Saturday, April 28, 2012

Celebrations on the Homestead

It has been so fantastic sharing our new place with family and friends. This weekend the place is overrun with special guests of E's. So honored to be trusted by friends with wonderful children. The house and property is filled with giggles, squeals and laughter. Wonderful days!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review by V: "Cougar," by Helen V. Griffith

The following review was written by 9-year-old V:
Cougar is a book about a boy named Nicholas who goes to live with his grandparents on an old ranch. On the way there, he sees a great, black stallion. When he gets to his grandparents' house, he learns that the horse's name is Cougar. There is one thing Nicholas does not understand, though; Cougar had been a horse that lived at the farm, but it had died in a fire when the barn burned down. So why was the horse still there? At the school, there is a bully named Robbo who always is mean and nasty to Nicholas as he has been to every new kid that ever came to the school. Every one is afraid of Robbo, and so everyone lets him do what he likes, but Nicholas doesn't want to live in fear of Robbo so he must work to be better than Robbo.

Cougar is a very exciting story. It is very fast moving, going from one incident to the next. This story in extremely unpredictable. Cougar is such a quick read I read it in one day.

I really liked Cougar and think lots of people should read it. I would suggest it for readers ages 7 to 13 because the bully is rather mean and nasty.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review by V: "Runt" by Marion Dane Bauer

The following review was written by our 9-year-old avid reader:

"Runt" by Marion Dane Bauer is a book about a wolf pup who was born the runt o fhis litter. He picks up Runt as his name because he is the runt. Runt does not want to stay at the bottom of his pack, unnoticed, so he must work to be as good as the rest.

This story is very exciting and sad. It is a rather fast-moving book. It is also a quick read. It is a very easy read because the vocabulary is elementary.

I really like this book because it has so many unpredictable twists and turns. I really couldn't say what age you should be to read it because it depends upon the person (maybe 7 and older). I think everyone should read or hear this story at some time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review by E: Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher

The following review was written by an 11-year-old avid reader.

Marjan, a young storyteller, has no greater wish than to meet Shaharazad, the young queen who stopped the killings in the sultan's palace by telling him a story every night. But when Marjan finally gets her wish, everything goes wrong! Shaharazad is running out of stories. Marjan is plunged into an adventure to save her queen and the lives of many others.

Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher is a beautiful retelling of the classic tale of a thousand and one nights with characters beautifully detailed and believable. Perfectly placed, the storyline is polished to perfection.

I would recommend Shadow Spinner to girls ages 7 and up. Boys could not relate much to this story as most of the characters are girls, although some boys may enjoy it. Shadow Spinner may be difficult for younger readers because of the vocabulary used. Readers of all ages will find this story enticing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Visitors from Afar

My mom has always used "big words" with me. I don't believe she ever used baby talk, even in my first moments here on Earth. The result was a little girl who spoke well, read early and understood adult discussion more clearly than they could have imagined. But sometimes the big words didn't quite sink in. One of those was "afar."

"Afar" was, in my young mind, an amazing place. All sorts of people lived there. They had a variety of accents, clothing styles, food preferences. Some were brown. Some where white. Some were tall. They spoke of hot weather, wet weather, mountains, deserts. Where WAS this place, Afar?

This week, we had our own visitors from Afar; visitors we don't see often enough. Our Cousins from Somerset, England bring with them Afarish humor, news and treats. Their 10-year-old son fits in ever so nicely with our 9-year-old and 11-year-old girls. While children cavort, parents have time to visit, relax, even nap or read.

We enjoyed sharing American customs with our cousins again this trip: decorating Easter eggs chief among them. And with Mr. Cousin's love of sweet things and cooking, plus the timely arrival of a cooking magazine with recipes for JUST the thing he was hankering for, time in the kitchen rewarded us with superb sticky treats.

It may seem like the kids are too old for the Easter Bunny and egg hunting, but they're still keen on all the surprises childhood has to offer, and we enjoy playing along. It's fun to see them hunting for their basket and eggs which grow increasingly difficult for them to find each year. As long as they want to play, so will I.

We were sorry to see our cousins leave so soon, but vacation time is limited, and American cousins are numerous, so we had to share. Someday, we hope to join them in Afar.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review by E: "Groosham Grange"

Note: The following review was written by an 11-year-old reader who has been exploring books related, by any stretch of the imagination, to "Harry Potter."

Thirteen-year-old David Eliot has just been expelled from school when a prospectus comes from Groosham Grange. The school is everything David's father could want with strict discipline and only one day of vacation a year. Little does David's father know that Groosham Grange is no ordinary school, but a famed school of witchcraft.
Set in Europe, "Groosham Grange" by Anthony Horowitz has a strong set of characters. This is a very funny book although it is tense in some places. I would recommend it for kids ages 7-13. Older kids will figure out the conclusion before they come to it, while younger kids may find some parts disturbing.

Boys can relate more to this story than girls, but all will enjoy it. Groosham Grange is written on a higher reading level so younger kids may need some help.

Groosham Grange is a very good book. It will leave you wondering if maybe vampires and other dark magic are real; if maybe you, too, could some day attend Groosham Grange.

Best-laid Plans

In addition to what has become a regular morning routine of animal-related chores, today's plan was to get back to our human anatomy project. We've had a nice long break from schoolwork at the table as we prepared for and finally moved, and while there have been lessons learned I felt it was time to get back to our unfinished projects and some structured academics.

But Nature had other plans for us.

As we wrapped up our garage-related chores, we all heard squeaking in the garage. V spotted a baby mouse wedged against the outside of the (empty) terrarium. She grabbed her butterfly net and the girls were off on a different science adventure.

In the end, they found four baby mice: two in a nest inside a box of now-mouse-tattered awards; two on the garage floor. Their eyes aren't yet open and their mother is AWOL. My first thoughts, particularly since the mice are clearly nesting in our belongings, was that we needed to set some cats loose in the garage for a while to help eradicate the destructive critters. But furry babies are so cute. And they were helpless. And having an animal project that will require responsibility isn't a bad idea.

We made a deal: they can care for these mice in the garage using the terrarium. I can set the cats loose on any other mice. (I don't suspect these will live long without their mother. And if they do, it will be because the girls have exercised some responsibility toward other living things and a schedule of sorts.)

The girls are in rodent heaven.

I've hidden the Squirrelinator.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Frost on the Garden

With the help of "Big Red," a giant Troy rototiller on loan from a friend, I was able to finish turning up the weeds and soil in the garden early yesterday morning. This morning, we awoke to heavy frost. Even the bird bath was fairly frozen. This is as close to snow as we're likely to see this year. Spring is in the air.

Science in the Ravines

There are two ravines on the property and today we opted to take science back outside. As other kids ran free from their brick-and-mortar school day, we headed up the west ravine to check out the flora and fauna, build fairy houses, explore dens and holes (before the snakes come out for spring).

Three extremely short hours later we returned home hungry and tired and full of questions. What were some of those things we saw? Those long, wiggly worms in the creek? Those squishy green balls (eggs or algae)? Those plants? Those tracks?

Let the research continue!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Moving mid-schoolyear doesn't really affect our education as a homeschooling family, but E is involved in projects which align with the school year; most notably, 4-H. When we moved, I promised her that I would do whatever it took to help her wrap up her projects with her old club, now 60 miles south of our new home. That means some crazy commuting for general meetings and project meetings, but she's happy to see her friends, to maintain those ties and to complete the projects to which she'd committed last fall.

E signed up for 4-H last year when a friend invited her to take part in the cooking and sewing projects. Until then, we thought 4-H was all about growing animals to sell at the fair, largely for slaughter. While the idea of growing animals (and, yes, eating them) appeal to all of us here in the Best home, the idea of slaughtering is hard to swallow. (Yes, I realize that makes us hypocritical. City people lose touch with the reality of this basic fact of life.) But sewing and cooking? She was all over that - and three other projects including building a porcelain doll.

This year, she is serving on the executive board of her club and has signed up for a variety of projects and committees. She looks forward to every gathering, every project meeting. Here's the cooking project at work on chicken tortilla soup. More project photos to follow, in large part to share with other project members; get those record books going, kids!

Words with Friends

One of my greatest fears about moving to the sticks was the potential isolation. Would friends visit us? Would we make new friends in this rural community? Or would we feel entirely isolated and lonely?

Sherri (and Travis) were among our first visitors.
But I pushed those worries aside as we waved goodbye to our home in the nice cul-de-sac a mile from grocery stores, schools and other suburban amenities. After all, while we had friends right there in our neighborhood and neighbors just 10 feet from either side of our house, we didn't really have that many visitors. With kids (ours and theirs) running hither and yon to dance or sports or school and more, there wasn't a lot of time for get-togethers. Our neighbors were friendly enough in a wave-as-you-pass manner, but in suburbia, folks drive into their garages, close the door and lock themselves inside. There are no front porch evenings. There's no time to walk past neighbors' homes to run down to the library or grocery store.

If I had the same wave-as-you-pass relationship with neighbors in the new place, at least we'd have some space between us; I wouldn't confuse the ring of their phone with mine, the beep of their matching microwave with mine.

Our friends and family have shown wonderful support for our move. We've already had more visitors in a month than we had in a year at the old place and I'm so very thankful to all of them for making use of our guest bedroom, stopping in for tea, bringing the kids to run wild with my kids, helping us make the special places on the place even more so by building memories with them.

We didn't move here to isolate ourselves. We moved to have a place we could share and enjoy with friends and family. Help us live the dream.

Seasons of the Mighty Oak

It will be very hot here this summer and every summer. I know this. I think I'm prepared for it even though heat and I have never been close friends. In exchange for the heat of summer, we get nearly four seasons. (Yes, it has been known to snow right here - as recently as two winters ago!)

We moved here at the perfect time. Our new adventure coincides with the renewal of life here on the farm. Watching the plants emerge from winter dormancy is so beautiful. The oaks in particular are grand to watch. When we moved in, they all looked so gnarly and dead. Some may be past their prime. One ancient, long-dead oak finally exploded this winter into giant chunk that will keep our house warm next winter. But most of them appear to be coming out of it. It's fun to watch them progress toward summer when we'll count on them for blessed shade.

Garden Project - Let It Begin

Given all the photos I've taken in my lifetime, it's hard to believe I forgot to take BEFORE photos here! We were so busy jumping right into the work that it simply slipped my mind! I think it's time to pass the official family photog torch on to V who loves to capture images whenever she can wrest my camera from me.

The first three days we were here, we unpacked the kitchen then got right to work fixing the paddock fence so we could bring our previously boarded horse home. As she had been for years, our mare was kept in a small pen and we wanted to get her out on space and grass and rocks as soon as possible. We thought we'd be able to simply repair the fence that was here, but upon close inspection we found that we needed to start over again - the old barbed wire fence had been stretched and patched with tie wire and any manner of things, and the corner posts were rotted and broken down. Grandparents were here for the weekend and all lent a hand, either picking up bags of trash (wire, wood, nails, metal, glass, recyclable) from the paddock or working directly on the fence.

My first horse, Maddie, in our own front yard
Neither Mr. B or I have ever done this kind of work. And I confess: I can be pretty impatient and rude when I know how to do something, or know only a little bit about how to do something (but don't want anyone to know I DON'T know 'cause I don't want them to think I'm dumb - I know...something I need to work on). But what I discovered through the fence building project was that it was a lot easier to have fun and enjoy the hard work when just giving in to that ignorance, doing my best with the knowledge I have and enjoying the give and take of working together with Mr. B with shared leadership in a project.

In another project, the girls and I worked on cleaning out the designated garden area. The previous owner, also a city girl it appears, went through a variety of efforts to keep squirrels out of the garden here. During our excavation of the old garden, we found a lot of trash and remnants of a variety of those efforts: chain link, then poultry netting (chicken wire) and finally a low, double-line electrical fence setup. The garden looked so great after the cleanup I decided to shoot some photos. It was only then that I realized there was no "before" photo to provide contrast. Oh well.

With the trash out of the garden, and plenty of greenery and drying things growing, it was time to cut the horses loose to graze. This week, we had two horses as we were trying a second. Kevin, the taller Thoroughbred shown here, didn't work out for us. Herd-bound horses suck. So back he went. It was a nice try, and Maddie enjoyed her equine company, but he cost me in back injury and was too dangerous for the girls. Remember everyone: "There's NO such thing as a free horse!"

Science Lessons in Our Backyard - Botany Walk

The potential for learning at home has grown exponentially with this move. Today, we returned to some semblance of "normal" with a botany walk of our backyard. We took photos, cuttings and note of many of the plants we found along the way. Ultimately, we will identify the plants here and create our own reference book for the property. Then, each spring as the wildflowers pop up and I inevitably forget some of their names, we'll have a quick reference specific to our place.

Happy Yellow Home - Painting Days

The move was tough for the girls who, while well traveled, have never known another home. We'd lived in our Santa Barbara County home their entire lives. We had designed and built our addition. There were special touches here and there that were decidedly ours. They liked the idea of moving, the idea of living on a farm. They were even excited enough to pick their rooms when we toured the house for the first time. But when we signed the paperwork, it sunk in: we were really doing this.

V really didn't want to leave the mural on her bedroom wall behind, to sleep anywhere other than under the two corner windows in her own room, to leave our pet cemetery behind. E didn't want to leave behind her friends, particularly neighborhood kids who came out of the woodwork as soon as we put up that "for sale" sign last spring.

But there are treasures to be found in our new home, our new community. Being closer to nature is a bonus for us all, as is being closer to some of the girls' grandparents.

To help ease their frustration, we had the girls design their own rooms - paint color, carpets (the carpets in their rooms and the master were fairly rank) - and then we went to it. The first morning I woke the girls in their new rooms, I asked, "So, how do you like your room?" Through squinting morning eyes, they answered.

E: "I LIKE it!"

V: "It's WONderful!"

Made my day - and it was only 7:30 a.m.

On the Road to Home

It's been quiet here at Best Family Adventures not for lack of activity, but due to major changes here on the Central Coast. We're off the road indefinitely as we enter another new adventure: life in our new country home.

Throughout my life, I've always imagined myself living in the country. Some of my greatest childhood memories involved days and weeks spent at my great-grandparents' farm, camping with my dad, exploring the great outdoors with friends and family. For as long as I can remember, town living has given me that need to wander, to get away from the pavement and the noise.

Now we've done it! And back to my home county, closer to my dad, and loads of room for the girls to explore.

The first weekend we were here the girls were joined by one of their best friends while her mom took a mother-daughter trip with her own mom. It was so wonderful to have this terrific, intelligent, creative, kind, beautiful young lady with us as we transitioned into our new home. While Mr. B and I unpacked the moving container (thanks, Mom, for the BEST moving idea EVER!), got the kitchen up and running and settled in some of the STUFF, the girls explored the property, tested out the rope swing, played with dolls, sang, danced and, best of all, giggled and laughed the weekend away, giving proper warm up to "The Happy Yellow House."

It may have been Thea's idea for the girls to work together to make our first dinner in the house a special dinner for two for Mr. B and me. They set the table, concocted spaghetti with sauce made from scratch, served a salad and topped it off with a fruit-embellished dish of ice cream. The girls watched as we enjoyed our meal before taking over the table for their own. What a fantastic move-in memory!

So, follow along for another chapter in our adventures - continuing to homeschool in our new, rural community; learning about farm life; callousing our hands; and warming our hearts.

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