• My affiliate links won't hurt you, but they might help feed my kids. See my full disclosure policy in the main menu.

This Crazy-Cool Country Life

I’ve mentioned often that part of the Littles’ learning process here at home is working on the farm, but I’ve never really given you much of a tour.  So today I’m going to take you on a photo tour of some of the cool things we’ve done/encountered so far this summer.

We’ve had a couple of run-ins with snakes already.  Now, my beautiful husband loves snakes and there isn’t anybody here who is afraid of them, so when my sweet mama called me and said, “Snake in my strawberry netting!” with abject fear in her voice, Martin rushed home from work and we went over to save her.  Save the snake.  Save somebody.

IMG_20150529_154922413IMG_20150529_155023776_HDRMy beautiful husband was about as patient as a person can be.  The blacksnake’s head was caught in the netting.  He had a mouse halfway down his throat that he couldn’t swallow because the netting had tightened around his neck.  Martin took his pocketknife and a pair of scissors and loosened that netting strand by strand.  Eventually, the snake coughed up his dinner, his head was extracted from the netting, and Martin set him free at the edge of the woods.  Mama Did Not put netting back over her strawberries.

Look at those muscular arms.  Swoon

Yesterday was a different story.  Littlest came running over at feeding time.  It’s his job to gather eggs.  “Daddy!” he yelled, “there’s  a snake in the hen box.”  So off we all went again to get a look at yet another blacksnake.  This one was stealing eggs.  It was so cool to witness, we just let him eat.  I mean, what’s one egg?  Right?

IMG_20150609_161721759IMG_20150609_161709971How often do you get to watch a snake suck down an entire egg?!  The Littles got to see how his jaw unhinged, how when he got to the biggest part of the egg his eyes closed, how patient he was to get that meal into his gullet and get his belly full.  We watched him for about 10 minutes.  But after the initial awesomeness, it kind of became like watching paint dry.  Apparently, it takes a Long Time for a snake to eat an egg.  The little thief.  Isn’t he beautiful?  We couldn’t even be a little bit mad.

Because it was incredible.

Snakes aren’t the only things we see a lot around this place.  Dragonflies and butterflies love it here, especially when we let the meadow grow up and provide plenty of food and hiding plabutterfliesces.  These butterflies are Everywhere.  They came and hung out on the ladder when we were working on one of the outbuildings.  They follow us around in the woods.  I think they’re trying to let us know that we might think we own this place in human terms, but really it belongs to them.  I’m good with that.IMG_20150609_164627063

IMG_20150609_163713009It’s berry season, and the wild raspberries are finally ripening.  They grow everywhere along the edges of the woods, so we spend a good part of our summer walking along the edges and gathering all that yummy goodness.  I love that the Littles are getting the opportunity to learn how to identify these plants and also learning to appreciate what the Earth has to offer us that can’t be found in stores.  (If you’ve never tasted a wild raspberry, you haven’t Really tasted a raspberry.  They are so much better than the ones you can buy in stores.)  finchesI don’t know if you can tell in this photo, but when we went out to get to the bushes between the woods and the meadow this morning, we scared up a flock of goldfinches.  They landed safely on the electric lines and chirped at us until we were out of sight.  They nest in the tall meadow grasses and we get blessed with the sight of them daily.

Yesterday, for some unknown reason, all my boys decided to go hang out on the IMG_20150609_164052305tailgate of Big’s truck.  In the blaring hot sun.  You can tell by their faces that it is too hot and bright to be hanging out on a black tailgate.  But they wouldn’t be country boys if they didn’t tailgate in some way.  So even though Littlest Still Won’t Put on a Shirt Unless You Make Him (he’s been like that since birth), I had to capture the moment.  See the turkey by the truck?  His name is Peeper, because of the loud peeping sounds he made as a baby.  He is a family pet.  He travels everywhere on the farm with us.  And scares any woman who dares show her face here with his strutting and cooing.  It’s pretty funny.

IMG_20150609_163423360Here are a couple of cool things about our veggie garden this year.  See the weird white thing at the bottom of the pic in front of the pepper plant?  That is half a bar of Irish Spring soap stuck onto a stick.  Why?  It keeps the rabbits away.  My sweet mama taught me this trick, and it appears to be working.  I guess the strong smell of the soap masks the smell of the plants.  Rabbits were tearing us up a couple weeks ago, but since we put out Irish Spring on either end of our rows, they have left it alone.  A quick spray of cayenne pepper diluted in water keeps the bugs away from the leaves of the plants.  We never use non-organic materials on our garden.  Unless you count the landscape fabric we put down to keep the weeds out.  We learned that from the GAC reality show Farm Kings.  If you’ve never watched that show, it’s a really good way to learn some new farming tricks.  You know I don’t like TV, but this show really does teach something a person can use.

This next pic shows my beautiful husband’s idea for getting my cucumber plants up offIMG_20150609_163356241 the ground so they’re easier to harvest from.  We had some old wall-racks for feeding livestock hay that we had no use for.  Instead of building a trellis, he lay them down by the plants, covered them with a piece of fencing, and the plants are growing up through them beautifully.  And, they can just be carried back to the barn in the fall with no fuss whatsoever.  He’s a genius.

But the really cool thing Martin has done around here?  IMG_20150609_163509560He built me my very own building.  Walled with bookshelves.  Containing a desk.  And electricity.  A haven for me to write in, read in, escape to when I need some quiet.  Sitting in a clearing just inside our woods, it reminds me of something out of Little House on the Prairie.  It’s my favorite place in the whole world.

Blue and Storm

Speaking of favorite things, how cute are my cats?  They totally have that brotherly love thing down.  I’m taking them to the vet today to be neutered,  and even though logically I know they’ll be okay, I have this weird, paranoid fear of anesthesia.  So wish them luck.

IMG_20150325_152457355Some of the animals we raise to sell here on the farm include rabbits, doves, and golden pheasants.  Pheasants are incredible creatures.  They look like little Samurai warriors, and their colors are breathtaking.  In comparison, the doves are like the IMG_20150504_082657032sweet version of bird on the farm.  They have soft voices, soft, lovely colors, and a gentler approach to life.  We don’t often get to see the little ones before they’re IMG_20150514_091549644learning to fly, but here’s the one pic I’ve been able to catch of them while they’re still just a few days old.  My favorites, though, are the rabbits.  I love how the little ones will cuddle against your chest until their heart rate slows and they get drowsy.  I love that the Littles get to see how they grow from birth to weaning and learn the responsibility of taking care of something and keeping it alive.

IMG_20150529_161626590There are so many things to learn on a farm.  Invaluable lessons about life that are harder to grasp in the city.  Animal husbandry.  The life cycle of mammals and how to handle death.  The miracle of birth.  Getting your hands dirty and feeding yourself.  How to tell one tree from another, one plant from another, one insect or bird from another.  Every day is a free science lesson.  I am grateful every second to get to live here.

I suppose I’d better get busy…

Love wins,

KT

Animal Study Freebie

I’ve been working hard on our Asia Unit Study for the 2015-16 school year.  I’ve been through geography and history and now am working on the science portion of  our program.  You might remember that we are doing animal science and geology in order to learn more about Asian countries and really bring those lessons home.  Plus, science gives us an opportunity to do lots of hands-on lessons to make our learning fun.

There are lots of interesting animals to study in Asia that we don’t have here in the U.S., so it will give us a chance to learn more deeply about animals to which we might not otherwise pay such close attention.  One of the things I have been remiss in teaching in science is the classification of animals.  Then again, we’ve never done a serious animal study before, unless you count nature study, and we tend to draw and write info in our nature journals then, so it never occurred to me to include it.

The Littles are really excited about doing serious animal science.  Middle can’t wait to do his own research and Littlest can’t wait to try his hand at drawing some of the beautiful creatures who make their homes in Asia.  So as I’ve worked on our unit study, I’ve come up with a worksheet that includes all the things I want them to learn along with all the things they want to learn.  Of course, this won’t be the only thing we do where these gorgeous animals are concerned, but I think it will give us a good starting point to learn the basic facts.

This worksheet would also be great to use for a nature study.  Or any kind of animal study you’re doing.  I made it generic so it can be included in all of the unit studies we’ll be doing next year.  Because it seems like it would be useful for so many things, I thought it would be great to offer it to my readers as a freebie.  The link is below.  Feel free to use it however you see fit.  I hope your littles enjoy it and learn gobs of stuff about animals using it.

Untitled

Animal Study Worksheet

Love wins,

KT

Gardening (or School-That-Is-Not-School)

IMG_20150604_112153023Part of the Littles’ school-that-is-not-school around the farm is helping out with the gardens–both flower and vegetable.  It provides good opportunities for science lessons in botany and entomology as well as training them to be self-sufficient for the zombie apocalypse.  (Kidding.  They’re convinced it’s coming, though, and I want them to grow up with all the knowledge I can give them for taking care of themselves.  So if I have to use the zombie apocalypse to keep them interested, well…Let’s just say I’m not above it.)

IMG_20150604_112426400The cool thing about yesterday’s work was that we were placing rocks.  Two sections of my flower garden are rock gardens, so we have been placing creek rock in them all spring.  The Littles help me collect the rocks then help me place them.  It’s a IMG_20150604_113119688great spatial activity because you have to figure out what rock will go where without backing yourself into a place where you can’t fit any more rocks.  It. Is. Hard.  Or at least it’s harder than you’d think it’d be.  So it’s nice when Middle spots a rock that will fit perfectly into my puzzle or Littlest points out that I’ve made a space where no rock will fit.  It is also very cool when Littlest says, “Oh!  Sandstone!  This is sandstone, Mom!” and Middle says, “Hey, Mom, look!  This one has a fossil!”  Gotta love those openings to teach.IMG_20150604_113102876-1

Gardening is one of my true joys in life.  I hope that the Littles are learning a bit of that love through working with me.  As they learn about the different plants–what each needs to thrive, how to care for them so they continue to bloom, what insects they attract, and even which ones to plant where–that free lesson is going to stick with them any time we actually study botany in the classroom.  And there’s no pressure.

Plus, gardening provides us the opportunity to just hang out together, talk about nothing and everything, and remember IMG_20150604_113127757we’re just a family, not always a teacher and students.  It’s almost as good as fishing.  Not quite, but close.  It gives me a chance to notice how much they’ve grown, how strong they are getting, and just how smart and funny my boys really are.  They floor me.  They truly do.

Middle tried to hide behind my Winnie-the-Pooh tree here so I couldn’t take his picture.  But I’m fast. You can’t see it, but the whole in the bottom of the stump contains a hunny jar with a Pooh Bear in it.  It’s pretty cute.  I got the idea from Family Crafts.  They suggested it for party favors, but I had this perfect tree stump with a hollow in the bottom, so I found a small Pooh Bear to fit in the top of the jar and placed him there.  He seems happy.

I moved the fairy garden this year to incorporate it into my bigger garden.  Here are a few pics even though we haven’t added the mulch in yet:

IMG_20150604_114522220     IMG_20150604_114546804

IMG_20150604_114627051IMG_20150604_114442149

Finally, the Littles are learning that hard work and dedication pay off.  It’s an important lesson for littles to learn.  Especially in this era when they are provided so many opportunities to just sit on their butts and stare at a screen.  I never garden without my boys, even though weeding causes grumbles.  Because when we’re done, we all get to enjoy this….

IMG_20150604_114017222 IMG_20150604_114206260 IMG_20150604_114842979 IMG_20150604_114217687

Payoff.

Love wins,

KT

Welcome to Dystopia

I’ve been on a real lit kick this week, I know, but I am, after all, the Lit Mama.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about summer reading and even though we’re spending our summer with the folks from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are so many options to choose from.

One of my favorite genres is YA Dystopia, mostly because I like reading about regular people who fight so “a man can stand up.”  But I’ve read Dystopia meant for all ages, so why YA?  Because the emotions in YA books are so much fresher and more raw than in books intended for adults.  Here you have this person who barely knows who he or she is and suddenly he/she has to save the world.  Well, why not?  What better way to get to know yourself? hahaaa  Besides, this is a summer reading list for your teen or tween, not for a Grown Up.  (Although you should definitely be the kind of grown-up who reads them, too.)  Also, the heroes are strong females as often as, if not more often than, males.  And we can always use more strong females to look up to.

Some of the greats

The very first Dystopian novel I ever remember reading was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Not really written for YA, though it is often included on lists.  I would recommend it for older teens because there is some pretty adult content.  This book, which I have read multiple times, is one of the greats.  It tells the story of Offred (Of-fred), who used to have a normal life with a husband and daughter and money of her own.  Until a totalitarian theocracy overthrows the U.S. government, subjugates all women, and turns their lives into a living hell of existing solely for the purpose of serving men.  The chilling thing about this story is that, of course, the protagonist’s name isn’t Really Offred.  It was changed when she was assigned to be the baby-maker for Commander Fred and his wife.  Because his wife is there to serve him in other capacities.  Offred is the brood mare.  Even scarier is the way the new government took power from women with a single swipe.  Offred goes to the store one day to buy something and her money card has been wiped clean.  She has no cash because people don’t use cash anymore.  It is her first clue that life is about to go terribly wrong.  I shudder when I think of it.  How many of us rely on our debit cards daily and therefore would be powerless if the government decided to shut them down and take our money?  Oh, the genius of Margaret Atwood.  It’s terrifying how quickly the government cuts women off from all independence and then sends them to camp to be indoctrinated. This book always reminds me to be careful of my own independence, to guard it with sharp teeth and claws.  Because I love my husband, but I am the subject of no man.

It was later, somehow, that I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I spoke about the protagonist,  Guy Montag, in my 20 Fave Male Characters for People Under 20.   In this novel, “firemen” who work for the government burn books in the name of public happiness.  Any book not approved by the government is against the law.  The firemen raid houses and burn the books, and sometimes the houses, and sometimes the perpetrators along with everything else.  Guy is thrown into shock and confusion when a woman chooses to burn with her books rather than live without them.  At the same time, he meets a teenage girl named Clarisse whose views about the world make him question the way of things even further.  So one night during a raid, he steals a book.  And the fit hits the shan.  The intriguing part of the plot is the way Bradbury shows–through Montag’s wife and her friends–that with the condemnation of books and ensuing reliance on technology and media, people have quit thinking for themselves.  They have no opinions, because they have nothing, really, to opine about.  Again, a delicious shudder runs through me.  Don’t give up your books.  Don’t stop thinking.  Don’t stop asking questions.  Don’t rely on television for our information because it doesn’t truly give you any.

What turned me on to the YA genre here in the last decade was, of course, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  In Colliins’ truly terrifying world, kids are enlisted from the 12 colonies left in the U.S. to participate in a yearly murder fest.  They go to an arena, 12 males and 12 females, and they basically fight to the death.  Only one person can win.  Katniss Everdeen ends up as part of the Games when her little sister gets picked to participate.  Without forethought, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  And turns this awful, Dystopian, totalitarian world on its head.  Kids killing each other for entertainment just so the government can prove who is in control?  Somebody better do something, is all I can say.  Talk about complacence.  There is so much depth in these novels that got chucked out for the movies.  I would like to put the people who made the films in their own Hunger Games.  How can you leave the heart out of a story and still call it good?  Ugh! Do Not judge this story based on the films.  Read the books.  They are truly brilliant.

I read Uglies by Scott Westerfield because my sister recommended it while I was reading The Hunger Games.  She, too, was a librarian at the time, though she has gone on to get her masters in speech pathology and now Rocks that biz.  Uglies is about Tally, a girl approaching her 16th birthday whose best friend, a boy named Peris, has already gotten an operation and moved to New Pretty Town.  New Pretty Town.  Meaning a town for new pretties where no one has any responsibilities or worries.  Because at 16, everyone in society gets an operation that turns them beautiful.  New bone structure, new skin, new… everything.  And Tally can’t wait to get her operation and join Peris.  But then she meets Shay, a girl her age who is everything Tally is not. Shay is happy with her status as an Ugly, doesn’t want the operation–in fact, she intends to run away before her birthday to join a rebellion.  On the day of Tally’s operation, she is enlisted by the government to track Shay down and lead the government to the rebellion headquarters.  If she doesn’t, the government will never let her become a Pretty.  What follows is Tally’s awakening to government control, how Pretties are kept complacent through their lack of responsibility, and how our differences are what make us beautiful, even without operations.  Definitely a good summer read for a young girl who loves adventure and maybe needs to be reminded that ugly is as ugly does.

One of my favorite Dystopian story lines is that of Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  This totalitarian government teaches that love is a disease, and there is a mandatory surgical cure performed on people when they turn 18.  Lena, the protagonist, has been just as brainwashed as everyone else by the government and believes wholeheartedly that love is a disease.  In terrible fear of catching it before her operation, she anticipates the cure with glee.  Until she meets Alex.  Alex lives outside society, has never been cured, and is part of a resistance that is not fooled by the government’s mind-control.  Of course Lena falls in love with him.  And it changes everything.  My only complaint about this series is that it has one of those mid-story changes where Lena becomes involved in a love triangle.  And I’m sorry, but if you fall in love so hard it literally changes your whole world, I just don’t think you’re going to fall that hard again any time soon.  I hate love triangles.  Writers, give us some credit.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi is the last book I’m going to talk about. Today. It is, perhaps, my favorite.  Aria lives in Reverie, a domed city which protects its citizens from Aether storms caused by catastrophic changes to Earth.  When a night of fun turns into a tragedy, Aria is banished from her home to the wastelands, where she will surely die.  In fact, if not for an Outsider named Perry, she most certainly would have died when an Aether storm popped up.  Perry is one of the people left on earth who don’t live in a dome, an Outsider, considered to be a cannibal or worse, but Aria has to rely on him to survive.  What follows is a beautiful love story and a fascinating toppling of yet another totalitarian government. The coolest part is how Perry and Aria both have these assumptions about the other based on where they lived.  As they get to know each other, they realize what we should all know.  People are people, no matter where they’re from, and we all have things in common and we all have the same joys and worries and fears.  And we’re all worthy.  And bad guys can be found just about anywhere. Good stuff.

If you have a little looking for a bit of excitement and romance this summer, or who is as fascinated by people who don’t allow the government to control them as I am, get him or her one of these books.  There are many others, but these are the ones I recommend first whenever anyone asks.  Do you have any favorites I didn’t list?  Let me know in the comments.

Love wins,

KT