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Homeschool Presentation Day September 26, 2008

Posted by Laura in Family, Homeschooling.
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We are part of a marvelous homeschool group that gets together for plays, quiz show days, field trips, and so on.  Today was Presentation Day.  We met up at a local bookstore that graciously provides use of the stage, microphones, and lights it has for music events.  Students got the opportunity to present a project of their choice (or parent-teacher’s) before an audience of their peers.  There was a very vast array of topics today, from a demonstration of how to make a pin-hole camera to recitation of an entire long psalm to musical performances on various instruments.  All ages from Kindergarten through 12th grade participated.  Here are pictures of our children on stage.

Benjamin decided to play Amazing Grace in front of the assembled crowd of homeschooling mothers and students.  It’s really hard to volunteer to perform but he did well.

Rachel prepared a presentation on the life cycle of the butterfly.  A volunteer from the audience rushed the stage to hold her poster.

Lydia was pretty good and patient through most of the program, but Rachel went last and Lydia could wait for her chance no longer.

Homeschooling is working so well for our family, but it has a few downsides.  Not being in a large group setting, we have to intentionally plan times to practice being in front of peers.  We try to take every opportunity we have to work on public speaking skills, planning and organizing a project for presentation, firm deadlines set by other authority figures, and objective feedback from others.  We are fortunate to be able to participate in 4-H, scouts, our enrichment group, and this local Christian homeschool group to meet these needs.


Dreaming of Thanksgiving Dinner September 22, 2008

Posted by Laura in Farm.

Joe has often commented that he USED to think that deer hunting was difficult.  Wake up in the middle of the night, drive an hour, hike 30 minutes, climb a tree, and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  And maybe see one deer off in the distance out of range.

Then we moved to the country and we can’t keep the deer away.  The venison we’ve put in the freezer have been brought down either from the back porch or the closest fenceline.

I keep hearing people talk about how much harder turkey hunting is.  Turkeys have such a keen sense of eyesight and always have scouts on the lookout for the slightest movement.  But often since we moved here, I’ve had to come to a complete stop while driving  to avoid hitting wild turkeys that leisurely cross en masse wherever they like.  My honking to hustle them before I get rear-ended doesn’t seem to concern or motivate them.

A month or two ago, one of the dogs rousted a wild turkey near the chicken tractors one morning.  I was amazed to see that it trotted away only fast enough to keep ahead of the dogs but could easily have taken flight and disappeared for good.  Instead it played hide and seek with them in the tall grass.  Shortly after that, we began noticing that something was bedding down near the tractors at night.  Joe got out there early enough one morning to find the turkey flock still “in bed.”  They vacated but not in a panic.  We think they were “gleaning the fields” behind the chickens, Ruth the Moabitess style.  (Wonder if we’ll find our roosters betrothed before long.  😉 )

Since that time, we have witnessed the twice daily crossing of the flock (17 that I count) across our pastures and to our ponds.  I always wave to them.  Last week, I decided to see just how close they would let me get.  Here are some pictures.

You can see that one on the far right is actually stretched out but watching.

No hurries, no worries.

They were actually walking toward me as I got closer to the pond.

I think the presence of other poultry milling about our feet must give them a false sense of security.  Indeed, Guido to the Useless Guinea followed me down there yapping all the way, probably saying in his usual fowl language, “Don’t feed them!  Just feed me!”  He chases the chickens away from food every morning when we scatter their scratch.

So, unless this flock moves on to better pickins, we’re hoping to have a home-procured turkey dinner on the table this Thanksgiving.

"I’ll remember this day…" September 9, 2008

Posted by Joe in Family.

There are some days that you’ll always remember. You may not realize it at the time, but you’ll never forget that moment, those sights, and those smells.

I remember the very first time my Dad took me dove hunting. I remember wearing a green M*A*S*H 4077 tee-shirt. I remember sitting in a clearing with our backs to some pine trees and the field in front of us. I remember the trees on the other side of the field and hearing others shoot just the other side of those trees. I remember.

A couple of years ago, when Benjamin was 7, I was invited to go with BePops on an opening day dove hunt. It would be Benjamin’s first time going on any kind of hunt. He patiently sat beside me with our backs to a tree line and the field in front of us. And there was a tree line just on the other side of the small field. Although he wasn’t old enough to wield a shotgun, he had fun. And he felt big, like one of the guys. We went again last year.

Earlier this month we were once again going to an opening day dove hunting with BePops. But this time, it was a little different. This time Benjamin would be old enough to carry a shotgun for himself.

And to make things even more special, the shot gun he would carry would be one that his great-grandfather had owned, one that BePops had learned to shoot as a kid. It’s an old side-by-side double barrel 20 gauge, complete with two triggers.

Benjamin was beside himself with excitement. He really felt big.

I shot it the first couple of times so I could tell him about its kick. You see, over the summer Benjamin shot a 20 gauge that my grandfather had given me when I was a kid. It was the first time he had fired a gun with recoil. He took aim and shot it at an old can. When you shoot at a inanimate stationary object, you feel every bit of the kick. It was more than he was comfortable with so we put it aside for a while.

But now, at the time of the big dove hunt, he wanted to try again. But he wanted to know if BePop’s shotgun kicked more or less than mine. I explained to him that it would likely kick a little more, but that he would hardly feel it. You just don’t feel the recoil when you’re focusing on a moving target.

With a little apprehension, he sat there and watched a few birds go by without firing a shot. I encouraged him.

The next time a bird flew by, he raised the gun, took aim, and fired. The bird flew on. But that didn’t matter. His face lit up with joy. “You were right, Daddy. I didn’t feel a thing. It knocked me back a few feet, but I didn’t feel a thing.”

We sat there the rest of the day, side by side, each with our own shotgun. He shot a few more times, smiling from ear to ear each time.

Finally as the day drew to a close, he said, “I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.”

I will too.


Eating Well: How Did We Get Here? part 1 September 7, 2008

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.

So, if we were pretty healthy and actually enjoying real food, WHY did we give it up for the common fare we exist on now?

From what I’ve been reading in many different sources (which I will begin naming in case you are interested), the answer to that has many parts.  For the sake of brevity, I will try to encapsulate it here.

Our country began with small groups of like-minded people who settled into communities and farmed (and truly before that, with Native Americans doing much the same thing, but some following animals).  They raised, foraged, or hunted most of their food.  They did some trading with other groups for foods not native to their region.

Fast forward a couple hundred years and larger cities began to arise.  Then came the Industrial Revolution and focus on mass production.  As people began to work longer hours outside of their homes, move into crowded cities without yards, and look to how mechanization could speed everything up, things began to change.  Even in the last hundred years, lots of folks used to get a hog to fatten over the summer and then had a year’s worth of delicious homegrown pork come winter.  They’d “put up” the summer’s bounty from their backyard garden patches.  These practices have mostly disappeared now.

Huge slaughterhouses opened up in the major cities.  Food products could be shipped by rail car.  Commercially canned goods became pretty common place.  As we became a more industrialized nation (and thus less agrarian), we became accustomed to and more dependent on food produced by strangers.

In the 1930s and ’40s doctors began to find their patients were sickening.  They weren’t dying of measles or diphtheria or the other things that used to claim young lives thanks to the development of vaccines.  But they were suffering from newer things like heart disease, all kinds of cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes.  Researchers began to try to find out why.

Studies that didn’t take into account other factors began attacking certain foods.  A few studies with a very far-reaching impact villified saturated fat.  All fats including an increasing percentage of new trans fats were included in the diets of the subjects.   Many of the subjects turned out to have health problems but the studies declared that it was the fats we had been eating for centuries without ill effects (butter. eggs, and meat) that were to blame.  The American Heart Association, government agencies, and lots of food companies began telling the public that they must remove those traditional foods from their diets and replace them with the new “healthy alternatives” like margarines made from trans fats, heat-pressed vegetable oils, and egg white-only processed products (from battery-raised hens).  But we are a much more sickly nation now than we were back then!  Longer term studies have shown it is the very “healthy alternatives” we were instructed to eat that have impacted our health so negatively.  But given the litigious society we live in, I’m not expecting a mea culpa.  Fats aren’t the only things about which we have been wrongly advised- they just happen to be a very high profile one.

More recently, I think the rise of Feminism dealt a major blow to the family and our nutritional health.  That wasn’t the aim, but I think those are repercussions all the same.  The message presented to women from all directions was that a life spent caring for their families was not enough to make them really count in society and that by doing so they were perpetuating a degrading slave-like situation for all women.  Never mind that God may have called them to a traditional life devoted to family-  any self-respecting woman should stay out of the kitchen and aspire to take over the board room.  Cooking was beneath a woman who had any dignity.  That’s hard to hear continuously without developing discontent or even contempt for a role that previously had suited them and even made them happy.  Many women who had (or otherwise would have) found fulfillment without a paycheck in their own names left the home to climb the corporate ladder, leaving nutrition and meals to the mass producers.

This opened the floodgates for “convenience foods.”  Women still did the majority of the shopping, but they had far less time for meal preparation.  Items that said “heat and eat” or “just add ground beef” and the like became very appealing.  What went unnoticed for quite some time was the ever-expanding list of synthetic additives that made up the majority of these prepared foods.

There is still more to the story, but I’ll end it here for now.  If you are interested in doing your own investigation into nutrition and the history of our present food system, a few excellent books I’d recommend are Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, and Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck.  In previous postings I have mentioned two other very good books by Michael Pollan- The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

Communing with the Cats September 6, 2008

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.

Although Joe was really reluctant to get the kittens two years ago, I think he would agree now that it was a good decision.  Even though they are outside only cats, we haven’t had any mouse problems since we got them.  Prior to that, we constantly had mice in the house.  And the mice felt so at home that they didn’t even run when they saw us- they walked.

The two cats have very different personalities even though they were littermates and grew up together.  Patch (foreground) likes to accompany us everywhere (preferably riding on my shoulder) and keeps closer to the house.  Coco is more independent and a devoted hunter.  He shows up for meals a little more than half the time.  Oddly enough, he is the one that is so patient with little people.  Lydia spends a good bit of time “giving him love” while Patch tends to stay just out of reach unless the child is at least 4 years old.

Lydia certainly enjoys her bucolic lifestyle.  She can’t wait to go outside and make the rounds to watch all the animals and do her imitations of the sounds they make.  Recently, when Lydia was doing her impression in public, someone commented that she must be a girl who has her own cow because hers was good- no silly “moo” for her.

After logging some time with her pal Coco, she toddles off to watch chickens.  If they come onto the porch, she knows to say “Shoo!” Then it’s off to see the quadrupeds through the fence.  If she’s lucky goats, donkeys, and cows will all come up for water together so she can call to them and almost stroke their noses-  she hesitates to make actual contact at the last moment.  Probably for the best since they have gotten used to eating apples from our hands and she isn’t holding any.

So far, she hasn’t shone an aversion to any kind of animal or even insect.  She appreciates them all.

A few days ago, Rachel found a juvenile snake in the yard.  We all went to investigate.  Coco and Daisy (one of the dogs) were both beside themselves wanting to play with it.  We looked on as the tiny thing- maybe the size of 2 Kindergarten pencils end to end (it was actually almost cute)- bravely coiled and faked strikes while Daisy and Coco both moved in from opposite sides.  Lucy (the other dog) and Patch both looked on with interest, but were content to see how it went for the first two before committing to the fight.  Guido the Guinea was nowhere to be found.  I gave him his pinkslip later on- the only reason we tolerate him is because he is supposed to keep the yard clear of ticks and snakes.