August 2012

Excuse my rambling for a moment….it’s a picture of how my mind is working at the moment!

A few eves ago, S and I sat down to discuss the next year’s events.  We had our calendars out so we could see how things lined up.  Long story, short, we set a moving date!!  He will move the kids and I to Red Gate Farm in mid-May.  It is such a bitter-sweet feeling.  After almost 8 years of planning and dreaming and working our tails off to prep the farm, the time is almost here!  That is a thrillingly sweet feeling.  At the same time, S will not be officially retiring until later, and therefore will not be moving with us, visiting as often as he can.  That is the bitter part.

My brain is just in a frenzy now, and my soul a roller coaster of emotions.  Happiness, dread, excitement, fear, anxiety, nervousness, joy, elation, sadness, etc.  Many of those emotions come with any move–sadness over leaving friends behind, nervousness at establishing your family in a new place, excitement at what the future might hold, and so on.  It’s just intensified with this move.

At the same time, I can’t for a moment deny how blessed we are.  For starters, we have established relationships with many of our neighbors there, and even with a church we attend each time we visit.  There are people I could call on for any need, which is such an incredible relief!  I’ve even had offers of babysitting from folks at the church should I need it on occasion.  The entire neighborhood is awesome at watching out for each other, and each neighbor knows every other neighbor by name.

On the other hand, I’m trying to not even think about the tarantula-like wolf spiders that lurk there.  Perhaps I can bribe the children to kill them for me?  Nah, who am I kidding?!…those things are terrifying!

So, you might be asking why we would move before S actually retires?  Well, here’s the deal…There are many reasons.  First, health is an issue.  Little N doesn’t have nose bleeds, and his asthma may improve back in the humidity.  A needs a good medical team that can follow him, without concern of PCS’ing (moving military) doctors.  The farm is becoming quite a burden on our care takers (S’s mom and brother) and is beginning to have some “neglect” issues.  We can grow more of our own healthy and affordable food, which benefits all of us, but especially N, A, and me with my diabetes.  Furthermore, the selling of our CO house was a big deal.  We don’t want to wait until retirement, and then be stuck with an empty house here to deal with.  We also need to free up the cash sunk into this house, so we can further improve Red Gate, not to mention buy the truck and trailer we need to move our critters back east.  We have set up a website, if you know anyone who is interested in moving to CO. Selling now by owner, and leasing back until next year would be our ideal.  If not, though, we will list on the MLS with our realtor in March, in order to take advantage of the real estate market, the incoming military moving season, and increase the chances of selling in a timely manner.  We considered waiting until the house actually sold to move, but there were several problems with that.  If we wound up with a closing date in summer, my high-desert-conditioned animals would really struggle and be stressed with a move to high heat-and humidity in the worst time of year.  Here, the summer temps seldom hit 90*, the humidity rarely goes over 10%, the animals never fully lose their winter coats, and they have never seen a lush pasture!  It is likely the honey bees would die en-route, and the goats milk supply would decrease significantly, if not dry up completely, due to the stress involved.  If we had a closing in fall, S can’t take enough time off work for helping move, so I would be stuck moving all the kids, all the animals, and the furnishings on my own.  If we waited until winter, we’re stuck paying CO hay prices AGAIN (currently around $14/per 60 pound bale of hay).  We also can’t move sooner, as S will not be able to get his official retirement moving orders until at least April or early May (the military pays for the move if we wait until we have orders).  There was one other issue, which I’d rather not mention in cyberspace, but suffice it to say, God recently blessed us tremendously with a perfect answer!  We decided it was easier to set a date and go for it.

Now, with a date set, we have started preps.  We bought enough hay to get us through the winter and up to our move date, with a just enough left over to help wean the animals over once we arrive.  We are rationing our meat supplies so we can try to avoid having to purchase any meat.  I have started the search for someone to take over my organic food co-op that I host.  We are preparing for the first of probably 2 yard sales, through which we hope to cut waaaaay down on furnishings and clutter (I hope to get rid of all baby stuff, and all “temporary-and-don’t-care-if-it-gets-damaged-during-a-PCS” type stuff purchased over the years).  JR has started deciding which rabbits he wants to move (we have limited him to 3-4 for breeding), and is selling the rest.  S has scheduled a time this winter where he will travel back to the farm to cut more lumber and start building animal structures.  I will travel back in the spring to do some more last minute projects.  Then, before we know it, May will be here.  WOW!

So now, I have to figure out the answer to 2 silly questions I just can’t decide on.  Perhaps you readers and experienced farmers can offer some advice or suggestions.  Both will affect what and how we build our structures…

First, do I take a few laying hens with me?  I am still debating whether to sell all our laying hens and just start over when we get there (which would leave us without eggs for about 6 months), or take a few hens with us to get us through until a new batch is ready (but would the stress cause them to quit laying and/or molt?)

Secondly, where do I put the milk stand?  That may seem a silly question, and it is pretty trivial, but I am curious what you think.  You see, here in CO, we seldom have rain, and I think I have only milked in my shed during a thunderstorm, once in 2 milking seasons.  Shoot, this summer, I think we’ve only had what could be considered “rain” twice since April!  So, since we are going to be using an intensive, rotational grazing system back at the farm, do we build a portable milk-shed to move along with the goats, in which case, I would likely wind up trudging out to it, and sitting in it during mid-west thunderstorms (I assume the goats would prefer this option, as it would mean less walking in the rain), or do I set up the milk room in the barn, which means I would have to trudge out through several acres of pasture, and back, at least twice (to get the goats and then to take them back out) during a thunderstorm?  I can’t decide which would be less risky and/or more comfortable?

Guess that’s it for now!  We’ll see if all works out as planned, as every military family knows that NOTHING is guaranteed!

All of our children have graduated from a crib to a regular bed (albeit lowered a bit) around 18 months of age.  I was delaying doing so with R, as she is the first toddler I’ve had to train who didn’t have a room of her own.  She had other plans, however, and around 18 months, she learned how to climb out of the crib.  A few scoldings later, and we compromised with her staying in the crib…..most of the time.  I knew I had no choice.  If I was going to be hanging around outside her door anyway, I might as well be training her to a big girl bed–of sorts.

There was only one problem…I didn’t have a bed to move her into.  Since we are moving next year, I decided to delay a bed purchase until after we moved.  Which left me having no choice but to convert her crib into a toddler bed of sorts by removing the front rail.  It worked like a charm.  Amazingly, after the conversion, she hardly ever gets up without permission.  It’s as though she knows she CAN escape if she wants, and she is happy with that, so she stays put!  Go figure.  I should have done it 2 months ago!

So now, for the first time, I am officially done with cribs, and have no idea if I will ever use one again.  This is the first time in 7 years that I’ve had a 19 month old, and no pregnancy or pending adoption foretelling of a new babe to come.  Totally bittersweet!

My little baby is growing up! (But she’s still cute as all get out!)

As a side note, I often get asked how we train our children to a bed so young.  Here’s how:

First we move them to their bed in the middle of the day (usually afternoon so their first time in it is at night).  We make a big, excited deal about it, put them in it, and talk about it.  Then, if they want to play for awhile on it, they can, if not, that’s fine too.  I don’t really worry about it again until bedtime that eve.  Then, at bedtime, we follow their normal routine, lay them in bed, put their covers over them, and walk away–just like we do when they are in a crib.  Then, unbeknownst to them, one of us stands outside the door peeking in  for a while.  As soon as their feet hit the floor, we quietly and calmly walk in, pick them up, and place them back in bed.  I have only had to do this a handful of times with R, but some of my other children were 10 times an evening for a week or more.  The key is to give no reward.  We don’t hold, cuddle, or converse.  If we say anything, it’s something simple like “Go night-night.”  Then we repeat the process until it is clear they are done trying to escape.  After about a week, we will progress to actual discipline if necessary.  Most of our children haven’t required too much of that step though, as they figured out pretty quickly that there is no fun gained from getting up.  For the record, we go through the same steps at nap times, but naps can be a bit more of a challenge since there is often more light coming in the windows.  Committing to hang around outside the door and act immediately seems to be the key.  I guess they just begin either to assume that you are watching, or that you have some 6th sense and just know when they get up.  Then, they just quit getting up.  At least that’s essentially what my kiddos did, though some just took a bit longer than others.

When they wake up after nap or in the morning, they are free to get up and play in their room (which has been child-proofed), but they may NOT come out of their room, lest they wake everyone in the house at 4 a.m.  Typically a simple baby gate or latched door will ensure this.

It’s really simple as that.  It can be a trying time, depending on how obedient you have taught your children to be by this point, but it has worked for us for 5 kids, and I love being able to let the toddlers feel like their big brothers and sister.  It also allows a lot more flexibility when staying with others or in a hotel!  No porta-crib needed!

This year, we decided to raise and process all our chickens in one batch, for the most part.  Poor S butchered so many last year, but they were all spread out, which was really quite a pain to deal with.  So now, we are almost overrun with chickens–primarily roosters!

We have spent the summer raising about 40 roosters for meat.  At our altitude and low oxygen levels, the standard cornish-rock hybrids won’t survive, so we are forced to use more traditional giant-breed type chickens.  This means that, rather than butchering at the normal 6-8 weeks like most meat birds, we have to raise them longer–around 4 months to be exact.  As a result, we have also had to deal with all the typical problems of standard breed roosters–like escaping from the pen to free range, breeding my hens, roosters challenging each other, roosters crowing at all hours of the day and night, etc.  With over 40 of them out there, I am more than ready to introduce them to my freezer.  I have managed to pre-sale about 10 so far, with several more having been requested.  Since I ask a nice price due to their being fed organically and free-ranging and/or housed in movable temp-fencing so they can always forage, the income has definitely helped pay for raising them this year.

To help us out, in a week and a half, we are hosting a community (of sorts) chicken harvest, where folks will be bringing their birds, and we will all work together to get everyone’s processed.  We have been blessed by someone lending us a poultry plucker so we didn’t have to pluck by hand, and we are expecting to harvest almost 100 chickens in total that day.  It will be interesting!

As life would have it, we have been dealing with several health and physical issues for a while now.  I figured it was time for an update.

As you may know, 4-year-old A has been in physical and occupational therapy each week for a few months now.  We never were able to get a definitive diagnosis for his issues, however, the neurologist finally concluded that it was most likely related to drugs used by his birthmother while she was pregnant with him.  The damage caused by the drugs is likely becoming apparent as he ages and begins trying to use the areas of his brain and body most affected.  So, the good news is that his condition most likely will not get any worse.  The bad news is we may not have seen all there is to see damage-wise yet.  The neurologist plans to follow up with him several times a year, and will be referring us to another pediatric neurologist once we move to Red Gate.  He is also trying to refer A for an evaluation by the hospital’s child development department, just to see exactly where he is developmentally.

In terms of his therapy, it is going quite well, I suppose.  The occupational therapist feels that he has progressed enough, and especially with the recent skills of riding a 2-wheeled bike and the extra motor-skill practice he is getting during his daily school session, she is planning to probably only work with him for another month or so.  Physical therapy, on the other hand, while OK, has had some setbacks.  If you recall a few months ago, A went through 12 full weeks of serial casting to re-stretch his leg muscles.  His muscles had begun contracting for unexplained reasons, and his range of motion in his ankles had decreased as a result.  While we know the problem is neurologically-based, we can only assume at this point that is ultimately caused by some of the brain damage done by the drugs.  A normal person’s max angle range is somewhere around 20 degrees.  A’s had decreased to -3 degrees.  Through serial casting, we got him back to around 20.  Now, 2 months later, he has decreased again to 15.  He is also starting to toe-walk again, which is so frustrating to see.  With toe-walking comes increased imbalance, which causes more falls and head injuries.  All that being said, the therapist has ordered AFO’s, or leg braces–one type to wear in the day time, and another type to sleep in.  We hope to get them in another week or two, as they are being custom made.  The braces are supposed to put enough pressure on his muscles to continually stretch his legs out.  The prediction for now is that the neurologist will follow up until he is at least 10 years old, and the AFO’s will likely be used for years to come as well.

Although it is frustrating to have to constantly hear “most likely,” “we can only assume,” or “probably” regarding A’s health and development, I do find a lot of relief in knowing that all our tests came back negative for visible damage or disorders of any sort.  While we will never know exactly what his birthmother used, how often, or how much, we have no choice but to accept it is the most likely fact, and learn to deal with the repercussions, in an attempt to help A grow and develop to his fullest potential.

Three-year-old N is also developing quite well, learning to read, and progressing just like he should be.  For years, however, he has had a bad cough.  We can’t remember exactly when it started, but I do recall him coughing from a cold when he was about 4 months old.  It turned out he had RSV, and was treated accordingly.  It seems he has had a cough ever since.  Since RSV can cause lung damage, it is possibly related.  In any case, when he was around 2, we had an allergy test done, and found out he was allergic to cats and dogs, though neither was a severe allergy.  We did what we could to clean–cleaning out all the vents and the furnace, sterilizing his room, giving him a hypo-allergenic pillow, and making his room off-limits to animals.  Nonetheless, his coughing continued to worsen.  Over the last few months, especially if he cried, played hard, or got excited in any way, it got to the point he would cough so badly that we would have to make him go sit and calm down.

This past week, we took him to the doc again, and he was diagnosed with mild asthma.  During the exam, the doc said he showed a lot of signs of allergies as well, but he couldn’t be sure if the allergies were triggering the asthma, or if we were dealing with 2 seperate issues.  In any case, N is now on two medications–zyrtec for the allergies and flovent inhaler for the asthma.  When he has a coughing spell, we also have to give him albuterol inhaler.  Naturally, I don’t like the idea of medicating him like this one bit, but the doc put him on a minimum dosage, and is hoping that the meds will give his system a break for about a month, allow it to relax, and then try to wean him off one or both.  Granted, he is coughing a lot less already.  We have only had to use the albuterol twice since in 5 days, which I see as progress.  He also isn’t up coughing for hours at night like he was previously.  The doc thinks we may have caught it early enough and that is mild enough that N stands a good chance of outgrowing it.  He also suspects that moving to Red Gate in the midwest, where it is much more humid and lower altitude (aka more oxygen) will help tremendously.

In addition to all the above, both boys are now being followed by a chiropractor as a back-up.  It certainly can’t hurt, and it may help.

Speaking of chiropractor, my tough and rugged hubby has shown some discomfort in his back for a while now, so I finally convinced him to go see my chiro.  Turns out, a previous injury from a bike accident (the pedal kind) appears to have fractured one of his vertebrae, which has calcified.  There were a few other kinks in his spine, neck, and pelvis as well, but  he is going to follow-up a couple times to try to get everything lined up properly again before much more damage is done.

Never a dull moment around here, and as always, in each of these cases, only God knows when, and only time will tell how it winds up.  We’re just hangin’ on for the ride!

This past weekend, we decided to do a kind deed for good friends.  These friends have 5 children and one on the way, and spent the latter half of last week moving from the city to the country, so they could try out farm life.  After many moves ourselves, we knew they were exhausted, so we made arrangements with the hubby to surprise the wife.  I made dinner that afternoon, and around 4:30, we showed up at their house, where the wife was unpacking still.  After she got over the initial shock, we kicked them out the door, and proceeded to figure out how to run a household with 10 children under about 12 years old.  Thankfully, their sponsor cadet had shown up that afternoon, so we did wind up having an unexpected 3rd adult to help supervise.

In any case, after a delicious dinner, most of the children went outside to play.  The house happens to have a long driveway, and it has a fairly steep slope down to the main access road (just an infrequently used dirt road).  They were all having a great time, until, at one point, A discovered a toy car at the top of the driveway–the plastic, kid-sized, rideable kind.  He climbed in, and according to JR was just sitting there pretending to be driving.  Suddenly, he moved just right apparently, and the car began rolling–faster and faster down the hill.  A had no idea how to stop the thing, and I suspect he was probably enjoying himself.  Toward the bottom, however, the car veered sharply, flipped over, and flung A out the door/window, where he apparently hit his head on a rock.

For the record, the group of children were only outside for probably 15 minutes, and with us adults periodically checking on them as we cleaned up from dinner.  Thankfully, again, the cadet had just “happened” to walk outside as this event was occuring, so when he heard A’s scream, he ran down the hill and picked him up.  Somehow, S wound up discovering the issue, and the cadet handed A off to S, who proceeded to bring him to me.  I heard him crying, but didn’t think much of it until S turned around and I saw the back of A’s head–complete with blood flowing all over!

I had S run him upstairs to the bathroom, and then I proceeded to try to find first aid supplies in a house full of boxes.  With the help of our friends oldest daughter, I eventually managed to find some peroxide and kleenex, and I began cleaning A’s head trying to find the source of the bleeding–always a challenging feat with his curly hair.  (For the record, I don’t like to use hydrogen peroxide in the wound itself, but it is a great blood-cleaner to clean the area around the wound and/or help you locate the wound!)  Eventually, I got the bleeding under control, and thought I saw something, but needed to shave the area to be sure.  S went searching through the hubby’s bathroom, figuring there had to be clippers somewhere.  He finally found some, and we quickly shaved around the wound, which turned out to be a pretty nasty gash through all layers of skin.  Had I had my steri-strips and ointments from home, I probably would have doctored it myself, but with nothing handy, and the hospital closer than home, we came up with a plan for the cadet to drive S and A to the ER, while I stayed with the kids.

As we came downstairs, and in the midst of all this semi-controlled chaos, our friends walked in from their date night.  So, the plan changed, and they wound up babysitting our kiddos so S and I could take A to the hospital.  He dropped us off at the hospital, returned to their house to pick up the rest of the kids, and returned to pick us up.  There’s nothing like a bleeding head wound on a child to make ER staff take you seriously!  3 staples later, A was released to go home.  They had his previous record, but told us not to worry about a helmet this go around.  They said the staples were tougher than sutures, and he should be fine.

That’s A for ya!  We joke about it–for comic relief probably–but once again, we are so grateful that God provided that cadet that evening, so we had a witness yet again!  All A’s injuries scare me, and I just pray they slow down or stop in the near future, as his balance improves!  In any case, though, he now has matching scars on each side of his head (here’s the post on his other one).

Hopefully our friends still had a nice evening, and praise God A was just fine.  Apparently the rock had a sharp edge on it that essentially just sliced him open.

As I understand it, the term “Cowgirl” derives from “Cowboy,” which, technically, is the nickname of someone who works with cattle as a career.  I guess over the years, it became synonymous with a guy who rode horses, since the horses were originally heavily used in cattle work.  Nowadays, though, the definition of that title seems to be so far removed from its original definition, that I can’t help but wonder if it is appropriate for my little girl, who not only has never been around a cow for more than a few minutes, but doesn’t even know how to ride a horse.  Rather, she dresses in boots and a cowgirl hat (or riding helmet when actually mounted), and rides none other than a donkey (or goat, or sheep, if you have read recent posts).

OK, it’s late, and I think waaaaay too much about pointless stuff anyway.   You’ll just have to forgive me.

Anyway, it seems M has really taken a liking to Shiloh, the donkey, recently.  As a result, she is becoming quite the little rider.  Shiloh is still very green, unfortunately.  We just got her in September of 2011, totally untrained, barely old enough to ride, and in foal. Over the next few months, we introduced her to the basics, but limited our time on her back since we didn’t know her due date.  Eventually, as her belly expanded, she went several months without being ridden at all, as we didn’t want to stress her.  After she finally foaled in May, we gave her several weeks to recover and just be mom.  Then, we went on vacation, and finally, in July, we started working with her again.  Now, we are back to riding.  Shiloh isn’t quite as keen on the idea as we are, and with her foal posing quite the distraction at all times, my time on her back being limited by her size, and my children being beginners themselves, it has not been easy to get her going.  Nonetheless, M has begun to find some enjoyment in riding her, despite the difficulties currently posed.

We have finally gotten her fitted with a saddle so eventually the kids can ride her on the trail, but most of her riding is done bareback.  It seems to be enjoyed more by both burro and rider.  Depending on the amount of time since the last session, I may ride her for a few minutes, just to get her more focused and responding to cues somewhat.  Then, M gets on and rides around the pasture.  The fenced acre-and-a-half or so area has many obstacles such as trees, unlevel ground, ditches, etc, all of which offer challenges to M as she learns to ride.  We use them as tools to focus right now.  For example, Shiloh has certain areas around the pasture that are her “comfort zone,” where she likes to stop and stand there.  I have M focus on a point elsewhere, such as a specific tree, and she has to not only get Shiloh to walk, but to walk in the correct direction.  This is much easier said then done, especially when Shiloh would just as soon spin a full 360, and stop, in order to remain in her spot.  M is learning though, and seems to have the patience of a saint.  This is even more impressive when you consider that M only weighs about 38 pounds, and is rather timid and soft-spoken by nature, meaning it takes a great deal more effort for her to be firm and make Shiloh obey.  Shiloh is a good girl, though, and although she has a stubborn streak and likes to test M, as long as M is consistent, she eventually responds as desired.  Which, in turn, results in a very happy little cowgirl!

Here is a recent video I took of M just bumming around the pasture on Shiloh one day.  Yes, the helmet swallows her.  She was using mine since she misplaced hers.

Since we are on a “have some fun family-time” streak at the moment, S decided to work with A and N to see if we could wean them off their training wheels.  JR learned at age 4, and M learned to ride at age 3, so we figured, “Why not try?”  After a few sessions of raising the wheels and working on balance, he took off their training wheels completely and told them “No more!”  Then, he took them out to our beloved, low-traffic, packed-dirt road in front of the house, and sent them on their way.  Just 2 sessions later, our little pre-school boys were riding on 2 wheels!

Now, perhaps this isn’t such a big deal to you.  However, you have to realize a couple things here.  You see, when N was 12 months old, he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.  He couldn’t sit up, he couldn’t stand, and we were told not to even expect him to WALK before he was 3.  Riding a bike wasn’t even part of the picture just 2 short years ago.  Thanks to a God-ordained miracle, however, our little boy is not only walking, but running, climbing trees, and now, riding a 2-wheel bike with almost perfect balance!  And he’s only 3!

OK, ok, I said he’d learned to RIDE.  I didn’t say anything about him having learned to STOP.  That’s totally different!

At the same time, our other son, 4-year-old A has some neurological issues.  Despite seeing specialists for the last 6 months, participating in countless tests, and now dealing with 2 therapies a week plus seeing a neurologist on a regular basis, we still have no official diagnosis.  What we do know is that his balance is lousy, he is the clumsiest child we know, and he is prone to injury (just read a few recent posts!).  Yet, thanks be to our Heavenly Father, A is actually riding a 2-wheel bike!  Last week, his therapist concluded we are nuts for even trying.  I can’t wait to tell her this week that he is actually doing it!

4-year-old A enjoying his new found speed! Yes, sadly, he did inherit M’s pink bike and helmet. Seeing as how he’ll outgrow it all before long, I’m pretty sure it won’t damage his psyche any to use it for awhile. We just let him periodically share the boy’s bike N inherited from JR on occasion 😉

Truly, this bike-riding thing is a BIG…no, make that HUGE….deal for our family.  It has offered encouragement, excitement, hope, and promise for the future for our 2 little boys, neither of which had any say about how they came into this world, but have, for reasons only God knows, been placed in our family.  We have our moments of frustration and discouragement for sure, but every now and then, something akin to miraculous happens, and it puts a smile in our parent-hearts and on our little boys’ faces, reminding us that God alone is in control of the journey our life will take.  He gives and He takes away, and as long as we are willing to follow Him and His leading, we simply have to buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Our 4 happy, bike-ridin’ kiddos!

…..NOT!!!  I am totally cheating this year!!

After a far-too-short summer, we began our 2012/2013 homeschool year.  We have generally made a rule to began in early August every year so far, for several reasons.  The biggest reason is that I tend to get cabin fever REALLY badly in the spring, so I like having the flexibility to take lots of breaks in the spring.  Secondly, I usually can’t take more than a couple months of the lack of routine and schedule with the kids during the summer, therefore I begin the new school year in order to maintain what’s left of my sanity.  This year, however, I also have the extra exciting reason that the kids and I will be moving to Red Gate some time next year.  I don’t yet know when, thus I want to get as much schooling done as possible before that time comes.  So, on August 1, our new year started off with a bang!

This year, we have a lot of changes!  First of all, I am schooling 4 children.  I feared going from 2 to 4 was going to be a big challenge by itself, but with 4-year-old A a bit behind, 3-year-old N a bit ahead, and both needing some additional structure to their day, we decided to start schooling them like twins.  Then I added in the fact that I also had 18-month-old R to handle during the day.

I work the boys’ schedule around R’s, doing what I can when she naps or sits at the table for her snack. Sometimes, though, I have no choice but to put her in the Pac’n’Play with a few toys. As you can see here, it isn’t exactly her favorite place to be!

Add all that to the fact that I had to somehow find a way to ensure JR and M got their fair share of schooling, plus running the farm, plus handling A’s therapy appointments and handling my normal responsibilities, I was starting to seriously fear this school year.  Then I found the solution (I hope)!

After much prayer, research, and discussion, S and I decided to spend a bit more this year, and start the older children on “Abeka Academy.”  We have been using a basic core curriculum of Abeka text books anyway, which I love.  With my additional distractions and responsibilities, I had already noted some gaps I was leaving in JR and M’s schooling.  Full detailed explanations, spelling and reading practice, and other areas of focus were severely lacking in my opinion, and I didn’t want them to get behind.  We discovered Abeka Academy and felt it may be the answer to my concerns.

JR at his desk, watching his DVD and completing his worksheet.

Abeka Academy offers several options, including full accreditation, though we aren’t currently using that option (which saves us a pretty penny).  What we do use, however, is the video lectures that coincide with their workbooks.  Each morning, JR goes to his bedroom, sits at his desk, and turns on a portable DVD player we purchased just for school, while M goes downstairs to the basement, sits at the computer, and plugs in her DVD of the day.  The DVD is divided into a menu of “classes” such as “Bible Class,” “Arithmetic Class,” Language Class,” “Art Class,” etc.,  and each child has an order I have established in which to watch their classes.  On the first day, I explained to them that they were going to now be part of a real class, and I expected them to pretend the teacher could actually see them and was really talking to them.  I expected them to obey her and participate as instructed.

M watching her DVD and working on her seatwork assignment with “her” class.

After 2 weeks, I have to say, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this system!!  Even better is that the kids seem to love it as well.  With very minimal preparation on my part, the children are absolutely learning, often coming upstairs singing new songs such as our National Anthem or Christian songs, or reciting their Bible verse of the day.  They are completing their worksheets with only occasional assistance needed from me (as in once or twice a week).  At the end of the week, I grade their worksheets, and it allows me to see how they are doing overall.  If need be, I just sit down with them and discuss any issues I notice, and sometimes have them make corrections.  At the same time, though, a HUGE burden has been lifted from me, as I feel like all their gaps are being filled in, and I can’t help but smile when I peek in and see them standing with the other children, competing to yell out the answer first, and JR even came in yesterday, talking about a couple of his “classmates” and how smart they were (even describing them by name).  They love “their” teachers, are enjoying feeling like they are part of a real class setting, and yet, we still have all the flexibility of being a homeschool and are able to avoid the negative peer influences.  As part of homeschool flexibility, there are certain portions of the video I don’t require them to watch, and certain portions I do, and we talk about what they learned that day, just so I stay in the loop.

JR, almost 8 and in 3rd grade.

M, 6-yrs. old and in 1st grade.

A and N are doing well, too.  The boys usually go sit in on either JR or M’s Bible class each morning, while I milk the goats and do my outside chores.  It keeps them out of trouble while also giving them some scriptural education.  After that, they go sit at the dining room table, where they have a class in “Readiness Skills,” which involves motor skill-type activities such as coloring, following instruction, cutting with scissors, or other crafty or artsy type activity.  This is followed by the ABC/123 class, in which they are introduced to numbers and letters.  These two classes are very simple and basic, and I think the bigger lesson my boys get out of these classes is on sitting still, being quiet, not playing or bothering others, and following instructions.  A is also being introduced to the concept that he can’t just quit because he “doesn’t feel like it”–a sometimes difficult lesson in reality for my easily-frustrated son.  Next is their reading lesson.

A, 4 yrs. old and in K-4

N, 3 yrs. old and in K-4.

Once again, we are using the book “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.”  If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you are familiar with the fact that A has neurological issues and learning delays.  I have really fretted over teaching him to read, as I have found it so difficult for him to learn ANYTHING.  His short term memory generally stinks, and he can be very frustrating.  2 weeks into school, though, I have high hopes.  I think it is a combination of his physical and occupational therapies, the chiropractor, the equine therapy rides that work on his balance, and the added structure of the school day, but whatever the case, he is actually learning!!  I can’t begin to describe how exciting that little fact is for me!  OK, so we are only  on reading lesson #8 and it is day #10.  Clearly, with the additional repetition required by A to help him remember his sounds, the lessons will take more than the usual 100 days, but still….  I keep N on the same schedule as A, although he is capable of moving much faster, it makes it easier on me to keep track, and I’m in no hurry for N to learn, seeing as how he is only 3 anyway.

In addition to all that, the boys also get to do other random activities as needed to fill time, such as playing phonics games on the computer (starfall is one of my favorites), playing with their montessori activities from last year, or just playing outside as we work on them learning to be responsible, resist temptations, and stay out of trouble.

A doing his Starfall phonics lesson. He uses earphones so he can listen, since M is watching her DVD on the other side of the room.

There is so much more that could be considered part of our school day, but I guess that’s where homeschooling is so unique….it is such an integral part of daily life, that sometimes an activity could be considered part of the school day, or it could just be part of every day opportunities.  For that reason, I will discuss some of those aspects in future posts.  Nonetheless, we are so far very much enjoying our homeschool year.  I hope the videos continue to be enjoyed by the kiddos.  My goal is that, once I commit to a schooling system, particularly one that requires a financial investment, I feel I have to stick it out for the entire school year.  Therefore, I will re-evaluate this whole system toward Christmas break (the half-way point), and then again at the end of the year to see if we want to continue it in the future.  Only time will tell.

My 4 school-age kiddos!

My hubby likes to look tough.  He has found his bees help him out–especially the one he has now dubbed Apollo Creed.

The problem here is that it seems after about 8 months of bee-keeping, my dear husband seems to be developing an allergy to bee venom.  He has been stung about 8 times now, and 2 times ago, his hand swelled up pretty well around the sting.  The last time, he was stung on the forehead, and within 1/2 hour, the swelling had spread throughout the left side of his face.  He also developed a strange strawberry-type rash around the sting itself that is just now going away a week later.  In addition to his appointment with an allergist who may prescribe an epi-pen, it looks like he will also be having to wear his protective bee suit from now on.