Category Archives: For the Kids

Feathers and Fluffballs

We’ve had a whirlwind few days with chicks hatching and cheeping day and night.

Seven eggs had hatched fully by the end of Tuesday. It was getting a little crowded in the incubator, so we decided to risk  the 8th egg in order to get the other chicks in their new home, under a heat lamp and with food and water.

The incubator is temperature and humidity controlled to mimic the warmth of a mother hen sitting on her eggs. Once the egg has a pip, a small opening for the chick to work its way out, opening the incubator exposes the egg to dry air.

Drying the pip could make it more difficult for the chick to break through the egg without assistance.

The final egg had pipped before we opened the incubator, so we knew the risks.

After we had settled all of the chicks, we sprayed the sides of the incubator down with water to try and keep the humidity in and put the lid back on…and waited.

In the wee hours, the final egg hatched and a scraggly, wet little chick stumbled into the empty shells on clumsy claws. We let its feathers dry out a bit, before moving it with the others.

The boys and my nieces have named them all…although the names have changed frequently since we moved them.

Here’s the final list…for now.

Yellow Feather
Nita
Cheep Cheep
Sir Hubert McFeatherington
Fluffy
Fin
Cheepy
Flappy

A few of them have a couple gray dots like their father and they all have big feet with feathers on their legs.

This has been an exciting and amazing project for the boys. Joe has been so careful and gentle with the chicks and the eggs. He lets us know when it is time to leave the room so “the chicks can sleep”.

We’ve also learned a lot about the chicken…from anatomy to the lifecycle to how the chicks are able to go a few days without food and water.

I think the best part was when I asked Joe if he wanted to look at a piece of shell under the microscope.

While we were oohing and aahing over the little yellow fluffballs, my niece asked me “what if they are all roosters?”

Hmm. I didn’t consider that eventuality. Didn’t I order all hens? I’m sure Pecky and I talked about it, didn’t we?

Feathers and fluffballs
Yellow chicks with small gray dots
I hope they’re all hens

Pruning

Trailing after daddy
An eager little boy
Pruning back the vines
Filled with pride and joy

Watching daddy closely
Wanting to do it right
Puffing up with pride
When daddy says, “That’s right!”

Working til the sun sets
Big to smaller shoulder
Sighing with contentment
Feeling a little older

I see their smiling faces
I hear their laughter too
I smell the dirt and sunshine
I feel humbled anew

This man I hold so dearly
Will take care of us all
These boys I love so fiercely
Will soon grow big and tall

So as that time draws nearer
I’ll relish every day
From working in the sunshine
To all the games we play

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Hatching Our Own: Step 1

This week, we will start incubating the fertilized eggs we’ve been collecting.

Pecky and 5 hens have been separated for just 2 weeks. We gave them about a week to get settled and then started to collect the eggs for incubation rather than eating.

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Once we have 12 and I’ve tested the incubator, we will be ready to start the process.

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The incubator I ordered holds 9-12 eggs, automatically turns the eggs and keeps the temperature and humidity at the right spot…at least that is what is advertised. I’ll have to report back on the success.

The boys and I are very excited to get this started. Every time I collect the eggs from “Pecky’s Girls”, they ask if there are baby chicks in them yet.

We’ve talked about the life-cycle of a chicken, but we will delve deeper as we go through the process.

Pecky and his girls
Separated from the flock
A science project

Seed Starting: A Lesson

It’s that time again.

The time we flip through catalogs filled with seeds.

The time we inventory our seeds.

The time we start our seeds.

This year, I decided to turn the process into a lesson for the boys.

They were eager to help.

First, we created our mix. I added some vermiculite to a commercial seed starter to make sure the soil was extra loose.

At this point, I will not put fertilizer in with the seeds. The potting mix is already balanced with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium so I will wait until we transplant to the garden to add the extra boost to the soil.

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Then we talked about the three main requirements for growing healthy plants.

“What do seeds need boys?”

“Water!” said Jake.

“Sunlight!” said Joe.

“And air!” I added.

Next, we filled our containers with the mix.

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When it came time to put the seeds in, the boys had almost lost interest. It took them quite a bit of time to fill the seed containers with soil, so I really couldn’t blame them. They each plopped a few seeds in and then went to play.

I finished sowing the seeds, watered them and covered the whole container with plastic wrap to keep the moisture and warmth in and encourage germination.

We put the tray in the schoolroom so we can watch them and water them. The windows are south facing and we get a lot of sunlight pouring through so it really is the perfect place.

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Finally, while the boys sat down to watch an episode of Wild Kratts, I grabbed my coffee and started looking through my catalogs once again.

Now that I’ve inventoried what we have, I’ll be ordering what is missing…and what looks good too.

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Starting seeds with kids
Exciting, joyous and fun
Learning for us all

Sight Word Towers

Reading is the gateway to independent learning.

“Mom, what does that sign say?” will become “Mom, that sign says ‘Stop!'” when the boys learn to read.

“Mom, what do roly poly bugs eat?” will become  “Mom, I just read what roly poly bugs eat!” when the boys learn to read.

Reading is also a challenging skill to teach. There are so many rules, and teaching the logic behind all these rules to a 6-year-old can be frustrating and tear jerking.

Enter sight words.

Joe gets frustrated when he doesn’t get something right the first time he tries.

When he gets frustrated, he gets angry.

When he gets angry, I get frustrated.

And when we are both angry and frustrated, there are tears…on both sides.

So, in an effort to keep learning as frustration-free as possible, we constantly try learning in different ways.

Joe loves Legos, so I grabbed a bunch of blocks, a fine point Sharpie and a list of Kindergarten sight words.

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I wrote sight words on both sides of the blocks and called Joe over to play a word tower game.

I asked him to pick up a block and read the word. If he got it right, it went on the tower.If he got it wrong, it went back in the bag to be tried again later.

He loved it! He was having a blast building the tallest tower…and then it fell over and crashed.

All. Over. The floor.

His lip trembled and his eyes filled with tears.

And then, suddenly, he smiled.

“I’ll build a town instead!”

He picked up the blocks and started building houses.

We went through over 150 words, most of which he was able to read after one or two tries.

He was excited…and what’s more, he was engaged.

He’d found a whole new way to play the game, and not a single tear fell.

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Joe the Bug Hunter: The Roly Poly

Joe sat in the driveway peering into an old and broken ceramic frog.

“What are you doing buddy?” asked his mom, throwing a bag in the garbage can.

Joe looked up at his mom, a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face.

“I found a new bug.”

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His mom wandered over and crouched down next to him.

“Ah,” she said. “Roly polys.”

“Roly polys?” Joe asked, raising his eyebrows. “What are roly polys? Why are they rolling into a ball? What do they do?”

His mom smiled. “You should do some research and find out.”

Joe didn’t need any more encouragement. He hopped up and got his bug house from the garage. After popping a few roly polys into the container, he raced inside to research his new find.

***

“They live under rocks and like dark, moist places,” said Joe. “No wonder I found a bunch in the frog.”

“How many did you find?” his mom asked.

“Oh, ten. Maybe 12. But I only brought 6 inside with me.”

His mom glanced up from scrambling eggs.

“They are in your bug house, right?”

“Of course!” he laughed.

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“What else have you learned about them?”

“Let’s see…they live a long time, up to 5 years!”

“Wow, that is a long time for a bug.”

“Not when you think about how long a black garden ant lives,” said Joe as he clicked on a new link. “They can live for 15 years.”

Click, click went the mouse.

“They have a bunch of names,” Joe said. “Pill bug, sow bug, potato bug and doodle bug…wait a minute, it says here that they aren’t bugs at all.”

Joe was getting excited. He eagerly read on.

“Not bugs?” said his mom, puzzled. “Then what are they?”

“Crustaceans!”

“Crustaceans? Like shrimp? On land?”

“Yep! It says here ‘Roly poly bugs might not look like lobsters or crabs, but they are actually land-based crustaceans.'”

Joe’s eyes were wide and gleaming. But…as he read on, the sparkle faded and his smile turned into a scowl.

“What’s wrong?” asked his mom, noticing his expression.

Joe sighed and turned to face his mom.

“They eat dead and decaying plants.”

“Ok, but why so glum? That helps the garden,” she said.

“They also eat live plants–young plants and seedlings. In the garden.”

“Ah.”

“Yes,” Joe said darkly. “But we don’t want to get rid of them completely. They help the worms turn the decaying stuff into soil. They speed up the process.”

“So, what do we do about them?”

Click, click.

“We could use diatomaceous earth, but that will kill all the bugs, even the good ones.”

Click, click.

“Or, we could pull mulch away from the seedlings to keep the moisture away.”

Click, click.

“Or, we could just continue to start all of our seeds inside and transplant them when they’ve grown beyond the seedling stage.”

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“Why don’t we do both?” asked his mom.

“Both?”

“Yes, we could start some indoors and direct sow some. Then, you could compare results,” she added.

“An experiment?” Joe asked.

“Yep. I wanted to do that anyway. The volunteer tomatoes we had last year were stronger than the ones we transpla–“.

“An experiment!” Joe jumped up and grabbed a notebook, a pen and his bug house.

“Thanks Mom!”

With that, he ran downstairs to start his seedlings leaving his mom smiling and shaking her head.

13 in 17: No, Really

When I pulled up last year’s list of skills/resolutions we made for our homestead to prep for this post, I was a little shocked.

Shocked because we hadn’t looked at it since I wrote it in January.

Shocked because we’d failed to move forward on 5 of the 13.

Shocked because we barely made any progress on the majority of them.

I felt like we failed Homesteading 101.

Then, I found a post I’d forgotten I’d written. After I re-read it, I went from feeling like a failure to feeling like a success.

  • We planted 65+ trees.
  • We built a new, bigger run for the chickens.
  • We learned that we are not rooster people.
  • We expanded the vineyard.
  • We transplanted seaberries and blackberries.
  • We built a squash arch.
  • We built an herb spiral.

I’ve learned that nothing is certain. That even the greatest intentions can be pushed aside for those unexpected opportunities that pop up.

So this year, I’m listing the same goals and resolutions as last year.

I know other things will come up and we may switch gears to follow something else. I’m not going to feel bad or guilty about failing the skills below because I know that no matter what, we will learn and move forward.

1. Writing
I’ve been submitting to magazines and publishers after learning SO much in the workshop I attended in May. I’m going to continue to push forward and accept failures, learn from criticisms and take more risks.

2. Seed Saving
We saved more okra and amaranth seeds than we can use. This year, we are going to start saving tomato and pepper seeds too.

3. Concealed Carry
Another goal we have not tackled. We found a range near us that offers the class, but I want to get some range time in and get comfortable holding, handling and shooting my gun.

4. Essential Oils
I’ve been using and diffusing essential oils on a weekly basis. I will continue to use them and learn more about natural remedies for common ailments.

5. Back to “prepping”
I want to step this up. It’s an easy one and it is silly that, beyond ordering a few kits from Amazon, we’ve not made progress.

Our goal is to get back to food rotation and copy canning so that we have at least 6 months of meals.

6. Curriculum Planning
This is the one goal that I feel REALLY good about. The boys and I have a routine that often gets disrupted…and that’s ok.

8. Stocks and Investing
Ray has learned quite a bit about the stock market and investing. I have not.

This year, I’d like to start an investment club with friends. It will force me to learn and ask questions about the stock market and investing.

9. Fitness
I have let this one slide. This year, I’ll try to have a set routine…especially because the boys can go to a Kids Get Fit class while I work out.

10. Blogging
I had 268 followers at the end of 2015 and I have 362 followers now. Not too shabby! However, I can do better. I’ve started to share my blog posts on more social networks like Twitter and Pinterest. I’ve also created an Instagram account for my blog so I can share pictures of what we are up to.

11. Tree Care
This year we planted more than 70 trees, but have done little to make sure they will thrive. We are taking a “survival of the fittest” stance, but I think that might really be an excuse for not putting the effort in to make sure they survive (ie, laziness).

I’m determined to prune, fertilize and care for all of these trees…even those that seem on the verge of death.

12. Propagation
In an effort to at least start this goal, we’ve watched two videos on propagation.

We’ll continue watching these videos so that we can execute what we’ve learned in the Spring.

13. Brewing
Nothing has changed since last year on this one.

“We know how to brew and we know how to make wine…but I don’t remember the last time we’ve actually done either. We’ll be focusing on getting our kegs full and learning more about making meads and cysers from fresh fruit.”

We have a 8 gallon bags of grapes, blackberries and aronia that we will be making into wine this year. No, really.

No, really we will
No excuses for failure
No, really we will

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Mischief Makers: Together Again

Glitter and Nim stared in disbelief at Lil. She was perched on the water filter, grinning at their shocked faces.

“Lil!” they said in unison.

“I don’t understand,” said Nim. “It’s the last night, how do you have time to stop here when there is so much to do?”

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Lil’s smile faded just a little.

“The girls have grown up and no longer need me to keep an eye on them,” Lil said wistfully.

Nim looked at her and thought of the day the boys would no longer need him to come for the season. He smiled sadly and tried not to cry.

“But,” said Glitter, noticing Nim and Lil’s melancholy. “You had a lot of fun with them while you could, right Lil?”

Lil nodded.

“And Nim, the boys still need us to keep an eye on them don’t they?”

Nim nodded too.

“Then let’s have fun on this last night of the season and enjoy these days while we still can!”

Lil and Nim shook off their doldrums and got to work.

But, as it turned out, they didn’t need to come up with anything. The boys, as they did the previous year, had left them a present as a thank you for all the fun they’d had this season.

Dear Nim and Glitter,

Thank you for another great December!

We’ve had so much fun waking up to find out what you had done each morning…even with the messes you made. 

We thought you might have fun making yourselves into Christmas trees, so we left green streamers, garland and paper ornaments out for you. We even dressed Leonard up as a tree!

Your friends,
Joe and Jake

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“Wow,” said Glitter. “I can’t believe they are giving this to us after all the messes we made.”

“Well,” said Nim. “We did make them laugh all season. And, we did remind them what Christmas is really about.”

The trio laughed as they took turns becoming a Christmas tree and even left some streamers so the boys could play in the morning.

“What are you doing next year Lil?” asked Nim once they were all satisfied with their costumes.

“Santa has already assigned me a new family,” Lil smiled.

“Wow! That was fast! How many kids are there?”

“Two boys,” said Lil.

“Just like here!” said Glitter.

“Yes,” said Lil. “Just exactly like here.”

Lil’s smile grew and grew as she watched Nim’s face.

Confusion clouded his eyes and then cleared as he realized what Lil meant.

“You…you are going to be here? With us?”

“Yep!”

Joy and excitement filled the room. They were all going to be together, the three of them planning mischievous fun for the boys.

“Oh, and there’s one more surprise,” said Lil when the laughter and celebration died down.

“What is it? asked Nim.

Glitter couldn’t imagine being any happier or more excited for the new year.

“Here boy!” Lil called.

A Saint Bernard came bounding out from behind the curtains.

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“Wow! A new friend!” squealed Nim.

“He’s so sweet and cuddly!” said Lil. “I hope the boys will give him a good name.”

“Now there are four of us!” said Nim.

Glitter looked down at the dog with a slight frown.

“Yes,” she mumbled. “Now there are four of us.”

Kindness Task
Be good and kind throughout the year.

Nim’s Joke
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Olive.
Olive, who?
Olive the other reindeer.

Elfie

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Mischief Makers: Wrapping Around the Christmas Tree

“And that’s it!” said Nim as he put a bow on the last present.

Glitter looked at all the presents under the tree. She and Nim had wrapped every present. They’d moved the “snow” that Nim had created to the front of the fireplace and they’d hung all the tiny little snowflakes that once covered the floor all over the walls.

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“Well, that didn’t take very long,” said Glitter. “Now we can just relax.”

When Nim didn’t answer, Glitter turned to look for him but he was nowhere in sight.

“Nim? Where did you go?”

“Aieeeeeeeeeeee!!!” Nim streamed into the living room with a bag of bows and strings of ribbon.

Far from being tired after all of the wrapping they’d done…and they’d done a lot…all of Nim’s energy had been stored up. He was ready to play.

He zoomed by Glitter, pelting her with bows.

He swirled around the room, throwing ribbon everywhere.

He bounced off couches and chairs, a roll of wrapping paper unraveling behind him.

He was out of control.

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Glitter galloped after him and hurtled over the couch, tackling him to the floor.

Nim couldn’t stop laughing.

He snorted.

Tears streamed down his face.

He was losing it.

“NIM!!!” barked Glitter. “Calm yourself this instant!”

The stern, no-nonsense voice quietened Nim immediately. He looked at Glitter contritely.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just sat still for so long concentrating on wrapping and listening to Christmas carols. The longer I sat, the more I got in the spirit.”

When she was certain he had calmed down, Glitter slowly backed away from Nim.

“I think it may have been that last song that really got you in the spirit,” said Glitter.

“Oh yes! Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree is one of my favorites!” said Nim.

Glitter looked mournfully at the living room. Christmas paper was strewn everywhere. Ribbons covered tables, chairs…her.

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“We were supposed to be helping tonight!”

“We did!” said Nim. “Besides, we can get this picked up in a jiffy.”

“Beep-beep! Beep-beep! Beep-beep!” chimed an alarm clock.

“No,” said Glitter. “We can’t.”

“Oh well, at least all the presents are wrapped. Now all they will need to do is put the gift tags on them.”

“Wait,” said Glitter. “You didn’t write who the presents were to?”

“Well I certainly didn’t know who each present was for,” said Nim.

“Oh Nim!!!”

Kindness Task
Give free hugs.

Nim’s Joke
What do snowmen eat for breakfast?
Ice Krispies!

Elfie

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Mischief Makers: Let It Snow

Nim sat at the kitchen window looking out at the still, snowless night.

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“Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

“Nim,” said Glitter. “It’s not snowing. In fact, there is no sign of snow in the forecast.”

“Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal.”

Nim,” said Glitter again. “It’s not snowing, there’s no sign of snow in the forecast and it looks like rain.”

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.”

“Nim,” said Glitter. “IT’S NOT GOING TO SNOW!”

Nim stopped twirling, dancing and singing and looked at Glitter thoughtfully.

“Do you know what you need?”

Glitter sighed and shook her head.

“Hope.”

“Hope?”

“Yes. Hope,” said Nim. “Hope that it will snow on Christmas Day.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Well, we’ll just have to make our own.”

“How can we—Nim, where are you going?” Glitter called after Nim’s retreating back.

“To get snow!”

A few minutes later, Nim came out of the craft room with a box full of blue, white and sparkly foam snowflakes.

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“Now,” said Nim. “We are going to put these together and hang them all around the house.”

“I don’t know Nim,” said Glitter. “Those are a lot of snowflakes to clean up. Maybe we should–“.

“Did you or did you not say that we have been a good influence on each other when Lil stopped by last night?

“I did, but–“.

“Then please can we do this? Please? We won’t be making a big mess…we’ll be decorating,” Nim smiled, hugging a bag of fluffy white stuffing.

“Oh ok,” said Glitter. “It does sound like fun.”

They got to work glueing snowflakes together and stringing them up from light fixtures, windows, ceiling fans and doorways.

“We don’t have enough,” said Nim.

“There are plenty,” said Glitter.

“No. We need to make more,” he said grabbing a pair of scissors.

“Oh no. No, no, no Nim. I know you and I know what will happen if you start making paper snowflakes.”

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“It will be alright Glitter,” said Nim with a gleam in his eyes. “I’ll only  make a few.”

“We don’t have time for paper snowflakes anyway. The boys will be up soon,” said Glitter pointing an antler at the clock.

“Oh no! I need to do one more thing,” cried Nim as he dropped the scissors, scooped the bag of stuffing up and flew down the hall.

Glitter, happy that she had successfully kept Nim from making a giant mess, finished picking up bits of glitter and string in the kitchen before following him.

Glitter’s feet stopped moving when she saw what Nim had done.

Fluffy ‘snow’ covered the ground with glittery snowflakes sprinkled on top. Nim was hanging one final snowflake from the Mistle-Toad’s foot.

“See Glitter, all you needed was a little hope!”

Kindness Task

Donate food to the food pantry.

Nim’s Joke

What is green, covered with tinsel and goes ribbit ribbit?
Mistle-toad!

Elfie

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