Even though we use a fairly traditional and structured curriculum for our homeschool, every once in a while it is gratifying to see the children follow a whim and catch a glimpse of self-directed learning.

Most Tuesdays, we visit our local library.  Everyone looks for books to check out, and the three youngest children attend the story time.  Usually the children’s librarian reads a few stories and then has a craft or other hands-on activity.  The theme last week was “Animals in Winter”, so the children came home with toilet paper tubes covered with peanut butter and bird seed.  They were excited to hang them in our neighbor’s dogwood tree which we can see from the dining room window.  The next morning, it was a sweet sight to see them all gathered around the window gazing at the birds that were tasting the new treats.  They were able to identify chickadees, but there was another type of bird whose identity we were not sure.  I thought maybe they were gold finches in their winter plumage; but our oldest, the seventh grader, pointed out that these birds had crests on their heads.  So he began to pour over two field guides for birds.  We finally concluded the bird in question must be the tufted titmouse.  Next thing I knew, he had a notebook and a pencil by the window and was drawing the birds he saw and writing down their names.  He proceeded to get out a bird feeder he had made during the summer at Vacation Bible School, put a bun in it, and hang it in the tree with the tube feeders his siblings had hung.  Then our youngest, who is in first grade, decided he would try his hand at drawing a bird from the field guide.  For several days at various times, the children could be seen peering out the window looking for visitors to the feeders.

Today, after our oldest finished with his Science reading about birds and their wings, he began to lay out yardsticks and rulers on the floor.  When I questioned him about what he was doing, he explained he was measuring the distance of the albatross’ wingspan which is approximately 12 feet.  His siblings were quite interested to see his demonstration.  I had to agree, seeing a visualization was quite impressive and made the information more memorable.

Some days schooling can be tedious; but when I see glimpses of the love of learning, it is affirming.  I love to learn, and I want that for our children also.


Preserved Blessings

A few days ago, a friend of mine commented that gardening season would soon be here.  It is true.  Traditionally, here in the mountains peas are planted on February 14; although we do not usually start planting until mid-March.

Although this time of year there is not much gardening or preserving going on, I have done a few things this month.  My seed order has been placed with Fedco.  I am looking forward to trying a few new things including turnips, snap peas, and chard.  My garden plan for around our house is drawn up.  Each year, it is sort of a puzzle to figure out how to rotate crops when you are dealing with small spaces.

The children have been busy cracking black walnuts in the vise and picking out the nut meats.  There was not much of a harvest in the fall, but there are enough nuts to keep them occupied from time to time.

Last week,  it was fun to try something new: rendering beef fat.  We were blessed with some grass-fed beef including about a gallon bag of beef fat.  An internet search found instructions for rendering the fat.  The task was really quite easy and fast, and now I have three small jars of good quality fat to be used when I fry potatoes.  A good sized bowl of cracklin’s was also produced.  I know some people enjoy them as a treat.  I cannot say I liked them very much, but our dog will enjoy a tablespoon each day!

This week, I finally finished cooking off the pumpkins we had been given in the fall.  I froze the pulp in pint containers and should have enough for at least a year, maybe longer.  We enjoy muffins, cookies, and bars made from the pumpkin.  I recently tried a pumpkin baked-oatmeal recipe which was delicious.  The roasted pumpkin seeds make a great snack.  I have tried seasoning them with a bit of salt, Italian seasoning, or cinnamon.  The roasted seeds are good in a trail mix made with Wheat chex, raisins, almonds, and a few chocolate chips.

This is the season to enjoy the fruits of your preserving.  It is a blessing to be able to go to the freezer and pull out vegetables such as green beans, onions, peas, tomatoes, corn, and cabbage to make soup or a casserole or to heat for a vegetable.  In making soup, I crumble in dried parsley and plantain.  A cup of tea with dried mint warms me on a cold day.  The children bring up from the cellar potatoes we harvested from our garden.  We are enjoying canned peaches, pears, and applesauce and jam and pickles that were preserved in the summer and fall.  To make muffins, I pull out a container of frozen zucchini or pumpkin.  Frozen strawberries are great in smoothies, and blackberries make delicious fruit crumbles.

I am looking forward to gardening again, but for now I will enjoy being in a warm house and cooking and baking with that which God has blessed us.

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014 was a contrast of clamor and quiet, joy and sickness, light-hearted banter and a glimpse of the sublime.  This was our year to make the long journey to Ontario to visit and celebrate with my husband’s family.  The four children are old enough and have traveled enough through the years to be fairly content riders.  Despite many contacts, we were unable to find someone to keep our dog; so she made the trip also.  Several hours of the Boxcar Children and recorded sermons kept everyone occupied.

My husband has seven siblings, and there are twenty-four grandchildren.   We were grateful and blessed to see all of them at least once while we were in Ontario.  My husband’s parents hosted a pancake lunch for all the grandchildren.  A Dutch tradition is to give each child a chocolate letter of their first initial.  A sweet sight was all twenty-four cousins, ages two through fourteen, gathered around Oma and Pake and waiting eagerly for their letter to be called.  You can imagine the joyful clamor of young voices as they interacted throughout the day.  Our children were a little disappointed that it was a “green” Christmas.  After all, isn’t Canada supposed to have snow?!  But the warmer weather allowed for a different kind of play.  Most of the boys played hockey in the street, and the girls walked back and forth to the park.

Christmas eve, the candles were lit and we listened to records of a Dutch men’s choir singing traditional Christmas carols.  That was the glimpse of sublime for me: experiencing the beautiful harmonies in the company of loved ones on a quiet Christmas evening.

personal pics 2118

Unfortunately sickness struck.  It seems every year, when we are traveling during the winter months, we manage to contract a stomach virus.  I blame it on extra sugar, but who knows?  Early Christmas morning, three of our children were sick.  My husband came down with it later in the day.  Several of the extended family were sick as well.  Thankfully, the symptoms moved on pretty quickly.  The three sick ones and I stayed home from church.  I was disappointed to miss it, but it could not be helped.

For lunch, many of the family gathered for turkey, ham, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and more.  The atmosphere was once again full of light-hearted banter.

Before we left Canada, we made a brief stop at Niagara Falls.  The children had not been there previously.  The majesty and power of the Falls speak of the glory of our Creator God.

personal pics 2119

After our view of the Falls, we drove down to Pennsylvania to visit with my family for a few days.  The highlight for the children and their two cousins seemed to be running to the back field of the farm multiple times to gather ears of field corn that had been left behind by the combine.  They found an old-fashioned grinder and proceeded to fill several buckets with corn meal.  It was interesting to observe how much effort they put into the task when it was their idea!  They suggested I bring some corn meal home to make cornbread.  The meal is a little course, but one of these days, I will have to try it.

I am thankful for the lovely time we had reconnecting with family over the Christmas holiday time.  Some day we will look back with fond memories of time spent together.