Fire & Fuel

We’re one day in to the latest icepocalypse – Winter Storm Jupiter hit the Midwest yesterday (Friday) and we’re all battening down the hatches. Fortunately, we’ve only seen a couple hours of freezing drizzle in the past twenty-four hours and it’s just made the driveways and sidewalks a tad slick, but they say we’re in for it tonight and tomorrow.

The predictions about this storm were getting worse and worse on Wednesday and Thursday, and most of northeast Kansas schools closed to brace for impact on Friday. My school district didn’t close, and the past couple days have made me really worried for our preparedness, despite a cache of disaster and readiness supplies and food in our basement. Our rental has electric heat and we have no backup generator, like the other 99.9% of Americans (or so it feels). The news stations said we should be preparing for days without power – we’re forecasted to get around a half inch of ice (which apparently adds 280 pounds of weight to power lines). I’m not concerned about the first several hours or even day without power, but what if this does stretch to days? Kansas in January is miserably cold – my birthday is never without layers of coats and scarves and hats – so the worry really started kicking in on Thursday and Friday.

img_1053
A view from our front room before Christmas – Kansas swings from subzero temperatures in winter to over 100 degrees in the summer.

Beginning around two years ago, my now-husband and I started collecting preparedness and prepping supplies. Evan’s approach has been one inspired by the idea that someday we might have to start over as a species, and my approach has been more natural disaster-centered. (Believe it or not, I won an award as a 6-year-old for my county’s emergency preparedness contest – 1st place for my crayon drawing of my basement during a tornado.) Together, those ideas have created quite the stash of emergency blankets, seed starter kits, compasses, toilet paper, an ax, batteries, tools, matches, water purification tablets, you name it. We’re by no means ready, but we have plenty of materials to keep us relatively safe, full-bellied, and able to piece together life in a tent.

…except for if that emergency is in a Kansas winter.

I have blankets, two emergency blankets (which you can apparently tape up on your walls to reflect your heat throughout the room if you lose power), a sleeping bag, and a few assorted candles and flashlights. If we lose power for days at a time, we have no heat besides sitting in our cars – no fireplace, no propane heat (not safe for indoors anyway), no wood stove.

Three years ago, at our old rental house, a terrible thunderstorm split a tree and ripped down our electricity line to the house. We were without power for close to 72 hours in middle of a sweltering July – the house stayed at 85 degrees at night. We kept the wood from that accursed tree for use in our firepit. So now, faced with the prospect of no power for a couple of days, the only way we can generate our own heat, cook food, or heat water would be to start a fire with the wood from that darn tree – outside on the firepit, unfortunately.

Being the brilliant people we are, we realized that this was our only option at 7pm on Thursday before the storm was supposed to arrive at noon the next day. So here we went to the backyard, bundled up with long underwear and boots and coats, to chop firewood in the dark, 25-degree night. (I told you that we are brilliant.) While Evan chopped, I started a fire and worked on grating some soap for our laundry soap, and it was surprisingly warm!

img_1253

Two hours later, we (Evan) had chopped up a trashcan’s worth of kindling and logs, happily drank down two coffees and two beers, grated a full bar of soap, and experienced how warm a fire can keep you even in the dead of winter.

Now, that being said, we’ve definitely put a fireplace (or space to have a wood stove installed) on our house shopping list, because if something does happen in the future I don’t want to be caught without heat or a fuel source of some kind. Prepping and being ready for an emergency or natural disaster only goes so far when you can’t keep your house warm – and if being warm and safe isn’t essential to survival and a good homestead, then what is?

 

DIY Christmas

There can be too much of a good thing…

img_0702

This is only a tiny glimpse into our pantry of canned goods after this past summer. Even come December, we were still overflowing with jars of pickles, jalapeños, strawberry & blackberry jam, sauerkraut, and hot sauce. We used Christmas as a way to spread the wealth – we brought a crate of canned goods and let our families pick their favorites. They were delighted – and we are delighted that our hard work is being utilized, appreciated, and eaten.

Stations in the Music Classroom

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-9-10-19-pm
Here is a free download from my TPT site – my 1st graders love composing with this worksheet at stations during the winter!

Ah, stations… I hear mixtures of reactions when I bring this up or see it come up in Facebook groups online. I love using stations in my classroom! As so many of you know, music teachers do not get much downtime during our lessons – we often have our songs memorized, transitions perfected, dancing shoes on, mallets in one hand and a Kindergartener’s shoelaces in another… we are BUSY! Each class is like a presentation in and of itself, and as a young teacher there was certainly a lot of anxiety that came along with it, what with being in the spotlight for 7 hours straight.

Stations are a great way to take the focus off you and put the focus on them. You have to do the work picking your stations, your focus, preparing the materials, and prepping the students, but once you’ve done the work backstage the students can really shine. For my Kodaly-inspired classroom, I utilize stations as a way to practice their concepts. Once I have prepared my students with experiencing a concept without the formal label and symbol, we present the concept with its true musical name, and then we begin practicing – putting the new symbol into the music.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-9-25-18-pm
Quaver Music has a wide variety of interactive resources – this one allows students to build rhythm patterns including sixteenth notes and add backing tracks with which to practice.

What grade levels do I use stations with? I use stations with every grade level, from practicing musical opposites in Kindergarten, form in 2nd grade, sol-mi in 1st grade, to advanced rhythm patterns in 5th grade. You know your kiddos – I know that one of my Kindergarten classes can work more independently while the other needs much more pre-teaching and modeling to be successful. I also know that my 3rd graders LOVE TALKING – and working as a whole group gets derailed easily with all of the chatter, we all tend to be more successful when I let them work with each other in small groups.

How do I set up my stations? Carefully! I don’t do this overnight – but once you’ve done the prep work a couple times, they snap together quickly.

  1. I prefer to pick one concept for all stations to practice – this lets them delve deep into one concept and set a firm foundation.
  2. It’s easiest for me to control and prep 4 stations, and I like to diversify their practice – with some shifting based on the concept, I like to choose 4 stations from that focus on composition, listening, reading, iPad, or instrument practice. Once I’ve chosen my concept, I spend some time looking through my resources, Teachers Pay Teachers, my flashcard sets, iPad apps, and such, and choose station assignments that break the concept into those different categories.
    • For example, if we’re practicing ‘re’, I’ll choose four stations of material to focus on different aspects of re:
      • Composition or writing practice with a worksheet (Lindsay Jervis has some wonderful “Ready, Set, Print!” activity pages that have composition and writing practice for many different melody concepts)
      • iPad/app practice – in a picture below, you’ll see an app called DoReMi Zoo that lets students play a keyboard labeled with the solfege pitches. I’ll often combine flashcards with this app so students can play pitches or notation printed on the flashcards to aurally connect to the visual printing
      • Listening station – students will practice aurally identifying re in musical passages
      • Hands-on – with a SmartBoard activity or just using play erasers to build melodies on a staff, students practice re kinesthetically
    • There are lots of different directions to take stations – I believe that giving my students a variety of ways to explore their visual, aural, and kinesthetic learning most solidifies the concept in their minds and bodies.
  3. I see my students for 45 minutes every three days – I spent 10-15 minutes explaining and modeling stations on the first day, then they have 10-15 minutes at each station for the remainder of the 1st class period and the duration of the 2nd. I put up a timer on my screen so the students can track how they are using their time and how long is left at each station.
  4. I also pick their groups and post their names on cards so they know who they are working with – this lets me control behavior issues and balance my students by their abilities. I tend to use the same groups throughout the year unless there are big issues – we don’t use stations every week by any means, so they don’t get tired of them. I make a single card for each group and list all of their names, and then I post these on my whiteboard underneath the station number, like so:

Station #2

John, Paul, George, & Ringo

My young ones often forget where they should go next, even with the stations numbered around the room and their friends to follow. I move the cards as they change stations, so they know to go check the board when they’ve forgotten where they should be. This saves me time herding my little ones around!

Here are some more photos of my students at work at their stations – I’ve captioned them with their concepts and details on the resources!

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-9-08-19-pm
Composing with sixteenth notes – “Pick a Pumpkin” from my own TPT store.
screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-9-08-31-pm
Sol, la, and mi flashcards from an Ickle Ockle set from Music a la Abbott and a handy app called DoReMi Zoo – students practice playing the flashcards using the solfege on the keyboard in the app.
screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-9-08-26-pm
Linda McPherson has a fantastic set of interactive powerpoints that are perfect for listening stations! Here, the students are practicing identifying sixteenth notes, but she has plenty of resources for pitches and more.

With a little thought, time, and creativity, stations are a perfect way for students to learn while they play and create. I love to let my students practice their craft while I get to step back and watch the magic unfold – they always surprise me with their thoughtfulness and kindness, especially towards each other. It also gives me the freedom to focus on the students who need the help and support them as they need. Take your time, explore your ideas, try something out – and have fun!

Strumming Along

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-8-40-14-pm

I’ve long been a musician and a crafter, but I haven’t been able to combine these skills for quite some time! This lovely Cordoba ukulele was my Christmas gift from my husband – I’ve played guitar for years and I’ve recently discovered the wonderful ways ukuleles can be used in the elementary music classroom – the instrument is small for small hands, nylon strings don’t hurt nearly as badly as steel, a soprano uke is pitched at the same level as their treble voices, and ukuleles perfect for the classroom run around $50! I’m pursuing some grants to secure some for my classroom, but in the meantime, I felt that getting one in my hands would be a great way to get comfortable before the kids get theirs.

We traveled to my mother-in-law’s in Wichita for the holidays, and when we weren’t playing Resident Evil 4 with Evan’s cousin I often had my ukulele in my hand. I even tossed it in the car when we went to his dad and stepmom’s house! All that travel made me start to worry, though – I ought to get a case to keep it safe from nicks and dings!

A quick check at a local guitar store (the day after Christmas, naturally) and they proved to be fresh out of cases. Then I had the idea – why not sew my own?

Now, let’s pause for a moment – I’m sure anybody who reads this who has a sewing machine collecting dust just rolled their eyes at the seemingly-tedious and difficult idea. Not so, my friend! I found a fantastic pattern from Pinterest that did not let my amateur skills down!

My sewing skills are as follows:

  1. Pin fabric
  2. Turn on and use iron
  3. Turn on and thread sewing machine, including bobbin
  4. Back-stitch
  5. Change the stitch setting from straight to zig-zag
  6. Rip out stitches
  7. Not being obsessed with perfect seams and lines

As you can see from my skills, I need some pretty simple patterns that set me up for success. Ashley at Mommy by day, Crafter by night made this beautiful pattern tutorial that has you create your own pattern by tracing your ukulele onto a piece of paper and adding inches here and there to fit everything snugly.

IMG_1163.JPG
Yes, you spotted my sewing companion: Lady Grantham from Downton Abbey!

This pattern took me 3 or 4 days while putting in approximately 4 or 5 hours total (allowing for errors, of course).

img_1162
I spent around $20 at JoAnn’s on fabric and the zipper!

I did make some changes and errors:

  1. The tutorial calls for duck cloth to strengthen the case – I skipped this to make it easier to sew (thinner material with fusible fleece and cotton fabric only) and because I didn’t mind a softer case.
  2. I ironed my fusible fleece to my pattern pieces instead of quilting them – my machine is simpler and doesn’t have the quilting ability, but I don’t mind!
  3. I skipped the steps about the piping – keeping it simple for some of my first projects.
  4. I also messed up and did not leave enough long fabric for the sides of my ukulele case – I had to adjust and sew some scraps together and use extra fabric scraps I had lying around (the original plan was to make it all birds on the front and all mint-green patterned on the inside with the coral for the case handle)
img_1164
Halfway done…

The seams aren’t perfect and my edges were rough, but I am so proud of the result – and my husband is, too! I wish you the best of luck on this project – I hope you will enjoy it as much as I!

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 8.52.49 PM.png
My finished project!
Quilted Ukulele Case Tutorial.jpg
Click here to visit Mommy by Day, Crafter by Night and her lovely ukulele tutorial!

Welcome!

Welcome! This is now my online journal for all the world to see – I’ve started this a few days after New Years and hopefully all the world will get to see my adventures through teaching and gardening, and not just for the end of the January. (Ha!)

My name is Megan, and my husband, Evan, and I were married on a stunningly-beautiful day in April of 2016. Even though this was our first Christmas married, six years has brought us together so closely and made us the best of friends! This year, we embark on the adventure of buying our homestead – in 2017, I turn 25, continue my third year of teaching elementary music, and begin the trying and thrilling process of establishing our homestead! We begin the house-shopping process this spring, looking for our own slice of (likely DIY and fixer-upper) heaven.

This blog has two purposes – to journal and connect others to my life as an elementary music teacher, and to document our work and branch out as homesteaders. Now, a music teacher seems simple enough (though I think we’ll soon see that there are so many avenues and opportunities to explore through blogging!), but what does “homesteading” for us entail? In short – providing for ourselves. 

  • The biggest thing: growing our own food!
  • Canning, preserving, and storage of our food
  • Reusing & recycling items
  • Crafting & creating our own goods (I sewed a ukulele case this weekend, and I am very much a novice sewer!)
  • Eating sustainably and humanely (we are quasi-vegetarian for ethical reasons)
  • Providing our own energy (very much a homestead goal & future investment)
  • Sourcing food & goods locally whenever possible (you can find us at our local co-op every weekend!)

Now, I know that the immediate picture that most of you have of my husband and I fit quite the stereotype of a “hippie” or “farmer” – coveralls and ponytails, a sheepdog, Foxfire books, messy sheds, very little hot water, and no internet. Well, we don’t fit into a category easily – I often pair Payless flats with my professional attire & pearls to work and carry a vegan designer bag, but I just as easily cuddle up in my organic socks and Pinterest with a glass of organic wine while watching Downton Abbey. Evan loves to show off his collection of sport coats, ties, and boots while at work and is always more comfortable in a shirt and tie than he is in pajamas! (That being said, I picked up his belated Christmas present from the post office today – natural, handmade, sheepskin slippers!) We love baking our own bread, hand-grinding our own coffee, mixology, sewing simple projects, turning the compost bin, up-cycling furniture, watching documentaries or BBC comedies, or simply cuddling our fur babies (don’t worry, there will be plenty of posts on them to come). I think you’ll find that neither Evan nor I, nor even this blog, will fit the stereotype – and I hope that means even more people can come to know and learn from our home and my teachings.

Read, smile, enjoy, and (hopefully) learn from us – and don’t forget to sing to your plants! (Even if it is for your enjoyment rather than theirs…)

Happy New Years,

Megan