Sunday, September 7, 2014

HERBS HERBS HERBS

Maya and I attended the yearly Herb Festival in Cannon Falls this weekend.  It was great to see Lise Wolff again (I have taken classes from her in the past) and it was fun to learn new things. I only had one negative experience, a single instructor that clearly didn't belong there (had her group drinking essential oils, putting several undiluted eos on the skin, referred to Robert Tisserand as Robert Tisserude and revealed she was a practitioner of raindrop therapy - among other things), aside from that though the rest of the festival was awesome.  Can never get bored learning and talking about medicinal plants :-)  (note: anyone that knows anything about the use of essential oils will know why I count that one instructor as a negative).

The day was beautiful, sun shining and temp was perfect.  Here is some pix from the day:


Farm in Cannon Falls

Maya: Farm in Cannon Falls

Plantain

Chickweed

Catnip
Stinging Nettle (or burn weed)

Lise Wolff educating the group

Wild Cucumber

Creeping Charlie
Mothers Wort


Wild Violet






Saturday, August 23, 2014

I AM STILL A MUD PUDDLE GIRL

Back in 2007 my friend Carrie over at Under the Willow presented me with a digital Mud Puddle Girl award (see original post about that HERE).




Carrie had her own line of Mud Puddle Girl products and the idea, I believe, came from having her own little Mud Puddle Girls (granddaughters). So... I was very honored when she presented me with the above award, so much that I still haven't forgotten about it. The other day I was standing at the screen door watching the rain pour down when it popped into my head.  I thought... when did I stop being a mud puddle girl and how can I be that girl again? I told my 7 year old to get her rain coat on and we headed outside to play in the rain. I had no idea how much she would love it. I told her how when I was a kid we'd always play in the rain and I didn't know why when we reached a certain age we stopped. As we played in the ankle deep water we sang and danced to the rain Gods, Walayka and Thul we named them (Aiyana said we had to combine water + lake and thunder + lightening), and we got soaked. I, being the old one, gave up before Aiyana did but it felt good to play outside and teach my daughter how great it is to be a Mud Puddle Girl.  Thank you Carrie!!









Saturday, August 16, 2014

GARDEN TALK TIME

The garden is doing pretty good this year... in some areas.  Not sure what is up with the shallots and onions, I'm thinking it is poor soil quality, but everything else is doing great.  Since the backyard was regraded we've been spreading wildflower seed and planting a few things here and there and things are starting to really grow.  This is what it looks like right now:


The Joe Pye Weed is taking over and as much as I like JPW I need to get that sucker under control.

The great part about our backyard, with all the beautiful things growing, is that wildlife is loving it. Every day I can go outside and not only see deer like we usually do but daily we have rabbits, birds, squirrels, chipmunks, snakes, frogs, turtles, dragonflies, butterflies, bees, wasps, and a whole host of other things. The rabbits like hiding in the growth so each day we run into about 4 or 5 back there.  

So onto what else I am having success with.

German Chamomile


One of my favorite herbs. In the past I'd always keep a pot of chamomile inside but last year I planted some and forgot about it.  I was delighted to see it return this year so I planted some more. It is a zone 4 herb but our last harsh winter killed off things I thought were meant for this zone so I was pleasantly surprised when the chamomile popped up. 

Dill


Dill is hardier than I thought. Not only does it appear in odd random places around the garden, after planting a whole new bunch this year we let the Black Swallowtail caterpillar devour it all and yet from the nubs that were left it regrew.  Great, because I need it for canning :-)

Tomatoes

Someone please explain to me what is up with the tomatoes?  I purchased two heirloom tomato plants at the Friends Plant Sale this year and they've grown into these monstrous things (5 feet tall) but the fruits are all still green.  I've never had that experience with tomatoes before.  I'm not surprised about the growth as much as the fact they aren't red or turning red yet.  I am worried with the way the weather has been that the frost is going to appear before the tomatoes ripen :( 

Sweet Potato


Omgosh! Last years sweet potatoes didn't grow but this year they are doing great.  I am more of a "learn by trial and error" and not so much by reading so I have no idea when to harvest the potatoes or how long they take to grow but I have learned one thing and that is not to plant them in a garden box again.  They want to spread far and wide and the box is just too small for them.

Asparagus


Now this I don't want to do the trial and error thing with.  I am going to have to watch a few YouTube videos and read up on this delicious plant. I have been trying to grow asparagus for a few years and each time I'd plant the root something would come along and take it or eat it. I was at the Farmer's Market this spring and a vendor was selling itty bitty plants so I put 3 in the ground and they are growing great! Not sure what the next step is but I'll be staying on top of this one since this yummy plant is a perennial  :-)

That's it.  Anyone else have success or failures in the garden this year? Luckily we've not had any pests but the onions and shallots aren't coming along like expected, they are both itty bitty and so I think I need to do some type of crop rotation next year and amend the soil much better than I did this year.  If you have any thoughts on why the shallots are the size of marbles, please let me know.

Monday, May 5, 2014

SURVIVED MY FIRST YEAR OF HOMESCHOOLING

Ok, I've survived nearly 9 months of homeschooling and although I've doubted myself A LOT throughout the experience and needed the reassurance from good friends like Teresa to keep me from throwing in the towel, I have found I really enjoy it. There is this immense satisfaction knowing that when my child learned to read, tell time, do fractions and tell me all about Egypt, etc... that I am the one who taught her all of that and not someone else.  I know what she's learning, when she is learning it, how well she's doing in each subject and in what areas I need to teach more. 

I want to use this blog post to talk about curriculum since that is the one thing that gives me the most headaches but also happens to be the most fun.  Odd right? To give me a headache and be fun? 
Well... I'll explain.

Finding the right curriculum is difficult since there seems to be plenty of a particular subject and almost nothing at all on another. Searching for curriculums on history or language arts you'll find more than you'll want so how do you choose? Searching for a curriculum on Spanish and art, infuriatingly impossible to find so you are reduced to putting it together yourself. 

Everyone's experience on finding a curriculum is different. In my opinion, it all depends on four things:

1. Your state requirements. 
2. What you want as a parent
3. How best your child learns
4. Cost! If you don't have a lot of money to work with, some curriculums, although perfect for your child, are just not in your price range. 

When I began homeschooling in September I started using the Oak Meadow curriculum for first grade.  I love Oak Meadow! I like the way the curriculum is laid out, the amount of hands on projects brought into every subject, how it all flows nicely and keeps my daughter interested but... I had to supplement quite a bit and around mid December I stopped using it altogether.  Not using it has been a huge mistake because it kept me focussed and on track and with that came a lot less anxiety.  Since I started jumping all over the place is when all of the doubt crept in. I'm getting a handle on it now and feeling more confident as I find other curriculums to supplement with but for a while there I didn't think I was going to continue teaching my daughter.  Now, I'm finding my footing and feeling I've made the absolute right decision by homeschooling my child.

What has helped me stick with it and where are we now?

#1  A friend. If I didn't have Teresa  I would have given up. I've met people in the homeschool co-op we attended this spring but no one has been as open, honest and helpful as my friend Teresa. 

and

#2  Seeing my daughter share what she learns.  Twice now we've been out and about and someone has asked my daughter why she wasn't in school and she'd tell them she is home-schooled. Immediately they'd start in with a list of questions about some random subject. Once we were having lunch with a friend and the waiter started quizzing my daughter on panda bears and the other time my daughter was getting her hair cut and the beautician wanted to know if she knew anything about Johnny Appleseed.  Ironically, we had studied pandas and learned all about Johnny Appleseed. 

Where are we now?

Well... I still haven't gone back to using Oak Meadow but I will. I also intend on purchasing their 2nd grade curriculum this summer.  I realized the problem with their curriculum (for us) is it just doesn't fit my daughter 100%. It was weak in some areas (for her).  When we started, my daughter already knew how to read well and she had already been exposed to many of the science topics so she became easily bored when I'd repeat things.  I'm also not a fan of jumping all over the place when studying history, I like order and there wasn't much for order on that subject.

To make sure my daughter was learning the same, if not more, than her sisters are learning in public school I purchased the book Home Learning Year by Year:

Home Learning Year by Year has been the most valuable book I've picked up.  Each chapter is divided into years. Chapter 1 - preschool, Chapter 2 - kindergarten, etc... and under each year is a complete list of what your child should know in every subject for that particular grade level.

After looking at dozens of different curriculums I settled on the following to supplement some of what is in Oak Meadow...

Write Shop. I haven't used this yet, it just arrived today.  Based on what I've read about it I think it will be good for my daughter but I'll have to update readers on that later.  I chose this writing curriculum when I started having difficulty explaining sentence structure and helping my daughter understand the meaning of complete sentences. 

Money Bags. The most awesome game ever for teaching money. I ordered this when my daughter had a difficult time remembering the names and amount of coins. I think we played the game 3x's and she had it all down perfectly. Now she is mastering making change, exchanging coins for dollars, etc...  My daughter learns much faster when we do things "hands-on" so educational games are a must in our household. 

Monarchs and More. I picked this up at the University of Minnesota.  They have a great entomology department over there and everyone is extremely helpful and excited when you want to learn about insects.  I just happened to come across this when doing a search on "ordering" monarchs. We'll be using this over the summer to learn more about butterflies. 

Nature Seeker Workbook. I am giving you the Amazon link for the workbook but I actually found this at the local bird supply store.  It was written by someone from my state. It contains a wealth of information on wildlife from midwest. We'll be using it to learn about nature this summer.

The Story of the World.  I wanted a history that took more of a timeline approach than just skipping all over the place and someone at the homeschool co-op we attended this spring told me about this curriculum.  I really like it.  Each chapter is very short, between 2-4 pages and there is a map to go with every chapter.  In addition to the stories and maps there is an activity guide that ties in with every chapter and it makes history fun and interesting to study. 

Real Science Odyssey. I just found this a few weeks ago and haven't started using it yet. I was waiting for the weather so we could start doing some of the projects outside. I searched high and low for a science curriculum and I think I'm really going to enjoy this one. I like that it has everything written out step-by-step.  When it comes to science I like to do as little thinking as possible. This book tells me exactly what to do and how to teach it.  It is nice to have the option of a less expensive ebook to download instantly over just purchasing the books (which are always more costly). 

I also downloaded this cute art history lessons booklet put together by someone on Teachers Pay Teachers. I've found so many useful projects and ideas on the TPT website.  Most of their downloads are reasonably priced and once you've downloaded anything you can use it again and again. Our favorite things to download are math games.

I am still on the hunt for a good Spanish and art curriculum.  I am thinking I may write my own for Spanish and post it on TPT but when it comes to art I need all the help I can get :D
So...

Homeschool won't end for us in May or June like a traditional year, we'll keep going throughout the summer but spend most of June, July and August on science and just studying nature.  If you have any tips for this new homeschooling mom, please share.  The more I know the better :-) 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

PROCESSING WOOL: PART 2

I finally moved on to washing the raw wool. The first bag was pretty clean. I wish I knew who I bought that particular bag from because that person takes immaculate care of their sheep. The second bag was pretty awful in terms of lanolin - maybe it has to do with the type of sheep??? I have no idea.

So... part one: pick through raw wool to get rid of particles like hay or poop. Part two: wash wool. 

I thought I ruined my first bag of wool because it looked felted when I removed it from the wash basin but once it dried it was absolutely fine. A few felted spots but not too bad.  The second bag I didn't poke at as much so it didn't felt at all but I have to admit that I really don't like the color. I wanted wool I could dye and the second batch doesn't seem suitable for that.

First bag of wool washed


I used a mesh bag to put the wool in. I learned quickly that I put too much wool into the mesh bag, should have just used a few ounces or else a larger bag. 

I filled the basin with water at a temp of 130 F and added the fleece scour solution.  Lastly I added my little bag of wool and watched as the water turned fro clear to a yucky yellow. The whole house smelled like sheep butt thanks to the steam coming off the water. That's ok though because I love sheep butt :-)

I turned the bag a couple times in the 30 minute soak and then transferred the wool to another basin full of clean water and fleece scour and turned once in 15 minutes. To finish I put the wool in a clean rinse basin and pushed it around a few times until I felt the wool was free of the fleece scour solution.



When done I just let the bag sit in the sink and drain out, when it drained as best as it could I dumped the wool onto a towel and let it sit until it was no longer wet. Once dry I pulled it apart. Now, I have no idea if pulling it apart will make it difficult to card since I am new to all of this but I'll soon find out.

Carding will be part three :)




Friday, April 11, 2014

I DID IT! I MADE MAPLE SYRUP!

After 30+ years thinking about it, I finally made some maple syrup. Don't laugh but here it is:
This came from a silver maple tree in the city so we get the added taste of pollution too. Haha!
I boiled down nearly 2 gallons of silver maple sap and what you see above is what I ended up with (there would have been a little more but I ruined the 2nd half I boiled by getting distracted on the telephone - note to self: don't answer phone when boiling sap). 
My husband drilling a hole for the spile.  If you look closely you can see the clear sap rushing out of the spile as soon as we put it into the hole that was drilled.
I don't really care about the quantity this time around I'm just excited that I was finally able to do it. The syrup came from a single tap of my sisters silver maple so if I were to tap that thing several times I'd probably have had a whole bottle. This year was just a little experiment to see how the whole process went, next year I'll be on the hunt for sugar maples and I'll extract much more.
It took one week to get the bag as full as you see it in the picture. It would run ok for a few hours in the day (mostly dripping) but it was just too cold of an early spring to really get going. On the right I'm boiling it down. Next year I'll do it outside.
Since I only had about 2 gallons to work with I boiled the sap inside the house on my electric stove. It took a couple hours but it was fun. Aiyana was the first to sample the end result and her response was "it needs more sugar." My husband was the second person to sample and all he said is "it sure tastes different than the high fructose corn syrup version." LOL! 
This is my disaster. I'm starting to think disasters are a common theme of my blog. LOL! Of my life. LOL! With every new adventure I start off with a disaster. I thought today was going to be perfect, I should have known it was too good to be true. Second batch of syrup smelled good but turned out yuck and I wasn't sure how to keep going with it to turn it into maple sugar. For the record, I've learned to love disasters... it helps me learn quickly what not to do next time ;) 
I'll be eating it (not the burnt stuff) over french toast this weekend :) 
Happy Friday Everyone!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

RAW FLEECE: PART ONE

I admit it, I'm a fiber hoarder.

I'm also a book hoarder, a yarn hoarder, a soap supply hoarder, a card supply hoarder and... ok, you get the point. 

Problem with raw fiber is you really can't hoard it for very long or else the moths move in so... after stashing this stuff away for nearly a year I decided it was time to deal with it.


Now... just in case you didn't know, this is my first time working with raw wool. I've been spinning fiber for a few years and decided last year while shopping around at the Shepherd's Harvest Festival that it was time to learn to process wool on my own.  It's fun buying fibers that are already prepared for you but I think doing it all myself will give me a whole new appreciation for sheep.  

Luckily, this batch didn't have any moths fluttering around inside.  Being the squeamish person that I am I begged Maya to take the bag outside and inspect it before I'd even touch it.  Yay! No moths! In fact, the wool had lost most of its sheepy smell and took on the scent of our house and that's nice, now I'm just working on picking out the poopy parts, which is called "skirting the fleece".  This batch of wool isn't very dirty so I'm thinking it was cleaned up pretty good before they sold it to me but it still needs to be plucked over, the short fibers removed and then washed to get rid of most of the lanolin. So when I call this "raw wool" it isn't anywhere near as raw as the stuff that would come straight from the skirting table right after the sheep is shorn.

Once I'm done picking through this batch I'll separate out the good stuff and then wash, card and dye it.  Stay tuned :D

Anyone reading this post ever process raw wool? Tell me about it! I want to know what your experience was like.