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.  🙂

Nature Studies Last Week

A big part of our “curriculum” this time of year is nature. We spend as much time as possible outside and much of our life in general is dictated by nature. We are harvesting in the garden, “putting up” produce like non-GMO corn from a nearby farm and homemade pickles with farmers’ market cukes, cooking like crazy with extra zucchini gifted by others, watching wildlife, spending days at the lake, foraging, climbing trees, playing and eating nearly every dinner outside in the back yard at our new farmhouse table.

(Daryl and Victoria built it for me.  Isn’t it marvelous?!)

This week was a pretty great week for nature studies. Here’s some of what we did….

  • We watched a cicada emerge from his alien-like skin with his new green wings.
  • We watched a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis right by our back door, pump its new wings until they were dry, and fly away.
  • We swam at the lake many times and played with sand, water, driftwood and water bugs.
  • Victoria found some neat rocks and an arrowhead artifact at the lake, and was with Daryl when he found another fossilized shark tooth.
  • Alex and Jack helped Daryl forage for acorns, walnuts, apples and crab apples.  The boys always excitedly gather any acorns or walnuts they come across to bring home to process, which tickles me since 99.9% of the world considers them nuisances for the lawnmower.
  • Daryl and the kids “foraged” for apples and crab apples by getting permission from various owners who said they would not be harvesting them and who gave us permission to pick them.  These were all organic apples since the owners didn’t plan to harvest them and therefore didn’t spray them.
  • Alex helped Daryl made applesauce from the apples and crab apples and we canned many pints and quarts of it for the winter.  We talked about why our new pressure canner can safely preserve low-acid foods.
  • Victoria helped Daryl process the acorns and turn them into acorn flour.
  • I made gluten-free apple cake with acorn flour (and other gluten free flours) we made from acorns Daryl and Alex gathered at our UU church, then we brought the flour for everyone to see and smell (it smells divine).  We’ll be bringing them baked good samples and printed instructions on how to do it themselves, too.  The apples were also foraged ones, and the eggs were from a homeschooling family down the highway (we buy 5-10 dozen eggs from them at a time from their free-roaming chickens at $1 a dozen), so a lot of the ingredients were locally sourced.
  • Jack and Alex helped Daryl husk walnuts and put them in big mesh onion bags in the garage to dry.
  • The kids helped husk non-GMO corn from a nearby farm to blanch and freeze it for winter.  We buy enormous boxes of ears for $6 each and spend a day at a time putting it up.  It’s a lot of work but it’s well worth it for many reasons!
  • We watered and tended our gardens.  I use wine bottles for drip irrigation, and Jack helped me fill the bottles.
  • We made gluten-free zucchini breads and cakes like crazy, and froze extra shredded zucchini for use in recipes later in the year. We also made lots of grilled zucchini and zucchini everything else!  🙂
  • We saw hundreds of dead carp by Talcot Dam, littering the shore.  We believe the combination of hot weather and low water just killed them off.  It led to more talk about weather and climate change.
  • We saw great blue herons, vultures, sandpipers, cranes, pelicans and other beautiful birds at the lake and in the wetlands that we pass when we head out of town for groceries.
  • Toria, Alex and Fiona found a frog after church and played with him before letting him go.
  • We talked about our funny sunflowers that don’t usually turn to face the sun at all the way they’re supposed to, but rather stick their faces in all directions.  Incidentally, if you want to know why they turn to follow the sun, says, “Sunflowers face the sun due to their ability of ‘heliotropism’ or sun-tracking. Sunflowers have a hydraulic system in the stem which enables them to turn in the direction of the sun. Water builds up on the shady side of the stem, leading to pressure which causes the head to arc toward the light.”
  • We read from One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve With Science! and the kids used their biology knowledge to try to solve the mysteries in the life science section.
  • I made the mistake of wandering into the Nature Bats Last blog and following rabbit trails there until I was left an utter basket case in the middle of the night and had to email a friend whose wife is an environmental science professor to talk me off the ledge.  If you want to feel despondent pretty quickly, google “near term extinction” sometime and take a look at the amazingly short number of years some scientists are giving humanity and pretty much all life on earth.  (Note:  I had Nature Bats Last hyperlinked for you but I really consider it a public service announcement not to send any poor unsuspecting souls there.  I prefer hope.  Yes, climate change and climate chaos is real and getting really bad really fast, but paralyzing us with fear isn’t going to inspire the kind of change that’s needed to save ourselves and our world.  For goodness sake, we all need to get serious about making real changes, though.)
  • We are starting an in-depth family study of ways to convert our house to more sustainable energy, along with various tools we use (for instance, we bought a push reel mower a couple of years ago to use instead of the gas powered one).  We are also going to see how far we can lower our utility bill from September of last year and talk to our minister about starting a community garden at our UU church next year (the church is already wind powered, which is pretty awesome and shows their commitment to sustainable living).
  • I made up a batch of elderberry honey syrup to beat a bad summer cold.
  • Jack, Alex and Fiona took part in the Think! challenge to make mandalas from natural objects.  The boys made fantastic ones (Fiona just played) and they were posted on the Think! blog.  Unfortunately, the blog owner posted Alex’s twice and didn’t post Jack’s at all and she apparently doesn’t read her comments, so you can’t see Jack’s!  It was awesome and I’m going to try to contact her again to see if she’ll put his up because I know he’ll be proud to see it online.
  • We have been taking walks, climbing trees, visiting with friends in the back yard, eating outside, grilling out (mostly produce and veggies… stuffed portabello mushrooms are our all-time favorite but they’re about 1000 calories apiece!), making refrigerator pickles and scrap apple juice and peach pie and a hundred other things to use up excess fruits and veggies, trimming trees and bushes, loving on pets, talking about the jet stream and weather, photographing bugs, pulling weeds, checking on wild edibles (grapes, elderberries and plums are ripening soon, among others)…

And that’s why we don’t start “doing school” in late August just because the local schools have started up again.  🙂  Not that we ever do school anyway, but this is just not a sit-down and study kind of season for us.  We do homeschooling through the seasons and I love this season.

Daryl read somewhere years ago that September is the month of winds and magic.  Since it is the month of his birthday and our anniversary, it is a special month for us.  Happy September!


Folktales, Freebies and more

Jason snatches the Golden Fleece. Greek Vase from the 5th century BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York).

Here’s a round-up of stuff I’ve been meaning to share…

Fairy Tales, Folktales, Fables, and Folklore

This great web site contains hundreds of stories from mythologies around the world.  From Finnish folk tales to Anderson fairy tales to parables of Buddhism, there’s something for everyone.  This would be great to combine with studies of countries or family heritage.

70% of science fair winners are children of immigrants

Only 12 percent of Americans are foreign-born, the NFAP report says. Even so, children of immigrants took 70 percent of the finalist slots in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Competition, an original-research competition for high school seniors.
Of the 40 finalists, 28 had parents born in other countries: 16 from China, 10 from India, one from South Korea and one from Iran.
“In proportion to their presence in the U.S. population, one would expect only one child of an Indian (or Chinese) immigrant parent every two and a half years to be an Intel Science Search finalist, not 10 in a year,” wrote the report’s author, NFAP director Stuart Anderson.
…”Our parents brought us up with love of science as a value,” David Kenneth Tang-Quan, whose parents emigrated from China to California, told Anderson, according to the report.
Pinterest pages
I’ve heard about Pinterest, where you “pin” web sites you like and can see what others pin, but I wasn’t all that interested.  Until I saw this mom’s homeschool pins and realized what fun this site could be.  I could lose a lot of time here!
Newest homeschool writings
Here’s what I’ve been churning out in the HS front lately at the examiner, on everything from free transcript templates to how Montessori changes from middle school to high school years…

And here’s the latest in other subjects…

And a little sap…  🙂

The Never-Ending Parent

On the personal front, the baby is now very, very wiggly.  He/she doesn’t have a certain time of day or night to bounce around.  It seems to be most of the time!  Hopefully we’ll get an ultrasound next month and finally get to know whether it’s a girl or boy.  I’m so impatient to know.

Victoria is visiting homeschool friends a few hours away this week.  I’m impatient for her to come home, even though I’m sure she’s having a blast.

Anna is taking Irish step dancing lessons for a performance she’ll be doing with a small group of girls in the pageant this year.  The teachers are local homeschool graduates who taught themselves to do Irish step dancing years ago and have performed all over through the years.

Jack and Alex are currently helping Daddy at the cabin and museum.  They’ve been spending much of their time outside and generally end each day covered in mud, sand, scrapes and who knows what else.  I do like summer!


"Our" Museum and Log Cabin

Okay, I have to admit that Daryl’s volunteerism has led to some pretty cool opportunities.  This is definitely one of them.

Last year, Daryl joined our little town’s historic society and was nominated as Vice President.  This year, he was automatically bumped up to president.  When he asked who wanted to take charge of the city museum and log cabin, there were no takers.  Some members had been shouldering more than their share for years, so he took it on.

This past month, he has been busy with the kids doing things to prepare for the grand opening today.  They swept the log cabin, arranged displays, cleaned up unfortunate bats and birds who’d met untimely ends, went through donations and so on.

Along the way, they’ve learned a ton of history about our town, railroads, pioneer life and more.  And helped our community.  And had fun.

And best of all, we now sort of have free run of our own little historic museum and log cabin.

The site is only open for two hours on Sunday afternoons.  It’s been that way for years and Daryl is hoping to expand that.  Victoria may take a shift to open another day and time.

I suggested seeing if the high school would donate their leftover greenhouse plants to the site to plant around the cabin as a historic garden.  Daryl checked with the principal and superintendent (they’re also on the committee) and they said sure.  Today, Daryl and Anna stopped by and picked up flats of marigolds, snapdragons, tomatoes and more.  We planted until we were too tired to do more.

On our way off the site, we turned off the lights to the museum and looked around one last time.  Victoria was taking pictures of artifacts.  Daryl showed me the sled from the giant old waterpark that was on one of our local lakes decades ago, until the owners shut it down rather than involve the government and pay taxes (not that it would have passed safety inspections either, by the looks of it!).

I love that my boys climb into the rafters of the log cabin for fun.  I love that my girls are taking on their on garden responsibilities to beautiful the spot and add a little more authenticity.  I love that Jack knows railroad history and hobo culture.  I love that Alex runs barefoot through the clover around the cabin and climbs on historic farm equipment.  I love walking through antiques and memories from a hundred years with my children before turning out the lights and locking the doors.

We have lots of plans for activities to draw more visitors and add more interest.  It’s a fun project and I’m very glad Daryl took it on.


It's Turns Out I'm a Montessori Homeschooler

A while ago, a friend asked me if I knew anything about homeschooling older kids with the Montessori method. I had no clue but I promised I’d look into it for her.

I still had it on the back burner (being 5 months pregnant with 4 kids, too many gardens and an affinity for the internet and junky TV will send a whole lot of things there) when I happened upon a blog post where a mother was talking about how she homeschooled her middle schooler.

Even though her daughter had been educated in a Montessori school and loved it, they abandoned that when it came to the middle school years because the mother said Maria Montessori believed kids of that age should mainly be doing “farmwork.”


She followed that up with a quote from Montessori expert Michael Olaf that immediately had me thinking that I was a fan of Montessori for middle schoolers and got me off on a new rabbit trail.

“The Montessori program for the young adult from age twelve to fifteen is very different from that of traditional school. Dr. Montessori felt that because of the rapid growth, the increased need for sleep, and hormonal changes, it is useless to try to force the adolescent to concentrate on intellectual work. She recommended an Erdkinder, or Earth school, where children would live close to nature, eat fresh farm products, and carry on practical work related to the economics of supplying food, shelter, transportation, and so forth. Intellectual work is still done, following the child’s interests, but without pressure.”

Okay, let me get this straight…

Kids are supposed to spend time in nature.

Kids are supposed to follow their own interests academically.

Kids are supposed to be taught important life skills like gardening, baking and building.

Kids are supposed to be allowed to follow their own natural needs and rhythms.

Kids are supposed to eat healthy, whole, locally grown foods.

What part of this is a bad thing? 🙂

This is pretty much exactly my line of thinking for how I’ve been homeschooling my kids but especially my older girls (11 and 13, ending 5th and 7th grade).

For example…

  • The kids all help me in the garden and have their own plants they get to buy and tend.
  • Cooking and baking are very important skills that each child gets to learn.  Jack was thrilled to learn how to cook rice in the rice cooker recently and keeps asking when his next cooking class will be.  Anna cooks dishes like fried eggs and tomato soup.  Victoria is now in charge of daily bread making in the bread machine.  Daryl and I try to involve the kids with cooking and baking as much as possible.
  • Anna mended a pillow from my bed that she noticed was ripped today.  She jumps on any opportunity to sew or mend things around the house.
  • Victoria helped Daryl build me two raised garden beds.  She got to saw, drill and help figure out the amount of lumber needed and how to figure out its final area for filling with dirt and compost.
  • Nature is a huge part of our homeschooling.  The kids do a lot of hiking, exploring, bird watching, tracking, tree climbing, rock hunting and so forth.
  • We talk a lot about life skills, budgeting, homemaking, nutrition and other parts of life that we think are important.
  • Daryl involves the kids in using power tools, doing repairs and such.
  • The kids are given more and more responsibilities as they age.  Victoria is in charge of a lot of our laundry, for instance, and Jack is in charge of taking care of many of the cats’ needs.
  • Our home environment is still filled with enriching things that help foster learning.  The living areas are strewn with the Brock magiscope and various slides, math gadgets, educational games, books, tools, science gadgets, notebooks and so on.
  • Interest-led learning still plays a huge part in the kids’ education.  They take part in science conferences, script frenzy, nature programs, community theater, volunteer activities, homeschool events, and so forth.  They read National Geographic, follow literature blogs, play math games… and on and on.
  • I’ve repeatedly stressed to the kids that I want them to be prepared for life by knowing how to live well on very little money.  We talk about how to find dirt cheap good housing, how to grow and preserve food, how to make meals from scratch, how to avoid big spending traps and so forth.  This knowledge will serve them no matter how much money they make, and help give them real freedom in life.

Here’s the article I ended up writing about how to use Montessori principles for middle school years.  I’m planning on following up with several more on the topic, too.

Far from seeing all of this as “farmwork,” I see all this as a really natural way to teach during the middle school years — and a really practical way.

Far too often, even middle school years are spent almost exclusively getting children ready for college.  A Montessori education prepares children for life.

College-bound teens can still devote time to subjects they’ll need for college.  But for middle-schoolers, is a life spent engaged in nature, life skills and interest-led learning really such a bad thing?

You know my vote.  😉



On the Agenda: Plan, Party, Fight, Play, Plant, ID, Clean

On my agenda for the next week:

  1. Plan Jack, Alex and Victoria’s birthdays (Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday), throw one party, host one soiree, make three cakes, buy presents, survive.
  2. Take the kids to see the CSI director, who’s in our little town again, and perhaps fight with him again.  Last time, he told me I shouldn’t bring children.  Pfft.  In the first place, he doesn’t know my children.  In the second place, I would consider it nearly criminal to have a CSI director come and talk for free to a room full of people, give inside secrets, explain how special effects are done, and NOT bring my children.  In the third place, my kids loved it.  Okay, Anna fell asleep, but Victoria loved it.  🙂
  3. Have the kids try and play some educational games.  BTW, here’s ten educational apps that are free right now.  I also want to try this math game.  Oh yeah, and I want to print out this chemistry card game from the fabulous Ellen McHenry site.
  4. Plant some flowers to cook with. Here’s a list of 10 edible flowers I posted yesterday.  I’m planning on writing up a page of recipes for each flower and trying as many as possible this summer.
  5. Do some wildflower ID’ing with this wonderful Minnesota wildflower site.
  6. Magically clean my house. A lot.

In other news…

I am just too sick and overwhelmed right now to do anything this ambitious right now, but this homeschool mom blogged some great rock and mineral projects for younger kids.

I wrote up articles on Homeschooling through the seasons, 40 Ways to calm a fussy baby, and Homeschool 101: Where can I find standards and skills lists for every grade, among others.

And the morning/afternoon/evening sickness is still… making life interesting.   I am mystified as to how I can get sick this often and still have a belly this big.

Okay, the continous supply of chocolate truffles might have something to do with it.  😉



10 Fun Ways We've Learned and Played Lately

Daryl says I have to start blogging again so he knows what we’re up to.  😉

Sorry for the long gap between posting.  Between morning sickness, other sickness and spring weather (gardening, yay!), I haven’t gotten much accomplished.

Here’s a bit of what we have managed to do though…

1.  We went to the International Food Festival at SMSU. It was a feast put on by various groups of international students at the college and we really enjoyed it.  There was food from Japan, Thailand, Kenya, West Africa, India, Mexico, Laos and Nepal.  Not only was the food really good (and there was so much of it!) but it was really neat seeing so many students in native dress.  The women were beautiful!

On the way back, we drove through a big thunderstorm and Victoria got this awesome lightning shot.

2.  We’ve been reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a read-aloud. We read it years ago when the girls were young but we’re doing it all over again.  It’s a fun book!

3.  Jack and Anna watched March of the Penguins because they wanted to learn more about penguins to go along with the book.

4.  Jack and I had a long talk about Columbus, early American settlers and the Revolutionary War. We tend to do history as a sort of long discussion and storytelling session around here, with me telling history like a story and it leading to rabbit trails of conversations, often about the moral issues that come up with history.

5.  We’ve been starting seeds indoors and out, preparing gardens and doing other spring outdoor work.

Jack also made me a LEGO garden.  He’s such a sweetie.

6.  Victoria built a fort. It’s a very strange fort.  It falls down sometimes.  There are now skulls nailed to it (we found them during various wanderings).   It could be called a dangerous eyesore.  The kids all love it.

7.  Victoria took a survey to determine what her political leanings are. Along the way she had to research concepts like protectionism, free trade and monopolies to figure out what her answers were.   It would probably not surprise anybody to find out that her leanings are towards libertarianism and the left.

8.  Daryl has taken the kids bird watching quite a lot. They have seen some amazing sights (ospreys snatching up fish and flying off with them, eagles and hawks hunting in the fields and such) and lots of varieties of birds like pelicans, swans and many bald eagles, among many others.  He often takes one child with him early in the morning just to see who’s out and about, bird-wise.  Other times he takes them all to a nearby park or nature area to explore, take pictures and play.

Here’s a couple of  pictures Anna took today of an osprey with a fish in its talons.

Here’s a few bird pics by Victoria (I don’t know where to find her cool eagle shots though!)…

9.  Spring weather has allowed for lots more playing outside. The kids have been riding their bikes, climbing trees, playing with friends, riding their scooters, going on walks and otherwise enjoying the new season.

The kids even staged a spelling bee in the backyard with friends!

10. Victoria taught me that ground squirrels have such a complex set of noises that they use for language that they can be categoried as nouns, verbs and adjectives. I love when my children teach me things!

The kids have also been… watching Meerkat Manor, reading billions of books, talking on the phone, chatting online, researching things on Wikipedia, playing educational games on my iPod, blogging, taking billions of photographs, building with LEGOs, doing chores, writing stories, doing math with me, playing physics games online, doing Wii Fit and so on.

And now, there’s a small boy who’s far overdue for his bedtime and I have a belly ache that’s in dire need of some sort of attention (or at least a bit of moaning and griping).

I’m signing off with my latest yappings online…

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