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Homeschooling The Well Prepared Child: October 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

Very Proud Mommy Moment

     Very proud mommy moment. For months my daughter has spent time making a Barbie Doll House Diorama made from mostly recycled materials. She gets a lot of her inspiration from My Froggy Stuff. It is a mom and daughter duo that has the slogan "Happy Crafting!" If you would like to get your child's imagination juices flowing, I would definitely check out their blog and YouTube videos!
     Not all of her inspiration comes from what she has seen, however. My child has always had an amazing artistic ability, even back in toddler days. So while most of my friends and family were hiding the markers and scissors, I was buying her paints, drawing kits, glue and craft items. The ONLY time we have ever had a problem with her using any of her supplies, was when she was 3. I told her she could decorate her room with all of her artwork and gave her a bunch of push pins to hang her masterpieces on her walls. Unfortunately, I did not give her enough. When I went in to see her finished room, I noticed several of the pictures did not have push pins holding them up. "Don't worry mommy, I used clear glue. You wont even see it when I take them down!" Uhhh.... Okay... valid reasoning, but NO!
     Every time she was tested in public school, her artistic/spacial reasoning was off of the charts. Teachers and parents have brought me her art work and said how amazing it is. When we are at my job during the day and they are doing a fun craft project, her eyes grow big and her fingers twitch like Dennis the Menace until she is allowed to do it too. This child is an artistic, crafting fanatic! The more I step back and let her do on her own, the better the outcome! Even when she does cookie cutter projects (everyone cuts out the same shapes, glues in the places, and everyone's project comes out the same,) there is always something... special and different about hers.
     She designs her own line of clothing she will one day grow up to make. I have seen her turn water bottle caps inside out with her teeth to create the cutest little bowls for her dolls. She created her own line of doll bedding I sell in my Etsy shop. My daughter has her own sewing machine. Countless times I have found her on her bed pausing her t.v. so she can draw what is on the screen frame by frame. She is amazing.
     Today, she entered her doll house diorama in the Creative Arts Competition at our local county fall festival. I have never seen her so nervous! They closed the exhibit from 10-1 for judging. Every 10 minutes I heard, "Is it 1 yet?" We were going nuts waiting to see if she won a ribbon! I even had my sons friend watch our booth for us so I could go with her. When we got to the conference hall where the competition was being held, the doors were still closed. We waited out side in the hall, our stomachs flip flopping in excitement! Through the tiny windows on the conference room door, we could see her project sitting on one of the display tables. Suddenly, my daughter grabbed my arm tight. "Mommy, look! There is a big purple ribbon in front of my doll house!" She quietly squealed as they opened the doors. BEST IN SHOW for her division! That's MY baby girl! Proud Momma right here! :)

Jar of carrots she made out of a used water bottle and some craft foam. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Things I Learned From My Grandparents (and didn't even know I was learning)


   Some of the best memories I have as a child, were my summers with my grandparents on their homestead. They had a little plot of land up in Chihuahua Valley, in the San Jacinto Mountains. They cleared the land, built their house, and prepped for winter. Always improving, always amending always preserving. As a child, I didn't realize that was what they were doing, all I knew was that at Grandpa and Grandma's house, things were wonderfully different. More natural, more like what what I read in my 'Little House' books.
     Instead of a back yard, they had a strawberry garden. It was on a an incline, but there were rows and rows of strawberries. One year, while I was hunting for strawberries, I ran my hands over the plants and screamed. There was a large snake hiding under the strawberry plants. I ran to my grandpa to tell him. He got a shovel and went over to get rid of the snake. However, when he got over there, the snake turned out to be the garden hose. We all got a good laugh out of it.
     There was a large garden in the back of the property. Grandpa was always in the garden hoeing, planting, tilling, weeding, and/or raking. He worked from sun up to dinner time. Sometimes we would help him. My brother and I would go out with grandpa early in the morning and pick vegetables with him. He had the most amazing tomatoes in all shapes and sizes. We would munch on small yellow and cherry tomatoes as we picked. There were rows of beans and and purple hull peas. We picked okra that my grandma fried up fresh and froze the rest. When we were finished, I would sit on the back porch with Grandma and snap beans. Every once in a while, I would pop a fresh bean into my mouth. 
    Grandma also had cans with herbs growing in coffee cans on the back of the house. We nibbled on fresh mint while we played on the grass. It made our mouths feel cool and fresh. Every once in a while, Grandma would ask us to pick some of the herbs. We watched as she cleaned them and then laid them on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to dry. 
     Grandpa had a snake in the wood pile we called his 'pet.' Every morning grandpa would go out to the woodpile he was greeted by a scarlet king snake. It never harmed anything and my grandpa told us that the snake helped to keep those pesky rodents away. Grandpa would talk to the snake as if it was his friend. Not all snakes were his friends though. One day my cousins, brother and I were walking past the propane tank and Grandpa was coming towards us on his way to his neighbors property. He turned suddenly and walked over to his gardening shed at a brisk pace. We were already at the house when we noticed Grandpa going back towards the propane tank with a shovel. Suddenly, Grandpa was striking at something on the ground. We ran over to see what was happening. Grandpa hollered to "Stay Back!" It was a rattlesnake! AND we had just walked past there and never saw it! Grandpa killed it effortlessly. When he severed the head, we came in a bit closer. Grandpa cautioned us to not get to close and explained when a snake dies, it can still hurt you. He held the shovel up to the snakes mouth. We all gasped as the snake bit at the shovel. Grandpa moved the shovel to the body and the body STOOD up and tried to strike at the shovel even though it had NO HEAD! Although it had no eyes, it followed the movements of the shovel perfectly. We marveled at the snakes body as it continued to move after being decapitated. It seemed like it took forever to stop wiggling along the ground. We paid more attention from now on while walking around the property. 
     When we came into the house from outside, the back door led to the utility room. We had to be quick on the ins and outs so flies could not come in and the air conditioning could not get out. We were not allowed to keep coming in and out either. Once outside you stayed out side for a while. Coming in had the same rule. Grandma explained this helped to keep their electric bill down. We had to leave our shoes by the back door to keep the dust and dirt out of the rest of the house. In the utility room, Grandma always keep an ice cold water jug for us. We could drink as much as we wanted, but you better make sure you did not waste any. It was from the well and we didn't need the well running dry. On the washer and dryer was usually homemade raspberry gobbler from the berries we collected for Grandma. It was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. 
     I loved watching my grandmother sew and mend clothes. She made nearly all of her clothes. It was almost like magic when she made skirts and shirts, curtains out of thin pieces of paper, pins and fabric. After cutting her patterns out, the neatly folded them back up and placed them back in their packaging, to be used at a later time. I watched silently as her sewing machine quickly and easily joined the fabrics. My Grandma crocheted as well. She taught me how to make chains and simple crochet loops. I would play with my long piece of yarn over and over, practicing until I could get my links and chains just right. I couldn't have whole ball of yarn until I mastered the beginning stages of crocheting; yarn could not be wasted. 
       I slept in the spare bedroom on a sleeper couch. The room doubled as Grandma's sewing/craft room and her extended pantry. There was one wall that had built in shelves lined with items my grandma had canned. Rows upon rows of the most amazing looking food items. Jams, jellies, relishes, vegetables, fruits, and meats. Chow-chow was one of my grandmother's specialties. Oh, how I hated chow-chow as a child. Now I plan on making it one day so I can try it again. She made the best dill pickles. Fresh dill flower heads graced the jar. I tried eating one once, it was horrible, and I couldn't figure out why on earth someone would put a weed in with the glorious pickles. I never saw my grandma can, but I did get to watch her make jelly out of the fresh strawberries from their patch. It seemed like a lot of work, but the jelly was well worth it! I always wondered why just two people would need all of that food. There were so many of them! At night I would lay there and look at the wall of jars, counting them by the moonlight until I fell asleep. 
     For the longest time, I wondered why most of my memories with my grandparents seemed to center around food. It was not until I started my own homesteading journey that I realized why. They lived on a fixed income, Grandpa's retirement. Everything the did around the mountain property was to prepare for everyday life. From food preservation, to chopping wood, to recycling, reusing, re-purposing, DIY, it was all about survival. Not in the sense of what people think of prepping and survivalist skills now. This was day to day, what they learned from their parents, this was natural for them. 

     By watching them and joining them in their everyday tasks. I learned. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was learning from them. Everything that I watched and did as a child has become so 'natural' for me now. Even though I never actually was taught how to sew, I 'naturally' knew how to. I say I was self taught, but in essence, watching my grandmother sew, taught me how. I am also a natural gardener, saver, recycling/re-purposing, homesteading, DIY, make your budget stretch type of person. I wish my grandparents were still with us today. I would make sure I asked the questions I missed being able to ask them when I was young. At least I have my memories. These are memories I want for my children. I want the ability to take care of their families to be 'natural' for them. Children mimic and take on the habits of those they are around. I hope to pass on to my children what my grandparents pass on to me. 

The pictures in this post are not of me and my brother. They are of my cousins, Erin and Garrett. Their mother was a lot better at preserving memories through photography than my family was. Thank you Erin and Garrett, for finding these photos for me. Love you!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

We Butcher A Chicken...

WARNING- This post contains photos of a family sending their own chicken to freezer camp! If you are not the chicken killing type, or if you are disturbed by information or images of animals being butcheredplease, DO NOT READ THIS POST. We are on the path to self sufficiency, and raising our own food is part of this journey.

"We butchered a chicken today. Great life lesson and anatomy lesson. There is something... satisfying... to be able to provide a meal for your family that you know what it was fed, you know how it was treated, you know how it was butchered, and you know how it was prepared. I don't know if we will ever do another, but, we are happy with today." -Personal Facebook Post February, 2014

     We have become a society disconnected with our food. Rarely does anyone know where or how their food is processed. We buy our meat in nice, little wrapped packages, and not once do we question where it came from. How were they raised and in what conditions? What were they fed? How was it processed? The chicken from the stores is kept in giant barns crammed full of thousands of chickens, all pecking at each other, or standing there waiting to die. Don't believe me? Type in your computer, 'what are chickens fed to make them grow so fast?' and see what comes up. Quick link to Wikipedia says, well it says a lot.. Just read for yourself.
     I am in no way condemning anyone for eating supermarket chicken. I buy it all of the time still. My family loves chicken and I am not a lover of butchering my own meals. Honestly, I hope to grow out of this.  I have already come quite a ways from the girl I used to be. In the past, if it did not come from the supermarket, wrapped up nice and neat in Styrofoam and plastic wrap, I wouldn't eat it. We were given some hamburger from my uncle one time and while my family raved about how wonderful my meatloaf was, I was in the bathroom gagging and hearing Uncle Mark call out 'Calfy' to his cow. Fresh eggs? FORGET ABOUT IT! That was just disgusting! (My sister is still this way!)  In my quest for self sufficiency, however, I have grown to realize the importance of knowing where my food comes from. This is not important to everyone, but it is important to me.
      My husband's, mother's, boyfriend's. granddaughter (phew, did you catch all that?) raised chickens for FFA. When the project was finished, we were asked if we wanted them. They are Cornish Rock Cross and are breed to grow quickly. This also makes them unlikely to ever mate, lay eggs, or live past a certain age. And while I was not yet 'there' in my homesteading journey, I felt if I was going to 'Talk the talk...' I had better start down this road when I was offered the chance at no cost to me.
     My daughter helped me along on our first journey. We researched, read articles and watched youtube videos on butchering chickens. We decided to go with the 'cone method' of butchering. We took a milk jug, just like on the video we watched, and cut out the bottom of it. Then you put the chickens head through the hole and slit its throat. As it drains of blood it goes peacefully to sleep. Or rather, that's what is supposed to happen. Nothing could prepare us for our first time. Like I always seem to say, you think you know, but it never turns out how you expected. The chicken fought going into the milk jug hole, the incision clotted up instantly, then, the chicken cluck/cussed us, saying we were doing it wrong. Hubby came to the rescue with an ax. Note to self: Never, ever try that method again.
     Plucking took nearly and hour, even with dunking in the hot water several times. We have since learned that the skin is not that important to us, even when frying. It is a lot quicker to skin. We do not eat anything on the inside, so it is all boiled and fed to my dogs. We did find a lot of little orange balls we discovered were the beginning yolks of eggs. That is how we ended up keeping 'Prissy,' our first hen to lay an egg.
     It was very educational for my daughter. She learned a lot about chicken anatomy. She is like me (not crazy about killing the chicken) but she loves to identify the organs. She loves to cook our homegrown meat as well. She has very little attachment to the chickens because we have told her from the beginning these were 'food, not friends.' My hope for her is to become a veterinarian or be in another medical field. I believe she will be great healer one day.
     Just in case you continued to read, but were uncertain if you wanted to see the photos, I have saved them for last. The are not really terribly awful in my opinion, but this is your last chance to go check out one of my other articles. You can see my daughter make store bought Cornish Hens in my post HERE. Again, you are reading a blog about our homeschooling/homesteading family's quest to become more self sufficient. Thank you for your support.

Our FAIL...
 Getting the insides out.

 Don't you just love her protective gear!
An hour to pluck it and it still looked like this?
 The end result. 
     We decided to stuff and slow roast our chicken. We learned from our Cornish Hen dinner that we like seasonings, and this time we did it right. It was delicious and tender. I had forgotten to take a photo of it when we were finished cooking it. The photo above is what we had LEFT after dinner. Two adults and a 10 year old barely made a dent. I pulled off the rest of the meat and separated it into family sized portion freezer bags. We got 4 more meals out of this one bird. 5 meals for free. 

     We have sent several chickens to 'Freezer Camp' and I plan on sending more soon. If this is not your cup of tea, I understand. I used to be that girl remember? But it is now something I take pride in. My meat was raised by me. They were fed a healthy diet twice a day and also free range all day long. I know how they were treated, I know how they are processed. I know they were healthy and will provide a healthy meal for my family. Thank you for joining me on my journey.