Thursday, December 10, 2009


I believe that I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the things that the boys have been doing with their time this fall is taking gymnastics. The class is offered through a local gym that offers regular and team gymnastics to the general public, but has graciously reached out to the homeschool community, as well. They have offered us two different classes, held Wednesday mornings, at a very reasonable rate. Honestly, we are only able to do this because their fee is so affordable. And they are a full scale gymnastics gym, complete with all of the requisite equipment, so we are really fortunate to have this opportunity.

When the class first began, I was worried that August was going to get bored very quickly. He is in the Kinder Gym class and the fact that he is on the older side of the age range and very physically adept, it first appeared that he might lose interest. But, happily, after the first few classes that were held primarily in their "small people" section of the gym, his class has moved onto the regular sized equipment and he is getting to do things on the balance beam, the high bar and the parallel bars. You can see him here, getting to swing with gusto on the high bar. He loves it and asks everyday if it is the day for gymnastics. He's very proud of the fact that he can skin the cat with the best of them and I'm sure it is just a matter of time before he is doing flips on the trampoline. Lord help us.

Aidan, on the other hand, had to warm up to gymnastics. Thankfully, after the first class, we only had to hear for about a week about how it was ridiculous that the teachers would expect him to try something that he didn't know if he could do or not. The nerve of some people! But, after the gentle reminder that I gave him about having already paid for a month's worth of classes and his need to honor his commitment, he returned to the second class and has been driven ever since. He has made amazing progress in overcoming some deep seated fears of his (fear of heights, being upside down, exerting himself in any way) and each week he comes home having learned a new skill. I am really very proud of him and hope that he continues to build on each new success.

Oh, and if you're curious about the socialization issue (everyone is, right?), this is one example of what my kids experience. Because the two boys' classes are held in succession, both have about an hour to kill when they are not in class. The different kids who are also waiting find a myriad of things with which to occupy themselves and the majority of the time, it is doing something with each other. One of the other families is really into games and they always bring several different ones each week, inviting any and every one who is interested to join in the play. Here the kids are playing a hand of Twisted Fish and loving every minute of it.

We really do love homeschooling.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Life with chickens

One of the big shames about me not posting for so long is that you have been left out of the egg loop. Our chickens finally started laying eggs in October and we have been trying to get into the egg business ever since. Like I have alluded to in previous posts, tending to these chickens has provided a ride on one of the biggest learning curves of my life. We have basically been making this up as we go (okay, we do read a lot about chickens and such but when you've never done something before and you just start doing it, well... there are a LOT of unknowns) and we have found that we've made some good decisions and some not so good decisions. For example:
*Decision to finally take the plunge and order our chicks==good decision
*Decision to order 50 of the darn things==RIDICULOUS decision
*Decision to butcher the roosters ourselves==good decision (for the incredible education we received in the process)
*Decision to butcher dual-breed birds at 24 weeks of age==unfortunate decision. Yes, we have a freezer full of birds, but we can really only stew them or smoke them (on the grill, people!). If I want to make my fabulous buttermilk oven baked chicken I still have to buy it from the store. That right there really frustrates me, especially when I think that the chicken we do have in the freezer is some of the most expensive meat we have ever had in our possession. It's criminal, really.
*Decision to build our own coop with scrap materials=very frugal/green/whatever-you-want-to-call-it of us decision. This saved us a ton of money.
*Decision to build the frame of the coop with the idea of it being a chicken "tractor" and then changing our minds about that idea mid-stream==not so smart decision. We definitely should have fleshed this idea out a bit more before we started sawing and hammering and committing ourselves to an idea that we flip flopped on. What we ended up with is a coop that is really too small for the number of chickens that we have. Since they only use it to sleep in, we can get away with it. One saving grace to having built a quasi-chicken tractor is that it is moveable, which has come in handy as we figure out the best way to fence in our chickens and keep them out of our neighbors yards while also providing them with fresh ground to graze on. Remember what I said earlier about making this up as we go along? This is a good example of that.

Oh well, live and learn, right? Actually, it has been kind of fun to fly by the seat of my pants on this one. There are not many areas in my life where I can afford to make bad decisions, learn from them and not ruin someone's life/future/psyche in the process.

What you see here are the various hues of our eggs. They really are beautiful and the picture really doesn't do them justice. Some of them are a pale brown, others darker, and even some have spots. Just lovely. Unfortunately, our hens started laying as the days were beginning to get shorter and shorter. The number of hours of light in a day is what determines whether some hens will continue laying through the winter or not. So, we were up to a high of 18 eggs a day and now we are lucky if we get 10. We set our price at $1.50/dozen based on that higher number of eggs a day. That would guarantee that we would cover our feed costs and maybe recoup a small portion of the grand investment these lovely birds have become. Now that our daily numbers have dropped, we aren't even breaking even on the feed. Oh well.
By the way, the eggs are DELICIOUS so, even if we have to eat every cotton pickin' one of them, at least our palates will be satisfied.

The latest drama regarding our chickens has been the nasty turn our temperatures took this week. We had our coldest weather of the season these past few days, even some wintry mix the other night. So, with temperatures diving into the upper teens, I became obsessed with how my chickens were going to survive. See, our coop is really bare bones. No, I mean really bare bones. It's walls are made of tin, for the love of Pete! There is nothing about our coop that is insulated. You can see daylight where the walls meet and the top foot of the coop is open air, covered only by hardware cloth and more tin for the roof. Cheap to build, yes. True shelter, questionable. So, the first day of the arctic blast, I did what any self respecting mother would do. I made the chickens hot oatmeal. Yes, I did and they LOVED it! I just felt that I had to do something to help warm their bones, or at the very least, their combs, wattles and ugly chicken feet. Amazingly, though, these chickens are incredibly resilient. They are, of course, covered in feathers, and that said feature is something I depend upon myself when I snuggle in under my down comforter in my freezing bedroom that hovers around 59 degrees this time of year. They work--amazingly. As long as they are out of direct winds, can hunker down over their feet completely and tuck their heads under their wing, they are pretty much good to go. It's helpful that we also have breeds that are more cold worthy. Remember, three of our birds are of a breed that actually have feathers on their feet! Even better. Also, we decided to rig up, out to the coop, a ridiculously long extension cord fitted with the lamp we used in the brooder when the chickens were but wee chicks and their warmth was of the utmost importance. It kind of helped. A little. At least they can look around at each other all night and know that they are not the only chicken freezing their tail off.

It doesn't mean that they aren't cold, though. These ladies had just come out of the coop, had some hot oatmeal and then settled down on this limb in the yard in order to soak up the weak morning sunshine. They're not exactly warm, but they will most certainly survive.

Admittedly, though, we are still concerned so John spent a few hours yesterday making some modifications to the coop in anticipation of even nastier weather headed our way this week (impending winter storm, frigid wind chills). He stapled some opaque plastic around the hardware cloth at the top of the coop and made a temporary "second" wall out of hardware cloth on the inside of the coop. He then stuffed the pine shavings that we use for bedding and some extra hay down inside of it. We'll see how well that works.

I suppose the worst case scenario is that one morning we might find we have more frozen chicken than we thought. Wouldn't that be grand?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Where has the time gone?

Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things; the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past even while we attempt to define it, and, like the flash of lightning, at once exists and expires. ~Charles Caleb Colton

I feel like the above sentiment is the only explanation I can come up with as to why it has been so ding dang long since I last blogged. I don't feel as if life suddenly got so busy that I simply didn't have the time nor do I feel like I haven't had good things to say. It truly seems as if, while purposely and intentionally choosing how to go about our days, more time passed than I realized. There are some definitive factors that have played a role, for sure. The biggest being that we are not nearly as "free-form" in how we go about learning around here. As I mentioned in my last post--years ago--we have shifted to a more Classical approach, at least as far as history and language goes, and that has radically changed our dedicated formal learning time. I'm still trying to navigate this new approach and I'm not sure how much of it I want to keep. The history, most definitely, as Aidan and August adore it. But I'm still trying to determine what works best for us in the other areas.

Further, we were involved in our Fall Homeschool Co-op, which recently finished for the season. I made an executive decision to not be involved in the Spring Co-op, for several reasons (some of which I will expand upon later), and I feel good about that choice.

The boys have also started a gymnastics class every Wednesday, which is turning out to be really rewarding for both boys. August is ready to move up to the older class, as he feels like he is beyond his preschool peers in terms of physical ability. I think he may be right but I will trust the teachers on this one. Maybe when he turns five (in three weeks!).

Aidan, on the other hand, is experiencing the perfect blend of challenge and success. The first gymnastics class was a disaster for Aidan. My sweet little perfectionist was not able to perfectly perform everything he was challenged to try and thus he was ready to quit. It was a challenge for me, as well, as I had to sit and listen to the teachers pushing him in ways that I am not accustomed to (both in tone and in words). We let him ruminate on his first class experience for a week without much ado. When the next class came around, he claimed he didn't want to continue. I used the excuse that I had paid for a month's worth of classes on the basis that he had said he wanted to do this thing and that he had to participate for at least that long. If, at the end of the month, he still felt the same way, then we would allow him to stop. The money investment worked brilliantly and, after the second class, where he was able to experience some success in a difficult physical challenge, he was hooked. Tomorrow is the first class of the second month and both boys can't wait.

The other "obstacle" to my blogging has been my husband. I normally find that the best time to collect my thoughts and communicate them in a half-way decent way is in the evenings, after the kids are in bed. Unfortunately, this is when John often settles into his routine of reading online political blogs, researching his newest love--Economics, and, in general, monopolizing the computer. This is the only time when I wish we had two computers. In all other instances, two computers would seem completely frivolous. I have just chosen to find other things to do with my time.

One thing that I have been doing is brainstorming ideas for Christmas--gifts to give, ways to festoon our home, and most importantly, how to really focus on the deep meaning of the season. For the first time we are going to have a Jesse Tree and I am really looking forward to that. I will elaborate on that more later. I am also dedicated to the idea of making the majority of our gifts. And I don't mean cheap crafts that folks will just throw away once we leave the premises. I took a sewing class this fall and I am really inspired to make a few things that I intend on being beautiful, if not useful.

I suppose, ironically, I want to focus on our time this Christmas season. How we spend it, who we share it with, how what we do effects others... you get the picture. I hope to share our experiences with all of you as the month progresses.

Thank you for following my musings, whether in a time of plenty or in a time of want. I appreciate your ears.