Friday, May 30, 2014

Homeschooling help

A reader named Ben left a comment that I wanted everyone to see and to which they can respond. Ben writes:

I really like your blog and your views on home schooling. My wife and I are really interested in home schooling our sons down here in Southern California but we're not sure where to start with choosing a curriculum, etc. Any resources or advice you or your other readers could give would be really appreciated. Thank you for all you do!

Ben, I would like to address your attention to two blog posts which you may find helpful:

Homeschooling on One Income

Our Homeschooling Resources

Be sure to read the comments, since that's where a lot of valuable reader input can be found.

And now, dear readers, without knowing the ages of Ben's sons (hopefully he'll chime in and let us know), let's give him a hand and offer him some general advice. The more homeschoolers, the merrier!

Eleven Skills Your Great-Grandparents Had That You Don’t

Reader Charlie sent me the latest blog post from entitled 11 Skills Your Great-Grandparents Had That You Don’t.

It starts by saying, "Our parents and grandparents may shake their heads every time we grab our smart phones to get turn-by-turn directions or calculate the tip. But when it comes to life skills, our great-grandparents have us all beat. Here are some skills our great-grandparents had 90 years ago that most of us don’t."

These skills were:

1. Courting

2. Hunting, fishing, foraging

3. Butchering

4. Bartering

5. Haggling

6. Darning and mending

7. Corresponding by mail

8. Making lace

9. Lighting a fire without matches

10. Diapering with cloth

11. Writing with a fountain pen

Smart people, our great-grandparents.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The times, they are a-changin'

It first hit home when Older Daughter was about six years old.

We had an errand to a stationary store (this was back when we lived in Oregon) run by an older gentleman. The front of the store, including the windows facing the street, was a sort of museum to office supplies over the last few decades – oak filing cabinets, vintage paper embossers, century-old typewriters, wooden desk sets, that kind of thing. We were passing through this room when Older Daughter pointed at something and asked, “What’s that?”

“That” was an IBM Selectric II typewriter, the classic workhorse of electric typewriters, the kind of typewriter every secretary in America once had (myself included) because it worked so beautifully.

And I suddenly realized Older Daughter, at the tender age of six, had never seen a typewriter.

In other words, the world was changing.

A couple of weeks ago Don and I had a conversation along those lines. Five hundred years ago, things were passed from father to son to grandson – or mother to daughter to granddaughter – and the items were still as useful and functional as they were upon first ownership. Tools didn’t change that fast. Techniques didn’t change that fast. An improvement in a tool or technique might come at a pace of a few during a lifetime.

Now they come at a pace of a few per week. I realize this sounds like the classic generation gap lament of someone for whom the world is passing by too quickly, but unquestionably the world of tools and technology and techniques is vastly different for today’s youth than when I was younger. And the change is happening so fast that young people profess to be bored within moments. “[C]onsumers admit to already being impatient for the next big thing. The honeymoon period for a new gadget is four months, with users confessing that boredom sets in beyond that," notes an article on "smart homes." "[A] quarter of consumers claimed they were bored within just four weeks, eager to upgrade as their friends and colleagues got newer phones.”

The irony of typing this rant on a laptop while posting it to a blog doesn’t escape me. But I learned to type back in 1976 on a manual typewriter, where I excelled in my class by quickly achieving a dazzling 35 words per minute. When I discovered an electric typewriter, where keys did not have to be punched so hard and the manual keys wouldn’t clump up as they struck the page (remember that?), then my speed soared to 110 words per minute. My girls have never used a manual typewriter (except once or twice in a hands-on museum) and, except for that one time in the stationary store, have never seen an electric typewriter.

Nor can they conceive of life before the internet. Literally, it’s unfathomable for them. And once a neighbor boy, when he was about twelve, asked Younger Daughter, “What’s film?” when she mentioned a camera. What kind of technology is in store just within the next ten years? And – here’s the big question – will this technology make life better?

That's the most disturbing and puzzling question. These days, young people are frighteningly savvy about electronics. But are they smarter? Wiser? Better read? More observant? More intelligent? Kinder? Can they "do" for themselves, or do they need an "app" for everything?

There’s no question modern marvels are just that, marvelous. I love my laptop. I adore my digital pocket camera. I’m just as enamored of the internet as the next person.

Yet I wanted to raise our children learning old-fashioned values. The love of God, the love of spouse, the ethics of hard work, the value of honesty… these are things that transcend technology and are timeless. In a modern world, we desperately need those antiquated truths.

We also wanted to limit their exposure to the “new” before they’d had a chance to experience the “old.” We never got television reception because we wanted the kids to develop an imagination. We never got smart phones because we didn’t think they were necessary for everyday living, and we didn’t want a couple of zombie kids staring at a tiny screen while they walked into walls and off cliffs. (Don and I each have a basic cell phone, which is only turned on if we’re traveling.) A couple of years ago, the girls earned enough money to purchase their own laptops and now enjoy the wonders of the internet, but at least we were able to stave off the slavish devotion to computer screens through their childhood when brain development is so crucial. And we have instilled in both girls a passionate love of books. (Not ebooks – books.)

And whether they claim to like it or not, our girls at least know where their food comes from. They’ve watched cows give birth and steers get butchered. They’ve watered the garden and gathered berries and dug potatoes. They’d raised chicks and collected eggs. They know how to heat with wood and cook from scratch.

The world may develop shinier new stuff, but it can never take away the wonders of baby calves or the elemental necessity of processing meat on the hoof. There isn’t an “app” for that, thank God.

In many respects, I miss the old days. I wonder if the girls will too, someday.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

High spirits

One morning last week, I went out to feed the animals in the bull pen. As I stepped outside, I heard the bull bellowing in what sounded like alarm. And from the field where the rest of the herd was pastured, I heard the sound of thundering hooves and bellows from multiple animals.

Stuff like this always leads to a clutch of fear for any farmer, because the first thought is what kind of predator might be wreaking havoc. I dashed over to the garden fence and saw the entire herd -- including such tranquil beasts as Matilda -- galloping madly across the field.

But nothing was chasing them. They were playing! The whole herd was playing tag with a magpie!

(It's because of moments like this, incidentally, that I try never to step foot outside without my camera in my pocket. You never know what will happen.)

The herd galloped after the magpie up to the corner of the pasture and stopped to pant.

Then the magpie swooped low and landed on the grass a distance away, and they were off again, chasing it.

(The magpie is in the bottom left corner of the photo.)

When the cattle got close, the magpie would soar away and land somewhere else, and the critters would change direction and chase after it. (Magpie in lower left corner.)

Here the magpie landed on the grass (center left) and the herd paused, panting, to watch it.

Then, using whatever silent decision-making process livestock use, they decided en masse that they were done playing, and came up to get a drink of water and assure the bull they weren't hurt.

Nothing more than sheer high spirits... apparently shared by the magpie.

Monday, May 26, 2014

New bird

We have a new visitor around our place: an evening grosbeak.

I first figured this out a couple days ago when I kept hearing a loud, harsh cheep call. It sounded so much like the loud, single-note distress call of a baby chick that I went outside to see if a chick had gotten out of the coop. But the call was coming from up a large pine tree. I saw a bird flitting around and tried to view it through binoculars, but no luck.

Early this morning, just after dawn, the same call sounded near the barn, so I grabbed the binoculars again and stepped outside.

Into my view came the most beautiful showy bird.

I'd never seen an evening grosbeak before, and they're lots prettier than the rather dull entry in my bird identification book implies.

I snuck into the barn and literally took these photos through a knothole (at maximum zoom) so I wouldn't disturb him (which is why they're blurry when cropped).

Nice having new visitors!

A somber reminder

On this Memorial Day, I'd like to draw your attention to a set of remarkable photos taken a few years ago by a reader (Katie) and her husband, who were formerly stationed in Germany. Katie learned that Don's uncle, Donald Sowers, who was killed in World War II, was buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Liege, Belgium. She and her family visited the cemetery and sent these photos.

Just recently a reader named Kathy left the following moving comment on that blog post which I wanted to share:

I searched for 2 years to find my mother's first husband Harold Norris, killed 4/4/44 @ 2:04 PM over Romania. I received a photo of his grave from Belgium and walked over to my mother's home and said, "Mom where is Harold buried?" She said, "New Jersey". I said, "Mom, sit down, we need to talk."

Her mouth dropped open when she learned that her first husband was buried in Belgium! He has been there for (then) 65 years. All I started with was his purple heart, his name and service number. It has lead me down a path filled with new compassionate friends and a new understanding of the word sacrifice. Harold was an airman, navigator and top turret gunner. His plane the Miasis Dragon was shot down after delivering a fatal blow to an oil refinery in Bucharest Romania. The plane was hit at the waist by a land-to-air missile. The plane nose dipped, the pilot pulled it up, then it went nose-over-tail to the earth in a fireball. 4 crew were "carbonized" and were buried together in one grave by Romanian Monks. Later, in 1949, with dental records my mother provided, the US was able to locate his remains from the others and he was buried for the 9th and final time in Ardennes. The other 3 airmen are still together buried in the US.

One of the beautiful things I noticed was that each man's life is symbolized with a marble cross. They all worked and sacrificed as a group and from above, all of their individual crosses make up a larger cross. This collective larger cross can only be seen by people in airplanes and God. 3/5ths of the graves hold the remains from airmen who lost their is to those who fly that the larger cross is visible...a beautiful way to honor them.

The other thing I learned in 2010: the people of Belgium, France and other countries meet and honor our heroes. At Ardennes in 2010, there was approximately 100,000 people present, not many were from the USA. It seems that in life, we considered these men to belong to us, but in their death, the European people consider that these men belong to them, whom they thank and honor every year. Most graves have been adopted. Harold's grave was adopted many years ago and now the lady who adopted his grave is teaching her young grand daughter to care for it. She obviously does not want her grand daughter to forget the gratitude she has for the men who lost their lives saving hers.

I wrote to a man who was age 7 when the bombs were falling on to his town. He was scared and saw more than a 7 year old should see. He remembers the American forces and he remembers liberation. For those who know what happened, who saw the cruelty and oppression, who had no hope, our US Military saved them, their children and their grand children. The maximum gift was given, freedom was restored at a great price, those receiving the gift are grateful....and other airmen and God can see their collective cross, a memorial for their sacrifice, from the air. This has put many things in perspective for me...I hope it will for you too. --Kathy


A mighty "thank you" to our past and present veterans, whose sacrifices too many of us are willing to overlook, dismiss, or forget.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Retirement strategy

I came across this comment on an article entitled 25% of Americans Saving 0% for Retirement, as follows:

Here is a new definition for saving for retirement:

1) Pay of all debts.
2) Tear up all credit cards.
3) Buy a piece of land and put a house on it, that you can afford on minimum wage (add on later). For sale by owner doesn't require the bank or credit checks.
4) Make sure that land has a good well and space for a garden and some fruit trees (definitely not in CA!). If the well water has tannins and sulfur in it, set up a rain barrel or other system for drinking.
5) Stock up on enough canning jars to provide food for your family for two years minimum. Can everything you can get your hands on. Your biggest investments will be in a pressure canner.
6) Get off all processed foods so that you stay in decent health and because you are under extreme stress, take butt loads of fish oil and vitamin B Complex Super Potency and don't take the krill oil it's full of poisons.
7) Learn to raise some of your own livestock. miniature goats, chickens, rabbits, etc.
8) Learn to pray and seek God as if your life depends upon it because it does. God provides when there doesn't seem to be a way. I've seen it time and time again.

You can do all of this on 1 or 2 acres. I bought, on minimum wage, a 3 BR mobile with 1 1/2 BA on 1.35 acres with fruit trees, a washer, an upright freezer and a double carport and paid it off in seven years.

I saved up for that place with change I kept sticking in a creamer jar. Yes, I saved for a down payment on a house with change.

What NOT to do:

• Don't eat out.
• Don't get cable or satellite and all of those non essential gadgets that eat up your wealth.
• Don't buy new if you can find it used.
• Learn to cook from scratch. Not only is it cheaper but it is healthier.
• Don't go into debt for new cars, expensive houses, expensive clothes, jewelry, gold or silver.

When things go belly up, whatever doesn't get traded within the first couple of weeks will be worthless because food and medicine will become more valuable than anything. You can't eat gold!


I found this to be an interesting comment because, to a large extent, it's the method Don and I have used throughout our productive years. Most peoples' strategy as they grow older has been to earn more; our strategy has been to spend less.

Or are we crazy?

Friday, May 23, 2014

What kind?

Ever since a drone flew overhead last summer on a rare occasion when I didn't have my camera in my pocket, I've been kicking myself for the lost opportunity to photograph this sky-borne menace. Because of that incident, now it's not unusual for me to snap shots of aircraft that aren't immediately identifiable... y'know, just in case.

So this morning Don and I were working in the garden when a loud droning sounded. I found and snapped a photo of the aircraft, not thinking much about it at the time.

But when I saw the photo and cropped it, I was startled by the unusual profile, with uptilted wingtips.

It was fairly distant so I can't attest to the size, though my impression was that it wasn't a jet (despite its looks). We heard a "motor" sound of a small plane, not the whine of a jet, so your guess is as good as mine.

Any aircraft aficionados out there who can identify this baby?

Chick quarters

Our baby chicks were getting way too big for their box.

Plus the house stank. Plus Don's allergies were kicking in. It sure doesn't take these guys long to transition from adorable blobs of fluff to annoying housemates. Bottom line, it was time to get these kids into the coop.

Fortunately we already have an interior cage inside the coop, so it was a simple matter to add a heat bulb to the lamp, get some fresh food and water and a nice clean floor of straw, and put the babies in. Took fifteen minutes, tops.

At first they huddled together, terrified at their new circumstances.

But within a few minutes they were cautiously stretching their legs (and necks), exploring their new surroundings.

This little lady settled right in and relaxed.

Within a couple of days, it was as if their old box had never existed. Everyone was calm and cozy.

We'll keep them inside this inner pen for another couple of weeks, a month at most, before introducing them into the big wide world. Meanwhile it's good to have them out of the house... which now smells much better.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A frantic merry-go-round of work

I apologize for not having anything profound on the blog lately, but we're involved in a frantic merry-go-round of work.

We have numerous outstanding tankard orders, so we're making stock as fast as we can.

We're also racing the clock to get the garden infrastructure ready for planting. This includes laying tarp, putting down gravel, cutting tractor tires, moving them into place, filling them with dirt/compost/sand, and getting an irrigation system up and running. Oh, and planting as well. I've been taking pictures as we do this and one of these days I'll compile them into a massive blog post, but at the moment I'm too busy and too pooped to get around to it. It must be spring!

So thank you for your patience and please stand by until we can get off the merry-go-round.

The Thrifty Housewife blog

The blogger who runs The Thrifty Housewife blog asked to exchange links. I visited her site and am very impressed! Definitely a worthwhile blog to check out, and most welcome on my link exchange.

City folks visiting

We've had a couple of city folks visiting us lately: a pair of pigeons.

We've never seen pigeons around here before, but suddenly these two showed up and have been hanging around the barn and on the roof of the house.

In fact they've started building a nest in the rafters of the barn.

Pigeons are rare to the point of nonexistent in rural areas, so why these two should suddenly show up and show an inclination to nest in our barn is anyone's guess.

We've decided they're prepper pigeons and are building a rural bugout. Y'know, just in case.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Books? We ain't got no stinkin' books!

As you doubtless know, we love books. We collect books. At last count (four years ago) we owned over 5000 of them.

WND columnist Barbara Simpson, it turns out, is as much a book aficionado as we are. I learned this after reading her column last week entitled Books? We Ain't Got No Stinkin' Books! I enjoyed this column so much I asked permission to post it in its entirety here.

So without further ado (and because we've been having a busy streak and I haven't had time to post anything clever of my own...) --

Books? We Ain't Got No Stinkin' Books
by Barbara Simpson

I admit it. I’m a book nut.

I love them and have since I was a kid.

I love browsing among them, handling them, reading them and keeping them.

I could read by age 3; going to the library with my mother was a regular pastime. As I got older, I went myself and browsed the shelves, each title stimulating my imagination. By seventh grade, I’d read every single science-fiction book they had!

When my family went to New York City, one of our favorite evening pastimes was to visit one of the massive bookstores such as the Strand, Scribner’s or Barnes and Noble.

Our whole family would split up, each going to their favorite sections until hunger or closing time got to us. It was wonderful, and we didn’t even have to buy anything! It was magical.

Books and reading have always been that to me, but the world has changed.

News reports this week told of the financial problems facing Barnes and Noble. It seems issues of bad management decisions, the growth of the Internet and technology and changing consumer choices have added up to a financial hit.

Several estimates are that by the end of the year, B&N may well be gone from the retail scene.

I remember when Borders went bankrupt in 2011. I felt as though a friend had died.

But it’s a bigger problem.

Used bookstores are disappearing too, at a record pace. Where I live, virtually every one, some which had been in business for decades, is gone.

And that affects another business.

A man who deals in used books told me last week that his business is fast disappearing. He buys books from estates and individuals, but now he has fewer and fewer places to sell them.

Schools and libraries don’t want them – they have limited shelf space, but in fact, many are converting “real” books to electronic books so shelf space isn’t needed.

My county library system last year had a gigantic book give-away. All the excess books from all the branches plus all the books donated to the library by citizens were available at one location over a weekend. Come and get ‘em! They were free. I resisted going.

After that, all were shredded.

It’s a tragedy and a reflection of dramatic cultural changes.

People are reading less; they’re too impatient to read a whole book; and those who do read are using electronic books so hard copies are useless to them.

These are probably the same people who prefer the Internet to the daily newspaper delivered to their home.

As a result, publishers are printing fewer books. In addition, the growth of print-on-demand as well as the ease of self-publishing are making actual hardcover books an anachronism.

Another trend making “real” books disappear is that schools are focusing on electronic books and eliminating real textbooks for students.

They read bowdlerized versions of classics and don’t know what they’re missing.

Ultimately, it means that the history and beauty of the written word and their meanings will be lost to the future. They won’t be able to read or write.

I began this piece with admitting my love of books, and there’s one other admission I have: One of the hardest things for me is getting rid of books.

Second to that is getting rid of magazines.

As you might surmise, one of the biggest challenges in my life is trying to keep my library from forcing me out of the house!

When I came to Northern California for my new job anchoring the news for KTVU-2, I arrived with 36 boxes of books to move into a lovely home that didn’t have a single bookcase!

I couldn’t imagine anyone having no bookcases, so I did something about it.

I had some built in my den and bought some freestanding ones for other rooms.

That worked for a while until, like Topsy, my collection grew. It didn’t help that later I worked for years in talk radio and had access to hundreds of new books and authors willing to be interviewed.

So I had more bookcases built and got more separate units.

Then I realized I’d reached the limit of the house so into the garage I went, but ultimately that had limits. After all I had to leave room for the car!

Eventually, books spilled out into halls, closets and piles adjacent to every bed!

I was, and am, surrounded with the printed word. Despite donations and some sales, I’ve realized that I’m drowning in books, whether I love them or not!

A friend told me years ago that he’s also a book lover. His solution was (and is) to keep a separate apartment just for his books!

I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.

He told me his wife put her foot down about having hundreds of books in their house!

At the time, I thought a separate book apartment was silly.

I’ve changed my mind. I realize he’s absolutely right.

I’d do it too, if only I could afford it.

In the meantime, don’t trip on that book.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Greener pastures

It was time to move the cattle from the wooded side of the property (their winter quarters, since they have access to the barn awning for shelter and feeding) to the pasture side, which is now lush with grass.

But we had a few adjustments to make first. Our remaining herd matron, Jet, and her calf Tarter, had been in with Samson, our bull, all winter. The reason for this is because Tarter is a steer and thus wouldn't tempt Samson's hormones (putting a young heifer in with Samson for the winter would guarantee a much-too-early teenage pregnancy).

The question was, who would be Samson's new pen-mate? We decided upon Shadow.

Shadow, if you recall, was the cow who lost her calf a year ago. We thought she was bred and due a few weeks ago, so we separated her and tucked her in the barn; but nothing happened, so apparently she wasn't pregnant and we let her rejoin the herd.

So it looks like Shadow may be barren. The question is, is it worth keeping a barren cow around?

Actually, yes. Samson will always require a pen-mate, and if it's the wrong time of year to breed a cow (if we don't want a calf born in the middle of winter), then Shadow's usefulness can be in keeping Samson company until we want another cow bred.

So we had to let Jet out of the bull pen, and put Shadow in. The question was, which one is Shadow? She has a virtual twin (Sparky) and it's almost impossible to tell these ladies apart.

So one day I happened to notice a bunch of critters relaxing in the corral, including Shadow and Sparky. And I actually had a smart idea (a rarity).

The animals were quiet and calm, so I grabbed a can of spray paint and sprayed one of the cows' rumps. I didn't care which one -- I'd figure that out later -- but meanwhile at least one of the "twins" was marked. (Dark blue spray paint wasn't the greatest color to use on a black cow, but it was all we had.)

The marked animal turned out to be Shadow, barely distinguishable from Sparky because of a few white hairs scattered on her nose.

So we scooted Jet and Tarter out of the bull pen, and pushed Shadow in. Here Samson investigates the relevant end.

However, with Jet and Tarter now rejoining the herd, we didn't push the animals down into the pasture for a couple of days. The reason is, we wanted Jet to get a chance to readjust from dry grass hay to fresh green grass. We've been tossing small amount of lawn clippings into the bull pen to get her system primed, but if we overwhelmed her with too much green grass all at once, she'd bloat.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), the wooded side of the pasture was pretty much eaten down. This was good for Jet and Tarter. They got some greenery, but not too much at once. (We were still "token" feeding the animals grass hay morning and evening to supplement their grazing.)

Now compare this to the lush grass in the pasture, and you'll understand why bloat is a possibility.

So Jet (with the horns) grazed with the herd on the eaten-down side of the property for two or three days.

(Notice all the yearling calves sniffing at her.)

While Jet and Tarter were adjusting their digestion, Don did some work on the fence that divided the pasture in half. It had taken a beating over the years, and needed a tremendous amount of repair work.

Our goal is to be able to rotate the cattle between two sides of the pasture and the woods (three locations total) throughout the summer, causing less stress on the pasture and providing better foraging for the beasties.

When a few days passed and neither Jet nor Tarter suffered any ill effects from fresh grazing, we decided it was Moving Day. First we tied a cattle panel (sometimes called a hog panel) on the back side of the bull pen. Until it dries out enough that we can scoop away a winter's worth of compacted hay and manure, the elevation on this side of the pen is high enough that the bull could easily jump with the right incentive. (And the right incentive would be seeing all his ladies heading away from his august presence.)

I walked down and closed the driveway gate (in case of wayward calves), then started calling "Bossy bossy bossy bossy BOSSY!" That's our universal cattle call, and everyone knows what it means. Immediately the animals began heading toward the feed lot.

As they came in, Don opened the gate.

In no time flat, we had critters pouring through and high-tailing it around the back side of the barn where the pasture gate is located. They know the routine!

The animals literally kicked up their heels as they ran, they were so excited.

They took every opportunity to snatch mouthfuls of the tender grass as they went.

But soon enough we got them all shooed into the field, and closed the gate.

Samson, as you can imagine, was pretty unhappy to see his girls disappear. He was vocal about it for a few hours.

So was Shadow. But they settled down when they realized they could still see the other critters, since the water tank is close by.

But our job wasn't quite finished yet. First we put a bloat block out in the field to prevent the cows (especially Jet and Tarter) from bloating up on too much greenery. (Bloat block is something like a bovine Pepto Bismol).

It's got molasses in it, so Jet went for it right away. (She's also had no bloating issues at all since being in the pasture.)

We also got a water tank moved and filled.

We've hardly heard a peep from the critters in the last three days.

Here's Rosy and Dusty. They're almost identical in appearance except for color. Very cute.

Polly and Petunia.

Yes, we have some happy cows. Must be spring.