Jun 24, 2016

I'm back...!

We've had quite a couple of weeks. First, we moved and got  somewhat situated in our motor coach. Then the kids and I traveled out of state. We were supposed to be having a fun visit with my dad and his sisters, but before we hopped onto the plane, Dad was admitted into the ICU.

Turns out, a steroid his doctor prescribed to help clear up his lungs so he could breathe without oxygen was not only making his blood sugar sky high (so high, they couldn't even measure it accurately), but it was dropping his blood pressure dangerously low. Being a stubborn Missouri native, Dad resisted going to the hospital. No way did he want to be in the ER just when all the people he loves were finally gathering in the same place. Thankfully, he had a regular doctor's appointment, and his doctor sent him immediately to the hospital. If he hadn't gone, I would now be typing about his passing.

So, we spent the trip visiting him in the ICU. I was thankful to be there, and thankful to get re-acquainted with my sweet aunts, whom I hadn't seen in something like 17 years.

Unfortunately, the doctors say that as long as Dad's blood pressure won't stay up, he must remain in the ICU. And they still don't know exactly why his lungs are in such bad shape; no test they've done comes back positive.

Please pray for my Dad - for his health, for his sanity (oh, how he hates being in the hospital!), and for his spirit, since he is not saved by Christ. Thank you, friends.

Over the next few days, the kids and I are going to recuperate, and then I plan to get back to regular blogging next week. Thank you for your patience :)

Jun 20, 2016

Tour Our Tiny House Motor Home

Some have asked for tour of our tiny house motor home. So, here's a peak.


Jun 13, 2016

Home Sweet Home...and Some Misadventures

I'd intended to simply title this "Home Sweet Home" and post a photo of our tiny house motor home.
But this morning, we had a little adventure, so I guess I better share that, too.

The children and I are officially moved into the motor coach, which is temporarily parked at my in-laws' house - which, it turns out, is a very good thing.

Moving was exhausting, and the motor coach was filled with boxes, so last night the kids slept in my in-laws' guest room and I slept in the coach. (My hubby continues to stay at our suburban home for a few days until the new owners move in. He also, it turns out, is sick with a fever.) There were a few minor hiccups moving in, but nothing major. The solar panel stopped working, which is a bummer, but until it's fixed, we can plug into my in-laws' power. And I discovered that while in storage for a few months, my happy place - the master bedroom (well, actually, the only bedroom) - suffered some minor damage.

After all the work I put into making that room beautiful, I was sad to see this. (You can see the before and after of this room here.) But the good news is, now I can just step outside and see THIS, my new happy place:

Anyway, this morning the children and I were in the coach, unpacking. Both of them commented on the bad smell. I don't have a very good sense of smell, but when I concentrated on it, I thought it smelled like gas. I was mildly concerned, but I've sometimes found that places with gas stoves smell slightly of gas, and I didn't want to call my husband and ask about it because I thought he might still be sleeping off his fever. So I continued unpacking. Then a loud alarm sounded.

I called my husband, who confirmed it was the gas alarm.

I hustled the kids out of the coach. My hubby told me to go get his dad...forgetting his dad happened to be out of town for the day. So, with my cell phone cutting out now and then, he gave me instructions on how to turn off the gas. I'm pretty worthless when it comes to anything mechanical, and I had trouble opening the outside compartment that houses the gas valve. And when I finally did get that open, I couldn't turn the gas valve off - not for the life of me. It was too tight to even budge.

Hubby had me unplug the coach to reduce the risk of a spark that might make our tiny house explode. (!) Then he wisely got off the phone with me and called one of my in-laws' neighbors, asking him to come turn off the valve. Thank goodness for neighbors, because I'm sure it would have taken a while for emergency services to arrive out here in the woods.

The coach is now sitting with the door open, airing out. Hope no rats sneak in. Ugh.*

But we're all well and safe, and the coach is still standing. Hubby won't be able to fix it until the weekend, so we are thankful I can pop into my in-law's house to cook. And thank you, Lord, that the gas alarm works!

Now I think I will go outside and enjoy the verdant view, the sound of the birds, and the deer taking their morning walk across the yard...

* Later, I remembered I could use the screen door. Hopefully, nothing icky climbed into the coach in the meantime.

Jun 11, 2016


Last night, when I told the children this would be the final night they ever slept in these rooms, their eyes grew wide. Hours later, I heard a tiny voice call to me when I walked down the dark hallway. My daughter, only half awake: "How can you long to leave a place, but still be sad to go?" Indeed. We are all feeling a bit wistful on this, our moving day. We all want to leave, but this place also holds many precious memories.

Goodbye, old door, through which I entered this home as a bride.

Goodbye, bedrooms, to which I brought my babies. Thank you for keeping them warm and safe.

Goodbye, porch. I can still see the metal eyes my husband added to over-secure the baby swing. How many delighted giggles this porch has heard!

Goodbye, old maple tree, which fascinated my children from their infancy. Keep growing and watching over this place.

Goodbye, little red maple, which the children loved to climb.

Make new memories with a new family, and treat them well, little house.


Jun 9, 2016

Moooooving on Out!

So. Our suburban home is supposed to close, be no longer ours, belong to someone else June 17th. I planned to spend this week finishing the packing, then clean the house the following week, then pack suitcases for the kids and I and get on a plane to go out of state to see my dad, who hasn't been very well. But yesterday, hubby tells me he wants us out of the house by this Sunday. Color me flustered!

His reasoning is logical. There is no way we can move, sign closing paperwork, and get to the airport on our closing date. What was I thinking?? Of course, something could still go wrong with the sale of our house...but we are praying for smooth sailing.

So, I'm frantically trying to pack. But hubby moved our tiny house motor coach to our new location already, so I need boxes to pack the things we'll need for everyday living, as well as for long term storage. I don't have enough boxes! So I feel scattered, packing a little here (with what boxes I have), cleaning a little there.

To top it off, we had to change the final move date to this Saturday, instead of Sunday, because there is a family birthday party on Sunday. So I get to do this all. by. myself. while hubby is at work.

I'm trying to focus on the fact that I'm so very thankful. Thankful to not be sitting in a nearly empty house with nothing to do. Thankful the weather has cooled down. (It was 90 degrees, and all our fans, AC, and anything else we could have used to keep us cool was hours away in storage.) Thankful we'll soon be out in the woods. Thankful that we're going to be a huge step forward in living our dream.

But also bummed that I'm so exhausted from not sleeping well the past week or so. (Weather, and too much on my mind.) And bummed that hubby has to stay behind so our house doesn't sit empty...That is, until it's no longer ours!

Up, down, up, down, goes my mood.

But, really, I just intended this post to say something along the lines of: I won't be blogging much over the course of the next few weeks. But when I do blog, you'll get to start reading about (and seeing) our new homestead. Whoop!

Jun 6, 2016

Free Jefferson Disc Cipher Printable

Recently, my children have been studying the American Revolution. Last fall, I wrote them a chapter book about teenage Revolutionary War heroine Sybil Luddington, and inspired by this book, they've been a little obsessed with learning about Revolutionary War spies. (Incidentally, the Sybil Luddington book will be available to everyone in the coming months; it's a sequel to my free children's chapter book Day with the Dinosaurs - which you can snag here.)

As part of our studies, we've been having lots of fun with invisible ink (made from a variety of household materials) and ciphers. We learned that Thomas Jefferson invented something called the Jefferson Disc Cipher (sometimes called a wheel cipher or Bazeries cylinder; you can see an image of it to the left). It worked so well, the American government continued to use it right on up to WWII! You can read more about the Jefferson Disc Cipher at Wikipedia and CipherMachines.com.

Online, I found a number of sites that suggested ways to make a disc cipher; one recommended collecting mayonnaise lids for the discs - but it would take us a long time to go through enough mayo to get the required number of lids. Another suggested ribbon spools, but I didn't have any on hand. And others suggested just using paper - but the directions were either non-existent or confusing. In the end, I made our own paper template, which you can download for free by clicking the link below.

Free Jefferson Disc Cipher Printable (.PDF)

My kids absolutely love this simple cipher! They've spent hours creating and deciphering messages with each other. Maybe they need a nice wooden one that will last; they sell them at Monticello, and at Amazon. We'll see.

How to Make a Simple Jefferson Wheel Cipher

You will need:

Printed "free Jefferson Disc Cipher Printable" (see above link)
An empty toilet paper tube (or empty paper towel tube)

1. Cut out the columns of letters. There will be 7 strips. (If using a paper towel tube, you will need to print out more than one sheet of letters.)

2. Take one of the strips of paper and wrap it around the outside of the tube. Tape the two ends of the paper together. The strip should spin around the tube; do not tape the strip to the tube. Continue with the remaining strips of paper.

3. To use the disc cipher, first decide what you want to say. Then find where the first letter of the first word is on the first strip of paper. On a piece of blank paper, write down the letter that's beneath it on the disc cipher. Now find the second letter of the word on the second strip of paper. Write down the letter beneath it...and so on, until your message is complete. Use an underscore ( _ ) between words. Now someone with the exact same cipher can decode your message!

Example of How to Use the Disc Cipher:

Let's say I want to send the following message: "Help me!" 

First, I'd find the letter H on the first strip of paper. Since the letter under that is O, I'd write the letter O on a blank piece of paper. 

Next, I'd find the letter E on the second strip of paper. Since the letter under it is L, I'd write the letter L on the paper. 

I'd continue, moving to the next strip of paper each time I needed a new letter, until I no longer had letter strips on the right hand side of the tube. Then I'd move back to the first (left hand side) letter strip...until I'd written out my entire message. When I was done, my message would read:


Now I'd hand the cipher wheel over to my fellow spy, along with my coded message.

To decipher the message, my friend would find the letter O on the first paper strip. The letter just above it is H, so he'd write H down on a piece of paper. 

Now he'd look at the second strip of paper and find the letter L. The letter just below it is E, so he'd write that down...and so on until the message is deciphered.

Jun 4, 2016

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* Recall of General Mills flours due to possible E. coli contamination.

* Canning season has started! Do you have the definitive recipe book for canning?

* This is one of my favorite things about root crops...you can eat the tops and the bottoms.

* Why and How to Eat Spruce Tips. 

* A great round up on why home fermented foods are so good for you! 

* If you have essential oils in your house, make sure children can't reach them! Just because they are natural doesn't mean they can be harmful.

* Thinking about raising pigs? Countryside magazine offers a free download on the topic!

* Beware of card skimmers...they can be found anywhere that uses a card scanner.

 Oldies But Goodies:

* Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)
* Homemade Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Maker
* Easy to Make Butter 
* How to Preserve Herbs in Salt

Jun 2, 2016

Pros and Cons of Rasied Bed and In-the-Ground Vegetable Gardens

I wish I could adequately describe to you how we feel, sitting in a nearly empty house with virtually nothing to do but wish we were on our new homestead. My daughter says (daily): "It feels like we'll never get moved!" She struggles to finish her school work because she's so busy dreaming about the bunnies she's going to raise. My son goes outside into our empty suburban back yard, then comes back inside minutes later. "There's nothing to do. I can't wait until I have the woods to explore!" My husband tries to fill his time with mowing and edging the lawn, but what he really longs to do is get his BBQ set up on our new property and start making accommodations for our next flock of hens. This being in limbo stuff is for the birds, people.

The only way I am surviving is by planning. Even this is a little tricky, since I've only seen our property once. But one of the things I've been pondering a lot is my garden - specifically, will I used raised beds, or not?

Truth is, I love the look of a traditional, in the ground vegetable garden. And given that I want to eventually grow as much of my family's produce as possible (and maybe even enough to sell at a local farmer's market), it's tempting to make an easy-to-expand, old fashioned, in the bed garden. However, there are some good reasons to consider raised beds, too.

Urban raised bed. Courtesy of Carol Norquist.
Pros and Cons of Raised Beds

* Raised beds warm up quicker in the spring and stay warmer in the fall than gardens planted directly into the soil. This is a pro if you live in a cooler area, but may be a con if you live where it's hot.(Too much heat can burn plants and drastically raise the need for watering.)

* Raised beds have good drainage if you purchase soil or build your soil "lasagna" or sheet mulching style. This is a pro if your ground is lousy or you get a lot of rain, but it may also be a con, since raised beds generally require more frequent watering.

* Raised beds, if built quite high, are ideal for those who have trouble bending over to care for a garden. High raised beds may also help keep out critters like small dogs, wild rabbits, and gophers.

* Raised beds may be easier to keep weed free. If you purchase soil, it should not contain weed seeds, and because raised beds are usually planted rather intensively, it will be difficult for weed seeds that blow in to overtake the raised beds.

* Raised beds aren't the cheapest option, a definite con. Even if you construct berms (border-less raised beds), if you bring in soil, it will still cost a few hundred dollars.
Potager style raised beds. Courtesy of

* Purchased soil may not be that great. Often, it is low in nutrients and may even contain traces of Round Up that can harm (even kill) the plants in the soil.

* It may be harder to keep improving the soil in raised beds. Raised beds (unless in the form of border-less berms) eventually fill up. That means you are limited in the amount of organic matter you can put on or in the soil, because it will, at some point, overflow. Eventually, the soil in raised beds will be depleted and require replacing.

* Typical raised beds aren't suitable for some edibles. For example, you'll need deeper than average raised beds to grow carrots, and tomatoes do best if you give them several feet of space for their roots. Sprawling veggies, like pumpkins, will need space to spread down and out of raised beds.

* If you are gardening in the city or suburbs, raised beds may be considered "neater" looking by your neighbors and city officials. (Although a well maintained traditional garden can look tidy and beautiful, too.)

My garden, two years ago.
Pros and Cons of In-the-Ground Vegetable Gardens

* Traditional in-the-ground gardens don't require store bought soil. Even if your soil is lousy, you can improve it by amending with organic matter and using lasagna or sheet mulching methods. However, it does take time for soil to improve.

* In-the-ground gardens make for weed-free pathways if you're willing to lightly till them. However, you'll need to prepare the garden area by laying down cardboard (watered and weighed down) the fall before you plant, in order to keep the growing areas relatively weed free. (For tips on preparing a garden site, click here.)

* In-the-ground gardens are easier to mulch, and more mulch means less watering and better soil over time.

* You can continually improve the soil of in-the-ground gardens with organic matter (like composted manure, dry leaves, compost, straw, etc.). You will never have to worry that soil will overflow, as with a raised bed.

* In-the-ground gardens generally requires less frequent watering than raised bed gardens.
In-the-ground garden. Courtesy of Jean-noël Lafargue.

* If you live in a hot climate, an in-the-ground garden is less likely to burn plants than a (hotter) raised bed is.

* It's cheap and easy to expand in-the-ground gardens because there's no building materials or soil to purchase.

And....my final decision for our new homestead? Because we'll be living in a cooler, wetter climate, I think it's probably best to go with raised beds. But I reserve the right to change my mind!