Homeschool Heroes ~ An Interview with J. Michael Smith of HSLDA

I’m partnered with Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) to help promote their June, 2017, homeschool convention. Therefore, I had the honor of interviewing one of this year’s keynote speakers, J. Michael Smith of Home School Legal Defense Association. He, along with his friend, Michael Farris, founded HSLDA in 1983, when, as an attorney and homeschooling father, he felt called to assist prosecuted families. For over thirty years, they have defended homeschoolers and have helped pave the way for the movement to flourish.

J. Michael Smith, HSLDA
J. Michael Smith, photo courtesy of HSLDA
Benefits of Homeschooling

J. Michael Smith believes that conventions such as HEAV’s are beneficial for homeschooling parents because they get to see others’ successes, as well as others’ struggles – they can see that they’re not alone. He encourages parents by talking about three major benefits of homeschooling:

  1. Socialization – “Who you spend time with is how you’re formed. Public schools are doomed to failure because of who is attending and the lack of parents doing their job. If we are conscientious [in homeschooling], their experience will be so much better. Schools are scary.”
  2. Academic – A school teacher with twenty students cannot give the individualized attention that a homeschool parent can. Mr. Smith described a recent case in Missouri where a struggling elementary student’s mother spoke with school officials, asking for some individualized attention for her son. When they said they couldn’t provide that, the mother withdrew her son to homeschool him. The school district then took her to court and HSLDA defended her. Mr. Smith added that in Europe, 60-70% of public school graduates live with their parents because they aren’t able to leave home and function on their own. He sees America following that trend.
  3. Spiritual – Mr. Smith described one situation where homeschooling saved a young man’s life. In one of his early cases, before homeschooling was as well-known, a young man had attempted suicide because of things that had been going on at school. His parents began homeschooling him and that young man went on to become a missionary. “It’s a blessing how we save heartbreak,” said Mr. Smith.
“America’s Greatest Heroes”

At a recent convention, Mr. Smith asked the attending homeschool mothers why more Christian mothers don’t homeschool, what reason they gave. The overwhelming response was, “Because they can’t.” Mr. Smith attributes that response to either a lack of faith or an excuse, adding that it’s sad that only 3 1/2% of Christian children are homeschooled. He continued, “Homeschooling adds a lot of pressure, and 100% is on mom’s shoulders. That’s why I truly believe that homeschool moms are America’s greatest heroes.”

He encourages prospective homeschool parents to “Get into the fray and take it one day at a time.” “Whatever you do, don’t quit at the lowest level,” he cautioned, explaining that his office gets a lot of calls from parents who had put their kids in public school after hitting a low point and regretted it.

Alleviating Pressure

I asked Mr. Smith if he had practical suggestions for relieving the pressure on the homeschooling family, especially mom. This is the advice that he had to offer:

  • Dad must play a major role. He needs to give mom time alone, time with dad without the kids, and time with a support group. He needs to help shoulder the responsibility.
  • Dad should have the primary responsibility for disciplining the children. They should know that the highest crime is disrespect of their mother, what the consequences are, and that punishment will be applied.
  • Ideally, the father should help with homeschooling in some way.
  • Dad should be responsible for the spiritual growth of the family. At the same time, mom needs time to develop her own relationship with Jesus, and her husband should facilitate that.
  • Dad should be a good husband and provide a good marriage.
  • Parents should pray together daily.
We the People

Mr. Smith quoted the Declaration of Independence, saying, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Then he explained, “Our liberties come from God and that is recognized in our country’s documents. In a ‘civil law’ country, they come from government and have to be written down, but in America, if we aren’t specifically prohibited from something, then we have freedom. That brings the responsibility to protect those freedoms. We, the people, are the government. We lose freedom when we don’t act.” Mr. Smith believes that it’s our obligation to defend those rights through political processes. “Liberty is the foundation of what makes our government different. It also applies to the homeschool movement. God holds us responsible to protect our liberties. The government will always encroach.” He specified two ways of satisfying our civic homeschool duty.

  1. Join a support group.
  2. Join HSLDA – Think of future generations. Not only does HSLDA provide protection for your family, but it protects the freedom to homeschool for generations to come.
Hazards

I asked Mr. Smith what current issues should be of most concern to homeschooling parents. He pointed out two hazards for homeschooling:

Apathy – Mr. Smith started homeschooling at a time when the stakes were much higher. He said he probably wouldn’t have started if he had known what it would be like, that there were parents who faced fines and jail time. “Homeschooling parents today have no clue what it took to attain current homeschooling freedoms,” he said.

Dependence on Government – He warned of the so-called “ESA” movement (Education Savings Account), vouchers, etc. I asked him about tax credits and he said that he was okay with them because they enable homeschoolers to keep their own money. In contrast, ESA and vouchers use taxpayers’ money. He quoted the adage, “The person who pays the piper gets to name the tune,” in cautioning giving government that foothold. We aren’t ever safe because the legislature changes every two years. As an example, he referenced Nevada where the legislature had been a Republican majority, but it just switched and a Democrat introduced a law to lower compulsory school attendance from age seven to five. That would mean that homeschoolers would also be required by law to start earlier.

Advancements

Mr. Smith and I talked about advancements he’s seen for homeschooling. He noted these encouraging developments:

  • Diplomas are getting more credibility. For example, in the past the military would put a homeschool graduate in “Tier 2” which was the equivalent of a GED or a dropout, and meant that they didn’t get benefits or education. That has now changed and homeschool diplomas are treated equally.
  • Disability and veterans benefits – Children of deceased or disabled fathers receive benefits until they leave school. Homeschooled children were being denied benefits because their homeschool was not recognized as accredited. This, too, has been rectified.
  • Colleges are more readily accepting homeschool graduates.
  • Some states are rolling back some requirements. In North Dakota, for example, homeschoolers can now opt out of standardized tests.
Recent Victory

I asked Mr. Smith if he would share one of HSLDA’s recent victories. He told me about a case in California where a homeschooling mother’s children had been removed because authorities believed that one of the children, a diabetic, was in danger. Even after a doctor examined the child and wrote that he was fine, the state still refused to release the children to their mother. HSLDA represented the mother and won the case. “The state had to pay a substantial reward to the mother,” Mr. Smith said, emphasizing the word, “substantial.”

Dealing with Child Protective Services must be among homeschooling families’ greatest fears. It’s reassuring to know that HSLDA is always ready to aid its members.

New Administration

At the close of our interview, I asked Mr. Smith how he felt about the new administration. He noted that President Carter established the Department of Education and that test scores had gone down steadily ever since. “We will always have government interference, but we’re better off being regulated at the local level.” He likes the trend of taking education away from federal government and thinks that is what President Trump and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, are trying to do.

Homeschool Heroes

I don’t know if I would have had the courage to homeschool if I hadn’t known that HSLDA “had my back.” Although I never needed them, I knew what to do if there was a knock on the door, and that they were only a phone call away. Being called to homeschool one’s children can be a frightening proposition. I’m grateful that along with calling parents to homeschool, God also called dedicated men and women to defend us. I thank J. Michael Smith for letting me interview him, and also for answering God’s call to defend families like mine. They are our homeschool heroes.

You can see J. Michael Smith in person at the HEAV Homeschool Convention, June 8-10, 2017, in Richmond, Virginia. To learn more, please visit HEAV’s website: http://heav.org/convention/

I will be having a giveaway for a family registration to the 2017 HEAV convention, the second-largest in the nation, valued at $79. Please subscribe to be notified of the giveaway.

This post has been shared in some of my favorite blog hops.

Related Reading

Build a Strong Foundation at the HEAV Homeschool Convention

Helpful Links

HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association)

HEAV (Home Educators Association of Virginia)

HEAV Convention

Homeschool Heroes

Poultry for the Homeplace ~ A Practical Primer

Poultry are not paltry on the homeplace. They each serve a purpose and are profitable. Poultry refers to a variety of domesticated birds that are raised for their meat and eggs. It includes chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas.

Plumage

I think of our birds as feathered flowers. They all have different colors and patterns, and are all beautiful in their own way. I marvel at God’s creativity and imagine Him as he created each one, thinking “how can I make this one different?”

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Guineas are downright comical. They’re the clowns of our homestead. Look at that funny “helmet,” their bright red “wattles,” and their polka-dotted feathers.

We’ve raised several different “heritage” breeds of turkeys over the years. I’ve enjoyed the Toms, in particular, as they puff their chest and strut their stuff. They prance in a circle, dragging the tips of their wings and making a drumming sound. They’re persistent in their pursuit of proper admiration!

Geese aren’t as varied in their appearance, but their feathers are wonderful for pillows and bedding. Not that I’ve used them for that, but just wanted to mention it.

Production

Not only do the birds have different colors, but their eggs do, too. I really enjoy having our own fresh eggs, and I also appreciate them for their beauty. The color of eggs varies with the breed. Duck and goose eggs are white, guineas’ are brown-speckled, and chickens come in a rainbow of colors including blue, green, pink(ish), white, and various shades of brown. You can’t buy eggs like these at the grocery store!

Goose and Chicken Eggs

You are probably familiar with chicken eggs, but the eggs of other poultry are edible as well. Duck and goose eggs are richer and great for baking! Guinea eggs are pretty small, so you need more of them, but you can eat them.

Pests

Living in the country, there’s no end to the pests we live among, whether they prey on us and our pets, like ticks, chiggers, fleas and snakes; or our plants, like beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers and bugs. I try to garden organically, and our birds are great partners!

Chickens are omnivorous and if you aren’t already experienced with them then you might be surprised at some of the things they’ll eat. Of course, they eat grain, seeds, plants, fruits and vegetables, but given the opportunity, they’ll eat frogs, small mice and snakes. Turkeys’ diets are similar. They will also eat acorns, which we have an abundance of.

Guineas march around the yard peculiarly, almost in formation, pecking at pests, large and small. They eat many of the same things that chickens do, but they don’t scratch, so they’re gentler around plants. With all of the tick-born diseases, I’m especially grateful for their help with eradicating them. I’ve read accounts of guineas encircling large snakes. Although I haven’t personally witnessed that yet, I do think that they would help by eating them, chasing them off, or alerting us to their presence.

Poultry for the Homeplace
Crested Ducks, Lucille and Lincoln

Ducks eat slugs and snails, as well as insects and grass. They are credited with being lower-maintenance, hardier, and quieter than chickens.

Permaculture

Poultry offer prodigious perks to participants in permaculture. Chickens and guineas will seek out pests that might threaten your home, garden or orchard. As they’re doing that, they’ll periodically pause to poop, thereby naturally fertilizing.

In the orchard they clean up fallen fruit. This helps to lessen disease and insect problems. By scratching around the base of the trees, chickens can pick out grubs that later in the season would emerge and infect the fruit.

Chickens working the compost pile

When I’m working in my garden, I collect weeds and other waste in buckets. When they’re full,  I dump them over the fence into a compost pile in the bird yard. The birds excitedly race over to rummage through it. They eat all the weeds, seeds, and insects. Their scratching also turns and breaks down leaves. Let’s just say they help process the compost more quickly. The variety of things they eat makes for flavorful and nutritious, orange-yolked eggs.

If you have other livestock such as horses, cows, or goats, flies can be a problem. Chickens can help combat the fly problem by scratching through manure and eating fly larvae.

Geese helping with the weeding

We have African Geese and I’m amazed at how they eat grass and weeds. The bird yard is large, and it’s picked clean. My husband made an opening into a small paddock, and so far they’ve kept it under control, too. When I’m working in the yard, I love opening the gate and letting all the birds have access to our whole homestead. I especially appreciate the geese working the fence lines where it’s hard to control the grass and weeds.

Protection

While they may not actually attack anyone, birds can certainly alert you to the presence of people or predators that don’t belong, giving you the opportunity to investigate the situation.

Birds can be pretty intimidating. Have you ever been “goosed?” Recently, we had a delivery and the woman jumped out of her truck to greet our two large, barking, guard dogs. But I had let all of the birds out and when the geese started running towards her, flapping their large wings and honking menacingly, she asked me, panic-stricken and poised to jump back in her truck, if they were attacking. So don’t under-estimate the guard potential of birds.

Guineas are well-known for their prodigious pandemonium. When anything is amiss, or they detect a predator or intruder, they sound the alarm. Here is a little video to give you a peek at their prattle:

Personality

The simple country life is not complete, in my opinion, without the presence of the peculiar personalities of poultry. I’m perpetually pleased by their picking and pecking, plucking and peeping. It’s my idea of paradise.

Post Script

Did you know that poultry were so profitable? They are definitely a valueable resource for the homesteader. If you’re considering adding a new breed to your homeplace, do some research to learn even more about them and make sure that they’re a good fit.

I’ve only covered the poultry that I have personal experience with, but there may be others. Do you have something to add? I invite you to share in the comments.

Please pin this purty picture:

 


Patiently Pruning Peaches and Pears

My gardening chore today was to prune my peach and pear trees. In my mind it was urgent because the peach trees are in full bloom and already starting to leaf out. I really wanted to get them pruned while I could see the limbs and the structure of the tree.

We’ve been working on our home orchard for quite awhile now and I’ve been learning as I go. I read up on pruning and then go do the best I can.

Sculpture

Where gardening is an art form, pruning, to me, is like sculpting. Thinking of it that way makes it more fun, anyway.

Peach Trees

With peach trees you want to end up with a vase shape and an open and airy structure.

“Before” picture of our mature peach tree.

Our older peach tree was here when we bought our home, so it’s over ten years old. I don’t think it was planted there on purpose, because it’s right at the edge of the driveway, but I don’t know for sure. I also don’t know what variety it is. Although you can’t tell from the before picture, I gave it a real good hacking last year. In fact, I worried that I had done too much. But here it is again this year, looking like it’s been neglected. Texas A&M recommends removing about 40% of the branches (link at bottom) and I’m not even sure I took out that much.

The reasons for pruning are longer life for the tree, less disease, and better harvest.

I started with removing that broken limb.

First, I started by cutting out broken, dead, and diseased branches.

Hanger shoots are branches that grow from the bottom of the limb. Water sprouts grow straight up from the top of the limb. Suckers grow from the roots at the base of the tree. All three of these types of branches need to be removed, so I did that next. At the time, I couldn’t remember the reason for removing the water sprouts, but it made sense to me to remove branches where I wouldn’t be able to reach to harvest fruit.

Water Sprouts grow straight up

I’ve learned from experience, that during the time it’s growing fruit, it will put on a lot more growth. When it comes time to harvest, it can be hard to reach fruit towards the interior of the tree, as well as at the top. With that in mind, I pruned branches I didn’t think I’d be able to get to. I want the tree to focus its energy on fruit I’ll be able to reach.

I remove branches that are too low on the trunk, and if they were too long and close to the ground, I cut them back. They’ll grow longer during the season, and then with the weight of fruit they’ll hang even lower. You don’t want fruit laying on the ground. Some of the branches extend too far into our driveway and I don’t want vehicles brushing against them later on, so I shortened those.

This branch is growing at too small of an angle.

Branches growing at too small of an angle are more prone to splitting off from the weight of fruit, so those are cut off, too. You want about a 45 degree angle.

When cutting, I try to leave about 1/4″ from the trunk or other branch. You don’t want cuts to be flush. It’s easier for them to heal if you leave a small amount.

After Pruning
Peach tree after pruning.

Branches that crossed others, or were growing toward the interior were also removed. Whew! It’s a wonder there’s anything left after all of that! I go ’round and ’round while pruning, and I step back often to see how it’s looking. Finally, I thought it looked pretty good. As with art, I don’t think there’s just one right way. It just needs to be done, so do your best and learn as you go.

Bull Shoots

I learned that there’s another type of shoot, called a “bull shoot,” that grows from the trunk or the top of the tree and should be removed in summer after harvesting the fruit. I’ll try to remember to do that later in the summer.

Thinning Fruit

I’m waiting to see if we get peaches this year because we had freezing temperatures in the middle of the blooming. When there is fruit, it’s important to thin it. I learned this from experience. The first year I couldn’t bring myself to pull off all of those cute baby peaches. When harvest came, there were a lot of them, but by the time I removed the skin and the pit, there wasn’t much left! If you will thin the peaches, the remaining fruit will be larger and with more “meat.” You’ll have to remove most of the peaches. Before you start, look them over and take off any that are diseased or malformed, then the smaller ones. Try to leave the larger ones with the ideal spacing of 6-8.” It takes a lot of time, so it usually takes me several sessions before I have it all done, but it’s worth the effort.

Pears
Seckel pear tree after light pruning.

I also pruned two young pear trees. They are about four years old and haven’t flowered yet. Although there are a lot of similarities in pruning them, there are also a few differences. You don’t want to remove as many branches as you do with peaches, for one. They also have a different growth habit, so you aren’t wanting a vase shape as with peaches. Mine don’t need very much pruning yet. Mainly, I removed the dead, diseased, and broken branches. I’m really anxious for them to start bearing. We have two, a Seckel and a Starking Delicious Pear Dwarf. We bought both of them from Stark Bro’s about three years ago.

Organic Orchard

I was happy to see at the base of my trees where the chickens had been scratching. I hoped they found some nice juicy pests to devour. Maybe they even did a little fertilizing while they were there. Our chickens, and other birds, are part of my organic gardening methods.

Pooped

Now I’m pretty pooped from patiently pruning peaches and pears! I got a great gardening workout from that, plus a few other things I got done today. I’ll have to prune the apples and cherries another day!

Related Reading

Pruning Peach Trees by Texas A&M Horticulture

Patiently Pruning Peaches and Pears

Clearing the Way for Spring

I love leaves and even wrote a tongue-in-cheek poem, “In Defense of Leaves,” about them last fall, but it’s time to make way for spring and the flowers I love so much. I don’t clean my gardens up in the fall. I wait until spring to clear away the leaves and other debris left from the previous season.

Benefits of Leaves

There are contrasting opinions about whether leaves should be removed in the fall, or not. I prefer to try to work with nature and hold the personal belief that the leaves are beneficial to my garden. If you search the internet, plenty of articles will come up, but here’s one example from Fine Gardening that supports my practice.

When I first started transforming our front yard to a flower garden, it was mostly dirt. Without being fenced, it was a major thoroughfare for both animals and people. Years ago, my husband made a simple fence to protect my gardening efforts, and the front yard has steadily improved ever since. When it comes to gardening, I’m pretty patient. While some people might prefer to hire a landscaping company to come and plant everything and have it done, I enjoy the process of doing it myself, and waiting for things to mature to see if it looks the way I envisioned. With time I’ve been able to watch the health of the soil improve, and now when I dig in it I find a lot of earthworms which are a good sign. Sometimes they’re so large, I momentarily mistake them for snakes! Here’s a great article on earthworms by soilquality.org.

This is a before photo. Leaves tend to gather at this end of the garden.
Affiliate Links - Mid-Life BloggerThe Old Way

In the past I gathered them by hand, stuffed them in buckets, dumped those in my garden cart, and then took it down the hill and dumped that into my compost pile down in the chicken yard. But the heaping cart pulled me going down hill, and was tiring to push back up the hill, even empty.

The New Way

Last Spring my husband gave me the SunJoe Leaf Shredder for Valentine’s Day. I actually asked for it! I wanted to be able to shred the leaves right within my flower garden so that I could immediately use them around the base of plants, or scattered thinly over the ground as mulch.

Reading about it, I imagined it working just like I wanted, but worried that it might disappoint me. I’m happy to report that it worked exactly as I had hoped it would! It’s light-weight and easy for me to move around. It works like a string-trimmer, using a plastic “string” to quickly shred a batch of leaves. It’s designed so that you could put a bag or receptacle below it, but I’m just letting the leaf litter fall on the ground.

We have two huge oak trees in the front yard, so there are a gazillion acorns. I don’t attempt to scoop them all up. Blue Jays eat them, and if they happen to sprout I just snip them off.

Micro Gardening

I love sitting on a little stool and using my gloved hands to gather the debris. It may seem like doing it the hard way to many, including my husband, but I like to do it that way because I’m up close and personal with the ground. I discover new seedlings and growth poking up through the soil, and smell the dirt, leaves, and nearby flowers.

These Grape Muscari and Hyacinth smell heavenly.
I also love the happy clucking of some chickens foraging nearby.
Creeping Phlox smells pretty, too.

If I were standing up using a rake, I’d likely damage the things that I’m trying to grow. That’s why I like to take my time and be gentle. It’s just a little TLC that I give my flower garden. I think of it as “micro gardening.” I put the debris in 5-gallon buckets, and when they’re full I dump them into the Leaf Shredder and mulch them. It seems like it takes about 30 seconds. It’s really fast!Then I scoop up the mulch and put some around the base of bushes or scatter it lightly over the ground. I say lightly, because I plant some things by scattering seeds, and I also love plants that self-sow. Some seeds need light to germinate, so I don’t want them to be covered too much.

Finely shredded leaves
Surprises

I love surprises in the garden and I find a lot while gardening this way.

Asparagus!
Hostas emerging from their dormancy.
Somebody laid an egg in the front yard!

It does take some time to do it this way, but before long I have the garden tidied up and ready for spring. How do you clear the way for spring?

 

Just the Two of Us

My husband and I are still adjusting to the changes brought on by our kids reaching adulthood but I think we’ve made good progress. We don’t seem to be as depressed and worried. Our evenings are usually pretty quiet, and since its just the two of us, every night seems like date night.

My husband and I recently went on a trip that was carefully planned to encompass several tasks, ending with picking up our daughter for her Spring Break. We have a business in south Texas, which we were going to check on. It’s a long trip of about fourteen hours that we’ve become accustomed to, but we were also towing a “fifth wheel” which meant we had to drive slower. We had also been advised to not plan to drive more that about 6-8 hours per day. My husband had spent a lot of time getting both his truck and the new-to-us trailer ready for the trip, so that it would go as smoothly as possible. I was mentally prepared to just relax and enjoy a slower pace.

When it was time to go and the truck was loaded, I found myself thinking, “Is it really this easy? Can we really just get in the car and go? Are we forgetting the kids? Do we need to check their schedules?” Although I miss the kids, I’m enjoying this time with my husband to reconnect and enjoy doing things we like to do.

Small World

The first night we pulled into an RV park and were setting up for the night. Another truck and trailer soon pulled up beside us and its occupants also started setting up. The gentleman looked a little familiar to us, but I guess we both passed it off as him just having “one of those faces.” But a little later when my husband and I were outside, he approached us and, having noted our license plate, asked us where in Missouri we were from. Well, it turned out that they were from a small town 30 minutes from ours and we knew each other, we just hadn’t seen each other in several years. We all had a good laugh. Just one of those “small world,” or “what are the chances” type things.

Leaf Springs Eternal

The next morning we headed out, thinking we might possibly even be able to finish our journey by that night. We stopped in a tiny Texas town for lunch. As we sat eating, my husband was looking out the window at the trailer and thought that something didn’t look quite right. When he finished he went out to take a closer look and discovered that a leaf spring had broken. I’m not real knowledgeable about trailer parts, but evidently that’s something rather important. Scott said that it’s what holds the axle on the trailer. We were in a little town on a Sunday afternoon so we worried about being able to get the trailer fixed. We thought we’d be stranded there at least another day. Thankfully we were able to find a mobile mechanic from another town that could come fix it, but had to wait a few hours while he went to a third city to get the part before he came. He arrived, still wearing spurs because he had been out riding his horse, but he was a friendly and hardworking guy and had it fixed in no time.

Divine Intervention

While they were working on the trailer, I had called ahead to an RV park about an hour down the road to make a reservation. But by the time the trailer was fixed it was nearing dusk. My husband was tired and didn’t want to set up in the dark. Rain was also forecasted that night and he didn’t want to risk packing the trailer back up the next morning in a storm. So we found a hotel in the next town. It was nicer than we expected, and the owners were very friendly and didn’t mind our truck and trailer taking up one whole end of the parking lot. That night, strong storms came through, waking us up to the windows rattling and being pelted by pea-sized hail. The next morning at breakfast, Scott was visiting with the hotel owner and learned that there had been tornado warnings, and that they had 100 mph winds in the town where we would have been had we gone on to the RV park where I’d made the reservation. The  news reported a train being blown off the tracks, so we were especially thankful to not have been sleeping in our camper.

My first “giveaway” was scheduled to go live early the next morning and I was nervous about everything working right. Due to the turn of events, I ended up being in a hotel, safe, and even having good internet to work out a last-minute kink. I had asked friends and family to pray for our safe journey, and I really felt that God had answered those prayers.

The afternoon of the third day, we finally reached our destination. The weather was beautiful and we were able to tend to our business as well as visit with family.

Bird Watching

One morning our cousins took us out in their boat, hoping to show us some Whooping Cranes. “Whoopers” are on the endangered species list and protected. That area of the Texas coast is one of the few places they can be seen, so bird watchers from all over the country come, hoping to get a glimpse, and maybe a picture, of them during the short time they’re in the area.

Just the Two of UsWe lived in Rockport for many years so I was familiar with the birds and the special events designed to capitalize on the tourism, but I don’t think I had ever seen one before. Our cousins knew where to find them so we were lucky to get to see them. You’re not supposed to get too close or disturb them, so we stayed at a respectful distance. I took the best photos I could, so I’m sharing the best one I had, which, after zooming and cropping, isn’t all that good. Yep, there they are!

When we returned to the boat ramp, there was a large group of pelicans waiting patiently at the fish-cleaning station, hoping to get an easy lunch when fishermen came in. They seemed to be disappointed that we were empty-handed.Just the Two of Us

Photography Goal

I took my Canon camera so I could practice taking pictures. One of my goals for this year was to learn more about photography. I don’t want to bore you too much but here are a few more photos.

Just the Two of Us

Just the Two of Us
Just the Two of Us
Smooth Sailing

The rest of our trip went well. We were able to visit with my parents and then pick up our daughter, all according to schedule. Scott and I are really wanting to have some freedom to go and do, so I’m learning to blog on the go.

Just the Two of Us

Spring Garden Surprise ~ A Bunny Tale

Gardening is full of surprises. Many years ago while spring cleaning, I moved some debris within the chives and suddenly my eyes were focusing on some little pink things. My first thought was rats, but then I realized that I was looking at newborn cottontail rabbits.

Carefully, I covered them back up, trying to leave the hidden nest as I had found it. Every day when I was out in the garden I would gently uncover it to see how they were doing, and watched as they grew their hair and began to look more like rabbits.

I couldn’t believe the audacity of mama cottontail who made her nest right smack dab in the middle of my fenced garden! It reminded me of Beatrix Potter’s stories of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s garden.

I never saw the mama rabbit. From reading on the internet, I learned that they visit their young for only a few minutes during dawn and dusk to quickly feed them. Baby rabbits are often thought to have been abandoned because the mother is nowhere in sight, but that usually is not the case. You can watch a YouTube video of a mama cottontail feeding her young here.

One day, as suddenly as I had found them, they were gone. Now every spring when I’m preparing for a new season, I’m reminded of that fun little surprise. Nature is so entertaining!

This post has been shared on some of my favorite blog hops.


 

Spring Garden Surprise

Homegrown Salad ~ A Simple Pleasure

I’m excited to be a part of a Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Collection giveaway! For details and to enter, scroll to the end of this article.

There’s nothing like a homegrown salad! Picking fresh greens, plus other goodies, straight out of the garden and combining them into a healthy and beautiful dish is a simple pleasure. It’s fun to make use of odds and ends, and maybe even some edible weeds or flowers. No two salads are exactly alike – each one is a little work of art. I haven’t yet built a cold frame to grow them throughout the winter, so I’m really looking forward to having homegrown salads again.

Lettuces and Other Greens

Salads with a mix of colors are most appetizing to me. For many years, I’ve ordered the Rocky Top lettuce mix from Baker Creek. I also bought some Australian Yellow Lettuce seed for the first time last year. It’s a pretty chartreuse color, and claimed to be more heat-tolerant than other lettuces. I enjoyed it last year so I plan to grow it again. Spinach is another cool-weather crop that makes a delicious and nutritious salad green.

Swiss Chard Seedlings

Swiss Chard is beautiful in salads. If I need to thin them, I throw the thinnings in, or I’ll steal a few small leaves. Did you know that Swiss Chard is basically the same plant as beets? Chard is propagated for its leaves, while beets are developed for their roots.

This and That

Once you’ve got the greens, it’s time to add some other colors, textures and flavors. Last year I grew some Pink Beauty radishes for the first time. I was excited to finally find a radish that I liked! They didn’t have the spiciness that I’ve experienced with most. As a member of the cabbage family, radishes grow best in cooler temperatures of spring and fall. They are fast-growing, maturing in about 29 days, so they’re one of the first harvestable crops. They’re so pretty – radish slices really perk up a salad.
Homegrown Salads ~ A Simple PleasureI like to grow carrots just to add them to salads. It’s very rocky where we live, so I experiment with shorter varieties. Sometimes I’ll pick a few asparagus spears to chop up and throw in.

Magnolia Blossom Tendril Peas

The Magnolia Blossom Tendril Peas were great to include for their sweet crunch.

Walking Onions

Walking Onions and chives are available in early spring, too. Chive flowers are a pretty lavender and are edible. You can also use them to make a flavored vinegar.

Edible weeds

In early spring, when I’m cleaning out my raised beds, many of the “weeds” are edible, and very nutritious. Purslane is the first to come to mind. Baker Creek has two varieties of seed listed in their catalog, and I have a wild one that takes over my garden all on its own. Lambsquarters grows wild and is related to spinach. I sometimes use its small leaves. Just because something grows on its own doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. I’m trying to rethink weeds, so yes, I occasionally add them to my salads.

Edible flowers

In early spring, dandelions and wild violets pop up around our yard. I plant Nasturtiums every year and they bloom in late spring. There are many edible flowers, but these are a few that I’ve used to adorn my  salads.

Dressing

What better way to dress a homegrown salad, than with a homemade dressing?! Our favorite is Buttermilk Ranch that I make with my own mix. The mix is made using as many of my own dried herbs and seasonings as possible.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing Mix

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Black Pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups Parsley Flakes
  • 1/2 cup Garlic Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 cup Granulated Garlic
  • 3/4 cup Granulated Onion
  • 2 Tbsp Dill Weed
  • (To make dressing you will need additional ingredients found in "Instructions.")

Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.
  • Makes about 3 1/2 cups of dry mix.
  • To make dressing, combine 2 tbsp of mix with 2 c mayonnaise, 2 c buttermilk, 1 1/2 c sour cream, 1 tsp lemon juice.
  • Tips:
  • I keep powdered buttermilk on hand. When using it, I add the powder in, and then add the water to the desired consistency of the dressing.
  • This recipe makes a lot. For smaller families, you might want to halve the recipe.
  • 1 Tbsp mix can be used in recipes calling for one envelope of ranch dressing mix.
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Great for Beginners

You don’t have to have a green thumb or live on a big farm to grow your own salads. Salad greens are easy and can even be grown in containers. Just sprinkle the seeds over the soil. They need cool temperatures and part to full sun. When it gets too warm, lettuces get bitter. You can just cut some leaves as you need them (“cut and come again”), or harvest the whole plant. If you’re gardening with children, plants like lettuces and radishes are great because they grow quickly and are easy to plant and harvest. When children are involved in the growing process, they’re more likely to eat their vegetables. If you’re homeschooling, then it counts as science and there are all kinds of things to be learned through it.

Flea Market Style

I think it’s fun to use a variety of dishes that I pick up at garage sales and thrift stores. Serving with family heirlooms or thrifty treasures, makes salads even more appealing.

Cute little salad plates

Salads are so good for us. Raw foods have nutrients and enzymes that cooked ones don’t. Add the extra freshness and lack of pesticides and there are some great reasons to grow your own. Salad season will be here soon! It’s one of spring’s simple pleasures.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Collection Giveaway

Homegrown Salads ~ A Simple Pleasure

I’m teaming up with some of my blogger-friends to give away ten packets of heirloom seeds valued at $49, courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds! We’re all writing about gardening, so be sure to check out their great posts by following the links to them below.

This giveaway will begin on Monday, Feb 20, at 1:00 am Central time and end on Sunday, Feb 26, at 11:59 pm Central time. Open to US and Canada residents age 18 and over. Please note that seed varieties will vary from the photo.

Enter below by signing in with your email address and following the directions for each entry. We’ve given you a free entry to start. After completing an entry’s requirement, use your browser’s back button to return to this page and move on to the next entry.

One winner will be randomly chosen by Giveaway Tools after the giveaway ends, and we’ll notify the winner with an email sent to the address they used to enter. Winner will have 48 hours to respond with their mailing address. If winner fails to respond, another winner will be chosen. We’ll send the winner’s mailing address to Baker Creek Seeds and they will ship the prize package directly.

 

For more great garden reading, be sure to visit these blogs:

Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead

Michelle at Souly Rested

Kacey at Rustic Ranch Wife

Angela at The Inquisitive Farmwife

Crystal at Homemade Happiness

Nadine at Making Her Mama

Homegrown Salads ~ A Simple Pleasure