A quick pic on the iphone that I took yesterday while planting seeds with my little loves. This past month we have had two snow storms blow through, which is very rare for our area. Having my husband home from work and playing in the snow with the kids was a blast, but now I am ready for spring! Suddenly this week the sun came out, it warmed right up to 75 degrees, the chickens started laying, and the peach trees bloomed! The goats' udders are filling with milk and babies will be here soon. I can feel spring coming and my soul feels reinvigorated! We started planting seedlings yesterday in peat pots so we can nurture them until we are sure the danger of spring frost has passed. My two-year-old loved filling the peat pots, he's at that wonder-filled age where he loves helping with household chores and tasks. It warms my heart when I see how proud he is that he helped with something important on our homestead. My 7-year-old decided while we were planting that he wants to take photos of the seeds sprouting every day and put together a flip-book that looks like a time lapse photo. What a great idea!
One of the things I love most about homeschooling and "unschooling" is that my children often come up with their own, independent projects and I can use those as a springboard to teach them something or just watch them learn, grow, and create on their own and be there if they have questions or need me to help them find materials. It is tremendously humbling to watch other human beings learn and explore, especially young children. I feel that most of the time, especially in a traditional school setting, children's explorations and learning experiences are channeled and directed, even down to the minute details, by the overseeing adults. To the point of stifling curiosity, creativity, and imagination altogether. Homeschooling has taught me to be open to everything and not to push my wants, opinions, and priorities on my children. I am an observer, watching the learning unfold. I have certainly learned as much from them and from this experience as they have from me. It's funny, I look at my two younger ones who are 5 months and 2 years and I think about the massive amount of learning that occurs in those early years. It happens with encouragement and support from parents, certainly, but no set curriculum. Then suddenly children reach school age and it's this mad dash to find the "right way" of teaching them and there are hundreds of methods for approaching every activity and subject and thousands of professionals with opinions on one method or the other. What I have learned from my children is there is no "right method" for anything. Some things will be right for one child and all wrong for the other. They are unique beings with different ways of learning, seeing, and thinking. They have different interests and goals. While it may not be convenient for parents or educators or even possible in certain settings, flexibility and independence is the only way to support true learning. Being fluid and noticing the learning styles and the needs of each child. Knowing when to step back and just let it happen. Think about how we learn as adults, once we're out of the school system, if we want to know about something or we have an interest we look it up, we read about it, we pursue it. Maybe we even enroll in a class, I'm not saying there isn't value to that. Because when you WANT to know about something and you are passionate about it that is different than being forced to learn about it. I don't take credit for my children's learning or even like the label "teacher." They are the ones doing the work. Just a few weeks ago I watched my son put together a compass by himself. I'll admit, I wanted to be part of what he was doing and I asked if I could help but he said "no, I've got this mom." He chose this activity himself, read about compasses, followed the directions for making one, busily working and stopping to ask me for "a glass of water" and a "piece of tape" and then going right back to his project. When he was done he proudly showed me the working compass he had created and gave a mini-lecture to his siblings and me about how compasses work, the four directions, magnetic north, etc. All of this he did on his own, with vigor and passion, because he wasn't being forced and his process wasn't being intruded upon. So, even though I do have to step in and direct some of our activities in small ways, this is the type of learning that I want to take up the bulk of our time. Self-directed life learning. It was such a foreign concept to me in the beginning because I needed to shift my perspective. The more I have started to view everything we do every day as learning or "school" the easier it has become for me. I've been asked how many hours a day we "do school" for. That has become an impossible question to answer. While we are awake we are learning, everything we do during the day is an opportunity for learning. Lessons are not lectures but discussions with mom and dad about the world and topics that the kids want to know about, usually a question from one of the children is a catalyst for these discussions and the kids ask us very insightful questions. The Olympics are happening right now and we have started learning in both conventional and unconventional ways about the countries of the world. What we've been watching on TV, seeing different athletes, flags, etc. mingles with discussions about world cultures and governments, print outs of maps, and games where the children race to label the countries. It's a beautiful mess but we are learning!
One of the things I am most excited about this year is that both our school-age children are starting their own businesses. Through this endeavor they will use math, they will write things, they will read things, they will learn basic business skills and practice decision-making, critical thinking, and creative thinking. They will interact face to face with people (both children and adults) and see the real life results of their work. They have both decided they want to save for their own computers, so they have a lot of work ahead of them! They have already created their business plans, worked on their branding and marketing strategies, put the framework of their businesses into place, decided on pricing, set goals for themselves, and thought about their company ethos and ways that they can give back to the community and the world when their businesses are successful. Within the framework of their businesses they are learning many other things about the natural world as well as many practical life skills. I do plan on sharing more about this in depth in another blog post as I am very excited about what the kids are learning on this adventure!
Well, I really just meant to post a picture of us planting seeds and express my excitement about spring, but started thinking about homeschooling. So there you have it, a little insight into our way of learning and "schooling" around here. And like I said, there's no one way for everyone (every child or every family) so this is not meant to judge the way other families are homeschooling or the choice made by other families to send their children to public or private school. Just my musings about our family and our lifestyle. ;)
*Note: I generally dislike labels, but sometimes they are useful and while searching for like-minded parents and professionals at the beginning of our homeschool journey I came across the term "unschooling." It is the label that most closely reflects our educational philosophy and what we are doing with our children. If you've never heard the term and are curious about it, here are some resources:
Life Learning Magazine
John Holt: What is Unschooling?
The Beginner's Guide to Unschooling:
Teach Your Own
The Unschooling Handbook
A pretty comprehensive list of unschooling books on Amazon:
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
If you follow my Instagram feed (see right sidebar) than you've probably seen lots of pictures of goats appear there since May of last year. Unbelievably, though it has been eight months since our new four-legged-furry-friends came into our lives, I still have not written a single blog post about them! So, here goes....
Last May, for my birthday, we got 5 miniature dairy goats. After years of talking and dreaming about getting goats, it finally became a reality. Now, let me point out here that we live in a typical suburban subdivision on a half-acre lot. In the past, we felt this precluded us from getting any livestock (except chickens, we have always had plenty of those!). We are outside the city limits, so technically we can own livestock, we just didn't think we had the space for it. After discovering and researching Nigerian Dwarf goats, we went to visit Nigerian Meadows Dairy Farm in Wallace, North Carolina. We met many goats there, played with adorable kids (baby goats), learned how to milk a goat, and learned more about their space and housing requirements, feeding, breeding, etc. We even got to witness one of their goats (soon to become one of our goats!) in labor (she kidded 3 hours after we left!). We were sold. Two weeks later I made the trip back up with the kids (hubby was at work this time) and we came home with five miniature goats in the back of our car. Our starter herd. Our herd consisted of two doelings (3 months and 6 months old), two does (first fresheners already in milk), and a buck. Our adult girls weighed about 50 pounds at this point (still growing). Adult Nigerian Dwarfs don't get to be more than 75 pounds full-grown and ours are still quite a bit smaller than that. Nigerian dwarf goats are considered rare by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. They are extremely gentle and loving pets and produce a startling amount of milk for their small size. A doe in milk can produce up to 2 quarts (or one half gallon) of milk per day and can stay in milk for 9 or 10 months, being dried off a couple months before kidding again (goats have a 145-150 day or approx. 5 months gestation period). Different breeds of goats produce milk with slightly different flavors and different butterfat content. Nigerian Dwarfs produce the sweetest milk with the highest butterfat content (6-10%). Let's just say it is delicious. Nigerian Dwarfs can also breed year round, whereas standard breeds can only be bred in the fall. Definitely an advantage for a small farm wanting to be in milk year round and stagger breedings.
There are a couple rumors floating around about owning dairy goats that I'd like to dispel here. I've heard on forums and blogs people saying not to get "first fresheners." A first freshener is a goat that is in milk for the first time. All our goats were first fresheners and it was no problem at all! I'm not really sure what the reason is for people saying not to purchase first fresheners...could be they think for a novice having a goat that hasn't been trained to the milk stand will be a hassle. Goats are highly food motivated. Put grains in the bin attached to their stanchion and believe me they will hop right up there and chow down and hardly notice you milking them! One of our girls starts to tap dance around the stand a bit when she runs out of grains, so we have to either milk her fast or my husband gives her what he calls "magnet boots" and holds her back legs in place so I can finish milking without her dancing around, haha! Another thing might be that first fresheners do not usually produce as much milk their first year. We still got plenty out of our girls, that's for sure, but we are excited to see their production increase in their 2nd year. So there you go, you just have to be patient. I think the important thing is finding a healthy, happy goat from a reputable farm and even if they haven't freshened yet, look at their lineage as far as milk production goes and you can get a good idea of what their production might be like. You can also get an idea of what their udder attachment will be like, although perfect udder attachment doesn't necessarily mean more milk and if you aren't going to show your goats conformation might not be your highest priority. That said, poorly attached udders can cause other health concerns and discomfort, so if your goat is to produce milk and not just be a pet, do ask questions about this. If your goat is just a pet (not to be bred and not to be in milk) they won't even 'make an udder' so no worries!
Another myth, I heard repeatedly that you should pen your bucks far away from your does because they will go crazy trying to get to the females and because their proximity to the does can make the milk taste "goaty." JUST NOT TRUE. Goats are herd animals. If they aren't near other goats or animals they will be desperately lonely and cry all day. That IS true. We only have one buck and he is penned right next to the girls, he shares a fence on one side. Does he harass the girls? Absolutely not. Is he a crazy, wild beast? He is the sweetest boy ever. Does he stink up to high heaven? Nope. He has a "buck scent," whereas the girls don't have any scent at all, but it is not strong or offensive. We actually never smell him except when the girls are in heat and even then you would need to actually be in the pen with him or touch him to notice it. Does the milk taste "goaty"? Not even a teeny, tiny bit. Tastes just like cow milk, but better because it is FRESH!
We are anxiously awaiting our first goat babies, due next month! Lots of pictures will be posted on our homestead's Facebook page and website! If you're interested in owning Nigerian Dwarf goats, we will have a few babies to sell as well!
Now that you know all about our goats, here are some fun facts about RAW MILK from naturalnews.com:
Read more about RAW MILK:
Defending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting
consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense foods
consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense foods
Posted by Pete and Izzy's Mom at 10:34 AM
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
The other day I was putting on mascara in the bathroom and my 5 year old daughter walked in and asked what I was doing. Without thinking I said, "making myself pretty for Daddy." Oh how I wished I could swallow those words. As soon as they were out of my mouth and I heard them aloud I knew that was not at all what I wanted my daughter to hear. I immediately started to back pedal saying "but you know, Daddy always tells me I'm prettier without make up." Which is true, my husband always tells me that I don't need makeup. But it's kind of an addiction, isn't it? My daughter then says, "well then why are you doing that?" Silence. I don't know. Why was I doing it? Why do I do it? Why do I put eyeliner and mascara on before I go out in public? Why? I'd never thought about it before and now some serious thinking ensued. I guess because it's part of my routine, and part of how I've come to see myself in my mind's eye. My image of my true self is the one that is "done up." But that's not me. That's not my true self. I'm just used to seeing myself that way. Does it make me feel more confident and attractive? Yes, actually. Because I've spent decades having that positively reinforced.
What I know is this. I have a young daughter. About to turn 6. She is a very unique little girl. She largely cares nothing at all about popular culture, TV, models, pop stars or any of that silly nonsense. I dread the day when that might start to change. I relish watching her roll in fields of clover, skip through the yard to feed the chickens, play in the mud....it's not that she hasn't started receiving some of these pop-culture messages about how girls are "supposed" to behave and look. I mean we can't shelter her from life, and those messages are everywhere - from seemingly harmless television shows, to the toy aisle at Target. It's just that she chooses not to care or be influenced by it. I am scared that could change. I want her to be true to herself, and to value her intelligence, wit, humor, creativity, and uniqueness over physical beauty. I want her to be proud of being different and having unique interests, and I want her to have a positive image of herself and her body. I realize that I am her number one example of that.
I recently came across another survey, this one conducted on behalf of the Renfew Center, which is a non-profit that works to prevent, treat, and research eating disorders, in which 65% of the survey participants started wearing makeup at the tender ages of 8-13 years old. The survey found that at least one in five young girls had negative feelings associated with not wearing makeup. Many girls surveyed felt it was most acceptable to go barefaced to the pool or beach but least acceptable to show up at a friend's house or school without makeup on.
I can imagine my sweet little girl, maybe as few as 2 years in the future feeling like she can't leave the house without mascara, because mom doesn't and her peers don't. Wanting to make herself "pretty" for her dad or her first crush. My heart sinks. She is so beautiful, inside and out. I don't ever want her to feel like she needs to change herself. And so I've come to a difficult decision. Should I give up makeup for the sake of my daughter? I kind of think I have to. It seems like a silly thing, but it's actually pretty difficult. Women out there, can you imagine quitting makeup cold turkey? Completely revolutionizing your own self image? Admit it, if you wear it, it has more hold over you than you realize. It's even a little scary. I know there will be special occasions for which I may don the mascara, but for now I think I'll try going barefaced. My daughter may still wear makeup someday, I can't predict that now, but I know it won't be because she saw that I could never leave the house without it. I want her to know she can be barefaced and beautiful. I want her to understand, even though it's a cliche, that it's what's on the inside that makes her truly beautiful anyway.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
|Squash bug eggs on the underside of a leaf|
Neem oil (Azadirachta Indica) is pressed from the fruit and seeds of the Neem tree, which is native to India. It has a plethora of traditional medicinal uses as well as farming applications. In traditional medicine, including Ayurvedic medicine, neem has been used to treat inflammation, fever, skin irritations, eczema, psoriasis, ring worm, head lice, leprosy, athlete's foot, and even as a spermicide. It is both antibacterial and anti fungal and has immunostimulant properties. It is generally recommended that neem NOT be taken internally. For external uses it is best to dilute neem in a carrier oil of some kind as it is quite potent (and also doesn't smell great!). I'm not going to expound on medicinal uses in this post so if you're interested in using it medicinally please do your research and make sure you are using/mixing correctly.
Onto farming applications. Neem is a wonderful companion for organic farmers. It has been proven as an organic biopesticide. While it is harmful to many "pest" bugs, such as squash bugs, mealy bugs, aphids, Japanese beetles, cockroaches, flies, thrips, mites, termites, mosquitos, and the list goes on, it is NOT HARMFUL to beneficial insects such as butterflies and honeybees!
The fatty acid composition of neem oil can vary widely depending on the method of processing. I have heard reports of leaf burn almost exclusively from people who bought neem pesticide sprays from their garden center. We have not experienced this, but formulate our homemade neem spray using neem oil intended for medicinal use in humans. We use the Now Solutions brand pure and natural neem oil. If you're concerned about leaf burn, my neighbor recommended only spraying the undersides of the leaves (this is where the bugs lay their eggs - squash bugs anyway). We've been spraying everywhere, just to cover all the bases. :)
Here's our recipe:
5-10ml neem oil (5 is probably fine as a preventative measure, 10 if you already have an infestation)
1-2ml dish soap (just a squirt, I never measure)
26 oz. warm water
Mix in a spray bottle and you're ready to go!
Sources for this post:
Esoteric Oils - Uses of Neem Oil
Wikipedia - Neem Oil