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Category Archives: Learning & Schooling

Candling Chicken Eggs.

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This is the third in a four-post series about hatching eggs from our 5 deceased laying hens who fell victim to a predator, along with nearly all of their temporary flock-mates, during their transitional stay at Harmonious Homestead. For more, read The Absence of Chickens and Incubating Chicken Eggs. IMG_9972 There are varying opinions about the importance, and risk, of candling eggs while hatching them via an incubator. Some feel it is unnecessary exposure to bacteria, which could result in a greater number of developing embryo losses. Others feel it is an essential source of information about how the incubation is progressing and what might be going right or wrong in the incubator. During my first try incubating eggs, I found myself somewhere in the middle, hoping to minimize the risk of contamination while still checking the eggs in order to remove any non-developing eggs and avoid a messy situation. On day 7, I candled each egg for the first time. Previous reading led me to believe that it may be difficult to see the tiny embryos, but i found it to be fairly easy to tell which eggs were developing. Even the blue eggs, with two layers of pigmentation, were fairly easy for me to see through using no special equipment, just the flashlight on my iPhone. I invited Rachel and Lil of Harmonious Homestead over to take a look and assist me with photos. We crowded into the bathroom, our only room without a window. I held my phone in one hand and the egg in the other, sealing the light of the the flashlight as well as I could so that it would shine only through the shell of the egg. The light revealed a spiderweb of veins and a sizable air sac in the developing eggs and just a indistinct cloud of yolk in the duds. IMG_0010 (Viable, developing egg, you can see the embryo as a dark spot just to the left of the corner of the phone.) After candling each egg, I recorded whether or not the egg was developing on a chart. I decided to keep those that did not appear to be developing in the incubator for a few more days before checking them again and discarding them if they were, indeed, lacking embryos. IMG_9986 (Another developing egg. Note the spiderweb of veins, slightly difficult to make out in this photo, and the visible air sac at the top of the egg.)   IMG_9975 While it was a little disheartening to find that many of the eggs from Rachel’s rooster Shackleton II weren’t developing, we knew the experiment was a long-shot from the beginning. Many of the eggs from her next door neighbor were viable and developing, though. So I knew my clutch would hatch quite a few purebred Ameraucana chicks in just two more weeks. IMG_0027 (This egg had a clear blood ring around the yolk. We decided to crack it open and investigate as part of this homesteading/homeschooling activity. The head, body and eye were easy to make out.)


The beginnings of a learning space.

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I’ve been working to create a learning space for Darren, with some success. It occupies a corner of our large dining/craft room. The room is terrific. It’s a large open space that is usually half dining room and half sewing/blogging/painting/knitting/etc space. When needs necessitate, we transform the room into one large dining room, thanks to the two Svalbo tables from Ikea and the generosity of my brother-in-law who purchased them for us.

The idea really started coming to life when my mom snagged a preschool-size set of a table with two chairs from her neighbor. It’s a bentwood set from the fifties in fairly good condition. I reinforced the pieces to relieve some wobbliness by taking them fully apart, applying new glue to the joints and replacing screws where the holes were stripped.


For Darren’s third birthday last November, I made a set of tactile fabric number cards, using the pattern from the fantastic book Growing Up Sew Liberated  by Meg McElwee. Finally finding time and energy to complete the project by gluing and lashing the clothespins to a stick from our favorite neighborhood mulberry tree, I am completely delighted with the final (final) product. (Trivia: I used a bit of yarn from my very first spinning to hang the branch. The wool was shorn from our own sheep, processed by a local fibre mill and spun in….1994!)


Below and to the right of the numbers sits a wooden crate with books from home and the library. I plan to have themed books out in the bin. Currently, I have some ABC books and some counting books. The crate held peaches from last year’s peach canning extravaganza. Underneath the book crate I have a small piece of weaving from my first exploits in fibre art, probably in 1992 or 1993. It’s a simple rag rug with multi-colored warp and light pink and white weft. The “rags” were probably cut from a bunch of my mom’s stash fabric.


To the right of that are a corkboard, the table and chairs, and a set of two hanging folders that were not being used in our office. The folders house coloring pages to color and write (with my help) notes to mail to friends and family.


To the right of that are three pieces of artwork: a large, wooden lower-case f purchased at Columbus Architectural Salvage, an unframed poster with artwork by NIkki McClure and a poem by Hank received as a party favor at a friend’s birthday party, and a darling needlepoint of our last name done by friend and former co-worker, Sabra.


Darren is excited about the space and the activities it contains. As you can see in the first photo, he’s very interested in writing letters using chalk on chalkboard fabric.

Do you have learning spaces at home? Please share.

Foraging: Identifying poison ivy.

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(glossy, medium green, mostly smooth with few lobes)

One of the most most important plants for people to be able to identify, whether foraging or just playing outside, is poison ivy. The ability to quickly  spot the plant is something that comes in handy for me nearly every day as I’m doing yardwork, enjoying the outdoors or foraging. While I am not allergic, a number of people that I know are. I strive to eradicate the plant from my yard so that I know there is a lowered risk for my friends when they come over. Severe allergic reactions are frightening, and not everyone knows how their bodies react to certain allergens until they have been accidentally exposed.

I suggest that everyone, allergic or not…


To start finding poison ivy, think back to the basic rhyme so many of us learned in childhood: Leaves of three, let it be.

Count the number of leaves in each grouping. 1, 2, 3.

(matte, medium green with red stems, lobed – with mirrored pattern of lobes on the side leaves)

Once you have counting to 3 down, move on to familiarizing yourself with the many “faces” poison ivy can present. It’s probably easiest, and least risky, to start seated comfortably at your computer.

Here is a link, complete with a quiz, that you might find helpful.

When you venture outside, take those mental images with you and try to spot poison ivy in each new environment you enter. If you’re in the woods or in an unkempt urban or suburban environment, you’re likely to find it rather quickly. I have made it a habit to always be looking for poison ivy when I’m outside. The longer I’ve had the habit in my life, the easier I find it to spot the creeping vine.

In my experience, poison ivy can be glossy and dark green, or it can be matte and lighter green. The leaf edges can be smooth, serrated or lobed/notched. It forms in bushes and vines, climbing up or creeping out. The vines are characteristically hairy along the entire length of the vine, particularly when the plant is mature. It loves to climb up trees and, the urban equivalent, telephone/power poles. I’ve found it in Franklinton in nearly every yard I’ve been in, in one of our raised garden beds, climbing telephone poles that are in the middle of a sidewalk, up fences on abandoned lots, across the sidewalk in our side yard, and growing out of the siding below a second story window sill on a neighbor’s house. Young plants can have tiny leaves. In the spring, when the foliage is green and it blends in with everything else that is starting to green, it’s harder to spot than when autumn comes and the leaves blaze red.

If you find poison ivy in your yard and want to dispose of it, the only way that is truly safe is to bag it up and throw it out. Burning is the worst option, as the oils, which are the cause of people’s allergic reaction, will be dispersed through the air, getting on exposed skin and even in airways. Serious stuff.

If you encounter poison ivy while out foraging, first assess whether you’ve been exposed. If not, just avoid the plant and continue foraging. If you have been exposed, get to water and wash your skin with soap and cool water. Hot water will open your pores, allowing the oils from the plant to be absorbed more readily. If you’re highly allergic, contact with exposed clothing can even cause a rash. Some people still have trouble with exposed clothing after it has been washed.

The incentive to avoid poison ivy is a potentially large one, so, please, get to know it.



Our second trip to Stratford.

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It was another perfect day when we took our second trip up to Stratford Ecological Center.
(first trip here)

I just can’t get enough of this place. The staff and volunteers are all incredibly friendly and the opportunities for exploration are diverse. I’d love to be able to take one of the classes they offer, and if it were a bit closer to our house, I’d volunteer there regularly.


This visit held a particular educational opportunity that only comes once a year – little beings found in vernal pools – tadpoles! (Unfortunately, the sun’s reflection on the water obscures from view the hundreds of tadpoles in this image.)


On the walk back to the pond, we saw the llamas, sheep and goats, all out to pasture.


The chicks were a little bigger this time.


(Hens in the orchard/chicken run)


This stunning little bird lives near the pond. I couldn’t figure out what type of bird it is, though I only spend about 15 minutes researching before I realized that I’d better get to blogging. I’ll update if I find it.


Our last stop was to the visitors’ center to pay for a dozen eggs, maple syrup, pork breakfast sausage and stunning poppies, rainbow swiss chard, salad greens and dill from the greenhouse.

Another wonderful visit!

hiking. and sheepy friends.

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I’m finding lately that fiber arts are gaining a strong foothold in my heart, especially all things wool. I just love everything about these tiny little fibers, start to finish. Shiny, matte, crimpy, wispy, on the lamb, on the wheel, in the dye pot, on a friend’s head. It just might be my calling.

To celebrate all things sheep, I decided that a spring trip to an area farm was in order. The Stratford Ecological Center lists its mission as follows: “a private non-profit organization dedicated to the education of children and adults in understanding the relationships between living things and their environment, thereby fostering an appreciation of the land and all life that depends on it.”

We went on a warm, sunny morning, making the 35 minute drive to the farm, just north of Columbus, Ohio. I extended an invitation to a friend and her infant. Why not help her indoctrinate the wee one beginning at the tender age of 3 months?

And so we went, the four of us.

This sweet little Tunis lamb was just 4 weeks old. He came trotting over, all knobby kneed, to greet us when he saw us walking toward the fenced-in pasture.


We took our lunches so that we could take time to really explore all of the forms of life at Stratford. After eating in the gazebo, we headed out to the woods for a preschooler-led hike.






I don’t know who enjoyed it most. We’ll definitely be making it back in the next few weeks after the goat kids join the Stratford family. Next time, we’ll plan to spend 6 hours instead of 3.

Almost spring.

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Has it really been two and half weeks? (My sister nods her head and exclaims something like “I’ve been telling you to post, already!” as she reads this. Hush. I’m making up for it with an obscene amount of photos.) We’ve been slightly busy at our house. I’ll give you a brief, and not even near all-inclusive, recap.

blueberry smoothies

having his own smoothie for the first time

homemade coconut milk chocolate pudding

crepe-style pancakes with homemade blueberry sauce

red pepper, leek and basil pizza on homemade whole-wheat crust

mini-blankie made for Darren to tote around while we chaperoned our youth group for the weekend

yarn…for something for me

walking at the zoo with Darren riding on my back in our new babyhawk ohsnap

at the zoo, checking out the manatees

more zoo, because he looks so cute

carrots freshly pulled from the ground (with toddler trailing behind)

focused intently on some rocks

What cabins are all about.

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Dennis, Darren and I had the pleasure of spending a (much too short) weekend with some friends in Hocking Hills, Ohio.

We ate good food, had engaging conversation, enjoyed some rousing sing-a-long craziness and grew closer to people who are becoming home for us.

In usual fashion, Darren seized the opportunity to explore the world through interacting with his surroundings.

A snapshot of the weekend through his eyes (though I wasn’t thinking ahead enough to actually capture from his perspective…that would have been too smart):

Two Trees, 2009

Two Trees, 2009

Two Trees, 2009

Two Trees, 2009

Two Trees, 2009

Two Trees, 2009

Two Trees, 2009


Au revoir, Two Trees.

We’ll be back next  year.