Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Chaos!

Once again, things are total chaos on the Homestead.  With the Holidays threatening to outrun me before I even get my dishes done, I will be spending less time blogging and more time cleaning, baking, sewing and wrapping.  Just in case I don't post here again until after the 25th, here's wishing everyone a 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Homemade Christmas Gifts And More - Review

Kindle Exclusive
Once again, Susanne, the Hillbilly Housewife has done it.  She has compiled a trove of frugal Christmas gift ideas, old and new, into one handy volume.  At only $2.99, this Kindle exclusive will save you hundreds of dollars on Christmas gifts, not to mention hours of shopping and stress.  

With some inexpensive yet up to date packaging - ideas included in book - cookies, coffee mixes and bath goodies become coveted gifts for family and friends.  The best part is, these don't take all year to make.  In just a couple of sessions, you can easily assemble several bath and body gifts or baked gifts and homemade mixes.  Crocheted and sewn gifts may take a bit longer, but not much if you keep it simple.  Susanne has all kinds of ideas there, too.  There are even simple gifts for kids to make and receive.

I was very happy with the recipe section for baked gifts and mixes, and also the gift basket ideas, but a little disappointed in the handmade section.  There are lots of ideas for handmade gifts, but no directions for any specific crocheted, knitted or sewn gifts, although links to other sites are included.  Also, I would have hoped for a little more in the section of gifts children can make.  That drawback pointed out, I still love the book for the price, and have plenty of other resources for kid stuff.  

I have given many of these gifts myself over the years, yet having it all there in front of me reminded me of how easy and inexpensive gift giving can be, and gave me some inspiration for those on my list this year.

For lots of frugal tips and recipes for low cost home cooking from scratch, see Susanne's website

To purchase Homemade Christmas Gifts and More, Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas for the Whole Family, (c) 2012 by Susanne B. Myers, visit Amazon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Death of the Camera

It started about two years ago.  The flash on my wonderful, digital camera folds down and snaps when not in use.  One day it decided not to fold down anymore.  No problem, didn't hurt the camera any.  The lens had been having issues with dust making it not want to spin up and open, so I had been cleaning it periodically and had still been able to take plenty of pictures and videos.  The last straw came the other day during a miscellaneous photo shoot.  The lens refused to open no matter how much I cleaned, coaxed or pommeled it.  

I have now resigned myself to the fact that my lovely Samsung NV10, 10.1 mega-pixel camera with the Scheider-Kreuznach lens, which has taught me so much about digital photography, needs replacing.  Although I have already found a similar model, with more up-to-date features, for a price I can afford within the next few weeks, I am thinking that maybe I would like to upgrade to a more versatile outfit.

My Samsung fits neatly in my pocket, and doesn't take up any room in my purse.  But I am longing for the optical zoom and more precise focus of one of the better cameras on the market now.  I am certainly not going to pop for a professional set-up, which I don't have the skill to use anyway.  I have just about decided to save up for a few months and get a nice, mid-priced camera, which may be too big for my pocket or purse, but should allow me to take some awesome pics and videos, to help bring my blog and website up a level in usefulness and enjoyment to you, my readers.

Until then, please be patient with my recycled pictures, and know that I am working hard to make Mrs. D's more interesting for all of us!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Whatever Possessed Me?! - FREE Download!

It's finally here;)  Chapter 1 of "The Working Mom's Parent's Guide to Homeschooling" is now available for FREE download!  For a limited time only (a week or so...), so click on the link below, or the button on the sidebar and get it now!!

The Working Parent's Guide to Homeschooling Ch. 1

You CAN homeschool your children!  Even if you are single, working, low income, or don't have a college degree.  The Working Parent's Guide to Homeschooling, Chapter 1, will introduce you to me, a single, working, low income mom, who moved her kids to the country and started homeschooling, while still working.  Learn:  Whatever Possessed Me?! and Where It All Began...

This is a PDF file, that should be readable on most ereaders and computers.  The link or button will take you to a secure site, where the file is stored, and will give you a link to click on to download the file.  Hope you enjoy it!  Now to get Chapter 2 ready and keep working on the rest of the book.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Working Parent's Guide to Homeschooling

One-room schoolhouse, Calico Ghost Town, Yermo, CA
I am so excited.  My first book is almost complete and I just can't wait.  So I am going to serialize it, one chapter at a time.  Not only that, I am going to give away the download of each chapter for FREE for the first week!  

Now, I am still polishing up that first chapter, because I want it to be perfect for you.  So let me tell you about the book.

"The Working Mom's Parent's Guide to Homeschooling" is for anyone who's ever wanted to homeschool, but thought they couldn't unless they stayed home full time.  I've been there.  I've made mistakes, and had lots of success and I want to share what I've learned, to make it easier for you to jump in and make an incredible new life for you and your children.

In "The Working Mom's Parent's Guide to Homeschooling", I address perplexing issues, such as Scheduling (Chapter 2), Who Watches the Kids? (Chapter 3), and locating and obtaining affordable curriculum (Chapters 4, 6, 7 and 8).  

I share my thoughts on record keeping, and understanding your state's homeschooling laws (Chapter 10) and I wrap everything up with a chapter on nine different styles of homeschooling, their definitions, and where to find resources for each different style.

In these days of ereaders, social networking and high speed internet, homeschooling is possible like never before.  In "The Working Mom's Parent's Guide to Homeschooling", I hope to encourage you to commit yourself to taking charge of your children's education.  I want to give you ideas and starting points for your journey.  Most of all, I want to convince you that this is doable, regardless of your particular situation.  That with creative thinking, determination and support, you and your children can start experiencing the joys of homeschooling today!

So keep your eyes here on "Around The Homestead", for your first FREE download of "The Working Mom's Parent's Guide to Homeschooling".

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Remembering Why I Moved to the Country

The llama in the playhouse.
My extended stay in the Big City this year has served as a good reminder to me of why I moved out to the country.  The endless miles of cement and asphalt, cookie cutter houses with postage stamp yards, piles of rules regulating everything from garage sales to whether you can walk down the street with your child on a school day.  The gray skies that sometimes open up to blue by mid-day.  The 24 hour traffic.  The constant noise.  The overwhelming amount of activity.  The brown haze that obscures the mountains from view.  The over-chlorinated pools.  The speed at which life flies by.

Yet, there have been advantages.  Walking to daily Mass.  Spending time with my dad, my older children, my grandson, and my cousins.  Being present for the many special events that took place with my family this summer.  Seeing some old friends and making some new.  Then, there are those things that can only happen in Southern California:  black beans, lettuce and ranch dressing as pizza toppings.  Spending the morning in the mountains and the afternoon at the beach.  Hummer stretch limos.

Caught in the act.
Coming home was not without its problems.  I lost my entire sheep herd while I was gone.  One mama and baby in lambing, the other mama and baby to coyotes.  My rascally goats spent the summer systematically working their fence until they could open up a section.  So we have been systematically closing up each new hole and reinforcing the fence.  Fencing on the homestead is a never ending project.  My dog ran off to parts unknown, though she was last spotted playing with some campers visiting from another area.  I hope they're giving her a good home.

The new dogs are awesome.  The llamas were utterly displeased with sharing the back yard with them, however, so a new pen has been constructed for them.  It does have a nice shed, which, when cleaned out, will make as nice a shelter as the playhouse they were using in the back yard.

Home sweet home.
I've lost the ten pounds I gained just getting back to my normal routine and diet.  We do have a few new neighbors, creating some extra noise in my peaceful haven, but I am sure glad to be home.  Ten acres on a dirt road with clear skies trumps asphalt and constant highway noise any old day.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Homemade Jelly and Jam Recipes

Here's another plug for a book I recently downloaded.   Susanne, over at Hillbilly Housewife, is working on a series of cookbooks exclusively for Amazon Kindle.  The great thing about it is you don't even have to have a Kindle to download them!  Amazon downloaded my purchase right to the Kindle app on my iPod touch and I was ready to go.  For only $2.99, (or borrow for free on a real Kindle), Homemade Jelly and Jam Recipes includes 35 recipes to make delicious homemade jellies and jams from scratch.

If you know the Hillbilly Housewife, you know that she is all about cooking from scratch and saving money without sacrificing flavor.  This is not just a recipe book.  There is a lot of education as well as some entertaining anecdotes here.  Recipes include canned and frozen jams and even some quirky refrigerator jams like Bacon Refrigerator Jam.  Go figure.  Could be good with pancakes.  I enjoyed Homemade Jelly and Jam Recipes and can't wait to give her Spiced Tomato Jam and Grape Jam recipes a try.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Homecoming: Memoirs of a Deployed Marine

Buy on Amazon
I have been trying to come up with some brilliant, clever blog topics these last few weeks, but life has been so chaotic on the Homestead that I am finding it difficult to focus on writing.  So while I continue trying to catch up with myself and write something relatively coherent, I will be making some plugs for some other folks.

Today I have a plug for my future son-in-law's friend: "Homecoming"  is a book about U.S. Marines on deployment in Iraq, written by a Marine.  My daughter's fiance and the author, Russel Vineyard, served together in Iraq.  Vineyard's presentation is rough and raw, but true to life, and full of action and adventure.  I do not recommend it for anyone under the age of 16, but for mature adults, it is an eye opener to what "our boys" go through "over there".

I am proud of this young man for making such a courageous start as a writer, and hope he will continue to hone his skills and bring us more stories from his experience and imagination.

In support of all our Marines who have returned from active duty and are trying to get on with "normal" lives, and in support of all of us "starving" writers, I encourage you to check out this book;)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Love In Disguise - Review

"Love In Disguise" is a delightful romp through Arizona silver mining country.  Desperate for a job, Chicago costume designer Ellie Moore convinces the world-famous Pinkerton Detective Agency to hire her to investigate a string of robberies out West.  There she meets handsome young mine owner Steven Pierce and they fall in love.  But does Steven really know who he is in love with?  Not the middle-aged Lavinia, Ellie's alter ego.  What about captivating and vivacious Jessie, Lavinia's "niece"?  Will he love Ellie when he discovers her true identity?  Will Ellie unmask the thieves before Steven and his associates lose their mines?

This may very well be Carol's best book yet.  Her gift for interweaving a tasteful romance with mystery and suspense is at its utmost.  She also has a fantastic ability to share her faith in God in a subtle way without overwhelming the reader.  Her love of Arizona's history and landscape are also evident in her settings and characters.  For "Love In Disguise", Carol drew on her knowledge of Tombstone and the surrounding area, as well as her vast knowledge of Arizona history, to create a realistic, fictional mining town.

Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys living books, history, romance and mystery.  The romance here is classy, suitable for early teens to older adults.  Great for the family bookshelf.

"Love In Disguise", by Carol Cox (c)2012,  ebook $9.99 and up, paperback $11.18 and up.

I downloaded this book for free from Amazon, during a 24 hour promotion.  No compensation was received for this review.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

10 Reasons I Homeschool Year Round

I've always thought year-round school was a great idea. When I was young, I was so bored by the end of July that I actually got out books and started reading for hours. That was after the yearly two week road trip vacation with my parents, in June, right after school got out. When my children were in public school and they went on the year round track, it was a huge relief, both financially and psychologically. Financially because I didn't need to squeeze so tightly in order to pay the babysitter for full days for three months. Psychologically because I didn't have three active children at home going stir crazy from boredom and cabin fever. 

When we transitioned to homeschooling, we actually did take the first summer off. Partly to celebrate and change gears. We took a long camping vacation. We moved to the next state. Then we settled into our new "routine". I decided not to take the next summer off, because for one, I was working and could not have constant interruptions to direct bored children into useful, productive activities. Secondly, children need routine, just like the rest of us. It gives us a sense of security and purpose that gets us up in the morning and keeps us moving through the day. Lastly, we could take a week or two off throughout the year, as it suited us, for visits to their dad, grandparents, or for our own vacation or just a plain old break from routine.

With my 9 year old son, whom I have homeschooled since birth, we have taken one summer off, because his friends did. It was so hard for me to get back into gear after that, I decided to get back to the year round schedule. So, without further blab, here are 10 reasons we homeschool year round:

1.  It keeps the routine consistent.
2.  It fits our work schedule better.
3.  We can take time off as a family.
4.  We can plan trips and time off around our schedule, not the school's.
5.  We can go places during the off season and avoid crowds.
6.  No paying for expensive camps or day long babysitting to "keep the kids busy".
7.  Fewer interruptions for mom, working at home, because boy is doing schoolwork at the same time.
8.  We can take a three week vacation in the mild fall weather of November, instead of the blistering heat and humidity of August.
9.  We can stay inside in the air-conditioning, working in comfort when it's too hot to do anything fun or productive outside.
10. We can go skiing midweek in the middle of January, without worrying that we are getting behind on schoolwork.

Now that I'm started, I'm sure I can come up with a bunch more. So next time I'm faced with a dumbfounded stare after telling someone we homeschool all year, I will be able to give them more information than they ever knew they wanted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Little Free Libraries - Take A Book, Leave A Book

I admit it, I have a problem.  I'm a bibliophile.  I collect books for the sake of having books. I love to read, but I certainly cannot read fast enough to justify my enormous collection of books. I just can't help it, I go to a book sale, or a thrift store and they call to me. I take a teeny peek and they look so interesting I just have to buy them to read "sometime". Friends give away books and I take them. My mania is not limited to bound matter. I also collect audiobooks - how can one drive for hours without something decent to listen to? I have 100 ebooks and counting on my ipod. Project Gutenberg is one of my regular haunts. My library card is worn and no matter how hard I try, I cannot leave the local public library without at least half a dozen books.

I have tried to trim my collection. I regularly go through all the bookcases in the house and thin out the books.  Then I put them in boxes in my workshop. I pass them on to friends. I have an Amazon store where I sell some.  It does not help that I end up paying out of pocket to ship most of them. I have donated cases of books to the library and subsequently bought them back when they didn't go on the shelves. I've donated dozens of books to our church library, but it doesn't seem to be very popular. I donate boxes of books to the veterans hospital, thrift stores and sell them for $1 a box at garage sales. Somehow, it is not very fulfilling. 

That's why, when I read about Little Free Libraries in the Sunday Los Angeles Times, I thought "what a perfect idea"! Just mount a weatherproof box on a post at the end of the driveway, keep it stocked with a variety of books, and hopefully people who come by for books will also leave some that will be good to read. Heaven knows I could probably keep the thing stocked from my own stores for years, but it would be nice to find an interesting read in there from someone else. 

Little Free Libraries was the brainchild of Todd Bol and Rick Brooks of Wisconsin. From Todd's first Little Free Library which he installed at his home in 2009, over 1600 have sprung up around the United States and around the world.  That's not counting any which may not be registered with the site. The friends' original  goal was to see 2,510 Little Free Libraries built, just over the number funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Now they expect to see 3,000 registered with their site by the end of this month. Little Free Libraries encourage patrons to "take a book, leave a book, leave a note", and frequently become a meeting place for friends and neighbors who otherwise wouldn't see each other very much.

I can just picture myself slapping on the skis this winter, and heading out to see if anyone's left a new book, and to set out a couple of old friends, to go keep company with someone else. Of course it will take a little time to pull this project together. I probably have most of the materials I need for the box, and I've downloaded tips and directions from the website. It is that elusive factor - time - that I need to corral in order to get it done. In the meantime, I will nurture my vision of my own Little Free Library right at the end of my drive - and maybe a portable one to have in front our campsites when we go traveling... 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rose Petal Jam

The backyard roses seem to be done for a while.  Not sure if the smaller bushes in the front will put out enough for me to make another batch of rose petal jam or not.  In my quest to make the most of the urban homestead (aka dad's house), I have been looking for new ideas for what to do with roses.  The lemons and grapefruit are done for a few months.  The peas are petering out in the heat.  The tomatoes, melons and squash are still in their early stages.  I've dried about five gallon bags of rose petals, put up 2 quarts of rose petal jam, (we've already eaten almost a quart), and I have a quart jar of dried rose hips to use for jam and/or syrup for fall.  We've enjoyed vases of roses in every room of the house for the last 2 months.  I was hoping for enough rose petals for another batch of jam and an experiment with infused oil, but looks like this is it for now.  Looks like the family won't have to suffer through trying a few rose petals in the salad, either.  Yet.

I like the rose petal jam for several reasons.  It uses up rose petals.  Its sensual aroma permeates the house while it's cooking.  All that are needed are rose petals, one whole lemon, including seeds (another use for the lemons from dad's tree), water and sugar.  It has a light, delicate flavor.  Did I mention that it's a product we can nearly wholly produce in the back yard?  Roses, lemons, done.

I found several recipes in an online search, and I picked out two that looked the simplest.  Before I share my own tweak on the formula, I'd like to note a couple of items I ran into in making two separate batches of the jam.

- I used only backyard roses.  We had plenty of commercial roses around, due to mom's funeral, but I did not feel comfortable with using them for a food product.  Our backyard roses are not sprayed or fertilized, just mulched.

- use only perfect, clean petals.  Rinse well, tear off any wilted spots.  I did not find it necessary to remove the white bottom part, it did not seem to affect my product with any bitterness.  Use your judgement - take a taste test!

- if not using right away, cover with water and store in fridge up to 3 days.  After that I found the rose petals to be in a less than desirable condition.

- use a fresh lemon, or homemade juice.  You want the seeds, too, because they contribute the pectin.  The juice contributes acidity.  Do not overdo the lemon juice.  My first batch was a bit tart for the guys, but I liked it.  The second batch was better, but still slightly tart.  My next batch I will cut the juice a bit more.  My juice was made with the Jack LaLanne juicer, so it contains everything - peel, pulp, juice and seeds.  It is highly concentrated (and makes awesome lemonade!).  I used 3T for my second round, and plan to cut that back to 2T next time.

- it takes quite a while to cook off the water, but do not overcook.  You can tell when you've gone too far, the color darkens and the flavor is not as light and sweet.  It is a bit tricky to bring the jam to just the right stage where it will gel but not carmelize.

Now for the recipe:

Rose Petal Jam

1/2 pound rose petals (I used all colors, the result was a nice deep rose hue)
2 cups sugar
2cups water (I will reduce to 1 1/2 on my next batch to try to shorten cooking time)
juice of 2 lemons, with seeds (or 2T lemon concentrate)

Layer clean rose petals in a bowl with about half the sugar.  Bruise them well with clean hands (this releases the flavor oils).  When they are completely crushed with the sugar, cover and let sit overnight in fridge.

The next morning, combine the rest of the sugar with 2 cups water and the lemon juice.  Dissolve over low heat.  Stir in rose petals and bring to a boil.  Simmer 20 minutes.  Bring to a rolling boil and continue to cook at a rolling boil until mixture thickens.  If sugar begins to carmelize (darken) before you think it is thick enough, remove from heat immediatedly.  If you continue the jam will develop an unpleasant flavor.  Remove lemon seeds if you were using lemon juice instead of concentrate.  Pour into jelly jars, seal and label.  If not being used right away, use proper canning methods to seal jars.  If jam does not set up, it can still be used as a delicate, flavorful syrup for ice cream and pancakes.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Sewing Circle

My mom learned to sew at her mother's knee.  As a child, it was part of survival - she had to make her own clothes.  As a young adult, it was part of frugality - she made beautiful and stylish clothes for herself and me, without having to spend alot of money.  As a grandmother, she enjoyed making clothes for my children.  Somewhere in the midst of all this, it became art.  Mom took up quilting, then got into machine embroidery.  It was all upgrades from there.  As each new machine came out she just had to get it.  But she just couldn't bring herself to let go of the old one because "it does some things that the new one doesn't".

When I started putting the machines away after her death, I counted five.  Plus three sergers.  Mom thought she had allocated all her machines, but she really had only made arrangements for three.  A machine and serger for my daughter, a machine for my daughter-in-law, and the newest model for me.  That left five orphans.  One machine and serger I decided to leave right where they were in the original sewing room (mom had branched out into several locations around the house).  This way I have something to work on when I'm visiting dad.  I put my daughter's machines in the shed, gave my daughter-in-law her machine and cabinetry, and brought a machine and serger home to give to a good friend and sewing pal.  As I am still learning all the bells and whistles on the embroidery machine mom gave me several years ago, I convinced my cousin that she needed to take the newest machine and delve into machine embroidery.  It will be good for her, all her children have flown the nest.

I brought most of the excess cabinetry home with me to replace my crafting table, which is an old door set up on two non-working box fans, and the old camp table with the wobbly legs.  Now I'm getting into the stash.  Oh, right, mom said now it's called "resources".  At any rate, there's a whole bunch of it.  Mom's sewing library filled up six file boxes.  Her embroidery software is taking up another five, not including the designs she saved on a dozen flash drives.  And thread, stabilizers and fabrics?  Well, maybe not as much, but let's just say that it oughtta be enough to last each of us well into learning how to use our machines, with enough left over to supply several other sewists to boot.

I know I could have just packed it all up and dropped it off at Goodwill.  I'm sure it would have blessed somebody.  But knowing my mom's love for her craft, and her desire to share that with us girls, I just had to find good homes for all her cherished investments.  I hope, with mom, that the girls will someday enjoy the relaxing hum of the sewing machine and delight in creating a beautiful piece of embroidered art.  I know my cousin and I will.  I know two sewing friends who will also be enjoying brightly colored threads, fabrics and notions.  I know six women who will have enough sewing reference and how to books to become experts in the field.  And I know one special lady who will be smiling down on our little sewing circle, and maybe - indirectly - offering her input on color combinations, project ideas, and (ahem) upgrades.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Overcoming Math Frustration - Review

Long before Algebra, mathematics becomes the Achilles' heel of many homeschool families.  If only there were some way to make math tolerable!  Susan Evans shares her experiences and suggestions for not only making math tolerable, but even (gasp!) fun!  In little more than an hour, Overcoming Math Frustration will breathe new life into your math program with:

- 11 ways to overcome math frustration
- a comparison of 4 popular math programs and
- hands on ideas to get kids more excited about math.

One of the biggest reinforcements I got from listening to the workshop was to have children do some strenuous exercise right before starting their math.  I had started this with my own son a few weeks before, and it really has made a difference.  The exercise gets his blood pumping and his mind functioning and ready to focus on the most difficult task of the day - sitting and concentrating on math for 1-2 hours.  I enjoyed the comparison of the 4 math programs.  We seem to be doing quite well with Saxon math at this point, so since it's not broke...I do remember having issues with Saxon with my older children, though.  Ms. Evan's hands on ideas are good reminders for veteran homeschoolers and excellent helps for beginners.  Putting math into practice in everyday life is probably the most helpful way to get kids excited about learning their sums.  May I suggest a sequel?  How to get your child excited about Algebra/Trig/Calculus;)

Raised in Guatemala, Susan earned her Bachelor's degree in English in the United States, and has taught in public schools here and in London, England, where she was also a middle school Drama director.  In this audio workshop, Susan gives dozens of tips from her own experience as a public school teacher, as well as a homeschooling mom of four.  She is unashamed to give all credit for her successes to God, and to accept all responsibility for her shortcomings.

In addition to Overcoming Math Frustration $5.50, Susan Evans has a number of other excellent audio and video products available for download.  All of her products are backed by a 60 day money-back guarantee.  The MP3 files were a snap to download and add to my Ipod.  For less than the price of a half gallon of ice cream, you can wake up your children's brain cells and help them feel good about math again!

I received a free copy of Overcoming Math Frustration to listen to and post my thoughts.  No other compensation was received for this review.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Last week's swarm of bees was successfully relocated.  We had to wait until dusk, as the bees were fairly active and easily agitated during the day.  Once the sun started setting, however, they went back to their "nesting" behaviour and their apparent sluggishness.  It was then fairly easy to dig a circle around them, lift dirt, bees and all into a bucket, and transport them to a more remote location.  We sprayed a light mist of water over them when they became agitated from the digging, which prevented them from swarming us.

 Though I suspect they did not survive the poisoning that drove them into our yard in the first place, I feel we did everything we could to give them a chance at survival, and I hope at least a few did manage to make a new home.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Swarm of Bees

We are still at our "urban homestead", here at my parents' home in the Big City.  Mom has been gone a month and there is still so much to do.

So here is what my youngest son found on my dad's lawn the other night.  It is a swarm of bees, seemingly nesting on the ground.  There were actually two "nests" going, but today they have combined into one "nest".  I googled bees and found that there is indeed a species that nests on the ground.  Whether these are that species or not, hard to say.  The neighbors were being tormented by bees on the streetlight in front of their house, so they called the exterminator.  We believe that these are the bees that came out of that light post.  Of course, my son and I, being bee advocates, want to relocate them.  Dad just wants to get rid of them.  We agreed to see what would happen today, when it warmed up.  Dad was convinced they would leave on their own.  They are still there.  So now I guess it's my turn.  My plan is to dig up the whole nest tonight when they are "asleep" and put it in a bucket with a lid, take it down to the riverbed, which is flanked by several plant nurseries and turn them loose to find a new home for themselves.  I'll report back on how that works out, and hopefully more pics.  Yes, dad, I'll fill in the hole in the lawn...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Making Literature Fun - Review

Ever wish you could get your kids to reach for a book instead of the remote?  Susan Evans' one hour audio workshop, Making Literature Fun, is bursting at the seams with ideas to:

- make literature come alive for your children 

- improve your child's reading level

- quiet your children for reading

Raised in Guatemala, Susan earned her Bachelor's degree in English in the United States, and has taught in public schools here and in London, England, where she was also a middle school Drama director.  In this live recording, Susan describes how to evaluate and choose good books; how to create experiences to help children internalize what they've read; gives examples from her own homeschool experiences with her four children.

Ms. Evans discusses the pros and cons of "watching the movie" versus "reading the book".  She encourages regular reading aloud by both parents and students.  I was reminded to change my tone of voice to indicate different characters in the book I'm reading from, and to remember to read with more dramatic effect.  When I began to do this during our current reading of "War Horse", my 9 year old son suddenly started really listening, and would beg for another chapter.  As suggested, I felt perfectly comfortable making him wait for the next day, and sure enough, his anticipation was peaked and he sat and listened attentively.  A number of books are recommended by name in the course of Susan's presentation.  She supports re-enacting as an enriching supplement to good reading and she shows how to link the great books your children are reading to the other subjects they are studying.

In everything she does, Evans gives praise and glory to her Creator, and emphasizes and encourages a close, personal relationship with God as the foundation to excellent parenting and homeschooling.  I love the relaxed, refreshing style in which she presents her information.  Her voice has a pleasant tone and unhurried cadence.  I came away from the audio with the feeling of having just had an uplifting discussion with a friend, rather than a talking down from a stuffy professional.  I immediately began applying many of her suggestions in my own homeschool, with happy results.

In addition to Making Literature Fun $5.50, Susan Evans has a number of other excellent audio and video products available for download.  All of her products are backed by a 60 day money-back guarantee.  The MP3 files were a snap to download and add to my Ipod.  For less than the price of a Teacher's Manual, you can breathe new life into your homeschool and equip your children with a love of reading for life.  Now go out and make literature fun!

I received a free copy of Making Literature Fun to listen to and post my thoughts.  No other compensation was received for this review.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

To Mourn or To Rejoice?

My mom died on April 12th.  We'd had over a year to prepare, as she'd been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia just after Thanksgiving in 2010.  As a final indignity, we will not be able to bury her until April 30th.  This could also be looked upon as a measure of her importance, as we have striven to coordinate church services, with availability in the military cemetery where she and my dad are entitled to be buried.  One might even compare our trials to arranging for the burial of a great dignitary.  No three days of mourning and then rest in peace, here.  In truth, it is just another case of hurry up and wait on the government.  The mortuary sent the wrong paperwork to Army Records.  When we finally got a date from the cemetery, the church was booked.  The next available date at the church was the day of my oldest son's confirmation.  So we took the following two days for the Rosary and Funeral.  The day of the funeral, Friday, which is also my youngest son's birthday, was not available at the cemetery, so we will have to wait out the weekend until Monday to bury mom.  This has made for absolute chaos.

My daughter-in-law was baptized and confirmed at the Easter vigil on the 7th.  Her husband is receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation next Wednesday.  Mom's Rosary and Funeral are the following two days.  My youngest son's birthday, the same day as the funeral.  Mom's interment the following Monday.  In trying to make sense of all this, we could easily choose to let mom's death overshadow all the joyful celebrations which have surrounded it this month.  I think mom would want it otherwise.  She gave us plenty of time to prepare.  I have grieved much over the past year.  Now her suffering is done.

As I meditated upon the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary the other day, I was struck by how Jesus, after his night of Agony in the Garden, went willingly to His death.  I was indeed questioning "what if this is it"?  I think He knew we needed assurance that "this" is NOT "it".  That He has truly gone to prepare a place for us, so that we may live this life fearlessly and fully.  That we will, indeed, rise with Him to enjoy eternal life.  Mom is already there.

Our celebrations this month, are an answer to years of fierce and determined prayer by her.  I think she would want us to celebrate and not let the agony and frustration of the burial preparations get us down.

I love you, Mom.  You are always in my heart.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cleaning With Grapefruit

My parents have a grapefruit tree and a lemon tree.  I get lots of lemons and grapefruit.  Over the years I have investigated innumerable ways of using and preserving this bounty.  I can lemon juice for year-round use.  I eat and give away as much grapefruit as possible, then can the rest.  This leaves me with a mountain of grapefruit peels.  It seems a waste to throw them out, and they don't compost well.  So one year I started experimenting with using them to make a cleaner.  It didn't take long to hit on a simple formula that is also very simple to prepare.

I get out my biggest stockpot, fill it with grapefruit peels, and cover them with water.  I bring the whole shootin' match to a vigorous boil, then turn it down and let it simmer for a day, topping up the water level as needed.  After several hours, or all day, I turn off the heat and let the mixture cool off overnight.  The next morning, I get up and start straining the mixture into gallon size glass jugs.  Do not use plastic, as this concentrate, though not really rough on the skin, will eat through plastic jugs within a few days and leave you with a leaky mess.  It is also a good idea to vacuum seal or water bath can (in quart-size jars) any concentrate you will not be using right away, as it will ferment and grow yeast.  This fermentation does not make the cleaner lose any effectiveness, it just replaces the pleasant, citrusy scent with an unpleasant odor.

Be sure to label the concentrate so no one drinks it.  I don't know how harmful it would be, but I certainly don't recommend it.

A note on straining.  I put a funnel on top of the glass jug I am straining into and line it with a piece of old t-shirt, sheet or dishtowel to filter out the solids.  The liquid is too thick for coffee filters, it takes forever, and does not need to be strained as much as that.  I then ladle the liquid into the filter, scraping solids off as they build up.  When I get down to where it's mostly peels and other solids, I squeeze them real good, filter the remaining liquid, and put the now softened peels into the compost bin, where they compost much more readily.

How to use your fantastical new cleaner.  For general cleaning, I dilute 1 part cleaner to 4 parts water in a plastic spray bottle.  At this dilution it has not eaten through any of my bottles yet.  This works well for light cleaning of counters, glass, mirrors, sinks, toilets, floors and all such general light jobs.  For laundry, I use 1/2 to 1 cup undiluted, pour in with the soap instead of bleach, and enjoy softer, whiter, more pleasant smelling clothes.  For tough, greasy jobs, like my stovetop, I pour the undiluted concentrate right on the greasy spots, let soak at least 20 minutes, then use a hard plastic scraper to loosen most of the cooked on grease.  This does sometimes leave a few small areas to scrub with steel wool or a copper scrubber, but takes most of the work out of it.

I have used this same formula with orange peels, lemon peels and combinations of different citrus peels, in smaller and larger batches.  The basic idea is just cover with water, cook several hours, strain and enjoy using your own homemade, all natural citrus cleaner.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lessons from the Hen House - Review

You can count your chickens before they're hatched! Lessons From The Hen House is all about hands on learning. Even if you don't have a back yard coop, there are plenty of lesson ideas in this clever e-booklet to keep your students engaged. I wish I had thought of this years ago, when I was homeschooling my older children. Carol Alexander seamlessly incorporates math, science, language, literature, geography, art, home economics, business, and research skills into 17 pages of lesson plans, PLUS over 30 vocabulary words, creating a curriculum that can be used with all your students, for a day, a week, or a month, depending on how in-depth you want to go with it.

A few of the ideas will be perfect for homesteading families who have chickens, but most of the lessons are ideal for city-dwellers, too. Pick up a few free hatchery catalogs, or do a quick web search for information. Lots of links are included to other online resources and suggested books to read.

Intermediate and advanced lessons include starting up a related business (real or hypothetical), writing ad copy, designing a poultry catalog, various aspects of running a poultry business, disease, dissection and egg hatching.

Lessons are arranged for easy reference. Elementary lessons come first, then intermediate, then high school, and are grouped according to subject: math, language, science, etc.

This is an awesome resource for 4H or FFA leaders and participants.

All necessary materials are included or linked, with suggested research resources also listed. Plenty of room is left for the parent to add in their own preferred research materials. The booklet can be printed out, or used on the computer or an e-reader that supports PDF. It works great on my iPod with iBooks.

Other materials that might be helpful are: 3x5 cards, pencils, paper, storybooks and reference books on poultry, a magnifying glass and/or microscope for some of the science experiments, eggs, bowl of water, food coloring. I would also recommend visiting the hatchery links and requesting catalogs before beginning the study, especially if your family does not have their own chickens, as they make most of the lessons much easier.

My son was especially interested in the science experiments. He took great pains to examine several feathers under his microscope and sketch his findings. Then he had to test all our eggs for freshness, by seeing if they floated or sank in a bowl of water. We are saving the egg-coloring and crushed eggshell collages for the Easter eggs.

For roughly ten years, Carol and her family have endeavored to ‘live off the land.’ On their modest acreage, they grow extensive gardens and raise various animals for milk and meat. Carol has been homeschooling her 6 children since 1993. 3 have graduated.

Lessons from the Homestead is also a “book in process.” Coming out one section at a time, Carol is producing a full-fledged “learning by living” curriculum centered around life on the homestead. The first section, Lessons from the Seed Catalog has been released and is available at the Lessons From The Homestead website. Lessons From The Henhouse, part 2, is also now available for immediate download at the same site, for only $3.99. Subsequent parts will cover different areas of the farm/homestead. Ms. Alexander offers a 10 day money back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the lesson plans.

I received a free copy of Lessons From The Henhouse to try out and share my thoughts. No other compensation was received for this review.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Recycling2 - Plastic Milk Jugs

We go through alot of gallon plastic jugs here on the homestead.  We have also found many ways to reuse them, rather than put them in the trash.  Our jugs are usually from distilled water, as we have our own dairy cow and goats.  If you are using juice or milk jugs, be sure to rinse or wash them out thoroughly before reusing, as that leftover liquid can cause a stench.

Refill with drinking water.  We filter our own drinking water, and this way, instead of buying bottled water wherever we go, we just grab a jug of our own.

Water scoops.  Just cut a hole in the top, removing the spout, but leaving the handle intact.  We use these to scoop out our used bath water and reuse it for flushing, laundry or watering the plants.

Grain scoops.  This time turn the jug upside down and cut off the bottom for scooping grain out of 50lb. sacks.  Make sure you leave the cap on. Now you also have a funnel if needed, just remove the cap.

Plant pots.   Cut off entire top.  Poke holes in bottom, fill with planting medium and seeds or plants.

Plant pot holders.  Cut bottom off at desired height to hold a plant pot, so that the jug bottom can catch the water runoff from the plant.

Plant protectors.  Cut off entire bottom.  Remove cap and place top of jug over any new transplants or early seedlings to protect from the elements and help retain moisture.

Change bank.  Fill with loose change daily.  Count and roll when full, then spend on a fun outing.

Drip waterers.  Punch holes 1-1/2 to 2" from bottom around jug.  Place in between rows in garden and fill with water.  Water will drip out slowly, without uprooting your tender seedlings and remaining water will help jug to remain where you put it instead of blowing away.  Refill when water gets down past holes.

Don't just limit yourself to milk or water jugs either.  Look at what you're throwing away.  What else could it be used for?  Why pay $2 or $3 for something from the dollar store when you can repurpose a container that you already have?

These are the main uses we have for plastic milk jugs on our homestead.  With a little reflection, you can probably come up with several unique ideas of your own.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Freedom!! and Volcanoes

Couldn't resist.  I recently watched part of "Braveheart" with my oldest son,  who called it "the most romantic movie of all time".  This, just prior to the scene in which the Wallace is publicly disemboweled.  Then again, he (my son) is supposedly descended from Genghis Khan.  Ah, medieval justice.  Would there be fewer crimes today if the death penalty meant being drawn and quartered?  But I digress...

Freedom, the cattle call of homeschoolers, is one of the many benefits of this choice of lifestyle.  I do purchase a complete curriculum which I really like and seems to be extremely effective with my son.  I especially like that it leaves room for us to use many of the excellent supplements and enrichment materials that I come across in my wanderings.  Santa brought some science materials this year that are just too good to leave on the shelf for playtime.  So in between our studies of plants, animals, the universe, and health and nutrition, we will take some detours to study volcanoes, environmental science and geology.

Our first detour:  Volcanoes.

The Volcano Making Kit, by KidzLabs Fun Science Projects,, comes with everything needed to complete the project except vinegar and baking soda (and water to mix the plaster).  My son easily   mixed, poured and painted the volcano with little help from me.  I mostly took pictures.  To make the volcano erupt, I showed him how to do the vinegar and baking soda the first time and he did it thereafter.  Caution:  keep lots of newspapers handy for the assembly and use of the volcano.  The original volcano can be used over and over, and the mold can be reused to make more volcanoes, simply get more plaster mix.

As a prelude to assembling and observing the volcano, we read the section on Earthquakes and Volcanoes from the book "How the Earth Works, 64 fun activities for exploring volcanoes, fossils, earthquakes and more", by Michelle O'Brien-Palmer.  Later, in a discussion with and elderly friend, my 8 year old son started spouting facts about volcanoes that left me speechless, but proud.

This month, we will return briefly to the subject of volcanoes, as we are studying Italy, home to Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius.  This time we will peruse a short unit study I have been saving from The Simple Homeschool called All About Volcanoes.  This inexpensive, downloadable, printable unit study is packed with info and activities about volcanoes for 6-12 year olds for only 99 cents!

Now it's back to our regular science book to study more about plants, habitats and food chains, then maybe another detour to take on Environmental  Science with Earth Labs, before we get into anatomy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Happy Scientist

Of the many books on our living room shelves, two are specifically science experiments for children, "101 Great Science Experiments", by Neil Ardley, and "101 Nature Experiments", by David Burnie.  The other day, my son was browsing through them and decided to try making the homemade flashlight.  For perhaps a variety of reasons, he could not get it working.  Possibilities include not having the exact bulb holder the directions called for, weak batteries, bad wires.  Whatever it was, after a number of failed atttempts, he put the whole thing away.  The impressive thing here is that he went after it on his own, and though his several attempts failed, I assured him it is not always so.  It could even have been faulty directions.  At any rate, after his initial disappointment wore off, I caught him gathering supplies for a new experiment, this time from his science book.  I expect he'll have better results with this one - it's non-electric.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Homestead Blessings - The Art of Bread Making

Watch the West Ladies teach you how to make bread in their cozy homestead kitchen.  With their modest dress, beautiful long hair and colorful aprons, Jasmine, CeCe, Vicki and Hannah make you feel right at home while they explain how to make a number of different hearty, whole grain breads.  I've been making my own breads for many years, but I found their cornbread recipe (be sure to watch the video for some special tricks not included in the PDF recipes) to be out of this world.  I will never go back to my old ways of making cornbread!  I also plan to try their hamburger bun/cinnamon roll recipe, now that I've seen them do it a few times.

Though I didn't think I necessarily needed the how-to's in this video, I really enjoyed the presentation and I was reminded that you can almost always learn something from another's experience.  Guitar-picking in the background sets the mood for good ole' country cooking.  The West kitchen set is a homesteader's dream of honey-colored wood paneling and pantry shelves lined with dozens of canning jars with colorful contents.  I kept looking for the old-fashioned cook stove, but the bread was baked in a state-of-the-art electric range-oven.

The Homestead Blessings Series is a collection of 11 DVD presentations by the West ladies and Franklin Springs Media.  Homestead Blessings - The Art of Bread Making, copyright 2009, is delightful, instructional and entertaining; printable recipes are included.  Vicki and the girls are inspiring to watch.  Canning, gardening, quilting and crafting are just a few more titles for homesteaders or city folk who want to try their hand at these basic survival skills.