Friday, January 31, 2014

New Pages

Across the top, you will see some new pages.  These are not really new, I wrote them all years ago, and they have been on my roamschool website all along.  They are my most visited pages according to the stats, so I wanted to move them over here in case I close the website.  Obviously someone is getting some use out of them!

Ghost Towns

I swear, Alabama is SO BORING.  First, it's freaking cold here, which is not what I signed on for.  Matt was talking about South Dakota the other day and I told him he'd have to commute to work there because I am not leaving.  But now I am starting to wonder if it would be so bad there, I mean, it's EIGHT DEGREES this week here.  Can it even get colder than that?  Don't tell me.

Next thing about my boring state is that I have a child who wants badly to ramble around in an abandoned building.  All the ghost hunter movies where people in abandoned buildings get their heads yoinked right off have not deterred her.  After pinning down several people at a recent party and demanding they locate a hobo-free building I won't get arrested for visiting, I came back with a list-which I have systematically worked through and crossed off every suggestion.  Damn renovations, THANKS, BIRMINGHAM.  Way to, you know, revitalize the downtown and stuff.  (You gotta love Deb, she offered to let us walk through their chicken house-it's empty.)

I opted to just look up ghost towns instead.  Okay, a 'ghost town' to me is a row of creaky old buildings, a saloon and bank, a church and yes, a hitching post or at least a well.  'Ghost town' to everyone else means 'there used to be a town near here, now there's a really weedy cemetery'.  I LIVE in a listed ghost town.  It's not very exciting.  And there's no cemetery.  But there is a well.

So, where to next?  I sent e-mails and FB messages to various people living out of state.  I am hoping road trip.  The reality will probably be-Deb's chicken house.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Well, time passes.  Some weeks seem to fly by and some to creep.  It's been only a month since Christmas, but it seems like it was a LONG time ago.  Yet seeing it's the 27th of the month already makes me wonder where the time went.  I guess I am having a very time-oriented start of the year.

Last week was MUCH slower than I anticipated.  Jake got sick at rehearsal Monday, so I cut out several potential 'infect our friends' events.  I say that, but what I was more worried about was that he would pick up something nastier while his system was running low.

Other than rehearsals during the week, we laid low.  I got our W-2's in the mail and did our taxes.  GAH. We used to get some nice refunds, but that was then and this is now.  Then, we could pay for new carpeting through the whole house.  Now, it will cover Chan's birthday trip next month.

This past weekend was a 3 day weekend for Matt.  We spent Friday hanging out with friends at Gina's house and did our grocery shopping before heading home.  Saturday we...cut wood.  Nearly all day. Sunday we got up and cut wood until noon and then got cleaned up and headed to the lake for Sammy's birthday party.

Today I have been in 4th gear all day, despite my recent bout of not sleeping from 1-4 a.m.  I tackled my to-do list and washed all the cabinets, cleaned out the fridge and washed it, organized the pantry, cleaned the living room, chopped some wood (okay, for like 20 minutes-that is HARD), cleaned Ben's room (he came home COVERED in leaves and promptly went straight to bed.  His bed was FULL of leaf bits! and his floor and the hall and the bathroom floor...) and did 3 loads of laundry and made lunch, then scrubbed the hall bathroom and wiped the walls and ceiling in the area with the wood stove with lemon oil.  They get really dried out from the heat.  I am officially tired and done for the day, I think. So I am checking my e-mail and such and decided to update while I was on here.

Look!  A Roamies lunch!
Our group has fallen apart over the past year, but it was good to get to hang out a while with everyone.
Suzette did not diss us, she woke up with a head cold that had been stalking her for days.
And Cathy lives in California now.

Of course the kids played Magic...

I opted to take my camera to the woods with us.  We have ranged out of the orchard and around to the edge of the pasture, taking down 5 trees that were either being crowded out by larger trees or that were crowding each other for space.  We were able to cut up and haul out 3 of them over the weekend.  The other 2 are still laying there waiting for next Saturday!

Matt wades through the brier patch...a common occurrence.

The women of the family are much more cheerful than the menfolk.

I was standing on a tree to hold it off the ground for Matt to slice up, so Jake had to help me keep my balance.  I 'fell' on him a few times, getting at least one smoochie in on my landing.  He was ready to move out.

The secret to Ben's 27 inch waistline.
All you can eat black walnut tree.

 We have enough surplus now that we can let the wood dry a couple of weeks before we have to burn it.  This is a double stack next to the front fence, it's mostly dried out already.  It's a combo of privet, black walnut and beech.

If you stand the wood on it's end while you are waiting to get the time to split it, the sap will run right out the bottom.  This helps the wood dry out MUCH faster!  The top part is easier to start the split and you can stack it to dry and it's ready in about a week.

Our mixed grab pile.  This is not all dried yet, but it's enough of a mix that the fire stays going strong.  We can keep the living room 70 with little trouble, with fans blowing into the doorways off the living room.  The only place we have to run a heater is the hall bathroom-unless it's under 25 outside.  A friend of ours in town usually has a power bill within $2-5 of ours every month.  Last month theirs was just shy of $400 and ours was under $200.  So I am telling myself it's saving money and it's good exercise, but MAN I am tired of cutting wood every week!

While out Sunday, after we ate lunch, Matt and I walked down to see the lake.  I don't think I have been on the lake in 2-3 years!  Well, this part of it.

The water is LOW for it to be winter!

We had a good time just hanging out and visiting with everyone.  We made plans to get together during the week this week and hang out again with a few of the folks.  There's talk of a big bonfire in March!  I love a good bonfire...

Sammy's Birthday Bonfire.
I like that this is the popular thing with our group.  :)

On the way home, I played with the Punk Rock filter on my little point and shoot Olympus.

Our Exit

The Van Ahead of Us

The Route Home

Week before last, we went to Deb's for a lunch and here are the handful of photos I took...
Not Deb's house.

The kids had so much fun, we barely made it home for dinner before running out to rehearsal.
They now want a game called Apples to Apples.

And that's the catch-up!  Coming up this week, we have 3 rehearsals, 2 meals with friends and 1 orthodontist appointment.  Always the tinkering with the teeth around here.  :)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I read a post today that covered a family's typical day and they started school at ELEVEN and did not get finished until FOUR.  OMG.  With a 2-hour lunch.  In the comments, people said, "I feel SO much less guilty after reading this!  Yay!"  They all cheered themselves and each other for being SO radical and atypical.

Okay, here's the thing.  Homeschooling is flexible.  It can fit around your life and your schedule if you let it. People who do school because it's between 8 and 3 on a public school day are missing a LOT of life and tons of opportunities. There should never be any guilt about doing your own thing and taking care of your own family on your own schedule.  The learning happens, it really, really does.  And it may not be from a textbook with a bullet list of touch points and a script for what to say.  It may be from watching a movie or talking with another family or trying out a new game or staring at the ceiling and thinking something through while your three favorite songs repeat for 2 solid hours. Not many things learned under the age of 20 require oversight.  It just requires exposure and interest-and certainly NOT a time table!!  "Gotta do" is the killer of enthusiasm for all things needing done.

The kids have recently (starting Christmas Eve) gotten into what I am calling a Khanathon.  They have opted to go back to 1+1 and achieve mastery as high as they can go.  They are all in 4th or 5th grade level stuff right now, but I think going back to the start and racing through is serving two purposes.  One, of course, is so the kid who can eventually get further ahead can claim Math King and forever be smarter than the other two.  Don't act like that's a surprise, even siblings who would remove their own spleen with a butter knife if the other sibling really needed it will compete and gloat.  The second thing is when you review and redo-even things you KNOW you KNOW, you pick up something along the way.  A better understanding, a new skill, a shortcut or a different way to do it that makes it make more sense to your own brain.

Jake is 18, he is set graduate in May.  I recently worked on completing his transcripts and we were talking yesterday.  If he finishes Chemistry and takes a foreign language, he can have an academic (college entry) diploma and not a general education diploma.  To do that, he won't be able to graduate until December of this year-I can do a lot of things, but fudging what they have learned is not one of them.  He jumped at the idea, 6 more months of homeschooling sounded like a great idea, yes, let's go for the academic diploma. Even if it means he would be in 13th grade.

I thought about this a while last night after everyone was in bed.  (When I do all of my thinking.)  He is in no hurry to get his license-we have no car for him to drive anyway.  He's agreed to not get a job until after he graduates high school.  He's now wanting to prolong his studies for a more advanced diploma knowing that no homeschool is accredited, I might as well print out Daffy Duck High Class Valedictorian-no matter what that diploma says, colleges are only going to look at his test scores.  If he even goes to college-he's been talking K-9 Police Academy or Culinary Arts.

It occurred to me-he's the class of 2014.  Jake.  He has no one else graduating with him.  He's the oldest in our group.  He has no one's experience to draw from.  Now, more than any other time in his life, he is in charge of what comes next. And he's just not ready for what comes next.  And, Matt and I agree, neither of us wants to tell him, "Quit working on learning new stuff and go start working for minimum wage because you are 18 and It's Time."  Again, it all comes back to the fact that you can't live to a timetable and if what you are doing is working, keep going, quit comparing.  Live, learn, love, enjoy yourselves.  This is it-this is a day you have together and for every one of them that passes the ones yet to come dwindle in supply.  Spend it how you choose, not how you 'should'.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


With the Chinese New Year coming up at the end of the month, I made a big list of daily things on Monday to clean or organize to be all ready to make a fresh start, starting today.  Then I got up today and looked at the first thing, then called the garage and drove to town at 7 a.m. to have them listen to this noise the van has been making, I swear, for THREE YEARS and yesterday it was much louder.  Like 'I am breaking!' loud.  Today-no noise at all.  It sounds like a belt slipping/gargling noise when I crank it.  Think 'very tiny elephant' that yesterday became medium elephant.
Today, nothing.  Not even in the cold, which usually makes stuff like that worse.

So, I came home and looked at my list again and decided to play with the macro lens on my Holga turret.
This is Stephanie's 'Hibiscus Kiss' blend.

Then I chatted with Gina for 2 hours.  Now the kids are up doing math (they have all done another 10% of the Khan Academy website just in the last week-it's a math roll around here.) and I feel the pressure to be a Good Example and get off here and Accomplish Something.  Maybe I should make a list...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Polar Bears

This week, an abnormally cold front is invaded from Canada and pushed our temps into the negative range.

Monday, we hid out from the cold.  Jake would not even get out of his nest near the wood stove until almost noon, when the pizza was done.  I cooked chocolate chip cookies and pizza on the stove and kept a kettle going all day so I could run out and pour it in the dog water bucket and keep that open.  The animals have all been in and out, back and forth.  My carpet is shot, I will have to clean it soon.

Kuma deems Nia worthy for a temporary cuddle buddy.

We don't usually have THAT much wood/flame going at once, but I thought it made for a dramatic shot.  

I made 5 batches of kombucha, after checking out the scoby, I had enough for another gallon already!  I just moved to 4 gallons at a time the last batch.  I will have to find someone who wants a scoby or two soon, I don't have space for more.

Who knew the little flip-open shelf in the flour cabinet would be so perfect for holding jars?  Or that my prolific hat making would come in handy as breathable covers?
 Tuesday, it warmed up a LITTLE.  I think it hit mid-20's.
We opted to go hang out with some teens for a couple of hours, that turned to 4 hours and we had to head straight to rehearsals.

The first play rehearsal, they blocked scene 1 and did choreography for their song.

Chan was sweet to sit for a full 2 hours while we waited on the brothers!

And Jake's big solo-AND he is over-acting already. 

Wednesday, we planned to stay in and the kids were going to marathon their math for the week.
They got up and got going with that, I like all of their computers in one room, SO easy to just keep an eye out and see if they need help. After making sure they all had something to snack on and a warm drink, I went to feed the dogs.  I stumbled on Ben's shoe and stepped back to get my footing.  My feet ended up on the cat food bag and I slid, feet flying out from under me.  The back of my head hit the windowsill, I had a pumpknot the size of my hand swell up within seconds.  Chan freaked and called Matt, I barely recall most of the day.  He was home and took care of the fire and the kids and they finished their math and did some science and history as well, trying to keep quiet.

My head felt like it was going to split open, my shoulder, foot, ass, back, head, and mainly my teeth all throbbed and ached, I slept a good bit, we may have seen a doctor, there were lights in my eyes and lots of questions.  

Thursday, it actually 'warmed back up'.  Our frozen kitchen sink pipe thawed out Wednesday afternoon and everything inside was back to normal.  Except-remember how I thought '12 days' for the load of wood we piled up?  More like 8 days.  Matt has Friday off, we will be out cutting all day again.  Good thing we discovered how well privet burns, that stuff is prolific.  We may make it through the winter and in the spring, have no weed trees.  :)

There are a bunch more kids in class, I was surprised how many kids are learning ballroom dance.

We went to dance and rehearsal Thursday afternoon/evening and Chan went home with Emily and Brit (Suzette was surprised!) and today, Britney came over here while Emily finished up her school stuff for the week.

Friday, we worked on costume ideas for their eel roles. I think we got a few things nailed down, but need to hear back from the costumer to make sure we are not getting too far off the mark. (heard back, too far)

The main problem is, even though they are eels, they can't wear anything too revealing/tight because it's a children's theater.  It's REALLY hard to convey 'slinky underwater creature' in baggy clothes.

The plan was that the black parts on their faces would match up and make an eel face when their heads are together.  I did their lips kind of like a parrotfish, because eel lips are icky.  haha!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fire Brigade

We had firewood delivered November 30th, the wood stove being our primary heat source for right now while we save up to get the central unit repaired.  There's about 40 sticks still out there of that, but at $75 a load, ordering wood every 2-3 weeks was not going to be enough.  So, we started cutting small trees from the orchard and pasture by hand.  This involved chopping or hand sawing the tree down then using a hatchet to chop off the smaller limbs, cutting the length of the tree and bigger branches into stove-size pieces and hauling and stacking them on the porch.

We have been able to stretch the dried/split delivered wood MUCH longer this way, but for every 3 days of wood, we were spending about 6 hours cutting and processing.  With all 5 of us working-or just me and the kids when Matt was at work-we could get a fair amount done by hand, considering how much work is involved in cutting wood to begin with.  We kept a stack of green wood at a pretty steady height, but it was a slight concern EVERY load we hauled in to use...we can go through 25 sticks of wood a day when it's below 35.  A small tree might make 10-15 pieces of wood and about that many in smaller pieces from the branches.  We did a steady business of cutting wood the whole time Matt has been off.

Matt's mom told us we could get her old chainsaw looked at and use it if it would still run.  We headed to Garnett's in Hartselle and dropped it off Thursday.  He said it would be early the next week before he would have it looked at.  Matt works until next Friday and we had 4-5 days of wood left on the porch.  We came home and worked the rest of that day on stockpiling more wood-there's a COLD snap coming.  3 days of single digit temps, UGH.  Then right back up to 60.  It's a wonder more of us Alabamians don't drop dead of the weather yoyo's.

Matt got up Friday morning and got right back out there cutting, I was still stumbling around looking for shoes (remember, I act like I have been drugged when I first wake up) and the phone rang. Carl had a chance to look at it and it needed a whole new fuel system and carburetor.  He said repairs would run 'pretty high'.  I said, "How much?"  Thinking anything under $150 would still save us money-that's about as cheap as a 'decent' chainsaw goes for (or 2 more loads of wood, which is about how long a decent chainsaw would last).  He said, "Might be near $70!"  Ack!  Fix that thing already!  I told him our situation and said if he could bump us up some in his queue, it would be REALLY nice to get wood this weekend while Matt's still off.  He said no promises, but called back at noon and it was ready.  WOOT!  We came in for lunch and heard the message.

We ran in and picked it up and got the stuff to make it run and got back home and did more in an hour than we had in 12 by hand.  Matt cut, I gathered, the kids hauled and stacked, we all cleared the downed branches to the burn pile.  In the past 2 days, we have taken down privet, black walnut and false pear trees that were either nuisance (privet, ugh) or in the process of dying or growing near the septic tank field lines or against the base of the barn.  We have 3 full rows of wood cut and stacked on the porch, 8 feet long and 3 feet high!  At least 300 pieces of wood. The wood stove is pumping out heat and the wood rack is full to the brim and wood is stacked in the floor nearby.  We cut down 2 black walnuts the size of telephone poles and left them laying for next weekend.

We plan to head out Friday and scout out more trees.  I know we have enough privet to launch the space shuttle, it smells awful, but it burns.  I don't want to cut any more trees than we have to and we don't want to just cut a swath, either.  There are plenty of trees we can cull without taking out any big trees or leaving any eyesores and still quite a few in the orchard that need to come down anyway.  I have started looking at trees as 'fire calories'.  How much heat will that one make?  Those 300 pieces of wood will last 12 days of true cold or 20 in the usual milder weather we have had so far.  But 12 days of heat for a full day of work is a MUCH better trade-off.

I don't want to do this every winter, we will run out of scrub trees and have to start looking further afield, too.  But for now, it's actually been really nice to all pull together to cut and haul and DO something for ourselves.  We don't farm or have livestock or even grow a bucket with some tomatoes most years, so it's been surprisingly fun to get out in the woods and gather all that stored sunlight to release inside.  :)

Oh, in other Garnett's related news, Beth (who runs the auto shop next door to the lawn and garden shop) was able to get my van back to running fine, AC and all, for under $200.  The belt squeal I was hearing was from low freon.  Learn something every I just need a deal on some tires.  I knew I felt a change in our luck...even the kids are busy right now working on math-at 7 p.m. on a Saturday.  Love homeschooling, it all works out somehow.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Golden Hour

The girls were agreeable to playing around in the pasture while the sun was at a good angle for taking shots.
We had no plan in mind, which put us in a bad position as far as making the time count.  Matt came along and I think his shots are better because they are so much more relaxed and candid.  The girls and I were at odds, not in a bad way, just could not really come up with a good idea beyond, 'let's go take some photos!'
Next time, I will at least bring along a pose guide or look at some shots first so we are all on the same page and not playing the, "I dunno, what do you want to do?" game.

One good thing came of the whole thing, I got to play with my new Holga filters!
And, honestly, it's never wasted time with these two.  They just photograph so well.

Jessie is a little camera shy...

Kuma is SOOOO happy!  It was one of his best days ever with the family in the pasture.  

Our Benny came wandering out.  He's SO handsome, even if I am a little biased, I am not wrong... 

There's a good bit of emotion between these two over how Ben has gotten taller.
They both refer to her as his little sister now.
I don't think she's fully forgiven him yet, though he's only just turned 14-chances are he will grow another few inches.

Best brother ever, 100% recommended! 
Not a bad way to spend the first day of the new year, never hurts to learn a little more and get a little better at a hobby.  Now I am off to brush up on more hobby skills!  Reading!  :)

Happy New Year!