Saturday, March 14, 2009

My rival

I have long understood that Mr. G has a penchant for a certain type of female that I am not. The kind with fawn colored hair and brown eyes with long lashes, but still, the pain of being replaced still smarts somewhat. I now have a rival for his affection and what's worse, he's brought her here to live! What's even worse than that is that I like her too.

There she is. Would you be won over by that face? She came to live with us yesterday and we've named her (after much discussion) Tansy. I wanted to name the cows after herbs and flowers but something more original than Buttercup and Daisy. Other names we considered were: Angelica, Meadowsweet and Senna, but Tansy seemed the best fit for her.
She is five years old and is a dream to milk. No kicking, no dancing around, no knocking the bucket over, nothing. Since she doesn't have another cow to be with we've found that she's becoming attached to the children, she bawls when they leave her, so they visit her often. She's one of the smaller sized Jerseys, which is what we wanted and such a sweetheart, who could not love her?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Some days you eat bear........

Some days you eat bear and other days the bear eats you. That's our catch-phrase for "you win some, you lose some". I have been suspecting for a while that our bees were all dead; the hives were placed facing South and were pretty well protected, but they have been eerily silent of late. Our suspicions were confirmed today when I opened the hive to find scads of dead bees. Our weather comes from the North and West but this winter we had weeks of howling wind and snow blow up from the South. That has never happened since we've lived here and I worried at the time that the bees wouldn't survive. We wrapped the hive to try to forestall a disaster but it was all for nought. They basically starved to death. Since bees cluster to keep warm and can't really move when cold, they can starve when there's food 6 inches from them. We found several frames still partially filled with honey like the one below.

So we pulled them out and brought them in the house. The children cleaned the dead bees from 3 boxes worth of frames and brought them in the house and will do the other 3 tomorrow. Mice love to nest in empty bee boxes and feast on the wax, so we needed to take the wax frames out of temptation's way. ;-) Now the house smells wonderfully of honey! Of all things farming, beekeeping smells the best, it just permeates the air and fills your lungs with the sweet, earthy scent of honey.

I finished off our second gallon of syrup today and have been thinking about making maple jelly. Maple jelly on toast, maple jelly with peanut butter, maple jelly on waffles with whipped cream............. I've never tried it before but it gets rave reviews, so maybe I'll experiment.

I am going to draw the syrup winner this weekend, so be watching for your name!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Education and misc other bits

A while back Jenny P wrote a couple of posts about education and learning which I've been thinking about ever since. As you know, we have always homeschooled, I wouldn't want it any other way but I've been trying to pinpoint what, exactly, my educational philosophy is. There are several divergent schools of thought within the homeschool arena, but mine comes closest to the Charlotte Mason philosophy. Charlotte Mason was a 19th century English educator that believed children should be respected as persons and treated with dignity. That probably doesn't seem very revolutionary to you, but keep in mind this was the era of dunce caps and corporal punishment for wrong answers. She also believed that much of what children are learning is "twaddle", her term for useless, pointless busywork. She believed that children should see history as one continuous story full of interesting people and events and this should be accomplished through "living" books. Mason disdained history texts because they fragment history and reduce it to the memorization of facts and wars. Another belief is that children should be immersed in beautiful art, poetry and music, the art appreciation is an important element in our language arts curriculum, for this we use the Queen Homeschool company. You can see samples of their language arts books including the artwork used for picture study.

For our preschool little people we use Before Five In A Row . This is a curriculum using many classic children's books such as Goodnight Moon, Blueberries For Sal, and Corduroy. The little children have always loved it and this year Katie is the main teacher. She will someday have children of her own to teach and this is an excellent training ground for her. FIAR follows many of the Charlotte Mason philosophies outlined above and so meshes perfectly with our goals.
On the maple syrup front things are going better than expected. I must confess that I was sceptical about boiling it in a cauldron. I know the old timers did it but come on, it has to be so inefficient! Well, color me surprised! It boils down faster than I've ever seen sap boil. Aleks boiled off roughly 75 gallons of sap in one day (still woefully behind modern evaporators) and we had fresh syrup on homemade french toast with sausage for supper on Saturday. That's our tradition, to eat the first syrup at a special "thanksgiving" meal. Below is the sugar camp.
The sap storage barrel is on the left, the warming pan is just to the right of the cauldron. The corrugated metal is to keep sparks from flying around. The children spend all day up there (after school work is done) and come home to eat, bathe and fall into an exhausted sleep. It's a good, good life!