Monday, February 28, 2011

Looking Back and a Glimpse Forward

When we began this journey to a more self-reliant life, we did it with eyes wide open.  Going off-grid was not a choice made lightly.  It was not a stressful decision, but one that we understood.  We have never had regrets for that choice.  We have learned much and have been blessed.
In going non-electric, we were able to shut out the noise and distractions.  It was odd at first to not have the TV.  Abbie missed her VeggieTales DVDs.  Joe missed watching "Everybody Loves Raymond."  I must admit that late in the evenings when I was unable to sleep, I missed the DVDs also.  We adapted however.  We found more time to spend doing things as a family.  Joe put it best when he observed that we had the TV on mostly when we were bored.  Without the crutch of a TV, we found other things to do.  We read more, spent more time outdoors, and played games together in the evening. 
We have come to realize that while the TV was an intrusion in our family's life, there are certain things that we do miss.  Not having Internet access at home was something that we have come to miss greatly.  We enjoy email and writing our blogs.   I find I need to go to a library often to do research on therapies and methods of teaching/helping Micah.  Abbie is homeschooling and I need to access the Internet often for her also.  It is funny that I miss the Internet more than having a modern bathroom. 
We are homeschooling now which is something that wasn't being done when we went non-electric.  We are finding that having Internet access at home would be a blessing as well as cost effective.  Our plans are to get Internet access as well as having a small solar power system at the new house.  This will allow me to be able to research from home the information I need to homeschool both children.  Additionally, it will give me the opportunity to blog more often.  If plans go well, we will be able to move into the new home by summer.
Thank you all for your patience and in continuing to follow my blog.  I realize that the posts have been infrequent, but am laying the foundation to post more often.
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Got it Figured Out

I have been trying to come up with a way to be able to keep my blog updated.  I am going to be writing the posts through the week, then will send them all in via my email account when I can get to a WiFi location.  This will mean that the posts will come in batches, but I should be able to send them at least on a weekly basis.  Lately, it seems I get to a location 2-3 times per week.
I am so grateful for the blessing of being able to post more.  I have missed it more than I realized.  There is so much that I have been wanting to share.  Experiences we have had and blessings of the Lord in our lives.  The Lord has been blessing us and His grace has strengthen us.  I look forward to sharing it with you in future posts.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

A Prepper?

I recently was asked in a message on Facebook if I were a "Prepper".  Huh???  Like this is supposed to me news to anyone who knows me!  I was raised a prepper.  We always had a garden, preserved and lived off the harvest as well as off the livestock we raised.  Dad was a hunter and we had venison in the freezer each year.  We made jams & jellies, ketchup, pickles, and just about anything we could come up with.  Dad had a rifle for both the purpose of protection and for hunting.  Growing up this way was so common to me that I never stopped to think about it.
When I was in my 20's, I had a garden and canned, dehydrated, or froze as much of the harvest as possible.  At that time, I was in a church where putting food by was a common thing.  By the time I was in my 30's, fewer families were gardening or putting their harvest by.  They would simply use what they needed then give away the extra.  Often, I would hear others say to me that canning and gardening were a waste of money and resources.  I could buy the food cheaper that it cost to raise it.  They had trouble understanding why I would want to go to the trouble when there are a grocery store in easy distance from home.
Now, here we are.  I am in my late 40's and still gardening and canning.  I actually can year round now, putting up jars of extra soups, stews, meat, etc.  With the economy being such a mess, getting worse before it gets better, I am seeing a resurgence of gardening and canning.  Families that have not had a garden in years are suddenly talking about putting one in.  I am so glad that we have been doing this for a while now.  Some years are more successful than others, but we always tried to get as much as we could.  The years of practice and experience is serving us well now.
We are ordering garden seed twice this year.  The first order will have enough seed for this year's garden.  The second order will be seed for next year's garden.  I can only imagine how expensive open pollinated garden seed will be in upcoming years.  I plan to save seed from the garden this year, but have no idea yet how much I will end up with.  For these reasons, I plan to buy as much seed as I will need for a full garden.  The seed I save will be available to plant.  The goal being to have seed for at least 1-2 years' of gardening on hand.
We are in a position this year to have the chicken coop set up.  My son-in-law knows how to set up the solar power for the coop's heat lamps that we will need for the brooder and again this winter.  He is also going to soon be showing me how to set up a small solar power system so we can charge up the cell phones and netbook computers.
Somehow, our self-reliant lifestyle has people now asking if we are preppers.  I love a common phrase that is associated with preppers. "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."   That philosophy very much describes me.  Do all you can to prepare for hard times while praying that the hard times don't come.  If this makes me a prepper, then so be it. 
We each have a responsibility to take care of our own family.  We can't lean on others to do that for us.  So, we are doing all that we can to go back to basics.  In the Great Depression years and the generations before had it right.  They knew how to garden and store enough food to get their family through to the next gardening season.  Families literally lived off of their harvest and animals that they raised or hunted.  They knew how to stretch their money and make it last.  We are striving to get back to that way of life.  With the Lord's grace and blessing, we will achieve that goal.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No More Early Intervention, Now What?

It is hard to believe that in 1 month, Micah will no longer be in SoonerStart's early intervention program.  He was put in the program late.  Through a series of glitches in the system, there ware a 10 month delay from the time I first contacted them and when they started working with him. The end result was Micah was able to qualify for the program 8 months before his 3rd birthday when he will be too old to receive the help.  March will be the last month he receives services from the program.  So, what is next?
Locally, there is a Headstart program, but it is ill equipped to handle someone like Micah.  Rural areas usually have this problem.  Funding and staffing is the key issue.  They would have to hire someone to shadow Micah and help him with everything from diapers, feeding him, and helping him with each activity they do.  Rural communities don't have the funding for that.  This means that many times a child like Micah slips through the cracks and receives little to no benefit from the Headstart program. 
Another issue that we face is Micah's developmental level.  There is concern that he would be more likely to take on the traits we don't want (such as bad behavior) than to progress in a positive way.  This is common even with typical kids, but can be a set back to special needs children.  I have spoken with others, including those who work with special needs children, and most feel it would be best to not put Micah in Headstart.  This brings me back to the question of what are we going to do now?
When Micah was first diagnosed, I didn't wait for the Early Intervention program to begin.  What a waste of 10 months that would have been!  I instead became proactive and did some research online and in books.  I learned as much as I could about classic autism (the type Micah has) and the various therapy approaches that are available.  I looked at the good & bad of each before choosing the approach that would benefit Micah the most.  From that time on, I have worked with Micah daily.
I am currently using a combination of FloorTime and ABA methods with Micah.  In FloorTime, you get down on the child's level and through play help them with their development.  I incorporate ABA methods in some activities, such as his newest development of learning to point to the food he wants to eat.  In that task, Micah has a choice of several foods on his plate.  When we feed him, he points to which food he wants a bite of next.  ABA, in my experience, is more structured than FloorTime.  There are aspects that I don't agree with, but I do incorporate the basic ideas when possible.  The ABA approach is benefiting in the teaching him to use resources like the PECS cards or a visual schedule.  I just do it with a more gentle approach.
As I have mentioned before, I am preparing Micah to use the Workbox System in homeschooling.  I am laying the foundation so that when he is ready to homeschool, he will have this organization method established.  Using workboxes gives the child the ability to become independent.  Each workbox contains 1 activity for the child to complete.  There is a token system to keep track of the workboxes completed.  As each workbox task is finished, the child places the token on the tally sheet before going to the next workbox. 
Some of the activities we do now are sensory activities, such as having one of his little cars in a bin of rice.  He has to reach through the rice to take his car out of it.  Being that he doesn't like his hands touched by anything, this activity helps to desensitize him in this issue.  Until he can handle various textures touching his hands, he won't learn to pick up finger foods and feed himself. 
I have been buying Micah toys that challenge him to use fine motor skills, such as a wooden puzzle that has a series of doors with various types of metal latches & locks that he must open to see what is behind the door. Another wooden puzzle has large chunky shapes for the puzzle pieces.  
Recently, I saw a video on YouTube of a company that makes activities for special needs children and adults.  Each activity is contained in a plastic "shoe box" designed for that specific task.  All materials for that activity are stored inside it's shoe box.  There was a wide array of tasks that were shown on the video.  One task was a cup that held about 12 wooden sticks (painted dowels) on one end of the box lid and a grid of 12 holes in the other end of the lid.  The task was to take a dowel from the cup and place one in each hole.  Simple task, but teaches fine motor control.  Other activities involved sorting by color or shape, assembling simple items, taking apart 2 interlocked circles so that you can fit them into the slot, and more.  In watching this, I was inspired to come up with more activities of that type to make for Micah.
There is so much that a parent can do to teach their special needs child.  Some days, I wonder how I will be able to homeschool Micah.  I know that it won't always be easy.  I do believe though that the Lord is helping me to gather the information that I need to be able to homeschool Micah.  When I am in need of a resource, the information is made available to me.  Micah is very receptive to learning when I approach it in the way he feels most comfortable.  For now, that is just fine.  I make a game out of training him to use the Workbox System and he is accepting it.  By the time I am ready to officially start his homeschooling when he is 5 years old, he will be so accustomed to the Workbox System that it will be just a part of his daily routine.
For now, I am gathering as much information as possible and planning to talk to shoe stores and ask for shoe boxes that I can use to make Micah a few activities that I think he will soon be ready to start working on.  When I can, I will take and post some pictures.  I am still trying to get a hang of the way to take pictures with my phone and figure out how to upload them onto the computer.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Workbox System in Progress

Tuesday we resume homeschool after having a week off.  Daddy has been home from his truck driving job after being gone 7 weeks.  We decided when he took this job that the kids will homeschool while he is gone, but will have a break when he is home.  This gives us more time to just enjoy being together and having family time.
I ordered a book, "Sue Patrick's Workbox System: User's Guide" by Sue Patrick, a week ago.  Went ahead and ordered a few supplies also from her website.  She sells quite a bit of things that support the workbox system. 
The workbox system put in simplest terms is a way to organize your kids' school work and other tasks.  You have 12 workboxes (bins, shoe boxes, or other container) set up on shelves.  Some use the stacked drawer storage units for this.  In each workbox a single activity or lesson assignment is placed.  The child starts with the first workbox and completes the activity before going on to the next one.  This gives the child a sense of the activity having a definite beginning and end.  Sue Patrick started doing this for her own autistic son whom she was homeschooling.
For younger children or those with special needs, you can number the workboxes and have a set of "tokens" that are numbered also.  When the child completes workbox number 1, they place the token numbered 1 on a tally sheet.  This gives a visual of the work done.  It is similar to when you have a chores list and mark them off as you complete them.
Abigail loves using this system.  She actually gets upset if I have her do her homeschool assignments without them being organized in the workboxes.  She loves being able to open each box to find the activity inside.  For her it is exciting.  She enjoys keeping track of her progress with the tokens.  At the day, she gets a sticker to place on an incentive chart.  When that chart is full, I take her out on a special outing.  For her, this usually means going out for an ice cream.
Micah is being prepared for the workbox system.  His activities include skill building toys or other activities that cannot fit in the workboxes.  I will be taking pictures of each activity, then laminate each picture.  The pictures will be placed in his workboxes.  Any activity that fits in his workbox will have the activity's materials all ready for him in that workbox.  When the workbox is completed, it's number token will go on his tally chart.
I recently saw a YouTube video about shoebox activities that you can buy premade.  Each has all the materials needed, which are stored in that shoebox.  As I watched the video, I got many ideas of types of activities to do with Micah skill building.  Now, I just have to get a few made up.  Starting with about 6 activities will give Micah enough to give him a total of 12 workbox activities when added to the skill building toys that I already bought for him. 
Not all of the workboxes are academics.  Some are crafts or Phys Ed in nature.  Abigail is going to be starting to work on the Keepers in the Home program soon.  We plan to incorporate some of that into the workboxes.  The last workbox of the day is a favorite snack or activity that is like a reward for having completed all the tasks of the day.
I am so excited about using the workboxes.  They help me stay organized and it is teaching Abigail (and later on Micah) to be more independent.  Abigail is in control of her day.  She decides through her actions how much of the day is taken up by homeschooling. If she gets busy and stays on task, she is done by lunch time.  If she wool gathers too much, then she is doing homeschool til dinner time.  I love anything that helps my kids learn to develop self discipline and independence.  It is an important trait that will serve them well throughout their life. 
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Plans for the Homestead in 2011

I know that this will be a bit of a change to some who have been following my blog, but it is a needed one. I listen to the news on the radio and read it online. I am concerned about the changes taking place in our nation. The economic issues that we are all facing are daunting to think about. Lately, there has been much talk about the fact that prices on nearly all goods will be rising. Food costs, clothing, fuel, heating and other utilities will all be affected. If you are unprepared this rise in costs will really hurt. Knowing that these increases are coming, we are going to be making changes in our own home to make these times less stressful.

I have been using a laundromat over the winter to do laundry. I am not able to hand wash laundry for 6 people and still have the ability to take care of other tasks. I would have to do laundry daily just to keep up! Joe and I decided that we will be investing in a gas dryer set up to run on propane. An investment, but one that will save much in the long run. I could still wash Abbie, Micah's and my laundry by hand until we get a gas powered wringer washer. It will be used mostly in winter or on rainy days. Otherwise, I will still be using the clothesline.

I have been talking about getting solar power for our home. Well, I am going to set up a small system to "test out" before the house is ready. I found that solar panels are a lot less pricey if you get them from a farm supply. Properly hooked up to a marine or agricultural battery (they have longer life) I will be able to use it for the netbook and my cell phone. It is mainly for the purpose of seeing how to get it set up and how much will be needed. Eventually, we will have enough to power a few lights, a stereo, maybe a portable DVD player, and small appliances like a slow cooker. Not a huge amount of energy usage, but enough that I need to calculate how many panels and batteries we will need.

I am planting a large garden again this year. This time around, I am getting it set up with plenty of the weed barrier plastic so that I won't have to deal with weeds so much after a rainy season. If necessary, I will buy straw to place on top of the plastic to keep the plants from getting too hot. For this reason, I am buying seed as soon as I am able so I can start the seeds early. Our last frost happens in late April, so I generally start planting in early May.

In my garden plans, I am cutting back on the number of seed varieties. I am going instead on the idea of planting larger amounts of the basics that we use the most. I am going to have raised beds for salad greens and items like baby bok choy that I can later turn into cold frames next fall. I am focusing on 2 areas. I am planning to plant in the garden a larger amount of the foods that I typically can up for the pantry. This will stock me well for the rest of the year until the next garden season if all goes well. The second area of focus is the lettuce and other vegetables best eaten fresh. These will mostly end up planted in raised beds to allow me to cover to protect in the autumn. I saw online an idea that I remember from when I was a kid. Planting lettuce or other salad type vegetables in a row. When frost danger is approaching, you can make a dome from fencing to use as a form to place clear or white plastic tarp over. This acts as a mini cold frame that allows you to grow salad greens longer in the season.

In the home we are building, there will be a 10'x10' pantry next to the kitchen. I will have lots of room to add shelving both along the walls and free standing shelving in the center of the room. We are considering getting a propane freezer later on. The pantry, once fully stocked will allow us plenty of stores for winter and into the next gardening season. My goal is to have the pantry similar to what a typical Depression-era rural family would have. They grew nearly everything they ate. When gardening and putting by, they would store enough not only for winter but enough to last until canning season the following year. Often, we had 2 years' worth of canning in our pantry when I was growing up. We ate from one year's canning while in the middle of canning the current year's harvest. If a particular crop did better than usual, we may end up with enough to last 2-3 years.

This is a small part of what we have in the plans for this year. Here is a brief list of some of our homestead goals. We will do what we can this year, but most will be over the next 5 years.

* Build a new outhouse & an outdoor shower house (ok, this is a priority)

* Fence a large yard for the kids to play in.

* Build a chicken coop with a fenced yard for them on days when we won't be home in time to shut them in at night.

* Build a turkey pen (we will raise a few pullets to butcher in autumn)

* Secure the old sheep pen to make into a pig pen (this is not definite yet)

* Build permanent set of raised bed garden boxes near the new home

There is much to be done. As things progress, we will be tweaking and adjusting the plans. I would love to have a cow for milk, but that is not certain. I would be milking her by hand and I don't know if my hands could handle that. Any calves that she had would either provide meat or be sold. As the milk cow got older, we could keep her female offspring to raise as a new milk cow. The big issue is only the task of milking by hand twice a day.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

A Step into the Future

My beloved and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary and today he got a special gift for me. I now have a netbook! We have been talking about getting one, but haven't been able to until now. We even managed to get one for him to take on the truck. So, I will now be able to blog and email a lot more often. Thank you beloved for the gift!

We are going through changes at home. As I have mentioned before, we need to rebuild our home. This is going to be a project in process for a time. We hope to have the home done enough to be able to move in by summer. It is a simple design based on the pole barn style. Nothing fancy, but it will be fully off-grid with solar electricity. Best part is that we will work on it as we have the finances to do so. No debt! When it is finished, there will be no bills or loans to pay off.

As we go through the process of building and finishing the home, I plan to post pictures and information. The idea is to build a home that will suit our needs for many years to come without causing a financial burden. It will hopefully help to inspire others into realising that if you think outside of the box, you can do this also.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wood Stoves

I was asked about the wood stove we use. We have 2 wood stoves. The first is a basic heating type with vents across the top and a large firebox that is loaded from the side. This one heats the front of the house very well. I love the vents on top which allow me to place a drying rack on top and dry quickly any laundry that needs to be done. One very cold mornings, we sometimes will place our clothing on the rack to heat it up before getting dressed for the day. I keep a small pot of water on the top to provide moisture in the air. Wood stoves are notorious for taking the humidity out of the air. This can cause many to experience severely dry skin. The water on the stove helps, but lotion containing shea butter is always on hand.

The second stove is the antique cookstove. I love it as it is antique and very sturdy. I must admit however that my dream stove would be one of the Amish made ones sold by Lehmans. Their wood stoves are much more efficient than the antique ones. They do not go through firewood as quickly. The cooking area is much larger and easier to clean/maintain. I also like the fact that they have a built in thermometer for the oven. The firebox is generously sized, as is the oven.

Cooking on the wood stove that we have is fun. I was a little uneasy at first when the little ones began toddling around. I was concerned that they would get a burn. To this date, neither of the children have received a burn from the stove. I love the convenience of being able to do double-duty and simmer the evening meal on the stove while also heating the kitchen area.

The stove are fairly easy to start fires in. The trick being to make sure that you have enough airflow through the stovepipe. The cookstove also has a side vent that can be opened and adjusted. If I ever have trouble lighting the fire due to the wood not being dry or seasoned enough, a chunk of firewood that has been soaked in kerosene makes an excellent starter.

Two recommendations to anyone considering a wood stove is to make sure you have good quality cookware. I prefer cast iron. Secondly, have plenty of metal trivets to use on the stove. These can allow you to simmer a pot of stew or other meal on a hot stove without worry of the food scalding in the bottom of the pot.

Overall, if I had my way about it I would probably only have a wood stove.