My husband and I met in marching band – our first few months as friends were spent on the KU football field and in the stands, entertaining ourselves with jokes and trying to stay cool in the late Kansas heat at the games. By the time our winter games and the cold, 6am game day rehearsals in the dark rolled around, we had swapped cell phone numbers and had a hard time saying goodbye after our evening practices. Evan was a senior at the time and I a freshman (scandalous, I know!), and now the Epperson household has 7 years of KU Band gear accumulated.
KU’s School of Music was very lucky to receive swag from our sports teams that was personalized for the marching band – every year we left one of our early rehearsals with piles of t-shirts, sweatshirts, ball caps, gloves – you name it. All of our sweatshirts and t-shirts have spent years squished in a box under the bed or rumpled up in a drawer, and sorting through them this winter inspired me to turn them into something far more useful.
I’m grateful for the sewing skills and knitting skills I’m slowly acquiring, but I’m determined to only make useful items for our home. Our goal is not only to cut down on our carbon footprint but to also cut down on our homestead footprint – do I really need 7 potholders sorted by holiday, 16 scarves, 4 quilts for every season, and throw pillows so plentiful I can’t find my couch? It doesn’t make it easy for storage, moving, cleaning, or even remembering that those items exist. I don’t mind knitting or sewing items as gifts for family and friends, but utility and usefulness are a big part of my craft investments.
So here I was with two armloads of old t-shirts that we haven’t worn or looked at in 5 years that have just been taking up space and plastic storage containers under our bed, and I decided that a simple t-shirt quilt will be just the right thing to give them a new life. I picked out 12 shirts for a 3 x 4 quilt pattern and researched some ideas on Pinterest (both helpful and unhelpful all at once), and I’ve settled on a simple throw pattern with sashing to border the t-shirt squares and outside edge. It’ll be smaller than a twin-size quilt, but I can easily hang it or use it as a throw for my KU-themed guest bedroom. I’ll detail the full project in a future post, but here is a sneak-peek of an early step in the process:
The more time we spend cooking, cleaning, and gardening, the more we’re realizing that plastic is just not for us. Now, on a teacher’s salary, we can’t afford much, so the easy and inexpensive choice has been the plastic hose connector, plastic water bottle, plastic and metal bird feeder, non-stick pan with plastic handles, you name it. We can more easily afford the plastic plates over the ceramic and the plasticware and freezer baggies to store soups and chopped vegetables in the freezer.
This was all fine and dandy for about a year, and then everything started breaking. And when it rains, it pours.
Within a month, the $20 hose sprayer split and leaked, the hose connector outside cracked and sprayed water everywhere, and the squirrels knocked down my bird feeder one too many times and it finally splintered to pieces. Then next month, the non-stick pan coating started scratching off and I dropped my plastic water bottle in the parking lot and scuffed it badly. Then the tupperware (non-freezer safe, so this is my fault) that we keep garlic & butter ice cubes in had its corner busted off.
So is it really worth it to buy the cheap stuff?
Obviously, the answer is ‘no.’ The difficult part is making the choice to change how you view your spending. We teachers don’t often have extra money just lying around to invest in the expensive, celebrity-labeled cookware. What changed for us was realizing that while it was cheaper today to buy a $5 item instead of a $10 item, we were replacing the cheap item several times over in the time it would take for the item of quality to finally give in. This Christmas, we asked for more cast iron pans to get rid of the scratching nonstick, we invested in a new brass hose nozzle from the hardware store for the garden, and my new favorite bird feeder is glass with metal edges.
We’re slowly shifting our house supplies from plastics to glassware and donating the old stuff to Goodwill as much as we can – and it sure feels wonderful to be rid of the petroleum products and know that we’re investing in higher quality products as we go, even if it does mean a few more dollars up front.
At my second school, we’ve had quite the rollercoaster – while they are renovating our building, we’re housed at a different, smaller school with portables. Long, miserable story, short, the portables had mold, students were moved out of the portables to occupy the music and art rooms, music, art, and library were put on a cart for half a semester, and at the beginning of January the specials team were finally and happily moved to a new portable classrooms of our own. I had quite the adventure working off a cart and trying to prep music programs, all while on a temporary basis with no timeline (we didn’t know if we’d have a classroom back in two days, two weeks, or two months time – it turned out to be closer to three months).
Being on a cart and at the mercy of outside, completely-uncontrollable circumstances reminded me to be grateful for what I do have – unbelievably supportive colleagues, students who love me and love my lessons, a flexible curriculum, and so much more. Being back in a room, however small, makes us all very grateful for the space to spread out and grow together. I have to share two pictures from this week to celebrate the new space and all we should be thankful for:
(student faces are blurred for their privacy and protection)
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.
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!
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?
There can be too much of a good thing…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
This pattern took me 3 or 4 days while putting in approximately 4 or 5 hours total (allowing for errors, of course).
I did make some changes and errors:
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!
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.
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,