Friday, March 31, 2006


I love canning!! Seeing all those jars lined up on the table or counter makes me feel like I have accomplished something. When you do laundry, clean the bathroom, or sweep the floor there is a sense of accomplishment for only a few minutes before someone has put something in the hamper, used the bathroom on the floor, or tracked in dirt. Eating the jelly takes longer so I can feel better about myself longer. Cheap therapy!

Yesterday's jelly making was not easy. I tried to cook too many berries in one batch, walked away to answer the phone and let the sticky mess overflow onto the stove, didn't sterilize enough jars and had to risk breaking a jar or two when I threw them into the boiling water, and didn't get the jam quite thick enough. Major stress. This is the first canning after a long winter so maybe I will get it together for next week's jam fest. My husband said he wanted to give his family jam when we visit at Easter. This means I will have to make one or two more batches. His family is big and you cannot leave out anyone. I guess I could tell him to make his own if he wants to start gifting.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fishing Cat

Yesterday, we had catcitement! My son was getting his fishing gear ready for this weekend. He is to go with a Boy Scout troop on a camporee. He left the pole out and one of the kittens ate the hook. Of course, once the cat was hooked, he ran under the house. Finally, he came out and ran under the car where we were able to lure him out.

I tried to get the hook out, but couldn't hold the cat and pry at the same time without getting scratched. My husband just happened to be home and together, along with a towel and needlenose pliers were able to get the hook out of the cat's mouth. OUCH!

These kittens have been the most trouble of any cats I have ever owned. The four of them were orphaned early and our family took them. We have warmed, fed, and provided shelter for five months. One was attacked by a possum and had a tear in his stomach, another got his face ripped on something, the yellow dog tries to eat one of them all through the day and night so we have to protect it, and finally this. These cats are trouble.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Jam Berries

Strawberries sweet enough and juicy enough to be deemed Jam Berries are here!! The Louisiana strawberry farms were obviously not hurt by Katrina. My strawberry man was on the side of the road yesterday and I purchased a flat of berries just for jam. The berries are dripping juice and oh so sweet. I will make jam later today if we don't eat the entire flat (12 pints) first.

We stopped buying jelly and jam at the grocery stores six years ago because these products should only have two ingredients - sugar and fruit and occasionally lemon(I guess lemon is a fruit too) to prevent browning and grocery store varieties are laden with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and preservatives. You forget what the fruit tastes like when there is so much other stuff in there.

I foresee biscuits for breakfast tomorrow morning.


My son mounted this old bird house on Sunday and yesterday before we left for ballet we saw a bluebird family checking to see if it suited their needs. They were so funny and so human like. The male bird would look inside and then go sit on the fence. He would talk a minute or two and then the female would go in and inspect and come out and talk. Then they both sat on the fence and talked furiously.

This morning they were back. This bird house is not in a good location. A gate is right there and the garden fence is a good place for cats to balance. I was hoping to talk to my son about the proper location and dangers for the bluebirds this week. I had no idea that we would have tenants so soon. I got an idea for a baffle from Julie Zickfoose's blog. I don't see how I could attach a baffle to this post, but if this family doesn't move in then I will talk my son into relocating it with a baffle.

I am torn. This is one of the posts for my garden fence and I can see it from my kitchen. I would love to be able to watch them. I don't want to watch them being eaten by my cats, though.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Busy as a Bee

I seem to be churning! One of the reasons for moving out here in the middle of nowhere was to lose the panicky, no place to stop mentality. It followed me here like a stray dog and unfortunately I let it in and fed it. I'll give you a taste!

Yesterday, after I finished my early morning farm chores, I made cake enough for 50 people for the Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet. I had already done the spaghetti sauce for 50 Sunday. My children helped, but in saying that you know that young children can frequently make cooking take longer and create a bigger mess to clean. After that, my Mom showed up and wanted me to do her Easter dinner invitations. I did those and printed. I have just gotten a new web client, the local opera, and the artistic director and I had two phone conferences(one was in the afternoon) and one web interchange and I put the draft site up for testing so he could see it in Boston.

Remember, teaching my children has to take place sometime. We worked on math, history, and spelling and I sent them off to read and play outside.

After lunch we went over to my friend's homestead. She wanted to colonize some wild bees. She has been talking about it for a year, but today was the day she had everything ready. She had never worked with bees so asked me to help. People ask me to do this often, but I don't usually do wild bees (Unpredictable, at best). We had scouted this colony and they seemed calm enough. The bees were in a tire underneath a pile of salvaged wood. Julie had done the front work. She had removed all the wood leaving a piece of tin. We transferred the bees to a hive, found the queen and made sure she got settled. There was so much almost ready brood in the comb that I thought it prudent to leave some of the free form comb in the hive so we closed the hive with the original piece of tin. When Julie gets back from her energy class in North Carolina we will remove the old comb.

After the bees, I schooled and worked a few more hours. I made the programs for the banquet. Then we loaded the food and went to the Blue and Gold. I still had to boil the pasta, set the tables and get the awards organized. After the highly successful banquet, we had to clean the pots, load the dishwashers, and make sure there was no cake ground into the carpet.

I was tired, but still felt good. After a good night sleep, I am up and churning along this morning. Today is ballet day so school, work, and farm must be finished by afternoon. At least we have left over spaghetti for supper, so I can check that off. I really must learn to say NO! But to whom?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Super Glue Disaster

I have done something stupid and I am paying the price. We needed a touch of glue and couldn't find any Elmer's when I saw a tube of Super Glue. Unfortunately, the top would not come off the non-stick tube top. With typical brilliance, I decided to pry it off with a place knife. I did get the red top off, but not the clear insert. I tried again. Instead of just removing the stopper, I removed the entire top and slung glue all over the counter, but mostly all over my hands. I sent my daughter for some finger nail polish remover (thank goodness my six year old daughter enjoys typical female grooming rituals or there would have been none in the house) because I had seen it on The Wedding Planner. I was able to get the glue off the cabinet, but my hands and finger nails still have a white glaze and are raw from the finger nail polish remover. I have oiled, washed, lotioned and anything else I could think of but, alas, I have been branded for my stupidity. My question is . . . If people are smart enough to invent a super glue, why are they not smart enough to invent packaging that will contain the product without annoyance until the container is empty?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Baby Calves

We are starting our calving season. This calf is a few weeks old. Cute? The mom looks like she is giving me the evil eye. For those who need details, these are Charolais. I love white cows. My husband loves Black Angus or Black Baldies. We keep our cows separate. This pair is mine. I think the black ones get too hot in Mississippi. I get so hot in black t-shirts in the summer. The cows have to feel the same, so I feel sorry for them. Real scientific, huh?

See that really tight fence in the background? Our internal fences are progressing. By summer we should be able to reinstate managed grazing. I know the land will breathe a sigh of relief.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


This beautiful specimen is in my side yard. The recent rains have produced many sizeable weeds. They are beautiful, but I know few people who landscape with yellow top. Last year I paid my children for each complete (roots and top) weed dug. Milkweed and other deep rooted weeds were worth more that the easy to pull varieties. This year they could both be wealthy! Needless to say when the weather is a bit better I will do some yard and garden work.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Boycott for Children's Rights #2

Every quiet moment I have been mulling (obsessing) about this Michael and Debi Pearl Boycott. Actually, I haven't been worried about the boycott, but about these books. I haven't read them and, of course, I am curious. Not curious in the sense that I believe these might be effective discipline, but curious in the just how sick are these people sense. If you, too, have this desire and don't wish to be seen with the book and certainly would never put money in their pocket by buying the books go to Stop the Rod. They have some excerpts.

Now that I have read excerpts I am even more horrified. These tips for training are indeed torture. I live in an area that still uses corporeal punishment frequently. In fact, I am in the minority by not spanking my children. People think I am ruining them. Corporeal punishment is still used in the public school (one more reason to homeschool). What these books suggest, especially in the Bible thumping/Spare the rod - Spoil the Child South, is a confirmation of the archaic use of the rod and an appeal to take it one step further by reducing the age of accountability. The problem, as I see it is this. If you allow yourself to spank your children you are giving in to a more base instinct of brute force (I would have said primal, but most healthy animals naturally nurture their young, especially primates).
  • The biggest, strongest wins. You are teaching your children that once they get bigger they can wield their power and get their way, thereby creating the bully effect.
  • Anger and rage many times rule, rather than reason. Parenting is frustrating. Sleep deprivation is costly in logic. Sometimes you just have a bad day. During these times having a stick(or a supply line) around would lead to abuse and not discipline. I, personally, have had days that I have lost my temper and yelled and ranted at my children. No, yelling at your children is not great, but if I used supply lines for discipline and they were readily available in every room of the house would I have grabbed one of them and called it training. Yelling is easier to forgive than bruises, fear and lack of trust. If you made a decision before your children are born to "Spare the Rod" you are more likely to exercise control in these frustrating times.
  • The spirit of the child is broken or irreparably damaged.
When you lose the rod:
  • Children learn respect of people (not fear of pain).
  • Children are validated as humans.
  • Children feel like important members of the family because their opinions count. They are not dominated by over bearing parents with switches.
  • Children are not scared and they can bloom and grow into something beautiful.
  • You might learn something about yourself.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


The wisteria is blooming on the roadsides, in yards, and any other place it was left unattended. Wisteria is not a native plant, but has been in the South so long that even William Faulkner used it in Absalom, Absalom as a symbol for miscegenation and the South and a trellis for this book(Just my opinion, don't quote me). This wisteria is in my ditch climbing all over the trees.

I took a look at my site meter statistics today and many people who come here are looking for information about wisteria. I am not a botanist or even a landscaper, but here is what I know after having grown up in the South.
  • If your wisteria does not bloom you over fertilized it or pruned it after it set buds. Wisteria in an invasive species in the South and no one fertilizes those "gone wild" plants. They bloom beautifully.
  • Prune your wisteria immediately after the bloom to insure that you don't lose blooms.
  • Don't plant a wisteria if you are only a seasonal gardener and live in the South. You must keep on top of pruning or the plant will take over your yard, tree, or house. Immediately remove unwanted vines. Left to grow until after the bloom could be disastrous.
  • Don't plant wisteria near a concrete foundation or a basement type home. The roots grow almost as profusely as the vines. They will damage the foundation.
  • Don't plant wisteria near your plumbing. The vines will grow through your sewage lines or water lines, thereby making them useless. You will have to replace the pipes.
  • If you have a wisteria you don't want, hire a backhoe. You may be able to get all the roots, but probably not.
After all this bad publicity, why would anyone want to grow these pesky plants. Beauty! The clusters of lavender or white blooms draping along the edge of the porch provide shade. The meticulously tree formed specimens bloom in tandem with the redbud, dogwood, and azalea. The "sweet and oversweet" perfume from the blossoms can transport you South and to the past.

You may even get twice bloomed wisteria in a summer!

"Sweet and oversweet" is from William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom. You don't have to read far to find it --one or two sentences. Of course, one or two sentences could be two pages.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Driving Miss

I took another older friend to the beauty shop (why do they call it that?). I promised myself that I would, at all costs, keep in touch with people who are important. See, I learned from my mistakes with Butch.

Anyway, this lady is over eighty, had been married to her husband for sixty years before he died last year, and has never driven, not even once. I have been driving her places for a year. Every time I take her anywhere I start thinking about the differences in society that made it not necessary to drive then and almost essential now.

I started driving when I could touch the pedals and could see over the steering wheel (around 9). I drove the tractors and farm trucks first and quickly moved on to anything with wheels. I got my license at fifteen. I never considered not driving. I wanted the power and independence having a car provides. So how could this woman go through life without touching a steering wheel, even on the farm? This is what I figured out so far:
  • People didn't go to town as much and they went as a family. You really planned your shopping and did without if you forgot something.
  • People grew their own food, except for a few things.
  • There was a strong community where those who drove and had cars helped those who didn't.
  • People walked more. The cars weren't going so fast so it felt safer.
  • Women held a different position.
  • People expected their marriages would last forever.
So now, when I pass her house, embarrassingly almost everyday, and see her husband's farm truck sitting under her carport, I smile and am grateful that I have the independence driving gives me. But I'm also a little sad for the loss of community and self sufficiency of the past.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Boycotting for Children's Rights!

I join bloggers in a boycott of Michael and Debi Pearl, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and Homeschool Blogger because these people and publications directly support the methods of torture that caused loss of life to an innocent child.

I feel sick to my stomach thinking of the poor children who live in fear and the child who died. The rod only teaches bullying and fear, not respect and reasoning. Children should be nurtured, respected, and given boundaries and they will learn respect and love. I wouldn't even hit a cow or dog with a supply line, why would anyone recommend using one on a child. Wrapping a child in a blanket so he will fear for enough air to breathe seems even more cruel. Children deserve better.

If someone needs advice on discipline that does not include torture and supply lines. Buy the book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson. Remember that discipline is training - training for life.

You can get more information on these blogs:

Chores done before 6:30

My husband is out of town on business, again. This is weird, but the farm and home seem to run so much more efficiently when he is gone. I have a friend who explains this phenomenon like this. I have no expectation that anyone is going to help so I do more and stay more focused. Maybe she is right.

This morning I got up with the sun and have fed, watered, and cleaned the bitty coop, checked the big chickens and let them out, fed the horse, cats, dogs, and cows. I checked the garden, though it was too wet to do anything other than harvest a cabbage for our St. Patrick's Day dinner. I unloaded the dishwasher and put on a load of clothes. I have checked and responded to the e-mail for the companies I help. I am ready for school this morning. When I started this post it was 6:30. Is that not exciting, and just plain weird.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lost Friend

I've done a terrible thing and I am having trouble getting over it. I had (have?) a friend named Butch who is an 80+ year old ex merchant marine. He is a crusty old sailor but had good stories, grew 20+ varieties of peppers and truckloads of tomatoes, and was willing to share. I learned much from him while visiting. He called when he got back from his daughter's in Texas because he had some goodies for the children and good chocolate for me. We didn't go. I felt too busy to listen to him rant about how the government and Bush were destroying everything.

Now he is gone. He left for Snug Harbor, a retirement home for old seamen in North Carolina. We didn't say thank you or good-by. I suppose he thinks we didn't care. We didn't know he was going away so soon. I thought we had one more year for gardening. I knew he was tying up loose ends. He gave me seeds from his favorite old tomato, a red habenaro, and his gorgeous tree formed wisteria. I knew his cancer was back and he was worried. I just thought he had more time.

I got the address from the web site and I will write and see how he is. Writing seems lame. I should have gone over there when he called.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Chicken Coop Saga

My husband and I(mostly my husband) reconstructed one of the hundred year old structures on the place into a chicken coop. Its past life was a feed storage building/calf feeder. We had to replace the floor and a door and replace wood so that it would be secure enough that raccoons would have a difficult time getting into it. We carefully used old wood that we have salvaged so that it would match our house and the original wood. The chicks have been using it about three weeks and it was working well.

The next step was to add the outside yard for the little chicks. We let the big chickens just roam, but need to control the environment more for the bitties. My husband worked a good part of the weekend transforming the calf feeding shed into a chicken yard. All we needed was a load of dirt to even out the area. I was going to take a picture when we were finished.

Monday, late afternoon, Mike(names changed to protect the innocent) delivered the dirt. When Mike dumped the dirt the back hatch hooked on the building and when the truck moved forward, the building moved too. Ripped from its foundation blocks, the hutch was teetering. I heard the screech and crash from my office and knew there was a small disaster. When I walked out, Mike was trying to decide what to do next. You know everyone, personally, here and it is hard to be mad at someone who you know feels terrible. He was able to get a backhoe and prop the building up with the backhoe arm while he moved the dump truck away. Then we could look at the damage. The coop was not sitting on the foundation blocks, and one side of the building was pulled away from the other three. The bitties were cowering in the corner. This is when my husband pulls in from a long day at work. Welcome home! He was speechless.

Night came and the building could not be fixed, then, so we wrapped chicken wire around the holes and covered the bigger holes with tin and wood and hoped for the best. Of course, the temperature was expected to drop and the chicks don't have all their feathers.

Yesterday afternoon, my dad and two or three of his workers, including the dirt man, came to fix the coop. They used two tractors and a backhoe to lift the hutch back onto the lighter stumps. They couldn't get the building level and replaced the stumps with concrete blocks so they would have more flexibility. In the meantime, they ripped the outside shed part off the structure and broke the ceiling joists. I couldn't watch. I got what they needed and went to my office to work. By nightfall there was still a gaping hole in the side of the building which we covered with a tarp, while the chicks cowered in the corner.

These are some tough chickens. I would have expected to have lost a few because of stress and cold. This morning the bitties were alive and well. I had to go through the chicken entrance (a hole two feet by three feet that was four feet off the ground) just to feed and water the chicks. Now that would have been a picture worth publishing for a few laughs. I should have used a ladder or something, but I wasn't thinking clearly. Then once your leg is that far up and lodged in there is no going back. I am glad no one was watching and that the chicken entrance is not facing the road. The town would have been a stir with gossip.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Redbud Season

The redbud is blooming in Mississippi! Lining the highways and in many yards and fence rows, this lanky native species is one of my favorites. I know the spectacular Bradford Pear and Japanese Magnolia are much more showy, but I would rather have the more delicate and understated beauty of the redbud. A beautiful and useful bee plant, it frequently gets little attention because of the showier plants blooming at the same time, including the Spring queen of flowering southern shrubs, the azalea. But gentle pink/lavender blooms against the not yet green hardwoods have a more natural place in the southern landscape.

Next up, the flowering dogwood. I love Spring!

Saturday, March 11, 2006


I wish I could blog a sound byte. There is a cacophony of lowing because we have separated the cows from their calves today. This is actually the second time. We weaned before Katrina, then all the fences were demolished and weaning was for naught. The fences have been restrung and the weaning begins again, today. The calves are huge(almost the size of the cows). They are weakening the cows. The separation must be done and we are doing it in the kindest, gentlest way -- fence weaning. BUT, the mammas still want their babies and the babies want their mammas and they are all calling to each other. The distress makes me sad! My husband reminds me that this is the farm -- real life.

Just Say No and Yes

I love planning! I have, on occasion, planned and schemed so much that I forget to teach. Looking at educational materials and books can sidetrack me more quickly than anything except seed catalogs and cookbooks. Yet, I know having the "perfect material" does not equal learning. Public schools pay huge money for materials -- the perfect new text book, the perfect AV equipment, the latest, greatest fad of schooling. But if you look into the classrooms with truly effective teachers you will find that the "materials" fade into the background and the interaction between students and the teacher and the subject matter are in the limelight.

Teaching high school in a "good" public school in Chicago, I noticed that the teachers in my department and school who I came to respect and, more importantly, the students came to respect were not the teachers who were seeking the latest, greatest cure. I don't believe either of my mentor teachers ever picked up a text book(the school had class sets of many good and great books available). The teachers who struggled with the students were the ones who depended on the text book and complained about lack of funding. Class time was spent reading the text and answering questions. These teachers used the text as a substitute for interacting with the material in the book and with the students.

This is my fourth year(more if you count the unofficial years) as a homeschool teacher and I am amazed at the increasing volume of teaching material generated specifically for homeschoolers. Every year the Rainbow Resource Catalog gets thicker. My mailbox is bursting with offers and catalogs promoting "the best way to teach your children". Amazingly enough, the materials are getting more and more like the prepackaged textbook modules that so many public school teachers use as a crutch.

Even knowing that these "solutions" don't work, I am tempted by the glittery - well educated children- sales pitches. I admit that I have been hooked once or twice - spending a great deal of money for materials that will magically transform my children. Feeling insecure about the subject usually brings out the urge to spend more on a quick cure. I don't have knowledge or experience with Latin. I sought materials that I could understand and that I could teach. Having tried numerous books and plans, I found that there is no perfect, no fail curriculum. Any of the texts I purchased could have worked for these initial stages of learning. The only no fail method is to daily interact with the vocabulary and grammar. The concept of work solving the problem rather than the curriculum solving the problem is something that the public schools need to learn and, increasingly, what homeschoolers need to remember.

I am not saying that homeschoolers don't need educational "stuff". We do. What I am saying is that the glossy new learning systems now available for us are not necessarily better than a few good books and time spent with the children and the books.

As I look over these offers and begin my planning for next year, I will repeat to myself. Just Say No. Say no to the text book companies who are seeking to be a part of the "homeschool success story." Say no to the profit mongers, publishing houses and homeschoolers, touting their undocumented success. Say No to using a text book as a teacher. And I will say YES: Yes to good books, yes to quality time with my children, yes to hard work, and yes to using a text as a guide and a resource.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Calm after the Storm

Yesterday, we had tornadic conditions with rain and blowing. No damage was done here, but we had to stay inside most of the day. Today, is a completely glorious high blue sky day that seems to have healing powers. We have all the doors and windows opened today. All the doors in our house except three open to the outside or onto the dog trot (screened hall through the middle of the house). The light breeze and perfect temperature is circulating and cleansing our air. I am having trouble not going outside with the children. I have my usual Friday desk cleaning to accomplish and have no hope of play until much later. At least I can watch the children and breathe the fresh air from my window. It is a wonder that I ever get anything accomplished!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

High Fructose Corn Syrup

I am ever so sick of reading High Fructose Corn Syrup on every label. For you who aren't familiar with it go here to read how it is made. Even companies who cater to those who have figured out food additives are terrible are tying to hide it in their products by abbreviating it. Products that obviously have the dreaded chemical are: sodas, or as we say in the South cokes, jelly, hershey's chocolate syrup, syrups of the breakfast variety(not maple syrup), any of those non 100% fruit juice type drinks for children. Other supposively safe products have it now: Commercial yogurt, bread(even the Great Harvest Bread Company bread), baked beans, barbecue sauce, ketchup, corn syrup (no, you can't even buy regular corn syrup any more), and baby formula (not that I have ever used any).

I have been so vigilant that even my mother thinks I have gone overboard. I make our bread, our jelly, tomato sauce, grow our own vegetables and go to extremes to provide whole foods without preservatives and chemicals. Occasionally, and sometimes frequently, I want to buy foods that I have run out of and go to the local grocery store. Just last week I picked up a package of frozen cream corn. The product should have only one ingredient - corn. But, guess what? They have added high fructose corn syrup to Silver Queen Corn. I freeze corn almost every summer and I have yet found any reason to sweeten the corn. I didn't buy the corn.

No wonder the American public is overweight. There is hidden sweetener, that the body does not process well, in almost every commercially made processed food, even in "health foods". High Fructose Corn Syrup almost sounds like a natural product. Scary.


I finished my outside chores early today because it is supposed to storm most of the day. The wind is already blowing hard. While I was out, I went to the garden to make sure I didn't leave anything that would blow away and look what I found - asparagus! Don't look at the weeds. I only planted it last year so technically I shouldn't eat any. But, I may have to sneak one or two spears for an omelet or a small bunch for a lightly steamed and buttered lunch. This will be hard to resist.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Dilution of Community

I noticed this article on my RSS feed yesterday. Too Many Options Dilute Shared Experience is attempting to explain the recent struggles of movie making, network television, and other entertainment and how it impacts society. The article claims:
Significant social change [is] brought on by audience fragmentation. Cultural reference points are fading. The root cause? A proliferation of entertainment options impelled by niche-driven marketing.
In other words, we have too many options to create a "shared common experience." With TV encompassing hundreds of channels, people shunning theaters to view DVD's in their own home and vast information available on the internet, people have unbelievable choice. "But what we gain as individuals we lose as a society."

You don't have to have television to notice this phenomenon in society. I have been a den leader for our local Cub Scout Pack for six years and we have attendance problems, not because cub scouting is boring, but because there are so many other things to do each school night and no child or parent wants to commit. Commitment is no longer our style, we need to have the remote control of life clicking madly, dipping into each activity to see what is happening without ever having viewed an entire show.

With this flightiness you lose the details of life. Lack of commitment to projects, learning, activities, and people does not propagate community. Community is created when life, even boring days or shows, are shared, when problems are solved, and when people communicate. The CSM article says:
[T]oday we know that [sharing episodes of I Love Lucy and having family dinner] not only shape a society, they are linked to better health, lower crime rates, and improved learning.
I'm for all those things. Banish the remote! Oh, we haven't installed the TV yet! I'll go hang out at the co-op or hardware store and commune with the community.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Yellow Dog

This is our yellow dog. My son had been wanting a dog for several months, when this one came up at my brother's house. My brother graciously gave him to us. He is just a puppy, so I assume he is going to be pretty big. If I had to guess his heritage, I would say shepherd and lab. With certainty, he is 100% yellow dog.

Getting a dog would never have been on the top of my priority list. I have always been a cat person. I like cats because they aren't so needy, are somewhat neat, are so graceful, and ...

Dogs on the other hand are, well, trouble. This is the hole that the dog tore into the screened porch, dog trot. Through this hole all of the outside has been invited inside. Through this hole my shoes and other articles of clothing have disappeared. Just today, I found a glove, a shoe, and a pair of shorts on the farm. The Christmas wreath that I spent hours constructing from pine cones is now shredded into giblets on the front porch (O.K. The Christmas wreath should have been stored months ago, but it wasn't). The list of destruction of property seems endless, though, even I am not upset.

We needed a dog. He fits our family and farm like the glove I picked up outside. He doesn't eat the chickens (or at least not yet). He is a good companion for my son's explorations. He has a superb disposition, and is not as needy as many dogs. As my son says, "You can't stay mad at that face for long."

Three weeks ago, I ran over his front leg when I was backing out. We rushed him to the veterinarian, but no real damage was done. He was sore for a few days, so we let him come into the house to recuperate. Now he thinks he is an inside dog. I'm not sure I am ready for that yet.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Work Day

Today, we had another work day. My muscles are aching, my cheeks are stinging from wind and sun (I did wear a hat most of the day), and my hands look and feel like cotton picker hands, even though I wore gloves for everything I could. We got the chicken wire installed around the garden perimeter. We also got a big gate installed on the back side of the garden to allow the tractor in to disk. Yes, the garden is that large.

Even so, this year the garden may not be big enough. It is BIG CORN year. The freezer is totally emptied of corn. Last year we only planted a few rows for fresh eating because we had such a big crop the year before. Even those few rows were lessened by raccoons. The raccoons eat corn just like humans. They pull the shucks back and eat every kernel and move onto the next. All that was left was a pile of empty cobs. Those few bags I was counting on did not materialize and we have eaten every morsel of the previous year's crop. So, this year we plant corn.

While on the subject of gardening, I want to update you on my indoor seeds. Everything is up except the eggplant and a few persnickety pepper seeds. I have put a heating pad underneath to encourage them.

I know this is rambling, but I need to tell this super sweet story. My 9 year old son attempted to install water to my garden. Of course, his method was completely illogical, but, oh so thoughtful. While I was distracted with weeding where the chicken wire was going, he dug a shallow trench from the nearest water facet to the garden (about 60 feet). Then he laid a water hose in it and covered it. When I finally noticed what was going on, I didn't have the heart to tell him that it wouldn't work for very long. I was just so happy that he was thinking of my need for water in the garden. When the hose is flattened, cracked and worthless we will trench deeper and install pipe. Right now, I would never think of touching it.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Math Facts

When we first began our home school journey, we got our first set of flash cards along with the Saxon Homeschool Math curriculum. Then, I didn't realize that math facts and flash cards would rule our existence for so long (Four years so far. I'm glad I have only two children). I will be so happy when I can finally toss all the flash cards in the fire and watch them go up in flames. I am sick and tired of being the drill sergeant, nagging mother, flash card manager, and Princess of Torture.

At first I was not obsessive compulsive about my children mastering the facts. I thought that the knowledge would sort of spontaneously fill the void with enough manipulative use and problem solving in early learning. Now, I panic because I was a product of the "children master addition/subtraction facts in first and second grade and multiplication/division in third grade" educational philosophy. And I never loved math, though I was not horrible at it. My 9 year old is not a multiplication and division fact master, nor is he a speed demon with subtraction. I still feel torn. Is it too early for this child? Yet, teaching new concepts in math is much more difficult when the child has to grapple with the basic facts, so now math lessons are a struggle and take so much longer than they should. My six year old is taking her cues from her older brother and believes the math and math facts are difficult. These same children can memorize long poems, Shakespearean soliloquies, and obscure passages in books in minutes, so why are they taking so long to master these few math sentences?

Feeling, always, that learning is developmentally sensitive, I have always put things aside if they seem too difficult and bring them back in a few months. I have done this with the math facts to a certain extent, but I've never been able to leave them alone for more than a week. I feel that they must, at some point, buckle down and do it even if it is unpleasant. Here are some resources we have used on our journey. Scroll down and down and down if you don't see the table. I cannot figure out why this table wants to sink to the bottom. I promise the information is worth it.

Flash cards SaxonThese are utilitarian and are already included in the kit. Having the answer on the back in the form of the subtraction fact saves them money on paper but is sometimes difficult for the younger learners. Of course, this helps show the relationship between the facts. The card stock is a bit too light if you use the cards for more than one student. I do like that they are color coded. This helps when you have to find the facts in one set quickly.

Three corner Flash Cards These are supposed to be the intuitive way to learn math facts, but I found that without the addition, subtraction, multiplication or division symbol that the child doesn't "get" how intuitive they are. You never visualize the number sentence because you never see it.

The Perfect Card The perfect card would be laminated, color coded and present the facts with the answer on one side and without on the other side. I haven't seen this card commercially.
Computer Games/Practice Math Blaster: In Search of Spot I really like this old program. Speed is rewarded in the meteor blasting and banana peel toss. The energy refueling is more logic based fact practice. Levels are adjustable and you may also input your own problems. You can check your child's progress. The negative is that your child must learn the numbers keyboard before he can play effectively and quickly. Also, this only plays on older Windows and Mac systems (9.2 and below for Mac(classic mode is not good enough) and 98 and below for windows). There are new Math Blaster programs for Windows XP, but I don't find they are as good as the original.

Racing Math This is a speed only program for Mac OSX. There is no real teaching because the cues for correct and incorrect answers go by so quickly there is no real immediate positive reinforcement. You do get to race either sheep or cars with classical music in the background. The graphics are pretty corny for the money you spend on the program. Yet if speed practice is what you need this straightforward, nothing to interfere with the facts, program is good. Facts are presented in sentence format and reports on progress are available. There is a full demo version available for testing at, the child must learn to use the keyboard before he/she has any success.

Online facts We don't do much online practice even though there are hundreds and hundreds of sites because we have no DSL or satellite, only a exceptionally slow dial up. With phone lines what they are I always feel lucky to get on-line at all. Doc has compiled a great list of online resources. Go to her homeschool links page and look for Math.
BooksTimes Tables the Fun Way! by Judy Liautaud

I wanted this book to solve all my problems instantly. It didn't. There are some cute stories and activities here, but nothing life changing. The little stories did little to weave the facts into the memory. The book came, of course, with it's own set of flash card cut-outs.

The Best of Times by Greg Tang

I really like this book and even more importantly my children do. No, this book is not an instant cure, but certainly shares the tricks of the trade. An example is:

Four Eyes

"Four is very fast to do, when you multiply by 2. Here's a little good advice - please just always double twice."

There are practice tables in the back, but, thank goodness, no flash cards.

CDs and TapesAddition and Subtraction Country My children affectionately call this "The cowboy." This CD or tape is not bad. I have, at least, not hurled it from the car while going 70 mph on the interstate. The facts are not presented in any sections. You have up to 10 facts, up to 18 facts, then mixed facts. If you or your child has problem areas they are difficult to isolate on this CD. The voices are not annoying and in the genre of fact practice music this is a real plus.

Multiplication Songs by Audio Memory Publishing This is about the most annoying tape I have ever heard. How can a child be expected to listen to this more than once without accusing you of torture. The squeaky pitch and sing song recitation is far from musical. But the facts are organized by number so you only have to listen to the songs with the problem facts.
ManipulativesCuisenaire rods I love these things! They are visual, tactile, and fun. They do help to visualize the facts. The caveats are: Your children have to work with these a lot before they can pick up the blue rod and think 9, the yellow is 5, and the red is 2. Also the introductory set is not enough. You must have lots and lots of rods, especially if you have more than one child. The wooden rods feel nicer. Don't scrimp here.

Number lines Once the child can visualize quantity represented by numbers, number lines can help illustrate the less two and plus three concepts.

CountersCounters are available these days in as many forms as can be imagined. Some people use M & M's, beans, and other household items. I find that you can't use M & M's because they are gone by the time you need them.
We use plastic fish, bugs, and snakes as counters because they are fun and are not eaten before used like the candy.

Hundred Number Boards I like these because you can practice skip counting by covering the numbers with the clear colored tiles and you can visualize the relationships between distances of numbers - like adding 10.
TablesMultiplication Table Charlotte Mason felt that children should create a multiplication table for themselves before they began to memorize the facts. Once the child creates one with manipulatives or whatever, then create one in excel with
color coded lines and laminate it. Have the children use it while they are memorizing.
GamesMulti function Snap and Times Tables Snap Fun, yet child must know most of the facts before it becomes fun. I find that I must wait an embarrassing amount of time before moving on to the next card. The child then knows it is a snap because you pause to wait for them to call it.

DominoesDominoes is a wonderful math facts practice game. Be careful, though, it is altogether too easy to help too much.
Things I have learned:
  • Use a hole punch and punch holes in your flash cards. Then, put them onto one of those metal book rings. This saves you picking up and sorting time.
  • Save the daily Saxon 100 facts timed exercises for special occasions. A little of this goes a long way in the lives of small people.
  • Exercise and chant the facts with your children. i.e. jumping jack fives
  • If there is just one fact in a group with which your child is struggling, use Sculpty to create the fact in clay along with a visual of the actual groups. Then bake and paint the fact.
  • Don't get as serious as I did.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Orchard

I know that most people would expect an old homestead to have fruit trees, but alas, ours had only a fig tree and a small pecan orchard. We rectified the lack of fruit trees this weekend. We planted four O'Neal Blueberry bushes, four plum trees (2 Ozark Reds and 2 nameless, to me, pollinators), and eight Redhaven Peach trees. Next year we will add the apple and pear. I know the apple and pear take longer to fruit and that logically I should have planted them in the first year, but I love peaches. Love overruled logic.

We dug the holes with my super sturdy Maxim mini tiller(I work part-time for the company and they deserve a plug for the flexible hours. You can see more of my garden at their web site.) We were able to mix in peat and worm castings to lighten our heavy clay soil. The peat will also bring the PH up a bit. The blueberries are acid loving so I only mixed in worm castings and compost. Now comes the maintenance! And the wait! .... for peaches eaten right off the tree and for a delicious peach and blueberry free form tart with homemade ice cream!