Reflections on September and October, 2017

Ah, the power of music!  I’m going to let you in on a little October secret: if you are facing a tumultuous task, turn on some music.  You won’t be disappointed.  I  have been nudging Aaron to get us a subscription to a music service for a long time.  “It will motivate us to get work done,” I said.  “We need some music variety to get us moving around here,” I nagged.  Well, I got a little birthday gift a while back and we finally decided to put it to a pleasing and practical use.

After a bit of research for a music service that really serves those of us with limited internet, we signed up for Spotify.  I don’t know that we’ll ever go back.  Spotify allows us to download 3,333 songs for offline listening.  And get this: no ads!  None.  Similar artist recommendations, yes.  Notifications about artists we like playing live in our area, yes.  Podcasts and talk radio, yes.  Thousands of artists, yes!

And we have been motivated more than ever before!  Lots of plastering, cobbing, artistic detail work, clean-up of messy cluttered areas, organization and proper placement of tools are the items we’ve been continually crossing off the list.  And man it feels great.  At times, we just look around and talk about what a great job we’ve done.

So here’s what we’ve been listening to:

Kaleidoscope Jukebox, The Human Experience, STS9, SoDown, Pretty Lights, and Bassnectar mostly for those stay-up-late-and-get-the-batch-done nights.

Nahko and Medicine for the People for the cobbing detail work and stomping in the muddy cob itself.

Arkansauce, Leftover Salmon, and Grateful Dead for pretty much any task.

Oh and the playlists Brain Food, Chill as Folk, and Mellow Beats are where its at for motivating music around our house.  What Spotify playlists get you going and keep you motivated for creativity?

And here’s what this music has inspired us to do:

We’ve changed our method of soil-cement floor installation.  Previously, we mixed the soil and Portland cement on a tarp dry and poured it into the space and then wetted it with the hose.  We did this mostly in the west room where we now have a good amount of cracking.  We can feel the actual plates of stabilized earth wiggle on top of the packed earth underneath.  So Aaron tried something new.  He mixed the soil and cement on a tarp, wetted it, and then troweled it on, much like you would do an earthen floor.  After experimenting with that method, he then had the idea to set some of our granite scrap pieces in the floor first and then use those for leveling “islands” which could then have soil-cement troweled around them.  This method has proven to create a very hard and quite pretty floor.

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Soil-cement and granite scrap flooring

He has discovered The Most Efficient Way to mix the soil-cement and water on a tarp.  It’s called the Volcano and Mason (3) is an expert at pushing in the sides slowly so that the water sinks in and doesn’t spill over the edge.  He even told me once to back up and let him show me the right way.  Like father, like son.

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The volcano wetting method

Another great discovery is that keeping the floor covered with tarp for a month (optimally) really reduces cracking.  And of course then we got excited all over again about the multitude of granite pieces we have lying around.  Now, these floors may ultimately be covered by an earthen floor, but this makes a functional and pretty subfloor in the meantime.

We have also completed much of our step work for our multi-level home.  I can remember being a kid and thinking that my friend’s “split-level” home was so cool.  And now we have one.

Our window sills have come a long way and utilized the granite scraps as well.  Sheesh, I hope the guy who supplies the granite reads this blog!  We had trouble deciding whether the sill should stick out further than the wall, so one window doesn’t and the others do at differing amounts, but hey.  Character, right?  I just love the look of them.

window sills earthbag home october 2017 music

Loving the window sills

I got giddy thinking about accent pillows to put in them for little nook spaces.  I love the idea of sitting in a window sill like a cat, warming up in the sun’s glorious rays.  And then hubby rained on my parade by completely filling the window sill spaces with plants that needed to come in before the frost.  We compromised and I get one free window.  The other 6 are for plants.  That’s fair right?

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Gorgeous window sill progress

Our super cool sun/sunflower hasn’t had as much attention as I would have liked to give it, but it has improved some.  Our friends came and helped out with it some.  We added some granite chunks there, too.

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Granite scrap accents to the sun flower cob design

Plastering happened again!  I really enjoy it… once a month.  We make pretty big batches so that we use exactly one bucket of cow manure for good measure.  It’s amazing how different it feels squishing between my toes.  The manure gives the mud a frothy texture.  Maybe that helps the smoothing quality on the wall.  My arm gets tired too, but it’s nothing compared to the cramping that happens in my hand.  With good electronic music, a couple of Sierra Nevadas, and some dedicated family baby-sitters, I was able to complete the underside of the archway and go from the far west side (let’s say 0 degrees) to just shy of 180 degrees.  And it looks great!  It really makes the spice rack pop.  I’m going to make you wait on pictures of the spice rack by the way.

The borders of the archways have been growing as well.  It takes a massive amount of cob to build out our massive archways!  We’ve decided on a blocky pattern for the middle room.  The little blocks can hold pictures or little kick-knacks, or maybe even tea-light candles.  I listened to some Indian-themed electronic music while I sculpted the top of this archway.  We had to use all the words that came to mind to describe the archways so that we could get them to match.  One of them looked Indian, Aztec, and Indo-European, while the other, taller one looked like southwest Texas, Roman Catholic meets Taco Bell.  Needless to say, the latter one had to be revised.  It now looks more Indian.

The middle room’s food pantry floor is complete with soil-cement and granite scraps!  And the middle room’s lower floor is now totally level and has a tiny portion stabilized.  We’re going to need to purchase more Portland cement.  Small sections at a time are the most feasible with the baby, and curing times, and the middle room being the highest traffic area in the house.  We’ll probably get that floor complete during November if all goes well.  An earthen floor is in the pipeline for that final floor, but for now, it’ll be granite scraps and good old soil-cement.

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Studying up

Alis, or aliz, is a clay paint that has been used for centuries as a sealer and paint for earthen and adobe walls.  We’ve been absolutely astounded at how gorgeous this stuff looks.  It is practically free, being made up of subsoil, wheat paste, and water.  And it paints on so smooth.  It gives that southwest look that is matte, warm, sturdy, and somehow comforting.  We love the color of our subsoil, but are ready to experiment with pigments and colors.  We plan to try some sifted granite dust for a very light or almost white color.

alis paint over earthbag walls october 2017 music

Alis (clay paint) gives the most beautiful finish

Our recipe for alis (clay paint):

1.75 buckets dry and sifted subsoil

6 cups wheat paste (2 cups flour, 6 cups water)

The subsoil is first mixed with water, much like cob without fiber, on a tarp.  Thoroughly stir 2 cups wheat floor into 2 cups water.  Then add mixture to 4 cups boiling water.  Continue mixing and heating until paste becomes translucent.  The wheat paste is then poured in (hot) into the wet subsoil and mixed with the paint mixer attachment on the drill, add water to achieve a sour cream consistency.

It was recommended to wet the wall first for proper sticking, but we’ve painted plenty and it goes on just fine dry.  We used to have issues with little bumps and crumbles, but found that sifting the dirt first creates a stunning, smoothish finish.

Food on the farm:

Our chickens are laying eggs!  They are the classic brown farm eggs and they taste great.  And we did harvest some food this year, thanks to all that wonderful rain we got.  Plenty of green beans, okra, and a few tomatoes.  Having finally grown some of our own food is music to our ears and nourishment to our bellies!

okra baker creek

Okra! Baker Creek’s burgundy variety

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Burgundy okra tastes just like green

A tiny piece of big news:

We now have more solar modules!  We took a leap and purchased 18 280 watt modules.  This is 5 kilowatts of power.  Go ahead, check your electric bill.  Yeah, we’re going to have a lot of power.  They are huge and will span a large area.  I am not totally happy about the placement because I feel like the array will stand in the way of our only pretty view of the landscape.  But Aaron assures me that the array is quite tall off the ground and the view will still be visible from our back patio, underneath the array.  Now, arrays are typically built with pre-made and ordered kits and are built by a team of professional installers.  That being said, Aaron is going to build our array as a ground mount frame from 3″ oilfield pipe and install the modules himself.  I can’t wait to show you pictures.


Our 6th grade homeschool year begins!

I was super busy last month coming up with all the curriculum, focus, and book lists for this year’s plan of action.  In following with The Well-Trained Mind’s chronological approach to history, we’re moving up through the Middle Ages and Medieval Times.  As I was going through the events and important people and places that we’ll cover, it became clear that all the exciting stuff happens toward the end of the year, closer to the Renaissance.  So, we’re focusing more on reading great literature and preparing for the research paper that he’ll write.  I’m way more excited about it than he is.  Often, my enthusiasm rubs off on him, so hopefully that will be the case with this project.  Beyond the usual math, Latin, and history, I have come up with this list for assigned reading:

6th Grade Assigned Reading List

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Beowulf by Seamus Heaney

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

And Then There Were None: Agatha Christie

Crispin by Avi

The Midwife’s Apprentice: Karen Cushman

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Shakespeare’s Scribe by Gary Blackwood

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield

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Our first day of 6th grade

A note about last month’s blog:

You may have noticed there was no blog for September.  Well, actually there were 2 blogs, they just weren’t the usual Reflections entries.  They were about the part-time job that I signed up for homeschooling our son.  I had been saving files of pictures and keeping little notes about all the assignments we completed and books we read and places we went.  I called it the H.O.M.E.School Journal: 5th Grade Review and you can certainly check it!  The other blog was a list of 9 Secular Podcasts for the Homeschooling Mama for those of us who need some inspiration and direction.  Feel free to check that one out too and add to the list in the comments if you know about more.

Books of the month:

Aaron: Tiger’s Destiny by Colleen Houck, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, and Avenged by Amy Tintera

Myself: Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham started out as such an excellent book, until it was stolen right out of my Kindle!  And now the waitlist is more than 10 people and neither of my libraries have it.  Ugh.  I tried to read Lord of the Flies with Julius, but it was difficult to concentrate on in my tiny window of reading time in bed at night.  I also began reading Wonder by R. J. Palacio and I can say with confidence that I will finish it.  What a heartwarming story!

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An awesome read about Tulsa’s history

Julius (11): Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, Tiger’s Curse and Tiger’s Destiny by Colleen Houck, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, and he began reading Wonder, and loves it as much as I do.

Mason (3): Both bigger boys have been enjoying the nights when I have the energy to read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle aloud.  I had never heard of her until my mother-in-law mentioned one of her “methods” once.  I had to make sure she wasn’t a real person.  The stories are pretty easy to read aloud with funny character voices and each one has a bit of a moral that we talk about.  Mason has also been getting into audiobooks.  Our library has Playaways, which are pre-loaded mp3 players.  You just insert a battery and earbuds and you’ve got a read-aloud.  Great for busy cob-sculpting moms who feel guilty about not reading to their sons.

What’s in store for next month:

I’m hoping we’ll get the middle room’s stabilized subfloor done.  I’d really like to get lots of cobbing out of the way because the soil we’re bringing in and the water from outside is getting really cold!  I mix it with my bare feet remember.  And, I’m hoping that hubby can get some parts ordered and begin the giant erector set that will hold our solar modules.  Happy Halloween folks and Happy Homesteading!

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H.O.M.E.School Journal: 5th Grade Review (2016-2017)

This post contains a lot of pictures, and probably looks best in your e-mail, so subscribe here!

dry ice science


We survived our first year of homeschool!

In the last homeschool post, I might have mentioned that I would do a quarterly review.  I might have been a tad ambitious.  In fact, you might be able to hear me laughing out loud, right through your screen.  In said year, we put a real roof on our house, traveled to 3 different states, and had a baby.  I’m just going to push that word quarterly to the time when my youngest is reading on his own, because that’s probably when I’ll have time to sit down and write!




Onward Ho!

Ever since I heard the Savvy Homeschool Moms talk about the power of Ta-Da! lists instead of To-Do Lists, I became a believer.  I still make oodles of lists, but the Ta-Da ones are so satisfying.  This post is one of them.

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Just a few books in this year’s collection. Thank you, Godparents!


What we “Covered”:

I think it was Christopher Perrin who said, and I’m paraphrasing, if all you do is “cover” the material, then you don’t actually learn it, because you can’t even see it!  Clever.





History:  Following the advice of classical educators (especially The Well-Trained Mind) decided on history studies being in chronological order starting with the ancients.  Our focus was early humans through the fall of Rome.  We found that reading the selections in the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and taking notes was an effective way to absorb information.  Then, I picked out specific dates, important people, discoveries, or places of interest and we delved deeper into library books on those topics to learn more.  At the end of each quarter, I made up a fill-in-the-blank review just to see how much he was retaining and found that he did really well.  Score!!   History has been one of my favorite places for schole, because I get to relearn all the awesome stuff that I rarely paid attention to during my school years.

cuneiform history 5th grade homeschool

Cuneiform and other early writing

homeschool laptop off-grid kids

Laptop use is limited, but powered by the sun!

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Ancient battles history project using the Risk Godstorm board and pieces



Math: We completed Saxon Math 6/5 and Life of Fred: Fractions, as well as some miscellaneous downloaded worksheets.  This was the subject completed first every morning so it was sure to get done.  I’m glad I made the executive decision to work on math first thing in the morning, because it got done everyday with very little complaining or distraction.  I was pretty happy with myself during the checking process because I can still comprehend 5th grade math.  Yay!  When I asked if Julius liked the way we do math, he said yes, and that Fred makes math fun.

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Mr. Saxon math with little brother

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Check list dry erase board



Language Arts: I’ve been all over the place about how we would do language arts and so we have tried lots of different things.  We have relied mostly on Brave Writer resources and IEW freebies online.  I love both of their methods in learning about literature and grammar.  I assigned Homer Price as our first monthly novel and he read it in the first 2 days, so then I knew I had to step up my game.  So, I started assigning him specific chapters to read and then plenty of discussion, copywork, and dictation.  That slowed him down and allowed him a bit of literary analysis.  We did Key Word Outlines as per the Institute for Excellence in Writing, and a handful of Poetry Tea Times.  He also completed 2 big writing projects; a Greek myth that turned out fabulous and a short story on Buddhism to compliment our world religion studies which was absolutely horrid for all involved.  It was a lesson in persevering and finishing what we started.  I look forward to beginning more novels from Brave Writer’s  Pouch of Boomerangs collection for 6th grade.


poetry books

Poetry Tea Time

poetry tea time

Poetry tea time every time we have visitors

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Handwriting improvement through copywork


Science:  Because I have so many great pictures of Science projects, you might think that it’s our favorite subject.  I will let you in on a little secret: science is not my thing!  It just makes better photographs than math lessons.  We used Real Science Odyssey (Biology) that we downloaded.  Now I know to get everything in hard copy because our power is limited and printers are often unreliable.  He read and took notes on the units and completed the associated quizzes, practiced using his grandpa’s high-powered microscope to look at cells and plants, and did lots of projects and research on DNA, genetics, and cells.  We also did a big unit study on Charles Darwin and did some experiments with genetic drift, mutation, and other Darwin-related stuff.  Botany in a Day was also a big hit, once he got the hang of making a nature journal of all the plant species he identified.  That study has piqued his interest in medicinal plants and their uses, giving me lots of ideas for next year’s science studies.

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Real Science Odyssey model of an animal cell

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DNA model with marshmallows

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Real Science Odyssey projects

grafting cactus

Grafting cactus

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A little bit of Geology

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Dissecting Owl Pellets with the homeschool group



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Darwin and his finches study



Art: Even though art is my very favorite subject, we didn’t have time for a lot of it.  And it’s definitely not his strong suite.  We did some picture study and research on: MC Escher, Monet, and Renoir, a color wheel practice and design, and art museum trips.  Because of his interest in plants, I think we’ll do more with sketching and drawing next year.

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Art finds it’s way into other subjects. Science here.

Chihuly sculpture 5th grade homeschool

OKC Art Museum Chihuly Sculptures

OKC Museum of art homeschool 5th grade

Chihuly Art with Shrinky-Dinks


Escher Art: Tessellations


Latin: He completed Getting Started with Latin by William Linney.  We didn’t begin this book until the middle of the year, so he finished it during his “summer break,” which is the month of September.  He really enjoys this study, partly because he can impress his friends, and partly because Latin is such a “de-codable” language.  And you should see the pride in the face of his Illinois Grandpa when they talk about this “dead language,” that just a couple of decades ago was common education.

Other: There were plenty of other “subjects” we touched on throughout the year; keyboarding, poetry memorization, tiny bits of cursive writing and guitar practice, major world religions study, bitcoin research, and command line (computer coding).




Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield, 1953

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey, 1943

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, 2000

Frindle by Andrew Clements, 1996

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, 1999

Charles Darwin by Kathleen Krull, 2010

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, 2010

Frankenstein (Children’s Classics edition) Mary Shelley, adapted by Bethany Snyder

The Omnivore’s Dilemma Young Reader’s Edition by Michael Pollan, 2015

We could not have done this without the library!



Science Museum (OKC)

3 trips to the OKC Art Museum

Our local secular homeschool group meetings

Grass-Fed Beef Conference

Young Frankenstein at the Performing Arts Theater

Art classes at the Art Muesum

Week long Starbase!

2 College graduations

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Starbase STEAM week-long camp


Uncle Scott, one college role model

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Zoo trips!


Pompeii: The Last Day

Alexander the Great

The Gladiator

Seven Years in Tibet


Writing Projects:

Greek Myth (Fiction Story, 8 pages)

World Religion 2 page paper on Buddhism

Several Key Word Outlines (mostly Aesop’s Fables)


Occasionally, school takes place in bed


Science Projects:

Model of a cell

Model of DNA with marshmallows

Darwin’s Finches seed study

Owl pellet dissection

Grafting cactus

Electroplating metals in solution

marshmallow tower

Marshmallow “study” was actually a meeting on heart function


Darwin day was celebrated with triple berry pie

lemon battery

Lemon battery

botany in a day

Outside the library is as good a place as any to identify plants. Botany in a Day.

Life Skills:

Working with large animals (cattle)

Driving lessons (in the pasture)

Reading instructions

Cooking & Washing Dishes

Getting along with family

Baby care

Grounding and Visualization


Catching and cleaning fish

Staying away from home (week-long visits with both grandpas)

States visited: Colorado, Illinois, Texas


Home economics


Week-long visit to Illinois

chicken coop

Chicken coop building

baby moby wrap

Baby care


Working with large animals, agriculture.

The Weaknesses of this year:

Keeping the toddler occupied.

Staying on task!

Limited internet, no WiFi.

Being unorganized due to construction on the house.

new baby

Busy family with a new addition

The Strengths of this year:

Relationship building!

Adjusting the attitudes of everyone in our family.

Learning patience, determination, focus, and constructive criticism.

Progress, not perfection (Thank you so much, Julie Bogart!)

baby brother and botany in a day

Botany lessons with baby brother

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Zoo trips for Biology


At the end of the year, I asked Julius a slew of questions about changes we should make to our homeschool.  He said he’d like to do more worksheets.  What?!  And potions, alchemy, and chemistry.  He does not like taking notes and never ever wants to write a short story about religion again.  We’ll see what he says about that paper when he’s in high school.  He gave this year 7 out of 10 stars.  I gave it 8, but I’m optimistic.  Operation: Adventure in Homeschooling 6th Grade begins October 2nd.

Here’s what I thought this year would look like before it started.

Check out my homeschooling resources page.

Here’s a list of podcasts for the secular homeschooling mama.

Here’s my reflections blog, all about building our earthbag home and homeschooling and living off-the-grid. 







9 Secular Podcasts for the Homeschooling Mama (2017)

Here’s the second round of homeschool-related podcasts for your listening pleasure!  These gems of educational ear-candy are in no particular order.  I’ve listed only the ones that have excellent audio-quality and can be found on most podcast apps, like Podcast Addict (my personal favorite), I-tunes, and Stitcher.  If there is one that I missed, please mention it in the comments.  Click the picture to link to the website.


A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief


If you are a social media-savvy homeschool family, you probably already know about Julie Bogart of Brave Writer.  If not, you should.  She is full of the encouragement you need when those days with the kiddos get overwhelming.  This last season was a series of interviews that focus on the Brave Writer lifestyle.  My absolute favorite was the capstone show with author Melissa Wiley.  Julie has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with you.  The next season just began last week with an excellent guest: Susan Wise Bauer!  She and Julie are 2 of my favorite voices of the homeschool community.









Off-Trail Learning

Winter End 2016 575


Blake Boles is a hip, yet straight-to-the-point kind of guy with a passion for high-school age kids and the unschool realm.  He hosts “unschooling adventures” for self-directed learners, typically aged 14-20 and is also the author of Better than College and The Art of Self-Directed Learning, 2 books that are in my Amazon wishlist for the day when my kiddos start thinking about higher education.  The podcast features interviews with awesome unschoolers like Carsie Blanton and innovative educators like Patrick Farenga.










Savvy Homeschool Moms

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Becky and Tina are like the homeschool-mammas-gathered-in-a-coffee-shop you never had.  In a conversational and laid-back (sometimes hilarious) atmosphere, they share stories about their families’ adventures in homeschooling, TONS of resources like links, books, curriculum, field trip ideas, and websites, and tips for getting through your homeschool day.  While they haven’t been putting out as many episodes as they used to, there is a plethora of information on their 5-year running podcast.









Schole Sisters

Schole Sisters


“A podcast for the homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while her children learn and grow.”  I mean really, isn’t that exactly what most of us are looking for?  While these amazing ladies are usually pretty forward about being Christian-based, not all episodes are.  They do an RDA at the beginning of each show and that’s when you’ll hear about the religious books they’re reading.  If that’s not your thing, just skip forward a bit because they talk about some really relevant topics. You’ll be pleasantly surprised if you check out these favorites of mine:

1, 7, 9, 10, 13, 18, and 24.

If you’re a personality junkie like Mystie, you’ll really enjoy Episode 9: “Find the Right Schole for Your Type,” and if you know you need to find your own sisters in homeschooling, check out Episode 7: “Virtual Schole Groups and Tech Tools.”

And, they just gave their website a make-over, so if you haven’t visited them in a while, I recommend you do!








The Arts of Language

February 2016 053


If Classical is your style, Latin studies take up a fraction of your school day, and writing practice is your thing, (or not) then this podcast is for you.  Andrew Pudewa and Julie Walker bring tons of information to the table on topics like spelling, grammar, parenting, essays, poetry, literary analysis, memorization, and reading.  You can glean a lot of ideas and assignments from the recorded webinars, without actually buying IEW’s products.  I plan to, in the future, simply because the Key Word Outlines have worked so well to help my 5th grader really own the material.  Kids in the elementary range often enjoy the “Ask Andrew Anything” episodes.












Homeschool Snapshots

February 2016 052


Pam Barnhill, along with the many real-life homeschool moms she’s interviewed, has boosted my confidence and laid a foundation for so many ideas for what works and what doesn’t in my homeschool.  I love hearing how moms in so many different walks of life have such similar problems and joys in their day to day with their kids.  To get you started with an episode that serves as a thesis statement for Pam’s excellent interviewing skills, you should check out episode 47 with Jennifer Pepito: “Talking Preschool.”  And one of my favorites in the secular realm is episode 41 with Kristen Hochhalter: “Secular Homeschooling.”










Your Morning Basket

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Alright, maybe we should call her the Queen of the Homeschool Podcast.  This is Pam’s other fabulous show all about how to get more into your homeschool day in the form of an easy, well-planned, but brief time, everyday.  It doesn’t have to be in the morning, as a few of her guests have revealed.  They are not all secular, but they are all super-informative.  A few of my favorites are; episode 21 on Shakespeare, 22 on picture study, and episode 10 on narration with Sonya Shafer.   As you can see, Pam has become a virtual homeschool sister to me.











The Luminous Mind

February 2016 101


This show is nearing 200 episodes, so if you’re going on a trip and need endless hours of education on education, download 10 or 40 of these.  Rebecca Bohman is a go-getter and she gets interviews on a very wide range of topics, from homeschooling dyslexics, to sustainable farming, self-empowerment, marriage, unschooling, to spirituality (without being pushy).  She asks great questions and gets a plethora of answers that serve to educate, empower, and ease us throughout our busy lives.  I don’t hear much about this one on social media, but I highly recommend it.













Read Aloud Revival Podcast

February 2016 050

Sarah Mackenzie has such a knack and voice for this show.  I have continued to listen to this one since it first began in April of 2014.  If you aren’t already building relationships with your kids through reading aloud, she will inspire you to do so, like yesterday!  Her enthusiasm can’t be beat.  This podcast fits into the “nearly secular” portion.  You’ll be able to tell by the titles whether they fit into your belief preferences.  If you’re looking for book recommendations for your kiddos, this is hands-down THE place to do it.  Check out their new and improved book lists.  They’re free.







The first round of podcasts is here: Top Secular (Or Nearly Secular) Homeschooling Podcasts.

To read about homeschooling off-grid in our earthbag home, check out our Homesteading Adventure Blog.

If there are any new podcasts about homeschooling that you love, let me know in the comments.  Happy Listening!





Reflections on August, 2017

Welcome back to the homestead, readers.  The grass is not always greener on the other side.  Our pastures are as green as my birthstone, the emerald, and it’s been this green all month.  A birthday blessing just for me!  I think we surpassed August’s rainfall average in the first week.  And our spray-foam-elastomeric-coated-pallet roof is holding up marvelously.  Since we began letting the chickens free-range during the day, they have been hanging out under the porch, perching comfortably on this woodpile during the rains.  Unfortunately they are not laying eggs yet.

Chickadoos on the wood pile

Chickadoos on the wood pile

The weather has been perfect for indoor beautification.  So far, I have applied one batch of interior earthen plaster!  Real, hard plaster that goes on and stays on!  It feels so final shaping the corners and smoothing the walls.  We got the recipe from The Year of Mud.  I read up on how to get a plaster mix that dries hard, doesn’t mold, has few cracks, and looks beautiful.  I kept coming back to the same suggestions: fresh manure and borax.  And so, without hesitation, hubby ran out to the pasture with a bucket and brought us back some fresh, smelly manure.  We let it sit outside for 3 days to start the anaerobic fermentation.  This is supposed to create a really soft and almost fluffy consistency.  It did!  Here’s our mix:

  • 3 buckets of our local subsoil
  • 1 bucket bull shit (green cow manure)
  • 2 buckets water (depending on the wetness of the soil)
  • 6 cups flour paste (6 cups boiled water with 1 cup flour stirred in)
  • 1 cup borax diluted in 1 cup water
Mixing earthen plaster

Mixing earthen plaster

Stomping in the warm frothy manure was so different from the clumpy straw and mud mix that I’m used to.  Yes, it smells terrible.  But as it’s drying, it smells less like manure and more like leather and then it fades and doesn’t smell at all.  The borax did prevent most of the mold, which is pretty impressive, considering all the moist weather we’ve had.  There was very minimal white powdery mold which brushed off with a broom once dry, and didn’t appear again.

My experience with plastering has been smearing it on with my hand, so using a magnesium float has been very tricky.  I find that I use a lot more water on the plaster once it goes on to correct and overcorrect imperfections.  This caused quite a bit of cracking.  Applying it too thick also causes cracking.

Smoothing corners

Smoothing corners

Trying not to overcorrect

Trying not to overcorrect

Nice, smooth finish!

Nice, smooth finish!

It was difficult to plumb the wall straight up and down, while maintaining the curve.  The corners around the doors and windows take much much longer than a professional plasterer, I’m sure.  We’re not going to finish the west room first, as I had imagined.  We’ll be cobbing the middle room and applying plaster there and under the archway before we completely finish the west.

cob on earhtbag wall interior

Cobbing the middle room in preparation for plaster

I have become enamored with the possibilities of cob structures and built-in shelves.  I want to completely cover some of the walls with built-in shelves!  However, because of mold issues (the cob has straw, which molds much more than the manure) we have had to allow the previous applications to dry before adding more.  As with so much of natural building, shaping cob shelves takes time.  This image is from Dan Chiras’ The Natural House, an excellent look at many different building methods.

natural cob building shelves

Cob shelf instructions

A part of natural building I love is the ability to be creative.  And, if a cob sculpting attempt doesn’t turn out the way I like, I can simply wipe it off and start over!  Unless it has dried, and then there is some scraping and chipping away involved.  But still, it’s art that can be recycled.  I’ve been toying with this sun-sunflower over the archway to the center room.  It feels very Indian.  This sculpture and the other ideas we’ve been throwing around have led me to the following words when I try to describe our home’s major themes; earthy, Bohemian, rustic, steam-punk.  How’s that for our own unique style?  It is so exciting to finally begin the beautification stage of our home-building adventure!

cob sculpting relief

Cob relief design

We also began work on the middle room’s floor and kitchen!  I have stood in that room, imagining the kitchen cabinets, with their glass-fronts and the granite island counter for hours.  The sink will be the central work space in that room and that’s fine because I spend a lot of time at the sink, washing dishes, washing vegetables, filling pots to make soup, etc.  I think it’s more cozy in its new location.  I had previously wanted the sink to look out a window onto the front yard.  More than any other room in the house, the kitchen is my space.  It is a creative space; an artist’s studio.  I need it to have certain qualities and feel just the right way in order create my most glorious dishes, and be able to survive those dinners I’m really too tired to make.  The work triangle, toe kick space, and plenty of light, are some of the basic concepts that my kitchen must have.

kitchen island with sink barstool

Kitchen island begins

So we made some decisions about permanent placement of the refrigerator, oven, and island with sink.  The sink island will have a bar with 3 – 4 stools looking toward the kitchen.  As we contemplated what the island would be built out of, I remembered that, in the winter, at the sun’s lowest azimuth, it reaches all the way to the back wall.  If the island were made of stone, it could act as a battery and hold some heat.  And so, Aaron has been traipsing over to the nearby dump to pick up pieces of reject concrete.  It’s the same stuff we used for the stem wall of the bathroom.  We’ve built it up about 2 feet so far and need to go another foot to reach the height where the granite counter top will be installed.  The infill around the concrete is our mix of local subsoil and Portland cement; what we’ve been calling “fortified earth” and “soil cement.”

Aaron got to play with bricks and “mortar” (that same mix) to make a floor register area where one of our earth tubes will enter the floor of the kitchen.  If you are going to build any type of earthen home, I highly advise that you not remove dirt from the interior of the home unless you are sure about the final level of said floor.  We have steadily been bringing in wheelbarrows of dirt from our east patio area.  We finally have the level up to where we want it in the upper level of the kitchen.  Aaron also ran the pipes into the middle room for the sink.

Soil cement is also used for the window sills in the west room.  We chose some favorite pieces of granite scraps and laid them out, snapped a picture, moved them out of the sill, laid some soil cement, and laid the scraps back down according to the picture.  Then, after a day or so of curing, we filled in the spaces between the granite with soil cement.  A more experienced builder might call this “tiling.”  The sill looks fantastic and feels so permanent and complete.

granite scrap window sill

First window sill with granite scraps


Books of the Month:

My mother in law talked me into reading a book for her book club. She didn’t have to do much talking, because I have wanted to go to a real-live book club for sometime, having only talked about books on facebook groups.  We read The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard.  I can’t add this one to my 2017 Reading Challenge, but it did allow me to dip my toe into the water of the murder-mystery genre.  It’s not the most eloquent prose, but the story moves gracefully along and surprises abound.  It was fun.

I’ve also been poring over some natural building and natural plaster books.  The Natural Plaster Book by Cedar Rose Guelberth and Dan Chiras, and Using Natural Finishes by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce.  I have learned enough about all the tools, methods, and plastering jargon to write an entire blog solely about plastering.

plaster books

Natural plaster recommended reads

Aaron read Tom Clancy’s Full Force and Effect, a massive collection of words about war and generals and money, and the middle east.  Blecchhh.  There is a reason we don’t read the same novels.  He also breezed through the first 3 novels of the Tiger saga by Colleen Houck.

Julius (11) finished the 7th novel of the Harry Potter series.  This was his second time reading it.  He also began Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which he says is the best book he’s read so far!  Like out of the hundreds he’s read.  He’s only on the 6th chapter.  And, because he’s become a real botanist, working through Thomas J. Elpel’s Botany in a Day for school, he also grabbed a bunch of plant identification books from the library.  One was Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist, which is a super interesting read about so many plants and their infamous uses.

Mason (3) has been enjoying The Little Engine that Could.  The illustrations from 1930 are so familiar but also bizarre.  He loves anything that goes.

Kyias (5 months) has been taking a break from books because he is focusing all his energy on sitting up.  His record so far is 10 minutes.

Solar eclipse through a colander!

Solar eclipse through a colander!

Happy Homesteading!

Reflections on July, 2017

What a contrast this July has been compared to last year! Saul, my name for the wind, has taken a hiatus for some reason.  I usually complain about his presence, acting like a blow-dryer in the already hot, dry climate.  But this July, I’ve secretly been begging for him to grace us with a breeze to move the air in the house.  We haven’t installed the earth tubes yet, for financial reasons, and so we have a particular routine for cooling the house.  We have 2 casement windows in the west room and a screen door on the east room.  If Saul is cooperating, we get a decent cross-breeze.  But when the outside temp is 95-100, we keep the outside, out.  Windows are only open at night to allow the cool (75-80 degree) temps in.

Sleeping doesn’t come easy with that kind of heat.  As I lay down in bed at night I am always reminded of The Help and her evocative descriptions of the heat and what a Godsend the day was when they got an air-conditioner installed.  That was the 60’s.  We don’t lack AC because it has yet to be invented; we lack it by choice, in this insane off-grid lifestyle.  It’s only temporary, I keep telling myself.  Soon enough, we’ll have the cool underground air from the earth tubes.  For a refresher on how earth tubes work, read this post.

Luckily, it only reached 94 when we celebrated the big guy’s 11th birthday.  And there were clouds!  We had a great time playing the cotton ball game, the present-unwrapping-musical game, and the annual scavenger hunt.  Last year, the kids requested that I make teams, so that’s what I did.  Some clues were way too easy, and others were a bit too hard, but everyone made it to the final treasure (the candy hiding in the dog food bin).

birthday scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunt clues


cotton ball game

The cotton ball game with teams!

We also did a variation on cow-skull painting; we painted cow vertebrae instead.  The vertebrae look (to me) like Star Wars spaceships, so I thought we should paint them as such.  I applied a coat of black and silver spray paint to them first, and then let the boys use colored paint to make them “pop.”

bones from pasture

Cow vertebrae


cow bones

Painting “pasture trash.”


paint cow bones

Painting the “ships.”


toddler paint

The toddler loved this activity the most


Then we sprayed an acrylic sealer to protect the paint.  Most of the boys were nowhere near as excited about these spaceships as I was.  And one saw his vertebrae not as a vessel for flying through space, but as a mammoth on one side and an elephant on the other.  Art is always up for interpretation, I told them.  Maybe next year we’ll do skulls.  Oh, and having a freezer makes ice-cream cake A LOT more feasible.

ice cream cake

cow paint

Cow vertebrae-turned elephant


cow paint bones

Finished cow vertebrae spaceships

For progress on the house this month, Aaron has been bringing in LOTS of dirt. to bring the floors up to level.  I’m going to write a post called “In Hindsight,” that will describe all the things we wish we’d done, or hadn’t done, like toting all the dirt out of the centers of the rooms.  We did use a lot of that dirt for filler in the walls and for cob and landscaping, but we sure wish we had it in there now.  The dirt for the floors is coming from east of the house where a future patio will reside.

I have been busy stomping in the mud and slapping it on the walls.  I have one half of the room done; the more difficult half (yay!) and now I’m working on some sculpting.  What fun it is to create functional and beautiful relief images on the walls!

cob on interior walls

This half is done being cobbed!

We have just collected some cow manure to experiment with our final layer of earthen plaster.  We’ve read about several recipes for earthen plaster, and the the big takeaway is that you should use what you’ve got for filler, unless you’re into spending a lot of money on external materials.  And Borax.  Everyone suggests using the mold inhibitor in all finish plasters.

cob plant holders

Built in plant holders

Our research suggests the addition of flour paste as a strengthening agent so we’ll try adding that as well.  It reminds me of paper mache and will probably be just as long lasting.  Since I have very little experience with sculpting, I’ve started small and will work my way bigger and wider with this over-the-archway-sun design.

sun cob design

Sun cob design

In other news, we let the chickens out for a little jaunt.  We’d been keeping them in the chicken tractor to keep them safe from our biggest predator: the hawk.  We move the tractor every other day and they seem to look forward to each move; the opportunity for more grasshoppers and seeds.  They haven’t laid any eggs yet.  The little bantam rooster has the cutest morning crow!  It reminds me of Simba from the Lion King, when he tries to roar like his big fierce father, but out comes a little meow!

chickens outside

Chickens get a taste of the outdoors

We’re not eating the chickens yet, or even their eggs, but we are eating from the creek!  Aaron got an old trident from his grandpa.  He is not learned in this art, but managed to spear us a long-nose gar!

gar fish

Long-nose gar from the creek


We asked Google how in the heck to get through its tough armor-scales.  Aaron used the angle-grinder to cut through the 1/8th inch scales of the huge fish.  We read that the eggs of the gar are very poisonous so we fed them to the methane digester instead of us.

long nose gar from creek

My, what ginormous teeth you have!

We cooked the little chunks of fish in a batter with Tony Catcherie’s seasoning and fried them in lard.  They tasted more like chicken than fish, which the kids and I liked.  We also tried boiling some pieces in water and then dipping them in melted butter.  I know, it sounds delicious, but it was underwhelming.

cutting the gar fish

Fileting this guy was tough enough to require the angle grinder


Books of the month:

Papa: Tess Gerritsen’s The Bone Garden, Tom Clancy’s The Teeth of the Tiger

Mama: I’ve been pre-reading books for homeschool and taking a break from anything too heavy.  Frindle by Andrew Clements was a delight of course, because it’s all about words, and taking a stand.  Bud, Not Buddy is such a good book, I want to re-read it with all my boys when they get to the right age.  Christopher Paul Curtis has such a talent to put you right in the shoes of little Bud, in his adventures during the depression.

Big Guy:  The Order of the Phoenix by You-Know-Who.  P.S. This month is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter.  Are you feeling as old as I am right now?  And Frindle by Andrew Clements.  We will never call a pen by it’s former name ever again.

Middle Guy:  Excellent library find: Zen Pants and Zen socks by John Muth.  These are awesome little nuggets of peace and harmony.  The Zen panda reminds us to play rescue instead of good guys, bad guys, which gets so tiring if you have a handful of boys like we do.

Zen lessons from a panda named Stillwater

Zen lessons from a panda named Stillwater

Little Guy: I know, he’s not even sitting up yet, but it’s never to early to begin building the association of books and reading with love and comfort.  Pat the Bunny does exactly that.

Lastly, I told you I’d let you know what we decided to do for the swingset.  We pulled up all these pallet blocks out of the floor in the middle room and put them out here as a playground patio.  I know, they won’t last forever, but they look nice, suppress the weeds, and prevent mud puddles under the swings.  As always, it’s a work in progress.

pallet blocks under swingset

Yet another use for pallets