Time for Change

Hello everyone,

Thank you to all my followers on my journey of “becoming a country girl”. Two years ago when I began this blog, I was a city girl, I had never lived in the country before and had no idea what country life was going to be like. We had a just purchased an acreage and I had no idea what the future held.

Over the past 2 years I’ve changed a lot. I was a city kid who grew up with no pets (that stayed) and we now have 2 goats, a dog, 3 cats (and one just had 2 babies), 2 rabbits, 2 dozen chickens, 3 beehives and a lizard.

I’ve successfully grown a garden, I have a small orchard started. I muck out chicken and goat barns, I collect eggs every day, feed and water animals and milk my goat and I love it.

I think I can say now that I am a country girl, I certainly have no desire to ever go back to being a city girl! And so, I would like to say good-bye to “Becoming a Country Girl”.

All the best,

Adrienne

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Cycle of the Seasons

Happy 2016 everyone! Time flies!

01And happy January to all. When I was a kid, January was the worst month ever. It was that month after Christmas when everything gets colder and colder and colder. Never ending frozen white wasteland. No Christmas to look forward to and we had already experienced two full months of winter, at least. All we were doing was keeping warm until February second when hopefully the groundhog wouldn’t see his shadow(even though we all knew that regardless, there was still three more months of winter). Once in a while January wouldn’t be so bad, those were the years that a new toboggan, skates or skis were my Christmas present.

This year is different. This year, I am embracing January. It is the first time in this “Cycle of the Seasons” that I am able to stop, relax, think, read, plan, draw (and erase and re-plan and re-draw) and feel like I have an unlimited amount of time to do so. It is a rich feeling to look at a the month ahead and say “We have nothing planned. No events. No festivities. No company. Nothing.” Time is a treasure that’s often hard to find.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of the “Cycle of the Seasons” and also the thought of needing to follow this cycle, to experience the ebb and flow of nature and enjoy what each season brings. Of course each season is not clearly defined, there’s a cross over of seasons in both nature and our experience here on our farm. But I would like to present the following ideas on our Cycle of Seasons.

44Our Cycle begins sometime between mid-April and the beginning of May with Spring. It starts with the greening of the grass and the bright green buds appearing on the trees. It’s a time to work. It’s a time to dig holes and plant trees, to put up fencing, to dig and prep new gardens, to prepare for the arrival of any new animals, or perhaps to be caring for brand new babies of different species.

58Spring continues through to the end of June when all the garden is planted and beginning to sprout, the trees are in full bloom, the animals are content in pastures and enjoying the freshness of a new year.

78Summer. While this may not be technically accurate, I count summer from the beginning of July to mid September. School is done for the year. The garden and animals don’t need as much care, both are healthy and growing. It’s a time of nurturing. Tending the gardens and the trees, enjoying the first-fruits of the garden, laughing at the animals antics, stopping to smell the flowers in full bloom and watching the bees gather their nectar, and above all, spending time with the children. It’s time to head to the lakes to cool off, relaxing on the beach with a book while the children play in the water,  picnics outside, relaxing in the hammock under the shade of the trees, reading stories.

90All too soon summer is over and Autumn is quickly upon us. A beautiful season but a short and busy one, autumn here is usually from mid-September almost to the end of October. Autumn is a time of harvest and preparation for Winter.  Any over-winter accommodations for the various animals need to be in good condition to withstand the bitter cold creeping in around and under doors and any other openings. And the harvest needs to be taken in and preserved. Everything takes so much time and effort some days you wonder how on earth you will get it all done, and yet, somehow it works, even though it may be a little late, running into November on warmer years to get everything finished.

99104November and December, in my mind, are their own season. A season of celebration. It really never seems to end at this time of year for us. Beginning with the fun of Halloween, then the thoughtfulness of Thanksgiving, followed by two birthdays and into the Advent season we go. Gift making, baking, friends and family fill December to the brim with events and fun. And then, just all of a sudden, New Years Day is finished and here we are, at the beginning of January as winter really sets in.

99119In nature, nothing happens in Winter on the outside. There’s no flurry of activity, no growth and flowers and beauty. In Winter everything happens on the inside, unseen. The roots of the trees dig deeper, the seeds are dormant, most of the animals are hidden away from the cold. We also have the opportunity to turn inward. Staying in the warmth of our home, we can focus on inner growth. Reading and research, self-education, bonding with the children, a lot of our book work of home school gets done in the cold winter months.  Spring, Summer and Fall are the practical seasons of doing and busy-ness. Now Winter is our time to regroup, assess the previous seasons, relax and rejuvenate and then plan for the coming seasons of 2016.

And so, once again, I wish you a Happy New Year, and a happy January. May your January be full of warmth, love and relaxation.

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Medieval Times

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Hard working farmer driving his load of hay through town

Sarah’s medieval unit was a lot of fun. I am really happy I decided to follow what she was interested in. We had a lot of fun researching the Medieval years through books and the internet and we had great fun setting up our medieval village.

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The Lord and Lady watching the village from the top of the castle

We started out our unit by writing down several questions Sarah wanted to know about the Medieval times:

  1. When were Medieval Times?
  2. How did people dress?
  3. How did they do things?
  4. What is royalty?
  5. What makes a person royal?
  6. What are peasants?
  7. What did people do for fun?

When were Medieval Times? We discovered they were from about the year 1000 CE to about 1500 CE, which brought on a conversation of what BC and CE and AD mean (some websites used AD and some used CE) as well as how far back does recorded time go? And what about before people wrote things down? Which tied in to archaeology and Dinosaur times, and PBS kids Dinosaur Train. Which is a much loved show.

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The baking is done, it’s time to take it to share with the other children of the village

How did people dress? Pictures of how medieval ladies dressed was what brought on this unit and so we had a lot of fun researching pictures of ladies and men in their medieval robes. We had a good laugh at the men’s clothing of the late medieval period when they started wearing tight leggings with tunics over top. While researching the dress, we began to notice the differences in clothing between Royalty, merchants and peasants, which led into the questions of “what is royalty?” and “what are peasants?”

And so began a discussion of the feudal system. We discovered many great websites like this one that do a great job of explaining the feudal system, and it opened up a fun conversation of how Kings ruled over other people, how peasants were kept in poverty and on into a discussion on how people were royalty which led into a talk on royal bloodlines and wars between kings (who were often cousins or second cousins) to decide who was more qualified for the throne, and other reasons for war, like wanting more territory, we illustrated this with an example of neighboring farms fighting over each others land, which ended as a discussion on today’s laws and commerce that doesn’t allow (at least in our part of the world) wars between neighbors.

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Hard at work raking hay

In learning about peasants and their role in medieval society, their housing, families and work, we learned about medieval farming practices and the importance of the water-powered mill to make flour. We also learned how the scythe and sickle that we sometimes use to cut grass was used even way back then.

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A close up of our farmer taking his hay to market with his trusty horse and cart

Our last research topic was what did the Medieval people do for fun? We had a blast researching medieval dances, music, and jousting tournaments with youtube, seriously these re-enactments are amazingly done! This homeschool mom is thankful for people videoing and posting on youtube. I don’t know how else I would get such a great picture in my kids head! I think the kids favourite was learning about jesters. We watched several videos of Jesters and added a jester and his carnival tent to our village.

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Tired peasants enjoying the jesters entertainment

We are quite happy with our village. I did help Sarah extensively with the construction of the buildings but all the plastercine people and animals are completely her creation.

What’s happening with homeschooling

Last school year I posted several times about homeschooling and I realized that I haven’t posted at all yet about homeschooling this year. Here is what we’ve been up to so far:

At the end of last school year I posted about beginning to create my own units. I continued with this for this year as well, at least I started to. I planned out my year and all the units we would cover. And then I began planning my objectives and activities for each unit, followed by a specific day plan. It was a lot of fun for me, I really enjoy the planning stage of homeschooling and I love having everything perfectly organized so doing a day plan was really enjoyable for me.

As September began and we headed into our unit on Cats, Big and Little, my carefully organized day plan became a “maybe we’ll do this today, then again we might get completely side tracked” but we did do the complete unit, I used the book Big Cat, Little Kitty, by Arbourdale publishing, a really well developed book exploring the adaptations of cats and the similarities between the house cat and several different types of large cats, these books also come with a free teacher resource that contains all kinds of ideas for activities, worksheets, etc, that go with the book’s theme. We wrapped up with a visit to the Discovery Wildlife Park near Innisfall, AB. I recommend this park to anyone local to central Alberta, it is a really well run zoo, with very interactive and fun presentations with their big cats and bears. It really is a hidden gem, without all the busy crowds of the big city zoos.

Following our unit on cats we did a unit on “Myself and my Family” this unit was more difficult to keep the children’s attention to the end of the unit. We did enjoy making our family tree although we only went back as far as Sarah and Alex’s grandparents so it wasn’t a very large tree, but being so young, they’re not too concerned with family beyond who they know and see often. Also, Sarah didn’t want to do anymore leaves on the family tree after completing mom’s side of the family with it’s 23 leaves for aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents!

My next unit was to be more math focused, spending time learning the basics of the 4 processes using a Waldorf grade one curriculum. However at the end of October both Sarah and Alex took a sudden and strong interest in something specific. For Sarah it was Medieval times and for Alex it was Space and rockets. I realized that I had a choice: I could push through to follow the curriculum I had already developed or I could let go of my carefully organized plans and run with what they were interested in.

I decided to give option two a try. It wasn’t something I’ve really tried before, and as I said, I really liked having carefully organized school days, well thought out and planned ahead BUT, and this is important to me, my goal in homeschooling is that my children will take away with them both the skills needed for everyday adult life AND a love of life-long learning. That was my main deciding factor to let go of my organization and embrace what the children were in love with. This month so far has been a lot of fun.

I do still have some organization to our school days. In the interest of teaching them necessary skills, we start out with music (singing and then piano lesson), followed by reading together on the couch. Alex “reads” one of his small books about colour or shapes, and Sarah and I read through one of her readers. Then I read a story to them, after that we spend some time at our desks, Sarah will do a Master mind puzzle or work on her writing. She spends time every other day writing out a section of a poem in her very best writing. Alex, meanwhile, is working on an alphabet book, one day will be spent coloring the letter of the day, and the next day we will go through magazines and cut out pictures of things that start with that letter. After that we might take a break, and then we will work on our topic of interest.

Currently most of our math is done using iPad games. Both of the kids have an iPad, Alex doesn’t do a whole lot of math games on it, but Sarah really loves the apps Gozoa and PBS Kid’s Wild Kratts Math Creatures. Meanwhile I have been researching more on the topic of computational math (adding, subtracting, etc) and how it really doesn’t need to be done in younger years, certainly it doesn’t hurt a child in the long run to have computational math put off until Grades 5 or 6. My decision hasn’t been made yet on what I will or won’t do with Math, but for now I’m happy with the iPad games, and every day math (time, money, baking and all the other basics that just happen all the time) and I will continue doing more research.

So far for Alex and his space unit, we’ve talked about Rockets and Astronauts and Satellites. We downloaded Google Earth so we could see what Satellites see when out in space and we had fun globe trotting around the world looking at lots of different places.

For Sarah we wrote down several questions she wanted to answer about Medieval times and then we went looking for the answers. We looked at pictures online of what people wore back then, we looked at diagrams online that explained the feudal system. We talked about what makes a person royalty and how would one become King and briefly discussed wars. We looked at water powered mills and sailing ships and how medieval people farmed and lived in those days. And we had a lot of fun looking at re-enactment videos of jesters and knights jousting. And then we talked about what we wanted to do with all the information we had. We decided the best thing to do would be to build a medieval village out of cardboard and paper (“And don’t forget the straw for thatched roofs, mom.”) and populate our village with carefully formed plastercine people. So in between the fall decor and the Christmas decor, the top of my piano will host a medieval village with a castle, an Inn, several cottages, townspeople, a festival tent with a jester, horses and Lego carts (covered in brown paper) and maybe even a knight or two on horseback. We started today and will continue over the next week before we switch to making Christmas tree ornaments and gifts.

I will do my best to remember to post either a video or pictures of our village when its complete and also to post about our Christmas time learning and crafting. It’s my favorite time of the year and I have lots of plans and ideas up my sleeve. 🙂

New Direction

What a crazy busy summer it’s been. Spring, summer and Autumn in the country are non-stop. Here is a short list of our doings this season before I share our news.

As my readers know, we got our chickens in January and Bees in April. We planted our garden and started our orchard in May, it was a big job as we first dug it by hand out of the pasture. In June we purchased goats.

DidiDidi is our family dairy goat, Sunny is her kid. We wanted to have our own source for dairy products as well as continue moving towards self-sustainability. A cow was too big of an investment, and a rather scary prospect for someone who’s never really been around farm animals, but a goat seemed more manageable. We’ve had a few adventures but for the most part it has  been a lot of fun. After all only with goats can you get stories of fences being knocked down in 20 min or less, the goat trying to follow you into the house, and banging on the door with her hooves when its shut in her face, or the goat trying to protect you from the dog you’re about to walk.. while the dog meanwhile is trying to protect you from the goat!! (Next year a proper pasture is a very high priority)

In July we got 3 new kittens: Mittens, WIllow and Tiger. In August we got 2 rabbits , Brownie and Spotty (no,  not a breeding pair!)

And by the end of August we decided it was time to name our farm and start producing our own products to bring to market as a further step in becoming self-sustainable and self employed. So without further introduction I would like to introduce Green Willow Farm (please be patient as we are just setting this up) and our Goat Milk Soap, currently for sale on Etsy. We will also be at our first local craft fair on December 5th.

We are very excited about this venture and what the future holds! Life will likely remain busy as we head into the Christmas season, but it will be very rewarding.

Permaculture: A New Direction

Three months ago I posted a simple question on a local community facebook page: “Is there a local gardening group? I need somewhere that I can ask questions because I don’t know what I’m doing.” That same afternoon I got a response from a local artist and amazing lady, Margot Solstice. She said “This may not really answer your question but if you’re interested, I have my permaculture design certificate and would be happy to mentor you. We could work out at barter system and exchange time, as I really need some help in my garden.” We quickly got in contact again (I knew Margot already though we weren’t in contact a lot) and worked out a plan.

And so began a life changing journey into permaculture.

Let me back up a little. All winter Ivan and I were discussing what to do on our acreage. We knew didn’t really want to just own an acreage and work away from home and buy lots of “toys” to fill up our acreage with. We are also interested in self-sustainability and self-sufficiency. We looked at several possibilities like raising cattle for beef or dairy, raising goats or sheep, chickens, pigs, etc. We also began discussing the possibility of growing some kind of crop, but we just don’t have enough land. And of course an orchard or something like that was just out of the question in Alberta. But was it? One evening Ivan googled fruit to grow in Alberta and discovered Haskaps, also known as Honeyberries. Haskaps looked like a promising new market and they are extremely hardy (zone 2). It was something unique and interesting, which we love the idea of. So we did more and more research and began to measure and plan. We discovered that we could fit about one thousand haskap bushes on our property. And having berry bushes for our bees to pollinate was a good thing for the honey. But wait, Haskaps flower in April and Fruit in June and then they’re done, so what would the bees have for the rest of the season, except forage from however far they could fly? It was about this time that I began to talk with Margot and she introduced me to permaculture and the concept of tree guilds.

What is permaculture? You can search the web and find all kinds of definitions for permaculture like this one: “The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient” and many others with words just as big. If you would like a really great and well thought out definition of permaculture, check out Margot’s blog here. She writes a great article titled Permaculture, Defined. At any rate, we were hooked when we realized that this was a whole system of agriculture based on the same values that we had: working with nature instead of against it, and being self-reliant and sustainable.

Margot came out to my place in April to give me a consultation and she introduced us to the idea of tree guilds. Rather than growing haskaps (or any other tree or bush) in mono-culture rows, then weeding and fertilizing the bushes to grow better, to instead grow the haskaps in guilds. What this means is simply that you surround your tree with plants or bushes that are beneficial to that tree: Pollinator attracting plants, pest repelling plants, nitrogen fixers, and other plants that enrich the soil and also help to take up ground space so the dreaded prairie quack grass doesn’t take over. The idea with permaculture systems, food forests and tree guilds is that while it is planning and work intensive to start with, you will eventually reach the point where you can step back and let the ecosystem you have created do its work.

Another suggestion Margot made was to look at adding more diversity to our orchard. To consider the possibility of having multiple crops throughout the season rather than one crop in June. This diversity also helps to balance things in case one crop fails, or succumbs to a disease or pest one year, it also helps retard the spread of any diseases given the space and other species of trees/bushes between each tree or bush of the same species. It also struck me that here was the answer to the nectar question. With a diversity of trees, bushes and plants, flowering and fruiting at different times throughout the season, we would have pollen all season long if we planted the right things. And so began the development of our orchard plan over the next two months, and yes it did take us that long to collect all the information about each tree and bush and draw out a plan for our one acre orchard.

Breaking ground for our orchard

Breaking ground for our orchard

To put it in a nutshell, We will be producing sour cherries, haskaps and goji berries as our main crops, we will also have roses(for season long flowers) and black currents (shade tolerant) and a ground cover of clover (season long flowers) and mint as well as field peas for nitrogen, and anything else that we find necessary for the healthiness of the orchard. We are really excited about this new development and didn’t waste any time getting started.

Margot invited me on a field trip to Sherwood’s Forests. If you live in the Edmonton area, especially west of the city, I would strongly suggest you visit Sherwood for your trees. He is amazing. He really knows his stuff and he cares about helping you learn about the trees. He’s not trying to make a quick sale and as much money as possible but he is trying to help you find the right trees that will work for you and your plans. Margot and I were both really impressed with his knowledge of the trees he had, and the questions we asked. Towards the end of our visit Sherwood mentioned sugar maples. “Sugar maples?” Margot and I both asked, “Do they grow here? Can you get syrup?” Sherwood assured us that it was possible to grow your own sugar maples and tap your own trees, though you wouldn’t get as prolific a harvest as Quebec since our winters are different. We made a note of that and continued on.

The next day I mentioned to Ivan that it was possible to grow sugar maples here and he reminded me that we had been thinking of getting a special tree to plant for each of the kids, wouldn’t this be a great tree to do that with! So we headed off to Sherwood’s forests to buy two sugar maples.  Well… Ten baby sugar maples and four sour cherry trees later, we headed back home, ready to plant our first few trees for the orchard, as well as more than enough sugar maples for the kids.

Ten baby sugar maple trees.

Ten baby sugar maple trees.

It took us a bit to gather everything needed, and have time for planting but finally, May long weekend, we began.

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Our cherry trees and haskaps were planted in their prescribed formation, along with the three rose bushes I got for Mother’s Day.

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The children were delighted to help, most of the time anyways, watering the trees, putting them in the ground, finding worms, bringing various items and generally being quite useful and asking lots of questions.

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It is our family orchard, so Ivan and I were happy the children were involved right from the start.

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We already love what we are doing and we are so excited to see what will happen in the future as we continue our work with the acreage.

Fairies and Fairy Gardens

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This past month, from mid April to mid May has been our first “trial run” of a new method of schooling. Sarah had finished learning all her letters and letter sounds, as well as basic three letter “word families” so it was time to move on to something new and interesting. I began to use my first unit that I had created in March based on Sarah’s interests. This unit is on fairies. I was a little bit at a loss to begin with, not knowing how or what I would teach, but our main focus was to create a flower and fairy garden. So starting from there I built a unit that included gardening, a little crafting, fairy themed words, poems and stories to learn. It turned out to be a lot of fun.

We created “story stones” based on an idea my friend Delena shared with me from pinterest. We painted twelve different fairy-themed objects onto stones (we seem to have an abundant supply of those) and then placed them in a special story bag. Once a week for three weeks, Sarah pulled four stones out of the bag and then created a story about them. Her stories were only about a paragraph long, which was fine and then she would draw an illustration to go with the story and I would write the story on the whiteboard for her to copy into her writing book.

Working on a Story

Working on a Story

We also got a beautiful book from the library called “If You See a Fairy Ring” full of fairy-themed poems for Sarah to hear and choose one to learn. She chose an adorable poem by Laura Ingalls Wilder called “The Sunshine Fairies” and is currently working on memorizing the last couple stanzas of it. Because of our rather hectic schedule recently, school hasn’t been as predictable as I would like and so it has taken longer than anticipated to memorize the poem.

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Sight word wall

The final “Language Arts” activity we worked on every day was sight words. I chose eight fairy-themed words and wrote them on recipe-card sized fairies, Everyday Sarah worked on sounding out the words until she remembered them. I love seeing her smile now when she recognizes one of the words in a book, like she has a little inside secret as she doesn’t have to sound out all the words but sometimes just knows them. At the end of the unit she had learned all the words and we bundled them together to start a little booklet of all the words she knows.

We added music back into our school, in the form of spring-themed songs to learn and have been enjoying singing together in the morning before we launch into math. Math is currently all vocal and manipulative through bean bag tossing while counting by 2s, 5s and 10s and we also did some math manipulating using “fairy stones” little glass decorative stones. I find that Sarah isn’t quite ready and keen on plunging into Math yet. She has been enjoying a lot of hands on and reading/writing work but the abstractness of Math is still “head-on-the-desk” boring to her. Being as she is just at the end of her Kindergarten year, I am not too concerned and I’m looking forward to teaching her math skills starting in September.

Setting up the Fairy Garden

Setting up the Fairy Garden

Our fairy garden was started as well, it is constantly being added to, in the form of cool sticks and rocks that we come across. Sarah and Alex also enjoy finding worms to add to the garden since they are so good for the garden. Not a lot has sprouted or grown much yet, but it is still early here. Our transplanted strawberry plants have flowers and berries on them, and the Dahlia is beginning to poke through the dirt. Our other seedlings are still quite small but we are hopeful they will still grow nicely. It could be quite the flower garden with a Dahlia, a Canna, Forget-Me-Nots, Wildflowers, Cosmos, Marigolds and Strawberries! We put the Fairy Garden around the base of the Mayday tree, with the house and moss yard on the north side and the flowers on the south sides. This prompted a fun conversation of how to find out which way is north by finding where the moss is growing on the trees.

Strawberry plants

Strawberry plants

There has been a lot of impromptu learning in this unit, and a lot of deviation from my original plan for the unit. Much of the fairy furniture and yard accessories didn’t end up getting made, mostly because it was just too beautiful outside to be sitting inside crafting. There were trees to climb (and get stuck in) and gardens to plant and dandelions and Mayday blossoms to pick. It was a fun unit and I’m really happy I took the course to be able to write it and now I can go with what the children are interested in, deviating from the master plan, but retaining their interest and teaching what they want to know in the moment. It’s such a fun life!

Hanging out in the Mayday tree

Hanging out in the Mayday tree