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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “R.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter R…is for Relationships.

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to develop close relationships between parents and children as well as between siblings. 

Sophia and Olivia on December 23rd
The girls standing in front of
the Christmas tree.

When children are in a school setting, relationships with teachers and friends compete with loyalty to parents and siblings. School schedules and homework assignments take priority over family time, and children may be taught values that conflict with those taught in their homes.

Having attended public school as a child and teen, this definitely describes my school years.

When families homeschool, they operate as a team. Parents are confidants; and siblings are close friends. Schedules are set according to the family’s needs, and children are taught their parents’ values. This is very true for the way I’ve set up homeschooling for the girls.

At home, the curriculum and activities meet the needs of each daughter – not the needs of a classroom or school system. Both girls are treated as individuals, and are truly known and loved.

Ann and Girls 7 Years Later
The girls celebrating the anniversary of
Olivia’s 7th adoption day.

I’m able to customize their lessons based on their interests as well as their developmental abilities/skills. The curriculum and schedule is flexible so if something isn’t working, I can modify it to better fit their needs.  The goal is to make learning fun and educational…and inspire a love for learning.

Another benefit of homeschooling is that the girls have been able to develop a closer relationship with their grandparents who live 50 miles away.

Mom Me Sophia Olivia
The girls with their grandma and me on
my mom/Nana’s 80th birthday.

Girls with All Grandparents
The girls with their grandparents
on their First Communion Day.

Sophia Reading Papa His Favorite Book
Sophia reading to Papa.
She chose to read him his favorite book when he was a child.

Another benefit to homeschooling is that children within a family have stronger relationships. There is generally more camaraderie than in siblings who attend school. Since Sophia and Olivia are each other’s primary playmates, deep relationships have been and will continue to be formed and nurtured.

At the Chapel
The girls have traveled as part of homeschooling
with their grandparents and me.
This was taken at The Shrine of Guadalupe in Wisconsin
(a place where the girls’ grandparents wanted to visit).

As Sophia’s and Olivia’s teacher, we spend a lot of time together in two main ways – educationally and as a family. This time that we spend together learning, working through any problems, and communicating keeps us all well aware of one another.

All of Us by Lake Saganaga
An educational trip to northern Minnesota.
Here we’re near Lake Saganaga where
my Dad/Papa took many trips during the 1960s and 1970s.

Good relationships and communication extends beyond the immediate family. Generally, homeschooled children can easily communicate with people of many ages and from different walks of life. They learn to adjust to the group to whom they are speaking. Because of this, they often comes across as thoughtful and mature.

The Girls with Mary
The girls picking strawberries with their aunt.

Alice with Girls
The girls enjoying spending time with a
family friend (Alice) and her dog (Maggie).

Gathering together as an extended family brings together people of all ages – from newborns to seniors – giving the girls opportunities to play, talk, and build relationships with others.

Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving at the farm.
An opportunity for playing, talking, and having fun together.

Homeschooling has given the girls opportunities to form friendships with people of different ages who live in other countries. They have met and hosted people at our home including two exchange students from Brazil who lived here in the late 1990s; and my friend from Japan who visited here a couple years ago.

Mom, Dad, Girls, and Ruth
The girls with Ruth (from Brazil) and their grandparents.
Their grandparents invited us over for lunch, and
to visit with Ruth.

The girls also have enjoyed making friends with other homeschoolers as well as children who attend public, private, parochial, and charter schools. This have given them insight into multiple ways that children learn, and introduces them to a wide variety of children.

Sophia's Tea Party
The girls having a tea party with some of their friends.

Sophia with a Friend Before Performance
Sophia and a friend before one of the choir performances.
Sophia, Olivia, and Maggie
The girls holding pumpkins they picked
 from our pumpkin patch.

They have participated in community activities – theater, community ed courses, camps, homeschool swimming lessons, choir, and sports – which introduces them to a diversity of children who have a wide variety of interests.

Olivia with Friends from the Play
Olivia with three other girls who were in a
play/musical with her at a local community theater.

The girls also have had the opportunity to learn from other adults – whether it is at the homeschool co-op where they take a variety of classes; or through special education/speech therapy. They have developed special friendships with some of the teachers and therapists who have helped them learn and gain new skills.

American Girl Tea Party at Co-op
Sophia with one of her teachers at the homeschool co-op.
Ms. Dawn was the American Girl teacher, and this is the
end-of-the-semester party.
Laurie - Olivia's Speech Therapist
Olivia with her speech therapist, Laurie.

Homeschooling is represented by strong and varied relationships. As the girls get older, this will continue to be an important area and benefit to homeschooling.

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “Q.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter Q…is for Quilting.

For over four years, Sophia and Olivia have been learning how to quilt. They started hand-sewing a bit before machine-sewing to get comfortable with a thread, needle, and fabric.

One of the first projects that the girls did was a simple patchwork quilt. They picked fabric from what I had on hand (a lesson in itself of resourcefulness and making do).

For some of their first sewing projects, they traced squares onto the back/wrong side of the fabric and then cut them out. They moved onto measuring and marking lines on the fabric. Sophia now can use a rotary cutter to cut fabric.

Assembling the Quilt
Olivia arranging squares for her first patchwork quilt.
She’s about 4 years old here (2007).

One of Olivia’s favorite quilts that she made was one using fabric she found at a quilting store in Pella, Iowa. The girls, my parents, and I traveled to Pella in the spring to see the tulips. There was a wonderful quilting store right off the main square.

Olivia liked a printed fabric with dogs on it. From that pattern, she picked several other fabrics to coordinate with it. She cut, arranged, and sewed all the pieces together to create her quilt.

Olivia with the Quilt She Made
Olivia made this quilt using fabric she found at a quilt shop on a trip.
This quilt holds special meaning and memories for her.
She was 6 years old when she made this quilt (2009).

Olivia entered her quilt in the county fair in the youth open class division. She was competing with children up to the age of 16 years old in her category.

She won first prize… a blue ribbon (there are only 6 ribbons – 1st through 6th place – awarded in a category). Needless to say, she was thrilled!

Olivia - Blue Ribbon on Quilt
Olivia with the quilt she made
that won her a blue ribbon!

For 2010, at 7 years old, she wanted to challenge herself to do something different. She looked with me at pictures of quilts on Flickr and saw one that she liked. It was a circular quilt made from a variety of fabrics.

The quilt she saw was done in rainbow colors with a white center. Olivia wanted to do hers in all blue fabrics with a white center. Since there was no pattern, we had to create a pattern for the blue pieces and center white piece.

Olivia chose a variety of textures also for the blue pieces which posed a bit of a challenge since each had a different “pull” to it. She had to try sewing different types of fabric together which was a good skill to learn.

Another skill she learned was doing free-style quilting. On the white fabric, she moved her presser foot around in a random pattern to secure the top, batting, and backing together.

Olivia Working on Quilt
Olivia working on her blue and white circular quilt.
She’s doing some free-motion quilting to secure the top, batting, and backing together.
Olivia was 7 years old when she did this quilt (2010).

Sophia started making quilts in 2006 (when she was 5 years old) and did a simple doll-size patchwork quilt from a kit she received for Christmas. The nice thing about the kit was that the squares were already cut for her. She simply had to sew them together and then create the quilt.

Once she learned how to do that she wanted to create another quilt using fabric that she picked out from what I had on hand. She used the same method as I used with Olivia (tracing of the shape on the fabric and then cutting it out).

By 2008, she was enjoying quilting so her grandma gave her a quilting kit in her favorite color: pink. The kit came with the fabric and pattern, but Sophia had to cut each piece for the quilt.

The fabric was a variety of textures – cotton, satin, and minky.  It was delightful to feel (from a sensory perspective). In terms of sewing…a bit more challenging, especially for a beginner quilter.

She patiently worked on the quilt and was so pleased with how it turned out. She used the quilt and enjoyed how it felt with the different textures.

Sophia in Bunkbed Camping with Quilt She Made
Sophia in a bunk bed in a camper cabin.
She wanted to bring her quilt on her first camping trip.
Sophia was 7 in this picture (2008).

By the following year, Sophia set a goal of making a quilt for her bed. She wanted a quilt in colors that she liked. We checked out some books from the library and she found a pattern that she liked. After a visit to the fabric store, she was ready to start making her quilt.

Sophia Laying Out Her Quilt
Sophia placed the pieces for her quilt on the floor.
She would pin the pieces she needed to sew as she went along.
Sophia is 8 years old in this picture (2009). 

She was happy with how her quilt turned out; and has used it on her bed since she made it.

Sophia's Finished Quilt
Sophia holding her finished quilt.

She entered the quilt in county fair and received a red ribbon on it (second place). At 8 years old, she was in the category with children up to 16 years old. 

Sophia - Red Ribbon on Her Quilt
Sophia by her quilt at the county fair.
She was 8 years old.

When Sophia was 9 years old, she tried a different form of quilting. Her grandma gave her a pre-printed image on fabric. Sophia quilted around different parts of it to give it texture and definition. She added sequins and beads to embellish it, and then finished off the quilt. 

She entered it into the county fair for one of her 4-H needlework projects. In 4-H, the children talk with a judge who asks them questions about their project and determines how much they understand about their project area. Sophia received a blue ribbon for her project which made her happy.

Sophia Talking About Quilted Wallhanging
Sophia meeting with a 4-H judge to discuss her project.

During the 2010-2011 homeschool year, Sophia took a sewing class at the homeschool co-op. One of the projects she worked on was learning quilting patterns.  During the spring, she learned six new patterns. She chose to sew the squares together to make a little lap or doll quilt.

Sophia with her Quilt
Sophia holding a lap or doll quilt that
shows six new patterns that she learned.
She’s 10 years old (2011).

Quilting has been an important part of homeschooling for the girls. In addition to art/creative expression, quilting helps with math and reading. I’ve also integrated geography and history when doing some of the quilts.

With a back-to-homeschool trip to New England in September to celebrate the start of a multi-year/multi-disciplinary geography study, the girls are excited to visit a quilt shop in New Hampshire that has over 5,000 bolts of fabric.

They each want to pick some fabric so they can make a quilt when they return home. Having a tangible reminder of this special time together is something that I hope they look back on with good memories in years to come.

Peek-a-Boo with the Sewing Machine
Looking back….
Olivia at 4 years old working on her first quilt.

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “N.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter N …is for Nature.

Nature is a major focus of homeschooling. Living on almost ten acres of land, nature surrounds us each day.

One of the girls’ favorite activities during the summer is raising butterflies. In 2008, there were an abundance of monarch caterpillars. Seeing the life cycle – from caterpillar to butterfly was fascinating for the girls.

#1 - Look at Me!
Olivia with a monarch butterfly.
This one was ready to be released.

Perhaps the most memorable release was when a monarch butterfly was brought outside and didn’t want to leave the girls. It stayed on their fingers, flew to a nearby milkweed plant, flew back in front of them, and then…eventually…flew off.

August 23rd - Third Monarch Butterfly Release
The third butterfly to be released in August 2008.
This one was quite content
to stay around the girls for a long time.

Both Sophia and Olivia enjoying feeding the birds and squirrels. One of the first activities I had both of the girls do for homeschooling involved watching the birds that visited the feeders. Each time a bird would visit, the girls would add a check mark next to the type of bird.

After a certain period of time (10-15 minutes…30 minutes if they were interested and lots of birds were visiting the feeder), they would create a chart to show which type of bird came to the feeder the most.

Sophia by Squirrel Buffet and Feeder
Sophia standing by the squirrel feeder that she and Olivia built.
The corn cob pathways with shell corn
sprinkled on the paths was Sophia’s idea.
The birds and squirrels enjoyed eating the corn.

One of the nice things about living in the country in a home that was built in 1890 is that the surrounding land has some very old trees which are great for climbing. The girls started out climbing the apple trees in the backyard, and have moved onto some of the larger pine trees in the front yard now.

Girls in the Tree
The girls in the tallest pine tree on the property.

During the past year, we have begun taking time for weekly nature study using the book Handbook for Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.

Taking the time to learn more about the wildlife, trees, and seasons has been such a highlight of the past year. It has given us a new appreciation for the land here as well as the wildlife that visits and lives on our farm.

Sophia Taking a Break From Nature Journaling
Sophia taking a break from nature journaling.
She is listening to and writing down sounds she hears.

Olivia Drawing in her Nature Journal
Olivia enjoyed nature journaling even when she was much younger.
Here she is at four years old
drawing a picture of what she sees outside.

Since the girls were young, gardening has always been a part of their life. They have learned to raise vegetables, pumpkins, fruit, and flowers. Both have been able to plant seeds; transplant trees; and harvest and preserve what they’ve grown.

Sophia with Pumpkin
Sophia with one of the pumpkins that she grew.

We enjoy going on walks with the dogs and horses. Living in the country, there’s always something interesting to see in the fields, in the sky, along the road, or in the ditches.

Olivia Looking for Rocks

Olivia is looking for rocks and
then putting them in her cone-shaped purse.
If you notice…she picked heavy winter boots
to wear with her light summer dress.
(Summer 2008)

One of my favorite pictures is of Sophia on the far nature trail spreading milkweed. She had lots of milkweed pods in her pocket and she would open them and let the wind carry the seeds to new locations.

She hoped that by doing this, there would be more milkweed available for the monarchs the following year…and in years to come.

Floating Milkweed
Milkweed seeds being carried off by the wind
as Sophia releases them.

Even though there are plenty of opportunities to explore nature right at our home, in the pastures, and on the nature trail, we enjoy exploring other areas as well. One of our favorite places to visit is William O’Brien State Park.

Girls Running on Trail at William O'Brien State Park - Homeschool Phy Ed
The girls running on one of the trails
at William O’Brien State Park.

We also have enjoyed walking on some of the trails at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This is a bit of a drive, but the trails are easy to walk and provide a different view of what we normally see at home.

Olivia Looking at Hawk in Tree
Olivia observing a hawk in a tree at the
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

We enjoy picnics outside (especially when there are no bugs – which is spring and fall in Minnesota).  There are lots of places to have picnics, but parks that have a lake or river by them are ones that are especially nice.

Feeding Ducks and Gulls
The girls feeding ducks and sea gulls
after a picnic we had.

Sometimes we visit places after we read about book. If a topic in a book interests the girls or if seeing an example of what was mentioned in the book would be of benefit, I try to find a place to go that would extend their learning.

For example, a few years ago, we visited Interstate State Park as part of a unit study we did on the ice age (after reading one of the Magic Treehouse books about the ice age).

Since the girls learn best by seeing and touching, I took them to this park to see first-hand what gorges are and the impact the ice age had on the area where we live.

This park has some fascinating and beautiful rock formations, glacial potholes, and gorges. The St. Croix River runs between the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the park.

Girls at Minnesota Interstate State Park
The girls on a rock overlooking the St. Croix River.
This was taken at Interstate State Park
on the Minnesota side.

When we travel, we always make sure that nature is part of our trip. One of our favorite places to visit is Grand Marais (Minnesota). The girls enjoy being able to be in Lake Superior (although the water is very cold) and play on the shoreline.

Walking on Water
Olivia and Sophia in Lake Superior
at Grand Marais, Minnesota.

One of their most memorable moments on a trip to Grand Marais that we took in September 2010 was being able to feed a chipmunk. We traveled up the Gunflint Trail and stopped along the way.

At the stop, there was a very friendly chipmunk who the girls fed Pik-Nik sticks (fried potato sticks). The chipmunk came up so close to them. They still – almost a year late – recall that moment as if it happened yesterday.

Close Enough To Pet the Chipmunk
The girls feeding a chipmunk.
Nature is such an integral part of homeschooling. Each day, the girls are outside playing or discovering something new. Having both of them so excited about wildlife and caring for the environment is a direct result of being able to homeschool them and have the opportunity to spend so much time outdoors.

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “L.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted  Letter L …is for Literature

Literature is written or spoken material that is the work of the creative imagination, including works of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. Through the current curriculum I’m using with the girls (Sonlight), we’ve been introduced to wonderful literary works in each of the genres mentioned.

Girls Reading on Box Day
Sophia and Olivia on “Box Day” – when the books
for the upcoming school year are received.
They enjoy looking at all the books they’ll be
reading or listening to during the upcoming year.

In addition to using the books that are part of the Sonlight curriculum, I’m also using several lists of books to introduce the girls to a wide variety of literature (e.g., Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal). 

The Association for Library Service to Children has a website that has information about different awards that are given each year to children’s books that are of high quality.  Each award has a different focus.  The ones that we’re focusing on include:

(John) Newbery Medal – honors the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

(Randolph) Caldecott Medal – honors the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

(Theodor Seuss) Geisel Medal – honors the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished contribution to the body of American children’s literature known as beginning reader books published in the United States during the preceding year.

(Laura Ingalls) Wilder Award – honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.

Reading is such an integral part of homeschooling for us.  Since the girls were young, I have read to them daily. Once Sophia began reading on her own, she spent more time being able to read independently which expanded the number of books she listened to/read each day. The girls both listen to books on CD as well.

In addition to reading inside, the girls enjoy reading outside – on blankets on the ground with the clouds and trees as the backdrop…or in one of the climbing trees in the backyard.

Reading Aloud Outside
Sophia reading outside on an early-fall afternoon.

Literature has introduced the girls to historical facts, given them insight into different cultures; and provides the inspiration to learn more about different times and traditions other than their own.

Some of our favorite homeschool memories center around literature-based unit studies.  The first series we did was the American Girl one that focuses on ten year old girls from a variety of ethnicities and time periods in the United States. 

We started with the Kaya series which was set in the 1700s with the Nez Perce and finished with the Julie series that was set in the 1970s and had a Chinese-American sub-theme (this was nice for the girls who are both Chinese-American).

Olivia Reading Outside
Olivia taking a look at one of the American Girl books
under the willow tree on the nature trail
in the back part of the farm.

The girls and I did crafts, cooked/baked food that tied into each series, and took field trips to places to bring alive what they were reading in the American Girl Series.

Field Trip to Fort Snelling - Food Rations
The girls learned about rations, the Victory pledge,
and Victory Gardens when we did the Molly unit study.
Here, at Fort Snelling, there was a homeschool day
focused on WWII (when the Molly series took place).
This display shows rations at the time (e.g., food, gasoline, shoes).

The other series that we enjoyed was written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Starting with Little House in the Big Woods and ending nine books later with The First Four Years, we not only read the books but did hands-on activities and took a trip to Pepin, Wisconsin (where Laura spent the early part of her childhood).

We visited Pepin once when we started the series and were reading Little House in the Big Woods to see where Laura’s childhood home was located, saw the cemetary where some of the people mentioned in her book were buried, and visited a museum focused on the Ingalls family/Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

In 2010, we went back to Pepin with the girls’ grandparents; and stopped at the lake and went through town.

Lake Pepin
Sophia, Olivia, and Papa (the girls’ grandpa)
on the shores of Lake Pepin (Wisconsin).

Children’s literature also has opened up the girls’ imagination and fostered an enthusiam for learning about things that they normally wouldn’t have thought or known.  For example, I read to the girls a long time ago a book called Mailing May in which five-year-old Charlotte May Pierstorff begs to visit her grandmother, but her parents cannot afford to send her.

In Idaho in 1914, the train is the only way to make the 75-mile trip over the mountains. The Pierstorffs come up with an unusual solution – mailing May. Sending her as a package is a third of the cost, and since her mother’s cousin Leonard handles the railroad mail car, she does not have to travel alone.

So, we were on a trip up north a few years ago, and visited a train museum.  There happened to be an old, restored mail car at the Duluth train museum. This brought to life this book which the girls clearly remembered and made the connection to; making the visit such a fun experience for the girls.

Old-Fashioned Mail Car in a Train
The girls in a restored mail car a train museum
in Duluth, Minnesota.

Another way that literature has been a part of homeschooling is by sharing the gift of reading and quality books with others.  We have donated many books to the local second-hand shop.  All the proceeds from the sale of the books help fund programs that serve those in need in the community.

The girls also donated some books to Books For Africa through the 52 Weeks of Giving program that we’re doing this year. 

And, perhaps, most meaningful (on a personal level) is seeing the gift of reading and literature shared between generations.  One of my father’s favorite books that his mother read to him when he was a boy was The Story of Ferdinand.

The story, written in 1936, is about a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in bullfights. He sits in the middle of the bull ring failing to take heed of any of the provocations of the matador and others to fight.

Sophia Reading Papa His Favorite Book
Sophia reading Papa one of his favorite childhood books.
At the time (August 2010), he was able to still read the book.
Now (June 2011), with Alzheimer’s Disease,
he struggles with reading,
but enjoys being read to and listening.
Literature has been and will continue to be an important and central focus of homeschooling for us. 

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I’ve always enjoyed being around animals – domestic, livestock, or wild.  One of my favorite memories is of traveling to Australia back in 1995.  Traveling along the east coast from Sydney to Cairns, there were many opportunities to see wildlife – the majority of which I have never seen in the United States.
By far, the most vivid memory I have is of visiting Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane (Australia).  It’s the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary and has over 130 koalas. It is rated as one of the top 10 zoos in the world by AOL. 
In addition to enjoying seeing the widlife in a beautiful, natural setting, there are opportunities to hold koalas and hand-feed kangaroos.
Me holding a koala. 
See the koala’s paws?  Apparently if the koala is comfortable, it will tighten its grip – just like it would in a tree before it rests.  I became the tree moments after this picture was taken.  The little koala there had quite the grip.  I didn’t mind for a while because it was soft and such an incredible opportunity. 
Another interesting thing about the koala’s paw:  there are five digits on each front paw, two of which are opposed to the others, much like our thumbs are able to be moved differently from the fingers. This helps them to hold firmly onto the branches and to grip their food. The second and third digits on their hind paws are fused together to form a grooming claw.

Since visiting Australia, holding a koala has been banned in New South Wales (a new law in 1997).  However, people can still hold koalas in Queensland – where Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is located. 

In Queensland, koalas can only be held for less than 30 minutes per day. They must also get every third day off. This ensures that they get plenty of time to eat and sleep. At Lone Pine, they “clock on” and “clock off” their koalas when they go to the koala cuddling area.

According to the Australian Koala Foundation, “Koalas are in serious decline suffering from the effects of habitat destruction, domestic dog attacks, bushfires and road accidents. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are less than 80,000 koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000.”   

To read more about koalas, visit the Australian Koala Foundation.

The other animal that stands out from the trip to Australia is the kangaroo.  I had never seen a kangaroo (except on t.v.), so this was incredibly interesting for me to see them hop around.  I was able to feed some kangaroos at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where there was a 5-acre kangaroo reserve. 

There were over 100 kangaroos and wallabies hopping about.  Thankfully, not that many swarmed around when I came in with a bag of kangaroo food that was available at the little stand at the sanctuary. (I would have been a bit scared if that had happened.)

I remember opening the gate and going into the enclosure, and wondering where all the kangaroos were.  It was only a few minutes and there they were – standing at the top of a small hill.  Then they starting hopping down towards me.  It was a bit intimidating until only a brave handful of kangaroos came to me.

Me feeding some kangaroos
This small group of five kangaroos were the most eager to eat.  The little ones were less intimidating than those two larger ones that were almost as tall as I was.  It was fun to feed them.  They were all quite docile and friendly.  Though, one of those big kangaroos, wasn’t too happy when the food ran out.  It wanted more.  I felt like that would a great time to leave the enclosure…I didn’t want to know what a kangaroo who wanted more food was capable of doing. 

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary had five different species of kangaroos and wallabies (Grey Kangaroo, Red Kangaroo, Pretty-faced Wallaby, Swamp wallaby, and Red neck Wallaby).  The kangaroos I fed all appear to be the same species to me.

What was exciting, too, was that there were all different ages of kangaroos there.  I especially enjoyed seeing the joeys inside the pouches.  It reminded me of the Halloween costume my mom made for me one year when I was about six years old.  I was a kangaroo and my mom put a a toy kangaroo in the costume’s pouch.

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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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Sophia turned ten years old today.  It’s hard to believe that a child I once held is now almost as tall as me.

Sophia at the orphanage prior to being adopted.
She’s less than a year old in this picture.

Sophia has an outgoing, engaging personality. 

Nez Perce - Beaded Necklace
Sophia is full of laughter…
seeing her with a smile and laughing is typical.

She’s a fun child to be around…and has a generous, caring spirit.  She’s open to trying new things…and has a good attitude about it in the process. 

Sophia as a scarecrow. 
Yes, she’s tied to the wooden cross
in the middle of a cornfield.

We’ve enjoyed many trips together during the past ten years – Hawaii (twice), China, Japan, Pella (IA), Pennsylvania, Oregon, Florida, California, Kansas, and many trips to Grand Marais. 

Testing the Cold Lake Superior Water
Sophia wanting to feel the cold water of Lake Superior
at our favorite beach in Grand Marais – Cutface Creek.
She’s tried many new activities through the year – including dancing, ice skating, swimming, and horseback riding. 
Sophia during the performance
Dancing during the recital at Cinderella dance camp with
the Minnesota Dance Theater.
She has a love for animals and her family.  This picture was taken on January 1, 2008.  Sophia and Olivia decided together that they wanted to wear their Chinese dresses when we went out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant – a long-standing family tradition for New Year’s Day.
Casey, Sophia, and Olivia on 1-1
Casey, Sophia, and Olivia
As I look at pictures of Sophia through the years, I feel incredibly blessed to have her as my daughter.  She has brought so much joy to my life…and filled it with so many wonderful memories. 

To celebrate Sophia’s milestone birthday on December 30th, we had a special breakfast (waffles – her favorite breakfast),

Birthday Breakfast
Sophia at breakfast with a bouquet of flowers in her favorite colors
and a circle of pink carnations – one jar for each year of life.

we went to see “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (a movie she has wanted to see since the previews began in November), ate at her favorite Chinese restaurant, enjoyed a purchased birthday cake (versus a homemade one which I normally do),

Blowing Out the Candles
Sophia blowing out the candles on her birthday cake.

and opened presents (one for each year).  It was a nice birthday for us all…and one that I hope she remembers fondly when she’s older.

Red Eggs and 10 Jars of Carnations
10 jars of pink carnations surrounding a bowl of 10 eggs.

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