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You may have been a little startled when you opened up the blog, and everything looked different. Since it had been a year since we had lived in the Big Ugly House, I contacted my web designer, otherwise known as my sister-in-law, and asked if she would help me out again and come up with a new look. Once again, I love what she has done.

We have decided to call our place Bittersweet Farm. The move to this place has been both hard and wonderful; bitter and sweet. It seemed an appropriate name. (Adding to the appropriateness is the amount of deadly nightshade, otherwise known as bittersweet, that I've pulled up over the past year. I'm sure we're still not done with it.) What I also love about the name is the word order. It ends on sweet and not bitter. It reminds me that the best is yet to come.

So welcome to our new place. It's still Ordinary Time, because I still believe that there is great sacredness and purpose in ordinary things, but we're living life in a different place, and that makes me both sad and happy all at the same time. Bittersweet.

Everything you're are used to seeing is still here, just in slightly different places. For those of you on the less tech-savvy end of spectrum, those thee horizontal lines in the upper left hand corner are the key to all the things you are used to seeing on the side bar. Just click on them and it will all appear. The tabs across the top are still there, but since you can actually see them now, some of you may be surprised at their existence. And yes, I really do need to update the 'About' page. Several older children and my mother have pointed this out to me. I will try to get to it by the end of summer. In my defense, I've been making jam.

Don't look for a new post for the next couple of days as J. and I are taking most of the children camping until Friday. Adult children will be home taking care of the ever-growing menagerie. I'm sure I'll have pictures to share when we get back. See you then.
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It seems that there is another, little known, benefit of having a large family: the ability to play telephone around the dinner table. Now, I know almost all of you are familiar with the game, but since I know I have a large international audience, I'll explain it in case it's an American thing. To play telephone, you get a large number of people to sit in a circle. One person comes up with a sentence, and whispers it to the next person. That person then whispers what they heard to the person on their other side. The message gets passed from person to person around the circle until it reaches the last person before the one who started the message. That person then announces what the message is, often to the hilarious amusement of others because it is often extremely far removed from the original message.

So last night we played telephone at the end of dinner. I don't even remember what started it, but it was pretty funny. The most hilarious example was the one the L. began. Her sentence was the rather non-sensical, "Olive wears a wig." Perhaps it was the initial non-sensical aspect of it, but whatever it was, it definitely morphed into something far removed from the original. The ending sentence ended up being, "Father has a BB gun." I am still a little baffled as to how this change actually happened. Trying to make sense of it isn't helped by the fact that somewhere around the middle of the chain the sentence had become, "Father has hairy armpits." You can only imagine the laughing until tears came that happened in the process. It was pretty fun, and I highly recommend trying it.

But it does explain something. I very clearly told the child next to me what the original sentence was. What she passed along was nothing close. So, this means that when I tell a child, "Please go and pick up your room," they really and truly think I said, "Please go build with Legos." It truly does explain a lot.
_______________
I have a new article published... 6 Reasons You Should Use the Adoption Community  As usual, the more you share, the happier my paycheck is.
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We continue to prepare to have horses. If you are at all aware of the equine world, you will know that inexpensive and horses do not go together. Besides the actual animal itself, there is a lot you need. So when I saw a notice that someone was selling a bulk lot of horse supplies for a pretty fair price, I jumped on it.




Three saddles, not in pristine shape, but decent enough for trail or casual riding. Some girths, stirrup irons, a huge stack of breeches, an even bigger stack of horse blankets of various weights, feed buckets, hoof picks, halters, fly masks, and a few show coats are just some of the things J. and I hauled home today. It was a good deal even if some of the things don't end of up working. I do have a little repair work to do on some of the blankets, but that is something I can manage.

So to recap... horse trailer? Check. Saddles? Check. Blankets? Check.

Fencing? No....

Some kind of shelter? No....

And thus no horse.

Sigh.
__________
I have a new article published. As many clicks and shares as I can get are deeply appreciated. What Writing an Adoption Blog Did for Me
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And here we are again...

  • Look at this:

These are the first two eggs laid by our hens. They are probably, at this point, the most expensive eggs in history. And since they're the first eggs from a young hen or hens, they are still a bit small. Here they are next to a regular store bought egg.


Y. was the first one to find the egg. It was very exciting.

  • It gives me hope that the rest of the hens will start to get with the egg laying program, and won't just be feed-eating patio decorations.
  • What in the world did I ever blog about before we had chickens?
  • With J. home for the time being, we are working on jobs that can get done. Painting the kitchen has risen to the top of the pile. It truly has the worst paint job in the world. It's sort of pinky-lavender, but with "decorative" splotches on it, so it is not one single color. There are many things to dislike about it, but the thing that drives me most crazy is that it always looks dirty. Dirty looking walls in a kitchen are just gross. So now we are experimenting with different colors to see what we like.
And can I just point out the off-center light? Why??



You can't really tell in the light in the photos, but the paint on the left is kind of blue, the center grey, and the right, white. I'm leaning towards the white, because I like the way my pretty blue tile for the back splash I got last year looks with it. I cannot wait for the kitchen to be a different color.
  • Today's plan involves cherries. I want to get a bunch in the dehydrator, make the jam I started with some yesterday, and do cherry pie filling. Tomorrow I will probably make more jam. Sunday I will probably continue to make jam. 
  • Yesterday, I made vanilla fig jam. It's pretty good. Someone asked me for the recipe, and because I cobbled a couple of different recipes together, I feel I can share this one.
Vanilla fig jam - makes 1 1/2 pints

1 1/2 pounds of fresh figs, quartered (I would use a kitchen scale to be sure you have the right amount)
1 heaping cup of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 vanilla bean pod, cut open with the small seeds scraped out and added to the figs

Mix everything together in a non-reactive bowl, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator from a couple of hours to overnight. (Though admittedly, I let mine sit for two days because I couldn't get to it when I should have.) When you're ready to make the jam, set a colander inside a non-reactive, heavy bottomed pot, and pour the fig mixture into it. Let it sit for a bit while all the juice drains out into your cooking pot. Take the colander and the figs and set them aside for a moment. Using a candy thermometer, cook the syrup, stirring constantly, until it reaches 220 degrees. Add back in the figs and any other juice that has collected. I also poured in a 4-oz jar of homemade pectic, though it set so well, I'm not I really needed this. Using an immersion blender, blend the figs just a little bit. You still want some chunks, just not big ones. Turn the heat back on under the pot, and stir until the jam is boiling, but it can't be stirred down and it feels slow and sticky. Spoon into clean canning jars, 1/2 inch headspace, and process for 10 minutes. Or, you could just spoon into clean jars, and store it in the refrigerator for immediate use. 

Like the mulberry jelly, you can use this as jam, or deglaze a pan, or as a spread on grilled cheese sandwiches. 
  • We got the news yesterday that the huskies have been born from which we will get one. TM is over the moon. The puppy should be ready to come home in early September. TM now has a dog brush, and he's ready.
  • I'm nearly done with Y.'s new cloak, and then will make G.'s. There is much excitement and impatience.
  • M.'s cat Amun and P.'s cat Midnight seem to be working out a relationship, though evidently Amun wanted to play yesterday, and Midnight did not. Feelings were hurt. Amun and Nefertiti have only encountered each other once so far, and Nefertiti puffed up like the marshmallow man and scampered away. I guess we forgot to mention to her that there was another cat in the house.
  • Nefertiti really likes Secunda, the African Clawed Frog's fish tank.
She spends a lot of time back there.
  • I made a couple of cherry pies last night, because really, isn't that the whole point of having cherries?

And that's it for today... I have jam to make!


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Guess what we did yesterday? In my continuing efforts to can all the fruit, we went cherry picking. I adore cherries; they truly are my favorite fruit.

The cherry orchard is a couple of hours away, so we first had to have our picnic before the grueling work of cherry picking.


Then it was on to the cherries.







We picked 12 gallons. Want to see what 12 gallons of cherries looks like?


After you pick them, you take them to the wash stand to wash them. After they are clean, you then have them pitted. I really love the fact that we don't have to pit 12 gallons of cherries!







Guess what I will be doing over the next few days? I have the cherry jam and cherry pie filling recipes already laid out and ready to go. Is it odd that there is a small part of me that worries we didn't pick enough?
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I came across this phrase a while ago, and found that it pretty perfectly describes how I learn. I will find one thing overwhelmingly interesting, and spend all my free time reading about it or trying to do it or generally learning about it. After a while, once I have sated my curiosity or reached a functional level of ability, I will set that thing aside and move on to something else. Usually, I will circle back and revisit that thing, but at a different level. Even as a child I would do this, with non-school subjects.

I find many of my children function the same way. The past two days, the current obsession has been hand sewing. L. (who so often is the instigator of the next obsession) decided that BlueBlue, her precious blue teddy bear needed lunch to take to school with him. So she got out the felt and thread and started creating felt food.

Here is BlueBlue with his entire lunch.

He has a glass of milk.

Cookies with candy on top, salad with tomatoes and dressing, and a couple of sandwiches

There is an ice cream cone for dessert and a blue plate to set it all on.

The sandwiches are seal (because BlueBlue is a polar bear), but they have lettuce and tomato on them as well.

As so usually happens, the tide of obsession has swept nearly everyone else up in it as well. K. made a light saber (no surprise there) that I didn't get a picture of. And H. made these... without any help and her own design.

They are little sleeping bags

for a little felt doll.

I made the doll before we brought H. home, and I am so happy to see her finally really playing with it six years later. (I can't stop myself from adding for newer adoptive parents out there... time people, our children need a lot of time to make up for all of their losses. Lots and lots of time. Some things just cannot be rushed.)

You should see the studio. It's as though a felt cyclone has passed through.


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Step 1: When you wake up, be sure to focus on all the bad or worrisome things in your life. Do this before you have even gotten out of bed. It will set the tone for the entire day. Do not under any circumstances think of all the things you have going for you. Brains devote more space to things that are repeated. Thus, a brain practiced in looking for the good or being thankful for what is around them will do so easily and habitually. If you want to have a rotten day, you will need to guard against this.

Step 2: Delay getting up and going. If you can do this while also focusing on the less-than-spectacular aspects of your life, so much the better. And to truly get your day off to the worst start possible, delay getting up until you are well past your usual rising time. Being dressed and put together before heading out of the bedroom can make you feel organized and on top of things. This could very well derail your rotten day, so be sure to avoid it. Lounge around in pajamas for as long as possible.

Step 3: Do not make your bed or tidy your room. Do not underestimate the power of a made bed and tidy room to how your day will go. It seems like such a small thing, but since just entering or walking by a tidy room can lift your spirits throughout the day, it is best to avoid it. Leave the bed a mess, the dirty clothes on the floor, and the stacks of things to be put away. Every time you have to go into your room when it is in this state, will immediately contribute to the day's general rottenness. Not only is it messy, but also contributes to feelings of guilt that you cannot even get the bed made in the morning. This is definitely not a step to slack on.

Step 4: Do not smile at your family. Smiling, too, is one of the underestimated actions. It is a physical signal to your brain that all is not as bad as it could be. This is antithetical to a rotten day, and needs to be avoided. The plus side to not smiling is that you will probably be contributing to someone else's rotten day and helping the mood of the entire house to plummet.

Step 5: Do not go outside if you can help it, and if you do have to leave the house, be sure it is only for errands you do not enjoy. Being outside can too easily lift one's spirits. There is always the chance you will see something beautiful, and the calming aspect of nature needs to be guarded against. Stay inside!

Step 6: Sit as much as possible. Activity is too useful as a mood uplifter, so needs to be avoided. Much better just to sit. Sitting and brooding is even better. Sitting, brooding, and frowning will give a significant boost to the rotten day.

Step 7: Under no circumstances should you do laundry, dishes, or any other activity which promotes tidiness. Mess and filth are what you are after to really promote a bad attitude and a rotten day. Piles of things which need to be taken care are much more useful for brooding on in their disreputable state. Even putting in one load of laundry could cause a cascade of productiveness, which in turn could turn a rotten day around.

Step 8: Do not engage in pleasant hobbies or activities. Distracting yourself with an activity which usually makes you happy is courting disaster if you truly want to have a rotten day. Losing yourself, and thus forgetting your unhappiness, can have dire consequences. Let those activities sit. It would be even better if you let them sit, and then feel guilty about the money you have spent on them when you don't do them every day.

Step 9: Deal with other's disregulation. If you are lucky, and have followed the above steps, a family member will become disregulated and also be having a rotten day. Children who do not feel 100% secure in their family are prime targets for this type of event. If a parent is so grumpy and unhappy, it must be their fault, with the ultimate conclusion being that the parent does not love them anymore. Getting the child back on track will probably not help the general trajectory of the day, and will ultimately add to its rottenness.

Step 10: Do not go to bed early. Sleep is a powerful antidote to a rotten day, so you don't want to resort to it too soon. A tired brain is one that is much better at brooding and seeing the down side of things. Make use of this, and be sure to sit and brood as long as possible before getting into bed.

There you go. If you follow these instructions carefully, you are pretty much guaranteed a genuinely rotten day. It can be a marathon, but you can do it!
_____
Yesterday was kind of rotten. I did not follow step 10, and today has been much better.
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As I mentioned last Friday, the garden is booming. I still have moments of just standing and staring at it, because I find the whole thing so surprising. I thought you might like to see some pictures.


Look at all my tomato plants!

And cucumbers

If you look carefully, you can see some very large hot peppers on this plant.

This odd plant is called a cardoon, and its presence in the garden is due solely to staring too long at seed catalogs in the dead of winter. It seems you eat the stalks, after more than a little bit of labor. I'm sure I will let you know how this little experiment goes.

See that squash growing up the side of the dead tree? This is another too-much-seed-catalog purchase. This is an edible gourd, which I'm told can be used like zucchini. The cool thing is that the gourds grow very long and look like snakes. I picture them hanging down from the dead branches of this tree. It sounds pretty cool in theory, huh?

The garden from the other side.

This is the other, smaller, garden with the squash and melons. There are zucchini, patty-pan squash, pie pumpkins, butternut squash, and two varieties of cantaloupe. I'm just now starting to see flowers beginning to grow, so it will be a while yet before we start to see fruit. 


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I've been feeling vaguely irritable all day, and I find this mood hasn't left me when it is time to sit down and write a blog post. Consider yourself warned, because I probably won't be very popular with a certain segment of people.

Most of you know we have homeschooled for nearly 22 years now, if you include that homeschool pre-school co-op I did with M. ages and ages ago. During those 22 years, a lot has changed. Homeschooling has gone from just became legal in all 50 states to a much larger movement that is seen as a target market ripe for the picking by anyone who makes or sells anything vaguely educational. The other change over the past 22 years is the rise of the internet and all those small electronic devises with which we surround ourselves. It's a whole new homeschooling world, and I often feel like the crotchety grandmother.

While there are many things that I could find irksome in this new homeschooling world, the one that most irritates me is the use of computers for homeschooling. (I know, I've written about this before, but sheesh people, it just gets worse!) Over the past few days, the number of requests by new homeschoolers for others to share good internet-based curricula for their young children has been crazy. We're talking five year olds here, for whom parents think it is okay and "educational" to be plunked in front a screen and let the computer do the teaching.

This. Is. Not. Homeschooling.

Do I need to say it again? It might be some vague sort of education happening at home, but it is not homeschooling. Heck, the parent isn't even doing the education, the dang computer is. I can't help but think the child would be better off in a classroom where at least he or she is interacting with a live person and having actual discussions, using real materials, and utilizing multiple senses.

It's as if some of the new generation of homeschooling parents want the benefits without the work. Because you know what? Homeschooling takes work and it takes time. There are no short-cuts to education. Our school day might not look like a traditional school day, but that does not mean it is not heavy on the parental involvement. Committing to homeschooling means committing to spending a lot of time with your children.

I know that sometimes children and parents can clash over the teaching and learning process. I've experienced that... many times. I also know that many parents mistake this clash for the signal that they cannot teach their children. They are misinterpreting what this means. More often than not, any issues with homeschooling are family dynamic issues and not educational ones. The intensity of relationship that happens when you are spending such close amounts of time together acts as a catalyst for exposing parts of a relationship which need work. I've also discovered that more often than not, the part of the relationship that needs work is usually on my end and not my child's. The clashes often happen when my personal expectations are at odds with what my child needs. I have spent a lot of time over the past 22 years re-examining my personal educational expectations and asking myself why I find them so important. Like most of parenting, it is a humbling experience.

Fear can also play into the clash of expectations. It can be a scary thing to take your child's education into your own hands, and the fear of ruining your child isn't helped by the scare tactics used by curriculum publishers. In truth, the recipe for what creates a successful adult is as varied as the number of adults. We are all unique individuals, and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. This diversity is often frightening, because it means that there is no one 'right' way, and humans like predictability and formula. It requires less thinking on our part. Yet just because one video curriculum touts itself as the key to future success, those are just words with no basis in reality. They don't know your child, much less what is best for your child. The don't know, no matter how often or how loudly they say they do.

What do children need to learn? Parents who love them and talk to them about many things. A chance to use all of their senses in exploring and investigating. Books, good books, challenging books, all sorts of books read to them and discussed with them. Children need free time to figure out things on their own. They need outdoor play where they can explore, run, jump, challenge themselves, or just sit and watch the ants on the sidewalk for an hour. Everyone needs opportunities to create things that are important to them. And social relationships with a wide variety of people and ages in various settings. This is what a child needs to learn.

This is precisely what computers cannot provide. Computers can teach facts and require certain facts to be spewed back. They offer no room for questions, creativity, conversations, shades of grey, flexible thinking, love, or humor. Education is more than facts. Life is more than just getting the right answer. Do not waste these precious years where you could be the one to open the door to this utterly fascinating and beautiful world to your children with the poor substitute of a screen.
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And just like that, it's the end of the week and the middle of July. I need summer to slow down just a little bit.

  • These flowers were a gift from friends when they came over for dinner a while back.

TM has named them "Rainbow Bunny Tails". I have no idea what their official name is, but I love Rainbow Bunny Tails so much, that it is what they shall forever be known as.
  • The garden is doing really well. I have completely weeded it, and reseeded some things that needed it, but for the most part, everything is growing well. We had baby bok choy from the garden, and I've picked a couple of cucumbers already, with many more on the way. This is good, because I plan on making quarts and quarts of dill pickles, since my family can eat their weight in the things. The 24 tomato plants are starting to set fruit, and I cannot wait for fresh tomatoes. 
  • L. will still not sit on the cushions on the dining room chairs. 
  • We had adult children and adult children's friends over for the 4th this past week. Q. was a huge hit, and enjoyed all the petting and attention very much.
  • We took all the younger people to see Incredibles 2 earlier this week. I really liked it. One of the favorite scenes from among the younger people was where Mr. Incredible is reading to JackJack and keeps falling asleep. I could hear the entire row of my children busting a gut, since they have first hand experience with this phenomenon. I am really glad that JackJack is not my son. 
  • J. and I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time these days talking about chickens.
  • Chickadee appears to be healthy again and is out of the kitchen. None of the other chickens seem to have caught whatever she briefly had. Thank goodness!
  • The roosters... the roosters are being so terribly rooster-ish. Rooster (whose full name now seems to be Bertie (or Birdie) Rooster, which is a play on words for Bertie Wooster, the PG Wodehouse character) has taken to occasionally pecking out a beak full of tail feathers from a passing hen, causing the hen to squawk and run away. Fluffy also does this, but every time Fluffy goes after a hen, Rooster goes after Fluffy. It's a little three ring circus-ish in the back yard.
  • The ducks just do their thing. Their thing being staying together in a clump, ignoring the chickens, and finding as much water as possible to play in. Today, I found most of the ducks sound asleep, floating in their wading pool in the rain.
  • I've been slowly doling out my Inspector Gamache books to make them last as long as possible. I'm now deep into one now. They are so good.
  • Still no eggs from the poultry yet. Next week is week 18, and we should start seeing eggs. I have approximately 3894 egg cartons precariously balanced on top of my refrigerator all ready for a large influx of eggs.
  • J. has finished painting both the shed and the chicken coop. They look great. The playhouse is next, but will need some repair work done, so is a bigger job than just painting.
  • I've been to three grocery stores this week. The first for my regular shopping trip, and the other two for stocking up on things I have to make a special trip for. It drives me a little nuts that there isn't an Asian grocery store closer than 30 minutes from my house.
  • Amun (M.'s cat) is settling in, and has stopped hissing at everyone and everything. He has even sort of accepted Midnight. We're not sure Midnight has noticed Amun, though, because Midnight just cannot get enough of watching the gerbils.
And that's about it. Enjoy your weekend!
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