Archive for May, 2012


the hamptons

   Posted by: liz    in Uncategorized

i have to be fully and honestly frank. the facade must be put to rest.

i am not a camper. i am not a camper in the woods, or in a motor-home. i’m not a camper in the summer, fall or spring. camping does not thrill me because i like clean and comfortable a little too much, especially if we’re talking “vacation.”

i think this is where i need to also admit that i think i’ve become a bit OCD. with cleaning and cleanliness. but i have a theory about this:  i’ve always been a neat freak and i never had to fight for an organized and neat home until i got married and then had three miniature tornadoes children. children who don’t know how to put anything away, or to keep food from falling on the floor, and who have no idea how to close a dresser drawer. and since moving to a farm, i’ve learned to embrace the dirty lifestyle we have. we get out in the barn, the pasture, the animals…and we get dirty. but i do have a thing about bringing that “dirty” inside the house. leave it outside and get a good, hot soapy shower before you sit on any furniture or put your hand in the fridge or the ice cube tray.

and this is why i don’t like camping. there’s dirt, no matter how hard you try to keep it out of the tent. there’s bugs and sweat and (shudder!) swimming in a pond or creek with crayfish.

i’ve become a girly girl. i love my comfortable hotels with the chlorine swimming pools and hot soapy showers and warm, fluffy pillows. i know camping is cheaper and don’t talk to me about the bedbug outbreak because i’ve already become a bit paranoid about any hotel we stay in because of it.  but i know that but when it comes to vacation…camping is more like a prison sentence than rest and relaxation.

there is no resting or relaxing for me when my boys are wading through a creek with SHARP rocks sticking out of rolling water that can have up to a thousand different flesh-eating bacteria floating in it. bring on the chlorine, please…and you’ll see my shoulders relax.  there is NEVER resting or relaxing when there is a campfire and toddlers and crazy/excited boys around, especially with sharp implements that are stuck into the fire for roasting marshmallows (that end up in your hair, then in your sleeping bag and guess who is then prowling around your tent at 3:15 looking for that sweet smell coming from your hair?  mr. rabid raccoon or mrs. black bear.

bring me my hampton inn, my comfort inn, and leave the musty-smelling tents at home. i know this does not mesh at all with my normally “natural” way of living.

maybe i need a 12-step program. but i know it won’t help me enjoy camping. it might help me tolerate it, but definitely not enjoy it.



PA homeschool evaluation

   Posted by: liz    in homeschooling

for the past four years, we’ve been homeschooling our boys. it was only last august that our school district was informed of this information, and i only had to register our oldest.

in Pennsylvania, the compulsory age (the age at which your child better at least be registered for kindergarten) of school children is 8, which means i didn’t have to let anyone in the education system know that we were homeschooling until my oldest turned 8. they still don’t “know” about the other two boys we’ve been schooling, but they’ll find out once they reach the golden age of 8.

the only other rules you have to follow in PA is to keep a log of all the books you used in the teaching program, proof that you schooled for 180 days, and have the child evaluated at the end of the school year. all that goes into a portfolio that shows examples of each subject covered throughout the year and the school year is officially over once that is handed in.

this week was rowan’s evaluation, and as i commented at facebook, i think i was more nervous than he was. although i could tell he was quietly nervous. i gave him this advice: “show off!  you’re a bright, smart kid. show the evaluator that!”

the evaluation took just under an hour. we had a great evaluator who homeschooled her two children several years ago and currently works in special education. she carefully went through our portfolio, and asked rowan a lot of questions about himself, about his favorites, about the school year, and about his favorite subjects (he loves skip-counting, he said. that was news to me! )  she had told me to have him bring a book that he could read from to her. he chose a book that he had gotten for christmas from his godparents, “Blaze and the Mountain Lion” and he carefully chose his favorite page in the book. i loved listening to him read and was amazed that he never asked to stop reading…he went all the way to the end of the book. i was also impressed that the evaluator didn’t stop him…she just let him keep going.

she also impressed me by her questions of the book to rowan: why did they need to find the mountain lion?  what has happened up until this point in the story? reading comprehension is something that i read about a long time ago while researching homeschooling. i also remember it being a part of the achievement tests from my own elementary years. our writing program incorporates at least one lesson a week in just reading comprehension. it’s one thing to read a paragraph, it’s another thing to have comprehended what you’ve read. (and it’s still another to put that into your own words, and yet another to write those words on paper.)

we walked out of the evaulation relieved and ready to celebrate with an end-of-the-year dinner and ice cream.

i can assure anyone who hasn’t gone through the school system yet in their homeschooling program that it’s really not a big deal. i was nervous for the past few weeks leading up to the evaluation wondering if i was doing enough for my kids. as i pulled together everything that we did this past school year for rowan’s portfolio, i was amazed that i actually felt that way – we had a full and busy year! the home-education rules are in place to ensure that homeschooling parents are actually doing the work they signed up to do: to educate their children. although i don’t know one family who homeschools that doesn’t educate their children. in fact, the majority (if not all that i know) are passionate about education and put in hours and days and months into their childrens’ education and development. i guess the rules are there for the very small percent of homeschool households who are taking advantage of the system. i repeat, “very small percent of homeschool households.”  i’m sure there are bad apples in every bunch, but i’ve yet to meet one of them.

my advice: follow the rules, but mostly have fun educating your kids. no matter what that looks like (parent-involved-in school, homeschooling, PTA involvement, after-schooling, etc) it’s the absolute best calling for parents, i’m convinced.



we’ve got babies!! (update: and bear)

   Posted by: liz    in bees, farm

a week and a half after finding themselves traveling from Georgia to the western hills of PA, our bees have settled into their new homes and are already busy making babies.

we opened the hives this evening and pulled out two of the busiest frames from each hive (the ones covered with the most bees).  after observing them closely, we found evidence of eggs (little white “commas” in each cell) AND some larvae already (little white “worms” that would normally send me squealing in gross-out, but these are exciting because that means the bees are growing!). see examples of both in the above picture.

they’re also making lots of honey, and the honeysuckle bush behind them (next to our old barn) is in full bloom. i’m hoping they’re using the sugar water i give them to build comb, and the pollen from the honeysuckle to make honey – how heavenly would honeysuckle honey be?

checking the hives in the heat of the day isn’t easy. as soon as i have my hat/netting secure and my gloves on, my face automatically gets an itch. then my hair falls out of any pony tail and starts to cover my face and by the time we’ve spent only five minutes in the hives, said hair is plastered on my face from all the sweat. i must really love those little bees to allow myself to get into this much of a hot mess over them!

since one of the packages we got a few weeks ago was badly damaged, the apiary is sending us another package of bees in case they don’t become strong enough to survive. so far, the hives both seem to be at equal strength, but we’re due to get the third package this week. we have lots of work to do to get three active hives filled over the next few months. i’m hoping all the hard work that we (and the bees!) get done yield a huge harvest!

and of course, happy, content bees that are strong enough to survive over the winter and start the spring strong!


i wrote this blog post last night, planning to publish it first thing this morning.  soon after we turned the lights out in the house, kenny heard some outside noise near the garage. “oh my goodness…it’s a big black bear in the recycling bin.” i ran to the window in time to see it waddle away with the flashlight on him (i only ever get to see the back side of a running bear. kenny always sees them up close because he has no fear of them like i do). he was running towards the hives, so kenny grabbed the flashlight and ran outside.

i stayed on the front porch yelling things like, “do you see him?” and ” get back inside!” and “does he see you?”  and then all i could hear from the other side of the garage is tree branches rustling and snapping. of course, in my mind i see a black bear tackling my husband. then i was assured by kenny’s unfrightened voice, “he’s up the tree now.” he ran inside to get a firearm to scare the bear away.

kenny tells me to get into his car and shine the headlights onto the tree where the bear is. i look at him like he’s nuts because that would require me to STEP OFF THE FRONT PORCH and into the infested black bear territory. he needs the lights because he can’t shoot and hold his flashlight at the same time. he keeps telling me i’m safe as i reluctantly walk towards the car (which is inches away from the bear. okay, i’m exaggerating a little…) muttering things like, “you OWE me!” and “you don’t know how scared i am right now” like a baby and slam the door shut behind me as i turn on the headlights.

he shoots into the air (a shotgun, the loudest shot of all). no branches breaking or bear thumping to the ground to run away. just echo and silence.

kenny then walks over to the tree and shines the light up. and the bear is sitting on a branch, about 10 feet up, backside facing, head turned toward him. he snaps a picture while i yell things like, “you’re NUTS!” “GET OVER HERE NOW!” as though he is a toddler. this picture reminds me of the “proof that bigfoot exists!” photos. you just can’t really see the bear, but he’s there. the dark area to the bottom, right of center is his backside sitting on a branch. his eye and snout are turned toward the camera, just below the flash.

i went out this morning and found lots of broken branches underneath “his” tree, and a gift he left for us.

we camped out on the deck watching for when he’d come down himself so that we would make sure he didn’t go toward the hives. i forgot to mention that the tree he was in was right next to the hives. he either smelled the bacon-baited electric fence, or the bees/honey/comb. if he went for the bacon, he probably got a hefty shock, so hopefully he won’t be returning soon. i’m happy to say the hives are safe and sound right now. i’m so thankful we put the fence up right away this time!

he finally dropped down and left around 12:30. i’m hoping this doesn’t happen again, but that’s the adventure of farm-living, i guess.

and i wouldn’t trade it for anything.




honeybees, take 2

   Posted by: liz    in bees, earthkeeping, farm

our two packages of honeybees arrive at the post office this morning. at 6:35 a.m. the post office called to tell us they were in. i had been up for an hour already, and suspected we’d be hearing from them this morning.

the boys finally woke up around 8:15, and by 9:00 we were in the car, on our way to pick them up. when we arrive at the post office, the postal worker warned me that one of the packages looked a little “bad.”  this meant that there was a lot more dead bees on the bottom of that package than the other one. you can tell the difference in the two pictures above – the bottom photo is the stronger hive (less dead bees).

the boys and i sprayed the cages with sugar water every 45 minutes or so. the buzz would “hush” when they were sprayed and after 10 minutes or so, the buzzing would be loud again. our beekeeping book says, “Listen well. The humming will subside and your bees will sound more contented as they feed. Volume will change with hive conditions, but the sweet and low tone of that contented sound is a delight to the beekeeper’s ears. Try to memorize it.”

when kenny got home from work, we got our hives ready. the frames we put in already have old “drawn comb” on them (from our previous beekeeping days), and the new bees will clean them up  and open them up so the queen can lay eggs in them, the workers will feed the larvae and the hives will grow more and more bees.

the apiary from which we ordered the bees will be sending a replacement hive (we just have to pay shipping) in a few weeks. so we’ll know whether or not we have to merge it into the weaker one, or just start a whole new hive. in two weeks, we should begin to see active growth.

now, our busy work begins. i’m off to Sam’s in the morning to get a 50 lb. bag of white sugar. we’ll be making sugar syrup (one part sugar to one part water) to help the bees in their building. they’ll begin to find pollen sources, but this time of year, the beekeeper has to help the bee out. wintered bees will be busy carrying out dead bees and all of their winter excrement, and new bees (like ours) will be busy building comb and tending to the queen.

so excited to see these hives get higher and busy…and looking forward to a full harvest!



This week, our family attended our co-op’s end of the year closing ceremonies where the students got to show off everything they learned, and we shared a big potluck meal in the church gym with our entire families.

It was pure meyhem but a lot of fun!

Our last co-op class was a month ago, so it’s been about 4 weeks since I’ve seen the students I had in my class and I have to admit that I’ve missed them!  It was great to see all those little faces again (I tutored the 4-year-old class).  Each class got to share their memory work on stage. My class did a few history sentences and in true form, when I prompted them for the sentence, for instance, “Tell Me about the Declaration of Independence?” … the students kind of mumbled their answer quietly yelling out key words here and there, like “Continental Congress” and “Philadelphia” and “Colonists.” It really was adorable.  The kids knew their stuff, they just didn’t like saying it very loudly. :) The next class to get up (ages 5) were able to speak their answers clearly and perfectly.

I think the first year of Classical Conversations for 4-year-old’s is purely a practice year. It’s absolutely true that a 4-year-old is able to memorize and do rote memory work. It’s also true that a 4-year-old is able to speak in front of others. But it takes practice and confidence to build the latter.  I saw huge growth in the public speaking area in my students from last fall until this spring. Some were able to speak from the start, and some needed a bit of time, coaxing, and encouragement to come out of their shells and exercise their voice out loud as the center of attention.

We have decided to take at least a year off of Classical Conversations, and do the curriculum at home next year. I told a few of the families at the banquet that we weren’t returning, and I didn’t expect the surprised and sad reactions from the families I told. I was a bit choked up to hear them tell me to “change my mind,” to “please keep in touch.”  What an honor to be seen as someone instrumental in their kids’ lives.  I know I appreciated all the time my boys’ tutors put into their classes…  I can’t think about it for too long as I really am sad about that aspect of our decision to take the year off. I’d love to be able to stay with my students as they progress through the 6 years of Foundations and see how they grow and mature, learn and experience all the great things there are to learn.

But as all families know, your own kids are the focus of your homeschool. So stay tuned for blog posts on “Year Five of Homeschooling the Smith Boys”  in the coming year. I’m already feverishly planning our fall semester, and I’m quite excited about what is in store for the boys and for me!

The CC campus, 2011-2012

The boys playing their tin whistles.


happy camping

   Posted by: liz    in family, family fun

our family of five enjoyed survived our first camping overnight this past weekend! the last time kenny and i camped was when sawyer had just turned 1, and rowan was 2. that was much easier, and from what i remember, we were serenated by screech owls all night long.

the older boys had a cub scout overnight this past weekend, and i decided at the last minute to join them (since other families were camping, and it wasn’t just a scout camping night).

we arrived friday evening around 6:00 and immediately pitched our tent. we have a new 8-person tent that is easy to put up, and the boys helped kenny so i could snap pictures. the boy scouts were busy starting a fire while we pitched camp, and then the boys found the rope swing, which kept them and their friends busy for at least the next three hours. until the marshmallows were opened. kenny and i didn’t leave the camp fire from 7:00 until 10:30 as the temperature was dropping rapidly.

the low on friday night: 28 degrees farenheit. that’s FOUR degrees below freezing.
the last time i camped, we did not have an air mattress. this time, kenny packed our queen air mattress (for my sake, i’m sure!). i was looking forward to sleeping on cushy air this night! unfortunately, when we got to our tent at 10:30, we noticed that our air mattress had a hole in it, and it was already nearly deflated.  time to put on my “happy camper” face and just get through the night. we were all armed with mummy bags that were rated to 20 degrees, i changed my clothes to warmer clothes and put on wool socks. the boys hunkered down into their bags and fell asleep and slept most of the night (a few bathroom breaks here and there). i found out right away that mummy bags make me claustrophobic. that’s not good when any exposed skin inside the tent immediately started to freeze. it was either claustrophobia, or freeze. i guess i chose the latter, as i froze all night long.

what got me through the night was thinking and then praying for all those who were having more uncomfortable nights than me. occassionally i thought about how katniss could survive the lows temps without a sleeping bag in the arena, and then i realized that was fictional. then i was thankful that at least the boys were sleeping soundly.  the night could have been so much worse, even though i was the coldest i’ve ever been, and you know how i don’t like to be even a little bit chilly!
when 5:30 rolled around, i think i had about an hour of sleep total for the night. kenny woke up and i told him it was already 5:30 – time to get up!  problem was, neither of us wanted to get out of our sleeping bags. i sat up and covered my head and he finally put on layers and started his camp stove for coffee. fifteen minutes later, he handed me a travel mug full of camp coffee: it was the best cup of coffee i ever had!  better than seattles best, better than caribou. i drank it inside my sleeping bag in a sitting position. i finally got warm enough to change into my clothes and met him at the campfire where he was heating up more water for the boys’ oatmeal.

i then drove home. i know, i’m such a wimp!  i waited to make sure there was a roaring fire for the boys to warm up at, since they weren’t starting off warm. rowan didn’t leave the fire, and the other two boys didn’t have much energy for the morning activities either. i drove back to pick them up at noon and we were all home, showered and thawing out by 1:00 pm. the fireplace, the hot shower, our warm pajamas all day long was a welcome treat after such a cold overnight.

the bottom line is: the boys had a great time. friday night at the campfire, eating s’mores and roasting marshmallows, playing with their friends on the jungle gym and rope swing kept them busy and warm. saturday morning wasn’t very fun for them, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from camping again! they’re excited for their next camping trip already!