It has been another few weeks of busy-ness around here.  Sorry for the absence.  I realized I haven’t even taken any photos!  To catch you up a bit, though…

Building:  I built more shelves.  Lots of shelves.  I will die happy if I never build another shelf, but unfortunately, I have at least 3 more to finish, which means planing, installing, painting, you get the idea.  I got a little help on a couple of projects from an in-law who lives close by and is very good with construction, I finally have desks, shelves, and a reading closet in both the girls’ and boys’ room, plus a new “activity counter” with 2 more desks and some shelves in our loft.  I promise photos soon.  I have a little more tweaking to finish it all.

Unpacking:  I’ve been slowly unpacking for almost 4 months.  Every move in the past has taken 2-3 weeks, tops.  Every house in the past, though, has had shelves and not been a farm when we moved in.  This house had almost no shelves, hence all the building.  Trying to move a family of 7 with a large homeschool library into a 3 bedroom, 1900 square foot house with little storage was challenging to say the least.  I’m getting there, though.  My upstairs still has paths, but the paths are widening by the day.  I’m almost there.

Visiting:  Nana (my mom) heard my inner plea for help, and came to stay for a while.  She has been here about 2 weeks so far, and has been a tremendous help.  She is filling my normal domestic and mommy role to a great extent, while I focus on finishing many of these necessary outdoor and construction projects.

Homeschooling:  We started our school year the last week of August.  N is K4, A is K5, M is 2nd grade, and JR is 4th grade.  And I still haven’t taken their annual school pictures.  Add that to my list of “to-do’s.”  We are doing Abeka Academy again this year, and loving it.  N and A take a lot of focus, which Nana is mostly handling right now.  Once she leaves, the first half of my day will mostly be spent sitting beside them as they work.  JR and M are totally independent, though.  R is always into things, so that’s why God gave mommies (and Nana’s) eyes in the back of their heads.

More visiting:  S came home!!!  Only for a quick visit, but it was great!  I had a short list of projects he worked on for me, the kids got their “daddy-fix” while wrestling, jumping on the trampoline (oh, yeah, I spent 2 days assembling that thing!), and just being with him.  Then I got my time with him when Nana agreed to watch the kiddos while we headed over to a Bed and Breakfast for the night.

Goats:  I’m trying to sell my 2 remaining goat kids, but I’m finding dairy goats are not as popular here as they were in CO.  It’s a much harder sell around here.  In the mean time, I have had to move poor Pride (our buckling) out with the pigs, to ensure he doesn’t breed Caramel (our too-small doeling).  To reduce my workload, I’ve also gone to once a day milking.  I’m not exactly sure how the milk will hold up, especially since I’m considering milking through rather than breeding this fall, but I’ll just play that one as the time passes.

Cattle:  Red Bull finally went home.  He was sweet and never gave me a days trouble–unless you count the time he somehow got into an adjacent paddock to the cows, the other time when he bred my dairy heifer without permission, or the time when he decided to scratch on an old fence and succeeded in knocking it down, releasing all the cows into the pig forest.  No biggie, though.  They were still inside the perimeter fence.  I just set up a water trough down lower in the pasture so they had to come out of the woods periodically so I could check on them.  It actually made my day easier temporarily, and started some clearing in the next section the pigs will move to.  That all being said, the day finally arrived for the sweet bull to go home.  As soon as he saw his owner approaching with the halter, he turned into a beast.  He completely mangled a 5 foot cattle panel as he lept over it (trying to get AWAY from his owner), then easily cleared 3 hot wire fences.  Watching a 1,000 pounds of pure muscle soar gracefully over a fence without hardly touching it is a very impressive sight indeed!  I was finally able to halter my jersey, Abbigail, and lead her to a stall in the barn, and that finally got Red Bull distracted enough to follow her so he could be confined and caught.  Once caught, he walked out of the barn and hopped up in that trailer with a grace and timeliness that would shame any horse.

Chickens:  While S was home, our biggest project was harvesting our 25 Cornish Cross meat birds.  We used our new Featherman Pro chicken plucker too.  Can I just say, THAT.  WAS. AWEWOME!!!!!  Expensive, yes, but totally awesome.  We may decide to rent it to other home poultry raisers to try to help pay for it.  Otherwise, it’ll take like 50 years to pay the thing off.  But, then again, when I consider the fact that I will never have to pluck another bird, I realize it is priceless!  We did 25 birds in about 3 hours, but that includes all the stops and distractions we had with the kiddos and lack of preparation here at this new farm.  The replacement pullets are growing well.  They still live in the barn, but free-range the pastures all day.  Our layers are also doing well.  We’ve had one go broody on us, so I got smart and decided to get some fertile eggs from a friend.  Unfortunately, at the same time she went broody, another has become an egg-eater.  I have no idea which girl it is, but in addition to eating 1 or more of our eggs each day, she has also destroyed 6 of the 8 fertile eggs.  I’m not sure any will survive to hatch.  Other hens are randomly kicking the broody hen off her nest each day to lay their eggs, and one of them is eating some while doing so.  I tried moving the broody hen into the barn, but she refused the new nest, and after 24 hours, I released her, only to have her run straight back to her original nest in the coop.  Oh well.  I guess she’ll just have to go through the natural cycle for a while, and then we’ll try again next year when our new roosters can ensure all our eggs are fertile.  In addition to losing eggs to an egg-eating hen, we are also losing a few chickens lately.  The girls–both the older ones, and the younger replacement ones, have begun doing some foraging deep in the woods, outside of the main pasture and perimeter fence.  There are openings on one side of the perimeter where the hens can get through, but the dogs and other animals can’t.  Obviously, the dogs can’t protect the girls on that side of the fence, so some of them never seem to make it back up.  I remain hopeful that one or two may have gone broody and are just hiding down there.  Realistically, though, I’m pretty confident they were some wild critter’s lunch.  We’ve lost 4 older hens and 5 little ones.  There isn’t much I can do about it right now, except hope that the remaining ones will learn and stay in the fence.  Only time will tell.

Rabbits:  Nothing too new there, other than the fact that we harvested our summer litter.  That takes us back to our one mature doe, 2 mature bucks, and 2 young does that that we brought with us from CO, and will be ready for breeding in December.

Donkey:  The only farm vehicle I have around here is a 4-wheeler.  I use it to haul supplies down to the pig paddocks, to move my portable shelters, to haul wagon loads of dirt, to haul fence posts, and to have fun.  Before we left CO, S and I decided that Shiloh, the donkey would help earn her keep by becoming a work donkey.  We bought a little homemade driving cart to start out with.  After we moved, I ordered her a custom donkey harness.  With the number of projects I had this summer though, I never really had a chance to teach Shiloh to drive.  Then, my 4-wheeler–long over-due for a tune-up and basic maintenance–essentially died on me.  While it’s waiting for a ride to a shop, I’ve had to get creative.  There are still water buckets, feed, dirt, and fencing that has to be hauled.  Time for Shiloh!  I reviewed the basics of long-reigning I had taught Shiloh in the past, spent a few days reviewing all her basics and getting her accustomed to her new harness, and then took full and total advantage of her being a calm and laid back donkey rather than a flighty horse, and hooked her up to the cart.  Since Nana was here at that point, she offered some assistance for safety in the early stages, but Shiloh took to it with ease.  She still has a little trouble turning in the cart, but that is likely due in great part to the fact the shafts on the cart wound up way too big for her.  Now, I have my first real equine-power on the farm.  I can hitch her up to the cart, and then use the cart to haul all the buckets, feed bags, materials, etc, she can drag small logs, and more.  Eventually we will get new shafts that fit better, but I use these in the mean time.  Pictures will follow as soon as I get the chance.

Dogs and cats:  Due to the unintended and unexpected increase in cats around here, I wound up rehoming our barn cat, Katie, and her litter of 6 kittens.  A new farm was looking for a whole slew of cats to stock their barn with, and they jumped at the chance when they heard about her.  That leaves us with Sarah and her litter of 5 kittens, and she is much better mannered as a house cat, so I have a better chance of keeping her indoors until she can be spayed.  The only cat outside at the moment is Shadow.  Callie is still inside, as always.  Will, the house pet, has loved having all these cats around.  He has discovered there is always a dish of cat food sitting around somewhere, and has become quite adept at finding all my hiding spots.  As a result, he has gained somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds over the last 6 weeks.  At this point, my hiding places are getting higher and higher up on shelves, in an attempt to keep them accessible to the cats, but well out of Will’s reach.  Iris and Athena are doing great.  In fact, Iris has entered her fall heat cycle, and I am debating breeding her this fall or waiting until spring.  I finally found the (hopefully) perfect stud dog.  He is in the next state, so quite a drive, but he is of the Colorado Mountain Dog breeding and quality I am looking for, and has already proven himself as a guardian and homestead-type dog.  As usual, we’ll see how this plays out.

Pigs:  The pigs are growing well on their forest forage diet.  I continue to supplement with excess milk and eggs (though the eggs are few and far between with an egg-eating hen on our hands!), and occasional organic grains.  I am working on setting up their next paddock this weekend.  I estimate their weight to be around 100 lbs. now, so I think they are growing well.  I should research and find out averages for this breed so I have something to compare to.  Whatever the weight, they are big enough now that the kids don’t really go in the paddock unsupervised.  The pigs are very friendly, and in their quest for attention, plenty big enough they could easily knock a child down.

That pretty much brings you up to speed for now.  There’s never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure!!

I’m making progress…in my wood-working skills, unpacking, and decorating the house.  Here’s my latest:

First, I built a frame:

Then I attached top boards, ripped to 5 inches wide:


Next, I used liquid nails, a couple of screws, and some finishing nails (yeah, a little overkill, but hey, it’s for kiddos!)  to attach trim:



I leveled the top good with a sander, filled all seams and gaps with wood putty, and sanded again:


Finally, I attached it to a backboard of plywood:

IMG_1109Wanna take a guess yet?

After that part was complete, I made 2 shelves to match and some supports to match, painted it all to coordinate with the room it was to go in, attached a light, and voila:


The shelf supports were set up to also act as book ends, and I also added more supports to the top of the desk and the top shelf:


Then, I finally got around to doing a little more organizing in the boy’s room, so JR is officially ready for school to start in just 3 weeks!


Now, to find him a chair….

Last week, JR experienced his first, big, “big boy” adventure, independent of the rest of us.  He attended an all-day day camp, where he got to learn all about life in the 1830’s.  Living in IL, Abraham Lincoln is a big theme around here.  As a result, JR has always enjoyed studying him during our homeschool lessons.  We thought it would be a neat experience for him to learn more, hands on.


Each day, he went to camp where they played games and did crafts common in the 1830’s.  They learned historical facts, and were continually quizzed.  They shot muskets (I never got to do that in Day Camp!), practiced team work, often necessary for survival in that time, and learned the dialects of that time.  On Friday, all the kids had to dress like they were from the 1830’s (clothing was provided).  Friday afternoon, parents were invited to watch a series of educational skits.  The kids didn’t get much practice, so they had to read the dialogues, but it was neat to see JR get up in a front of a group of people and do something:

I have to admit, it was strange not having my little man around all day, knowing he was getting big enough to be off doing his own thing.  Suffice it to say, he had an absolute blast, and is already hoping he can go again next year.


Things are going well for us right now.

My parents just left from a week long visit.  It was the first time I’ve seen my dad in 3 years, and the first time he had met R.  We had a great visit, and may see them again this summer.

JR’s rabbit doe delivered another healthy litter this morning.  Seeing as how we are technically considered in the “high-altitude plains,” we are still getting our fair share of snow from this latest storm.  Due to the cold factor, we haven’t bothered the nest to count the little kits yet.  The doe has proven herself a good mom in the past though, so hopefully she will stick with that trend.

I finally got the blood drawn on my last 2 does, to determine once and for all if they are pregnant.  I’m crossing my fingers, as they are definitely not cycling any more.  I’m about ready to dry up Faith, as she really isn’t producing much anyway.  I’m just keeping her going until I get those test results.

The sale of our house is moving right along as well.  The buyers have already begun the inspections process.  It has already paid off that we got the 5-year roof inspection warranty, as it had begun snowing when the first inspector showed up and he couldn’t inspect the roof.  The buyer opted to believe the inspection and warranty we had given them.  The rest of the house inspection seemed satisfactory though. We also already have title commitment from the title company.  We are hoping for a warm spell this weekend so we can do some outside paint touch-ups for the appraisal process.  The buyer is having a radon test run right now, and they are working on scheduling a well flow test for next week.  There isn’t much we can do except allow them to schedule the inspections and tests at this point.  However, things seem to be going well, and the buyers seem very excited with the property.  We are hopeful this will continue to be rather quick, easy, and painless, without too many expenses on our part.

The kids are in the final stages of their schooling.  They are on lesson 129 of 170.  That doesn’t leave much.  They have done so well this year.  I am just thrilled with the Abeka Academy video program.  It is very thorough, and the kids are learning far more than they would have had I tried to handle the teaching alone.

So that’s our latest.  Things are anticipated to start getting pretty busy here soon.  I will try to keep the updates coming.

As I wrote in a post last year, I get cabin fever really bad towards the end of winter each year.  This year, I think it started to get to the kids, too, after we had a 6-week spell of the temps hardly ever getting out of the teens. As if winter weather wasn’t bad enough, I have seriously pushed school this year so we could be done well in advance in our move.  Therefore, we started school around August 1, and have only taken a rare day off about twice a month.

The good news is, I have children who love school.  I have found that simply allowing them some freedoms during their school day revives them and seems to be getting them through their cabin fever moments.  We use Abeka Book’s “Abeka Academy” program for the older children, and the Abeka K-4 workbooks for the younger children.  This week, when they decided they were tired of the routine where M watches her school DVD’s on the computer downstairs and JR watches his on his DVD player at his desk, they asked if they could do something different.  Since then, they have been sharing the DVD player (which extends the school day, but they love it–go figure!), watching each other’s DVD’s together, doing their school out on the front porch, in my walk-in closet, at the dining room table, and recently, my bed has become their favorite location.  On occasion, when they are doing really well, I will allow them to just complete their written and reading work and skip the videos altogether.  In turn, they are learning that they get more freedoms when they do their school well and correctly.  If my checks of their work show some slacking off or a lack of understanding of a concept, the privileges are lost, and the structure returns until they shape up again.

JR and M doing worksheets and watching their school DVD.  Callie, the cat, is supervising.

JR and M doing worksheets and watching their school DVD. Callie, the cat, is supervising.

A and N require a lot of input and assistance from me to do their worksheets.  Therefore, since they are only 4, I don’t push it with them.  We gave up the reading lessons long ago, as they just weren’t ready.  Sometimes, you have to choose your battles!  They love to do their worksheets, though, and since the worksheets (phonics and numbers) are pretty basic, we usually do several days’ worth together.  I am better able to consolidate my time that way.  I have decided to ease my required assistance next year, though, by signing them up for the video program too.  I think they will like it, and may learn more.  They will certainly benefit from the increased structure of a video-led school day.

In addition, we have started getting out of the house more.  Twice a week, the kids have swimming lessons.  I will discuss that more in a future post, but it is working out beautifully!  The kids get more activity, more stimulation, the action of swimming in itself is tremendously therapeutic for A and N, and R has turned out to be a total water-baby!  The private, 30-minute sessions are very intensive and fast-paced, though they advance at the rate the child is ready, which works great for our children–who differ so greatly in physical and mental abilities.

Finally, to help revive me, we are very blessed to still have a wonderful young lady who babysits one evening a week, for a simple gift of fresh eggs and/or goat milk, so S and I can have a date night.  We use these nights to run errands, attend functions, see an occasional movie, recently to shop for trucks and trailers, etc.  We usually work in a nice dinner together though, which is very refreshing to my spirit, and often even a quick visit to my chiropractor, which is equally refreshing to my physical body.  One-on-one time with my husband is something I crave and very much enjoy–especially during this season of young, dependent children outnumbering me.  Although it isn’t with S, I also have another trip to Red Gate to look forward to next month.  I will be traveling back again for about a week to do some last-minute building, painting, and cleaning projects, to help the move transition go smoother.  That will be a lot of fun, just getting away by myself for a spell.

I cannot deny how much I love the flexibility of homeschooling, and the freedoms offered therein.  We can have an otherwise boring, cabin-fever-type day, change it up a bit, and rejuvenate everyone a bit.

After a torturous month of waiting, the children were so excited that Christmas Day has finally arrived!  As has become tradition, we gathered around the tree after dinner on Christmas eve, enjoyed some family time, and opened one little gift each.  This morning, we got up at the crack of dawn, thoroughly enjoyed torturing the kiddos for a few more minutes as we made them wait upstairs while we did a few things, and then let everyone make their way downstairs to the tree.  As is tradition for us, we started with Daddy reading the Christmas story out of the Bible, so we can remember the true meaning and point of celebrating on this day.  Then, we set Uncle D up on Skype so he could be a part of our Christmas.  He currently lives in Korea teach English and serving as a missionary, so the kids only really get to see him on Skype.  Finally, we moved on to the gifts.

Of course, I didn’t get photos of everything, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  S made me a homemade cutting board out of Red Oak, to replace my 3 that are all falling apart.  He also gave me a much-needed external hard-drive for the computer.   I gave him a much-needed cordless drill and impact driver set–something we will no doubt need around the farm.

The children enjoyed their gifts as well.  M and S are both old enough and earn enough that we expect them to buy a gift that costs at least $10 for one of their siblings.  This year, they both chose gifts that could be shared by several siblings, which we found very thoughtful.  S actually went above and beyond, and spent a bit more money than we required.  In fact, when we were at the store buying, an associate asked him why he was buying a gift for himself when it was almost Christmas.  He tried to politely explain that he was buying for his brothers, but it was clear the associate didn’t believe him.  I found it sad that she couldn’t conceive of a child using his own money to buy something for someone else.  Oh well. In addition, they both handmade gifts for almost everyone else in the family that they didn’t buy for.  Those consisted of miscellaneous crafts, colorings, or cards, but all were very thoughtful and appreciated nonetheless.

N opening a gift from M

N opening a gift from M

M opening her new cowgirl costume set.  She loves to play dress-up!

M opening her new cowgirl costume set. She loves to play dress-up!

M trying on her costume.  Daddy actually bought it on the small side so R could grow into quickly, and M has another one, a princess dress, that's bigger.  I just didn't get a photo of that one.

M trying on her costume. Daddy actually bought it on the small side so R could grow into quickly, and M has another one, a princess dress, that’s bigger. I just didn’t get a photo of that one.

M opening a home-made gift from M.

M opening a home-made gift from M.

Even Will got a gift.  His one passion in life is playing Frisbee every evening with Dad.  We buy the light-up Frisbee's since they often have to play at night.

Even Will got a gift. His one passion in life is playing Frisbee every evening with Dad. We buy the light-up Frisbee’s since they often have to play at night.

We saved the best and biggest for last–a Grand Finale of sorts this year.

I tried to capture their faces as they walked into the room where the BIG gifts were hidden.

I tried to capture their faces as they walked into the room where the BIG gifts were hidden.

R got a new tricycle.  We had a nice little red one, but Daddy accidentally ran over it with the van this past summer.  OOPS!

R got a new tricycle. We had a nice little red one, but Daddy accidentally ran over it with the van this past summer. OOPS!

Most kids eventually wish for a kitten, puppy, or pony.  Mine have wanted a pet bird for several years.  Thanks to Craigslist, I found this awesome, like-new, heavy-duty bird cage for a STEAL.

Most kids eventually wish for a kitten, puppy, or pony. Mine have wanted a pet bird for several years. Thanks to Craigslist, I found this awesome, like-new, heavy-duty bird cage for a STEAL.

Last, but not least, also thanks to Craigslist, we found two, name-brand sleds in like-new condition, but for both, we paid half the price we would have paid for one brand new.

Last, but not least, also thanks to Craigslist, we found two, name-brand sleds in like-new condition, but for both, we paid half the price we would have paid for one brand new.

The big gifts this year was kind of a new thing.  Hopefully the kiddos don’t come to expect it.  We have been wanting to get some really good sleds for a couple years now, but the good ones are just too expensive.  I found a sled advertised on Craigslist for a great price, and even though we wanted two, S figured he’d go look at it.  When he arrived, not only was it EXACTLY what he was wanting quality-wise, but the guy had TWO he was selling!  I love the way God answers prayers, sometimes before we even ask!

As far as the cage, I’m sure buying such a monstrosity right before a big move wasn’t my brightest moment, but I totally couldn’t pass up the price.  I got it for about the same price as a new, small parakeet cage because the guy just wanted to get rid of it (memories of an old girlfriend apparently).  In any case, one of our hold-ups on letting the kids get a pet bird is that we hate to see any animal tightly confined.  We just didn’t want to see a bird confined to a tiny little cage.  When I saw this, I pictured a smaller-sized bird with so much more room to flap his wings and have lots of room to play–and eventually even a buddy or two to play with.  The top of the cage opens, and we can add a perch (S has to cut several) to give him a play area outside the cage.

As a side note, I could use a little help….We have decided to use the cage/bird as a great homeschool supplementary exercise, as well as another lesson in responsibility.  We gave the cage to the kids this morning, but explained that we can’t get the bird until after we move.  They are responsible for researching domesticated pet birds (their first research project), agreeing to the final decision, saving the money to buy what they want, and using their money and time to care for the bird.  We’ll see how it works out.  In the mean time, if any of you happen to know someone in the mid-west area who breeds birds (I’m thinking cockatiel, lovebird, or other small parrot; any smaller  will be too small for the bars on the cage, and any bigger will be too big for the kids to handle) and raises them to be hand-tame and friendly, please pass on my blog info, or let me know who they are.  I have no idea where we will be able to find a bird the kids can afford.  We will be praying about this, and hoping to find someone who might be interested in helping us to fulfill our children’s wish.  JR, in particular, has more than proven to be responsible caring for his bunnies, so this seems the next natural step.  As an FYI, they would love a type of bird capable of whistling and talking, but it definitely isn’t a requirement.  They will be looking to buy starting in June of 2013 (about 6 months from now).  Any help would be greatly appreciated, and if it makes the seller feel any better, of course I will be looking over their shoulders at all times as they learn!!  I had a few pet birds in the past (mostly cockatiels and parakeets), and really enjoyed them.  Now that S is retiring, we are finally settling down somewhere long enough to enjoy a bird with a long life.  This will be fun for me getting back into birds, and I have no doubt the kids will really enjoy this!

Oh, the aftermath of Christmas morning...

Oh, the aftermath of Christmas morning…

Do you ever have “one of those days?”  Particularly as a parent?  You know, the kind of day where you are thankful for your children, but you can’t quite remember why they are considered a blessing?  Yeah, that was my day today, as I continually reminded myself how I couldn’t possibly live without them.  However, the day was supported on each end by some really cool events!

It all started about 48 hours ago, when S asked me to check his e-mail for something.  One seemed a typical phishing e-mail–the type that tries to get you to click a link and get your personal info.  It said we had a check they were trying to send us, but they needed to confirm info.  I almost deleted it, but then noticed that the e-mail did NOT contain a link to click, but did contain a good bit of personal info about us already, which got my attention and made me nervous.  The signature line included the name and contact information for someone supposedly from the Attorney General’s Office of CO.  Rather than responding directly to the e-mail, I decided to investigate.  I googled the CO AG’s office, called that number, spoke to the operator, and asked her if a person by the name listed in our e-mail worked there.  They did, so I left a message on their voicemail.  She called a couple hours later, and turns out it was totally legit!  Two years ago, a debt collector trying to find someone else, called our house at 5:30 in the morning, waking us up, and putting S in a REALLY bad mood.  Later that day, he filed a complaint with the AG’s office per CO instructions.  We never heard another word about it, and totally forgot about it until this person reminded me.  Apparently, a few others had done the same, and the AG began an investigation.  Recently, the investigation was closed, and the debt collection company was fined a significant sum for breaking CO laws regarding when and who they were allowed to call.  Now, the AG office was trying to track down the “victims” of those calls, and send them their portion of the fines.  Now, we are expecting a nice, unexpected Christmas bonus!!

Then, yesterday morning started out pretty typical, but after breakfast, R began vomiting.  My day’s plans were shot, though I rather enjoyed spending a few hours just laying on the couch with her, bucket handy of course.  She slept a few hours, then seemed to improve around lunch time.  I kept her on the BRAT diet for most of the day until I was confident she would keep food down.

First thing this morning my little “biggest” rebel, N, who just can’t seem to resist any sort of temptation, snuck a lollipop, gobbled it up, and when I caught him, he flat out lied about it.  Of course, the “Very Berry” flavored breath was a dead give-away.  As a part of his discipline, I told him he would not be allowed any yummy treats that we were making.  Later, the other kids and I made Monkey Bread, and I specifically instructed N not to touch it, and had a discussion with him to ensure he understood what he had done wrong.  We fed him a non-sweet snack to at least help him not be hungry.  Yet, no sooner did I turn my back, he snuck into the kitchen, and ate the treat.  Let’s just say that was his last fun moment of the day, as it got REALLY boring after that.

After my lecture to N, I stood up and turned around to find R drinking out of the dog bowl.

Shortly after, JR reported to me (for the second day in a row) that one of his school books was lost.  I threatened him with consequences if he didn’t find it.  He eventually found it, but only after half-emptying his school bookshelf all over the floor, crying about it a bit, and insisting it had to be his brothers that misplaced it (it wasn’t).  Then, he had trouble with his math, and his entire school day took him over 9 hours with a few breaks in the middle (it should take 3-4).  That was followed by an incredibly sore throat that left him unable to eat dinner or speak this evening.

M and A have both suffered a bit of discipline over the last two days due to their seeming inability to listen and follow instruction of late.  She was better today, but still had her fair share of arguments with her brothers.  A and N have both begun whining a lot, which drives me batty.  “Talk like a big boy” has become a common phrase around this house.

As if that wasn’t enough, R, who has been potty training for the last 2 weeks (and doing extremely well), came into the room where I was to see what I was doing.  A sudden and unexpected bought of diarrhea hit her, and the next thing I knew, I had stinky mush on my carpet.  Got that cleaned up, took a deep breath, and said, “I think I can, I think I can….”

Nap time finally arrived, and I got online to do some Christmas shopping.  Shopping for the children when the children haven’t exactly been on their best behavior can be a good thing, actually.  I have a feeling it SAVED me quite a bit of money!  I did however find a great gift on Craigslist.  I contacted S and he arranged to pick the gift up on his way home.  We really needed two, but one would suffice for now.  He arrived at the persons house, only to find out that they had TWO!!  For slightly less than retail price for one, we got TWO awesome gifts for the kids this winter!

S got home, took over the kiddos before my head exploded, and I went and cooked dinner.  I read a book to the children for a little while, we ate dinner, and then S put the kids to bed while I went for a jog.  I can’t even remember the last time I did that!!!  I think it was about the time the number of children outgrew the number of seats in the jogging stroller!  Yeah, I really needed to blow off some steam so I could focus on hubby for once today!!

Oh, this is my life.  The good, the bad, the exhilirating, the exhausting, and the downright ugly.  I guess I need days like this sometimes to keep me humble and remind me that I am NOTHING without Christ.  So, despite days like this, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


…..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!

What a day we had today!!  And it’s only 2 in the afternoon! 

For several days now, Shiloh the donkey has been showing signs of impending labor.  She was a rescue that we adopted, and she was already bred.  We just didn’t have a clue when she was due.  I have been studying up as best I can, but I have never seen a horse or other member of the equine species foal, so I wasn’t sure what to look for.  As it turns out, there wasn’t much on line at all about donkey labor.  (Here’s a tip for other donkey owners) I finally figured I’d research horses in the hopes they were similiar.  Thankfully,  donkeys pretty much follow the same signs as horses–though I learned there are a few differences. 

For about a week now, Shiloh’s tail head had been raised, hip muscles and ligaments obviously softened and depressed (“caved-in” on both sides).  Here is her rump shot back in November (remember the infamous pregnancy test?) :

Here is her rump yesterday:

I have also been watching her udder expand.  Many resources I have read swear by a visual “milk test” to predict labor, while others say NEVER milk them.  I figured it certainly couldn’t hurt anything, so I did the milk test.  Here is a great website about a horse milk test to predict a mare going into labor:   This website was really what I started following in the last few days.  HOWEVER, I have now learned that the donkey (at least mine) does not produce the amber color described here.  The udder builds similiarly, then, about a week ago, I was able to squirt a VERY sticky clear water.  3 days ago, it was still clear, but more of it and less sticky.  2 days ago, it squirted in a very nice stream, but still clear.  Yesterday morning, it took on a cloudy appearance.  By the afternoon, she had wax on the end of both teats.  Sorry, I didn’t get a pic of the milk, just the full udder and wax yesterday.

In addition to the other physical signs she was showing, I knew it was getting close.  As of yesterday–24 hours prior to delivery, the baby had definitely dropped so she looked like a bell shape. 

Again, though, she never took on the “pointy-belly” described by all the things I read.  Rather, she remained nice and round until the very end.

I found her stall bedding dug up a few mornings this week, but never saw her actually doing the nesting.  Then, yesterday, after I did the milk test in the morning (for which she was fine), I went out to check on her in the afternoon, and it was clear her temperament had changed.  She is usually very docile and I can handle her anywhere.  Yesterday afternoon, though, she threatened to kick at me when I touched her udder, and then when I petted her side, she turned around and attempted to nip me.  That was way out of character for her, so I didn’t let the kiddos in the pen after that.  I penned her last night and checked on her a couple times (really hoping to see the birth).  She seemed only slightly more agitated than usual–not hanging out beside me nuzzling like she usually does, swishing her tail, and shaking her head as if being bothered by flies (only there are no flies this time of year), and so forth.  I also saw her roll once, which I heard was a sign.  Nothing happened last night, to my surprise.  According to my research, the vast majority of donkeys foal between midnight and 5 am in the dark hours for safety.  It is apparently quite rare to catch a foaling without sleeping in the stall. 

To ensure I could keep an eye on her this morning, I put her out to pasture near the house.  Around 10:00, a wildlife officer showed up to inspect our bee fence (that is, a fence to keep bears out–not keep bees in!).  As we walked out, I noticed Shiloh out in her favorite semi-grassy and sunny area of the field, but with her tail cocked–as though she had to poop, but she didn’t.  I told JR to run check on her.  He ran about half way, and came back and clarified that she was indeed positioned with her tail up in a strange way.  I kept my peripherial vision on her as the officer and I discussed the fence around our hives.  Suddenly, Shiloh pawed the ground a few times, turned a circle, laid down on her side, and gave an obvious, HUGE contraction!  It was time!!!!  I apologized to the officer, asked her if she would mind if I went and checked on things since we had been waiting so long.  Thankfully, she was as excited at the unplanned event as we were.  JR ran into the house to collect everyone else, and we gathered along the tree line, ensuring plenty of safety and distance for Shiloh.  I moved around a little so I could take pictures, and Shiloh never seemed to concerned about us there.  Thank goodness for zoom cameras though!

She pushed and pushed and pushed some more.  First, a white bag appeared. 

Shiloh got up and down a few times, and finally, a set of front legs appeared. 

Shortly after, the nose and tongue appeared.  I breathed a sigh of relief that, for the first time, we were about to witness a totally natural, unassisted birth–something we have been praying for for some time now.  As we watched, Shiloh took a couple breaks, then resumed pushing.  Suddenly, after about 30 minutes since we had first seen her lay down, the foal popped out.  Within another minute, the foal broke free from its sack, and began to try to right itself.

Over the next 30 minutes or so, it began to try to stand.

I managed to get some video of this part as well:

Finally, after the main show was over, the very kind and understanding officer took her leave.  But not before showing the children a bear head in her truck, and giving them a lesson on poaching investigations.  I was eventually forced to drag myself away to tend to other things.  Eventually, I took Shiloh a treat of molasses-water to drink, loved on her a bit, then, when she seemed comfortable with my presence, I worked my way over to the foal to do some imprint training and to check on the sex.  Now THAT was fun!  And, as if we hadn’t been blessed enough with a live, healthy foal and a natural birth, we even got a little jenny!  (For you city slickers, that means it’s a girl!)

Oh, but as usual, the day didn’t stop there.  Our beef got delivered about an hour after the birth.  As I’m standing there paying the rancher, he looks out at the pasture, and asks, “What is that?” I looked in the direction he was pointing (which was NOT toward the donkeys), and realize one of our bee hives had just split, swarmed, and gathered on a tree branch.  He left, and I frantically set to work to try to save our bees.  Now mind you, the bees are my hubby’s thing and they tend to make me quite nervous.  But, I couldn’t wait, or the swarm would leave.   Thinking we might have an empty hive out there I could put them in, I made a few calls.  Don’t you love the way God just puts people in your path when you need them most?  It just “happens” some neighbors came over to admire the new foal right before this swarm was spotted, and they were telling me how the “grandpa” of the bunch used to raise bees.  I quickly called him and asked him if he’d help.  He had never caught a swarm, and it had been many years, plus he wasn’t keen on climbing my rickety ladder, so I suited up, and feeding off his confidence, found my courage.  The bees were collected on the tip of a tree branch, about 12 feet up.  This isn’t them–no time for a camera right then–but it’s an internet photo that shows basically what they looked like.

I climbed the ladder and held a 5-gallon bucket under the swarm, praying the weight of them landing (about 7 lbs) in the bucket wouldn’t tip my ladder.  My neighbor-helper meanwhile used his pole-saw to reach up and cut the branch just past the swarm.  It couldn’t have been more perfect!  The swarm landed with a thud in my bucket, and I quickly snapped a lid on top and climbed down from the ladder.  Once I got them into the garage, I replaced the sealed lid with a ventilated screen I found.  Here they are, patiently waiting on S to get home:

Boy, what better homeschool day could we ask for?!  Nonetheless, mean mother that I am, once everything calmed down, I still made the kiddos do their normal lesson before going back out to play.  I cleaned up all the stuff used today, put all the beef into the freezer, and came in here to rest and type.  For the record, of all days to be on a day-trip, S had a work trip today that put him up in the mountains with no phone or reception or way to contact him.  I can’t wait for him to get home tonight and share in our excitement. I’ve also decided that he owes me a dinner and movie date for overcoming my fears and catching his swarm for him!  Furthermore, for once in my life, I kind of felt like a real “super-mom” today!

In closing, today was a great day, and we are reminded once again just how blessed we truly are.  Now, though, I need your help.  We need a name for this new little jenny.  We prefer our names to have meaning, and some sort of Biblical meaning or something giving praise and thanks to God is even better.  “Shiloh,” for example, is of Hebrew origin and means “His gift”–appropriate because she was given to us in a time of need.  So, let me know your thoughts for this new cutie.  The winner will receive…..ummmm…..a really big “Thank YOU!” and the joy of seeing your chosen name printed on my blog!  How’s that for a mega-prize?!

This past summer, JR finally hit the age where our state law required he be registered with the state as a legal homeschooler.  I obliged, as the penalty for not registering means he is legally “truant”, and that could be much worse.  Because registering made us feel somewhat “marked” though, we decided that since homeschooling our children was a long-term plan for us, we would join HSLDA. 

In case you aren’t familiar with it, HSLDA stands for Home School Legal Defense Association.  It is an organization, founded by Christian lawyers and homeschool supporters and advocates, that spend every waking moment defending national parental rights to homeschool our children.  On occasion, they even get involved in international matters, if there is a potential risk of it causing loss of homeschool freedom in America.  The benefit to members is in the event you ever find yourself in a legal situation as a result of your homeschool.  You would then have the ability to contact a lawyer immediately, 24/7, to help you deal with it appropriately.  If your case you should go to trial, and they feel you are unjustly acused of something like truancy, then they may take your case and represent you at no cost to you.  That’s what membership fees are for.  They are a wonderful organization, and I highly encourage any homeschooler to join and support them.  Of course, when you join, you never really think you will actually need their help. 

The last couple of days, I have been trying to get A’s final appointments all lined up.  Once again, his pediatrician is not supporting us, and refuses to contact the endocrinologist that the neurologist wants us to see, which means the earliest appointment I can get is in May.  So, I gave up, and started working on his therapy appointments, which both the pediatrician and neurologist would like to see him in. 

After a lengthy discussion with Tricare, I was told that, because he is 3 years  old, Early Intervention will no longer work with him, and he is required to have an IEP (Individual Education Plan) from the school district in order for Tricare to cover his therapies.  I explained that he wasn’t in school yet, and was told that it didn’t matter, it was just procedure for that age.  The school district had the specialists who would identify his exact needs, write a report that would be submitted to Tricare, and we’d go from there.  Easy enough.  It didn’t make much sense to me as to why the school should be involved, but, feeling I had no other choice, I called the number she gave me.  In summary, I was told by the school district that A would have to go before a screening board, and if they agree he needs help, it becomes official.  Then, he’d go before a board of medical experts, including therapists, psychiatrists, and child development specialists.  They determine exactly what therapies he needs.  Sounds fair enough right?  Well, because of how the law works, once they determine what he needs, it goes on record, and in order to receive therapy, he must be admitted to the public, government funded pre-school for 4 days per week, where he will receive his therapies as part of the school day.  That’s the only option.  Once the IEP is written, it is followed up on to ensure compliance.  I felt justified in explaining to her that we were a homeschooling family, and asked about non-school options for therapy.  She said there were none.  The state system was set up that way, and I needed to go ahead and schedule his screening then and there.   When I told her I wasn’t calling to schedule yet, and needed to discuss things with my husband, she got upset and tried every possible approach to get to me to schedule.  I found myself in a very uncomfortable position.  I have heard waaaaay too many horror stories.  There was a little more to the conversation, but that was the jist of it.

I was furious at the idea that what she said might be true, and that my son needing therapy might be the way the law forced him into government-funded public school.  It may seem like a silly thing if you aren’t a homeschooler, but I felt like another right I had as a parent had just been squashed.   I love this little boy, and have given him my very best effort.  I have fought for his 3 years of life to help him, even when doctors refused to listen.  We finally started making progress and getting somewhere, and BAM!  I feel like I’ve made a huge mistake by not just keeping quiet.  I can’t regret, and yet, I wonder if I should.  There was something in the school lady’s voice when I hung up, when she couldn’t convince me to schedule the screening yet, that made me very nervous.  Perhaps it’s just paranoia, but something in my gut said we suddenly had a file, that had just been moved to the top of the stack for closer monitoring. 

I called S and told him about the conversation, and I think he got as upset as I did.  There is no possible way our U.S. Constitution would allow us to be forced to put our child into a public school system.  Yet, it happens all the time.  What really makes me angry though, is how a small group of “experts” could look at my son play games for an hour, and then decide that him being assigned to a classroom with 15 other children his age, half of which are also IEP children with all sorts of disabilities, would be more beneficial than allowing me, his mother, to work with him.  There is no possible way you will convince me that the one teacher and 2 volunteers assigned to each group of 15 children could ever love him as much, or devote as much time and effort to his needs.  And what about when he has a moment where he loses his self-control and acts on impulse?  Am I to believe they are more qualified, or will handle it in a better manner for improving his character than I could as his mother?  Worst of all, what about the influence the other children would have on him?  I can’t even afford to risk what could happen if A, with his lack of self-discipline and self-control, and his occasionally extreme impulsiveness, were to be exposed to 15, 3-year olds every day.  I might as well throw in the towel now, as I have no doubt that most of the training and teaching I have done regarding his character would go right down the tubes when influenced by peers.  I am confident the good examples set by his older siblings are much better for him in that area of life. 

I think S was even more nervous than I was, and he told me to get HSLDA on the phone immediately to be proactive and hopefully find some truth on the issue.  So I called, and was immediately directed to the lawyers office that handles our state.  I had to leave a message, but the lawyer called back later.  To my relief, he said, “They told you a load of CRAP!”  He further explained that they had dealt with a number of these situations.  Basically, Tricare is a lousy form of insurance if the state provides therapy through the school system.  Tricare indeed demands an IEP, and IF we want full coverage, then yes, we would have to allow him to receive it through the school, which charges nothing to Tricare (just taxpayers).  However, I could send him for however many days I wanted–or not at all.  I could also take the IEP to a private therapist and pay out of pocket.  Or, I could forego the IEP completely if we found a private therapist willing to simply use a doctor’s referal. 

So, now we are at another wall for the moment.  S has decided we absolutely will not use the school district, if for no other reason than because we can’t support the blatant lies I was told.  We are still debating on the IEP, however.  Our pediatrician has become so uncooperative that he doesn’t even care to follow up with A, except for his normal well-child visits since his MRI and labs showed nothing.  I can only assume he is adding me to his pile of “those” mothers who always worry about nothing.  I have one phone number left that may get him into physical therapy at least, based on his pediatrician’s original referral.  Then, we have the EEG to go to still. 

A is such a difficult child to deal with, his toe-walking is getting increasingly worse (it’s about the only way he walks now) since we stopped seeing the chiropractor, and he has developed a new habit in the last month of almost always having his tongue sticking out of his mouth.  He still frequently spaces off, and still regresses when we are in public or when overwhelmed by something.  This stuff is NOT normal, and I know that.  Yet, the primary care doc continually refuses to support us, and except for these last few little straws left to grasp at, we are almost out of options for help.  This week, S and I really prayed together and just handed him over to the Lord.  We realize we may have reached a point where we just need to let God handle his issues, and trust that A will develop into what God wants him to be.  God always provides what we need, just when we need it, so the journey certainly isn’t over yet.  It will just be interesting at this point to see what doors He opens, and how He leads us through on this increasingly frustrating and worrisome journey.

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