Monday, March 9, 2015

Iditarod Field Trip and other fun homeschooling projects

Today the kids and I breakfasted on millet porridge, put on our layers and headed a few miles down our hill to watch the Iditarod begin. The official start was about a mile up river where thousands of people were expected. A girlfriend of mine had the idea to head down to meet up at a nearby boat launch that the mushers would have to travel on their way out of town. We knew that we wouldn't be the only one's with this great idea, but we had no idea that our local newspaper would actually advertise that location as a spot for people to drive to and watch. Needless to say it was a little crazy with a fresh foot of snow, a tight parking lot with people getting parked in and stuck etc. Everyone trekked down onto the frozen river and spread out along both sides of the trail. Parents carried their small children in packs and on sleds. There were warming fires, camp chairs and kids playing in the snow everywhere.

 I almost didn't get any pictures as my camera was in an outside pocket of my parka and got too cold. I was able to tuck it into my shirt and after a while it worked again. It was about zero out, not super cold, but colder than we've had in a few weeks. Avery is in the pink snow suit. One of her best friends is beside her. Noah is in the dark blue snow suit.

We had one dog team that went of the trail a few feet in front of us and then the dogs half way down the line were coming around us from the trail side, with a few of us adults and a couple kids completely caught in the middle. It was looking like there was about to be a major catastrophe when we were able to move the right way and get out of the tangle and the team was able to veer back onto the trail and keep going. We were all relieved and thankful and were a little more cautious after that. As you can imagine, it was a special day for us. I almost didn't go as I just had other things on my mind. Thankfully my girlfriend called last night and asked if we were going and I realized we couldn't miss the opportunity.

 The kids and are just finishing up a four week block on studying the various Alaska Native cultures. We spent a week looking at the different Athabascan groups and how they varied. We built a traditional subterranean dwelling. Then we studied the Yup'ik and Inupiaq, followed by the Tlingit and Haida and this week we are going to look at the Aleuts and Sugpiaq. We read several picture books which is mostly what Avery worked with. I also read The Way of Our People and Two Old Women to both kids and Noah wrote his first two book reviews. Last week each of the kids made their own topographical maps of Alaska, mostly looking at the main mountain ranges as well as the three biggest rivers. We ended up reading a couple picture books about lead Iditarod dogs, which was just a coincidence that the timing turned out so well. If you are looking for a good Iditarod story book for your kids, our favorite so far is Akiak; a wonderful story about a lead dog who is injured but ends up running the race on her own to catch up with her team just before the finish line.

Last week we went to A Midsummer's Night Dream, put on by our Shakespeare theater. The main reason I couldn't resist taking the kids was because I'd heard that the play incorporated Athabascan, Tlingit and Yup'ik culture and language into the play. I thought it would be a special way to wrap up our Alaska Native Studies block, but then we had the race today and that fit in so perfectly.  Here are some more pictures of our last couple weeks.

 Avery's valentine sun catchers

Noah is taking an ongoing wood working class for 8-10 year olds. Several of his friends are in it and they are having a really good time. On this day they made wood animal space creatures.

We learned that the Athabascans in this part of the state lived in subterranean dwellings built into the river bank. They used them for their winter as well as their summer dwellings. Although they also used tipi's for temporary hunting structures. They usually had raised caches as well as caches dug into the ground next to their dwellings. I wanted to make the caches as well, but didn't get that far.

 And that was a very fulfilling and busy few weeks of school.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Emerging from our Dark Days

 Avery is skipping around the house singing of summer as I sit down to type. She has been at it for at least ten minutes; singing of riding her bike, playing in the mud and in the garden and even itching from bug bites. It is that time of year. The dark days of winter are behind us. Days of sun on sparkling snow and a brighter blue sky are ahead. As I walked up to the chickens today carrying a bucket of scraps and a jug of water, I noticed a chickadee with a different call than I've been hearing. Not their usual short trills and chatter as they go to and fro from the trees to the feeders, but longer and louder calls like he actually had something important to say. As I paused to study him I noticed that for the first time since November, the sun was hitting the tops our Birch trees. I'm not yet dreaming of mud, aching muscles and sunburn, but I am looking forward to sun warming my face as I play outside on warm sunny winter days. I'm dreaming of the deep blue sky of March.

I feel triumphant this time of year. The darkest months are the hardest for me, and those are behind us. Some Januaries I fall deep into books, not to emerge until the month has past, shaking off a fog only to realize that yes I rested, but I have nothing to show for myself, none of the after Holiday crafting that I'd hoped to continue. This winter I've been listening to more audio books and knitting. This past month I knitted myself the Clodach hat pattern in a gray baby Alpaca, the Lace and Twist gloves in a similar shade of gray and I've almost finished a gift for next Christmas. I pulled out all my yarn the other day and am trying to come up with something else I can make without having to buy more yarn, but have yet to form a plan.

My new Clodach hat.

Lace and Twist Gloves

This winter has been so beautiful. Every day I have walked outside and admired the winter beauty all around us. It helps to have reduced my farm chore load significantly. I'm more inclined to take a walk with Avery anytime she asks. We stroll leisurely and toss sticks for the dog. I miss our goat walks, but our walks now are much more peaceful. I don't have to chose between whether the dog or the goats come along. Avery can gather dried leaves and moss as she likes to do without the goats tackling her to nibble on her gatherings. Noah built me a flat bird feeder that Dustin mounted outside my kitchen window. Now I can wash dishes and look at chickadees just a couple feet from me. Red polls and Pine Gross Beaks have also been coming to the feeders and we enjoy watching them immensely. Watching the birds on cold days is comforting, to see that there is still so much life carrying on outdoors, even in the cold.

 Kids playing with the dog near the wood piles.

 Newest chalkboard drawing.

We are having productive school days. Noah and I are just getting in to studying the Haudenosaunee. The chalkboard drawing is the beginning of our morning blessing. I hope it sets the mood for our studies to come. We will be building a small longhouse and maybe even a larger one in the garden this year. Avery has started reading over the past couple weeks. She spent a couple days on the beginning readers and has already moved onto more challenging beginning readers.

 This week and next we are working with the days of the week and the months of the year. Most seasonal poems do not synch with our seasons here, so I wanted to make a poem that described what we are doing here during each month. Dustin was give a Steelers Football calendar and that is all we had so far, and I didn't think I could look at it all year, so the kids and I made some water color paintings yesterday thinking of different months and today we began writing on them. They came up with ideas for their month's verses and I tried to help make it sound ok.

I realized today that I don't want to vacation anymore in the middle of winter. I appreciate the beauty of this land more when I am here all winter to enjoy it. When we leave to a tropical paradise for sun and sand and heat and then come home, how can one not be disappointed at the muted gray tones, dry air and lack of sun. I'd rather just keep a steady pace all winter, moving through each day of wood fires and lanterns, stories and songs, noting the subtle differences in each day, the gradual gaining of light and the days where everything just sparkles even in the winter sun. I like extremes. But flying somewhere hot for a short time and then coming home with months of winter still to go is just a tease, bound to bring on a bout of winter blues. Well, that's how I'm feeling today, yet at the same time I'm already planning next year's winter vacation.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Grandma's memories

I spoke with my Grandma today. I have always enjoyed hearing about her life and childhood. Ever since Dustin and I started homesteading I've been even more interested in what she remembers of her own farm life. Some of the questions I've asked my Grandma have been; what kind of geese her mother raise and what kinds of desserts her mother use to make for the Holidays. The answers are, white geese, and huckleberry and mincemeat pie for most occasions. As my Grandma get's older I feel more of a pressing urge to ask her about her family and childhood, and I keep thinking I need to write these tidbits down before I forget them. Today I've resolved to start sharing some of these stories on my blog, because we all know how rare and special these memories are.

I've always heard my Grandma tell stories about living on a farm in Idaho and all the dairy cows her father kept and how a truck would come to pick up the milk. I've known that her mother kept a flock of mean white geese and it was my Grandma's job to feed them. That her mother was known for her handmade goose down pillows that she would gift couples when she got married. I've pictured a quaint existence, my dream farm life in a cute traditional looking farm house. Today I asked if her family had always been farmers, and it turns out they weren't. There were all sorts of professions, something about someone making gravestones and other men working to build the railroad, often with farming on the side, but the farming itself was never enough. My Great Grandpa built railroad cars for a living. The twenty or thirty or more cows he milked before and after going to work was extra income.

My grandma told me today that her mother was well educated and came from a wealthy family. She had been a schoolteacher when she met her soon to be husband, a high-school student in her two room schoolhouse. They married and started a farm in Kansas but a tornado came and destroyed it completely. Her mom tells about how they lifted the lid to the storm cellar and saw chickens and cows flying by. So my great grandpa (one of twelve children) had a couple of brothers who had moved to Idaho, and he decided to take his new family and go join them. My grandma's mom's family gave her all of her inheritance in horses and cattle to take with her to start over again. They transported the horses and cattle in railroad cars from Kansas to Idaho, but it turns out that diseased livestock had been in the railroad cars beforehand and every single horse and cow that she'd been given died from the disease. Grandma thought that maybe it was hoof mouth disease but wasn't sure.

The time line is murky, but apparently my Great Grandpa began working for the railroad but then at some point felt called to be a preacher. He wanted to get training to be a preacher, but at that point had small mouths to feed and as you can imagine, that didn't make a lot of sense at the time so he kept working at the railroad while they slowly started over from scratch a third time.

I asked my Grandma if they had a root cellar. She said that they did and that she hated going down there because daddy long legs would drop on you as you went down the stairs. She also said that it flooded every spring and they had to put boots on to go down and fetch the potatoes and onions off the top shelves. My Great Grandpa didn't build the house. So I'm guessing he must not have bought the house in the spring otherwise the flooding would be apparent. Grandma says that he would try to bail out the water in a frustrated attempt every spring to get rid of it. I guess a flooding root cellar could happen to anyone, maybe it is even common for cellars to flood in some locations? But what a drag, wouldn't that humidity make for shorter storage duration?

My grandma told me today that she use to hate making butter and that it didn't even taste very good. She said they would make it in a tall stoneware churn and that after churning, her mother would work it and work it in a bowl with paddles trying to get all the buttermilk out of it. Grandma thinks that it didn't taste very good because of how hard it was to get all the buttermilk out. Which makes me wonder if butter didn't use to taste as good as old folk reminisce, or if my Great Grandma just didn't like working the butter and lost patience before it was done. I suspect that that's not it, as I really don't think anyone working that hard on a homestead and churning their own butter wouldn't try and do a proper job of it. Maybe it was the storage, keeping it in an ice box that had the ice replaced every three days. I, myself have made butter in my food processor and then worked it in a bowl with paddles, and probably gave up before the liquid ran clear- it was a lot of work. And the butter did pick up fridge taste and spoil before we used it all. And all this concerns me, because I've always thought that by the time I'm an old lady I'll have a really sweet milk cow named Rose, or Daisy, and I'll make all of our own butter and it will be the best butter ever. And now, I wonder if I'll go to all that work only to never have butter taste as good as I want it to. The kids and I just finished reading Farmer Boy for the second time. I love that book, there is so much valuable information in there. We read about how the Butter Buyer came to his farm and tested his mother's butter with a long sampler and when he pulled it out it was all firm and creamy. He said it was the best butter he'd ever seen and paid fifty cents a pound for it. She had stored up five hundred pounds of butter in the root cellar and so she was paid $250.

If you make your own butter regularly and it is wonderful, let me know so I can keep my dream alive :)

I have one more story I want to share today. My Grandma said that they looked forward to when her father would get seasonally laid off by the railroad as they would leave the farm and head up to camp and pick huckleberries in the mountains. She said that they camped in tents, picked huckleberries and swam in the lakes, and that her mother would can all fresh huckleberries over the fire. She hung a big pot over the fire, filled quart jars with fresh huckleberries ( no sugar, she added that when she used them), and then she put the jars of berries in the water and canned them. My grandma said she covered the jars with water. I wonder if that is because she didn't have a lid to water bath can them? I have to say that it has never occurred to me that it would even be possible to can berries while camping. On top of that my grandpa had to drive back to the farm twice a day to milk the cows. I asked my Grandma how far away their camping spot was from the farm and she thought about a hundred miles. And I thought, surely not. I might have to track it on a map, because that just sounds crazy. She did say that sometimes the neighbors would help with the milking, but still!

From some of the things my Grandma told me today I was beginning to think that her family was poorer than I had thought, so I asked, phrasing it as politely as I could how she saw their family financially compared to others in their community. She said that she felt that they were middle class and most other households were in similar situations. She said that it was a poor time, and that everyone was poor and struggling. I wish my kids could see how good they have it. They hear about Laura and Mary from the Little House in the Big Woods, and how the girls were so excited to get an orange in their stocking or a pair of hand knit mittens. And I watch them digest the information and I wish that it would result in my children being more appreciative of their bountiful overflowing stockings and mountains of gifts. The motto of "The less you have the more you have, and the more you have the less you have", seems to really ring true for my children as well as the rest of American Society these days. It's sad. I'm not sure what I can do, but I am going to keep telling my children stories of a time long ago, when children worked hard all day alongside their parents and were thrilled to eat an orange once a year.

Well, that's all for tonight, but hopefully I'll make time to share my Grandmother's memories again. Oh, and in case you are wondering, she was born in 1929, so by my shaky counting that makes her 85....and her name is Erma.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Homemade crafts for Holiday Giving

Well, I feel like I'm posting backwards. But here are some pictures of the kids crafting as well as the crafts I managed to eek out for gift giving this year:
 Needle felting pastries for their cousins.

 Dipping beeswax tapers for our Hannukah Menorah.

 Making beeswax luminaries with balloons with water.

 Laying out the merino silk wool for a cob web wet felted scarf.

 Finished scarves. I made three. These were my first two. The last one I made turned out the best.

 The kids and I dabbled with painting silks for the first time. I don't like how either of mine turned out. The kid's look more like pastel tie dyes and were more suitable for giving.

 Scarf wrapped up and ready to go.

 Avery ironing one of her dyed silks.

 Strawberry moccassins for Avery Jane, made with our own goat hide; naturally tanned by a good friend.

 A leather pouch for Noah. There is a belt loop on the back so he can wear it at his waist.

 Mittens for Avery

 Baby Alpaca hat with ear flaps for Dustin. He is wearing it daily which makes me proud and happy.

 My best cob web felted scarf.

Finished needle felted pastries for my nephews on a handmade wood serving tray made by Dustin.

And that's a wrap! :)

Our Holy Days in pictures

 We started a new tradition this year. My parents gave us a beautiful Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, and are going to let the kids pick out a few animals or other people to add to it each year. Dustin made the barn/shed a few years back and I had intended to needle felt all the people and animals but never got around to it. We decorated with dried leaves, moss, pine cones and Mountain Ash berries.

 I have fond memories of playing with a small sturdy nativity set when I was a kid and have always wanted one for my children to play with. This entire set cost as much one quality wood figurine from the other set, both have their advantages. I was able to afford the playmobile set myself - a big plus. The kids woke up to this scene all set up and arranged one morning early in advent.

 St. Nicholas Day. Avery and Noah are both in red.

 We decorated wreaths with ground lavender, chamomile and sugared rosemary from our garden as well as candied citrus peel, pine nuts, walnuts and dried fruit including our own dried cranberries.


 Almost all of our Christmas day pictures are blurry because we have so little light this time of year and I don't like artificial light nor the effects of the camera flash, so... here they are anyways.

 Avery pointing out the dragon on the wet felted pouch she made for Noah's Dungeon's and Dragon dice.

Avery, cradling her first porcelain doll, which was my first and favorite porcelain doll from childhood.

 Punch with fresh juiced pineapples and grapefruit and a frozen fruit herb ring, in a punch bowl from my Grandma. Champagne on the side.

Noah and his cousins.

 Christmas morning; me and my punch.

 Caribou roast stuffed with fresh parsley, ground anchovies and horseradish with beef fat on top, courtesy of my brother. It was fabulous and perfectly cooked.

Avery in her new dress on New Year's Eve.