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Winter on the farm

Our first seed catalog arrived yesterday.  And man, am I stoked.

Winter on a farm isn’t a time for too much resting.  There’s still a lot to be done.  For one thing, our animals don’t disappear with warm weather.  They actually require more work than they do in summer.  In the summer, we can let our chickens roam the yard, hunting bugs and worms.   It’s kind of awesome, because they keep the ticks and mosquitoes down.

snow day

If you’ve ever lived through a bad tick season, you’re feeling me.  Those little buggers are vicious.  And sneaky.  They’re like mini Viet Cong sneaking up on you in the jungle.  Or forest.  Whatever.

In the winter, though, if we want eggs we have to keep the hens penned up.  They have a nice, large yard to run around in, but most of the time they choose to stay in the cover of their building in a large crowd, staring out dolefully at the world and waiting for the slightest bit of cloud cover so they can go to sleep.  No kidding, those birds might be the smartest animals on the planet.  When it’s dim outside, they go to freaking sleep, by God.  Just sit and daydream about that for a minute, won’t you?

hens looking out

Because the hens are penned up, we have to feed them more.  We have to make sure they’re getting protein so they can create eggs.  Winter costs more than the heat bill, let me tell you.  We also have to keep a light on in the hen house for 14 hours a day, or those ladies will snooze all day and not lay any eggs.  Their water freezes, so we have to break that up.  Unless it freezes completely, then we have to search around for a second water trough and start over.  When it’s below freezing for several days in a row, you start to run out of troughs.   We should invest in one of those heated troughs, and (I swear) we talk about doing so every single winter.  Talking doesn’t really solve the problem, though.

A boy and his dog

A boy and his dog


Our miniature donkey needs a lot of the same care.  His pastures are winter-dead, so we have to provide him with hay and feed so he doesn’t sink in on himself and stand by the road, looking longingly at every car that passes with his thumb out.  At least he doesn’t need a light.  But his water does freeze.

Leo the Lop

In the winter, my free-range rabbits have to be put into pens so they don’t mate all the time and produce litters that die in the cold before they even get fur.  They’re a little easier, because we just use dog food bowls for their feed and water, and they pretty much empty them before freezing can happen.  But it breaks my heart to see them locked up like that.  They’re rabbits.  They should be nibbling grass, thumping, and digging burrows.


I don’t know if you know this, but doves mate like rabbits.  One of our females is sitting on an egg right now.  The baby won’t survive the cold.  They never do.  But we always give them a chance, because there might be that one that makes it.  We could put the egg in an incubator and try to raise the baby in the house, but song birds are harder to care for than chicks, and I honestly wouldn’t know what to feed the little bugger.  I keep asking them to stop mating, but they just coo at me condescendingly.  I think it means, “Yeah, right, lady.  Not on your life.”

I don’t know which one is the male.  So I can’t separate them.  They know that, and they laugh at me every morning when I feed them.


The red golden pheasants pretty much take care of themselves.  They have a beautiful aviary (built by the most beautiful man in the world), and they just hang out and flap their wings at me when I’m changing their water trough, letting me know I have no control over them and that I’m so beneath them they can’t even be bothered to attack me.  They are majestic birds with a lot of attitude, so I have to agree with them.  I mean, I can’t fly.  So they have that on me.

We have had winters when we raised cattle, pigs, goats.  They demand so much more when it’s cold outside and they can’t take care of themselves.  So winter keeps us hopping around here, even when we don’t feel like it.

burpee seed catalog

But the seed catalog… Oh. Yeah.

January hits, the catalogs start pouring in, and we start planning the spring garden.  We sit at the table together, Martin and I, and go through the catalogs, dreaming about what goodness we’ll grow.  It’s the best part of winter on the farm.   The Littles even get involved, as we decide what we’ll grow from seed and which yummies we’ll buy as seedlings from the local nursery.  We start looking at our soil, to see what nutrients need added where.  We plot the year’s design, so that we’re being sure to rotate things and to plant ‘friendly’ plants next to each other.   We get out graph paper and draw up several designs.  By the time we’re satisfied, it’s time to plow, then time to till.  The greenhouse goes up and I start growing the seeds we ordered.  And suddenly winter is over and it’s time to get all that goodness in the ground.

I can rest easy knowing the Littles are learning how to take care of themselves when the zombie apocalypse comes.  If you ask them, that could be any day.

Winter on the farm is expensive, both in finance and in work.  It’s different from the work we do in summer, and it’s cold, and breaking up all that ice is a pain in the ass.

But I wouldn’t trade it for the city.  Not even if they have heated water troughs.

Love wins,


Teach Them Everything

Yesterday, when I was talking about being overwhelmed in January, I mentioned tweaking your schedule to relieve some of the pressure.  If you’re like me, that is almost as scary a prospect as following it to the letter.  I put so much meticulous time into planning our homeschool year, and I Freak The Hell Out if we get off schedule.  (But I’ve told you that before.)

The problem is, I want to teach my Littles Everything Under the Sun and Everything Over It.  I want them to Know.  Because I want to Know.  I don’t want them graduating my house without having every bit of knowledge I can impart.


Are you like that, too?

It got me into trouble with this geography unit study thing we’re doing.  I almost chucked the plan.  In fact, I would have, but since I already had China and Japan ready, we started the school year out with them.  And the Littles Loved It.  Every single day they told me how fun school was.  Who am I to take that from them?  So I’m working out these unit studies country by country as we move through the year, and it has put me behind schedule.

My original plan was to do all of Asia the first semester and Africa this semester.  Problem?  We aren’t even halfway through Asia.  Why?  Well, come on, guys, these countries are Fascinating, and there is So Much to learn about each one.


Can I admit something to you?  I can’t remember ever learning the geographical location of Siam in school.  I had heard of Siam–from The King and I and Siamese cats and Siamese twins (remember when that was a term?)–but no one had ever told me where it was.  So when we started studying Thailand, it was relief to learn that it used to be Siam.  I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, well-read, and I was a good student.  So why didn’t I already know that?

That’s the kind of thing I want my boys to know.  I don’t want them to hear a current event about a certain country and be unable to remember where that country is.  Or to hear about a place that has changed names and not know what it’s called today.

Anyway, the unit study thing is kinda doing me in.  Sometimes I wish I would just break down and buy curriculum that someone else has already written, but I know me.  I will feel it is not in-depth enough.  No matter how good it is, I will find fault.  WHAT is wrong with me?!

So I plan everything myself, and write unit studies and novel studies and make up worksheets and look around sometimes and think, “When, exactly, will I get a break?”

When they graduate.

Is that on me?  Yeah, I own it.  And I always, without fail, over-plan.  I mean, seriously, folks, I would have to teach them for the rest of their lives to fit all this in.  And they might think it’s weird to still be homeschooling when they’re 40.  Talk about weird, unsocialized homeschoolers!  We would be the poster children… er, adults.

Also, (don’t fall over from shock), I tend to be a rather disorganized person.  I like to organize.  It’s fun.  Most of the jobs I’ve had over the years have demanded organization.  I have learned that I have to have a schedule and a plan or things will end up in disarray.  And the last element this homeschool needs is chaos.  Sticking to the plan is what keeps me in line.  I’m also hoping it will teach the Littles to be more organized creatures than I am.  So I make up a school calendar every year so I know from the get-go what days we’re in school and what days we can take off.  For the last two years I have even scheduled in catch-up days in case we get behind.  I’m not kidding.  A sick day can really throw me for a loop.  I have to know we’re going to stay on-schedule because I have to know my kids are Really Learning everything I planned for the year.

Now, I have loosened up a little bit this year.  And it has made me feel like I’m not teaching them anything.

Do you do that?

Some of my friends tell me I’m too hard on myself.  Maybe I am.  But this is the most important job I’ve ever had, and everything hinges on it.

So I suppose that having to constantly tweak the schedule is a thing I’m just going to have to live with.  Feeling behind is a place I’ll have to reside joyfully.  Because I’m not giving up on teaching them Everything.  They’ll appreciate it when they grow up and know where Siam once was.

Love wins,



Overwhelmed in January

January is a good time for us homeschoolers to start feeling overwhelmed. Ever notice that? In most of the country, it means inclement weather has us stuck inside the house with littles who are tired of being stuck inside the house. The excitement of the holidays is over. The next break is weeks or even months away (unless you homeschool year round with monthly breaks, but Even That seems far away in January). There’s that back to school rush at the first of the month then within a few days… Blah. Burnout. We are out of sorts from lack of sun. One little is stuck in one subject and it seems like he’ll never get it. Another little is sick. A third is hyper from being cooped up.

Well, I don’t have 3 in homeschool. But maybe they have multiple personalities.

Just kidding.

back to school

back to school

Burnout happens to us homeschool teachers just as much as it happens to college students, if not more. We are responsible for So Much. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if homeschooling were at least our only responsibility? If a maid service took care of the house, a chef took care of the meals, a chauffeur drove the kids to outside activities, and you had farmhands? Well, okay, my boys might count as farmhands. But I still have to check their work. The thing is, most of the time, we have to be all those things. And it can be exhausting. Let’s not pretend to be Supermom here–when we are thinking rationally, we all know such moms do not exist.

So what do we do when it’s January and we are feeling overwhelmed? Well, there are some things I do to help me get through it, and maybe they will help you, too.

1. Reconsider your schedule

When we come back from Christmas break, the past 7 weeks have looked like this:

  • 2 weeks off for deer season/Thanksgiving
  • 3 weeks of Unit Study in one subject
  • 2 weeks off for Christmas break

So, the first week of January I feel compelled to jump right back in to a full schedule.  This year that means writing, forensics, math, reading, and geography unit study that includes history, gardening, art, maps, geology and animal studies.  It’s a lot of work.  Last week, we had a blast getting back into what we call ‘real school.’

Monday morning I woke up just not feeling it.  It snowed over the weekend, and in our rural county, that meant the roads were bad.  So I knew I was stuck in the house.  I also knew it was going to snow again on Tuesday, which might mean I was stuck for even longer.  The temperature has been pretty low too, and Littlest has been sick.  So we couldn’t even go out for a snow walk or to build a snowman.  What does that have to do with school?

Nothing but my attitude.

And it grew and grew.  Even today, the only reason we will have a normal school day is because I’m going to push myself to do it.  I don’t want to.  So I’ll be taking another look at my schedule, to see if there’s anything I can cut out or put off, at least for a week or two, until I’m feeling less overwhelmed.

I’m not telling you to chuck your schedule.  I fully believe that sticking to some kind of schedule is imperative for good learning.  Kids react to life better when they know what to expect.  You don’t even have to chuck one class.  Maybe just start a little later so these dark early mornings can be spent in bed.  Maybe shorten each lesson–spread what you planned for one day over two or three.  Whatever makes your weight a little lighter.

Littlest had tea to help his sore throat

Littlest had tea to help his sore throat

2. Seek Help

As homeschoolers, no matter how many groups we belong to we can often feel isolated.  As homeschool teachers, we tend to think the job is solely up to us and if anything goes wrong, we’re the only ones who can own it.  But that’s not true.  We have spouses, friends, peers, co-ops, and even an online community who are all too willing to help.  We hesitate to ask for help.  Will people think we suck at this if we need help?  Cruising the interweb can make us feel worse, can’t it?  Those bloggers seem to know so much and have it all together.  Well, let me tell you, bloggers deal with the same stuff you do, but we gave ourselves the job of being here to help you, so we offer advice.  Often, the reason we think to write that advice for you to read is because we’re dealing with the issue ourselves.  We don’t have it all together.  We’re giving ourselves pep talks as much as we’re advising you.  Remember, Supermom doesn’t exist.  Instead of letting blogs make you feel worse, glean the good advice from them.  In fact, send an email to your favorite blogger (I hope it’s me), and you’ll find someone willing not only to make suggestions but who will commiserate.  Totally.  We get it.

Turn to your spouse.  Don’t we forget that sometimes?  He or she is in this, too, and perfectly capable of helping with math flash cards or going over spelling words.  Martin teaches the boy things I can’t (because I don’t know how to do them), like mechanics and woodworking.  He is even having them help build our new house so they are learning that skill as well.  Is it structured school?  Well, no.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable asset to their education.  And the thing is, don’t we homeschool because we want them to have the opportunity to truly learn how to navigate life?

Your homeschooling peers and friends would probably appreciate the offer to swap teaching days one day a week.  Or even to swap kids.  Maybe you have something to offer your neighbors’ kids that she doesn’t necessarily have.  I can’t knit.  I think it would be cool if my boys could go to a friends house one day a week to learn that skill.  Or if they would just go to a friend’s house one day a week.

Just kidding.

Big reading aloud to save Littlest's throat

Big reading aloud to save Littlest’s throat

3. Shake it up

I’ve mentioned this before, but taking some time to just have fun can still be learning.  Board games are the perfect tool. Scrabble for language, Monopoly for math & finance, Clue for critical thinking, trivia games for history and current events.  See if you can plan a board game day into your schedule.  Or play one game every day.

You could also have a craft day or a science experiment day.  No writing or reading, just hands-on learning.  You’d be amazed at how much pressure a day like that can relieve.

4. Get outside anyway

Whaaaaat? It’s 13 degrees outside right now!

Yeah, yeah, but it’ll be 32 this afternoon, and we have coats, gloves, scarves, and toboggans.  And if this funk keeps clouding my brain, a brisk walk in the snow might be just the thing to clear it up.  And I don’t mean walk to your car, though visiting friends might also be a big help.  I mean take 15 minutes and go enjoy the planet.  I know, it sucks being cold.  But it sucks just a little bit more being trapped inside, doesn’t it?  It must, or we wouldn’t complain about it so much!

5.  Trust your instincts

Still feel like you need a day off?  Take it.

Your children’s education is not going to take a nose dive because you took a day off in January.  Maybe, though, it will help you get some new perspective.  Tomorrow might be your first get-up-and-go school day of 2016.

Here’s the thing.  We all get overwhelmed.  This homeschooling thing is Hard.  But we knew that going in, didn’t we?  And we signed up for it anyway.  I don’t know about you but–hard as it is–it’s easier than I thought it would be when I decided to do it.  Yeah, it’s a lot of work.  But it’s gratifying work.  So take care of yourself and you’ll be able to take care of your littles.  And all your other jobs.

Love wins,


YA Book Review: Haven by A. R. Ivanovich


Haven by A. R. Ivanovich

I have to start by saying this a really good book.  Sure, there is a believable world created here as a backdrop.  But what I loved was that it was really well-written in a strong female voice.  Katelyn Kestrel is the kind of hero a girl can believe in.   She lives in a mountain valley called Haven–and I mean a valley completely surrounded by towering mountains through which there is no way out.  Supposedly.  No one has been outside of Haven in over 700 years.  It’s sort of a steam punk meets epic fantasy kind of place.  Mechanical carriages to help the horses out.  Running water.  Weather men.  In a land where things are simple.  I like true fantasy, where the setting is more medieval, but I have found that I also enjoy the modernized take on the old standby.  Ms. Ivanovich pulls it off with vigor.

Katelyn is a curious girl, and she wonders what lies outside those mountains.  So one night, after a particularly humiliating experience among her school peers, she decides to try to find her way out.  And some strange pull inside her leads her directly to the only path out of the mountains.  She finds her way Outside.  What awaits her there makes high school look like a day at the park.  A war is waging Outside and she gets caught up in the middle of it.  Her allies Outside are Dylan and Rune, two very different young men who affect her very differently.  Dylan is charming and flirtatious while Rune is distant to the point of cruelty.  What’s cool here is that Katelyn isn’t a gullible girl.  She sees through to who the true good guy is, even from the beginning.  Though she grows to trust Dylan, it takes him a while to get to her.  She trusts Rune from the start.  I liked that I wasn’t supposed to be believing that this girl just trusted and threw herself at everybody.  Believing that anyone could be so… stupid.  There are books like that out there.  You know it’s true.

But that’s not the main story.  Oh no, the main story is that Katelyn has to find her way back to Haven without leading all the crazies from Outside to her home.  Because the Outside world has been searching for Haven for centuries, and it has sinister plans for its inhabitants.  And Katelyn is a prisoner, one way or another, from the moment she reaches Outside.  Super sinister bad guys, untrustworthy good guys, new friends, and bitter disappointments pepper Katelyn’s action-packed adventure, but she stays true to herself and her motives and fights back even when there seems to be no fight left in her.

I can’t say much more without giving too much away, so I’ll leave it at this–this book is kind of epic.  I can’t think of a single protagonist who made a foolish mistake that made me want to put the book down (that happens, too.  You know it does).  They all made right choices.  Human choices.  Believable choices. It rocked.  And the last paragraph… Let’s just say it punched me in the heart.  Pick up this wonderful book for yourself your teens and tweens if your looking for something to truly engage them.  Read it with your littles if they love adventure and you want to teach a lesson about loyalty and courage.

Happy reading.

Love wins,