Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Homeschool book review The Wind Boy

Today I asked my daughter if she had picked up on the allegory that is in the book "The Wind Boy" by Ethel Cook Elliot.  When I tried to explain what I saw, she said I was crazy (again!).  For those of you who have not read it, it is a very simple fantasy, clearly written in language youngsters can understand, simpler reading but much like CS Lewis.  It is a very good read-aloud book.  But for enlightened adults, it is a very complex spiritual allegory.  I just read it again, and decided to put my impressions down on paper.  I am very thankful for my high school AP English teacher who opened the world of literature for me, Ms. Clay Smith.  If it weren't for her, I would never have understood the importance of symbolism or allegory or any of those other complex terms.
The main characters are refugee children who feel out of place in their new home.  The learn to "see" into another world in their isolation, and become friends with the Wind Boy.  Turns out the wind boy has a problem- he created an ugly mask that was stolen and is being used to scare the neighborhood.  Until he returns to the "clear land" with the ugly mask he is captive on earth.  The children, with the help of a visiting angel help the Wind Boy retrieve the mask and allow him to return to Clear land.  But he comes back to visit them whenever their thoughts are pure and they truly believe in him.  The girl character is able to weave a beautiful robe when her thoughts are pure, and the robe allows her to have contact with the Great Artist.  The mother of the children is able to be an inspired artist whenever she sees into the clear land.  Her husband is returned to her from the war zone through her art.  To make any more connections will give the whole book away!  So I leave it to you to read the book and tell me if my conclusions are acurate and Biblical.  Amazon says they only have 2 left...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Check it out-my friend Sharon is having a linky party:

Life skills vs education

The Life Skills School of Agriculture

As a home educator, I spend a certain portion of my time thinking about what I wish someone had taught me, and how I can keep my own children from missing out on important life skills.  In my academic life I was an overachiever- I was a member of Beta Club, National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, an officer in FFA.  I received the Presidential Academic Fitness Award (signed by Ronnie!) and was a National merit scholar. In college I paid for my whole ride with scholarships and work studies. I made the dean’s list a couple of times and was a member of Alpha Zeta and earned an American Society of Animal Science Scholarship Award for academic excellence.  But graduating from college left me wholly unprepared for REAL life, especially REAL life on a farm.  Even though I spent my whole life living on a farm, I have realized that all my agriculture degree did was educate me enough to make it impossible to make a living on a farm.  My degree taught me how commercial agriculture operates, how big money does it, but it taught me nothing about the agriculture that was important to me: how agriculture can be a healthy lifestyle for a family.  As I look back on my education, I realize my  little country  grade school gave me an excellent education and I have it to thank for my academic excellence. But living in the country also allowed me to miss out on a lot of things I wish I had pursued, like music, art, home economics.  On the flip side I learned much about tough self-sufficiency from the farm life.  My life challenge has become understanding how to create a balance between farm life, town life and family relations.  Perhaps that is why I choose to home educate; in order to rectify the deficiencies in these areas.  And I wonder how many people realize that the biggest advantage to home education is what the PARENT learns.  Home schooling makes any parent blatantly aware of her own faults and strengths, and unfortunately some other home educator will have written a good self-help book about how to fix those weaknesses! I believe home educating and farming create both great struggles and great personal growth.  Over the past 15 years I have struggled with wearing all the hats the position requires: wife, mother, housekeeper, teacher, soul coach and farmer.  It has taken 15 years to realize that all the self-help books in the world won’t change anything if all those hats preclude time for SELF.  I think this blog will be consumed for quite some time with my long list of lessons learned at the life skills school of agriculture.  I will start the outline privately and share the results with you.  Maybe my notes can become a course in itself.  As I look back on my days in ag college, I will design a course that fills in all the gaps that were left in my education.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The one woman hay saver

I  grew up on a farm, so I have spent most of the winters of my life feeding hay to some  kind of livestock, and watching life in summer revolve around the hay bale circuit.  Deep in my heart I love agriculture, but as a former allergic asthmatic, I have dreamed of days without hay dust.  Since I am built very slight, and married to an exuberant husband who thinks a 70 pound square bale is too light, the advent of round bales into my life felt like freedom gained.  But the time my husband spent in the hayfield baling them, carrying them to the barn and then dispersing the bales in winter left no time for romantic evenings.
By chance I heard some people raving about how a little bit of high tensile electric fence shortened the amount of time they spent in the hayfield and kept them in the house in winter instead of out feeding cows.  I experimented with a paddock project, and really liked watching the grass grow and the cattle spread their manure around to fertilize the grass.  With nitrogen fertilizer at 400 dollars a ton, I was soon hooked on the idea of not fertilizing my hay field and feeding less hay in winter.  My county agent began preaching about how there is $60 worth of fertilizer in a round bale that has been “recycled” by a herd of cows, and since our farm soil type needed a lot of help from the fertilizer buggy, I believed that buying hay and importing organic matter to the acreage was the next step we needed to take.  Hey, it put fertilizer money back in my pocket and kept my dearly beloved out of the hayfield, a win/win situation.
Since the DB was in Afghanistan at the time and could not bale the hay anyway, and we were experiencing the worst drought of the decade, finding someone to buy hay from and not paying dearly for it were my first concern.  The funding for the hay came out of my own personal “butter and egg” money and I wanted to get the most feed value out of each bale.  It took some Arkansas ingenuity to make the most of these expensive store bought bales, especially with 3 species of livestock to consider, but I was determined to make the animals eat the hay, waste as little as possible and to spread the fertilizer value of those bales far and wide.  Because I have Scotch/Irish background, I abhor waste, and also learned not to buy a pig in a poke.
Which led to me to first address hay quality.  If I was going to shell out my hard earned dollars I wanted hay that would be nutritious and delicious.  I resolved to get a hay analysis before I bought hay.  This added difficulty because by the time I got the hay sampled and the analysis back, the hay was all sold out. But I finally managed to find some decent TDN 5 X 6 bales at a reasonable price.  Since this size bale has almost twice as much hay as a 4 X 5 bale, I felt like I had made a fairly good purchase, but the large bale size meant that there was more opportunity for hay to be wasted if not fed in a proper manner.   I was used to unrolling a 4x5 for 25 cows, but since the drought I  was down to  10 cows and the bales were so much bigger I could not unroll them like I was used to doing, without wasting hay.  I had to use my imagination to figure out how to make these big bales work for a dozen cattle, 11 horses, and 25 goats.
One of the disadvantages of dividing the pastures into small grazing paddocks was that there was a lot more grass available than in previous years.  It appeared to be just enough to keep the cattle from being hungry enough to eat hay without wasting it.  The horses were even more challenging because they always prefer to eat grass down into the ground than eat hay.  I had to learn new habits- just because it was Thanksgiving did not mean that it was time to feed hay.  I began to watch the weather report more closely.  It seemed that by moving one herd (consisting of 11 cattle and 5 horses) to a fresh paddock each week, they were relatively well fed without hay, and I could reserve some paddocks that needed fertilizing for the hay feeding times.  If I knew the weather was going to take a bad turn- rain, cold and wind combined, I could plan ahead and unroll part of a bale in the empty paddock on a nice day, and then when the weather turned bad I could put the cattle in with the hay and hopefully some cedars for protection.  But I still had the problem of the bales being too big.  I only needed about 1/3 of a bale at a time, so what could I do with the rest?  I priced round bale feeders, but they seemed awfully expensive, and those big bales meant a bale would probably last the herd a week or longer, which meant the manure was not getting spread around the farm.
Luckily I had a  football playing son to help me unroll the big bales.  On nice days we would unroll a third of a bale in each of 2 paddocks with nice tree wind breaks, then take the round small remains to the other 6 horses. These horses were in a smaller pasture near the house so they could be ridden, or because they are trouble makers who like to chase the cattle (MULE). By unrolling this small bale, the horses seemed to waste less because they had equal access instead of one horse hogging the whole bale and running the others off as horses are prone to do when fed in a round bale feeder. During the drought I found this concept to be true with square bales- I could spread flakes of square bale around and everybody got a bite. Since horses REALLY make the manure, this was helping spread their nutrition around too.
The hay rings being so expensive made the mental wheels turn in other directions too.  AS the weather grew colder and tractors became harder to start, the idea of leaving a whole round bale without waste became more attractive.  For 2 years now I had been improvising ways to feed hay to my goats without them wasting it.  Since goats are pretty finicky about their hay quality, and some of mine was Bermuda, they were picking through it to get the fescue, Johnson grass and crabgrass and throwing the Bermuda on the ground.  Waste was enormous, especially when the weather was nice and they weren’t that hungry and just liked to play with the hay.  Early in the season I fed square bales by tying hog panels as mangers between the trusses of an old chicken house we use as goat shelter   The smaller checks in the bottom of the hog panel kept the hay from falling through, and the goats could reach through the larger squares at the top to get hay.  (My goats are all dehorned because of this.)  As the weather cooled off and the goats began lactating, they needed more than a couple of square bales a day.  By wrapping the better quality (according to the goats) round bales with a cattle panel, the goats could reach the hay, not waste it, and I only had to feed about once a week.  Since they were being fed inside, I could haul the manure to the worst pastures in the spring and broadcast it where needed.   Using cattle and hog panels to feed goats  probably saved me several hundred dollars worth of wasted hay. 
Near my home I have a little pasture where I keep a blind cow, my milk goats and 3 old horses.  These big bales presented a challenge here too- to much hay.  I wrapped the bottom of the bale with a hog panel.  This prevented the horses and cow from pulling hay out at the bottom and wasting it, but allowed the goats to stick  their heads through down low and eat.  It has been a great hay saving technique. 
Having a little rest from daily hay feeding has made me a little lazy.  Every day I am looking for opportunities to reduce the number of times I have to get on the tractor, and thinking to myself “I could go visiting at Christmas and the help would not have to use the tractor to feed hay bales.  All I have to do is have someone open an electric gap to let stock into fresh hay.”  So I have taken a small vacation and proclaimed myself ‘the one woman hay saver".

Journey of a thousand miles

They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  So here is my first step!  I am tired of watching you all pick on Serea on Facebook; I'll take some of the heat off her LOL!

 Living in almost complete isolation like I do, and loving to put words on paper, perhaps blogging can be my new outlet.  During winter I tend to have more time to Facebook.  I hope to put some of that energy towards blogging.  It really helps to get stuff off my chest,  here goes.

I am struggling so with winter.  Living in an old house and also spending so much of my day our on the farm in the elements has made me super-sensitive to cold weather.  And I dislike the ups and downs of Arkansas weather even more because about the time you think you have your winter wardrobe figured out, summer comes for a visit, much like it has here lately!
For years now I have been painfully cold anytime I SIT for extended periods.  It doesn't seem to be connected with the temperature of the house so much as the draftiness and the fact that my circulation slows whenever I am not active.  Dr. Lee told me to get used to it, I am just cold natured.  Last year I felt like I would die while sitting at the computer paying bills, partly because it was by a north window.  In January I had a hysterectomy, and hot flashes opened up a whole new world for me.  Now I was either roasting or frozen as the case may be instead of just being frozen all the time.  Anyway, I became determined to become warm, not hot nor cold.
I had an energy audit done on the house and Jim Reeves said 9 tubes of caulk would change my life.  I am very uneducated in matters of home upkeep, and I thought caulk was just for the outside of a house.  I had now idea that interior walls, trim and floorboards had a life of their own and were actually BREATHING on me!  Once I discovered how easy it was to use silicon caulk to stop up these holes, I became quite enthusiastic about improving my situation.  I guess before I thought it was hopeless- "I live in an old house and I will never be comfortable."  Now I feel like a warrior going to battle to take back my territory.
Our upstairs bedroom had no ceiling, so even with an electric heater, it was never warm: all the heat went up.  Getting dressed (or UNDRESSED) was a scary proposition.  58 degrees does not motivate one to start the day like flylady recommends " get dressed-to the shoes".  One might prefer just to take all the covers with you and relocate to a warmer dressing area!  So my dear son was drawn into another of my harebrained schemes, which was to make a ceiling out of plywood and insulate above it.  The idea worked in theory but is not much on looks.  But by the time Steve helped us close up all the odd angles and I attacked with the caulk gun, we were able to obtain 68 degrees with the electric heater.  Perhaps aesthetics will come later.  I love interior decorating, but utility issues must be addressed first.
This winter's project was to have the chimney inspected and find out why we can't stay warm with the wood stove.  Everyone else said they had a stove like ours and it was keeping them warm.  Why were we not warm?  I began pinching pennies and selling goats to save for a new stove.  When the man came out to give me a bid on fixing the chimney and installing a new stove, I discovered behind the stove was this huge chimney/fireplace with NO PIPE attached to the stove.  No wonder on windy days the smoke came into the house!  No wonder the heat was all going back up the chimney!  Not to mention why I experienced flu symptoms and felt better when I left the stove area!  I am always amazed at how a few simple modern improvements can change the efficiency of an old house.
I feel very rewarded for my penny pinching and saving.  Last Saturday the new chimney and stove were installed, and I can't believe how much stress that old wood stove was causing me.  No longer do I have to babysit the stove for half and hour to get a fire started!  This stove has a DRAFT.  Push it left to start a fire, right to slow it down and last all night.  The fire catches and takes off almost instantly when it gets the proper draft. No longer do I have to babysit the fire all day to keep it burning, nor haul five gallon buckets of ash out of it.  After a week I only had a 1/2 a bucket of ashes. Even with a very small fire, the living room is 80 degrees.  This has become a problem because my son's bedroom is an annex of the living room, and he said it was too hot to sleep.  (Perhaps we are all having trouble acclimatizing!)  Which leads me to the next home improvement project- cutting a vent in the ceiling to let some of that wondrous warm air go straight up to the bedroom.  Bye Bye electric heater!

This week I cleaned my laundry room and caulked all the available surfaces.  Plan to do a room each day, but since summer is here for a visit I think I will just go for a hike or visit my horse- in a T-SHIRT!  More later as the warmth saga unfolds