Archive for the ‘pets’ Category

Many years ago we planted catnip in the garden.  This year, we have an abundance of it so we have been giving the cats fresh, organic catnip (which they enjoy) and drying it.  Sophia also has been hand-embroidering catnip toys for one of her 4-H projects. 

Making your own catnip toys is a great way to be resourceful by using leftover felt scraps as well as use extra catnip.  It also is keeps cats healthy and active since they run and play with the toys.  Healthy cats mean less trips to the veterinarian…another cost savings!

Here’s how to make homemade catnip toys:


Olivia Picking Catnip
Olivia picking some catnip early in the season.
The catnip plant is now at least 1.5′ tall.

From one small plant purchased at a garden center many years ago, this has paid for itself many times over.  Each year, the plant comes up and does well on its own. 

This year, there were two other catnip plants that came up in different areas of the garden, so we transplanted them.  Initially, they were wilted and didn’t look like they would make it.  Within a week, they were doing quite well.

Sometimes we pick the leaves off, and other times (if the catnip has grown a lot), we will cut it back by taking down the several inches of leaves and stems. 


Drying Catnip
Sophia placing the catnip leaves
on a dehydrator tray.

We have a basic five-tray dehydrator that we use to dry catnip.  Simply place the the leave around each tray in a single layer and with a bit of room around each leaf. Catnip dries quickly – usually in less than a day.

Wanting the Catnip
Lucy taking a dried catnip leaf
before it can be used in a toy.

Remove the dried leaves and place in an air-tight container.  Make sure the leaves are completely dry or else they won’t last.  Keep them whole at this point. Don’t crush them.


There are free patterns on the internet that you can use to make cat toys.  Sophia used the bird pattern HERE. She also used a children’s craft book that has patterns in it for small toys. 

Rather than purchasing anything new, she used scraps of felt that were on hand.  Felted wool sweaters also work well for cat toys.

Follow the directions for making the toy, making sure to leave a small opening for the catnip and stuffing.

Placing crushed catnip leaves
into the toy.
Crush a few catnip leaves, and then place them into the toy. 
Add some wool stuffing, and then finish stitching the cat toy.
Light Gray Mouse - Bring Stories and Rhymes Alive, Nature Table Accessory, or Play Toy
Cat toy in the shape of a mouse.

Wool Felt Cat Toys
Cat toys made from a felted wool sweater
and ribbon.


The cats were around Sophia while she made the toys for them.  Needles to say, when she was done and they had a chance to play with the toys, they were so happy. 

Playing with a Catnip Toy
Sophia showing the cats the embroidered
catnip bird she made for them.
They batted the toys around, picked them up and carried them, and tossed them in the air. They were entertained with the toys and we were entertained watching them.


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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  5 Kids and a Dog explains:

The word “homeschooling” can cover so many things. From teaching and learning, to home skills and life skills, and everything in between. Homeschool families are very busy people! It’s not about staying home, although we try to do that so we get our school work done, but it’s about raising well-rounded kids who grow into well-rounded adults. It means phonics lessons and sports and music and languages and climbing trees and jumping in puddles.

Since we can talk about everything from the Alphabet to Zoology, The ABC’s of Homeschooling was born. Please join in each week as we cover a new letter, and link up together to go through the ABC’s!

Since I just found out about the series, I’m grouping the first eight weeks together.  Here’s what each letter of the alphabet so far looks like with our homeschool:

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter A ….is for Animals.  Having two dogs, five cats, a pony, and miniature horse provide lots of opportunities to learn about animals. The girls not only can learn about their similarities and differences, but also take responsibility for their daily needs and health care.

Meeting Gretel on Pick Up Day
Sophia and Olivia ready to take Gretel home on her adoption day. 
Gretel is about 3 months old in this picture.

We also take field trips to extend learning about animals we have as well as ones that we have read about in books.

Girls by a Clydesdale Baby and Adult
The girls by a foal and adult Clysdale horse.
The foal is taller than Olivia’s miniature horse.
Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter B

….is for Butterflies. The girls have raised butterflies for several years now by finding monarch caterpillars in the backyard and pastures.  They feed them indoors and then watch the transformation process.  At the end, they release the butterflies. 

Girls in Awe as Monarch Flies Away
The clarity of this picture isn’t great,
but the expressions on the girls’ faces show the
amazement and awe they felt when they saw the butterfly
fly right in front of them.

In the fall, the girls spread milkweed seeds throughout the farm so the monarchs that return in the spring and summer have food to eat.

Floating Milkweed
Sophia spreading milkweed seeds in the south pasture.
The wind is carrying the seeds off to new locations.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter C …. is for China.  Both the girls were born in China.  Sophia was adopted at 11 months old, and Olivia was adopted at 10 months old.  Their birthdays and adoption days are celebrated by integrating Chinese customs, food, and gifts into these special days.

Girls Looking at Chinese Items
Sophia showing some of the items she has
that are from China to other homeschoolers.

This past year, we celebrated Chinese New Year by making Nian-Gao – Chinese New Year Cake. The recipe was in the back of the book The Runaway Rice Cake which I read to the girls prior to the cake-making activity.

Pouring Oil in Bowl
The girls making Nian-Gao for
Chinese New Year.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter D … is for Dance. Each of the girls took dance lessons through the Minnesota Dance Theater when they were younger.  Although this isn’t something that they’ve chosen to pursue, they enjoyed dancing at the time. 

Homeschooling gives the girls an opportunity to be exposed to a variety of different subjects which they can choose to learn about in depth…or simply be content with learning a bit about the subject/activity and moving on to learn something else.

Sophia during the performance
Sophia at the dance recital at Minnesota Dance Theater
at the end of a dance camp.
Olivia Spinning in Costume
The girls enjoy dancing to music at home.
Olivia often will dance to piano music that Sophia or I play.
Lion Dance with 2 Lions
The girls watched a Chinese Lion Dance
at a summer festival. 
It was the highlight of the day for them.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter E …is for Experiments.  The girls both enjoy science, particularly when there is an experiment or hands-on activity that relates to the subject they are learning. 

Olivia Learning About Vocal Cords
Olivia learning about vocal cords.
Sophia learning about volcanoes.
Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter F

…is for Field Trips. An important part of homeschooling is being away from home and learning at different locations throughout the local area or even short day/multi-day trips. 

The girls both enjoy seeing and interacting with animals.  One summer, the Minnesota Zoo had a special African animal exhibit.  There was an opportunity to feed the giraffes.  It is a memory that is vividly etched in both girls’ memories.

Olivia Feeding Giraffe
Olivia feeding a giraffe.

We also regularly attend the Minnesota Orchestra’s student performances that are held throughout the school year. 

Girls at the Minnesota Orchestra
Sophia and Olivia at the Minnesota Orchestra.

We have been able to take some multi-day trips during the past few years thanks to my parents.  In exchange for driving them (since both no longer can drive), they have given the girls and I an opportunity to travel to places that have provided wonderful learning experiences.

Girls by Tulips
The girls by hundreds of tulips in Pella, Iowa.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter G …is for Geography.  For several years, the girls have been doing an ABC journey around the world.  I picked a different country for them to learn about for each letter of the alphabet (with the exception of “X” which no country begins with…they learned about MeXico instead). 

Sophia in Kimono with Outstretched Arms
Sophia showing the back of a kimono.
The girls studying about Japan and enjoyed learning about the country.
The kimono is from my friend, Yoshiko, who lives in Osaka.

When we studied about Sweden, there were many local opportunities and historical sites which related to Swedish immigration and pioneers.  We used the Kirsten books (of the American Girl series) as a literature base, and supplementing it with hands-on activities in many different areas.

Olivia with Swedish Braided Bread She Made
Olivia learned to make braided bread;
and, in the process, learned how to braid.
She was proud how her bread turned out.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter H … is for History. The curriculum I have been using for the past few years (Sonlight) has a wonderful history focus.  The “living books” (versus textbooks) that relate to history make the subject come alive, and have much more of a lasting impact on the girls. 

To supplement what we read, we also take field trips to museums and living history organizations. 

Obstacle Course at Fort Snelling
The girls pretending they are soldiers during WWII.
They are at a Homeschool Day event at  Fort Snelling.

The girls enjoy cooking, so sometimes history and cooking/home economics can be connected.

Making Homemade Peanut Butter
The girls making peanut butter after
learning about George Washington Carver.

Sophia with Fossil Sandwich
Sophia making a “fossil” sandwich
when she was learning about fossils.

We have read the entire American Girl series now which helped the girls learn about American history from the 1700s to 1970s.  After completing that series, we moved onto the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

Olivia took a class at the homeschool co-op that focused on the Little House series.  She was able to do her first play during the class.  Her role was “Christy Kennedy” in “On the Banks of Plum Creek” (a Laura Ingalls Wilder story).

The costume she’s wearing was made by a seamstress who I hired many years ago when I did a farm/art camp for kids. The seamstress created costumes for kids to wear that represented a variety of times in history (from the mid-1800s to 1970s).

Olivia Listening in Play
Olivia in her first play based on the book
“On the Banks of Plum Creek.”

ABCs of Homeschooling

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The Homestead Revival is having an interesting weekly blog hop called the Preparedness Challenge.  With the recent disaster in Japan, it is a timely challenge to think about what would happen if a natural disaster happened in your own area.

After a major disaster, the usual services we take for granted, such as running water, refrigeration, and telephones, may be unavailable. Experts recommend that you should be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days.

Spring in Minnesota marks the start of tornado season.  During the past couple of years, there have been some major storms and tornadoes that we’ve been through or to which we’ve been very close. 

Olivia Montague and Cats in Basement During Hail Storm and Nearby Tornado
In the basement during the 2008 tornado.
The house had some damage and needed a new roof and siding.
About 10 minutes south of here, over 50 homes were destroyed
and a child died…many more people were injured.

So, this week, for the Preparedness Challenge, I looked at last week’s participants and one of them, Falling Like Rain, had a list of items for an emergency kit.  I thought this would be a good starting point and give me something to assemble over the next month. 

I’ve modified it to fit our needs, and marked the items with an * for what I already have on hand. Although I may have some of the items on the list (e.g., food, first aid kit) they aren’t yet set aside specifically for the emergency kit, so until that is done, I won’t mark the item on the list with a *.

At-Home Emergency Kit

A large, watertight container to hold everything (it’s recommended to store the kit in an easily accessible location. One idea was to put everything in a large, plastic garbage can with a lid and wheels so it can be moved easily)

Canned fruit* (canned peaches and pears in jars from Summer 2010)
Peanut Butter
Jam* (homemade jam in jars)
Low-salt crackers
Canned soup
Canned meat
Canned juice
Non-fat dried milk
Dried Fruit
Hard Candy
Allergy medicine
Copies of important documents
Paper plates
Disposable cups
Disposable silverware
Napkins/Paper Towels
Toilet Paper
First Aid Kit (see section below for more information about contents in a First Aid Kit)
Sun Screen
Manual Can Opener
Clothes and Rain Gear for each person
Heavy Work Gloves
Disposable camera (for recording damage)
Unscented liquid household bleach
Hand Sanitizer
Feminine Hygiene Products
Plastic Sheeting
Duct Tape
Utility Knife
Sleeping Bags
Heavy Duty Plastic Bags
Plastic Bucket
Bungee Cords
Battery Operated Radio/Batteries
Phone that plugs directly into the outlet (not cordless)
Dust Masks
Permanent marker, paper and tape (to leave a note if you decide to evacuate)
Wet Wipes
Disinfectant (spray, wipes)
Items for pets and horses/livestock (see section below for information about pets)

Notes regarding food: 

– Mark a rotation date on any food container that does not already have an expiration date on the package.

– Most canned foods can safely be stored for at least 18 months. Low acid foods like meat products, fruits or vegetables will normally last at least 2 years. Use dry products, like boxed cereal, crackers, cookies, dried milk or dried fruit within six months.

– After a power outage, refrigerated food will stay cold longer if you keep the door closed. Food should generally be consumed within 4 hours. Food in the freezer will normally remain safe for 2 days.

Go-Bags (one per person)

Backpack to hold it all
Flashlight and Glo-Stick/Batteries
Dust Masks
Pocket Knife
Change of clothes/hat/rain gear
Local Map
Water/Food (see above)
Permanent marker, paper, tape
Photos of family members (in case you are separated)
Lists – emergency point of contact numbers
Identification and list of any allergies
Copy of health insurance cards
Small First Aid Kit
Small Sewing Kit
Toothbrush and Paste
Extra Keys (house, car)
Small books, games or puzzles
Hand towel
Wet Wipes
Mylar Blanket
Sun Screen
Camping Utensils (spoon, fork, knife)

This week for the Preparedness Challenge, I also read about water.  There have been many times over the years when we have been without water – due to the electricity being out (after a storm) or the time that my brother and I accidently hit the water line when trying to install a water line from the outdoor well to the barn. 

Going without water for a week was a huge challenge, but thankfully a neighbor was gracious enough to allow me to get containers of water and take a shower as needed. 

Sophia Drinking Tap Water
Sophia drinking water from a disposable cup.

Here’s some information about water that I thought is important.  It’s from the 72 Hours website.

In a disaster, water supplies may be cut off or contaminated. Store enough water for everyone in your family to last for at least 3 days.

Store one gallon of water per person, per day. Three gallons per person per day will give you enough to drink and for limited cooking and personal hygiene. Remember to plan for pets (and horses/livestock, in our case).

If you store tap water:

Tap water from a municipal water system can be safely stored without additional treatment.

Store water in food grade plastic containers, such as clean 2-liter soft drink bottles. Heavy duty, reusable plastic water containers are also available at sporting goods stores. Empty milk bottles are not recommended because their lids do not seal well and bottles may develop leaks.

Label and store in a cool, dark place.

Replace water at least once every six months.

If you buy commercially bottled “spring” or “drinking” water:

Keep water in its original container, and don’t re-store a bottle once it’s been opened.

Store in a cool, dark place.

If bottles are not marked with the manufacturer’s expiration date, label with the date and replace bottles at least once per year.

Treating Water after Disaster:

If you run out of stored drinking water, strain and treat water from your water heater or the toilet reservoir tank (except if you use toilet tank cleaners). Swimming pool or spa water should not be consumed but you can use it for flushing toilets or washing.

Treatment Process:

Strain any large particles of dirt by pouring the water through layers of paper towels or clean cloth. Next, purify the water one of two ways:

Boil – bring to a rolling boil and maintain for 3-5 minutes. After the water cools, pour it back and forth between two clean containers to add oxygen back; this will improve its taste.

Disinfect – If the water is clear, add 8 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of bleach per gallon of water. If it is cloudy, add 16 drops (1/4 teaspoon) per gallon. Make sure you are using regular bleach— 5.25% percent sodium hypochlorite— rather than the “ultra” or “color safe” bleaches. Shake or stir, then let stand 30 minutes. A slight chlorine taste and smell is normal.

Items for a First Aid Kit

Two pairs of disposable gloves
Sterile dressings to stop bleeding
Cleansing agent/soap and antibiotic towelettes to disinfect
Antibiotic ointment to prevent infection
Burn ointment
Adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes
Eye wash solution to flush the eyes or as general decontaminant
Over-the-counter medicines such as Aspirin or other pain reliever, laxative, anti-diarrhea medication
Prescription medications you take every day or frequently (e.g., asthma inhaler)
Prescribed medical supplies (e.g., nebulizer with albuterol sulfate).  Need to figure out how to use this when there’s no electricity since the nebulizer relies on electricity.

Plan for Pets in an Emergency Disaster

These ideas are from the 72 Hours website as well:

Keep a collar, current license, and up-to date ID tags on your pet at all times. Consider having your pet micro-chipped (both the dogs are micro-chipped, but the cats are not at this time).

Make sure your pet is comfortable being in a crate, box, cage, or carrier for transport.

Keep an updated list of trusted neighbors who could assist your animals in case of an emergency.

Make a Go-bag for each pet. Include:

Sturdy leashes and pet carriers. A pillowcase is a good option for transporting cats and other small animals (though each of the cats has her/his own transportation bin, in our case). Muzzles for dogs. Food, potable water, and medicine for at least one week.

Non-spill bowls, manual can opener, and plastic lid

Plastic bags, litter box, and litter

Recent photo of each pet

Names and phone numbers of your emergency contact, emergency veterinary hospitals, and animal shelters

Copy of your pet’s vaccination history and any medical problems

Portable fencing or baby gates

Remember that animals react differently under stress. Keep dogs securely leashed and transport cats in carriers or pillowcases.

If your pet is lost, contact the nearest animal shelter to report your pet missing. When it is safe, return to your neighborhood to search and distribute “Lost Pet” posters; include a current picture of your pet.

In the case of livestock/horses, it’s important to have enough feed and/or alfalfa on hand.  Extra bedding (straw or wood chips) should be stored in your barn. 

With regards to water, after experiencing multiple power outages and no water for extended periods of time, I have always kept the stocktanks, heated water buckets, or waterers full.  Especially if I hear about a major storm approaching, I make sure all the tanks are full. In that way, there is a good supply of water right on hand.

Having one Go-Bag per livestock species would be sufficient (e.g., a pack for horses, sheep, chickens). 

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This week for the Outdoor Hour Challenge we’re doing #44 Mammals: Rabbits and Hares.  The Handbook of Nature Study website is a wonderful resource, and the girls and I have been enjoying incorporating more nature walks and study into the weekly homeschooling schedule.

Two Felt Rabbits Hopping Away
Two hand-embroidered cottontails hopping away.

For this post, typeface in bold is from the Handbook of Nature Study website; typeface in italics is from the book Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock; and plain typeface reflects my own thoughts and words.

1. Read pages 214-219 in the Handbook of Nature Study.  In this case, I would actually mark sections to read to your child about rabbits as a way to introduce them to an animal they probably haven’t seen in the wild. You do not need to read the whole section on rabbits but only as much as you think they will be interested in hearing. If you are using The Burgess Book of Animals, you may wish to skip reading from the Handbook of Nature Study to them altogether.

Although few of us will have access to a real rabbit of any sort to study up close, children will enjoy reading about the rabbit and then remembering some facts about rabbits for any future opportunities that may arise. Be creative and see if you can visit a pet shop that has rabbits that you can observe or let others know that you are studying rabbits and they may know someone who owns a rabbit that you can study with your children.

Below are some interesting facts about rabbits that are in the book Handbook of Nature Study:

The cotton-tail thrives amid civilization; its color protects it from sight; its long ears give it warning of the approach of danger; and its long legs enable it to run by swift, long leaps.

The cotton-tails are night wanderers and usually remain hidden during the day. 

In summer, they feed on clover or grass…herbs…sweet apples and fresh cabbage.  In winter, the long, ganwing teeth of the cotton-tail are sometimes used to the damage of fruit trees…since the rabbits are obliged to feed upon bark in order to keep alive.

Rabbit-Eaten Bark
Branches from an apple tree that the rabbits
ate during the winter.  Rabbit pellets are on the snow as well.

If [the ears] are set back to back and directed backward, they indicate placidity, but…is always on guard; if lifted straight up they signify attention and anxiety; if one is bent forward and the other backward the meaning is: “Now just where did that sound come from?”

The rabbit has an upper and lower pair of incisors like other rodents, but on the upper jaw there is a short incisor behind each of the large teeth; these are of no use now but are inherited from some ancestor which found them useful.

The strong hind legs…enable it to make…jumps, of eight feet or more.

There are five toes on the front feet, and four on the hind feet; the hair on the bottom of the feet is a protection, much needed by an animals which sits for long periods upon the snow.

Rabbit Tracks in the Woods
Rabbit tracks in the snow.

The general color of the rabbit fits in with natural surroundings.

Rabbit Fur
Fur in the snow from a rabbit.

Young rabbits are blind at first, but when about three weeks old are sufficiently grown to run quite rapidly.

Fox, mink, weasel, hawk, owl, snake and occasionally red squirrel all relish the young cotton-tail if they can get it. 

Eagle Eating a Meal
An eagle at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha
being fed rabbit meat during a presentation.

2. Supplemental reading in The Burgess Animal Book for Children: Read Stories 1-3. After you read each chapter, stop and pause for a little discussion about the animals in each story. See if your child can narrate back to you a few facts about each animal. If narration is new to your child, you may need to prompt them at first but it does get easier as you practice. Use the illustrations if you need to get them started.

“The purpose of this book is to acquaint the reader with the larger groups-orders, families, and divisions of the latter, so that typical representatives may readily be recognized and their habits understood.” (The Burgess Animal Book, Preface)

I read the following stories to the girls from The Burgess Animal Book:
– Jenny Wren Give Peter Rabbit an Idea
– Peter and Jumper Go to School
– More of Peter’s Long-Legged Cousins

We all enjoyed learning more about the marsh and swamp rabbits – both of which spend about half their time swimming.  The rabbits that are commonly seen around here (in the northern United States) do not swim.  The rabbits that like to swim are found in the southern part of the United States, according to The Burgess Animal Book.

270/365 swimming Marsh Rabbit!
Marsh rabbit swimming in Florida.

3. Spend 10-15 minutes outdoors on a nature walk. Ask your children where they think that they might see a mammal. If you have snow or mud, look for animal tracks of any kind. Look for any other signs of animals as you walk. Look for gnawing marks on trees and plants. Look for scat or cones or seeds left from a meal.

Don’t forget that you can also observe other mammals if you have the opportunity. Cats, dogs, squirrels, and horses may be available. You can draw attention to the similarities and differences between a rabbit and these other mammals. For example: How are a cat’s and a rabbit’s ears different? Why do you think they are different? How are a cat and a rabbit alike? (both have fur, both have four legs, etc.)

Yesterday, it felt like spring with all the snow melted on the property, the pond at a water level that I haven’t seen in years, and many parts of the pastures and backyard flooded.  Signs of spring – bright green grass and buds on some of the trees – were already emerging.  It rained for most of the day yesterday, turned to sleet, and then overnight began snowing.  This is what today looked like:

Pond in the northwest pasture and six inches of new snow.

Over six inches of snow fell.  Under that is crunchy ice.  Not many people are out and about today.  It’s been very quiet.

Horses behind the barn ready for some corn.
The snow is plastered against the barn.
Hoss eating some alfalfa in the morning. 
The snow is still coming down with no sign of stopping.
After we fed the horses, we went on a short nature walk to look for any type of tracks, particularly ones made from rabbits which have been commonly seen all winter.  We explored part of the east pasture first.  No rabbit tracks.
Sophia by the pine trees in the backyard.

We climbed over the fence into the backyard and walked near the big pine trees.  No tracks near or underneath them. 

Pine cones and needles covered with snow.

We went to the gate that leads from the backyard to front yard.  We all liked the pattern the snow left on the gate:

Snow on the gate.

We walked around the front yard, and found no rabbit tracks in the yard or under the pine trees in the front yard where typically there are many to be found. 

Olivia jumping between sets of dog tracks.

There were dog tracks so I had the girls jump between the sets of tracks to see if they could jump as far as the space between each set.  It was difficult for Olivia, but Sophia could easily make the jump (she’s quite a bit taller than Olivia).

Sophia jumping between sets of dog tracks
with Gretel following closely behind her.

We even checked the brush pile in the middle of the yard where the rabbits hide and eat the apple tree branches.  No indication that rabbits have been active.

Close-up of Rabbit Marks
Branch of an apple tree in the brush pile
that was eaten by a rabbit.

The absence of tracks was just as an important lesson today as seeing evidence of rabbits that we normally do.  It showed us that during winter/early-spring storms the rabbits take shelter. 

We noticed on our walk that the birds have
been eating a lot of the berries.  Not many are left.

4. For your nature journal this week, try sketching two different kinds of rabbits. Use The Burgess Animal Book as a reference or you can Google Cottontail rabbit, Northern hare, Swamp rabbit, Snowshoe rabbit, Jack rabbit.

Olivia chose to draw a cottontail rabbit while Sophia drew a black-tailed jack rabbit.  In Minnesota, we would see a cottontail rabbit, but not a black-tailed jack rabbit (they are found in South Dakota to Washington and south from there to Mexico). 

Olivia’s nature journal entry about rabbits.

Sophia liked the black-tailed jack rabbit because it is the only rabbit that has black on its tail and tips of its ears.

Other rabbit-related activities we’ve done in the past:

Beeswax Bunnies
We made beeswax impressions.  This is one of our favorite designs.

Making Easter Cookies
Making gingerbread cookies for Easter
with rabbit and chick shapes.
Girls Ready for Easter Bunny Visit
Many years ago, the girls set up a place for the Easter Bunny
and made egg collectors with milk jugs and cottonballs.
Sophia's Finished Bunny Egg
The girls made rabbits from a half an egg, carrots slices, and green onion slices.
They used whole cloves for the eyes.
Felt Bunny
This is a hand-embroidered rabbit
I made for the nature table.
Moss on Rabbit Hide
In 2007, the girls learned about Dakota Indians and
how they use to put moss on rabbit hides for babies’ diapers.
This was part of Homeschool Day at the Minnesota History Center.

Dreaming of owning a rabbit

It was about 95 degrees this day in August 2007
with a heat index of like 295 degrees.
It was insanely hot. Sophia is determined to have pet rabbits.

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During weeks 10 and 11 of the 52 Weeks of Giving, the girls are watching the neighbor’s dog, Caesar, while they are on vacation.  They did pay each of the girls some money.  However, for the amount of time they spend with Caesar, they are going above and beyond what the neighbor’s expect in terms of pet care. 

The girls with Caesar.

They visit Caesar three times each day; play with him; make sure he has food and water; and let him outside to walk and get fresh air.  They also bring in the newspapers and check the neighbor’s home to make sure it’s okay and there aren’t any problems.

So far, they have completed 7 days of their job/volunteering. They have four days left to go.  It’s a great opportunity for them to learn about responsibility; serving and helping others; and being a good neighbor. 

One more picture of Caesar with the girls.

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Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is about awareness and taking some time back for oneself.

According to YES! magazine, “This is a chance to lay off the lights, televisions, computers, appliances, cell phones, flashing gadgets, and other stuff that seems to make the world go round. It’s a special time to hang out (or in) by yourself or with friends and family. It is a time to reflect on the well-being of yourself and the planet.”

Sunrise - 7:01 a.m.
Sunrise – view from the front yard

Eco-Sabbath Definition

What exactly is an “eco-sabbath.” YES! magazine describes it as:

Ecology – The interrelationship between organisms and their environment
Sabbath – A time of rest
Eco-Sabbath – Together, you and the environment take a break

Flower after a mid-day rain
Flower after the rain

Time for Reflection

One of the activities that is suggested is to reflect upon the past No Impact Week. Consider what worked well, what was particularly difficult, and what could be permanently changed.

When I think about the past week, these are things that worked well:

Reduced the amount of trash generated.  The amount that was recycled was about the same.

Sophia and Bailey
Sophia with Bailey

Reduced the amount of new items I purchased.  The only things I purchased during the past week were six bales of hay (for the horses); dog and cat food; one tank of gasoline; and flowers and a card for my dad for his birthday (I was going to make a gift, but have been sick and didn’t have the energy to make something.  I ended up making a gift for him yesterday which I’ll give to him on January 15th when I see him next).

Used items on hand rather than purchasing new things or going out to eat.  I made a miniature quilt and matching pillow using fabric that I have on hand (this is for my dad’s stuffed animal – his “Corgi” – which he carries around and provides comfort to him [my dad has Alzheimer’s disease]).  For all 21 meals this past week, I was able to make them from items I had in the refrigerator, freezer, or cupboards. 

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Homemade Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Made food from scratch.  I made a lot of different foods this week, and tried some new recipes. There’s no comparison to fresh, homemade bread or cookies right out of the oven.  What’s even better is that I can make the food dairy-free (since Sophia has a dairy-allergy), and there are no chemicals or preservatives in the food I’m making.

Turned the thermostat lower.  Several times during the week, I lowered the thermostat by 1-2 degrees during the day.  We also made fires in the woodstove for a couple of the days so the furnace wouldn’t turn on.  This saved 6-8 hours of heating (propane), yet kept the key areas of the home warm.

Fire in the Wood Stove
Fire in the woodstove
to reduce the amount of propane used during the winter

Reduced the amount of energy used by the oven.  I made a point of filling the oven with items to bake so that I was making everything at once rather than at different times during the day.  This worked well, especially when things could be baked at the same temperature.  When things had different temperatures, I simply averaged them together and then adjusted the baking time.

Washed the dishes when the dishwasher and/or sink was full.  I normally do the former, but try not to do the latter.  This week, I did both and found that it did, in fact, save water by doing a full sink of dishes that had soaked for awhile rather than doing a few here and there.  Most the dishes and silverware can fit in the dishwasher.  The items I was washing by hand were the baking dishes and cookie sheets.

Finding inspiring ideas and websites for giving back to the community.  I particularly liked the idea of 52 Weeks of Giving or 52 Weeks of Impact where you do something good each week of the year.  It’s the intention and focus of wanting to make a difference that I like.
These were the items that were difficult:

– I still have not found a good (and practical) way to compost.  When I used to have chickens, I would throw out all food scraps to them.  The food waste would be gone…and the hens and roosters would be happy.  I would love to get chickens again, but with Montague he would end up chasing and trying to catch them which isn’t fair to the chickens, and it’s stressful for me. 

ATC Traded - Embroidered Henny Penny Taking a Stroll
Hand-embroidered chicken I made
(it’s small – about 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″)

I’ve tried a compost container under the sink – even ones with the carbon filters – and they still seem to attract fruit flies.  Haven’t tried worm composting yet…maybe that’s worth a try.  This is a good introduction to vermiculture for children which I could easily integrate into homeschooling.  It would certainly make good, on-going, hands-on science/environmental lessons.

Measuring a Worm
Sophia measuring a worm she found in the backyard
during the summer

Eating local in the middle of the winter in Minnesota.  This is easy to do during the spring through fall when crops are growing, but the ground is completely frozen in Minnesota during the winter.  Unless I’m using food I’ve stored in some way (e.g., canned, frozen, dried), I don’t know how to eat food that is locally grown in the winter. 

Not using paper towels.  Ironically, I ran out of paper towels right before the No Impact Week Experiment began.  I chose not to purchase new ones.  There were a few times that I would have much preferred to use paper towels than a rag, but I did make it through the week. 

Finding alternative sources of transportation in a rural area.  There isn’t a good system set up in the country.  Biking 5 miles round trip to the post office on a county road (where cars and trucks travel at 55 mph or more) where there’s no bike lane with two children under the age of 10 is a bit stressful for me.  Biking 26-30 miles round trip to go to Target or the grocery store…I just don’t see that as a practical option.  Combining errands so I’m reducing the amount of gasoline I use…that’s much more practical.

Accepting that I am not as active in giving back to the community as I once was.  Although I try to make a difference by giving back, I have found that (due to family circumstances) my focus during the past year has been of being of service to my family and parents versus the greater community (local, statewide, and international). 

What could be permanently changed

– Continue to look for ways to reduce purchasing.  The past week made me more aware of the resources that I have right in the home.  I should use these before even thinking of purchasing new things.  With the amount of fabric, wool, and crafting supplies I have on hand, I could certainly be busy for at least a year, for example.

Felt Balls in Lots of Colors
Wool felt balls I made –
natural eco-friendly toys for children

Eating locally during the spring through fall.  I look forward to growing food in the garden again this year, and would like to add a couple more gardens in sunny and accessible spots.  Scheduling time to go to Farmer’s Markets would also be enjoyable. 

Preserving more produce.  When I’m going to Farmer’s Markets, I’d like to purchase extra produce to preserve (can, freeze, or dry) so we can enjoy it during the winter.  It would be nice to get a pressure cooker as well so I can can vegetables and/or soups.

Cranberry Salsa
Cranberry salsa

Making homemade soaps, bath salts, and laundry soap.  I checked out several books from the library about making homemade versions of soaps for personal care and the laundry.  There are so many great ideas and recipes for doing this.  Olivia saw one of the books and was very intrigued.  “We should do this!” she said.  I think she’ll be my helper in this area.

Continue to try to lower the thermostat by a couple of degrees.  This is particularly important not just from an energy/environmental standpoint.  The propane tank was just filled this week – $847.  Combined with $424 from the November bill…that’s a big chunk of money. 

Granted, the propane is not just for heating (it’s for appliances – like the washer/dryer, stove, water heater), but that’s still a considerable amount to spend.  If this could stretch over two months (the coldest months in Minnesota), that would be ideal. 

Although this amount is high, it is a substantial reduction from just a few years ago when the propane bill for the winter was more than double this amount.  (Thanks to re-insulating the entire home and adding insulation in many areas a couple years ago due to storm damage, the propane bill has decreased.)

Look for little ways to make an impact on the community each week.  I find that when I write a schedule (or a plan) of things I want to accomplish that I do a lot more.  I did this during the holiday season (from November 1-January 1) and enjoyed the variety of things I did to celebrate the season and make it memorable and meaningful, particularly for my daughters.  Taking some time to plan the upcoming year in terms of volunteering and giving back would ensure that I could increase the impact I’m making.

The Experiment’s Effect on Others

The No Impact Week Experiment encourages participants about how they can go even further. It suggests the following: “Think about how the week affected others and what adjustments, if any, are in order. This is a time to discover and appreciate the bare necessities.”

The past week definitely affected my family, though they may not always have been aware of the changes.  One of the biggest changes was with food.  Even though the Experiment said that new food could be purchased during the week, I wanted to go a step further and use only what I had on hand this week. 

There were several “successes” – such as an incredibly good fruit smoothie made from frozen strawberries and blueberries that were picked during the summer; and honey from our bees.  Sophia and I combined the berries with some juices (apple and grape) as well as an orange.  We mixed it in the Vita-Mix mixer, and it was very thick…almost like a milkshake in a way.  “This is the best smoothie we’ve ever made!  We should measure out the ingredients next time and make a cookbook so I can use it with my children!” Sophia said. 

Black Raspberries Ready for Jam
Black raspberries that grow wild here at the farm. 
They seem to spread and multiply with each passing year!
I used up lots of pre-packaged food (which I’m not terribly proud of purchasing, but have ended up using at times during the past year when I’ve been rushed or simply too tired to prepare a made-from-scratch meal).  This now gives us a fresh start to eating healthier…something that’s easier to do when the “not so healthy” food isn’t there.

The Girls Strawberry Picking
Picking strawberries – an annual activity

I used produce that I canned during the summer – peaches and applesauce – to supplement the fresh fruit and vegetables I served with almost every meal. 
Despite the “successes” there were also some challenges.  For some meals, I decreased the amount of meat that was served while increasing the amount of other options (e.g., freshly-baked pumpkin bread or cornbread, steamed carrots or corn).  “Is this all we’re having for dinner?” I was asked a couple of times.  Or…worse yet…”I’m still hungry.”  Those are things that are hard to hear…at least for me.  (Note: the girls didn’t go to bed hungry…after a little dessert – a homemade cookie or brownies – they were fine.  No complaints then.)
No Impact Week Experiment suggested some steps for observing an eco-sabbath.  These steps are noted below.

Reflect on Your Days Off

One of the questions the Experiment asked was, “How do you usually spend your day off? Consider how different — if at all — this day will be.” 

As a mother to two children under the age of 10 and owner of two dogs, five cats, and two horses, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “day off.”  There’s always something that needs to be done.

Ready to Eat
Saw this heron at the bird sanctuary in Texas.

A “day off” for me happens when I am able to physically go somewhere else and not be responsible for anyone or anything.  I was able to go to San Padre Island back in May during the off-season.  It was quiet, peaceful, and relaxing.  I explored the beaches and the tidelines, went to museums, the bird sanctuary, and turtle sanctuary/rehabilitation center.  I watched the wildlife there – birds and alligators, mostly.  It was wonderful. 

Chipmunk on Stairs
An overly friendly chipmunk who enjoyed being fed. 
Saw it on the Gunflint Trail in September. 
The girls named it “Mr. Chippy.”

Today won’t be like one of the days off that are relaxing and nourish my soul.  I don’t know when I’ll be able to take a vacation again. 

Perhaps the goal is just to use the quiet time here – in the early morning hours – more like a rest/sabbath period than a work time (which I do now).  Even dedicating an hour each day when it is quiet and peaceful – and everyone (except me) is resting – to a “sabbath” mentality would be a good goal to have.

Planning for an Eco-Sabbath

The No Impact Week Experiment suggests planning for an eco-sabbath day by determining how to not use any appliances, electronics, motorized transport, or money. 

Being Grateful

Each day during the past week, the No Impact Week Experiment encouraged participants to keep a list of five things for which they were grateful.  Today, look back at the grateful lists and count the number of times a consumable item (something that was purchased) was listed.

For some time now, I’ve done a “I am Grateful…” posting each Sunday.  Although I understand the benefit of taking time to reflect each day about things one is grateful for, for me, it’s a nice thing to do on a weekly basis.

Close-up of Pileated Woodpecker on Cherry Tree
Pileated woodpecker on the cherry tree in the front yard.

In doing today’s list, I came up with 18 different things that stood out during the past week.  On that list, only one was gratitude for a purchased item.  Many of the items that I was grateful for this past week were experiences I’ve had with nature – watching birds, the little vole, or squirrels; or for people (family, friends, and health-care professionals I deal with).

Something that I learned from making this list – as with all the other gratitude lists I’ve done – is that it isn’t things that make me happy.  It’s often times tiny experiences…some so insignificant if taken at face-value…that truly sustain me and bring me joy.

Montague with Snow on His Nose
Montague with his nose covered in snow. 
Gretel and Montague enjoying playing outdoors.

Generating Less Trash

At the beginning of the No Impact Week Experiment, one of the activities was to collect one day’s worth of trash.  Today, one of the activities was supposed to be taking out that bag as well as any other trash collected during the week and empty the contents. The purpose of doing this is to determine if more or less trash was created over the week.

I didn’t kep the bag of trash (garbage pick-up was on Thursday), nor do I want to go through the trash in the can.  However, I know that the amount of garbage generated is substantially less this week than in past weeks.  The biggest area of reduction is in food packaging waste.

Thoughts on Rest and Sabbaths

All life requires a rhythm of rest…We have lost this essential rhythm.

Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing.

Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest.

Because we do not rest, we lose our way.

We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor.

We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom.

We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight.

Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest.

And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.

This is an excerpt taken from page one of Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller. I have had this book for many years now, and I think it’s time to revisit it.  The book is filled with practical ideas about how to remember the sabbath and taking time for oneself.  Some ideas that I like are:

– Lighting Sabbath candles.
– Having a Sabbath meal.
– Taking a Sabbath walk in nature.
– Creating an altar at home.
– Finding and nourishing companionship.
– Thinning – or letting go – of things.
– Cleansing – bathing with fragrance, candles, and music.
– Giving away things to others – especially beautiful, nourishing, and inspiring things.

Quilling on Ann's Hand

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~ Lao-Tzu

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This week I’m participating in the No Impact Week Experiment – a one-week carbon cleanse. It is a chance to see what a difference no-impact living can have on one’s quality of life.

It’s not about giving up creature comforts, but an opportunity to test whether the modern “conveniences” one takes for granted are actually making one happier or just eating away at one’s time and money. 

If you’d like to participate as well, click HERE and you’ll be taken to a page where you can register for free and receive an online book that gives lots of great ideas and links.

Today’s challenge is doing more with less.  There’s a video called The Story of Stuff which is an interesting look at how to live a lower-impact life.

In the online book, there’s a series of activities that are suggested for each day.  The first activity was to list the things I need to buy this week. Here’s what comes to mind:

– Classes and enrichment activities for Sophia and Olivia.
– Gasoline for the car.
– Movie tickets for Mom, Dad, and me to celebrate Dad’s 79th birthday.
– Gift and card for Dad’s birthday.
– Milk.
– Dog food for Gretel.
– Hay for Bailey and Hoss.
– Bark chips for Bailey and Hoss.
– Washer and dryer.
– Homeschool conference fee and hotel reservation.

The next step was to list the things that I can wait a week to buy.  Here’s what I can wait on:

Classes and enrichment activities for Sophia and Olivia – the classes don’t begin until next month, so I can wait a bit longer before enrolling them.  Who knows…perhaps by waiting, I’ll change my mind and decide that we could do something else together that is equally as fun and educational.

Washer and dryer – I can wait until January 15th when a coupon expires that would save quite a bit of money. In the long-run, a new washer and dryer will use less water and propane since they will be more energy-efficient and have a larger capacity than the small washer and dryer I’m currently using (and have since 1996).

Homeschool conference fee and hotel reservation – I can fill out the registration form and book the hotel, but wait to pay for both until closer to the conference time.

Milk – I don’t have a cow to milk. I have some powdered milk in the cupboard that Olivia will drink. I’ll use that for the week.

The third step was to look at the list of things that I will need to get this week. The challenge of the No Impact Week Experiment is to figure out how to get the items second-hand, borrow, or make them myself. 

Movie tickets for Mom, Dad, and me to celebrate Dad’s 79th birthday. I have a gift card that my mom and dad gave me for the movie theater. I’ll use that instead of paying with cash.

Gift and card for Dad’s birthday – Perhaps I can make a gift and card for him rather than purchasing something he doesn’t need. He loves to watch the birds, so I could easily make some batches of suet for the birds and put them in his feeders when I visit on Thursday.  He also loves music, so I could play some songs on the piano for him (he and my mom gave me ten years of piano lessons when I was growing up).  I’d like to make something else…but I’m not sure what yet.

Out of the list of things that I need to get this week, some things I must purchase:

Dog food for Gretel – Changing her food abruptly to homemade dog food could result in stomach and digestion issues. This would be something that could be transitioned to if I felt it would be cost-effective and healthier for she and Montague.

Hay for Bailey and Hoss – Hay is a consumable product, so there’s no purchasing it second-hand or borrowing it. Making bales of hay is something I don’t have the land or equipment to do. I can purchase it from my neighbor, though, which saves money and transportation costs since He lives right next door.

Bark chips for Bailey and Hoss – Same thing as hay…it’s a consumable product. What I can do is purchase the bark chips when I’m on my way to do other errands and from a local small business. In that way, I save money and transportation costs by grouping errands together.

Gasoline for the car – Wish I didn’t have to purchase gasoline this week. However, I’m going to be taking my parents out to celebrate my dad’s birthday. They live 50 miles away, so it does take a good amount of gasoline to visit them.

Other activities and ideas that the No Impact Week Experiment suggested for today include:

Shop Less, Live More

One idea was that instead of shopping to do something enjoyable or clean a closet. Today, I started putting away the Christmas decorations. Although I like the holidays and Christmas decorations, I also enjoy seeing counter-tops, bookcases, and shelves cleared off. Honestly, I rather have them bare than cluttered with things.

I also worked a lot in the kitchen; and washed and put away the dishes. Throughout the month of December, it seemed like I couldn’t keep up with things because of the activities I was doing with the girls. Taking a block of time and cleaning was good for me today. Seeing things put away and the counters clean is less stressful…and much more peaceful for me to look at.

Make Your Own Body and Cleaning Products

It’s interesting this was suggested because Sophia, Olivia, and I started making bath salts this weekend. A line of bath products will be introduced through Harvest Moon by Hand (my shop) within the week. I’m excited about this because it is aligned with what I enjoy doing, what I have been trained to do (I’m a certified aromatherapist), and something that is fun to do with my daughters.

Use Hand-Me-Downs

Yesterday, Sophia, Olivia, and I went through their rooms and collected a huge trash bag of items that can be donated to the local second-hand shop. Today, we went through a closet and found another trash bag of clothing to donate. The items that are sold at the second-hand shop fund a non-profit organization’s programs that help support families and individuals in need.

Just as I donate to the store, I also shop there and have found some great deals on clothing (most recently a beautiful Liz Claiborne sweater for only $4), clothing for the girls’ dolls (often times only $1-$2 compared to $5-10), and books (only 25-50 cents).

For Must-Have Purchases, Buy Locally

For a couple of the items on the list (the hay and bark chips), I plan to purchase them locally as I normally do. The hay is from my next door neighbor who is a farmer. The bark chips are from a small, local business that provides feed and agricultural needs to farms and families in the area.

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