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Middle School Years

The scene: An eight grade boy sitting beside a fifth grade boy at the kitchen table.

Tension? Oh yes, there is some tension.

Giggles? Yep.

Uncontrollable chit-chat? How’d you guess?

It’s hard to believe that we have finished two years of homeschooling at the Barker Academy of Higher Learning. After last year’s start, stop, and restart execution of home education, I thought I’d keel over from emotional turmoil. Turns out . . . our decision to keep the boys home was a good move.

We are now preparing for our third year. This year the boys will be studying Rome to the Reformation from My Father’s World. The boys are diligently working through the summer with a few breaks here and there. Tristan is finishing up his Pre-Algebra and we are quickly drawing closer to the final week of Creation to the Greeks.

Although I am the Mean ol’ School Marm, I have decided that we all need a break before diving into our study of Rome.

Now, quit the chit-chat and get back to work!

Your favorite teacher,

Mrs. Barker


Where’d the Baby Go?

As we were driving to my parent’s house over the weekend, I looked back and saw my baby and Hank, the head of ranch security. Here is a then and now photo of these two guys. Hank was 5 weeks old then and now he is almost 7 months old.

Pork: The Other White Meat

What do you call a whole pig that has taken a trip to see the butcher? A pork.

Matt got the call that there was one pork ready for pick up. Not a pork chop, mind you. A pork. I’ve never had to pick up a pork before. Yet, the boys and I are taking a trip with our lovely neighbor Tammy to do just that. We’re taking either Nancy P. or Hillary C. and putting her into our nearly empty freezer.

I am so excited! Wait . . .  that seems weird. But, alas, I am excited to have a freezer full of food. A freezer full of pork.

Our neighbors raised these two pigs. I remember when the girls came home. They were so cute. But how they did grow! And how they could eat! They ate like . . . pigs? Yes, like pigs. There is something very special about knowing where your food comes from. Usually, I focus on the fruits and vegetables, but meat is no less important. A lot of care, time, and compassion went into raising the pigs. We are grateful to be able to partake in this pork endeavor.

On arrival . . .

We paid for our pork and many boxes were loaded up into the vehicle. Many boxes of goodness.

Thankfully, our freezer had room to spare. We had a few things that needed to be consolidated or relegated to another shelf (a.k.a. smashed together to make room for the good stuff).

Sausage – Bacon – Ham Steaks – Ham Hocks – Pork Chops – Ham – And other delicious cuts of Porky Pig

I will say, that we have had some bacon, sausage, and pork chops. Those were the best pork chops I’ve ever eaten. Scrumptious.

*Please note that the packages say “Not For Sale.” I’m pretty sure that means “Don’t share.” I wouldn’t want to break the rules.




Tailoring the Flock

Last weekend Matt, with some cursory help from the boys, processed several of our roosters. Sadly, it had to be done. Tristan and I thought we would be prepared to let them go, but we had NAMED them and you never name the ones that are going to get the ax. It really does help if you don’t think about them personally.

Tristan seemed all geared up to do some farm work: The processing of chickens. It didn’t work out quite as he had expected. I think he stayed for one and then decided he needed to do something in the house. Gavin, on the other hand, stayed for a little longer. He was assessing the situation and watching the sequence of events.

Thanks to our neighbor John, Matt was able to process the “roos” very efficiently. You see, our neighbor had demonstrated his technique to Matt and also the age old method of plucking out the feathers. Wow! Big difference. But, I will stop right there.

The Flock Today

Almost immediately, our flock took on a different feel. Pebbles, the remaining rooster, took charge of his ladies. Let me say this . . . he has a big responsibility and knows it. He used to be a pretty relaxed guy who liked to show off his new found crow. Cock-a-doodle-do! Now he is very concerned about the well-being of the hens. Personally, I think he likes to just boss them around because he can. There’s no one around that can stop him now.

Now that is absolute power.

However, he is still a cool guy. He is still a tyrant, but not a mean one.

The hens obviously have to ask him for permission to do anything. Before the flock size decreased, they were all coming and going as they pleased. Now, he tells them where they can go and when.

But, you know what? I have also seen that the hens get along with each other much better. Actually, they all seem to be a closer family. I’m guess that they all sit around complaining about that bossy rooster. And we all know that common ground is unifying.

For now, we are patiently awaiting the arrival of our first egg. I’m hoping that Silver (Silver Leghorn) shows us what she can do pretty soon. Besides, she’s the type to run around telling everyone what she made. It will make her day.

Since we are left with one rooster, to protect and serve, we decided that the rest of our hens needed names. It seems that the ones that had names already earned them while they were still under the heat lamps. Here are the names of our ladies:

Buff-Buff or Buttercup (Buff Orpington)

Silver  (Silver Leghorn)

Sally (Salmon Favorelle)

Elvis or Elvira once we determined he was a she (Cream Brabanter)

Olga & Svetlana (Russian Orloffs)

Henny Penny & Frenchie (Copper Marans)

Dirty & Esmerelda (Rode Island Reds)

Duchess & Lady or affectionately called the “Brahma Mamas” (Light Brahmas)

Pebbles (Light Brahma)

The Fiasco of Indoor Seeds

I started seeds indoors a long time ago. I mean, they are old enough to be planted outside. The problem is that they all sprang up nicely and then started dying. The soil was so dry and I watered them regularly. After just about everything died and I tried to nurse them back, I took some time to do a little research. I found the problem.

Actually, there were two main problems. First, I needed to hydrate the soil before I planted. I have never had to do this before. Germany is humid and dry soil, indoors was never an issue. The second problem was how I was watering. I had always watered from the top. That’s just sort of how you usually water plants, right? Well, not when you’re starting seeds in cells and indoors. I learned to pour water into the tray and let the plants drink for about 30 minutes. If you pre-moisten the soil before you plant, the water in the tray will be soaked up quite easily. BRILLIANT!

Let me just say that these two quick fixes have already proven to be very helpful. My sick seedlings came back and I replanted some with hydrated soil and guess what? They are so healthy and lush. I replanted some herbs a few days ago and they are already coming up. The best part is that the soil never looks dusty.

Another trick I learned was to disregard that plastic dome. I thought that was the best part of the tray thingy; having a mini greenhouse. But no. I don’t even use that thing anymore. The bottom watering trick is essential for growing seeds in a dry climate.

Lessons learned.

Memoirs of an Arizona Gardener

I lived in Germany for many years. Each year, I made it my goal to get acquainted with the earth. The first year I dabbled with bulbs. The second year was the year of the strawberry. The last two years in Germany, we had quite the garden going. We had tomatoes, green beans, peas, tons of strawberries, a sunflower, carrots, tons of herbs, tomatillos, and more. We succeeded in just about everything we grew. We did have a little trouble with cucumbers because the slugs kept eating the blossoms. My point is that it was so easy to grow food. Throw out some seeds and then you’d have a plant.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2013 . . .

We moved to Arizona and bought a house with a garden bursting with yummy goodness. I thought, “Great. My garden is going to be even better next year.” Then, I decided to plant a winter garden.

I planted a winter garden. And then, I replanted it. And then . . .  I  . . . replanted it . . . again. Actually, I kept replanting all fall and winter long. I even broke down and bought some little plants to put into the garden. My winter garden is best described as an epic failure.

Why? Well, I was convinced rabbits were eating all my seedlings. I would see all my seedlings popping up and the next morning when I went to water my budding garden, all the seedlings would be mowed down. The first leaves would all be missing and little itty bitty stems would remain. And then, the next day the stems would be gone entirely.  Rabbits, mice, rats, birds, or lizards. You pick.

This happened every single time I planted my kale, lettuce, spinach, and such. Then, I finally bought some kale and lettuce and planted it. I thought that since they were sizable plants that they might have a fighting chance. They did. For about a week. The kale seemed to slowly disappear. I felt like I was in an episode of Looney Tunes.

We put up a garden fence to keep out the rabbits. This was in addition to the woven wire fence around my yard that is reenforced with chicken wire. This did nothing to keep my garden vermin-free. Then, I decided to walk the perimeter of my yard and find out exactly where the rabbits where coming in. I found all kinds of holes and spaces where they were coming in. I piled rocks and filled in holes and did all kinds of stuff to keep them out. By the end of winter I had three lettuce plants and they were looking really bad. And of course, I found two rabbits in my yard! They could get in, but couldn’t find their way out. Annie took care of them for me, but the trend hasn’t ended.

Now it’s spring, and I’ve planted again. I guess I’m hoping that the rabbits will find tastier treats outside the yard now. I put rat and mouse traps in the garden and have caught nothing. I planted a few weeks ago and have had quite a lot of seedlings coming up. And guess what? I’ve noticed that they are starting to disappear again!

I started some seeds indoors (another fiasco). I’m afraid to plant them out in the garden. I have rosemary, parsley, cilantro, and celery outside. They seem to be just fine. It’s everything else I plant. I even have carrots and nothing has been eating them!

I’ll be honest. I have never had this much difficulty in having a garden. How do farmers do it? There’s no way to keep rabbits, mice, birds, and lizards from destroying your garden.

I’ve replanted my spring garden for the second time this year. This doesn’t include all the time and effort that I dedicate to the indoor seedlings. I’m pretty sure that this will be the last time for a while, with the exception of planting my indoor babies outside. I’m running out of motivation and feel discouraged. Apparently, I’m really great at growing marigolds, mesquite trees, and crab grass in the garden – all reseeded & not planted by me, of course.

Re-seedingly yours,



Market on the Move

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Matt and I braved the wind this morning to stock up on veggies. We recently discovered that the Market on the Move comes to our area. What a great opportunity to stock up on fresh vegetables at a low, low, low price. A semi truck unloads boxes upon boxes of vegetables. I mean boxes! Then many workers help direct you through an assembly-line. We stood in line and were handed two boxes. Then we paid $10 to have a go-around. You can pay $20, $30, etc. and then receive the […]

The New Baby

This gallery contains 4 photos.

We have a new little baby boy in our lives. He was born January 1st, 2014 and he bites. We named this little bundle of teeth, Hank. We named him after a character in one of Gavin’s favorite series of books, Hank the Cow Dog. He is a Blue Heeler (a.k.a. Australian Cattle Dog). Before bringing him home, the boys built Hank and Annie a dog house. I only agreed to have another canine if they stayed outside. Since our weather is mild in the winter, this is acceptable. Matt […]

Release the Beasts

Sunday was the first day we let the chickens free range. It was exciting and we were a little apprehensive.

We were concerned about a host of things:

Will they find their way back to the coop? Answer: Yes, they were tentative about leaving the run and made several trip to and fro. They did have a little trouble figuring out where to go in and out. The doorway was confusing and remains troublesome for a few.

Will they fly over the fence? Answer: This hasn’t been an issue yet. They don’t venture far from The Big House and appear to only use their feathers to pick up speed or threaten others.

Won’t something eat them? Answer: Possibly and very likely. We have a few brazen hawks in the area that perch just above our property. Tristan has thrown rocks at one. The chickens also have great hawk eye-sight. They see them flying around and they shriek, run, and hide. Plus, we’re hoping one of our roosters takes the role of big boss. We have one now that I’ve noticed acting roo-like. I’ve noticed a few of them actually scare off the little LBJs (little brown jobbers).

So far so good. We keep an eye on them when they are out. Earl Grey met them on Tuesday. He was out prancing about in the garden and had an informal introduction to The Professor (the Blue Ameraucana), with two layers of fence between them. They both seemed to be thinking, “What are you?”

Annie is not too sure what this free range thing is all about. First, the chickens were nicely packaged in a chicken run and now they get to roam around the big backyard. Life just isn’t fair!