29 July 2009

A Quick Update

A Quick Update

 We are offline and without a home phone for the moment. 


Yesterday, we fired Comcast for willful incompetence amounting to larceny and it will take a little while (maybe two weeks) to arrange a new internet service provider.


I wanted to let everyone know because it happened rather abruptly and I didn't have a chance to send out a notice -- I didn't want y'all to worry! 


I think the current plan is that Rod will convert his cell phone to a monthly plan and we will use that as 'the family phone".  If you need to rech us, you probably already know Rod's cell phone number.


I plan to continue to blog onto my computer and will post things when we're back online.  Maybe..with any luck.  ...or  maybe I'll just enjoy a computer free holiday.  ;)

25 July 2009

What I'll be obsessing about this weekend...

I am amazed ...

I don't often follow crafting blogs because, although I love paper crafting myself, I usually find one or two good ideas on a particular site and then I lose interest.
However, Bonnie, over at The Craftiblog has me mesmerized. Project after project has me excited to try it!

This card, for instance. I plan to spend a lot of the weekend figuring out she did that -- it's just gorgeous, dontchathink?

I'm not as good as Bonnie is, but I never will be if I don't try. (And unlike that amazing castle a little while ago, there is some hope I could learn to do this.)

If you're a crafter -- or simply like to look at beautiful handcrafts, go have a look. You'll be glad you did!

22 July 2009

Carl Bell Smith

September 10, 1952 - June 24, 2009

Rod's brother Carl died a few weeks ago.

Last night, at the eclipse that happened right on the midheaven of Carl's birth chart, we had our memorial service here in the US to say goodbye. Three beautiful friends, healers all, all of whom had worked on Carl's behalf over the last 13 months, helped us with the sendoff. Celeste, Dame, and Linda were there for us, yet again.

I am sorry I never got to know Carl face to face. I may think of somehting more coherent to say eventually.

20 July 2009

Chocolate-Orange Birthday Cake

One of our favorites! Unlike so many chocolate cakes, this one isn't dry and crumbly!

2 cups of spring white wheat berries (pastry grade)
1 cup of raw buttermilk
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup of coconut oil
2 cups of sucanat
3 eggs
pinch of sea salt
3/4 cup of unsweetened extra-dark cocoa powder
3/4 cup of pure water
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
orange zest from one orange
5-10 drops of orange essence

1) Grind the wheat berries finely, then sift them. measure 2 cups of sifted flour into your mixing bowl.

(You'll have a lot of bran and germ left -- make sure you refrigerate that and add it to your next batch of flour -- it would be a shame to waste the good stuff -- but this *is* a birthday cake.)

2) Stir in the buttermilk until the flour is evenly moist.

3) Let it rest for 4-12 hours.

The longer the better, but I don't always think ahead.

4) Cream the succanat with the butter and coconut oil until silky smooth. Set aside.

5) Bring the water to a boil

6) add the cocoa powder and the salt to the boiling water.

7) Stir until very smooth and shiny.

8) Add the orange essence.

9) Add the eggs and the zest to the sugar mixture.

10) Add all the mixtures together.

You can stir the sugar and chocolate together easily. Then stir the flour sponge in until it's somewhat broken up. Next, you'll need a whisk to get the rest of the sponge distributed properly.

11) Stir the baking soda in until it's well blended.

12) Pour into cake pans and bake for approximately 40 minutes, depending on the size of the pans.

YUM! I'll add a photo when Rod's cake is done. Pity I'm not a better baker. It tastes really good, but I can never get it to look pretty!

19 July 2009

Garden Report July 19

The garden is finally taking off.

We won't get a taste of everything we planted, but we are starting to see progress on a few things and more than enough to feel worth the labour. I'm beginning to feel enthusiastic again.

It has occurred to me several times over the last several years that our house may just not be appropriate for starting seeds -- we keep it cool, and it's shaded on all sides, so neither bright sunlight nor heat are available through the windows in prime starting season. That probably explains why we don't do all that well with starting from seed and my greatest success comes from things I buy or receive as gifts. It's a pity, because I do like the seed ceremony.

None-the-less, perhaps next I'll stick to pre-started plants (or seeds that want to go right into the soil) and see if I have fewer discouraging losses. Or maybe I can buy seed for friends and ask that they give me a baby plantling in return. Sort of a garden swap...

We'll see.

I have to keep reminding myself, though, that the hard work is mostly done, and next year the plants can go into the soil pretty much immediately when it's warm enough. That's a big, but easy to forget factor when pondering my garden that hasn't produced *anything* yet when other people are already "sick of zucchini! (I don't think we'll have any zucchini to be sick of this year, though I started with 12 plants). That's one that really disappoints me because I LOVE zucchini. No water-melon, either, this year, sadly.

I had no idea potatoes had such gorgeous plants -- especially now that they're flowering. I did know that they and tomatoes were originally imported to Europe from the Americas as ornamentals -- but it's only this year that I am seeing that for myself that they are such beautiful plants and truly understanding why they would be ornamentals.

The purple flowers are on the plants that will produce the purple potatoes that Neal shared with us last year. They were amazing - - I had forgotten why I loved potatoes as a kid!

The white flowers will produce, of course, white potatoes. I was so astonished by the flavour of Neal's home grown potatoes that I simply can't wait to try ours!

Jack tried the first green bean from our heroic little green bean plant.

He let me have one taste, but then he gobbled the rest up and apologized that it tasted so good that he just had to finish it! (Like I am going to complain about a boy picking and eating fresh vegetables?!?!?)

Only on looking at the photo did I realize that our solitary survivor seems to be trying to spawn a new bean, so we may get something resembling a "crop" yet.

I am also pondering the possibility of putting seed directly in the ground this week and trying for an autumn crop of beans and peas. I will have to research how that works, though.

Much to my surprise, even though the garden bed squash plants are staying *tiny*, we are starting to see some baby squashes in the garden...maybe. The swellings may turn out to be a false alarm, and even so, I am not sure whether those will be butternuts or acorns. In either case, there are about a half dozen swellings, which makes me happy.

If they are indeed squashes and, as they seem to be, these are the only ones we'll get, I am hoping for butternut. Those were amazing last year!

Then again, although there are no fruits on the potted squashes, they are looking much happier than their garden buddies and they might produce yet. (I'll have Rod go have chat with them -- he's good at convincing them to be fruitful! You should have seen the tomatoes respond today!)

I don't think it's necessarily the garden bed, though; the squashes in the pots were put into sufficiently large pots many weeks before their little friends made it into soil, so the garden bed squashes were cramped and stressed where the potted ones weren't.

The eggplants are also producing lots of lovely purple blooms and I have seen a couple of fruits already. They're odd looking little critters, but I am excited to taste them! I love eggplant and these have an amazing shine and deep rich colour!

I planted two varieties, so autumn should be full of tasty dinners. The two eggplant fruits I have seen so far seem to be the same kind, but there are dozens more flowers and plenty of bees, so I am confident of at least a few making it to the table -- especially now that the remainder have made it from posts to the raised bed Rod built for me.

That entire row of peppers has so far produced one fruit, which seems to met with the approval of...someone. You can see the blemish at the bottom.

I've never grown peppers before, so I have no idea what it means except that obviously someone has helped themselves. I am thinking insects... but I'll have to look up what causes that and see what I can do about it.

It looks like the rest of the fruit is happy and still growing, so we may be able to at least taste the top of it when it's ready. Then again, I still hope for more fruits ... the plants seem content enough and there are plenty of bees at work.

Pepper and egg sandwiches, here we come!

I am happy to report that the cauliflower I saw last week is growing like gangbusters and one of the two plants that hadn't flowered yet now has a little cauli. The fourth one hasn't bloomed yet and I hope it does -- four isn't a lot for the season, but it's the amount of space we could dedicate this year.

We got a couple of them last year -- but we didn't know when they were food, so we lost them. This year, you can be sure that we will be picking them just as soon as they're big enough. They already look yummy.

And finally, our beautiful cabbage! Don't they look like big, beautiful flowers? There are 12 of them, some early some mid-season and some late season, so that we can much all summer. I like cabbage...but I like them even more seeing how beautiful they are as they grow!

(I also see that I need to spend more time weeding...)

Now, typing in hand splints is too much work. I am going to end here before I inadvertently delete the whole thing again and concentrate on shorter posts for a while!

12 July 2009

Garden update July 12

This is really just an update for my own comparison next year ... but enjoy. The brand new "lasagne" garden Rod build tonight.
Jack's Garden
Three sisters.
I think I'll move the squash when the wheat is gone. It may need more direct sun.
The main garden: tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage/cauliflower

We have attained food!!!

We have attained food!

Well, actually, we have been harvesting herbs and lambsquarters for our salads for a while now -- but I am still very excited!

Our one little bean plants has several baby green beans and signs of more on the way!

It's a pity that only one really made it to this stage, but I am very glad at least this one did. Maybe next year I'll have better luck with peas and beans. It seems like they didn't much enjoy being transplanted.

Then again, a couple of years ago, I transplanted zucchini and got GOBS of squash.

This year, I planted dozens but the jury is still out on whether the one remaining plants will make it. The others never made it to being transplanted.

We also have baby cauliflowers in two of the four plants -- and they look mighty happy in there! I have hopes that the other two (which were planted a week later) will catch up eventually -- and if so, this works out perfectly. Having them staggered means not getting our only four caulies all in one day.

I am coming to believe that cabbage and cauliflower, while not difficult, are so space intensive that they are unlikely to be things I get to the point of being able to supply for our own table all summer. That's a pity, because home grown are just amazing!

And, of course, out tomato plants are beginning to show fruit. It'll be a while before they're ready to eat -- but it's so encouraging to see payoff for all the work.
No sign of any squashes or eggplants yet.

Even the early cabbages are a ways off, but it's clear that we'll be eating them too.

I do have one question, though ...

I notice that the compost I started laying last week has been "disappearing" in the course of the week.

That suggests that it's actually breaking down and nourishing the soil much more quickly than I had thought possible.

Does that mean it's worth arm wrestling the tomato plants to supplement them, too?

(I thought the compost was mainly going to help keep the soil moist this year and would break down and act as a supplement next year.

The tomatoes are so close they don't need to be mulched. But maybe it's worth doing it anyway if it breaks down fast enough to be a real nutrient.

What do you real gardeners think?

09 July 2009

And I thought *I* was a paper crafter...

...Wow. Click here to see more marvelousness.

Ahhhh, summer!

I love this little acre of ours all year long, but somehow in summer Chez Smiffy becomes utterly enchanting.From the cardinal couple in the lilac bush to the flocks of orioles swarming everywhere, the robins that seem to be everywhere and and the warrens of rabbits coming out to silflay in the evening, the place is just alive with furry and feathered neighbors.

But this year one of the greatest charms has been the huge loads of berries on or black raspberry bushes and mulberry trees. We eat some of them right off the bushes, bake with some of them into pies and cobblers, and put others in smoothies or fresh, homemade ice cream. It has been a very berry summer...and somehow the picture of my little boy headed out with a steel bowl to harvest his dessert warms my heart in ways that little else does.

06 July 2009

Another boring garden update

Please forgive me if this isn't scintillating. I worked a little harder and longer than was probably wise today and I am now so exhausted that I lack the focus to write (or even waste time) effectively.

I love my days off. I really do. I usually get so much done in the garden and often get a chance to homeschool with Jack. This weekend, although I had four days, I wasn't as productive as I'd hoped.

That was largely due to having some 'delightful' summer virus or another that sapped me dry for the first two days. I mostly slept and sat around wishing I were sleeping.

However by Sunday I was feeling much better. We went off to the petting zoo with Grandpa John, and then came back and started gardening. Mostly weeding and feeding with manure tea (Cow Poop Soup, as Jack named it), though Rod did take the chance to dig a beautiful bed for the cruciferous vegetables.

The mosquitoes got too demanding before he was finished, so he didn't backfill but he got the lion's share of the digging done. That made it easier to get out and get started this morning.

The plan for today was to finish the cabbage patch and then do another small row of tomatoes.

But first, Rod had to go out in search of some more manure, since we'd used the last of it last night.

(If you're just tuning in, I am doing something that resembles french-intensive/biodynamic/permaculture gardening. When I prepare a bed, I dig a three foot hole or trench and layer it back with soil, alfalfa, manure, and rock dust, plus whatever else I have on hand in the way of amendments. It's work intensive the first year, but my results have been good and the vegetables are *so* sweet! Besides, it doesn't have to be done every year. After the first year, just adding more amendments to the top is all that's required.)

Anyway, Rod grabbed the manure--and then he picked up a load of compost. We had discussed it every year, but we hadn't used it before. Valerie has such good results with it, though, and we can't afford some of the more expensive amendments I have used in the past, so it seemed like a good plan to give it a shot.

Jack and I did some more weeding and then gave everyone a mid-afternoon deep drink of water while Rod was away.

And then we did some harvesting of herbs and berries...and finally Rod got back.
We finished the cabbage bed, added a row-cap bed of more tomatoes, and put down a compost mulch on all the finished beds. Now it's looking more like a real garden. One thing i wasn't expecting was the aesthetic improvement a compost mulch made. It was somehow much more emotionally satisfying than the sandy dirt to look at! I'll be keeping compost on my list -- this stuff is great!

05 July 2009

Grandpa and Me

Every now and then, wandering around with a snapshot camera results in a truly rewarding photograph.
It could have been any young child and any old person, but today it was Jack and Grandpa John... Enjoy!!

Take Care


Today's adventure ...

We had quite an adventure today!

First we headed out and picked up Grandpa John, and then we headed to a petting zoo. It was kind of fun; a small (and so inexpensive) but clean and friendly farm with a handful domesticated critters.

I'm not sure i want to know, though, why their goats didn't smell like goats. Or why they were so laid back.
After an hour or so of petting goats and ponies, and rabbits, and chickens, we went to the store to buy food for a picnic at the park -- vegetables and dip, strawberries, bread and cheese, and watermelon. Perfect for a hot afternoon!
On our way out of the grocery store, a lovely woman chased Jack across the parking lot to give him a handful of balloons. (How does he do that!?!?)

Then we came home and made the garden smell bad. More of that tomorrow.

03 July 2009

To Caz...

Your new template won't accept my comments for the moment, and I don't have an e-mail for you...so I'll tell you here: Hurrah! LIFE sounds wonderful! Even better is your honey suggesting it himself!!!

Einstein on genius...

Everybody is a genius. Einstein quote at DailyLearners.com

How to write your own homeschool curriculum, Part 3

OK, you've been reading and plotting and planning. You have an idea for a spine for your curriculum, piles of notes about things you'd like to accomplish, and you have ideas for how you'd like to cover them, and theories about how (your) children learn best.

Are you overwhelmed yet? I think that this is where a lot of people get lost and give up and just buy something.

Now, to get an idea what a curriculum looks like, we are going to visit three sites. (I would suggest that even if you decide to go with unschooling, this would be a valuable exercise. Children can only be interested in what they encounter, and part of your job as an unschooling parent is to make sure that your child encounters lots and lots of concepts. You might find it helpful to have some ideas of what more traditional curricula look like as a prompt to include exposure to ideas that might not have occurred to you.)

First, in another tab, open your state’s department of education website. This is mine. Some are better than others, but try to find the content for the grade you're planning for.

Now read over the material for your child's age group. If you see something that would be interesting to cover at home, feel free to add it, but the point here is to get a look at how your local schools arrange their expectations. This is what my state expects to be covered. (You'll need to click through to see the details, but they don't matter all that much.) It's explained in greater detail in the attending materials, and it's full of legalese, but this gives you a look at what little kids in Michigan are expected to be familiar with.
The main point in looking at this is to see how they relate subjects to one another (or don't) and how they build from one core understanding to the next (or don't). This bit of curriculum is for the science curriculum, and the professional educators of my state have decided on the main topics they want the children to know about, and then decided what subtopics they want to cover in this year.

Now take a look at what you have decided you want to cover. Can you group any of it this way? Or can you split some of your topics into subtopics in this way? If you think you might see some patterns in what you want to cover, try writing those things on index cards and grouping them, then placing them in an order that makes sense.

OK, the public schools was one source of food for thought.

Next open the Core Knowledge Foundation Curriculum Sequence in a new tab. Open the page for your child's age.

I don't know about your state's curriculum plan, but this is a whole lot easier for me to grasp. Again, if you see something you'd like to add to your own ideas, feel free to - but mainly, look at how information builds on itself over time with this approach. Can you see more possibilities with this nice clear example of a curriculum?

Go ahead and organize your cards a little more. As you organize them, you may find that there are "bridge" topics you'd like to add.

As you can see, there is no one way of approaching writing a curriculum, and no two sources agree about exactly what children should know when.

Something to keep in mind as your ideas grow is that with one or two (or six) children at home, is that not every topic is going to require hours of study. That means you can plan to cover more in a period of time in homeschool than would be required at school -- or that you will have lots more time for free exploring. Either is a good thing!

In the classroom, the topic has to be covered and covered and covered again until most of the children have gotten it. Once yours have it, you can move on. That may mean days of discussion...or it may mean 15 minutes. Be careful not to beat a dead horse - remember that the weeks a school class devotes to a topic is intended to reach the 'least able' child and the daydreamer. Because you are able to cover topics in the way that works best for your child and then stop, you're child will catch on to many things much more quickly than he or she would have in school. He or she will be learning in an engaging manner and not bored to death, so daydreaming and trying to understand something taught in a mysterious manner won't be a problem.

OK, one last look at another idea. Open the World Book Typical Course of Study in a new tab. This is quite a different take on what your child can be learning. It looks more like your list at the beginning, I'll bet. It sure looks like what I started with at the beginning of all this four years ago. Again, if you see anything you want to add, feel free to do so. But mainly, observe that there is no one right way for your curriculum to look. Note, too, how different the goals for each curriculum are.

Feel better? Your curriculum is going to be just fine.

OK, you have lists and stacks and grids and cards. Time to start organizing them to help clarify your thoughts.

First, write down each topic you want to cover on a separate card. Try to use all one colour for the main topics (science, math, etc.). Next, use another colour for the subtopics. Math (blue) -> counting by 2s (yellow). As you do this, note on each card any ideas you have for how to cover the topics. (Book, field trip, experiment, etc,)

Now, organize the subtopics into a logical flow. Use a paperclip to keep major topics and subtopics together and in order. Next, print another copy of your curriculum grid, and copy the topics onto that in order.

But wait! You're not done with the cards yet! Next collect all the topics that you know you want to cover, but don't yet have an idea how to cover it. Keep them sorted by topic.

It's getting to the time of day to do other things, and you have plenty to work on. Next time, we'll get to the part you probably came here for. ;)

Have fun!!

02 July 2009

Sari took some gorgeous photos on Monday...

We were out to pick strawberries with our friends Sue and Sari and their children, not to be immortalized, but somehow Sari caught the essential us. Not glamorous, just happy as can be!
How she managed to do that in just a few apparently random shots, while we were unflatteringly dressed and inelegantly posed, I cannot fathom.
But when we have the money for a formal sitting, Sari will be at the top of our list!
(And the strawberries are wonderful, too!) (I do wish I'd combed my hair, though.)


Thanks to Urban Spoon, we just checked out Klucks Drive-In. It's been in business for over 50 years, and I can see why. Gourmet fare it's not, but for what it is, it's quite good.

And it's been a very long time since I went to a drive-in rather than a drive through. Neither Rod nor Jack had ever been to one, though Rod saw them in movies over the years, so it was kinda fun!

01 July 2009

Teaching Classical Music

A game plan for the uninitiated

You're a homeschooler. Maybe a Classical Homeschooler, or maybe you just want to include music appreciation in your curriculum. Whatever the reason, you're interested in teaching your child to understand and appreciate classical music. The problem is, you don't have a music background and you have no idea where to start.

That was me not long ago.

But having no idea where to start isn't something a homeschooling parent can afford let get in the way, so I did what I always do when faced with a puzzle: I Googled it.

The first thing I did was find out who the classical composers are.

Classical music, though it's the popular term, is actually a misnomer. It turns out that the classical era is just one of many periods we will want to study. Serious music -- or what Leonard Bernstein calls "intentional music" -- started with the first musical notation of choral music in the middle ages, and extends to today. The Classical period lasted from roughly about 1730 to about 1820.

I started with theory that at five or six, exposure to the music and familiarity with the names and biographies is more important than music theory. I recognized Beethoven's name and decided we'd start there.

It occurred to me that if the music were to be more than pretty noise, we needed to know not just the music, but the stories behind the music. I knew about a Classical kids DVD of Beethoven's music called Beethoven Lives Upstairs, so we ordered that from the library. I also hunted on Amazon for any other movies or books that could extend our understanding a bit more and selected two biographies aimed at young people.

Then I got a handful of music CDs of Beethoven's music from the library.

We watched the DVD together, and listened to the story as a book on tape for a couple of weeks, and then we read the books. In the meanwhile, we played the music at dinnertime and at other times during the day when music wouldn't be intrusive. (We found it went ok to play it while Jack was playing quietly, but during lessons, it didn't go well. The music was too compelling and his attention drifted off.)

Interestingly, Jack also found a 'step by step' music book that had a few notes from Beethoven's Ode to Joy, and he decided to learn to play it -- and he did!

This method was going pretty well, so we moved on to Mozart, using the the movie Amadeus. (It has some scenes that may not be appropriate for all children, but Jack enjoyed it.) Had I been able to get a more child-friendly movie about Mozart, I'd have gotten that.

We also got the Classical Kids book on tape Mozart's Magnificent Voyage, a couple of books about Mozart aimed at kids, and a stack of Mozart CDs from the library.

Then we followed the same pattern.Watch the movie, listen to the books on tape, read the books, and listen to the music a lot over the course of a couple of months.

Now I am planning to do the same with Hayden, but we may have to try someone else, depending on my ability to get information that's aimed at the right age.

My thought, in essence, is to make each composer real to Jack using several senses and several media. Ideally it would include one movie, one book on tape that uses the composers music as a backdrop to a biographical (or semi-biographical) story, and a couple of books of biography -- and a whole lot of music.

What I am noticing is that, having heard the music in the movies and books on tape, Jack tunes in to familiar melodies as we play the CDs during dinner and has started to hum many of them at odd moments throughout the day. I had played classical music most of his life, but this is the first evidence I have seen that the music is more than a background him to him.

I think this is working...but I am also open to more suggestions. (Rod is several steps ahead of Jack in learning music theory, and they are having a blast figuring that out together...which may well have as much or more to do with Jack's new interest in classical music as do the movies and books on tape...)