Monday, April 30, 2007

Dumbing Us Down

This is a book that I've picked up a number of times at the bookstore but never purchased. Since our library no longer charges for inter-library loans I requested it and received it a few days ago. I seem to have gone on a non-fiction binge, reading lots of books on local history and the pioneers. I didn't expect this particular book to come in so soon since I was 8th on the list and there are only 2 copies in the area.

I finally finished the other books I had out and started on this one last night. I seldom read books on homeschooling and education anymore. The homeschooling books all tend to say the same things with many of the newer ones advocating things like public school at home programs which just aren't homeschooling. Dumbing Us Down isn't like that and I find myself agreeing with so much Gatto has to say, especially with regards to the toll the current education system has taken on the nation and specifically the local community.

The fragmentation caused by excessive networking creates diminished humanity, a sense our lives are out of control because they are.

I've seen this a lot. Instead of relationships we network with our co-workers, neighbors, civic groups, etc. It's almost like, as a society, we have lost the ability to interact with each other on any other level. We ask people how they are but we don't really want to know, it's just another greeting like "Hello". If you dare to actually answer the question honestly the person who asked it usually gets that "deer in the headlights" look. These networks can get a job done such as road maintenance or a neighborhood project but they seldom result in true friendships. Everyone is busy going off to work on the next project. In these books that I've been reading about the late 1800s and early 1900s there is a difference in the way things were organized. People weren't brought together so much by their interests but by their personal relationships. A group of ladies were friends and neighbors and found a common interest in a library so they worked towards getting that library started. Their common bond wasn't the library but the friendship. That focus on interpersonal relationships was what made these communities strong. We no longer have that.

If you haven't read this particular book I recommend it along with his other book The Underground History of American Education

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Yesterday evening Paul and I were shocked by the cry of "SNAKE" from Malachi. It turns out he heard, and found, a large rattlesnake right outside the back steps. One coil and the rattle were sticking out from under the house. If I had been thinking straight I would have gotten a picture but I was too disturbed by the size of it. The cats thought it was something interesting to play with and it took us throwing pieces of bricks at them to get them well away from the area. Having never been this close to one I was just a tad bit freaked out and couldn't think of anything to kill it with. Paul grabbed the digging bar which was handy and squished the coil but couldn't actually cut through the skin. It was really unhappy and slithered the rest of the way under the house. We blocked up all the holes but this morning we heard it in the horse pen so it obviously got out. We looked but couldn't find it so I'm hoping it kept going through the horse pen and off the property. We have reinforced the importance of watching the ground as you walk and taking a walking stick with you if you must go through tall weeds and brush.

Friday, April 27, 2007

One Year

This weekend is the one year mark for our move back to California. The usual feelings of restlessness have been creeping up on us for the last few weeks and it just dawned on me that this is probably the reason.

Along with the one year mark comes a lot of looking back at the last year to see if things turned out as expected, which they did not. I also see that the things we have planned for the future just aren't going to happen which causes a great source of discomfort and frustration. It's always hard when reality starts intruding on one's hopes and dreams.

And since I don't want this post to turn into a whining session, I'm gonna stop now. I will end with a positive note, the tomato sprouts are still doing great and I have some new growth in the raised beds.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Water Heater Woes

During my morning shower I noticed the water wasn't very warm. We have had the pilot on the water heater go out a couple of times in the last 6 months so I figured all I needed to do was relight it. After my shower, while the oil was heating up for fried yeast bread, I tried to relight it. I held down the silly red button but it wouldn't stay lit. Over the next hour Paul and I tried, said lots of unrepeatable words, and managed to get it lit for a few minutes. It went out again. I finally realized that it's dead.

I looked at prices of new water heaters online and decided we can live with cold water. As serious as I was Paul refused. So we broke down and called our propane company for suggestions. They suggested we try replacing the thermocoupler. The part is relatively inexpensive and will probably solve the problem. Since $10 sounds much better than $250 we are gonna give it a try. They offered to repair it for us for $60 but since we found an article explaining how to do it we decided to try ourselves. If this doesn't work I guess we will have to replace the whole tank because I seem to be the only one willing to go without hot water.

Edit: Well it worked and the part was less than $10! It was very simple to replace and we can put off purchasing a new water heater for the time being...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


As I was planting a couple of the tomato seeds that had sprouted in my latest attempt using a wet paper towel in a plastic bag, I found this in my plastic containers.

I am so excited! It seems they only needed a few more days in front of the fire. Now I have to get a bigger area ready. The one package said the germination rate was 60% but it looks like it was more like 80%. I'm not complaining since there are 3 different varieties and we use lots and lots of tomatoes. I just hope I can keep them happy indoors until they are ready to be transplanted.

Luckily we are past the danger of frost and it is supposed to stay in the high 70s to low 80s over the next week so I am hopeful that most will survive.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Tomato Seeds

I haven't had very good luck with these. I started them 2+ weeks ago and nothing has come up. These are seeds from a seed catalog that I know are good so I figure it's a problem with me not the seeds. I had tried some seeds from Wal-Mart over a month ago and they sprouted after 3 weeks but have failed to live.

A few days ago I tried taking some of the seeds out of the pots, it's really hard to find tomato seeds in potting soil, and I put them on a wet paper towel in a bag in front of the wood stove. It worked! After only 2 days I have 6 seeds that have sprouted. Now the dilemma, what do I do with the little pots I put them in? Everything I have read says they should be set under a fluorescent light. I wonder if that's really necessary. The weather here is supposed to be sunny and in the 80s for the next week, can I just put them outside during the day?

I really want these to make it so if anyone has any suggestions I could really use them.

Friday, April 20, 2007


We have been watching a lot of movies since we started using Netflix. We've seen a lot that are just okay but this week we watched two that I thought were rather good.

1776, a cute musical about the Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Emma based on the book by Jane Austen.

I found it curious that the rating of 1776 was changed from G to PG. There was a bit of language and a few allusions to what goes on behind closed doors in a marriage but nothing too bad. Paul and I got a kick out of listening to the voice of KITT from Knight Rider sing about independence.

It's been awhile since I read the book Emma but I didn't see anything glaringly off about it and Gweneth Paltrow did a good job with the character. Of course I'm a bit partial to this kind of movie since I love Jane Austen's writing. We have watched the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice numerous times because it's so good.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Yet another attempt

So far all my attempts at gardening have failed. First the squirrels then the birds were against me. Then the rows I had set out behind the house failed, I think the ground was just too hard and the cats loved to dig in it. Then the plot of lettuce I started was attacked by birds. And finally the pots have recently come under attack by yet more birds.

So here is my next attempt, square foot gardening. I have a request out for the book from the library and I have started by using instructions I found on the web.

I transplanted all the seeds I had started that the birds had not stolen. I even scavenged some of the little plants and seeds from the back garden. I have hopes that this will work. I even got some information on how to fix our soil in the places that I want to garden in. The only thing I have left to do is cover the tub with chicken wire before the little birds find it!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Recycled Materials

We just finished the outdoor run and dog house for the new additions.

I'm happy to report that we spent a grand total of $10. We bought concrete, 2 hinges and a gate latch, everything else was stuff we had lying around the property. It isn't pretty but it works to keep them in and sheltered.

Even though they are primarily indoor dogs, they need a place to stay when we have to take a trip into town or just for some exercise while we sweep and mop the house. Since we were told that they have been know to climb out of runs we fenced in the top as well.

I keep wondering if we could have made hinges and/or a latch. I know I have an article here somewhere, maybe on the next project.

New Additions

I know this will probably not surprise many of you but we got 2 more dogs. What is surprising is that they are small dogs. Up until now our smallest dog was a border collie. These two only go up to my knees when they stand on their back legs.

We had talked about getting another dog before we lost Esther but not this soon. Paul decided that now was the time to do it so he surprised us at the end of last week. When we had to renew the licensing of the other dogs a few weeks ago we spent a good amount of time at the county shelter. We were unimpressed with the way it was run, many of the dogs were tightly packed 4+ to a kennel and we saw a number of people leave disappointed and empty handed when they were told that the vast majority of the dogs were waiting to be processed so they weren't available for adoption. Many of these animals were over the 5 day time frame promised by the facility and had been there for a week or more. To top it off the adoption fees were really high. I guess it's not surprising that our county facilities have been in trouble with the state in the last few years.

We found that there was a no-kill rescue facility in the area. Paul went down there and found these two who were being housed together. We all stopped by on our way to Lorna's doctor appointment last week. I was impressed by the size of there runs, the cleanliness of the place, and the staff. The dogs all looked well taken care of and happy. They have about 100 dogs at any given time.

At this point I'm glad Paul took it upon himself to bring them home. He couldn't bear the thought of leaving one behind so he adopted both, the owner was so pleased she waved some of the fees which weren't much too bad to begin with. We took them to the vet yesterday who checked them out and said they looked great. They have been quiet and well behaved and are so much fun to have around. I've always wanted an indoor dog and Hannah, our chocolate lab, is house trained. She just likes to be outside most of the day playing with her buddies and only comes in at night. These two little dogs love to curl up next to you while you sit and relax.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Garden woes

I just want to give up, but I won't.

I'm having such a hard time keeping things going. Today I watched a bird land right on a pot and try to snag a pea shoot! Grrrr. Don't these things realize this is my food.

All our lettuce that started to sprout a few days ago is gone. The bird have obviously been feasting when I'm not looking, the cats have decided that the garden is a great place to dig, and we are still having problems getting certain seeds started.

So we will be spending the weekend trying to build some raised beds, from materials lying around, that we can maybe put some chicken wire over to keep the critters out of until the plants can really get going.

I'm trying to look at this as a learning experience. By next year maybe I will have all this down pat...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Weird Weather

I finally broke down and decided to take a few days off of school because we all desperately needed it. Of course we had an unexpected storm blow in and we are all housebound.

We have had snow flurries off and on since last night. No accumulation but enough to keep us from being able to do laundry. Lorna has decided to work on a skirt for her doll using her sewing machine. So far she has done a great job especially considering this is her first real try using a pattern. It's been hard for me not to help too much. It should be finished later today.

I've decided to try to finish this scarf.

I've been working on it for 4 years, yep years not weeks or months. Something always claims my attention before I get very far. Half of it has been completed in the last 2 months and I'm on the home stretch. My goal is to be able to wear it next winter, which is ambitious considering how long it has sat on my needles!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I very happily got a reprieve from my secluded life yesterday.

Lorna had yet another useless doctor's appointment in Los Angeles. It was exceedingly frustrating and we were given an appointment for a clinic they hold for her condition. They want us to meet with all the doctors together along with a psychologist. I didn't feel that we had the option of refusing given the way it was phrased. The doctor also wants us to get involved in a family support group and completely belittled my concern that this group meets over 3 hours from where we live. With one car and the expense of driving that far I was more than a little annoyed with his assumptions about what we are capable of doing. The appointment was a waste of time since we have to have an outpatient procedure done before he can even talk about where to go from here.

The happy part of the trip was that we made a stop with some friends that live a little ways from where her doctor is. I get so caught up with life here that I sometimes forget that life "outside" can bring so much joy. Our quick stop became dinner and then eventually we ended up staying the night. I've missed seeing our friends over the past few months as necessity has dictated we curtail our trips in that direction. It was nice to be able to laugh and forget about everything here for a few hours.

Once in awhile I am reminded that there are great benefits to living here!

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's my choice

This is the time of the year I start to feel the burnout with school for the kids.

We are finishing up our study of the human body and are getting ready to begin a study of the Earth. Since science is my least favorite subject I can't seem to get interested. We seem to be stuck in a rut. Since our library now no longer charges to request a book I've tried it to help alleviate the boredom, so far I haven't had any luck getting any of the books I've requested in.

We've been trying to catch up on days from the various moves over the last year so we don't have the luxury to take time off if we want to finish everything up before the end of our school year. Maybe it's time to give up on that idea and just take a few days off.

Someone told me recently that it's my choice to live this life. I know it is but sometimes I get tired and feel like I need some time off. Isn't it okay to feel the need for some time off? I know that many people think that those of us who homeschool or who are homemakers have it easy but it doesn't always feel that way from this end. I'd love to leave my work at the office or be able to take a vacation from it, but the reality is that I can't. I'm not complaining really, I love my work but sometimes I'd like a weekend off too! It's been too windy to work outside much the last few days so I think maybe I'm just suffering from "cabin fever".

Saturday, April 07, 2007


My dog died this morning. She was fine when I got up at around 8 and when Malachi went out to feed the dogs an hour later she was gone. We figure she must have died in her sleep. She hadn't been sick and I'm glad she didn't suffer. She was only 7 so it was completely unexpected. We adopted her from the animal shelter right after we bought our first home. Malachi was only 3 and even as a puppy she was a large dog.

From the very first she was my dog. We got her for the kids but she just latched onto me. She was fiercely loyal as she showed when defending us from a large snake in Colorado; keeping the kids well away while her and her buddy killed the 4 foot long gopher snake.

She was much larger than the "medium-sized" dog that the shelter told us she would become, but all that size was heart. She would yodel to get our attention if we were outside, I will miss that sound every time I walk outside. She was deeply loved by all of us and will be greatly missed.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Simple Living

I found the following quote while reading through the site that I mentioned a few days ago.

Simple living, therefore, is not about opting out of the human community. Rather, it is about looking at our social structures and examining them in terms of the purposes for which they were originally created in order to see whether they actually serve those purposes. If they don’t, we should reconstruct them from the ground up, if necessary, making them no more complicated or extensive than they need to be. The starting point is to see, as we have been seeing, that school is not education, work is not a job, money is a means, not an end, a home is not a lifetime financial responsibility, science and technology need to be informed by our ethical values, nature is not just a stockpile of raw materials, and simple living is not just about economics, but is a deinstitutionalization of our lives so we can live more fully and with more satisfaction.

I think this expresses so much of what I've been feeling over the last few years. I've never looked at our adventures as trying to recreate the life of the pioneers. Instead, we have been searching for a better quality of life. I have come to believe that in order to get that better quality we need to have less stuff. Simple is a very good description of what I want. For me, the idea of simple is one where we can live without the constant fear of losing our home because of yet another downsizing or because our expenses outstrip our income. So that is my goal, working towards a place where we can work hard and live within our means and be satisfied with what we have and have done. I always did have large goals...

Thursday, April 05, 2007


I have been excitedly watching the bean plants coming up. We now have 2 that are completely up and 5 that are almost out of the ground.

This last weekend we trimmed back a bush that sits right next to the house. The majority of it was dead, but since we trimmed it back green leaves have been shooting out of all the remaining branches.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I feel like I'm being tested in my resolve to live on a cash basis.

We received our supplemental property tax bill yesterday. It was more than I had anticipated. So that along with the registration for the truck is more than we have saved. We have some hard decisions to make...

We have enough for the first installment which is due in 3 weeks. But the next one is due in 4 months and we will be short. We've decided that the only thing left to do is to curtail all trips outside of work. Which means no church trips for the foreseeable future. It's not the end of the world but it's hard. We had already cut the trips back to once a month but it's just not enough. We also have a couple of small conveniences that we will be getting rid of, netflix and soda. It's going to take me a few weeks to wean myself off the soda but I'm sure I'll be better off in the long run.

I firmly believe that less is more, so I'm resolved to find other ways to cut back.

On a lighter note, I have a few green plants coming up in the garden right behind the house. I have been able to plant the lettuce and will be finishing the planting in the newer area by the horse enclosure.

I have also been reading this site and dreaming about our next adventure...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I won

Yesterday the animal control officer made his return visit. He wasn't nearly as nice as before but that might be because he had another officer riding along.

He started out by informing me that we did not build it properly. I was just a tad bit frustrated since I specifically asked, when he made his first visit, if it had to be done a specific way. According to him there was no specifications, she just had to have a structure.

He tried to argue that we only had 1 4x8 sheet of plywood. I invited him over to the shelter and showed him that we indeed did have 2 (not that there are any regulations requiring 2). Then he proceeded to tell us that he had not seen one built in this configuration. Honestly I couldn't care less what he had seen before. I just stood there and stared at him. Finally he threw his hands up and said that since there was no specification of how it was to be built that he couldn't do anything further! Hooray!

He did snoop around asking questions about the horse, wanting to know if she was a mustang. He even went so far as to surreptitiously look under her mane for the freeze branding put on mustangs by the BLM. Since she is not a mustang there is no requirements for the height of the fence needed. Hopefully we will now be left in peace for awhile.

As he left he did mention that he called the person who filed the complaint and asked if he had been by to see the shelter. It seems this person hasn't cared enough to check that anything has been done, and he doesn't even live up here. Frustrating! Obviously the reporting person didn't really care about the horse or he would have checked up on the situation.

Because I have little trust in the bureaucracy we are attempting to get a copy of the specific regulations pertaining to the types of animals we own. The animal control officer made comments both times about the amount of manure in the horse enclosure. It is cleaned out daily but it doesn't stay clean for very long. The ordinances say it needs to be cleaned out weekly so we are doing more than what is required. It's amazing how difficult it is to find information on the requirements. It's like they don't want you to know just so that they continue to have a job. We have been unable to find any mention of requirements for a horse shelter...and it wouldn't surprise me to find that there aren't any.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Catching up

Weekends are always very busy with projects that need to be finished. We worked outside for two days and I have the wounds to prove it.

One of the big projects for this weekend was to expand the horse's enclosure. She had enough room but we all wanted her to have more.

She is now a happy horse as you can see.

Here is the shelter we built last week.

This is the expansions of her pen. She's not all that sure about the added room. She loves the grass but still spends much of her time in her original area.

I thought I would also take a few pictures of our gardens and the few green plants that we have.

Here is the garden that we recently relocated closer to the house. It's about 30 feet by 5 feet.

This is the newer garden that we have started to get ready for planting. We need a bit more compost and dirt added before we run the rototiller over the section again.

As you can see one pot of bush beans and peas have sprouted and are almost ready to be replanted into the garden. Below that I have my tomato seeds started. I put them on the top of the well house during the day to take advantage of the heat from the metal roof.

Finally I have a picture of one of the pots that have sunflowers started in them. They too are almost ready to be replanted.

My biggest question is do I have enough garden space? I really want to plant a bunch more but I'm running out of space. Most of our soil is hard-packed decomposed granite, not really suitable for planting veggies in. We are working small sections with fertilizer (the horse is good for something!) and decomposed green matter. I've also found a couple of areas on the property that have dark, rich earth that we are relocating to various plots, but it's really hard work to move all that dirt across the small ravine we have running down the middle of the property.