Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gettin' there

Well, I thought this would be a good time for an update on how our homeschool is going. It's been a while since I filled you all in.

We've been at this almost six weeks now. At first we went fairly steady. That was for about two weeks. It's been a bit more intermittent since due to farm work but we still manage to fit in a few learning sessions every week. Sometimes I can fit in a whole morning, sometimes I get in an hour.

Lately Mitchell has been working on adding and subtracting larger numbers and we've just introduced working with numbers that require tens to or from the ones column. Mitchell is starting to be able to do simple calculations in his head. Progress in math? Imagine that!

ELA has us working on nouns and adjectives, various vowel sounds (as well as the various 'y' sounds) and combination sounds (such as 'ck' as in 'sock'). We studied the book "A Tree Is Nice" and we read the Dr. Suess book "There's No Place Like Space" just for fun.

In science we've just finished a unit on life cycles where Mitchell learned about the life cycles of mammals, insects and plants, and learned about marsupials, too. He's going to grow some pea plants to see the life cycle of that plant. I guess he kinda saw that in the garden this year anyhow, but why not get up close and personal with a pea plant?

In our social studies class we're learning about Canada. We're exploring it's various geographical and political regions. Mitchell can name almost all the provinces and territories on an unlabeled map. He's only having a little trouble remembering the various smaller maritime provinces (like most of us did when we first learned them). We've also been learning how to use a map generally.

Although we don't have a health class, Mitchell has also taken an interest in a book about the human body for kids. He's spent a fair amount of time looking at it by himself and asking questions. I don't know if there's an invisible switch that's been flipped in me but I notice these child directed learning moments (did I just invent an acronym? CDLMs?) more often and pay more attention to them.

Matthew and Michael have been doing some work, too. I've been working on getting them to learn their alphabet and numbers, which includes learning how to write them. So we've also been working on how to write their names. I've also done a very small amount of basic math with them. They've recieved some homework from their speech therapist and we've been doing that, too. That's mostly been about learning bigger/smaller, full/empty, etc. They also take part in extra activities like when we went for a walk to look at different kinds of seeds in the trees and grass. They all do art projects together, too. The last project was leaf rubbing. Yes, of course, those pictures are hanging in the kitchen!

How about extra curricular activities? The boys are two weeks into their fall gymnastics session. And starting October 8, Mitchell's in swimming lessons with other homeschool kids in Moose Jaw. He gets a one-hour lesson once a week for five weeks for $25. Good deal! And best of all we can finally meet some other homeschool families!

I've been considering moving our 'classroom' upstairs, too. Lately we've been doing more of our work on the main floor (and sometimes Mitchell takes it to his room upstairs, too). Some of you have seen our little classroom in the basement. It's a nice cozy corner sometimes, but also a bit of a dungeon. But to do that I have to find a spot for stories our materials. Piling it in various corners isn't the greatest idea. And where do I put the whiteboard and maps? Oh well, we'll get it figured out.

So how do I feel about our progress? Well, I think we're coming along fine. There's time's I've felt a bit disappointed that I can't fit in classes more regularly but I know I can make it up on weekends and holidays. And I know that we're getting more learning done in the shorter periods we're working than the boys would get at school anyway. Besides the boys are spending more 'quality' time with me, too, if having them fighting over the front passenger seat of the semi is considered quality time! But seriously there was a day last week that I took them out with me to finish baling a field of straw and we saw a moose wandering up the field so we followed it a little way and had a good look at it. Moose are kind of rare around our farm, although not so rare in other areas of this region of Saskatchewan. There's a family of them about 15 miles south of our farm apparently. But this is only the second one I've ever seen. We all thought it was pretty cool!

So ya...homeschool's going matter where it's taking place!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ready to work! (I hope!)

Last winter after becoming dissatisfied with farming as a career I sold of a couple of quarters of land. Carla and I had a business plan in mind but that dream had to be let go, too, after some things beyond our control made that proposition a little too risky. Instead I bought myself the toy pictured which is a 2003 Caterpillar 246 skid steer loader. My idea is to pick up some work with it to make up for the money I wasn't making farming my land. I made sure I didn't borrow any money to get into this business, spending only what I got for the sale of my land. Debt scares me these days. This machine cost me around $24,000 with a little more than 900 hours on the hourmeter. Fairly low for its age.

Anyway, this machine came with a straight bucket only so at a Richie Brothers auction I picked up a hay spear (for picking up large round bales) and the manure grapple pictured, which I'm hoping will be the core of my business. A couple of years ago I rented a Bobcat S185 and quite enjoyed operating it cleaning my own corrals and barns so I have a bit of experience running these kind of machines. This one is even better than the Bobcat as the Cat doesn't require the use of pedals to operated the loader and bucket. It's all on joysticks. The left stick controls movement forward, back, left and right. The right stick controls the loader and bucket. Each stick also has a switch to control extra hydraulic attachments. In this case the right stick's switch controls the claw on the grapple. Another bonus is that I have heat and air conditioning. Yes, I'm a big suck! I need my air and heat!

Of course I had to get a trailer to haul this thing around. Carla and I went to a farm auction that had a used Dumenceau 8-1/2x20 gooseneck triaxle flatdeck on offer. It was in average condition, nothing special but quite usable. It sold for $9500! And no, not to me! It definitely wasn't worth that kind of money to me. So we made our way back into Swift Current and visited JayDee AgTech, a dealer for Trailtech trailers (and obviously John Deere farm equipment!). Anyway, we left there towing a shiney brand new Trailtech 8-1/2x20 gooseneck tandem axle flatdeck and it only cost us $8800 taxes included! Yeah, it's got one less axle but even with two I've got plenty of capacity to carry the Cat. My neighbor has actually borrowed the trailer a lot to haul stuff so it's obviously a hit with him!

I also have a set of brand new tires on the Cat. The ones that came with it had very little traction in wet manure. It's possible to get tracks that fit over the tires but they're very expensive - $3500 for one set I saw advertised in the Western Producer newspaper. I checked into chains but Brake and Drive in SC quoted me well over $1000 which seemed odd because I've seen them online for a lot less, but I didn't feel like ordering from the US. Anyway, I got a set of Trelleburgs from Fountain Tire in SC with an extra wide sidewall to protect the rims and spent just over $900. No fussing with chains and they seem to perform quite well in my own barnyard after some testing today.

Anyway, what it all comes down to is that this coming Monday I have my first "official" job cleaning corrals for Hughes Farms south of Chaplin. Hopefully I've worked out all the kinks at home and have a good, trouble-free day!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Road safety matters

A number of recent incidents on the highway around this part of the world have me thinking about why some motorists aren't taking more care out there.

The first one I'll deal with is seat belt usage. There have been two single-vehicle rollovers this week, one of which killed a two-year-old girl who was allowed to sleep in the back of a vehicle without a car seat. Nobody else in the vehicle was wearing a seatbelt either.

Less than 24 hours later another vehicle rolled when the driver fell asleep at the wheel in the middle of the night. Nobody was killed but at least one passenger was ejected from the vehicle because, again, they weren't wearing seatbelts.

I'm a racing fan. I see drivers walk away from horrendous crashes because of the safety equipment which obviously includes seat belts. An airbag won't do you much good when you are ejected from the vehicle and it rolls over you.

The second issue I want to deal with is respecting heavy trucks on the road. It seems like every few weeks I hear on the radio about an accident involving semi trucks. And guess what. It's almost always some dumbass has attempted to cross the highway without looking and is killed when his vehicle is struck by a truck. It happened again today at Moose Jaw. It's almost as suicidal as trying to beat a train at a railroad crossing. I drive a truck sometimes myself and sometimes weigh as much as 50,000 pounds with a load of hay. I've come over a hill to see cows on the road and luckily had the distance to get slowed down and stopped but it sure scared the crap out of me. Now imagine my brother-in-law who pulls Super-B grain trailers for a living with a gross weight of 120,000 pounds comes across someone attempting to cross the highway immediately in front of him. What's he going to do? He's going to spend the rest of his life reliving that nightmare that 'someone' gave him. Thankfully that hasn't happened to him and I sure hope it never does.

Please take a moment when you head out to do up your seat belt and those of your children. And when you come to that intersection, take an extra look before you cross.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Fun And Frivolity of Canning

Well, I think we're starting to see the end of our canning for this year. There's still a four liter pail of juice extracted from apples to turn into jelly but that won't be too hard. It's sitting in the fridge waiting for another day to deal with. Today I did up a pail of chokecherry juice and made six jars of jelly and three of syrup (all pint jars).

I've always struggled with making chokecherry jelly, but I learned this year I probably wasn't boiling it long enough. There are some recipes that say boil hard one minute. Uh-uh. No way. Won't work for me. Carla asked a few people this year that are boiling 15 to 30 minutes. So I tried 30. Yay! It worked! Went back to 20 and ended up with thick syrup again. Now this is with liquid pectin. We got a slightly different recipe that uses pectin crystals and after 30 minutes of boiling, I ended up with some sugar crystals in the jelly so my next batch went back to 20 minutes. I'll hope it's better.

Carla's also made some dill pickles with 20 pounds of cucumbers she got from the Hutterites at the farmers' market last week (from my brother-in-law's sister as a matter of fact). Some were jarred in quart sealers but she also made a batch just in pails. She got this recipe from my sister who made up a batch in a plastic cat litter pail (so of course I had to bug my sister about getting the litter box recipe). We haven't tried them yet, but the kids love pickles and have been bugging us to try them.

But the biggest canning issue this year has been the demise of Carla's beloved smooth-top stove. I was sterilizing jars one morning and heard a funny noise. Wasn't sure what it was...maybe just a jar with a snap lid sealing? Anyway when Carla got home from work I went baling. Later she sent me a text message saying "OMG the stove top is cracked!" Luckily this was already a 15-year-old stove but it still worked fine (well, except for the oven light but that's nothing). Guess how much to fix it. No, higher...Keep going...Right, $500! So we decided to get a new stove. For $699 plus tax (regular $849) we got a new Kenmore with coil burners since we're not giving up the canning. It was probably the heat and/or the weight of the large canner that cracked the smooth-top, something that will not affect the traditional coil burners. Plus the oven is bigger, which might be a bonus sometimes.

Hopefully we can get 15 years and more out of this stove. We replaced the dishwasher this year, too, so hopefully that's all for now! Having cloth-diapered all the kids, I ended up having to replace some plastic couplers on the washing machine between the motor and transmission several times over the years and it's kept going. Crossing my fingers!