so on.

Alex (9) has a temporary best friend next door.  Our new neighbor has her nephew with her every summer, and he is Alex’s age and a fabulous fit for him. They play a lot of Minecraft together and we bring him with us when we do some fun things like head to the lake.

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We went to Sioux Falls yesterday for much-needed shopping, and we worked a visit to the zoo into it and brought the neighbor boy along.  We have memberships to the zoo and children’s museum in Sioux Falls, and try to make time for something fun for the kids every time we head there for the boring necessities like groceries since I stock up on better deals at places like Costco and Aldi once or twice a month to help keep our food budget frugal.  It was fun (and noisy) having an extra small Alex-like boy with us all day!

Alex in the Wilder Pageant again, too.  I think this is about his 3rd year, but I’m not sure.  He has a lot of fun in it and does well.  He is still a super active kid.  He loves riding his bike and playing outside, and he’s got endless energy.  He is slightly less exhausting as he ages, and he is constantly making me smile.  He continues to be fascinating with anything scientific, and soaks up scientific information like a sponge.  I was trying not to grin last week when he had a new friend in the back yard who was listening rather glassy-eyed as Alex explained in depth how to make a still.

Fiona (4) is in the Wilder Pageant for her second year.  She loves it, and looks adorable in her long braids and prairie dress.  She is quite the actress already and she’s learned most of the lines for the other actors.  She sometimes quotes them to me and then expects me to know how I’m supposed to answer.  She particularly likes quoting the little girl in the grasshopper scene (“Mama, mama, I can’t sleep.  I keep dreaming about grasshoppers.  They’re in the house and in my hair and everywhere!”… Or something like that — she could tell you exactly!).  Then I answer with a silly answer that’s not quite what the mama is supposed to say and she grins and corrects me with my proper line.

fipageant

She is learning to spell and read a few new words, and is impatient to learn to read.  I’ve told her that she’ll learn soon.  By child #5, I can tell how close she is to having it all click into place, and I have a lot of tools in my tool chest to help that happen soon for her.  It’s a goal for me to do something fun in reading readiness every day this summer, and then step it up a bit in the fall if she wants.  Of course, we read together every night and that’s probably the single best way to get children ready to read.

She still loves doing art, too, and it’s a huge part of her day.  I love her drawings and paintings.  Toria has been a big influence for her there.  That really helps her writing, too, since it gives her the fine motor control to make it easy.

Daryl is in the Wilder Pageant for his 11th (?) year, playing Mr. Kennedy this year.  He has also been busy with loads of other things, most of them volunteer-based.  And he was in a movie this week!  He got to be an extra for the movie “Hap and Ashley” that’s filming about an hour away.  He helped them as a reader when they were casting in another city a few months ago.  He even got a line!  He got to be the guy at the pot luck who shouts out, “Someone call Hank!  We’re gonna need an ambulance.”  🙂

He’s also been doing quite a lot of foraging with the kids.  He and the kids (mostly Toria) gathered over 60 pounds of wild asparagus this spring that’s in our freezer for the winter now.  He’s also gathered black raspberries (several gallons), mulberries and now bush cherries.  We transplanted a few black raspberry bushes from the wild a few years ago and they happily took over a section of our back yard, so it’s questionable if that counts as foraging or not.  I’m glad we did, as the county mowed down all the raspberry plants and cut down the mulberry trees last summer.  I wish there was less focus on making nature look tidy and empty.  I know we were hardly the only family who gathered those delicious fruits every summer.

bushcherries

I have been extremely busy,  even compared to my normal level of mayhem.  Examiner notified all of its writers on July 1st that it would be taking down the website around July 10th, and I had to move thousands of articles to a safe place to keep them.  I am starting several new websites where I’m reposting those articles.  It will be better for my readers, since they won’t have to put up with those annoying pop-up ads and sometimes-horrifying “trending stories” that adorned the sidelines.  It’s not so good for us, though, as I’m out that paycheck!  I’m putting Amazon affiliate links on the sites and asking people who wish to support us to click through for any shopping they wish to do, hoping that helps a bit in making up for that loss of income.  I am choosing to look at it as a blessing, since it will give me that push off the proverbial cliff in to new directions and new beginnings, like it or not!

Our house is currently brimming with kittens and cats, and I’m working to get that down to a calm roar.  I rescued a beautiful feral female last winter and it turned out she was pregnant, so I had to find homes for her 4 kittens (3 down, one to go).  Then another feral cat moved her kittens into our garage. The mama was very wild and the kittens were already becoming as wild as mama, and I knew that they could never be adopted if I couldn’t tame them soon.  They were too young to be weaned though, so I tried a desperate experiment and caught one and brought him up to our feral (now tame) rescue mama inside.  She sniffed him, licked him and proceeded to nurse him, and I caught the other babies and she adopted them immediately as her own.

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Now they are old enough to be weaned and move on to new homes.  They have become friendly, social, loving and litter trained.  My neighbor has agreed to take one (a black kitten she’s named Zeus) but there are three left to place.  In the meantime, our old cats are doing a fairly good job of being overrun by all of these manic kittens!

jezCollage

We managed to catch that feral mama, brought her in to the local vet to be spayed (courtesy of a wonderful county rescue organization) and released her again.  She has adopted me as the only human she will let pet her, and she is slowly becoming trusting and very loving.

In addition, we’re having a ton of much-needed renovations done to the house over the next month, and it will require pretty much emptying our entire downstairs and work done on all four floors (main, upstairs, basement and attic!).  I am completely overwhelmed by all that has to be done, but it’s another thing that will ultimately be a huge blessing when it’s done.

That’s just a fraction of what’s been going on here!  I will try to start popping in more regularly so I don’t have to do massive updates like this every time.  Hope your summer is going well!

 

 

 

Ten Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these lists so I thought I’d post quickly before catching up on my mile-long to-do list.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

1.  We got a ton of snow last week and the kids had a blast building snow forts, making snow ramps for sleds and playing in it.

2.  Victoria has taken up knitting again, and she’s so good (and fast!).  She made a lovely multi-colored scarf for a lady at church, and this hat for Fiona.

fifihat

3.  Our couch was sagging and shot, so this morning Daryl and Jack took it apart.  They repaired and reinforced the insides so it’s as good as new.  It’s always been important to us that the kids get an education not just in academics but in life skills — knowing how to cook from scratch, repair household items, sew and mend clothes, preserve foods, find bargains, treat minor illnesses and so on.  I love that they’re growing up learning these skills that we had to teach ourselves much later in life, and that they have the knowledge to live well on very little since they won’t have to pay others to do jobs for them or just toss things out and buy new.  (See 10 Homesteading skills every child should learn for more on that).

4.  Victoria and Fiona keep drawing together.  I love that Victoria has passed on her love of drawing to Fiona and I love seeing their little joint drawings.  🙂

fividrawing

5.  We’re reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever as a read-aloud, which has been a family tradition for as long as I can remember.  The kids never get tired of hearing that book.  🙂

6.  Rhia has kept busy with her photography, art, politics and her boyfriend, among other things.  She and Tyler are still going strong.  He continues to teach her things like car repair.  He fixed an old rusted manual typewriter for her that they found, and got it working as good as new.  He also fixed an old light that they found, wiring it and everything.  His mechanical skills are impressive and I love that she’s learning that from him.  She teaches him things too, and it’s nice to see how well they complement each other.

7.  I got a 75 cent calligraphy kit from a thrift store and got it out for the boys to use for handwriting practice.  They both need work on their handwriting but they say they hate to write.  With the pen out, they couldn’t wait to write.  Jack spent quite a long time writing out words and phrases, and Alex took a turn, too.  Later on, Victoria even asked if she could use it.

calligraphy

8.  We’ve been watching Drunk History with the kids.  The older kids and I get a lot out of it, and there have been so many times that I turned to Victoria and asked, “Did that really happen?” and she did a quick google and declared that yes, amazingly, that did.  It’s been a fun way of learning less-known history.  🙂  The younger kids have been watching more respectable Netflix shows like MythBusters, Odd Squad and Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

9.  We’ve been participating in Bountiful Baskets, a non-profit produce coop that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to cities around the country every weekend.  They also have different add-ons every week, such as organic bread, granola, fruit by the case and themed boxes (such as all different kinds of citrus  or masa mix with corn husks and Mexican produce to make tamales).  Last week we got a 40 pound box of organic Fiji apples for $32.  It’s entirely volunteer-run (even the women who run it at the national level) and our family volunteers every Saturday to help out.  The little kids help clean laundry baskets (they use designated laundry baskets to portion all the food out for people to pick up and put in their own containers), smash boxes and carry things.  The older kids help people carry their boxes and baskets to their cars, and Daryl and I help check people in, load the baskets and so on.  It’s been a fun way to volunteer as a family, a great way to extend our grocery dollars (a basket full of fruits and veggies is only $15 and an organic box is only $25) and a neat way to discover some new fruits and vegetables.  Some of the produce we get in the boxes isn’t even available in our grocery stores.

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10. We learned all about wassailing and it’s very pagan roots.  Daryl and Victoria tend to go down educational rabbit holes on our long car drives, and Victoria googles the topics and then reads everything she finds out to us.  Last week, that led to our learning more than we ever thought we could know about radon (which states have the worst problem, how radon led to lung disease in coal miners, which homes are at risk, what it does…).  This week, it was wassailing.  Now THAT was a wild tradition once upon a time.

There’s been all of the usual stuff, too, of course — Khan Academy, reading, worksheets, playing with friends, doing art, nature studies, games, cooking, talking, blogging, educational apps, playing Minecraft, playing with pets, fighting illnesses and so on.

And with that, I’m off to go read another chapter about those awful Herdman kids and try to get my downstairs remotely tidy looking.  Happy Wednesday!

 

Toilet Paper Roll Crafts!

I’m loving this Pinterest board of nothing but toilet paper roll crafts.  With a family as big as ours, we can accumulate a lot of those tubes pretty quickly, and I’ve started to stockpile them so we can have fun making some of these.  🙂

Fun toilet paper roll crafts

I’ve started my own board of recycled crafts with my favorite of these and other craft projects that use things otherwise destined for the trash or recycling bin.

Because of all of the things that I need to catch up on, spending more time on Pinterest is at the top of the list?  🙂  Ah well!  It’s fun with the kids!

 

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