Author Archives: butterscotchgrove

About butterscotchgrove

Happily married stay-at-home-mom of 2, polymer clay and fabric artist and doll maker. Old enough to remember black and white tv.

Not procrastination, I swear!

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Mid-February probably seems like an odd time to make a post about goals for the year.  Maybe you think I should put “stop procrastinating” on my Not-Quite-New Year’s resolution list.  Well, I’m not going to do that.  Here’s why: no list of resolutions!  Yea!

I have many, many notebooks (journals, sketchbooks, diaries, scraps of paper, napkins from restaurants, etc.) from over many, many years, that I can’t throw away, somehow.  Every couple of years, I come across a list, dated “Sept ‘97” or something, on which I’ve detailed my goals for the next year (or five years, or life, or no time-frame at all).  They always mention losing weight, getting organized and writing more.  It has become obvious to me that I’ve been doing this wrong, since it seems I go backwards on all of these things every time I write them down.

This year, I’ve decided to set three smallish goals for myself per month.  In January, I chose: 1. to spend 30 minutes a day, three days per week, getting rid of clutter; 2. to make sure we had “project time” three times per week (more on that later); and 3. to finish three of the numerous art/craft projects I’ve started over the last year.

Goal 3 went swimmingly.  I finished a crocheted sun hat for the Girl, a knitted fox hat for the Boy, and put the finishing touches on a knitted stegosaurus I started last summer.  Boy was so happy to see that his stego had eyes, he brought me three more knitted dinos to have their eyes added. (Photos to come)

Goal 2 worked fairly well, but I discovered that protecting the time for project-based learning is not as important as I thought.  There are two reasons for this:  it’s hard to find a time when Boy is not directing his own learning, and the length is not as vital as the kids knowing that this time is for them to do what they want – I will be there to attend to and document their activities and help them, if they need help.  I will keep track of questions and plans they have, and materials they need, but I WILL NOT TAKE OVER.

Goal 1?  Well . . . slow progress is better than none.

So, now it’s time for February’s goals:

  1. Continue making progress decluttering by going through one box or pile, or clearing one surface, at least 3 times per week.
  2. Finish 3 more projects.
  3. Write at least 2 blog posts. (One down!)

How are you improving/enjoying life?

Super Hero Project

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My Boy is interested in our history project on the Civil War, and is learning a lot by his (usually reluctant) participation in it.  He can tell you, for instance, that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free all slaves in the US, just those in the Confederate States (slave-holding border states loyal to the Union were exempt).  He can tell you that Harriet Tubman led over 300 slaves to freedom and spied for the Union during the war.  And as I mentioned previously, he wants to visit Gettysburg to see the monuments (this would require a cross-country trip that would take us very close to the grandparents, so there may be an ulterior motive here.)

So, yeah, some of this stuff is sinking in.  The thing that really floats his boat, though, is anything having to do with comic book super-heroes.  Mostly from the Marvel universe, though he’s not anti-DC.  His favorites are the X-Men (Wolverine and Nightcrawler in particular) and Spiderman (and his various enemies).  It’s easy to see and understand what he is learning when we study the Civil War, or do math worksheets, or watch Nova videos.  How or what is he learning with his obsession?

He has been making origami versions of many, many heroes and villains.  These are based on a pattern for Boba Fett he found online after reading the “Origami Yoda” series by Tom Angleberger.  After making the basic figure (just a head and body), he draws different features appropriate to the character and colors them.  They are adorable.  Usually he uses recycled copy paper for these, but certain characters call for different materials.  The Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm (Invisible Woman), for instance, looks great in tracing paper.  The X-Men’s Colossus, who can turn his skin metal, works well made from aluminum foil.  He’s also adapted a pattern for Star Wars’s four-armed General Grevious to make Spider-Man’s foe, Doctor Octopus.  This is an ongoing art project that he is extremely invested in.  He is learning problem solving, creative use of materials, and origami techniques.

Origami X-Men 1

Origami X-Men 2
A Selection of Origami X-Men and Friends

(On the far left of the 2nd and 4th rows above are back and front views of Nightcrawler, who has a tail. :) )

Both kids will spend hours playing with these little paper people.  They have discovered that there are more male characters than female; that the comic book boys are ridiculously over-muscled; and the girls are, as my kids delicately put it, “showy.”  They’ve noticed, on their own, the way costumes and gender roles evolved over the decades.  Sue Storm started out as the “Invisible Girl,” and the X-Men’s Jean Gray morphed from the sorta wimpy “Marvel Girl” to the powerful Dark Phoenix (of course, she had to go bonkers in the process – we haven’t talked about that yet.)  We’ve had some mighty interesting discussions about fairness, societal expectations and the changing roles of women.  This is modern history and sociology.
A mistake I made (letting them read a couple of X-Men Origins issues without previewing them –duh! Way too much violence and gore for my relatively sheltered kiddos) has resulted in conversations about whether a character (in this instance, Wolverine) can be good if he kills bad guys indiscriminately, and the power of redemption.  I guess this one is more a “values” kind of lesson.  We believe in the idea that people are “innocent until proven guilty,” not “an eye for an eye.”  We also believe that people can change, and that doing the right thing might be hard, but it is worth it.  They’ve also learning that Mommy can make mistakes (I’m sure they didn’t know that before….), and sometimes books get taken away before you’re finished with them. :)

The fascination with comics has also led to a lesson on the anatomy of the human arm (where do Wolverine’s claws go, anyway?), investigation of how cats retract their claws (completely unlike Wolverine…) and 2nd grade spelling lists like this (all taken from an X-Men comic book):

  1. wolverine
  2. abandon
  3. mystique
  4. Cyclops
  5. nightcrawler
  6. weapon
  7. colossus
  8. cavalry
  9. telepathic
  10. academy

There will be writing, as well, since both Boy and Girl have a zillion ideas for comic book stories to write (thanks for the templates, Aunt Sally!), and they are in the process of creating new characters.  One set of new characters are the Arctic X-Men (local nature study).  Another is a family of super-heroes (Bro-Boy! Sis-Girl!), with equipment they are building, costumes they are making, and powers that fit them.  Bro-Boy evades enemy fire by being in constant motion (could not be more accurate).  Sis-Girl is a smart inventor, who shoots darts tipped with potions she has concocted, such as power-neutralizer, confusing potion or paralyzer.  This is creative writing.

Boy has also learned how to use my camera’s delay feature to take pictures of himself as Spider-Man, crawling up the wall. :)Climbing the "Wall"

He hasn’t quite taken to heart that “with great power comes great responsibility,” but we’re working on it.

Selfie

It is not a tidy way to learn, and it can be hard for me to value the eight million origami X-Men littering the living room.  But this kid is fascinated, engaged, learning all the time.

Boy As Wolverine

 

The Land Provides

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Seed catalogs have started to appear in our mailbox!! Yea! Spring is coming!  I can’t wait to see dirt (outside dirt, of course.  Sadly, we have plenty inside…).  Well, of course, I can wait.  I’ll need patience for another three months. (Four, if this winter holds on as long as last winter did.)

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The Garden in January 2014

May 5, 2013

May 5, 2013

Still, I love when the catalogs start arriving.  I’m going to have twice as much space for growing veggies this year, and no away from home job to interrupt.  And last year the property gave us most of what we needed to make a green house.  That will be going up as soon as we can remove a few small stumps.  What’s that you ask?  How did the property give us a greenhouse?  Well…

We had been pondering how we could build a greenhouse cheaply.  I’d seen a prefab one at Sam’s Club; it didn’t really look big enough or sturdy enough, but the price was decent (less than $200).  Husband went to check it out and discovered the much larger carport for about the same amount.  With some modifications and additional structural support, he thought that would make a really nice greenhouse for between $300 and $500 dollars.  He thought he might even be able to use some old pipe he’d noticed half buried in the woods on the property to lengthen the carport, or as replacement parts, if needed.  Turns out, the old half-buried pipe was all the pieces of a similar carport.  Only a few were damaged, and of those, most could be repaired.  And it wasn’t super old.

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Pipes Laid Out on Driveway, Summer 2013

He got some new pieces to replace the few unusable ones and lengthen the structure a bit, and built the first end wall last summer. We already had most of the plywood for the wall, salvaged from remodeling the inside of our house.

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Structure Complete. Sorta

This is a good sign, I think.  It’s like magic.  We have a need and the land provides.  I’m tempted to go stand in the middle of our field and say, “Golly, I could really use someone to clean my house….”

The Past is Made of Family History

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For the past month or so in our homeschool, we have been investigating the American Civil War.  What a fantastic topic for a unit study!  It can include history, geography, science (Physics of cannon balls? Anatomy?  Biology and bacteriology?), art (photography, battlefield sketches done for newspapers), math (percentages, averages, distance, multiplication – if 26 soldiers received $13 per month for a 3 year tour of duty…), writing (recruitment posters, letters to and from the front, newspaper articles, speeches), debate, reading (many historical novels for kids deal with this period, in addition to textbooks and nonfiction accounts); philosophy;  human rights…we could probably work in P.E. if it weren’t January in Alaska.  I doubt any Union or Confederate soldiers did much drilling or marching in temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

All of this is wonderful stuff, and lets us dig deeper into the topic than we would if my Boy and Girl were public school kids.  The best part, however, is the connection we can make to history through our own family.

My father is an avid genealogist, as is my mother-in-law.  Thanks to my dad’s research, I knew long ago that when we got to the Civil War, I could share with the kids the story of their great-great-great-great grandfather, the Union soldier, but I didn’t have any details for him, other than the name “James B. Hawk,” and that he survived the war.  I emailed my dad for more info on James B., and any other ancestors he knew of who were involved.

Dad came through with FIVE relatives and their military history.  I wondered if there might have been any relatives who fought for the Confederacy; he remembered about a multiple-great uncle (Andrew Hawk) who left Pennsylvania in 1784 for the South, eventually ending up in Augusta, Georgia.  It was possible … After checking with a Hawk cousin in Oklahoma (whom he’d met through previous research), he discovered that there were many, and sent on some military detail and stories of life in the South during the war and Reconstruction.

Knowing that my mother-in-law is also interested in genealogy (and her grandkids education), I cc’d her on the emails going back and forth between my dad and me.  She looked into that side of the family.  With the help of another distant relative, she came up with some more great stories, including one man who was a prisoner of war, one who retrieved his company colors twice on the battlefield after his comrades were wounded, and one who refused to fight, as he was responsible for the welfare of several female relatives.  He was sentenced to three years in a Federal penitentiary.

So, now our little unit study includes research by three generations in at least five states.  When we read stories or our textbook, we can listen for mention of Company E, 130th Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Maybe we’ll read about the Battle of Sharpsburg, where James B. was wounded by getting hit in the neck with pieces of a fence hit by a shell.  Maybe we’ll read about a brave soldier who carried the flag, and remember Samuel S. Bierer, the great-great mentioned above.  Was the army surgeon who was killed by guerillas near Rappahannock Station in Virginia a good one?  He was my great-great-great-great uncle.  There were Bierers at the Second Battle of Bull Run – fighting Hawks who called it Second Manassas.  What was it like to life on a cup of cornmeal a day, mixed with dirty water and set in the sun to “bake”?  That was prison life for one Bierer ancestor.  And there’s a Hawk relative buried in Marietta, Georgia, near where he died in the Battle of Peach Tree Creek, who’s not descended from the Hawk who went South in 1784.

My dad asked me the other day if the kids were as excited about all this Civil War stuff as I am.  Honestly, they are not. But they are more excited about American history than I was at age 7 or 9, which is not to say that I was not interested.  I was pretty good in history in fourth grade.  I even won a little Liberty Bell for getting 100% on a test, once. :)  But this is different.  This is deeper.  Even Boy, who would definitely rather make origami X-Men than look at a map or learn about 1860s weaponry, grasps that the people who fought  and died, or lived with the scars of battle, were real people, not just cannon fodder.  Some of them happened to be our ancestors.  Some of the people we know are probably descended from others.  Some never got to be ancestors, but they, too, are part of someone’s family history.   And that’s what history is, after all, the connections between people over time.

Thanks, Daddy and MIL, for helping to strengthen the kiddos connections to family and to the past.  Oh, and Daddy –  Boy wants to visit Gettysburg, to “see the monuments,” and Girl has memorized the Gettysburg Address.  I didn’t assign that. :)

Shortening the Food Chain, part 2: Meat from Our Backyard

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WARNING:  THIS POST MIGHT BE A BIT GROSS.

Of the 11 chickens we got from friends who moved away, two are still living, three died of old age, four are in the freezer and two were tasty.

 My husband and I butchered the six who have been or will soon be dinner, one at a time.  He broke their necks, killing them quickly, then cut off their heads.  We held them over a trashcan while their wings flapped and toes twitched, then hung them up by their feet over the trashcan and let them bleed out.  Next, we plucked them.  (Plucking chickens makes a sound like Velcro.)  I saved some of the feathers, which are very pretty.

Dealing with raw chicken from the supermarket has never been my favorite activity.  Cold, squishy, possibly laden with unhealthy bacteria…bleh.  Eviscerating a chicken that was alive a few minutes ago is absolutely, positively worse.  (And I was just assisting!)  We feed our chickens well, judging by the layer of fat Husband has to cut through to get to the body cavity.  Make me think about what a surgeon would see if I ever need an operation.  Ew.  The crunching of the neck as we cut it out is an unpleasant sound, but the weird sucking noise as he pulls the intestines out is really gross.  He can get everything out easily except the lungs – he can’t see them (they are a color he can’t discern), and they need to be kind of scraped out from between the ribs, so since my fingers are smaller, that’s my job. Oh joy.

After the birds are gutted, we wash them well, then refrigerate them to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days.  This allows the muscle tissue to relax, making for more tender meat.  (Though our birds are so old, they’re bound to be tough anyway.)

 This is a disgusting post, and I apologize if I’m offending anyone, or grossing anybody out.  Why are we doing this if it is so nasty?

Because we know what our birds ate, and it wasn’t ground up waste parts of cattle raised in CAFOs (“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations”).  We know that we scooped up their poop 3 times per day, so they weren’t lying around in it.  We know that they were not confined to cages too small to turn around in, stacked so close together they had to have their beaks cut so they couldn’t peck each other through the wire, or be given antibiotics to keep from getting sick, or other drugs to keep them calm.  We know that the water we used to wash the carcasses was not contaminated with fecal matter from carelessly butchered chickens.  We know that our birds’ manure is safe to spread on our garden, and will nourish the food that feeds us, and the vegetable scraps that will feed the next generation of birds in our coop. 

Some parts of this journey are not been particularly pleasant.  We know what those unpleasant parts are, and they don’t scare us as much as what we don’t know for sure about the packaged meat at the supermarket.  That’s why.

Just Some Cuteness

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I love that my kids make to do lists for me to find and envy. I posted one of my daughter’s awhile back; here’s one I recently came across that my son wrote:

To do
have Breakfast
exersise get
Dressed Pick up Legos
go to shwirch
have Lunch
go to Doctor Mary’s office have Lollipop
go home take out Legos
play with Legos
Put away Legos
have Dinner
Play out Doors
go to sleep

:) “Have Breakfast,” “Exercise” and “Get dressed” were crossed out. “Shwirch” is our shortened version of “School-work-church,” since I was homeschooling him at my work, which happened to be at our church. The Drs. office visit was for his sister, so that was really all about getting a lollipop from the snack shop there.

I’m thrilled that he included “put away Legos.”  And I’m really going to start putting “play outdoors” on my to do lists.

Making a Better World: Shortening the Food Chain, Part 1

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We Alaskans like to believe in the image Outsiders have of us as self-reliant hunters and gathers, living off the frozen fat of our outdoor icebox.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many Alaskans who live a subsistence lifestyle, and even more who depend on hunting, fishing and berrying for a part of their yearly food supply.  Plenty of us, though, do most of our hunting in the aisles of the local Safeway or Fred Meyer store, where “local” usually means from Washington state or Oregon.
Both Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (deep bow to the high priest and priestess of locavoria!) cite the statistic that most food products eaten in the US have traveled an average of 1500 miles from place of origin to place of consumption.  I wonder if that average includes (and is therefore skewed by) the many, many miles almost everything in our grocery stores has come.  It is nearly 2000 miles just from Seattle to Fairbanks – and if it’s Iowa corn or California strawberries, it’s coming a whole lot farther than that.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan describes the tortuously complicated length of the industrial food chain, and how and why shortening that chain is in our best interests, as individuals and as a society.  Though The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces the chains leading to four specific meals, there are two general types of food chains:  1. food going from point A to point B;  2. food A being processed into food products B, C, D, etc.  Shortening the first type means:  less fuel spent in transportation and refrigeration; more biological diversity, since varieties don’t need to be selected for ease of shipment; better taste and nutrition – foods are picked when ripe, not ripened chemically or on the road (Kingsolver calls shipped produce “vagabonds who wasted their youth in a boxcar”); and more peace of mind, since any disruptions in the food distribution system become less problematic when you can walk between points A and B.  Shortening the second type means, again:  less fuel for transportation, refrigeration and processing; more biological diversity (because processed foods contain so much corn and soy, US farms are producing more and more of these two crops and less and less of everything else); better nutrition, because eating whole foods equals consuming all the nutrients those foods contain, not just those that Science has identified as important or beneficial this month; and more peace of mind.  If you are eating un- or minimally processed foods, you know what you’re eating. (For the most part, anyway.  Did you know that the wax that makes apples and cucumbers shiny is a corn product?)
So, how do we, as non-subsistence-living Alaskans, shorten those food chains?  There are certain things we are stuck with (or stuck without, I guess), for instance staples like wheat flour, COFFEE, sugar, COFFEE, tea, COFFEE and CHOCOLATE.  Those things just aren’t produced here. (I guess, wheat flour and tea could be dropped from our shopping list.) Much as I’d love to follow Kingsolver’s example of consuming only locally produced food (with a few exceptions – each member of her family got one special food during their year of locavory), I don’t think that’s realistic for Fairbanks. I don’t think it is, but I don’t know for certain, so this year, I’m investigating local food sources. Next year, maybe, will be our as-complete-as-possible Animal, Vegetable, Miracle year.  So far I’ve found:

There are also options like buying a whole hog or cow from a 4-H member, a barley flour processor in the Delta area, and friends who hunt or fish :). And of course, there’s the “grow your own” option – which has its own challenges in the Land of the Midnight Sun (aka the Land of the Extremely Short Growing Season).

That’s actually a longer list than I’d expected (Yea!) and this post is getting long, too, so I’ll finish next week.

What do you get locally? If you’re in Alaska – what’s your favorite local food source?

Making a Better World: The Nature of a Garden

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Random Sheet of Metal on Property

            Our land was once part of a pristine wilderness.  We hope to recreate that environment, to erase all traces of human interference with nature.  Just kidding.  It’s true that the land was once “untouched,” but that was long, long ago.  Much of the “wilderness” around here is at best second growth boreal forest.  The early history of Fairbanks – building and heating the town, mining the hills, stoking the boilers of the steamboats – took a lot of wood, and rearranged mountains of earth.  Before that, Alaska Natives hunted and fished throughout the Tanana Valley.  This area has seen the impact of humanity for millennia, and there’s no way we could ever return a little over an acre of it to its “original” state.

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  We certainly weren’t thinking “pristine” as we hauled car parts, balled-up, rusty wire fencing, miles of electrical wire and pieces of bone (not human, thankfully)  out of our planting area. 

Part of Scrap Pile:  Fencing, wire, and an old rug

Junk Structure on Property

We are not trying to get to untouched.  But if we are not trying to restore our bit of subarctic suburbia to its primeval grandeur, how can I say we’re “making a better world”?  Might seem like hubris.

            First, I don’t buy the idea that nature is necessarily at its best without human impact.  I also don’t think “dominion over the Earth” means we should develop, pave, or make junkyards out of every blessed parcel of land we can.  In his book Second Nature¸ Michael Pollan suggests that pitting nature against culture (human activity) creates a false dichotomy.  We are, after all, a part of nature, not apart from it.  In a garden, the influence of the gardener is thoughtful, intentional and blatant.  We protect plants that might otherwise fail to thrive.  We plant stuff we want to grow in rows or beds.  We weed and water (and weed and water some more).  Pollan calls a garden “a middle ground between nature and culture, a place that is at once of nature and unapologetically set against it.”

            When I say we are making a better world (in a tiny way) by making this farmlet, I mean that by making our influence visible and useful, we are saving that land from the hidden forces that were slowly turning it in to a junkyard, and from the overt force of the developers who at best would have built a multi-family apartment there, and at worst would have turned it more rapidly into a junkyard.  I don’t believe that our cultivation of the land will create an eyesore.  We are removing trees, but not all.  We are planting new trees as well, and the new ones and the ones we don’t take down will have a better chance to thrive.  The dead wood that makes the property a fire hazard that is difficult to navigate will go – but its nutrients will be returned to the soil, in the form of mulch.  We’ll have to protect our plantings from moose and rabbits, but those creatures will also continue to use the land.  (It’s kinda hard to stop them!) 

Visiting Moose

We’ll be ripping out non-native invasive species, like dandelions and purple vetch.  And, of course, we’ll be feeding ourselves with the products of our labor, happily increasing the nutrient value of our food and the quality of life of our food animals while reducing our dependence on shipped in food and the related use of fossil fuels required to get that food here.  Whew – that’s a heck of a sentence!  But it sure sounds like a better world to me. :)

Some of our food animals - not little yellow fluffballs anymore!

Some of our happy food animals – not little yellow fluffballs anymore!

Why?

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Why are we making a farmlet (really big garden, or really tiny farm) in suburban Fairbanks, Alaska? It would be much easier and possibly cheaper (in the short run) to continue as we have been, buying food from the supermarket, with the occasional purchase at the farmer’s market, and raising a small, usually less-than-spectacular garden. The property we’ll be farming is probably the last acre of undeveloped land in our neighborhood. That certainly doesn’t mean it is untouched. The previous owners stored a junk car collection among the birches, spruces and cottonwoods. Judging by the bits and pieces of rusted cans, empty bottles and campfire remains, the property has hosted humans at least a few times over the years. We have also recovered quite a bit of random junk: electrical wire, fencing material (sadly deteriorated beyond use), even a piece of railroad. Not a railroad tie, mind you. An 8’ length of track, bent into a curve no engine could navigate.
Preventing this piece of land from falling into the hands of our local junk-yard owner was our impetus for buying it in the first place. Making it productive enough to help us pay for it was our next goal. But as we’ve worked on it, and done a bit of research into what our climate can support, it has become, for me, a chance to make the world better, in several teeny, tiny ways.
1. Prevent another suburban junkyard/eyesore.
2. Rehabilitate the hidden junkyard we bought.
3. Reduce our reliance on shipped food (which has traveled even farther to us than the national average of 1500 miles.)
4. Provide another local food option to our neighbors.
5. Produce food which we know to be organic and genetically unmodified.
6. Provide a pesticide-free area for local honey bees to do their thing.
7. Help our children understand, in a very hands-on way, where food truly comes from, and help them develop a respect for (if not love of) the hard work involved in feeding people.

Next Post: Making this piece of world better. The Nature of a Garden