Trailer Park Unschoolers

Because you don't need to be rich to unschool!


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Baking with Corde

Okay, maybe it was just a mix, but Corde got some baking in yesterday. It was a Hershey s’mores cupcake mix that a friend gave us. It was a pretty simple deal, chocolate cupcake with a graham cracker bottom crust and a marshmallow filling. Corde couldn’t wait to make it.

Corde wasn’t alone in her baking. Luca decided to help her with the mixing. The two looked so cute together at the table. Corde mixed up the graham crust mix while Luca mixed the cupcake batter. Then they both worked together to fill the cupcake cups.

While they were waiting things got a little crazy. Corde decided to prove she could walk on the half wall to the stairs and Luca, Sander, and Beekee went nuts playing LEGO Batman. They had an awesome time.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the finished product. We all ate them too quickly and I forgot. Even I had one, and they managed to save one for Oz. They were definitely good and gave Corde some ideas for her own baking future, which is always a win in my book!

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Science Means Yogurt

Yesterday we started the process of making yogurt as a part of our summer activities.  I almost said “homeschooling” then wanted to correct it to “unschooling”, but the truth is it’s really just living.  I guess that’s what unschooling is about.

It was bright and early in the morning (and by that I mean 8:30) that we got up and went over to our neighbor’s house.  It all started with reading the ingredients list on the yogurt container as a starter.  We talked about the different bacteria, and how the bacteria aren’t bad germs, even though they are germs.  The kids thought that was pretty cool.  Our only regret is not having a microscope to view the bacteria with.  That would have been cool.

We talked a bit about what makes an “active culture”.  Our neighbor was funny about it.  She had the kids pretend to be inactive if it was too cold to do anything, then they all jumped around the room when they were the “active” culture at the right temperature, then got sluggish and slow again when the temperature got too hot.  It was a great way to show the kids the difference between active cultures and inactive ones.  I never would have thought of doing it that way.  As much as I teach kids, I really don’t teach kids.  I teach as though I’m talking to adults.  Our methods really differ, but I think that’s a good thing.  It’s good for the kids to learn from different teaching styles.

After that each of the kids got to pour some of the milk into a giant pot.  We heated the pot to 180 degrees (to kill all other possible bacteria sources), then waited for it to cool down to 120 before we added the yogurt culture.  In the mean time the yogurt was mixed in with some of the milk that had been set aside and cooled so it would be liquid enough to mix in with the other milk.  We called this the “mother culture.”

Of course, when I think of “mother culture” I think of a book I read last summer, Ishmael.  It was a good read, but “culture” was viewed as a cage, trapping people from having real and meaningful experiences with each other and the world around them.  The idea of “mother culture” made me laugh because in my head that was not a good thing, but I suppose it fit.  We were “infecting” the milk with this “mother culture” to make something new, so I was amused.  I think we may end up reading Ishmael when the kids get a little older, or when we become more accustomed to reading together.

After the yogurt had cooled enough, we mixed the “mother culture” in with the yogurt to make our yogurt.  The kids quickly put all of the yogurt jars onto the table at the center of a towel, which was wrapped around them so the yogurt cultures could stay warm and do their magic.

That’s when the hard part came, the waiting.  We ended up going back there today to check out the yogurt because it would have been done too late for the kids to go check on it.  The yogurt was put up in the refrigerator to wait for them to check it out.

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Luca was super excited to make the yogurt, but was the only one who didn’t want to try it.  It was a little more runny than the neighbor had hoped, but about par for the course for commercial yogurts, from everything I could tell.  Here Luca is telling us all about the yogurt and what it looked like.

I’m seriously considering looking into a yogurt maker.  I know we can make it without one, but I would feel a little happier with one.  We can always get some fresh berries and things to mix in with the yogurt, and smoothies would definitely be a good thing to add in.  I bet even Luca would love a strawberry smoothie with fresh yogurt.  It’s something to look forward to doing in the future.

As for today, I’m posting this while I’m home from work.  Luca was restless last night for the second night in a row, so I got no sleep.  Luca wanted me to stay home today, so I did.  Hopefully Luca will get settled and follow a regular sleep routine soon.  As you can see from the picture, we’ve started to keep Luca’s hair up too.  We just found out Luca’s hair is long enough to French braid, and with keeping up the routine of brushing any time Luca eats anything this helps keep hair out of the way for that too.

Also, up and coming, Luca is getting a special present for his surgery ordeal.  More on that when it arrives…  And Luca’s birthday is coming up.  Poor kid lost all those teeth just as a birthday was coming up!  It’s okay, though.  It just means we’ve got to make sure Luca gets an awesome present for being so brave.  On top of that, Luca got $20 from the tooth fairy for all of that.  It’s been an ordeal, but awesome is on it’s way.


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Making Muffins

Corde has just started on the baking thing again.  Granted, part of that was lack of anything else easy for breakfast.  She was offered the chance to bake, so she took it.  Otherwise I was going to do it myself.  Corde wants to be a baker, so I’m not surprised that she wanted to bake this morning.

Granted, this wasn’t the big, fancy baking project so many other people do.  We didn’t bust out flour and everything to bake from scratch.  We used a box with instructions.  Corde melted the butter, cracked the eggs, mixed in the milk and the mix.  I helped Luca put the muffin mix into the cups with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar, then into the oven they went.

img_20170219_102243_647Those muffins rose a surprising amount.  I didn’t expect them to puff up so much.  Had I known that I would have put less in each muffin cup to begin with.  We’re using some silicon muffin cups that we got at Ikea.  I love these things, but they’re a little toasty coming out of the oven.  I have to let them cool much longer before I can squeeze them out of the muffin cups.  I did that for the first batch because they were still far too toasty warm when I tried to pop them out.  Next time I go to Ikea I have to pick up some more of those things, that way we can do a whole dozen at once.

img_20170219_105308_066Of course, the best part of Corde making her own muffins was being able to sample them when all was said and done.  Even I got to have one.  They weren’t all that bad, and that was of no fault of Corde’s.  The muffins were plain with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top, which gave them a pretty basic taste.  Plus they were gluten-free, which is something I’m not entirely used to yet.  There’s definitely a taste difference between gluten-free and regular foods.  If it wasn’t for the fact that gluten is death for me, we’d just keep the regular stuff in the house.  All in all, for gluten-free muffins, they were pretty darn good.  All compliments to the baker!

I can honestly say that was a successful morning.  Corde got to bake.  Everyone got yummy muffins.  All together it was a pretty good start to the day.  I’d call this a victory over breakfast, and hopefully Corde will get many chances to experiment with other flavors and maybe even making them from scratch!


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Baking Goodies

It’s been a while since we’ve done anything special. Not having an oven kind of ruined our ability to make much fun stuff. Most of our cooking was for the practical purpose of meals.

Thinking back to my own childhood, one of my own favorite memories is baking cookies with my mom. Our kitchen was the old-fashioned kind, with a pantry and no cabinets or counters. My sister, my mom, and I all gathered around the kitchen where we would mix, set out the cooling racks, and decorate when we had that task in mind. My mom had these old plastic mixing bowls that were always a clue something good was coming, whether it was homemade meatballs or cookies and cupcakes. A bowl would sit out all day with butter when we would bake cookies. Sometimes she would pull out this giant tome full of yummy recipes. Other times it was just off the back of the chocolate chip package. Whatever it was, baking days were always good, especially the part where we got to lick the beaters.

When I got out on my own and had my own kids, I found baking to be a chore. I didn’t have the money for a mixer, so I did it all by hand. If the butter wasn’t quite soft enough it would be hard to mix. Even with softened butter, my arm just got tired from all the mixing. It was so much worse after I broke my elbow. I gave it up because it just wasn’t worth it for anything but special occasions.

It’s amazing what we take for granted. Having had to hand wash clothes and diapers, then put them on the line really woke me up to that. Honestly, I kind of started to prefer it. I grew to appreciate the role women had in the home and why gender roles became so essential in early life. I could easily see how women would work all day in the house. Cooking, laundry, cleaning, and minding the children was a full time job. I almost wish we could go back to those times. My time would be so much more productive. Living like that leaves me feeling like I truly accomplished something.

Recently I’ve been missing home. It’s always hard for me in the fall. The leaves would be crunching on the ground. Scarves and hats start showing up everywhere. It’s rough to live in a place where fall just means the heat of the summer has broken.

Instead of getting all sad, I’ve decided to capture other aspects of fall. I got pumpkin coffee and pumpkin eggnog for Oz. We had apple cider. Now I’m starting to bake again. I forgot how much I missed it. It’s something I can share with my kids like my mom did with me.

Today wasn’t anything special. We planned to make Reese’s peanutbutter chocolate cookies. Corde read off the ingredients and the directions. She helped me gather the ingredients and measure everything. Sander had to pour in the sugar. They all helped with the mixing. Even Luca had a turn. It was fun!

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I did all the actual baking. Things had degraded into chaos by then, and even just asking the kids to put the right sized lumps of dough on the sheet would have been a disaster, between trying to get them all the same size and letting everyone have a turn. I’m sure that was easier for my mom with only two kids and both so close in age. It will be easier when I can work in my own kitchen and let them each manage their own cookie sheet.

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The cookies turned out great. The first dozen disappeared almost as soon as they were off the cookie sheet. Surprisingly, for the first timeline my life I got about the right yield. Usually I’m short by nearly half. I guess I normally make some huge cookies!

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I still haven’t had any, but I packed up the rest of them for now. I bet we could make these last all week. It makes me wish I had an old-fashioned cookie jar to stock them all away in. That thing would never be empty. My mom always used cookie tins, which were better in a lot of ways, but I’ve always been more partial to jars.

I think from this point on I want to start baking cookies every week. I still need to do the math and see if making homemade cookies is actually cheaper, but the result is so much more enjoyable. I get time with my kids and get to see them enjoy a yummy treat, even though I’m finding I’m not much on sweets.

We may just bake again tomorrow. Oz wants white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. We have the stuff to make oatmeal scotchies. Then there’s Beekee’s Halloween chips for cookies…we really need a cookie recipe book, and a few more people to eat them all!


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Chicken Runner and Chocolate Milk

This morning was a mix of delightful and depressing. I’m a little beat by everything going on. I’m looking for answers, but it seems there are never any satisfactory ones. Life without child support has been a rough adjustment.

Today we made a tough decision. This will likely be our last week at co-op. We were on a payment plan, but we’re falling behind. We just can’t afford it right now. I hate it. I love my classes. The kids are making friends. They’ve been learning so much. Now I have to take it away from all of us. I hate to pull the plug on it, but we just can’t make it work anymore. If we can’t be granted more time, we’ll have to drop it. It’s better I drop it than get kicked out. If I voluntarily leave we may be able to come back next year, if I’m not too ashamed to return. I’ve always tried to let people see us for us, not our finances. Sadly, I can’t hold up the mask any longer.

In other sad news, we may not make the fairy festival either. It’s just over two weeks away, and that’s going to be a decent expense between gas and paying for Corde and Beekee to get in. I only get one extra free pass and Sander and Luca are free. The kids were so excited about it too. It hurts to have to take two opportunities away from them at once. I feel like I’m now the villain in one of their games.

On the other hand, the kids don’t seem to mind. Corde is happy to get back to unschooling. She wants to do her books because we already have them. Might as well, right? And she makes a good point, CPS is still involved so it would be good to be able to show improvements in their writing and math. They surprisingly enjoy it! Corde kind of wants me to go back to being her teacher. She’s surprisingly disappointed that I don’t teach any of her classes. Their social time can be filled with park days instead. It looks like I might be setting up a few and posting them on the homeschool list myself. No one else seems to be taking the initiative, so it may be good if I did. They love the co-op, but they would be just as happy to have normal social time.

Corde was too funny the other day. She moaned, “Why doesn’t Grumpy get internet? We could watch Netflix! Or even regulars TV channels? I miss my shows! I could be watching Clean House, Dirty Jobs, and Mythbusters right now. We didn’t even get to watch all the documentaries on our list. I miss my documentaries!” And she says she doesn’t like to learn…

Still, the kids are having fun. Beekee’s four-clawed creature and assassin obsession has been replaced with chicken-runners. Chicken-runners are dinosaurs about the size of a chicken, but they run really fast and eat meat. They also have feathers, because the kids decided dinosaurs look much more creepy with feathers. This new thing with dinosaurs being thought to have feathers is a bit weird to all of us, bit it makes for fun play time.

It’s funny to hear them play house too. Corde is always the mom. Luca is her baby. It’s funny hearing her complain about needing coffee in the morning to function because her kid is too crazy and she can’t keep up. I don’t drink coffee, so I have no idea where that comes from. Oz loves coffee, but rarely drinks it. She’s too funny. At least it gets her reading. Apparently her vision of being a mom involves reading a lot to her baby. Hmm…wonder where that idea came from…couldn’t possibly be me, could it?

In all of this, I could really go for a chocolate milk. It’s my drug of choice. Some people want a beer. Others crave cigarettes. I crave chocolate milk. I think it’s because, unlike those other vices, I can share chocolate milk with my kids. There’s nothing like kicking back with chocolate milk and cookies with the kids. The weather is slowly getting cooler, which means chocolate milk, lemonade, and iced tea are soon to be replaced with hot chocolate, hot tea, mulled cider, and eggnog. I forgot just how much those things meant until we couldn’t afford to splurge. Hopefully it won’t be long before we can splurge on all of us again.

So, in the wake of some saddening news, light seems to fall on us. I know if we were still in the trailer park this news would have hit them hard. Now it just means more time to run wild on the land. They can get back to those wild, unschooling ways. We can keep a little of the new stuff from co-op and if the kids want to keep going with the writing and math, we will, but we’ll have more freedom to stray from the path.

Of course, nothing is set in stone. I might just get news on Friday that they’ll work with us. Things could yet turn around. Until then, we’ll focus on what to do if the co-op will be over for us this year.


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No School Today…

So much for all my worries of getting everything done in time for co-op… Last night Corde was up until 2am. Beekee was coughing all night from allergies. That meant I got no sleep.

In a way it’s probably best that we didn’t go to co-op today. I had a chance to get all the cleaning done I needed to while we’re staying with Oz’s dad. We went to our trailer so we can start packing things up. Everything we’re keeping goes into storage this weekend. It’s hard to go through it all, but we need to. Some of the toys will be let go. Some of the clothes will go. We’re mostly looking to keep books and toys. I feel bad losing some of my stuff, but it’s better that than have the kids give up a lot.

After we determined it was too hot to work in a house with no AC any longer we moved on to survival needs. We’ve been waiting on our food stamps to come in. We were told it should be this week, but maybe next week will bring more luck. In the meant time we’re being humbled by going to food pantries. I hate it, but Sander seems to think it’s fun. At least the kids don’t hate it. They love sorting through the food when we get home. It’s like Christmas, only it’s food.

I hate admitting stuff like this, but it’s important to know homeschoolers come from all walks of life. Maybe our struggles can give another family strength. I’m not afraid of admitting hard times in our lives, especially as they make the bright spots all that better.

Sleepy kids turned out to be a good thing. Now we’re going to be back on schedule again. We have a whole bunch of food. Life is good, maybe not great, but good.

It’s funny. Heidi has this huge religious message. Trust in God and everything will be okay. It will all work out when it needs to. I’m not sure how I feel about all that, but in a way it was a message we all needed to hear. Everything’s gonna be alright.


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We May Sound Crazy, But…

I’ve been writing all my posts on my phone lately, and since it doesn’t always list all my most recent posts. I have no idea how long it’s been. I can only guess it’s been a while.

In the time we’ve been away, we inhereted two chickens only to find out we can’t keep them. My garden has gone from looking pretty pathetic to looking like it’s pretty healthy. The basil and morning glories are looking especially good. The only ones of Beekee’s plants that survived were a few carrots, one bean plant that’s barely holding on, and a very happy cucumber plant. The bugs killed the rest when we brought them inside in a hail storm. I can’t wait until we have victory over these bugs. We’ve also been very tight on money, so it’s made us consider a lot in our lives. Oz has taken a second job at Taco Bell to help balance out the finances. He’s getting run down, but he feels it’s worth it in the end.

So where does the crazy come in? I’m thinking about starting a small farm. I’ve been thinking about having a farm and an intentional community for years. I’d had the idea to do everything from a CSA to something historic and done the old fashioned way.

Of course, I’m not crazy enough to start out with a full scale farm business. I have no idea what that entails. However we do want to buy enough land that we can raise a few chickens for eggs and have our own home grown fruits, veggies, berries, and nuts. We’ll see if I like it enough to turn it into a full scale operation and not just a personal hobby and way to be sustainable.

What does this have to do with unschooling? It sounds like it’s more about me than the kids, right? The truth is it’s just as much for them as it is for me. Just in the short time my garden has existed we’ve seen pill bugs, caterpillars, fire ants, grasshoppers, butterflies, and spiders crawling around in there. We even woke up this morning to see a garden spider had made her home on the porch and stairs over the morning glories. There was an egg sac on the basil too, which has been relocated to a safer spot. When we used to have a garden in Troy we would attract sparrows, doves, humming birds, and rabbits. As a kid we had a garden and always saw squirrels investigating it as well as all kinds of birds. We even had some foxes get curious, which was rather unexpected in suburbia. Having a large garden will not only teach the kids how their food gets on the table, but gives Beekee the chance to pick his own foods for his budding interest in cooking. It teaches the kids to be a little more self-sustaining. It could drastically cut back or almost eliminate our grocery bill. If I had the guts to butcher our own animals we could possibly live without a grocery bill at all, but I think that’s a bit extreme for.out family. At most I could see us bartering for meat.

All of that can be seen as logical and practical. Growing a sustainable garden is practical. Raising chickens provides fresh eggs and they’re much more practical for kids than cats, dogs, and rodents. Sander wants to have “chicken friends” as pets. These are all life skills, maybe not for someone with no interest in gardening or farming, but it never hurts to know.

However, I’m thinking of going a little extreme with being prepared, at least as far as your average family goes. No, I won’t be featured on an upcoming episode of Doomsday Preppers or anything, but we want to be ready for emergency situations. I mean, sure, I would love to be prepared for the colapse of the US economy or war on our home soil. It could happen, and by taking the time to set up contingencies now, the plans and stores just have to be updated. However, that’s not what I’m worried about. I’m more concerned with things that are a little more proven. If they happen now or have happened before in our lives, they could easily happen again. For example, we live in territory that gets hit by tornadoes. We also face our own personal financial problems. If Oz keeps up at this pace we won’t qualify for food stamps anymore, so money troubles not only mean juggling bills, but could mean having no money for food. It never hurts to be prepared.

Realistically, there are two ways we can handle this problem. Either we can plan financially, or we can load up with supplies and alternatives. We’re chosing to do a bit of both. If we end up riding out another Great Depression, trusting the banks to be reliable seems a bit iffy. All the bank bailouts that helped spawn the Occupy Together campaigns on Wall Street and everywhere else make me a bit leery. At the same time, storing my money in my matress or in some secret cashe seems equally as risky. A break in or someone finding my cashe would just as easily make me broke as a “too big to fail” banking institution. We can only pay our rent and bills with money. They don’t accept barter at this point. I know Oz isn’t the best with money. If he has access to it, he’ll spend it, so it might be wise to accept that strictly financially preparing ourselves is going to be challenging at best. We need to be prepared for the things we can handle without money too.

So, this is where food storage comes into play. If we had a bit of a reserve we wouldn’t have to worry about whether we pay for rent or get groceries. Better yet, if we plan well we should never have to rely on junk food like Ramen or plain pasta and sauce again. Planning well should mean we can have real meals where all the necessary food groups are adequately represented. It would help my kids be ready for their own financially hard times too. Even the best financially off people could lose everything. It happened to my grandfather. It never hurts to know food won’t be on that list of worries, at least for a while.

Now, this could be as simple as stocking up on non-perishable items. Canned veggies and soup are cheap. Pasta and dried beans can be gotten for just as little. However it would be far more satisfying to can our own stuff, especially if it was stuff we grew ourselves. Canning could be a fun life skill or even hobby too if they enjoyed it.

So that’s where we’re thinking if heading these days.