Swaying in the Breeze

The Jerusalem artichokes are absolutely gorgeous this year.

We harvested very few last year so it seems they’ve doubled.

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They are even growing in the old compost pile and another spot about 20 ft away from the original cluster. At first I couldn’t figure out how they got there.

Then I remembered.

The first year we planted them, we harvested quite a few and set them in the basement to dry and preserve them. We left them too long and they ended up shriveling so I threw them in the compost pile.

In doing a bit of research, I found that they can also spread underground up to 60 ft away from the original planting.

Resilient little buggers!

A blur of yellow buds
Swaying gently
Tall and majestic

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The whirring of leaves
Swishing softly
Bright and lovely

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The soft tickle of flowers
Brushing lightly
Calm and soothing

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The Condo, the Apartment and the Studio

As the days get shorter and the temperatures start their downward spiral, we are preparing the homestead for winter.

Most of these preparations center around our flock. Last year, we decided to carry only 6 birds over the winter. It seemed to work out and we averaged 4-5 eggs a day. Enough for us to eat and share with our family.

This year I’m not sure what we will do.

In the meantime, we’ve made a few changes to the living arrangements.

The Condo

The leghorns and Pecky are all hooked up the chicken tractor. That’s right, the old gals got the boot.

At first, they were intimidated by their new condo. They needed a bit of encouragement to walk up the ramp, but once they figured it out they were quite happy with their new digs.

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The Apartment

The older gals were demoted to a small apartment in the form of an upside down blue tote with a hole for a door.

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They still have plenty of room in their pen, but they are definitely not happy, and they have no problem voicing their discontent…loudly and frequently.

The Studio

And Blue. Poor, poor Blue. She wants so badly to be a part of a flock. She’s tried jumping in with the leghorns several times…almost daily in fact. But they just don’t want her.

After hooking the leghorns up to the coop, she took to roosting on top of the ramp, hoping to be let in. They all just strutted past her, not even acknowledging her presence.

So, we took the little tote that they had been using prior to their move and made her a shelter.

Since she normally roosts right on top of the big pen, we put her studio apartment right next to the mean bullies who won’t let her rejoin their ranks.

Who needs ’em I say. Blue has the run of the place and can eat all the bugs, worms and scraps she wants. She has full reign in the garden beds and can munch on marigolds or amaranth whenever she wishes.

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Initially, I thought Pecky would be my favorite. But, while I still think he’s a beautiful bird, I’m more partial to our underdog.

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She’s become more used to us, even letting me pick her up without protest…occasionally.

I know there is a big clutch of eggs somewhere on the homestead as we’ve yet to find her new nest, but even that minor annoyance does not lessen my attachment to her.

She’s pecked her way into my heart.

Sad and lonely Blue
Wistfully watching the flock
Longing to belong

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The STEAM Boat

Our journey through the US continues! This week, we are studying Massachusetts.

In the mailbox today, the boys found a note card with a few simple facts about the Mayflower:

  • It was the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America.
  • It docked at Provincetown Harbor in Massachusetts in 1620.

We also talked about how many passengers were on the ship and how long the voyage took.

Under the notecard, there were two baggies with instructions and materials to build their very own version of the famous ship.

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The materials were simple:

  • 1 piece of tinfoil
  • 5 post-it notes
  • 10 popsicle sticks
  • 5 beads
  • 5 toothpicks

They were given 25 minutes to create a boat that would float holding 5 pennies. They could use only the materials listed above.

Jake: I need glue.
Me: No, you can only use the materials in front of you.
Jake: Ok, can I use a stapler?
Me, with a chuckle: Nope.

They had their materials and their mission, so I went into the kitchen to set the timer and wait.

After about 15 minutes, Joe was done.

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“I need a container with water Mommy.”

His ship was big. He’d used the whole piece of tinfoil so we decided to fill the bathtub to see if she would float.

Success!

Using a little critical thinking and imagination, he was able to build the ship and make it float.

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Joe used the foil, post-its, beads and toothpicks.

Jake used only the foil and popsicle sticks. He needed a little help, so Joe and I worked with him and built a little raft-like boat.

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They both had a lot of fun building it and Joe was quite proud of himself…as he should be!

I found this idea on Pinterest–that wonderful resource and terrible addiction.

It’s a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) activity, a challenge to use multiple skills to build a boat that floats with only a few simple materials.

Although they didn’t realize it, they tapped into the majority of these skills with this activity.

Joe was using the scientific method to design and construct the boat. He knew it had to float so he bent the sides of the tin foil up so it wouldn’t take on water.

Although technology did not come into play with this activity, it could easily be modified to include documentation on the computer for recording findings and practicing keyboard skills.

He planned and constructed the boat using his engineering skills to create the boat out of the supplies at hand.

Using his art skills, he decorated his ship with beads on the end of toothpicks. He called these toothpick beads “mayflowers”.

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Finally, he used his math skills by forming lines and shapes to build the boat.

This project was designed for older kids, but I modified it to fit the boys’ age and ability level. Jake needed extra help, so Joe and I both assisted him…although Joe was frustrated that Jake kept trying to use the stapler.

“Jake! You can only use the things in front of you!”

Such a stickler for the rules…at least for this project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lazy Gardener

I have been a lazy gardener this year.

The kitchen garden looks like a jungle with volunteer cherry tomatoes running wild and broccoli going to seed.

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The fedge has been taken over by seaberry and blackberry plants.

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Seaberry is popping up all over the place!

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Blackberries are shooting underground.

The lone autumn olive is huge…I mean it is ridiculously ginormous. We have to prune it because it is suffocating the honeyberry we have planted next to it and threatening to take out the aronia on the other side.

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Autumn olive

The plants in the vineyard are at war with each other.

The aggressive chocolate mint is attacking the poor grapes, and creeping toward the kiwi.

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The kiwi and hops are jockeying for position, each trying to stake their claim to the trellises.

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I decided to get off my duff and clean up the vineyard a bit…mostly because I wanted to eat a few handfuls of grapes.

All of the weeds came out very easily due to the thick layer of mulch we have laid down. Even the big sprawling clumps of grass came out with barely a tug.

When I started clean-up around the first row of kiwi, I discovered small red berries ripening on a forgotten goji berry vine.

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I’d planted two of them last year. They were small, and I did not expect them to make it through the winter. But they did…barely.

They struggled this summer and did not grow much larger, but both remaining plants have berries and flowers sprouting.

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They may have produced even more and grown even taller had I paid more attention to them…had I not all but forgotten their existence.

Or, had I smothered them with care and concern and fertilizer…they may have died a slow death

We’ll never really know.

In my lazy garden
I sit and watch the bees

In my lazy garden
I look around and see

Greens and reds and yellow hues
Purples, blues and whites

In my lazy garden
Oh what a lovely sight!

Ostracized

Each time she opens up the pen
I jump inside to see
If any of the other hens
Have yet forgiven me

First they circle ’round me
Giving me the glare
And I know I’ll soon see
Their little nostrils flare

They haven’t quite forgotten how
I crunched on all their eggs
But I couldn’t get close to the chow
Not even through their legs

What choice did they give me?
What other way could I
Get enough food to be
Alive and not to die

So I guess I’ll still wander
And strut around the yard
One day they may grow fonder
Or at least let down their guard

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Switch-a-roo

Yesterday, we switched coops.

The old birds were moved to the strawberry bed. Their new coop, an upside down rubbermaid tote with a hole cut in it. The new girls were given access to the chicken tractor.

Our Red Stars laid two eggs today and looked at me with reproach when I collected them. I guess they don’t like their new digs.

The day finally came
We’d been planning so long
It won’t be the same
But they’re where they belong

The old gals are cast out
From their snug little coop
They’re angry and they pout
Their red feathers droop

Pecky keeps crowing
All day and at night
And each day he’s growing
More ready to fight

Why don’t they like it?
Their new living place
You’d think they’d have more wit
But that isn’t the case

Blue, she still wanders
From one place to the next
It seems that she ponders
Why her flock’s so vexed

They may refuse laying
For a week or for days
And then we’ll start slaying
Until every hen lays

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Math Is Everywhere

Math was a struggle for me in school.

I did ok in Geometry. I took Algebra because it was required. I memorized and studied enough to pass the tests. I never took Calculus or any of the higher level courses…because I didn’t have to.

When I went to college, a general math course was a requirement. The class was in one of those huge auditoriums with at least 70 other students. I passed the class, barely…by studying for hours and memorizing without really ‘getting it’.

When it was over, I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I’d never have to take another math class EVER again.

Then we decided to homeschool and the prospect of teaching math…terrified me.

I tried to quell my fears by telling myself that Ray was good at math and he could handle the more difficult concepts. Or, that we could hire a tutor when it got too difficult.

All I’d have to do was teach them the basics.

But then I realized that I was copping out. If I’m not excited about or interested in math, how could I expect the boys to be? I don’t want to push my negative feelings about math on to their little shoulders.

I also realized that I’d be missing a golden opportunity…for myself.

By working and learning alongside the boys, I would get another chance to learn to love, or at least not loathe math.

After researching different curricula and talking with my homeschool mentor, we took the plunge and ordered the Alpha level of Math-U-See.

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What do I like about this curriculum?

The approach.

There is something for every learning style. There are videos for audio and visual learners and manipulatives and worksheets for hands-on learners.

The concepts are taught step-by-step: introduce, review, practice and master.

You don’t move on to the next concept until the student can teach it, demonstrating that they fully understand the logic behind it.

The mantra.

Build it. Write it. Say it. Teach it.

Joe loves being the teacher, so this may be perfect for him.

He loves telling people how to play a game-explaining the rules, demonstrating the play, praising the ‘student’ when they play the right way and repeating the rules when they don’t. Amazingly, he doesn’t get frustrated or hostile when he is teaching a new game to someone.

He loves showing me a new bug he found, telling me about where he found it, what it was doing and what it was eating.

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When I introduced our math lesson today, his eyes lit up when I told him he would be teaching Daddy what he learned. It made him more enthusiastic about the lesson.

The videos.

The set came with an instructor’s manual and a dvd along with the student workbook and test booklet.

The videos are wonderful. To prepare for the first lesson, I read the corresponding chapter in the instructor’s manual and watched the video for Lesson One. It was about 15 minutes long.

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The manipulatives.

The blocks that come with the set are a lot like legos. There are ‘units’, fives, tens…all the way to 100’s.

This morning, when we watched the video for Lesson One: Place Value, both boys immediately wanted to use the manipulatives to follow along. They were having so much fun!

Jake: Look Mom, two tens!

Joe: Let me do it by myself Mom. I’ll show you.

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We’ll spend time working on understanding place value over the next week or more. Joe will progress to Lesson 2 only when he understands and can teach Ray, Jake or me the concept.

Jake will progress only when he can teach Ray, Joe or me the concept. Each will work at his own pace.

And we’ll practice the concepts we learn everywhere we go.

The Clutch

Blue has been disappearing.

She used to sleep on top of the big run, but recently she’s been…somewhere else.

The first time I couldn’t find her, I thought she’d been taken by a fox, coyote or other predator.

But then, the next morning…there she was.

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The second time it happened, I tried to find her.

Was she roosting in a tree? No.

Was she hiding in the swales? No.

Was she sleeping under the chicken tractor? Again, no.

Then yesterday, while I was watering the chickens, I saw her running from the back of the house.

Maybe she’d been sleeping under the deck.

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As I walked toward the garage to refill my watering can, I noticed a small gap in the tall, ornamental grass by the house.

I got closer and saw a patch of white.

I crouched down and peered into grass…and there it was.

A big clutch of eggs.

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Twenty-two to be exact.

Almost a whole month’s worth.

We weren’t sure what we should do with them. They didn’t smell but…

So I sat down and did some research on Backyard Chickens, one of my favorite go-to sites for questions on all things chicken. It hasn’t steered me wrong yet, and the forum is chock-full of great questions and answers.

I found a question posted by someone who had found a clutch of 15 eggs in an old dog crate. She asked the question I needed an answer to: How long do eggs last when left outside?

All of the answers said almost the same thing: test them first, but eggs can last for weeks outside.

Another site I sometimes go to for answers brought up a great point: What did people do before refrigeration existed?

And all of the sites I visited said that hens don’t start incubating their eggs until they have a clutch, or 12-14 eggs.

Hens lay up to 1 egg/day so it would take weeks to get that many.

If any are rotten, the hen knows and will roll them out of her nest because a chick cannot hatch from a rotten egg.

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So, rather than throw them away, I tested them.

I did the float test. If they sink and stay on the bottom or stand on their ends…they are still good to eat. Only four floated.

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This method is not foolproof, so I cracked the eggs one by one into a bowl.

If the yolk is a deep golden yellow, the eggs are still good.

I poured the good eggs into another bowl to scramble–shell and all–cook and feed to the chickens for a calcium and protein treat.

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If the yolk is brown, that means they are rotten.

Curious, I cracked one of the eggs that floated.

It was perhaps, the biggest mistake I have ever made.

Through the horrible haze of the more-than-disgusting smell, I barely noted the dark brownish, greenish yolk.

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It smelled awful.

I mean really, really awful. I will never again say “It smells like a rotten egg” unless I am referring to an actual rotten egg.

Nothing smells as bad as a rotten egg.

It was so disgusting that I ran outside gagging and dumped it in a bucket along with the other three that floated. I’m gearing myself up to go back out with a ziploc bag, or maybe 10, to try and seal the smell off from the rest of the world.

No one should have to experience that horrible, horrible smell.

My diffuser is now running full speed, filling the house with a lovely, lavender scent. I’ve scrubbed my hands and bleached the counter where some of the egg white fell.

I don’t think I will ever be able to smell pleasant smells again.

A stinky rotten egg
Watering eyes and gagging
Worse than any stench

My Frog Place

I’ll take you to my frog place
Just come with me outside
We’ll follow all the signs
Let nature be our guide

We’ll listen to birds chirping
We’ll watch the butterflies
We’ll smell fresh herbs and flowers
We’ll feel sunlight on our eyes

Race quickly toward the pasture
Where we let the grass grow tall
Grasshoppers and crickets chirp
Bees buzz and field mice crawl

Soft and tangy, musky scents
A ribbit, croak and trill
And finally we’ve made it
My frog place–what a thrill!

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Drenched

When I looked out the window this morning, my first thought was that the swales and pond weren’t doing their job.

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Water ran in a small river from the back of our property out to the road. I had flashbacks to the time before we put the swales in and a moat would surround our house whenever it rained.

The chickens squawked and Pecky was crowed angrily, at least it seemed that way to me.

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I couldn’t blame them. I’d be unhappy if my home was filled with water too.

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Ray and I moved them to higher ground and tried our best to appease them with extra food and kitchen scraps.

The older gals were even more flooded but at least they were able to climb up into the coop to stay dry.

All the leghorns have is a tarp.

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After we got them situated and soothed their ruffled and wet feathers, I went out to see what was going on with the swales.

Why weren’t they working the way they should? What had gone wrong?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing had gone wrong. In the wee hours it had started to rain, and by the time we woke up, it had rained over 4 inches.

Our swales were full and our chickens were victims of a good drenching.

The North swale surged into the South swale, just as it should.

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North swale

The South swale was full and streamed into the pond, also full.

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Pond

Then, the water had nowhere to go but out to the road.

Hence, the river.

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Poor Blue didn’t have a tarp. It never dawned on her tiny chicken brain to take cover under a tree or in the little house we have for her in the garden. She just stood eating amaranth and clucking.

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Joe splashed and played in the water, excited by the creek meandering to our road and the giant puddles in the yard.

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He pointed out a colony of ants frantically climbing blades of grass in a desperate attempt to get to dry land. Curious, Joe and I did some googling to learn more about these strange (ant)ics.

Apparently, it’s a survival instinct. The worker ants work together to form a raft or a bridge to get the rest of the colony and queen to safety.

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Our planned lessons for the day were put aside to learn all about floods, storms and other weather events as well as strange ant behaviour.

So we spent a long time looking through weather books and reading about all kinds of storms.

Raining, pouring down
Water swirling ’round
All the hens are soaked
But none of them have croaked