Saturday, February 25, 2006

Convention Thoughts

It's been busy at our house, getting ready for the ND Homeschool Convention in Minot, ND. This is the first year my husband Jim has been executive director of the Assoc., so it's the first time we've been intimately involved with the details of a convention. What an eye opener! Thankfully there is also a convention coordinator, so we have just been helping out however we can. Minot is about 100 miles from our place -- the closest a convention will ever get to us. It may also be the last time it is ever held in that city, since registrations are really down and a small number of vendors coming, probably due to gas prices and how far the city is "out in the boonies." I guess people prefer attending in one of the larger cities.

I remember the first homeschool convention we ever attended -- way back in March 1996. I remember dates according to who I was pregnant with or taking care of as a baby! That time I was newly pregnant with our son Andrew, and the convention was also held in Minot. The temps were not even rising above the zero mark, and Jim volunteered to take our 2 boys and get them settled in the car. I followed them out a short time later, and we headed out. When we got to a town about 2 hours away we stopped for gas, and I asked Jim where he had placed the boys' winter jackets. Jim had a sudden blank look on his face, and I discovered they were still hanging in our closet in Fargo. Thankfully, we called a friend that was also driving up later to attend the convention, and she was able to round up jackets, hats and mittens for us to use while up in Minot.

A week or so before the convention we were given a tape to listen to of the convention keynote speaker -- Jonathan Lindvall. That tape changed our lives, and I really think started us in thinking about moving to the country.

Mr. Lindvall had many topics that interested us greatly, such as sheltering our children, becoming debt free (including free of a mortgage), courtship and betrothal, home businesses, and others. We became convinced that God had a better way for us than what we had been planning. We had never heard of some of these topics before, and came away thoroughly challenged. It is interesting that since then we have heard of people who were turned off by his presentations, but it was enough for us to start looking to the Lord for what His will was for us in everything.

The leadership of the home school assoc. has been very wise in their choice of speakers, and every year we have come away with new challenges to what we have been thinking. It took me a while one convention to tune into the style of George Grant, but I came away with pages and pages of notes and the desire to read books with more meat in them. I think our most enjoyable time was listening to John Taylor Gatto confirm what we had been thinking. People complained afterward that he didn't present anything practical for the homeschooling families there, but Jim and I were thrilled to listen to him share his insights and experiences with us. This convention we are looking forward to what we will learn from Mr. Mark Hamby of
Lamplighter Publishing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More Times of Fellowship

I can state with certainly that the Country Living Skills Workshop II was a success. Steve (Mountain Fire Keeper) has a real gift for organization as well as teaching, and our friend Paulette definitely has the gift of hospitality. It's not just anyone that can make 40 people feel totally comfortable in their home and not worry about children roaming and causing little messes all over.

The workshops are done in such a way that the information gives something to everyone who attends -- seasoned gardeners to the very beginners (like me). Even though I have heard Paulette talk before about the various herbs and the healing potential within them, it is always such a blessing to hear it again and again. I always learn something new. There was a lady in attendance at the first workshop who had just removed her sons from the public school system and Jim invited her to attend (he is Exec. Director of the ND Home School Assoc.); she must have enjoyed it, as this time she brought along her boyfriend and they seemed to learn a lot. I was so blessed, as they seem eager to learn not only about the practical issues taught, but about the fellowship of the believers. They do not presently know the Lord, but I think it's just a matter of time.

Three families decided to stay overnight at Paulette's, and so later morning our family trooped back over there to visit on Monday (the boys loved the ride, as when we turned onto her gravel road Jim did an almost 360 with the van -- it was a bit on the slippery side!) before everyone headed out. The ladies were interested in making salve, so Paulette decided to go ahead and teach whoever was interested. I'm curious to see how the video turned out, as there certainly was plenty of background noise.

A couple of the guys there were the ones who got our sons interested in playing bluegrass music. Our boys were excited to have the first opportunity in ages to jam with them, and jam they did. Well, Northern Farmer, maybe Mountain Fire Keeper will make a copy of that so you can hear what ND Bluegrass sounds like! Timothy and Jon have finished their homeschooling years, and Tim brought along the beautiful mandolin that he made. I think I heard that he has built a couple others that he has sold, and I know our son Andrew greatly enjoyed having a chance to play some tunes with it. Timothy's brother Isaac and our son Jonathan play banjo, and they enjoy swapping instructional books and videos with each other. Peter had the chance to play along with Jon and his guitar, so there was something for everyone. I am constantly amazed when I watch the interactions of the older boys with the younger, as they patiently answer questions, instruct and encourage the younger ones. I'm so proud of them all!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Learning About Chickens

Tonight I was preparing a couple of our chickens to cook for chicken pot pie that will be served on Sunday at the Country Living Skills Workshop. We are asked to bring food items which are made with items grown in the area. The pot pie is my son's request, as he is proud that he raised the chickens. I had to ask our friend Paulette for some of her potatoes, onions and carrots from her garden, since we have run out of the ones we grew. Hopefully this spring we can plant enough to last us through next year's winter.

We have friends near Fargo who offered us a hen and a rooster to help us get started with chickens. When we went to Fargo last March for the ND homeschool convention they met up with us after the meetings to get us the chickens. My poor husband; I stayed one extra day to do some shopping, and he went home with 2 chickens, 2 boys and a dog in the station wagon! Our sons built a chicken tractor out of peeled logs, chicken wire and cattail leaves and stalks, so everything was ready. They decided to name our new chickens "Lewis and Cluck." It took a while, but Cluck started laying close to an egg per day, and we were thrilled.

In June we picked up 27 or so baby chicks down at the post office. They were so cute! Originally our son Jonathan was thinking about starting them out in our basement since it would be too cold outside at night, but friends gave us enough information to make us decide that we better think of another place to keep them. Instead, Jonathan set up shop in our semi trailer (which has become a catch all for everything), and placed the chicks in a metal watering trough that we borrowed from our friend Paulette. Jonathan was very diligent to make sure the temperature was just right for the chicks, and kept them watered and fed.

By the time I got out to see them I was amazed at the transformation -- they were ugly! Pin feathers all over. I'd never seen chickens grow up before, and they sure looked terrible. Soon it was time to transfer them to a larger chicken tractor, where they stayed until they moved to our freezer.

It wasn't hard for me not to develop an attachment to those meat chickens; they are the epitome of self-centeredness and gluttony. Whenever it was time to feed them they didn't care who they stepped on or what they stepped into, they just wanted to eat. We had one that had something wrong with it, and the others wouldn't leave it alone but kept pecking at him until he was too weak to survive. Thankfully, he was the only casualty until we did the rest in.

We have neighbors that live a mile north of us as the crow flies, and when they heard about our chicken escapades they offered to teach us the fine art of butchering chickens. On Labor Day we got to their farm about 7 a.m. (so we could work without the help of flies) and worked with chickens that were close to 10 pounds each! I guess they let this bunch grow heavier since they wanted to have these smoked. I found it a bit tough to hold one up and pluck feathers, as my arm got pretty sore. Our neighbors would hold the carcass on their knees and pluck, but I wasn't quite that willing to get full of "stuff." I think in 2 hours we did up about 14 of those huge chickens. They laughingly told us we could come over and help them do their turkeys as well -- they were huge! Brad was the one who hayed our fields for us, and as a thank you for sharing the bales with him he brought over a 28 pound turkey -- thankfully cleaned and frozen -- for us for Thanksgiving. They also gave us some photos they took of the whole process but I won't share them here, as my expressions show you exactly what I was thinking as I was gutting out a chicken!

Time was getting away from us, and we needed to do our own butchering. My husband Jim had to fly to Philadelphia for a HSLDA conference the end of September, and that was when our friend Steve (Mountain Fire Keeper) and also Paulette were able to help us out. I was thoroughly blessed, as Paulette is a vegetarian and she actually volunteered to help! I was very grateful to Steve, because he allowed Paulette and me the inside work of cleaning, cutting up, packaging and freezing the chickens, and left the "blood and guts" work to himself and our 2 oldest boys. We decided to save time and just pull off the skin with the feathers, as I don't usually cook chicken with the skin, anyway. Andrew would haul them from their work station outside and across the field to the kitchen. David decided it was better just to watch. It took most of the day, but we got the job done. I was sure glad that was done for the year, but what a blessing it has been to have our own home grown chickens.

In October we were asked to come and help our friends Paul and Donna who live 1-1/2 hours away from us with the butchering of their chickens. Jim was conveniently gone again, this time to a homeschool support group leaders' meeting about 3 hours from here. The boys and I got there in plenty of time before the festivities began. There were also 2 other families helping, so it was quite a crew. Paul set up various work stations: killing, defeathering, gutting, and then into the house for cleaning and packaging. Peter, Andrew and David had lots of fun catching chickens, and Jonathan pulled feathers from the carcass after they had been mostly defeathered by a chicken plucking machine. The poor guy that was working the machine was soaking wet, and plastered with wet feathers!

Not only did we butcher and process 80 + chickens, but after we left the rest of the crew butchered a bunch of ducks and bantams. It was a good learning experience for us, and how much more fun it was to do what could be a rather unpleasant job with 26 like-minded friends. It's really true that many hands make the work lighter. Hopefully we can all work together to make the work lighter in many ways.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Moose Drop Inn

Thought I would give you a taste of our weather, courtesy of the weather service:


So this is life in the Turtle Mountains!

I was thinking about the terrible cold forecast, and wondered how families ever lived in the little Norwegian cabin that is on our land. People in the area have told us the cabin was built just before 1900. Most people had large families back then, and this cabin’s outside dimensions are only 16 feet by 16 feet. There is only one room on the main floor, with a very small upstairs for sleeping that is accessed by a very steep wooden ladder. The occupants moved out, and allowed the cabin to deteriorate. Soon the place was used by party goers (we had to clean up a lot of cans, broken bottles, etc. close by where there was a bonfire area), and in the winter by snowmobilers that needed a place to get out of the wind.

When we first moved up here the contractor wasn’t ready to dig our basement, so Jim and the boys started cleaning up this cabin in order to store Jim’s woodworking tools and other items inside. They decided they should call the place the “Moose Drop Inn”, as we were told it was a good place in which to trap critters and moose had been living in the side rooms in the winter. Needless to say, the place needed a lot of cleaning up! Apparently someone along the way added 2 small rooms to the structure, but party goers had torn away lots of the boards to fuel their bonfires.
Jim and the boys (and friends that came up to help) removed the dilapidated side rooms and cleaned up the inside of the main structure. There is no electricity down there since the cabin is located about ¼ mile from our home, so whenever Jim needs to run a power tool he has to get the generator going. The logs on the exterior were hand cut to make square sides, and the corners are dovetailed to fit. Amazing what they could do by hand. We need to repair the chinking in between the logs, and hopefully we can start that in the spring. I think the roof could use a few wooden shingles as well. Jim added a wood stove and proper doors and windows in order to secure his tools inside. There is another entrance to our property from the road where it curves around by this cabin, and it seems no matter how many times Jim places barriers down there, people either move them, drive over them or just go around. Old habits die hard, I guess.

In the fall of 2004 we had a small fire down there to roast hotdogs and marshmallows … My brother had come up for a week to help out with enclosing the basement and had pitched his tent by this cabin. My oldest had gotten a raccoon that had been trapped in our neighbor’s garden and had skinned it, saving the meat for us to taste! We all took one bite and decided it tasted like chicken, then decided not to eat the rest. After it grew totally dark I looked up into the night sky and noticed that the Big Dipper was directly overhead of the peak of the house. It was amazing to me that the original homesteaders had built the little cabin in a direct north/south direction, probably without the aid of any instruments or tools. We sure could learn a lot from those people.

I guess I am very thankful to be living in this basement instead of at the Moose Drop Inn!

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Great Day of Fellowship

We had a wonderful day yesterday, fellowshipping with our friends Paul and Donna, and their 5 boys. Imagine that! Their 5 boys and our 4 boys made for some pretty interesting activity around here! Of course our boys had to show off our 1970's vintage snowmobiles -- only one seems to run at a time, so they all took turns. It is so much fun to watch all the interaction with everyone ... The oldest was almost 15 and the youngest a year old. The older boys kept watch out for the younger ones outside(minus the baby), giving rides and generally helping everyone to have a good time. I was a bit questioning of what they were doing when they kept coming in and telling us how far they had flown through the air when their sled went over the jump they had made, and at least they all survived with only the twins (4-years-old) knocking their heads together as they were going down the hill.

The adults fellowshipping was just as fun as well. Donna and I had to catch up on everything, and as we had just picked up 10 gallons of milk she taught me how to make cheese (very easy, and tastes good as well) and also brought her Vita Mix to make butter with the cream we had skimmed from the milk. I had told her that I almost ruined my Kitchen Aid mixer by making butter the last time we picked up milk. I think I'm catching on to some country living skills! They also brought their Country Grain Mill to loan us, as my Whispermill died the first fall we lived here. My friend Paulette had been grinding grain for me, and now I can do it myself and bake bread right away, which will be great.

Paul and Donna think the way we do, so it's always a blessing to get together. Singing together and sharing from the Bible are always on the list of what we do, and it's great to see the boys starting to share their thoughts as well. Once again, I marvel at how God is bringing together His people -- even if we have to travel long distances to meet. I thought we were in the middle of nowhere when we first moved here, but we actually have more company now than when we lived in Fargo! We will all be together once again next weekend, when we attend the Country Living Skills Workshop being held at Paulette's next Sunday.

Friday, February 10, 2006

My Type of Cabin Fever

It was another stormy day today ... Spent my afternoon doing what I do many afternoons: baking bread and patching clothes. I'm constantly amazed at how one slide down the hill can put huge rips in snowpants! I also decided that one pair of my husband's jeans will make the rag bag if I find them to be mended one more time! I asked Jim if he would promise never to wear that particular pair of jeans to town, but he said he couldn't make any promises!

Mending gives me plenty of time to think of other things. Our friend Steve (Mountain Fire Keeper) was itching to get out in the garden and plant seeds, but I am itching to get outside and hang clothes!

Last spring Jim and the boys created a makeshift clothesline that was strung between trees and held up in the middle by a support made out of young trees. I had to slop through the mud to get to the lines, but that was okay, as I enjoyed hanging clothes. There is an art to putting clothes on the line: all the socks together, shirts, jeans, etc., so they look organized. I never lacked for company, either, as for some reason the cats (3) and dogs (2) would follow me down there and keep me company with each load. Our dog Selah was very good at stealing a clothespin to chew on, so I had to keep an eye on her to make sure I didn't lose too many. One cat in particular would always attempt to climb into the laundry basket, and I don't remember how many times I would have to shoo him away.

The fall of 2004 was a real trial as far as washing clothes was concerned. We hadn't been able to hook up the dryer, so I had to hang everything on hangers on 2 poles suspended from the ceiling above the wood stove. Since we are living in just the basement with no main floor we had insulation at the ceiling, and with no windows all the moisture from wet clothes and just living in general collected in the house. I remember one night in particular when we actually had it raining in the basement -- with no humidity outside! What a mess. In the spring when it warmed up Jim pulled down the insulation and we attempted to dry out the floor joists and everything else. Of course there was mold, so we sprayed that with a bleach solution. I was so thankful when it warmed up enough for the clothesline to be constructed, and I wore knit gloves underneath rubber gloves to hang our clothes outside. Up here there is usually a wind -- and often a stiff one -- so I have to make sure they are pinned on good and tight.

During hunting season this past fall we had more company down by my clothes lines; a moose made that area her habitation for about 4 days. I was worried that she would be irritated by the dogs or the boys, but they all left her alone and she stayed where she was. One morning when we got up we noted that she was gone.

There is talk that eventually I will have permanent lines closer to the house, but for now, I am still dreaming of getting outside with a laundry basket full of wet clothes!

PS -- Instead of insulation in the ceiling this year, we have 260 square haybales sitting on top of our roof and then covered by a large blue tarp. We have stayed nice and toasty warm, and there have been no more unwelcome showers of humidity in the house!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Winter Weather

Well, today was one of the few days this winter that has actually been stormy. We couldn't even see across the field for all the snow that was blowing. Jim prayed about where we would build our house for quite some time before making the decision, and it was so right. The front here is calm, but go up to the field and you can't see anything! We probably won't get out of our driveway unless the township grader comes through and cleans out our road. It's amazing to me that the grader will plough out everyone's driveways! We are the last one on this road, so it takes a while before he gets to us. Makes for a very pleasant day with the family. Even if the power would go off we have lots of hot water (which is heated on top of our wood stove inside an old water heater) and plenty of heat. Add a little bluegrass music, and we are set for the day!

I never knew what the night sky actually looked like until we moved out here ... We have nothing to dim the stars since we have no yard light. I remember when we were first living in the pop up camper there would be nights when someone in the middle of the night needed to "use the bathroom," and the process of opening the door would wake everyone up. I don't exactly know how it happened, but someone outside must have commented on how brilliant the stars were, so we all climbed out of our sleeping bags and took a look. That must have been the first time I had ever seen a shooting star. No mistaking the Big Dipper up here, it's so huge. I have kept an eye on 3 stars that are all in a row, and move with the seasons. Some day I'm going to get out an astronomy book and check out what I am seeing in the night skies.

Another thing that amazes me is how light it is outside for the whole night, even when the moon is not visible. I guess for this season it's because of the snow, but even without light a person can easily make their way around outside. We haven't seen much this winter of the Northern Lights, but occasionally they will be dancing and someone will notice them.

This photo of sun dogs was taken in early December. My son Andrew pasted the 2 photos together to show how beautiful it was.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Gardening Thoughts

It's a beautiful sunny day here, which means it must be cold. Makes me want to get busy and plant some seeds! I must admit that I am feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of ordering seeds. This is my first year of being very aware of what hybrid seeds actually are, and of the importance of using heirloom seeds. Where do I start? What will actually grow this close to the Canadian border, and which will be iffy? How do I keep the bugs away? I guess I just need to dig in and get busy with seed catalogs as well as searching the internet.

We picked up our coop order late last night when the truck came in, and wow! did I learn a few things about spices! Most of them were on sale, and as I make everything from scratch I ordered quite a few. I ordered most of them by the pound, as it was even cheaper than by the 4 ounce packages. When I pulled out the parsley I discovered the 1 pound bag was big enough to use for a pillow! I was thinking I would have just enough to use up before my own from the garden would be ready -- looks like I won't have to grow any for a couple of years! These are the kinds of lessons I am learning "the hard way," but I guess that's okay. Now to make sure I store them in such a way that the bugs won't bother them and the flavor stays with them as well.

I have dreams of making different flower beds: an herb garden, butterfly garden, rose garden (our friend Steve says that up here I have to stick to shrub roses), and lots of vegetables. Last year we were able to have a garden in the areas around our basement that had been turned up by the cement contractors when doing the concrete work, and also a small area that we had tilled up. The carrots were more than a bit stubby but potatoes grew fairly well; this year we are asking the Lord to give us a bountiful harvest. Then comes the dilemma of how to store everything over the winter! We have an area that was tilled up with sheep manure from a neighbor's farm -- over an acre in size! We will have areas of corn, potatoes and raspberries in that field, so the area for the rest of the produce will be greatly reduced. Guess we have our work cut out for us!

The photos are of the beautiful flowers I had last year in the retaining wall area created by our friend Steve. He thought I should have something pretty to look at every time I entered or exited the house! Almost all of the flowers were grown from seeds. The rocks are home grown as well, since they were pulled out of the ground when the men were digging our basement. The boys added the slabs behind the flowers to keep the dogs from running through the garden; it really helped, and created a nice backdrop for the flowers.

Friday, February 03, 2006

My Driving Needs Improvement

I'm the stay at home type of person, and to be honest, I can't remember when I last made it into town. My husband goes to town once or twice a week to run errands, so he just takes my grocery list and picks up what we need. This does get me into trouble at times, as my winter driving skills are more than a bit rusty.

It was suppertime by the time Paulette and I finished making two kinds of salve. She had invited Jim and the boys to have supper with us, so it was even later by the time we cleaned up and headed for home. Even though the days are gradually getting longer we still have rather short days up here by the Canadian border, so it was dark. I'm not crazy about driving in the dark -- especially in winter. The other stressor for me was the fact that our van's dashboard panel was letting me know that Jim had forgotten to fill up with gas the last time he was in town. I just wanted to get home ASAP before I ran out of gas!

I guess I must have been a bit distracted as 3 of the boys and I drove around a bend in Paulette's road, and took the corner too close to the right side -- immediately pulling me into a ditch area. The boys promptly told me this was the same spot that our friend Steve had gone in not too long ago when ploughing out the road with his Bobcat! Not a real comforting thought. Thankfully Jim was behind me in our station wagon, so he was there to help.

It took a lot longer than I expected to get the van out, but Jim did a good job. Hopefully I'll know better the next time I take that road. I guess I better do a bit more winter driving. By the way, I made it all the way home without running out of gas!

PS -- I have yet to figure out how to do links to other blogs, but I would like you to check out the latest entry by . He has a way with words, and explains what our family feels about country living. The entry is called, "Simple Folks." I'm even starting to feel this way!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

We are Not in the Wilderness After All!

I am constantly amazed at God's timing in things. When we moved up here to the Turtle Mountains, we knew no one. It was hard for me to understand why God would send us here, with seemingly no fellowship. Well, it wasn't long before friends from another part of the state came to visit and introduced us to Paulette, their lay midwife. Since then, Paulette has become such a dear Christian friend. I have always had an interest in healthy eating habits (though have been sidetracked from time to time), gardening, herbs, etc, and those are the things she does best. What a wonderful teacher -- and only 5 miles away from me! So amazing, as what I thought was being plopped down in the middle of a wilderness, we were instead placed in a very strategic location.

Today my husband and sons were able to help Paulette with the brochure she is creating for her health center, and tomorrow I go over to her home to learn how to make black walnut salve for my son still under the influence of ringworm. The food coop we order from no longer carries that type of salve, so why not make it ourselves? I would not have known how to do it on my own, but with her knowledge I can learn how. What a wonderful thing Christian community is! And, how important it is to be able to share what we know with others. I hope to some day be able to pass on my knowledge with others as well.