Friday, December 20, 2013

Lessons in Light

It all started out with a simple lesson in light, variable shutter speeds, painting with light, and camera movement. With their 4-H friends, they started with a lesson in panning - moving the camera to catch the action with just the right shutter speed, but with a blurred background. Then they moved on to painting with light - illuminating a car, then a tree, with the only flashlights we could find that evening.

Then the 4-H kids headed home, but the Best girls were still into it. Night owls that they are (not hard to do when it gets dark at 4:30), they took off with the project, playing with shutter speed, blur and light inside before dressing up to head outside where they developed a story in ghostly images. Can you make it out?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Getting Out and About - Beach Rides, 4-H, Community Service, and Road Trips

While we spent a lot of time on the farm this year, it seemed like we spent even more time driving to and from town for a variety of activities from 4-H happenings to ballet rehearsals. We had a lot of fun this past summer with Cuesta College for Kids for both girls, dance camp in Santa Barbara for E which equated to a Santa Barbara vacation for V and me, beach rides with friends, volunteering at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, a trip to Los Angeles to visit grandparents, a weekend trip to Nevada to camp with Grandpa to camp with a Utah cousin, and a weeklong trip in the fall to visit the Utah cousins in earnest. With animals to tend to, it's tougher to take long trips. Though Mr. B generally chooses to stay home, it seems a bit unfair to have him doing all the heavy lifting if we hit the road, so we try to stick around.

The girls did really well with 4-H last year. They attended loads of presentation events, including this SLO County Field Day.

We didn't know what to expect, but since the girls were showing their photos, posters and sewing projects, and it was touted as a mini-fair, we invited the grandparents along. It was nice to have them there - the girls feel extra special when their grandparents come to their events - and it was a cute mini-fair-like event, but since there were no horse events (our girls' only 4-H animal), their presentations were pretty static, and all quickly ran out of things to do. V found the milking station, and we all enjoyed a picnic BBQ.

A week later, the girls went to State Field Day, for which E had qualified with both her presentation and her sewing project. There, V enjoyed her first chess match, and we were thoroughly befuddled with the 4-H shuffle. E got to show off her 1913 bathing costume and earned a state gold medal for her presentation, but our lack of event knowledge led us to miss a lot of the available activities. It's all a learning curve, isn't it?

In other 2013 lessons, the cousin campout in Nevada taught us that there ARE rivers in the desert. We met up with Utah cousins to camp near Fort Churchill State Historic Park, a halfway point between their Utah home and ours. We spent most of our time on the river, soaking or floating or throwing rocks. The float down was fun, but the heat was brutal so the hike up, even in ankle deep water, was a bit tough.

The Carson River on which the campground rests is a short walk from the actual camping sites, and we found the best seating was with our chairs in the water under the shade of the trees growing from the far bank. It seems to be a seasonal drainage; we watched its flow drop day after day during our visit.

The costumed docents were on hand at the neighboring state park, so the girls got their hands into music making and quilting while cousin Jim checked out the weaponry and Grandpa Randy eyed the canon. It was a good spot, but one better visited much earlier in the spring.

In other news: V's dire need for a rabbit, which she bought with money she earned taking and selling photos this year, led us to learn that not handling rabbits regularly leads to feral, mean little bunnies who actually growl and bite and carry on...until you flip them over. V named him Stevie. Mr. B and I created an enclosure, caged on the bottom from digging predators and on the top to keep out raptors, at the top of the big garden where we put Stevie's house. He seemed to like free run to graze, but turned out to be pretty danged territorial.

We established that it's a full day's ride from Morro Rock to Cambria and back again if you take time to enjoy fish tacos or fish and chips on the beach before heading back. We found an almost ideal parking spot for Maddie, but think they should add a trough and perhaps a bale of hay there at the Cambria store. While the girls were exploring Cuesta College for Kids classes, Aleta joined me for a ride on the beach, a bucket list item, before she headed off for a year in Germany.

We found out that water wars are just as popular at the Templeton July 4th Parade as they were 15 years ago when I last took part with this group in this fun-filled, family-friendly event:

That Barnum Bailey's Circus is just as amazing as I remembered it from my childhood:

Volunteering with La Purisima remains one of the girls' favorite activities:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bountiful Living

This second season in the garden I got a pretty good feeling for just how slow the learning curve is in raising outdoor gardens. Sure, I had a little garden in town, but the forest interface, extreme heat and winter freezes bring us to an entirely different degree of difficulty.

Last year, we learned that drip irrigation is the only way to go, and I installed what we could afford. This year, thanks to a Christmas shopping trip to the farm supply store with Grandma Lynn, I was able to provide drip irrigation to more than half of the garden. Another friend had loads of drip tubing laying around that had been donated to her garden. With her spare previously used hose, and another couple of trips to the farm supply store for additional links and fittings, I was able to finish the task.

I also learned that using green (aka "hot" or "fresh") horse manure is certainly nutrient-rich for the garden, but it also brings LOTS and LOTS of fresh weed seed. Clearing out the garden for planting this year was a bear! Keeping up with it was impossible, but when the time came to really get on the ball, a friend loaned me her cute little, one-foot-wide rototiller. I was super thankful, but eight-tilling-hours into the task I took a look around and determined I'd need another 30 hours of straight tilling at that rate. Instead, I took a half hour to drive into town, a half hour to rent the biggest walk-behind tiller available, half an hour to drive home and two hours to complete the garden tilling job. Another hour round-trip to return the tiller and the job was done, and time was freed up to do some freelance work that would help pay not only for the tiller rental, but also for the seed, electricity to pump water for and tools for more garden work.

We had great success with volunteer cherry tomatos as well as our zucchini, crooked-neck squash, watermelon (two varieties), pumpkin (two small pie varieties), Anaheim chilis (in the second planting) and basil. Our beans were a bit tough, the bell peppers didn't set fruit until very late in the season and with thin walls, and our various full-size heirloom tomatoes were sparse. The chickens got into the garden and ate all the corn, squash and bean starts in the lower garden, and it was too late in the season, at that point, to start again. (I built a new gate to help fend them off for next year.)

I had a great time harvesting, canning and freezing the harvest this summer and fall. The girls are tending away from the garden, the kitchen, pretty much anything that might look like work these days. It was a bit lonely in the canning kitchen, but I hope they come back to it in their futures. While it might be seen as a chore, it's still playtime in my mind.

Meanwhile, our hens gave enough eggs constantly this past laying season to share with another family regularly and now and again with a local baker who prefers eggs from pastured hens. Our hens were joined in September by "Roo," a gift of rooster who could no longer stay in his Utah backyard. (It seems the city thinks crowing might not be the best thing for maintaining a neighborly community.) We think he's a bantam Plymouth Barred Rock since he fits the description, but is outweighed by our PBR hens easily two to one. He fit right in with the girls, and has also begun warming up to the half dozen Australorps we picked up this fall after half our flock disappeared in a single afternoon. (Lots of feathers left around the garden, so we don't figure those girls just walked off.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Treehouse Project

We had all talked about a lot of things before we moved out here: our dreams of lots of animals, horses, hiking, camping, enjoying our space. And, of course, a tree house. Late last spring, Mr. B made that last dream come true. With V as his guide, they selected what they believed to be the best tree for the job. We learned in short order that the pines aren't very trustworthy, and while the oaks fail spectacularly, they seem to stand far longer than these Digger pines which are sticky with sap and have enormous, spiny pine cones.

Mr. B pretty much undertook this task as his own. Who knew he had such building skill? While I'd envisioned something far simpler, he reinforced a lookout that's at least 15 feet up in the tree. It's a great place to picnic, and the girls camped in it with friends when the weather was perfect for sleeping out last summer.

Next time Cousin Cyndi comes, I think we'll just plan to camp out there for the duration of her stay. :)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kittens on the Farm

 Almost all of our animals are rescues: our three indoor kitties who we brought with us in the move from town; our original three hens and the additional six hens; our Leopard tortoise; three outdoor kittens we picked up our first spring on the farm. We're big on saving animals from local shelters or others who can't keep their pets anymore.

But the girls wanted to experience kittens and, really, what good is living on a farm if you can't at least experience ONE round of kittens? Plus, with so many rodents out here in the forest interface, I'm not sure you can ever have too many. So when we picked up the first batch of outdoor kitties, we had the boy and one of the girls fixed, but left one that had already learned the dangers of playing with moving vehicles to have a batch of kittens. The chances seemed slim anyhow; our neighbors neutered and spayed their three cats. Any willing male would have to be pretty tough to make it to our place through the forest and coyotes, hawks, owls and countless other natural hazards.

But on April 28, our kitten batch arrived.
They grew and flourished in the shelter of the garage, with the magnetic-lock cat door barrier keeping them safe. Until they could first reach, then learn to get out that door, they thrived in the garage where the adult cats came to rest, or from whence they fled the rambunctious kittens.

The "old" kitties (at one year) found other places to grow. Katrinka liked rolling in the mint pot best of all.
The girls named them Raven (black shorthair), Jag (black longhair), MG (grey), and, Grandma Lynn's favorite, the tortoise-shell kitten named Pi.

While having the batch of kittens was certainly fun, we do plan to go back into rescue mode. All of the kittens were spayed/neutered in due time. It will take some sort of miracle for newborn kittens to appear in our kitty space again.

We knew the kitties would suffer the slings and arrows of Mother Nature. Still, the loss of Katrinka, one of the kittens from our initial rescue batch (and the mint pot sleeper), this week is a bummer. She has been missing for two days and we suspect the coyotes, an owl or hawk got her. She was our most social cat, and my garden friend. I worked outside for quite some time Saturday, and she didn't come to join me. I've checked everywhere a cat might find herself locked,  but no Katrinka. We'll keep watching for her, but I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Horsin' Around with a Cousin

V has really grown her horse skills this year. Between the experience 4-H provided in its training, shows and clinics, our trail rides, riding around the farm and neighboring properties, and special events like our camp out with Aunt Amy and Cousin Lyla, the experience has really paid off.
This time last year, V wouldn't do anything involving horse care on her own. She wanted me there by her side to catch, groom and tack her horse. She wouldn't ride on her own, and while I'd love to ride all day every day, it turns out there's a lot more chores for adults than we ever had as kids so time is limited.

Fast forward a year, a couple of horse shows, a couple of gymkhanas and a 14-mile rugged trail day through our forest and V is an entirely different horsey girl.

We found a local girls club with horses, Atascadero Wranglerettes, and V has enjoyed (almost) every minute of it, riding in horse parades, attending their own week-long horse camp, sleepovers, parties, monthly meetings, working horse shows and other events. Her first campout was a little brutal, with temperatures well over 100 every day, and a lake that was nearly dried up. She wasn't all too thrilled with the "fun and games" that included manure, water, and rolling the new kids, but she enjoyed their riding time, late-night spooky stories, endless treats and helping in the kitchen. Word is, she was quite the volunteer!

Our first super fun event was the Huasna 4-H Horse Project's God's Country Mystery Trail Ride. The adults and kids who put together the competitive trail ride made it fun with a Pony Express theme. It included challenges like shooting (with water guns from horseback) the bad guys (painted on paper plates and hung in the trees), dodging a rock slide (a slalom through stacked rocks) and standbys like riding over a bridge and through gates that riders had to open and close while on horseback.
We survived the late evening winds and cold overnight temperatures for a fun camp out before sending Lyla and her mom all the way back to Santa Cruz. Oh! And I won my first-ever buckle! Novice class adults. Maddie was SO good for me!

Reese's Overload - My Failing Baking Skills

Way back in May, after the garden was planted and before the mayhem that is summer began, I was inspired by this Reese's Overload Cake recipe and photo.

Beautiful, right? The recipe wasn't bad either, for people who like chocolate in their peanut butter (or peanut butter in their chocolate). I can bake, and I make some pretty tasty frostings. Why not give it a shot?

Well, I'm NOT a cake decorator, that's for DARN sure, and if I ever doubted it, here's the proof.

Looked good through the baking stage, but this is when it should have become clear this wasn't going to work. I needed THREE pans of the same size. Who has THREE? (Who ever needs more than two?) Apparently, Real Bakers.

But I forged ahead. By the time the cakes were baked, the filling was already made and the frosting was well on its way.

The cake was really tall. Lots of sugar. Lots of chocolate and more than its fair share of peanut butter.

The real bakers among us can already see the problem. (I was learning by doing, you see, so while I could SEE it, I still thought I, the inexperienced baker/decorator that I am, could fix it.)

The initial frosting run didn't make enough to cover even the top. Plus, it was too stiff. So I made another batch, softer this time. Alas, it was FAR too runny.

 It tasted scrumptious, rich and sweet and yummy,

but I think it's time for a cake decorating class. What do YOU think?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

On Homeschooling High School

Don't let it be said that my teen doesn't plan ahead. As we begin her eighth-grade year, our ninth year, officially homeschooling, she is looking toward high school and feeling a bit left behind by so many of her friends. Many of their families are opting to go the public/private school route for a variety of reasons: teen hormones, teen struggles, easing the burden on parental leadership in planning, changes in family situations, extracurricular options, and pure peer pressure. Others have simply moved away from the area. She feels compelled to follow the trend. Since we're not moving out of state, that means she's looking at alternative schooling options; chiefly: public high school.
Because we are inclusive, secular homeschoolers who embrace an eclectic, independent program, we aren't always accepted in the relatively rural Central Coast area's large, exclusive groups that frown on secular homeschooling and all that we stand for. I considered, at one time, pretending to be just like them simply for the sake of broadening our circle of homeschooling friends, but I've never been one to believe faking it makes for true friends. So we've remained true to ourselves, made friends along the way, traveled, stayed home, planned field trips and attended many others. There have been sleepovers and campouts and museum trips out of town, but those social schooling days seem to be drawing to an end far too quickly as the other kids move on or out.

Homeschoolers do have other outlets for making friends: arts organizations (E dances); service organizations and clubs like Scouts or 4H; church; co-ops; sports organizations (both girls played soccer a few years ago); other common interest organizations (V is librarian of an area club dedicated to reptiles). But even with that, homeschoolers have so many free hours it's hard not to notice when all their "regular school" friends are back to the grind; they're only available Saturdays and/or Sundays, so they have to squeeze in ALL the fun and family and homework and chores in those few hours.

I've been reading about this issue for years, but it's just come to E's attention. So, we're reading more together. I thought I'd share with you some of the blog posts we've recently discovered and, at least for my part, enjoyed in some way or another. I hope you, too, find them helpful.

What resources have you found helpful? How do you keep your teen interested in the freedom of homeschooling?

Fitting in as a high school homeschooler:

How one girl schooled:

When people ask about homeschooling (a humorous take):

When homeschoolers head to college:

20 tips to better Google searches (I think you already know many of these, but there might be some new info in there for you):

About work:

On essay writing:

And more on essay writing:

Online study tools (and when and why you might use them):

Test prep strategies:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Back to Homeschool 2013 - Details, details and statistics, too

We sure do get a lot of questions about homeschooling, and it's fun to share. We're facing a tougher time now as other families give up the ghost to head for public or private schooling options. Those are a LOT less work for the parents, and in these pre-teen/teen years, a lot less fraught with interpersonal conflict when the teen's away from parent for hours on end. E is watching her friends either get sucked into the system or move far, far away, and she's tempted into a different schooling option. We'll see what comes of it, but for now, she's beginning to realize the type of freedom homeschooling has afforded her and opts to remain on the path.

We're off for a brief adventure before starting our formal studies for the year. So, I'll leave you with this neat infographic full of homeschool-related stats. What do you think?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Wow...time flies - an update from the farm

I can't believe it's been five months since I wrote my last blog entry. (Why does this sound like the opening of a bloggers' anonymous meeting?) I blame life, and I'm not even going to try to make up for my past transgressions in a single post. I've been focusing my writing efforts on freelance gigs that pay (the more the better), trucking the kids around to a variety of activities, and enjoying the myriad opportunities out here on the farm.

This weekend we're off to the California 4H State Field Day at the University of California - Davis where both girls will represent their club in various competitions.

This year, 4H celebrates 100 years, so they added a twist to their fashion revue projects - enter something that commemorates the anniversary. For whatever reason (she said she has NO idea), she chose to research then make a 1913 bathing costume. I'm really proud of her effort here because she came up with the idea, the motivation and the pattern herself. She altered a McCall's dress pattern to  make the body of the dress which she altered for a fuller skirt, button-down front and belted waist. She didn't have a pantaloons pattern, so she thought them through and drew out her own complete with instructions. She modeled the bathing costume's scarf after historic images she saw online and 4H scarf. We should have kept track of the hours she spent on it. I believe it was close to 80, but she was so entranced (and listening to stories and music) that she doesn't believe THAT much time passed.

Her effort paid off not only with a super cute outfit, but top honors in the countywide fashion revue held in April. That honor granted her access to the statewide event this weekend where she also earned a spot, through previous performances, to do a reading at the presentation judging portion of the day-long 4H extravaganza.

V, who earned county honors for one of her photographic prints in April, will be taking two more of her photos for judging at the day's festivities and has entered in the chess tournament. She saw her own success this year in the 4H horse program, thanks in no small part to her 4H horse project leader's time and dedication and local volunteers who put on fantastic training events in preparation for their competitions this year.

Her first event was a performance disaster with a horse she hadn't really been working with enough. She was unable to finish some of her events, and left with lots of colorful ribbons from small classes, not a lot of pride, and frustration in her mount. But over the next month, she dedicated time to working with her horse, and the magic began. By the season-end, County 4H Horse Field Day, she and her mare were getting along swimmingly, and she surprised everyone (including herself) by walking away from the final show with the high-point award in her class.

More to come, I promise. But for now I'm off to pack and head out. Best to you and yours!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Smoothies for Big Kids

Lately, I've been on a smoothie kick. No ice cream. No yogurt. No ice. Just fruits and veggies blended. (Some of the fruits/veggies are frozen so they give the smoothie a bit of thickness.)

All efforts so far have been based on:
2 oranges - juiced
1 small grapefruit - juiced
For my first two efforts, I added:
1/4 c. frozen blueberries
1 whole apple, cut into pieces
1/4 c. spinach
They were OK, but the solids of the apple quickly rose to the top, separated entirely from the juice. Unless I stirred between each drink, the density was just about too much to take. It was a bit like eating a pre-chewed apple. I felt like a baby bird, and let me tell you, I don't think I'd thrive as a baby bird.
Today's smoothie worked out MUCH better than yesterday's. Even V asked for her own. (She had NO idea there was spinach in there...heh-heh!) So, here it is. (What's your favorite smoothie recipe?)

Best Family Smoothie

2 oranges - freshly squeezed (didn't this used to be squozen? Like frozen?)
1 little grapefruit - freshly squished (THERE!)
1/4 c. frozen (freezed?) blueberries
1/4 c. frozen raspberries
1/4 c. frozen spinach
Blend - drink - trick the kids...they have NOOOOOO idea what I put in here, and they feel like they're getting a treat. Well, I suppose we ARE!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Best Family Ham Bone Soup Recipe

This post is largely for my mom, who enjoys cooking, discovering great food, reading recipes and, like me, has no aversion to pork product. But I hope other ham lovers, soup lovers, cooks and aspiring cooks will also enjoy it.

Recently, I had a ham bone and related ham trimmings left over from a meal. I've learned to use all my dinner bones to make stock - a super-simple task which would have been particularly useful in my "starving" college student days. This time, I decided to go straight to soup with the bone. I also  made use of the broccoli stems no one really likes in any other form. Why waste them?

The end result - a happy family on a cold, rainy night. Served with a side of sourdough bread and butter.

Best Family Ham Bone Soup

1 ham hock/bone with trimmings on
1 qt. vegetable broth (for the sake of time savings)
1 onion, diced
1 T. olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 broccoli stems, diced
1 tsp. Suzie Q seasoning (or other favored seasoning mix)
1/8 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
3 healthy twists of the black pepper grinder

In the bottom of your stock pot, saute onion in olive oil until onions are translucent and beginning to brown (or well-browned for sweeter soup). Add garlic and saute another 2 minutes.

To the same pot (we're not big on piles of dishes around here), add the remaining ingredients. Bring nearly to a boil, then allow to simmer for an hour or more.

This soup, like most other homemade soups we've tried, is best after it's been allowed to simmer a good long while, then sit, refrigerated, overnight (or for a couple of days), before being heated for the actual meal. However, we enjoyed it on its first night out nearly as well.

Another note: our bone was quite sparse on meat. Meat lovers might consider leaving extra on the bone at carving time if you're planning to make a soup.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year - Good Deeds to Come

What do you say when mental illness takes the life not only of its sufferer, but scores of victims around him? How do you recover from that? How can those families EVER expect to recover. You know I'm talking about that terrible day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. Everyone's talking about it, or trying not to think about it at all.

If the right people had been in the right place at the right time, if those who needed help had received it, if there were an answer to the madness, these things could stop happening, right? Not just Sandy Hook or Columbine or University of Texas at Austin, but malls in Newport Beach (Calif.) and Clackamas (Wash.), movie theaters in Aurora (Colo.) and Santa Antonio (Texas), political gatherings. If people stepped up to help each other, we could end world hunger, provide clean water to even the farthest reaches of the world, bring about world peace.

I know. It's a pipe dream. But why not? Why not dream?

As we begin a new year, let's do it full of hope, with lessons learned. Let's step up to the plate and be better people.

Thanks to Ann Curry, an author, formerly Newsweek columnist and now with one of the remaining major news networks, people throughout the U.S. are stepping up to share their random acts of kindness. It's inspired me to revive A Year of Living Charitably. If you're interested in learning more about my alternate blog, being inspired by others or reading more about other "random acts" blogs and websites, click this linky.

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