Category Archives: School At Home

Learning, teaching, even a little bit of honest-to-goodness homeschooling talk.

Back-to-School Supply Fun! Personalized Binders

These are just two of the designs we used to personalize the kids’ geography and general subjects binders. I let them choose the designs themselves from literally 100’s of designs of scrapbooking paper at a scrapbooking store. (Hobby and craft stores carry these as well.)

On this week’s episode of Small Home Farm Radio (to be released Thursday), my Tip of the Week is about how to personalize a binder for yourself or your child(ren).  In case you’re more of a visual person, I thought I’d demonstrate just what I’m talking about:

First, gather as many clearview binders as you will need for each person, and gather whatever kind of scrapbooking paper, wallpaper scraps, wrapping paper, or even craft paper if you want to decorate it with stickers, markers, or anything else.

We chose an orange clearview binder to match the autumn leaves and owls designs Danny picked out for his geography binder, and white clearview binders for the rest of the paper.

Cut the paper to the same size as the clear insert on the front cover and back cover of your binder, and simply insert the paper into the clear cover.  It takes a little finesse to get it in there, but it shouldn’t give you too much grief if you’ve cut it to the right size.

Once you’ve cut your decorative cover paper to the same size as the binder, feed it into the clearview cover.


It gets a little tricky if you are putting paper on the ends of the binder, too, but it can be done.

Once you’ve cut the end piece to the correct width and length, you can slide it in part of the way with your hands, but then it may start to wrinkle up. So what I did…

… was use a knife to help give it some stiffness. And if *that* got a little sticky…

…I used two butterknives, like chopsticks, to grab it further down the paper and work it all the way in.

So that’s what the ends looked like after I worked the paper in!

Voila!  You can add your child’s name or anything else you like, or just do the patterned paper if that’s what tickles your fancy!

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Ten Tips to Simplify Life



1. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need.
2. Get enough sleep every night.
3. Don’t try to please everyone. Do what you know is right.
4. Put on your Big Girl/Big Boy Britches and take responsibility for what happens in your own life.
5. Clean up after yourself as you go.
6. If you hate doing it, stop doing it.
7. Write things down. In one place.
8. Stay out of other people’s dramas. And don’t create your own.
9. Single-task. Do one thing at a time and live in the moment.
10. Realize that you’re never quite as right as you think you are.


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Autumn Apples and Miss Laaa-aacy, Ma’am!

This is Lacy.  She belongs to Whispering Hope Ranch.  They’re letting us borrow her for awhile, and they have our halflinger, Sophie.  I’ll tell you a little more further down!

<Contented Siiiigh>  Cecily asked me to go riding with her this afternoon. It was so lovely.  I haven’t been riding more than once since my mother’s surgery in mid-July. It was a busy and stressful end to summer, and now it’s been a busy schoolyear these four weeks.  I love the new curriculum. (The Prairie Primer which I am doing with Danny, grade 5 and Betsy, grade 3.)  In fact, I’m sorry there’s not another one available for me to do with the kids next year.  It’s really, really delightful!  But it’s also made me very, very busy.  We have an hour more of school, and somehow it manages to stretch out even longer sometimes.  There are so many things I want to do, so many things I should do.  And until I can manage the time more efficiently, I just can’t do as much.

Today I purposed to can applesauce, and so betook myself to do it before lunchtime.  We had some lovely, hot, homemade applesauce with our lunch, but after lunch, as I was preparing to actually can the second batch – I managed to burn it.  Rrrgh.  I didn’t bother to can it, but put it in pint storage containers and put it into the deep freeze downstairs.  We’d eaten half the first batch with not enough left to do ought with but to store it in the fridge to eat tomorrow!

There are still 1 1/2 of the oversized bags of apples left.  We want homemade cider and more applesauce.  I suppose I will get to that in the next half week or so, but there is much going on.  I’ve finally sold the horse trailer!  Hooray!!!  At the last possible moment, too, for I was set to haul it to Yoder Brothers auction at the Isabella County fairgrounds tomorrow.  The auction is Saturday, but tomorrow is the day to take it and get it registered and all that.  Nevertheless, a woman downstate is buying it to haul goats and ponies.  I’m going to that very same town tomorrow anyway, so I shall haul it right down to her.  It saves me considerable time and she’s even throwing in an extra $25 for the delivery!  How’s that!  God is good.  All the time!

The apples come in big 25 lb. bags, intended for people to “not” bait deer with, according to DNR rules.  What other purpose the apples are sold in deer hunting country, at the gas stations, alongside big bags of sugarbeets, corn and carrots, is only to be guessed at.  But we buy them to preserve and to feed to the horses.  I also got a 25 lb. bag of carrots.  I think I ought to get a couple more bags of carrots and apples before it freezes and they become no good anymore.  One day we will have all the apples we want from our own orchard.  In meantime we store them down cellar, can them, and turn them into Cider.

It is funny that we are going to the Apple Orchard/Cider Mill for a school field trip tomorrow.  It being homeschool and all, we really get to pick our own field trips, but this one was put together by a friend of ours, and frankly, though we have our own orchard and make our own cider (unpasteurized cider is the only cider as far as I’m concerned), I’m more interested in a.) getting to see how it is all done commercially, and b.) the fun of being with friends for the afternoon, eating apples and doughnuts and drinking cider (unless of course it is pasteurized and so has that tinny taste which I dislike – then it will be water for me).

Our trail ride this afternoon was really the cat’s pajamas.  I’ve been so full of malaise since I returned home from Ohio a month ago when I was almost immediately launched into the new school year, that I have not ridden nor trained at all.  Poor, poor Saxton has been growing fat and lazy (after having lost too much weight, certainly, while I was gone and others were taking care of him).  He really likes to work, he does.  It may seem silly, but there are days when I am certain he asks me, “Can’t we ride and learn new things today?”  He just looks at me that way.  And he is never so satisfied as when he is learning some new thing.  But that is Saxton.

The three younger children and I went riding.  Danny doubled up on Spur with Cecily.  Betsy rode Lacy, the new Arabian mare we have on loan from The Ranch.  She is 29 years old, petite and sweet, and she loves little girls.  Frankly,  I’ve fallen head over heels for her.  There is something extremely precious in a horse that even a little girl can safely ride.  I know that because I’ve had enough horses that weren’t safe enough for my little girl.  And this sweet mare, while quite an expensive keeper, is worth her weight in Senior Feed Pellets!  LOL!  Betsy was able to ride her out on the trail entirely by herself.  Next time we’ll let Betsy double up and Danny can ride Lacy, if he wants.  It’s not fun to always be the one to double!

A busy, busy next several days.  Hopefully next week will be less crowded, as I’d like to get some pictures, including the new lean-to I talked about.

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How My Garden Does Grow!

Photo by Peter

I’ve been gone a lot recently.  I’ve been down to Ohio to stay with my recovering mother; been to the fair(!) – an all-day event, to watch the Draft Pulls; been to Traverse City for the weekend to cheer on my Honey Pie, his father, sister, friend, and our oldest boy JJ in this year’s Traverse City Triathlon.  In the midst of my spate of travels I’ve nervously expected my tomatoes and peppers to rot on the vine, but mercifully they’ve held off.

Slicing vegetables really isn’t on my list of favorite things to do.  But I sliced with gleeful, giddy abandon tonight as I put away $15 worth of red peppers in the freezer.  They will make bully fajitas and Texas Beef Sandwiches this winter!  It makes so much of the frustration of my poor past gardens worth every bit of painful trying.

The weather was 58-degrees  as we traveled under overcast skies this afternoon on our way home from grocery shopping in the nearest small city, an hour northwest.  We’ve had to cover the tomatoes, melons, and peppers with sheets for the night to keep the cold from stunting their ripening.  I believe the hot peppers are ripe enough to pick when we start canning salsa during the remainder of the week.

But there is so much to do, and I am so far behind.  I’ve lost half of July and much of August – that couldn’t be helped.  And this week we needed to start the new school year.  That always takes time to get acclimated to the new schedule, new subjects, heavier course load.  But the strawberry beds badly need renovating … and watering.  And Danny’s enormous Big Beef tomato plants have taken over the garden like pumpkins or zucchini usually do!  That is what we get for starting them in January!  But at least we will get oodles of tomatoes this year!

I love the learning each year brings.  Yes, there are challenges.  There have been so many disappointments, so many startings-over.  But it is a lovely thing.  I wish you all as happy gardening and happy preserving as I have had this year!

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Fruits of the Earth

As homeschoolers living in the middle of a national forest, we have unique opportunities to do and learn about things that many people wouldn’t even dream about.  One interest our family shares is foraging for wild foods.

Locally, many folks hunt morel and beefsteak mushrooms, as well as huckleberries, wild raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.  And of course there are many, many hunters and fishermen in our area.  But there aren’t a lot of folks that go too much beyond that.

During the spring and summer of 2009 we began a study of wild foods and … well, never really finished it.  Whenever we come across something new and interesting, we’ll give it a try. Some of our experiments have been more pleasant than others, and we’ve had a few surprised faces when something turns out more sour or bitter than we were expecting!

In our yard we’ve found wintercress and dandelion greens to add to our salads.  We have harvested bunchberries off the low-growing plants throughout the woods and serviceberries off their six-foot high spindly shrubs.  The forest floor is covered with wintergreen plants (also known as teaberry), and we love to eat the minty berries and chew on the leaves.  We have made chocolate wintergreen cookies from the homemade extract we made by steeping a pint of wintergreen leaves in whiskey.  We made this just like Mother Wilder did in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book “Farmer Boy.”

Cattails have many edible parts, and we were pleasantly surprised by the potatoey taste of the rhizomes and stalks.  You must do some peeling to get to the good inside part of the stalks, but it is a pleasant diversion.

When fishing did not turn up enough for a meal on a recent camping trip, the children turned to a more unusual main course.  I was not brave enough to join the children for roast snail over the fire, but they tell me it tastes something like steak.

One of our best experiments was making dandelion jelly.  The method is the same as with making any other jelly.  You boil the yellow flower petals only, strain, add the pectin and so forth.  The taste is so nearly that of honey that I think anyone who didn’t know it wasn’t honey would only suspect a difference on account of the texture being more firm.  Dandelion wine wasn’t such a good experiment.  It took four days to pick enough yellow dandelion petals, months of watching and racking and so forth, and nearly a year to be ready to taste.  But in the end I didn’t care at all for the taste and it was very much too strong, but I was satisfied that I had tried the experiment anyway.

We have also tried the leaves and bark of many of the edible trees on our property, though we haven’t yet gotten to make birch beer (something like rootbeer) from the roots of our birch trees.

One of my favorite diversions on walks through our woods in springtime is to pick the tiny violet flowers and chew on the flowers and their stems.  The taste is very reminiscent of spring garden peas.

There have been, and will continue to be, other experiments – some more daring and adventurous than others.  When we have a chance to gather acorns we will boil them twice to get the tannin out of them, dry them and grind them for flour to make bread.  But the chief delight in this ongoing adventure is to see my children learning new things and becoming more competent in their study of nature through what seems to them merely child’s play.


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Home Farming

What kind of farm do you have? Is yours an Urban Homestead with a terrace garden, growing in pots?  Maybe some herbs on the windowsill?  Do you primarily shop at the farmer’s markets to get freshly grown farm produce?  Do you live on a Large Home Farm with space for dairy or beef cattle, grain crops, a full orchard or some other income crop?

Or is your homestead a Garden Farm?  Do you live in the suburbs and raise (or aspire to raise) herbs, vegetables, and fruits in your own garden?  Does your landscape include a couple of dwarf fruit trees?  Some beehives?  Perhaps you’re one in the growing movement of “City Chicken” backyard poultry growers, raising a handful of eggs on a small suburban plot.  This is the way we started out.  We actually lived in semi-rural suburbia (if there is such a thing!)  We lived on a state route that wound its way along the Maumee River, only five minutes from the main business area of our small suburban town outside of Toledo.  We had a 1.25 acre plot that sloped noticeably down from the walkout basement at the rear of the house to a picturesque creek (a.k.a. drainage ditch with lush foliage) at the bottom of the hill, beyond our post and rail fence.

This is the creek (a.k.a. drainage ditch) at the bottom of the hill in our backyard. It was really lovely with all the foliage and flowers!

When we moved there eight years ago, there were remains of a vegetable garden, a defunct raspberry patch that produced exactly one raspberry before it finally gave up the ghost, half a dozen or more black walnut trees and a small orchard containing 3-4 full sized apple trees, a peach tree, and a pie cherry tree.  The previous homeowner had loved herb gardening, whereas I knew (and cared) nothing about it.  I felt the landscape was significantly lacking floral beauty, and invested the next five years in introducing a wild profusion of pinks, blues, purples and yellows – along with some lovely suburban bushes – all around the place. And after looking at the leftover garden plot that consisted of very heavy clay soil, promptly sowed the vegetable garden to grass.  The place blossomed while we lived there, in some respects, and faltered in others.  The orchard was in terrible need of renovation.  The peach died at the end of the first summer and the apples were obviously long overdue for pruning to open them up to sunlight.  But I didn’t know that at the time.  I wrote them off as a poor choice in landscaping, because at this time self-sufficiency in any respect wasn’t on my radar screen.

That all changed the winter we lived at Chub Lake.  We had decided it was time to move away from our hometown.  We had always had a bit of wanderlust and realized that neither we nor our children were getting any younger, and if we ever wanted to make a change, it was “now-or-never”.  So having paid off our home mortgage, we were free to rent a cabin on a lake in Northern Michigan for the winter.  We only intended to try out the weather, really.  We thought we’d enjoy cold, snowy winters, and wanted to make sure it was really so before permanently selling out and moving away.

Though it is, altogether, a story for another time, the winter was wonderful.  It was refreshing, rejuvenating … in the rental we had no home maintenance cares at all (which had figured prominently in our lives as homeowners living in a fixer-upper.  It also left us with plenty of time to explore and enjoy not only the great out of doors, but the local library as well.  Granted, I have been a library hound most of my life, but my interests up to this point had mostly been home decorating and flower gardening.  I was avid.  Nothing could excite me like the prospect of another room to paint and decorate, or another sweet, flowery garden spot, and nothing could satisfy me like a project I’d just finished.

My daughter Cecily has always loved to help out with the flower garden and pots.

But interestingly, in this out-of-the-way backwoods town, the library had very little in the way of decorating books, and not as much as I would have liked in the landscape-gardening books, so I meandered just a little ways over on the shelves.  I found myself thumbing through the pages of Jeff Ball’s “Self-Sufficient Suburban Gardener,” which for your who are unfamiliar with this stellar introduction to homesteading small-scale, contains much encouragement toward growing not only fruits and vegetables, but small livestock such as honeybees, poultry, and even fish if you have the room and inclination.  Then I stumbled on a couple books about keeping chickens, including “City Chickens.”  As I read, somewhere inside me this dim little light grew brighter and brighter.  My eyes grew wider and wider.  And my heart started beating a little faster.  Soon I was devouring everything I could about self-sufficiency, homesteading, and gardening.

By the time we returned to Ohio I was on fire and excited about the starting point we already had … an orchard, an old, neglected herb garden that would serve as a fine small vegetable plot, and a yard large enough (not to mention appropriate zoning) to raise a few chickens in a chicken tractor.

This is the chicken tractor the kids and I built, with our first ever batch of chicks inside once they finally got big and hearty enough. We loved this project!

We returned home the last of March and had one month before a planned month-long trip out west in our beater of a motorcoach.  We would be “road schooling” that month … learning on the go (homeschooling is flexible enough to allow for some pretty amazing learning experiences).  But I had decided to raise chickens with the kids for an agricultural/zoological project once we returned home at the end of May.  We would also look at finding alternate sources of water and some solar experiments  – all fun stuff that was also an extension of what I had been learning myself over the winter.

On our return home we spaded the herb garden and planted it to vegetables, and built a chicken tractor for the variety of Rocks (Plymouth, Silver-Penciled, and Partridge Rocks) we had ordered from McMurray Hatcheries.  I found a source of unpasteurized milk on cowshare, a farmer who raised grass-fed beef and pastured poultry for our home consumption and an excellent farmer’s market for fresh produce we wouldn’t raise.  I sprayed the orchard with sulfur spray for scab and something organic I can’t remember for the codling moths on the fruit trees, and we enjoyed an amazing month and a half of homesteading right in suburbia.

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