11 August 2011

Learning to ride a bike

To my shame, I must admit that my younger children did not get their own bikes until August of 2010, for their seventh and eighth birthdays, respectively.  Why not?  Well, we had moved to Illinois when the children were four and five, and we moved into an apartment building that had no storage space for bicycles.  We couldn't see the point of buying a bike for the boys when they would have no place to put it.

In July of 2010 we moved to a home in a suburban neighborhood - complete with a yard, a driveway of our own, and ~gasp~ a shed for storing bikes.  My husband suggested getting each child a bike for his birthday, and I agreed.  Jon's birthday is in July, and James and Jacob were born in August, so within six weeks of moving to our new home, all three boys had new bikes.

Jon already knew how to ride a bike, so I didn't have to work with him at all.  Sean and I both started out teaching the younger boys, but for some reason they didn't seem interested after the first couple of days.

"It's just too hard, Mom!  I didn't think it would be this hard."

Then the first snows came early, and thus halted bike learning for 2010.  I started up again in early summer this year (the spring was constantly rainy, so we hadn't had a chance before July to practice again).  This time I handled the training a bit differently...I focused on teaching just James.  The reason for this is simple - my youngest, Jacob, has a temper, and is stubborn as a mule.  When he fails to learn a new skill after the first couple tries, he crosses his arms and refuses to try anymore.  But he's also very competitive, and I knew that if James learned how to ride a bike first, Jacob's natural competitive nature would drive him to learn the skill in short order.

My plan worked like a charm.  I focused on James and within a week he was able to ride his bike all the way down the driveway before falling.  His shouts of joy and triumph drew Jacob, who watched him wobble down the driveway.  Jacob hugged his brother, congratulated him, then turned to me with a determined expression and said "I want to learn now!".

By the second week, James was riding to the corner and back without falling over once, and Jacob had mastered the driveway.  ~laughs~ I love it when psychology works!

This morning I took the boys out again.  James has been asking to ride around the block, which I was a bit leery about (our block is amazingly long - just walking around it is more than three quarters of a mile).  But I said if big brother Jon went with him, James could ride around the block.

While the two older boys were gone, Jacob rode down the driveway, turned, and rode about three houses down.  I watched as he attempted a U-turn (which he has never successfully done before).  And he made it - just barely, but he managed to turn around without falling off!  He spent the rest of the morning riding back and forth in front of our house, doing U-turns and riding back.  Every so often he would fall, but he got right back up and brought his bike back to start again.  You could just see the determination to catch up with his older brothers! 

By the end of August, I suspect I will have three skilled bike riders in the family.

26 July 2011

Another geography lesson

A few days ago, my husband and I impulsively decided to go to a Border's store that was closing.  Everything was on clearance, and although finances are crazy tight, Sean said I could spend $15 on whatever I wanted. My first thought was to get the Ishmael trilogy by Daniel Quinn, but evidently it's a popular book series - it was already gone.  I wandered the fiction and non-fiction areas but nothing jumped out at me.  I considered getting a couple of puzzles for the kids, but nothing just seemed to click...

I found a book called "Plunge into History" that looked interesting, and I thought the kids might enjoy reading it as well, so I picked that up.  Left me with about six dollars, and nothing was really looking good.  Then Sean pointed out the maps.

I've been wanting to get a map of the U.S. for a while now, and this was a nice big map - three feet by five feet.  It was two dollars more than my six remaining dollars, so I went to put the book back.  But Sean stopped me and said he'd  be willing to pay the extra two dollars since I had chosen something educational. The kids were thrilled with their new map, and spent about 25 minutes pouring over it when we hung it up.  But I knew it would become a boring, everyday poster if I didn't use it regularly. During the school year, that won't be so hard, but how to incorporate it during the summer? 

That's not as hard as you might think.  This year, we had to order new backpacks for all three kids.  I pulled up the shipping details this morning and discovered that Jacob's backpack had already shipped out from Lexington.  So I showed him the online shipping details and then asked him "How far away do you think Lexington is?"

He went STRAIGHT to the map, and found it in seconds.

Jacob points to Lexington, Kentucky
He's excited - he discovered that the backpack is now in Itasca, IL (about twenty miles away).  It will probably arrive today, and so he keeps running to the windows every time he hears a vehicle drive by.  "Is that my package? Aw, drat, it's just the neighbor's car."

I'd love to homeschool, but I know it's not the right step for me at this point in my life.  But that doesn't stop me from encouraging learning at home!  My kids are at the top of their classes, mainly because Sean and I have taught them that learning is fun rather than a chore to be dreaded at all costs. 

How do you encourage education at home?

04 July 2011

More Trouble pics

"Wow, Daddy - you're really big!"

"Can I smell too?"

"Play with me!"

"Quit laughing at me and help me up the step!"

Nothing beats a soft pillow for a nap after playtime!
(Wii-mote show with puppy for scale)

29 June 2011


A couple days ago, I was walking Hansel when a neighbor flagged me over.  She held a small black puppy in her hand and when I came over, she thrust him into my arms.

"He won't eat."

The conversation that went on from there was too long to copy here, but the long and short of it was as follows:  Five weeks ago, the woman's dog had delivered nine puppies, and when they were three and a half weeks old, the mother dog rejected them.  Eight of the puppies were thriving without mommy - they were munching down on the dog food and everything - but the runt of the litter wasn't eating, wasn't growing, and was starting to fade. 

She made it clear that she wasn't going to spend a cent on this runt, either to buy formula, or different food, or to take him to the vet.  He was either going to starve to death, or I could take him.

So I took him.

Sean wasn't happy at first, but after walking back with me to talk to the neighbor (and seeing her apathy towards the pup), he calmed down.  We discovered the woman had been feeding all the pups the same food she fed their mother - dry dog food, the kind for big breed dogs (so each individual kibble was huge).  The rest of the puppies were more than double the runt's size, and could handle the large food pellets.  But the runt couldn't even open his mouth up wide enough to attempt it.

We took the pup to the pet store and bought a dozen cans of puppy food.  He ate that with no problem - in fact, he was almost inhaling the food, as though he was afraid his bigger siblings would magically appear and steal it from him.  After his first meal, he staggered about five steps away from the food dish and went to sleep.

The first day, he did nothing but eat, sleep, and poop.  The second day, he showed a bit more life, walking around and exploring a little bit, and playing tug-of-war.  Today - the third day - he's almost as active as a normal puppy his age should be...though he still tires quickly.  I have no doubt he's going to survive and thrive in our household.

Sean named him Trouble.  He's mostly pit bull - his father is a purebreed American Pit Bull, and his mother is a pit bull/boxer mix.  He's slightly bowlegged, with a deep chest, wide shoulders, and narrow hips.  He's also got a remarkably wide wedge-shaped head, typical of the breed. 

Earlier today, he was getting more active, so we took him outside to play while I hung sheets on the line.  I took a couple videos of him out there...he's still a little emaciated, but looks much better than he did when I first brought him home.

07 June 2011


Not a lengthy post - just wanted to put up a few pictures of the new foster dog, Hansel.  I think he's the most beautiful dog we've fostered, to date.

30 May 2011

A boy and his dog? Not exactly...

Yesterday we drove to Lake Bluff to pick up a new foster dog - a two year old Aussie/whippet mix named Pogo.  He'd been described to me as a calm dog, a real cuddly pooch.  I thought he would be a great foster dog and had mental images of the boys running and playing with him, throwing balls and frisbees and teaching him to go down the slide.

It wasn't to be.

The moment Pogo laid eyes on the kids, his body language changed to fearful and anxious.  A growl rose up in his throat and at one point, he actually snapped at Jacob (who wasn't paying attention to his body language).  It was decided that he wasn't going to go home with us.  I can't see how rehabilitation would work if he was living in a constant state of anxiety.  I'm guessing he's had bad experiences with children in his past.

Not to mention, I'll never be okay with taking in an animal who might potentially bite one of my children.

Today I got a call about Hansel, a three year old dachshund.  My family actually had a dachshund when I was 12, and I loved playing with him and he was a great companion.  Dachshunds are known to be family dogs, great playmates to children and adults alike.  Tomorrow, we will drive to the vet and meet Hansel, and if he seems comfortable with the boys, he'll come home with us.

It's also kitten season, so I am expecting we will be asked to take in another litter soon.  That should make Gryphon happy - he's been kneading the ground in front of the kitten crate and crying for his "babies".  Whenever we watch a video of kittens on YouTube, he gets excited and runs around, searching for the babies.  I'm thinking we're going to have to take in at least one or two kittens at the least, to keep Mr. Gryphon calm and happy. 

24 May 2011

Almost summer vacation...

"The sun is like a blanket for the earth - it covers the ground up and keeps it warm and healthy " - Jacob Burg, age 7

Getting children to focus at this time of year is nearly impossible - they have less than a week until summer vacation starts, and they are restless for the school year to be done.  They still will have work to do, though.  We insist that each child work on their weaknesses during summer break.

Last year each boy worked on his reading and writing.  Although all three boys read well, they sometimes skim the paragraphs rather than reading in-depth.  And their handwriting?  Well, to put it nicely, I've seen better handwriting from a left-handed doctor!  And all three of them struggled with sentence structure and composition.  So last summer we decided that each boy had to read a set number of pages in a book, and then write a small book report - one or two paragraphs - about what they read.  Then, and only then, were they free to go play with their friends.

Oooo, did we have some fights at first.  Although they love to read, they hated the idea of writing a small report about what they read.  And for the first few weeks, I never accepted their first report because it didn't meet the standards Sean and I had set for each child.

"James, I circled several words that you misspelled.  You need to go back and re-write your report with the words spelled properly.  If you need help, the dictionary is on the table."

"Jacob, you are having a problem writing your sentences - they need to flow, just like the sentences you speak.  Also, you need to have the first word capitalized and a punctuation mark at the end of every sentence.  Please go back and fix these mistakes."

"Jonathan...~stunned shock~...I can't even make out half of the words in this report.  I can't even tell if you have the sentences structured right!  Go back and write it legibly please".

Poor kids...they didn't get outside until after 5pm during the first few weeks of summer break.  But they quickly realized that Sean and I were very serious about the work assignments, and slowly they began to improve.  By week five, each boy was making it outside before lunch.  By week seven, they were done before 10am (impressive, considering they started around 8:30 every morning).

Now, I know some people are reading this with their jaws dropped, feeling that Sean and I are far too harsh in our parenting style.  But let's be honest...children who don't learn these skills will never make it far in this world.  With more and more communication being written rather than verbal (especially in this day and age of the internet), being able to express yourself well through writing is more important than ever.  To my way of thinking, it would be far crueler to NOT work on their academic weaknesses. 

By the end of the summer, the boys had gone from actively disliking their "homework" to being proud of their results.  The first time each child got a perfect paper on the first try, I let them choose what desert we would have that night - and I let that child help cook it.  The looks of pride on their faces is something that I will never forget.  And they started the new school year with confidence - and were stunned and thrilled to discover they were far ahead of their peers.  Both Jacob and James were made teacher assistants, helping the other students with reading - and they are both very proud of that fact.  And when Jon brought home a report card with an A in English, he was flabbergasted - but thrilled.

This afternoon, after school, Jacob came to me and asked "Why haven't I started writing book reports yet?"  I was a little surprised (I was going to have them do something else this summer), but I said "Well, summer break hasn't technically started yet, has it?"  He agreed with that and then asked if he could read outside since it was so nice out.  As he was spreading his blanket out on the grass, he made this comment.

"The sun is like a blanket for the earth - it covers the ground up and keeps it warm and healthy.  Right, mom?"

How did such a young child get to be so wise?  Could it be because he's been taught that learning is a gift, not a chore?

This summer, I am planning to have the kids work on history - specifically, American history.  There is so much about our nation's history that gets skimmed over in the classroom.  For example, did you know during the Depression that our nation's troops fired on our own veterans in Washington, DC?  I had never realized that tanks had been driven down our nations capital with the sole intent of attacking our veterans...school never taught me that.  I learned that on my own.  Now, I don't think I will teach the younger two that - they are too young to understand right now.  But Jon is turning 14 this summer, he'll be going into high school in the fall, and he's ready to learn more in-depth topics, both good and bad, about our nation's history.

And since Jacob requested it, perhaps I'll have them each write a small report about the major events in our history.  No reason not to keep up with good writing habits as well.

05 May 2011

Hectic insanity

I realize I haven't posted in a while.  Things have been rather hectic around here lately...between spring planting and children getting excited about school ending soon, plus hubby working extra hours (we need a few extra days worth of income to make it to my sister's wedding at the end of the month) - it's just been crazy around here.

Insanity - but the good kind of insanity. 

James had an American-themed concert at his school earlier this week.  I tried taking some video...not sure yet how well it came out.  If it's clear, I'll post a clip or two to this blog.  Jacob has a concert himself next week - I'll try to take video of that as well.  Jon doesn't have any concerts, but he's getting excited about summer break.

Gardening has become much more difficult than I had anticipated.  The neighbor who was going to loan me her rototiller has had some problems with the machine, so I have to dig the entire garden by hand.  When you consider that I was planning over 400 square feet in the backyard and another 200 square feet in the front...well, suffice it to say that I've been remarkably busy.  All that digging has to occur in between rain showers and laundry, dirty dishes and cooking, baking bread and trying new recipes.  It's a madhouse around here, but a fun one.

Now, can someone pass me the Tylenol?  Digging a garden out by hand is killing my lower back!

19 April 2011


I'm going to make this post brief, as Sean is on his way home to rush me to the vet's office.  At midnight Alpha, the little tortoiseshell kitten, went limp. She was still alive, but obviously in a bad way.  She couldn't swallow her food and didn't show much interest in anything but curling up and getting warm.

Oddly enough, Gryphon responded to her need.  While her siblings ran around and played on the floor, Gryphon hopped into the cat bed and curled his body around her.  She seemed to relax with the big cat so close.

This morning I thought she was dead - her body was completely limp.  But no - she opened her mouth in a pitiful attempt to meow.  I washed her gently with warm water (she had messed herself in the night), wrapped her securely to avoid a chill and called Adopt-a-Pet for authorization to bring her in.

Once the authorization was given, I turned my attention to the other kittens.  Three of them were up and active, meowing for breakfast and attention...but another kitten was stretched out limp.  I scooped her up and realized she was still clinging to life - she still had some activeness but not nearly what I was used to seeing with her.  

I called Adopt-a-Pet back and insisted on authorization to bring the entire litter back for examination.  Authorization was given.

I turned my attention back to the sickest of them - Alpha.  She wasn't breathing.  At some point while I was on the phone getting authorization, she had passed away.  Delta, the other female who had gone limp, is barely breathing - and the healthiest of the males, Beta, has grown ominously quiet.

I don't think Delta is going to survive...and I'm seriously worried about the rest of the litter.  Please keep these little kittens in your thoughts today.

EDIT:  As I was preparing the kittens for transport, I noticed Ayla acting odd.  She's normally a very graceful cat, but it took her three tries to get up on the bed.  My Adopt-a-Pet rep called me after I saw this, and when I told her she said to bring her in as well - AAP will cover her medical bills since she seems to have caught whatever the kittens have.

It's weird - Ayla wouldn't have anything to do with these kittens.  It was Gryphon who showed an interest, you would think he would be the one to get sick.  But he's fit as a fiddle, snoozing in the top perch of the cat tree.

EDIT:  Delta had a series of seizures on the way to the clinic and passed away in my arms.

EDIT: 20th of April. Just heard from the vet clinic...Beta passed away last night.  Now only Epsilon and Ralph are left.  Ayla and Gryphon still appear to be in good health, but I'm watching them closely.

12 April 2011

Kitten and kid photos

This morning, I let the kids play with the kittens a bit - and pulled out the camera.  Here's the result:

11 April 2011

Another foster experience

We got an email today asking if we could take in another foster kitty or two.  At that point, we have no foster animals at all - Brewster went to a different foster home that had another terrier, so now he has a playmate and from what I have heard, is much happier there.  It was kinda quiet and lonely around here, so I asked Sean if he thought we should take in another foster animal.

He looked at the request, which stated that there were two litters available for fostering.  He shrugged and said "Yeah, sure - we can take in a litter."

A whole litter - which turned out to be five kittens.  They are five weeks old and very very small.

We went and picked them up earlier today.  Two of the kittens have a siamese appearance, one is gray, one is black, and the last is a tortiseshell.  All of them are sick, and so will be kept separate from our own kitties for the next day or two until the antibiotics have taken effect.

They don't have names yet.  Sean joked that we should name them Alpha, Beta, Delta, Epsilon...and Ralph.  The man cracks me up!

I'll have photos in the next couple of days.  I want to let the little guys get settled in first.

03 April 2011

Planning (yet another gardening post)

I've been itching to get outside and start working on my garden - but the weather hasn't cooperated at all.  Friday it snowed - only a little, but it was still too cold to work outside.  Saturday was perfect, but we had guests coming over so garden work was not a possibility.  Today?  Rain which turned to thunderstorms in the evening.  Tomorrow?  The ground is going to be waaaaay too muddy (thanks to said rain).

I really needed to do SOMETHING related to my garden.  I remembered that the landlord didn't want me to break ground until he saw what I was planning...I had thought to outline the areas I planned to use with sticks and string, but I decided that I was going to do something a bit more impressive.

I decided to chart out exactly what I planned to do with the backyard.

Last year, Sean and I had gone out and measured the entire property in order to get an idea of what kind of space I had to work with.  I still had the measurements - and I had graph paper.  It took hours, but I finally managed to come out with something I am proud of.

Here's the graph showing the available space in our backyard (the shaded areas are areas that can't be used for planting - sidewalk, central air unit, entrance to crawl space, etc.:

The sketch is to scale - the four garden beds measure 25 feet by 4 feet, so each bed is 100 square feet.  As you can see, they should not be visible from the street (which is something the landlord requested).

Then I decided to draw out each bed in more detail, to figure out what I was going to plant in what bed.  This one was harder, because I couldn't just draw plants in there willy-nilly - I had to check with each seed packet and find out how much space was needed for each plant, and which plant needs full sun and which needs partial sun...it was a nightmare.  I also had to sort the seeds by height - the taller plants needed to be north-facing, the shorter plants on the southern side of the garden.  This prevents the taller plants from shading the shorter plants and stealing their much needed sunlight.


Now, I know this will probably bore a lot of people, so feel free to skip the next part if you want to.  I'm going to post pics of each garden bed individually - this way, even if I lose the paper I drew this on, I still have a readable record of the work.

(Bed 1 - northernmost bed)

 (Bed 2)

(Bed 3)

 (Bed 4)

If I have any gardeners reading this blog, please comment and let me know what you think of this.

23 March 2011

Kitty video

The kids asked me to post this video...it was taken a few hours before Lewis was adopted out.  He had just discovered that the screen was climbable:

22 March 2011

Parenting is an ongoing lesson...

...as I learned this evening.

The kids were remarkably well behaved this evening, and when they act this well I usually reward them with a little something.  Tonight I decided to let them watch an extra hour of television, and the kids voted to watch a show called "Survivorman".

For those not familiar with the show, Survivorman is a show that pits a survivalist (Les Stroud) against nature in a unique way...he's dropped off in the wilderness with a few basic supplies and his cameras.  For seven days he is completely alone - filming the entire episode himself with no camera crew.  The kids have watched this show before and have really enjoyed it (as well as another survivalist show called "Dual Survival").

This episode had him dropped off in the middle of the Ecuadorian rainforest.  This ended up being one of the few episodes that "failed"...he didn't make it the whole seven days.  He had stepped out of his shelter to pee before going to bed, and came face to face with a jaguar - who showed no fear of him even when he yelled.  This understandably freaked him out, and he decided to grab his pack, his spear, and his night-vision camera and hoof it to a nearby village.

The whole way to the village, you could hear the barely controlled panic in his voice; the jaguar had decided to follow him and it was very close.  You could hear leaves crunching under its paws as it trailed him; every so often the jaguar would growl and the sound was picked up, quite clearly, by the camera.  Les barely made it to the village in time - after he arrived he videotaped a small segment in which you could hear a very frustrated cat pacing back and forth outside the hut he was hiding in.  A very scary ending to the show - and the kids were FREAKED OUT.

I had to reassure them that there were no jaguars here - those big cats like rainforest, and there is no rainforest near Illinois.  I had just gotten them calmed down enough to sleep when Jacob remembered he had seen some big cats at the zoo nearby - and what if they escaped and hid in the woods near our house and GOBBLED THEM UP WHILE THEY WAITED FOR THE BUS????

And then, of course, I had a couple of panicked kids on my hands again.

And so, another lesson learned - if you are going to let the kids watch Survivorman before bed - make sure it's an episode you've already seen and know it will end well.  And if the kids want to watch one of the scarier versions of the show?  Make sure it is on a sunny afternoon so they don't go to bed scared.

19 March 2011


After getting the negative test results for Lewis (YAY for no feline leukemia!), I was able to facilitate the adoption.  His new family came to pick him up and brought a surprise - a huge bag full of different kinds of marshmallows for the kids to enjoy.  Turns out the husband does work for a marshmallow factory, so he's developed the habit of bringing marshmallows to kids.

This is the third animal I've adopted out, but it's the first time I've done the paperwork and completed the adoption by myself - so I was a bit nervous.  But everything went smoothly.

This adoption was a little bittersweet - I was thrilled when Sapphire and Eggnog were adopted, but Lewis was special and I had gotten very attached to the little rascal.  The kids are handling this a lot better than I am, I'll admit.

16 March 2011

Feline Leukemia???

This past weekend we entertained an older couple who were interested in adopting Lewis, our foster kitty. They said they wanted him and we told them we would push the paperwork through as quickly as possible.


In order to complete the adoption paperwork, we needed a couple of lab printouts from the vet. The vet seemed strangely reluctant to provide us with the paperwork, which confused me because I had been assured that all the cats I had brought there had passed their tests.

Just today we finally got the paperwork - and there, under the feline leukemia test, was the handwritten word "positive".


That vet had told me that Lewis had passed all his lab tests and was free to roam and play with the other cats in my household. This same vet is saying that the notation actually says "negative" but his assistant's bad handwriting makes it look like it says "positive" - which I don't believe for a second.

It turns out the records for the other kitten we had at the same time - Alf - also show a positive reading for the leukemia test.

                                                  Alf and Lewis sitting with Eggnog (foster puppy)

Feline leukemia is very VERY contagious. If Lewis has it, then my own two cats have been exposed to it. There is no cure.



I'm livid. Absolutely, utterly livid. I told the Adopt-a-Pet counselor that I will not even consider adopting out Lewis until I get a repeat of the test done at a different vet clinic. She fortunately agreed with me, and is currently trying to talk the owner of the shelter to pay for a second series of tests (the owner is kind of reluctant - funding is dependent solely on donations, which have been down because of the recession). But I refuse to send an animal out for adoption unless I know for certain he has a clean bill of health.

If the vet did in fact lie to me - an outright lie about the heath of his patient - then I will do everything in my power to see that his license is permanently revoked.

EDIT:  I just heard back from the shelter owner - she is authorized a re-test for both Lewis and Alf (who was our former foster kitty).  Alf just passed his test, so he's leukemia-free...which bodes well for Lewis.

EDIT:  Lewis cleared his test with flying colors - YAY!  His new family will come over on Saturday at 5pm to finalize the paperwork - and then he will be on his way to his new home.

09 March 2011

Parent/Teacher meeting

Yesterday I had a parent/teacher conference.  During that meeting, I also met with the high school guidance counselor to set up Jonathan's electives for the upcoming school year.

The meeting started up on a VERY good note.  One of Jon's teachers stated "I wish I had a whole school full of kids like your son."  What a compliment!  I know I blushed a bit because Jon teased me about it later.

During the meeting it was revealed that Jon is above average in all of his testing scores, so they plan to place in him all advanced courses.  The high school here does things a bit differently than the high school I went to.  Rather than eight class periods, there are four - each period lasts for approximately two hours.  Rather than having two semesters of school per year, they have four quarters, so he will be getting the same amount of education but in a different format.

Once I got used to the concept, I found I rather liked it.  I remember numerous times in my own high school years where I was just starting to really grasp a subject, to get into it and understand it on an instinctive level, and then the bell would ring.  I would have to wrench myself out of that mindset and move on to a completely different class, and then struggle to fit my mind into a new mindset - say, a science mindset.  And then, as soon as I got comfortable - BAM!  The bell would ring again and I would have to go on to English Lit.

Having the class periods being twice as long solves that problem.  Also, with only four subjects to juggle instead of eight, Jon will have an easier time understanding each subject.  And the school offers free tutoring after school and on weekends, so if he is struggling, he can get tutoring without having to pay for it.

Jon has decided that the four electives he wants to take are Intro to Production Tech (woodworking), Intro to Welding, Intro to Auto Mechanics, and Spanish (most of those subjects will help him build that Tumbleweed Tiny Home that he's been dreaming of).  Also, he wants to get some of his electives out of the way in advance, so he is going to take Intro to Computers over the summer.

I also found out that Jonathan has been spending his Friday lunch period playing chess with the coach for cross country.  Evidently they play in the lunchroom and have attracted quite a crowd of students who root for Jon the beat the teacher.  Because of this, Jon has gotten a reputation in his school for being the "go-to" guy when you have trouble with studies, and several students have asked him to help them understand classwork.  He's starting to finally develop a social life in school!  He's always struggled with that, never having more than one close friend at a time, so I'm glad he's learning to socialize with a wider group of people.

I'm really proud of him - he buckled down this year and has shown the potential that I always knew was there.  He's got the whole world ahead of him and if he keeps up the good work, he can probably get a scholarship to pay for part of college.

05 March 2011

Cost of gardening

Okay, I decided to write this post because in the last 24 hours I have had several people comment about how expensive gardening is.  If it had only been one person to say this to me, I would have ignored it...but three people in a 24 hour time period?  That's a bit much.

Let me explain something - if you know what you are doing, gardening can be low cost. 

I started reading and researching Urban Homesteading late last summer - too late to start a garden.  The more I read, the more sense it made to me to have a garden in our backyard for a number of reasons.  Now at first, I also thought that gardening would take a huge investment, but the more I researched the subject, the more I realized that I could do it for under $50.

The first thing you need for a garden is the space to plant in.  Our backyard is average sized, but large enough to plant a garden for our family's needs - so I already had the space necessary.

Second thing you need is tools.  I found a shovel for $5 at a rummage sale, and Sean found gardening gloves and hand tools on sale for $1 each last fall.  Late fall is the best time to buy gardening supplies because they are dirt cheap - all the store wants to do is move the merchandise so they have room for other items.

I found about 75% of my seeds on sale last fall for 10 cents a packet.  Over the winter, I blogged about gardening and talked about it with friends and neighbors, and this lead to me being given several more packets of seed for nothing.  By the time February rolled around, I only needed eight more types of seed - which I ended up paying full price for.  But full price for most of the seeds I bought turned out to be only $1.99 per packet - not a bad price.

I was resigned to the idea that I was going to have to dig my garden out with a shovel, because paying to rent a rototiller was completely out of the question.  But then a neighbor offered to let me use her rototiller in return for some free babysitting.  SCORE!

So now I find that I have paid a grand total of $37 on my garden.  According to my research, I can get as much as 700 lbs of produce from the small amount of land I have, if I plant wisely.  I won't even be using all of my seeds, and next spring most of the extra leftover seeds will still be viable - so next year I won't have to buy seeds at all if I don't want to.

With the right research and knowledge, a good food-producing garden can be planted very cheaply - and it's worth it when you consider how much food you will be growing.  I know that two of the people who told me that gardening was "too expensive" have space and time to plant this spring - and I strongly encourage it!  Think about planting everything you need to make your own homemade spaghetti sauce - tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano, basil, etc.  It doesn't cost much to start up.  Making the sauce is actually pretty simple, if you can the sauce it will last for a year.  Plus, you will know exactly what is in your sauce because YOU made it - no preservatives, no additives, just good wholesome food.

And if you don't have space?  Still consider working towards a garden.  Most towns have a community garden where you can plant if you live in an apartment without a yard.  I have a neighbor who plants her garden in another neighbor's yard because her landlord won't let her plant on her property...she splits the produce with the neighbor whose yard she uses and they all benefit.

For those who are interested in starting out, I STRONGLY recommend the book "The Backyard Homestead" by Carleen Madigan.  This gives you the basics. 

26 February 2011

Dreaming of Spring...

It's been a while since I posted - things have been crazy around here, but in a good way.  We've been doing some small improvements around the house that have been time consuming - preparing a playroom for the kids to set their projects up in, reorganizing the cupboards in the kitchen, moving three bookcases from the living room to the kitchen to make room for a used couch we found at a great price...lots and lots of changes this past week.  It's still crazy around here, but it's a great kind of crazy.

I'm also preparing for our spring planting - squeezing in a last little bit of research and ordering a few seeds to round out the garden.  As it ends up, we will have the following seeds to plant this spring:

a French Mesclun Salad Blend Seed Mixture - 14 varieties

Oregon Sugar Pod II (Snow Pea)

Blue Lake Stringless Beans

Golden Sweet Corn

Dark Green Zucchini
National Pickling Cucumber
Big Max Pumpkin
Sugar Pie Pumpkin

Tomato Family
Beefsteak Tomato
Roma Tomato

a mix of Grand Bell Peppers - including red, yellow, orange, green, white, purple, and chocolate
a mix of Hot Peppers - from mildly spicy to super hot

Root Veggies
Nantes Coreless Carrots
Danvers 126 Carrots

Italian Parsley

Walla Walla Onion
California White Garlic

Fort Laramie Strawberries
Crimson Sweet Watermelons

Mammoth Russian Sunflowers
Wildflower low growing mix - a blend of annuals and perennials that grow less than 16 inches high
Wildflower shade mix - a blend of annuals and perennials that only need 1-4 hours of sunlight daily

The boys are excited about their share of the gardening.  All three boys want to plant flowers, so each kid will get his own sunflower seeds to plant (probably three each for a total of nine sunflowers).

In our front yard, there is a large tree, right smack in the center of the yard.  Jonathan is going to outline a circle around the tree and fill that circle with flowers from the wildflower shade mix.  Then I am going to plant strawberries around the wildflowers for a pretty and productive plot.  The remaining shade mix is going to go on the north side of the house (which doesn't get a lot of sunlight).

Our driveway is flanked by the street by two large boulders, each set about two feet away from the driveway itself.  The area around the boulders is bare dirt, very unattractive!  So James and Jacob each picked a side of the driveway, and they are going to split the other wildflower mixture and plant around the boulders and up the driveway on either side.

I'll be the one doing most of the digging and soil loosening, but the boys will do the actual planting and watering of their flowers.  I think it's a simple project that will look great, and give the kids a sense of responsibility and pride in the property.  It will also be beneficial to the honey bees in the area (and since a lot of honeybee populations are dwindling, scientists have actually asked people to plant flowers this year to help the bees, so the boys will develop a sense of community as well as charity).

The veggie garden will be in the back yard, hidden from the street.  I plan to have three long raised beds in which to plant.  That's enough for starting out, don't you think?  After all, this is my first year gardening.

Our landlord is a truly awesome man for allowing all this gardening on his property.  He could have easily said no way to all this planting and harvesting, but instead he's being totally cool and allowing it, as long as we make it look pretty from the street.  That's a reasonable restriction and I have no problem with it. He's also been great with allowing us to foster animals in this house - again, he could have easily said no way.  Most landlords would freak out at the idea of a parade of animals in their homes, doing who-knows-what kind of damage - chewing damage, scratching damage, urine damage - but Mike is an awesome landlord.

So as a thank you to Mike, I spent a little bit extra and ordered an old-fashioned lilac tree.  I'll be planting it right next to the car port, in full view of the street, and it will remain there even after we move on.  I can't wait to show it to him - unfortunately, it won't arrive until early fall (since that's the best time to plant it).  But I'm still going to enjoy showing him his new lilac.  He totally deserves it!

I sure wish spring would hurry up and get here!

13 February 2011

Rainbow bread

Several months ago, a friend of mine went to visit her husband (who was working in the middle east).  She came back with lots of photos and stories, and one of the things she talked about was rainbow bread.  She mourned the fact that she can't find it in this country, because she really liked the colorfulness.

I had looked at the pictures she posted, and was also impressed with the colorfulness of the bread.  So this weekend, I decided to sit down with the boys and make our own version of rainbow bread.

I didn't have any red food coloring, so all I had to use was blue, green, and yellow.  I broke the dough into three sections and had each of the kids work the color into the dough.

It took a long, long time...

...but finally the dough balls were evenly colored.  The boys waited eagerly while the dough rose, and watched as I formed the loaf into a spiral of bright colors.  I think the worst part of the waiting was after the bread was cooked, because they had to wait an hour for the bread to cool before I could slice it open.

But it was worth the wait!

 I had planned to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the bread, but the kids wanted grilled cheese.

Even the dog wanted some, ha!  Both the younger boys want me to make this for their birthdays.  Sounds wonderful to me.  We can't wait to make this again.

05 February 2011

Winter storm photos

In the aftermath of the big winter storm, a lot of truly impressive photos have come out on the net.  I found the following photos at blogs.denverpost.com, and decided to share them with you guys. 

Several buildings collapsed from the weight of the ice and snow on the roofs.  Several trees cracked under the pressure.

The situation on Lake Shore drive made national attention.  For those not familiar with the Chicago area, Lake Shore drive is a long multi-lane thoroughfare that runs right alongside Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago.  During the storm, Lake Michigan developed 15 foot swells, which caused a lot of water to spray over Lake Shore drive.  Traffic there had already ground to a standstill during the storm, and the water sprayed over the vehicles and then froze, locking them in place.  Those vehicles (including several city buses) had to be abandoned. 

The following are some pictures of the situation.

Those were the photos I found online.  Now, here are a few I took of our own property after the storm: