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This Crazy Cool Country Life Part 2

IMG_20150825_112626541_HDRI know a lot of people hate August.  It’s hot, it’s long, nothing too exciting happens in the whole month.  But I love August.  I always have.  I love how the days are still long but the sunlight has changed color–that beautiful, deep, rich, golden red in the evenings that you don’t get at any other time of year.  I love how night lasts a bit longer in the mornings so you can sleep till 6 and still feel like you’re getting up early.  I love watching my world wind down toward autumn.  There is an ancient Celtic festival holiday called Lughnasadh (LOO-na-sa) on August 1st that celebrates the first harvest of the year and the Sun God, Lugh.  What better month is there to celebrate the sun than golden, delicious August?

We have been having a particularly fine August this year–mild weather, low humidity, gorgeously cool mornings and wonderfully hot afternoons.  I don’t remember there ever being an August like this in the Ohio Valley.  Usually, it is so hot and humid you can’t breathe. Not this year.  This year, August is everything I could hope for.  So we’ve been able to do nature walks this month in a much less limited way than usual.  And here is what we saw on our hour & a half walk yesterday, for your viewing pleasure.

pondWe have 2 more weeks before our official homeschool year starts, but that doesn’t mean we can’t study a little pond life as we head out on our walk.  I love this view of our fishing hole.

three littlesHere are all my littles as we head down the road.  Even Big took this walk with us.  As you can see, Big inherited my height while the Littles inherited their dad’s–yes, my Littles have outgrown me.  Yes, I still call out, “Littles!”  when I need them.  And yeah, I probably always will.  Now you can envision my country lane when I talk about driving down it. 🙂

IMG_20150825_122948984One of the really awesome, amazing things about living in a rural community is the sense of sharing we all have.  Some of us have goats, some horses, some cows, most have chickens.  Some have pear trees, some plum trees, some persimmon trees, some apples.  Some gardens produce more tomatoes, or cukes, or zukes.  At some point during this time of year, we are all calling each other or stopping by to see if our neighbors could use our excess.  I grew up in the city, and while we had some good neighbors, the generosity we have in my country community has not been matched in my life.  This neighbor’s horse called out hello to us and I couldn’t resist snapping a pic.

hill and sky Barn flowersThese views of the same neighbor’s land gave us a chance to discuss local wildflowers and pollination, and how nature is as intricately interwoven as our ‘neighborhood’ is.

littlest creekLittlest and I were the only two brave enough to walk the roadside creek bed where, despite the drenching we got throughout June, things were pretty dry.  Still we were able to find a couple of pools of water. And some interesting insects.


And this elegant little spiderweb

spiderweb 2Just on the other side of the creek bed was another opportunity to discuss our local flora.  We saw about 6 different yellow wildflowers on our walk, but this view of forest sunflower and goldenrod was our favorite.

yellow roadside flowers


Soon we were headed home, but not before spotting some late-summer butterflies.

going home IMG_20150825_115414633_HDRI grew up reading books like Charlotte’s Web and Mrs. Frisby about people living on farms.  I loved the descriptions of just normal daily life–how everything was so simple and outdoorsy and everybody pretty much got what it meant to be part of this planet.  Never in a million years did I dream that one day I would be walking home to a view like this:

IMG_20150825_132514252_HDRIt takes my breath that something as simple as weeds growing up the side of a henhouse can elicit such joy in me.  How getting our first green egg from our spring chickens can make us all do a happy dance and consider going to the butcher to get the ham to go with it.

When I call this my crazy cool country life, I mean it is crazy that I get to live it.  I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I get to exist in such beauty every day.  I love this place like Scarlett loved Tara, and I’m teaching my boys to feel the same way.  After all, it will be theirs some day.  And, as always,

Love wins,


My Dream Vacation (that would also benefit my homeschool)

I am blissfully aware that I am a complete nerd.  I’m ok with that.  I Like being a nerd.  There is nothing wrong with being interested in smart things.  If there was, the TV show Big Bang Theory would not be so popular.  So I embrace my Nerdness.  In fact, I would happily accept the Queen of the Nerds crown.

With that in mind, I have been thinking lately about how I would spend an extended vacation if I had unlimited funds.  A tropical island? No thank you.  A tour of Italy’s famous vineyards?  Um, no.  A trip through castles in the UK?  Well, you’re getting closer.

But the truth is, if I had a few weeks and unlimited funds, I would stay right here in the States.  Why?  ‘Cause I’m a nerd.  And a history buff.  And there is So Much to do here.  The cool thing is, the Littles would benefit from my dream vacay.  In fact, we could count the darn thing as school, it would be so educational.  Welcome to my nerdiness.

green bankThe trip would start at Green Bank, West Virginia.  What could possibly be in Green Bank besides maybe mountains and forests?  The National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Science Center.  It’s a SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) site, where they use the giant radio telescope to search for communication from alien planets/life forms.  Um, SETI was started by Carl Sagan, and I think you already know he’s my Dead Science Guy Boyfriend.  Green Bank is also home to regular astronomy experiments and data collection, so if you don’t believe in aliens or Carl Sagan, you can still learn about space.  They offer tours of the facility, hands-on activities, planetarium sessions and field trip experiences.  They even have a cafe and a gift shop.  They are open all year.  They are my heroes.  The best part?  It would only cost us $21.50 to get the whole fam inside.  I can’t tell you how I squealed when I found all this out.

monticelloFrom Green Bank we would drive roughly 2 hours to my mecca, Monticello.  If you have forgotten that Thomas Jefferson is my Dead President Boyfriend, here is where I remind you.  Jefferson was a nerd, too.  He loved all the same things I do.  I’m sure if Tolkien had been born a couple centuries earlier, Jefferson would have loved The Hobbit and The Trilogy as much as I do.  He loved books.  He loved gardening.  He fought for freedom.  He loved to write.  Yeah.  Dead President Boyfriend, for sure.  The house and grounds of Monticello are open to the public, including the house, gardens, slave quarters, and cemetery.  This one is a bit more expensive, at $74 for a family of 4 (with the kids being in two different age groups), but it would be well worth it.  The main problem would be getting me to leave.

RI aquariumroanoke lighthouseEast from Monticello to Roanoke Island and Nags Head (about a 4-hour drive).  Who wouldn’t want to see the island where the first settlers so mysteriously disappeared long before the pilgrims ever made their way to Plymouth?  Well, don’t judge me–I really want to just go sit and soak that in.  Besides, if I have a Dead Queen Girlfriend, it is definitely Elizabeth I, and since she permitted the whole Sir Walter Raleigh thing, I kind of Have To Go There someday, if only to see the Elizabethan Gardens.  Plus, there’s a really nice aquarium on Roanoke, and several lighthouses in the surrounding area.  I have always wanted to see a lighthouse in person.  Might sound a little blase to people who live on coasts, but I live in the middle of the country, dammit, and I want to see a lighthouse.  Just thinking about getting to visit here makes me start to tear up.  I know–Nerd.  Total cost for this leg of the trip for the four of us would be $108.62.  Um, to do all that?  Only $108?  Who needs Disney World?

liberty-bellFrom Roanoke, I want to drive up the east coast to Philadelphia.  This would take about 6 hours, but I imagine the scenery will make up for the length of the drive.  There are two main things I want to see in Philly (besides an Eagles game).  The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  Are you kidding me?  To get to see the place where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed?  Oh, and it brings the whole Monticello thing full circle, so how cool is my vacation dream?  If you’ve forgotten the bell’s inscription, it says, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” Yeah yeah.  That.  Knowing it inspired abolitionists and women’s suffragists makes me wonder what it could inspire next, if only people will start paying attention again.  So I’m going to pay attention.  And I’m teaching my Littles to pay attention.  So should you.  Go see the Liberty Bell.

mystic pizza 2mystic pizzaBack to Nerdsville, because my next stop would be in Mystic, Connecticut, 5 hours away.  Come on, ’80s ladies, remember why?  I want to have lunch at Mystic Pizza.  Yes, it’s real; yes, it’s still there; yes, I will eat there one day.  I still own this film, and I do still watch it every few months.  Why?  Come on… I loved these girls and at different times in my life have been able to relate to each of them in one way or another.  That’s classic film-making for you.  And I want to know what they put in that pizza. The most expensive pizza on their menu is under $20.  So I’m happy.  If only I didn’t have to book hotels, this trip would be cheap!

cape codcape cod lavender farmI will leave Mystic and drive to Cape Cod because I’ve been reading about that place in books since practically birth and it’s only an hour away and it has always sounded amazing.  I just want to see it once before I die, to see if it lives up to my imagination.  I may end up disappointed.  I seriously doubt it.  Formal tours of the island run about $75 a person, but I am way too frugal for that.  So I found a free aquarium there.  And a lavender farm you can stroll through for free.  And 3 free lighthouse tours.  Ah, yes.  Loving this vacay.  And if you’re looking for even more awesome things to do while in Massachusetts, Your RV Lifestyle has tons.


harvard lawboston harbor picNext stop: Boston.  I want the littles to see the Harvard Campus, to see what they can achieve with hard work.  Plus, again, I’ve been reading about the place all my life and I’d like to see it, too.  Besides that, I want to walk the streets and imagine Samuel Adams giving his ‘so a man can stand up’ speech, and visit Boston Harbor and all the Revolutionary War sites.

I know.  I told you I’m a history nerd.  A science nerd.  A book nerd.  Even a movie nerd.  We are almost done.  I wonder if anyone can guess where my last stop would be.

bangor-02Bangor, Maine!  Because many of Stephen King’s books are set in the surrounding area and there’s even a tour you can take (which would cost us $130 for 4) to the sites he’s made famous in his books.  So yeah, I know I said Monticello was my mecca, but maybe the entire eastern part of the country is?  And why haven’t I ever done this vacation or at least parts of it?

Seems to me like all these sites can be seen by a family of four for around $470.  And every one of these sites is educational, so it’s good for homeschool, too.   I worked it out and it looks like I could do it comfortably in 16 days, if we take a couple days to recuperate once we get home.  So all I need is to come up with  hotel money for 15 nights and gas and food money.  So roughly 3 weeks and $3500.  If you, by chance, have that amount lying around in your sock drawer, feel free to send it my way. 🙂

That’s why it’s called a dream.

Croatoan (Love wins),


Harvest Lessons


Today has been a lesson in harvesting.  We generally think of Harvest Time as happening in autumn, but in truth I am busy putting things up for winter from about Mid-July through Early November.  Early peas, early beans, broccoli & cauliflower, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.  Then it’s time for tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, peppers, zucchini and summer squash.  Then late peas, late beans, elderberries, more tomatoes, corn, pumpkin, pears and apples.  We stay busy in summer.  It makes my head spin.  In a glorious way.  I crush hard on this country life.

sunflowers & birdhouses

But how do I make it fun for my Littles?  Simple.  I tell them to pretend they’re Rick Grimes from Season 3 of The Walking Dead.  Survival skills, my friends… Any decent zombie apocalypse fan is all about them.  They’d rather be Daryl and go shoot stuff in the woods, but that time will come in a few weeks when the seasons we hunt start kicking in.  For now, we are learning about Harvesting! (You may have other ways of interesting your littles in this work, but feel free to use mine.)


We started out today gathering tomatoes, green beans, peppers, and cucumbers from the garden.  The Littles already know how to spot a tomato or bean that’s ready to pick, so today we just talked about the size of a good pepper or cucumber.  We looked at the zucchini plant and I showed them signs that the plant is done fruiting.

picking tomatoespicking green beans2

After we got our harvest together, it was time to prepare a couple of beds for our fall garden.  Even though I did the tilling myself, I showed the boys how to start the tiller, talked about what kind of fuel it uses, and let them feel the difference between the pre-tilled and the tilled soil.  Next year, Middle will probably take over the tilling chore.  Unless I continue to enjoy it.  Then he’ll just have to wait.

These beds are getting planted with broccoli, peas, and pumpkins.  I’m afraid I got my pumpkins out a little late because of all the rain we’ve had, so cross your fingers I get one or two for Halloween.  Or at least Thanksgiving.  If not, that will be another lesson for the boys to learn–how the weather affects the garden differently every year.  And how their mother should actually utilize the greenhouse.  That would probably help.  haha


We’ve already been seeing signs of how our abundance of rain has made things different.  Our corn tasseled before it got very tall, but we’re still getting corn on it.  One of our pepper plants completely wilted.  We’d given it up for dead but after a few days of sunshine it seems to have bounced back.  Some of our bean plants seemed to almost melt away.  For a while we thought the house was going to float away.

I digress.

morning pick

After harvesting some summer crops and planting some fall crops, we headed inside to do something with all our bounty.  I like to have the Littles help me can so they know what they’re doing, but I have listened enough to my beautiful husband’s tales of childhood woe about canning that I let them off the hook after a while.  If I have 200 tomatoes to can, even I don’t want to stand in front of the stove and do that all day.  I can’t imagine little boys wanting to do it.  So I generally let them go after the first batch is put up.

water bath

weighing tomatoesToday I had at least 200 tomatoes to put up, and I was turning them into ketchup, chili base, pizza sauce, and salsa.  I like making all those things myself because I don’t have to worry about gluten sneaking in on me somewhere, or hydrogenated oils, or high fructose corn syrup.  Just tomatoes and seasonings–and better than anything we can get at the store.  After I get enough of those things canned, I’ll start on my diced tomatoes if I have any left over.  Some years I don’t.  My kiddos love ketchup.  And pizza.

Depending on the age of your littles, there are a lot of lessons to be learned as you can food.  How to tell if a fruit or veggie is going bad.  How to weigh food if you have a food scale.  How to estimate if you don’t.  What will keep for a while and what won’t.  I don’t have a pressure canner, so we freeze things like green beans and corn, and it’s a good idea for them to realize that frozen foods don’t last as long as canned and that canned food doesn’t rely on electricity to keep.

tomatoes     canning jars

The most important thing to remember when teaching your littles about harvesting and storing food is that you have a good foreman in the kitchen, and by that I mean the cat who isn’t supposed to be on the counter but who is making sure you get those tomatoes peeled right because there is no one else on this green earth that could possibly be the supervisor that Storm the Gorgeous Grey Cat is.  Notice how Littlest is starting to laugh when he sees Storm sitting there.  The pic does not quite capture the subsequent battle between me and the Storm as I shooed him from the counter and he continued to come back to check my work.  Guess who gave up first?  It wasn’t the foreman.

peeling tomatoes

Okay, really, the most important thing to remember is to keep the harvest process lighthearted and fun.  Gardening and canning are hard, time-consuming work, but if you want to raise self-sufficient, independent adults, it’s a good idea to involve your littles in the process while they’re young.  Laugh and have fun and plan the apocalypse together.

A couple of good books about harvest are Hello, Harvest Moon by Ralph Fletcher (it even has a cat!) and Apples, Apples Everywhere: Learning About Apple Harvests by Robin Koontz.  As you know, books make everything fun.

Now, I have a batch of ketchup and a batch of chili base done, but I really need to go get started on the pizza sauce.  These tomatoes won’t wait on me.  I think I should get the Littles back in here.  They’ve had a long enough break.

Love wins,


Indiana Boys on an Indiana Weekend

I am fiercely in love with my ‘flyover’ state.  I’ve probably not talked about it much before, but our weekend was so wonderful (barring a short, scary heat stroke problem) that I have to share it with you.  If you’ve never been to Indiana, you need to understand that I’m talking about the southern half of the state because I don’t spend much time up north and the southern half is the pretty half.  There are rolling hills and forests and, of course, a multitude of crop fields at every turn, but there are also interesting cities that haven’t outgrown themselves and forgotten where they came from.  We don’t live near any of those cities.  In fact, we live in the hills and cornfields and have to drive a good, long way to get to civilization.  Just the way we like it.  It means when we make plans to visit a city, we have a beautiful drive ahead of us.

IMG_20150716_090610544On Friday, we decided to take the day off from summer science and take the Littles to the zoo.  We live within a 2-hour drive of 4 different zoos, each of which is spectacular in its own way, but our favorite is the smallest, the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville.  So we set out on the back roads for a pleasant drive to one of our favorite spots. It worked out better for us than we could have hoped, because a slight detour took us past the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial.  Abe Lincoln spent 14 years of his youth in southern Indiana, and the cabin where he lived still stands, as does his mother’s grave site, and there’s a beautiful memorial building complete with relief sculptures of Lincoln’s life on the outer wall.  Inside, there are copies of letters Lincoln wrote to his Indiana friends and neighbors, pictures, and an information desk full of answers to all your questions.  Since this was a detour to our original plans and the day was already heating up, we didn’t hike out to the cabin but decided to go back when it’s cooler and see it.  Just looking around the memorial building was fascinating enough.

lincoln memorial

After spending about 45 minutes at the memorial, we got back on the road.  Now, my family loves all genres of music.  Rock, classical, country, folk, bluegrass, hip hop, pop–if it’s good music we love it.  But this day, spent in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, dotted with farms and corn fields, little towns and soybeans, called for a good country music station.  So, singing along with Jason Aldean, Keith Urban, and Florida-Georgia Line, we made our way to the zoo.


Here’s a gorgeous pic of an Amish hay field.  If you’ve never driven by one of these, it feels like you just stepped back a couple centuries in time.  We are so used to seeing square or round hay bales that these hay stacks always jolt us and make us feel a little nostalgic for a simple way of life.  Teachable moment.  We discussed the history of hay baling and how smart the Amish way of doing things is and how better prepared they are than most of our society to take care of themselves should the zombie apocalypse come.  And you know my Littles, they are just waiting for the day.  So it was a good lesson for them to learn if they want to grow up to be Daryl Dixon.  Which they do.

As we approached Evansville, we fell in love with it all over again.  It sits on the Ohio River, and is the third-largest city in our state behind Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.  Now then.  Here’s a pic of the outskirts of Evansville.  I’m not kidding:

Eville outskirts

Just ahead on this road is the beginning of a row of restaurants and department stores, gas stations and car lots.  I love that there is absolutely no transition.  One second you’re in the country, the next you’re in the city.  I love that it doesn’t take long to get away from the hubbub here.  I’m so glad I’m raising my boys in a place with such roots.

There are many reasons Mesker Park is our favorite zoo.  Its smaller size means we are not (usually) going to wear completely out before we’re done seeing everything we want to see.  And I’ve never been able to figure out the reason, but the animals at Mesker Park are ever so much livelier than at the bigger zoos.  We arrived at feeding time so for the first hour we were there, all of the animals were up and about, easily spotted, and fun to interact with.


We went to Amazonia first, which is a relatively new exhibit that has (obviously) animals and birds from the Amazon in it. Apparently we were the khaki shorts family that day.  Except for Martin, who always has to be different. haha

Here are some of the animals we saw:

How cute is this guy?  He acted like he wanted to talk to us.

How cute is this guy? He acted like he wanted to talk to us.

This gorgeous cat paced so much we had to take the pic quickly.  And we all wanted to take him home.

This gorgeous cat paced so much we had to take the pic quickly. And we all wanted to take him home.

Another thing we love about this zoo is it is rarely crowded.  You never feel like you’re not getting to see the exhibits because of all the other people around trying to look at the exhibit.  You get to actually take your time and look at each animal for as long as you want to without feeling guilty.  Here’s the path leading towards the Australia exhibit.  Notice how much room there is?  That’s because we were the only people on it.

IMG_20150717_121215682By about noon, the day had heated up to sweltering.  100 degree weather and humidity like we were walking through a wet blanket.  The animals scurried for shade or the indoors, which made the last part of the trip a little boring and the heat seem even worse.  But we still saw some really cool things like this goose family who went past us.  I guess they were enjoying the sights, too.IMG_20150717_130255064_HDR

And this peacock feather garden:

IMG_20150717_125005507Isn’t that cool?  There were dozens of them all sticking up out of the grass like planted flowers.  It looked like someone was trying to grow peacocks.  I guess it takes longer to do that than a sunflower or cornstalk.  😉

And of course, we always have to get a pic of the Littles on the giant spiderweb.  It’s like their school picture–taken every year.


We had to cut our visit a little short, because apparently I’m older than I think I am and my body wasn’t too happy with the heat.  An ice pack and a water bottle later, we headed home.  Here’s a pic of my beautiful husband, worrying about me as he drives.  Notice there are still cornfields in the background?  It’s Indiana.  There are always cornfields. And forests.  We love them or we wouldn’t live here. We love them fiercely.

IMG_20150717_111753739The day ended on a bright note despite me heat-stroking out.  Martin ran to get dinner after he brought us home and came back with a garage sale-find coffee table.  Big deal, right?  Well, we’ve been keeping an eye out for a decent used coffee table this year because we wanted to make a game table out of it.  He got this baby for $5.  Another great thing about Indiana?  Yard sales still have yard sale prices.  The table was in perfect shape except for the inserts which were missing the glass.  Which made it perfect for our purposes.  He spent Saturday cutting some of our favorite game boards down to fit into the inserts on the table and covering them with plexiglass.  The end result?  A permanent game table.  Now all I have to do is buy some seagrass baskets to keep the pieces in and our game table dream has come true.  Isn’t it awesome?!


I guess I should have cleaned the board shavings off the table before I took the pic.  Oh, well.  You get the idea.  The great thing is, all of our other game boards will sit atop these inserted babies and we can use the table for any ol’ game we want.  And we own A Lot of board games.  You can see some of them peeking out from their new home under the table.

So guess what we did for the rest of the weekend?

If you ever come to Indiana, there are so many fun and educational things to do.  If I wasn’t such a wimp, we could have visited the Angel Mounds–a thousand-year old Native American site–at Newburgh, which is just a short drive from Evansville.  We could have hiked in the Hoosier National Forest (part of which actually abuts our property, so we can do that any day).  We could have gone to the pioneer village of Spring Mill.  So much of our country’s early history happened here.  People forget that in favor of the coasts, and that’s okay.  If everybody remembered, more people would line the paths of the Mesker Park Zoo.

Love wins,