How did I do with my 13 Skills in 2013?

Last year, I posted about my plan to learn 13 new skills in 2013. Let’s see how I did. I am leaving my original remarks in regular type and following those with my comments (from 2014) in italics.
I really feel like voting is useless, so learning new skills is a good way to start doing more things yourself and relying less on the government or huge corporations (which really run the gov’t anyway). I think this is the only way we can reduce the size of the government – neither political party will choose to reduce the size of the government or take away any of its power voluntarily. As long as people are begging for the government to “bail them out” they will be only too happy to grow the behemoth that is our federal gov’t.  I’m not suggesting that we all run away and hide and grow 100% of our own food and not interact with others in our communities. On the contrary, I advocate handling sustainability locally (i.e. in our local communities as opposed to getting everything from the federal government or some huge multi-national corporation). I just think the more skills you have, the more you can help yourself and those in your community to be sustainable within that community.


Animal Husbandry

I’d like to start a flock of backyard chickens. I’d like to have a breed (or hopefully a mix of breeds) that are good foragers (because I’d like the garden to feed them instead of buying feed), are good layers, and are good meat birds, and hardy through the winter. I think it will be Rhode Island Red or another non-hybrid. I plan to use the rotational paddock system as described in Backyard Chicken Gardens. Since we will be moving to our house in July, we probably won’t be able to start from eggs, but I would like to do that at some point as an educational project for the kids (i.e. watching the chickens develop from yolks in the eggs by holding the egg up to a light).

Still waiting on this one, although we have our Derm-Dad-built ark-style tractor ready to go as soon as we order our chickens. Hopefully in the next few weeks!


I would like to have a backyard hive of bees using a Warre. So far, I have enrolled in a beekeeping class that begins in February. Since we are moving in July, I may have to wait until the following Spring to start my hive.

I am so happy to say that we did this one! You can read all about our beekeeping adventures with our Derm-Dad-built Perone hive HERE.


I would like to set up a large two or three bin system with pallets. So far, my two systems have both been too small.

Well, I technically have a compost barrel, which isn’t doing much decomposing in the winter, and truthfully didn’t do much decomposing in the warmer weather either. I guess it’s just good to be keeping that stuff out of the landfill. It was actually more of an unintentional soldier fly larvae system than a composting system. Still learning more about composting and still waiting on a three bin system from pallets. Of course, I also have my Derm-Dad-built flow-through worm bin, but we haven’t started using it since it would be too heavy to move once it’s filled with food, worms, and compost. We are waiting on this one until we get to our new house.

Building Community

I hope to involve our neighbors in a disaster plan, as well as sharing our abundance in regular times. I think this will also be an opportunity to learn more about permaculture together since most of our neighbors are the ones who first taught me about gardening.

Na-da. We have barely met any of our neighbors. Our DC-area neighborhood just isn’t as neighborly as the historic district of Mystic, Connecticut, was. Maybe once we move to our new house. . .


Since this is my last year before I start officially homeschooling (ackkk!), I would like to be the very best-trained teacher that I can be. I would like to watch a Charlotte Mason DVD that I purchased last year and attend a homeschool convention. And I’d like to read a couple of homeschooling books that I’ve accumulated but haven’t had the chance to read.

Well, we technically are waiting another year after this one to begin official homeschooling, since Charlotte Mason advocated waiting until the child is six years old to begin schooling. Of course, we are learning all the time and my goal is to make the environment our children grow up in (both in our home and just our family culture) one where circumstances provide a proper environment to breathe and learn. I did watch that CM DVD (although I should really watch it again) and I also attended a CM conference last summer (which was WONDERFUL!). And, I just signed up for the 2-day Living Education Retreat in Minnesota for July 2014 (Derm Dad will watch Adele and Everett and I’ll bring baby #3 with me) – I’m so excited!!! I am really happy with the “school” things I’ve added into our lives this year:

  • extremely informal picture study – just putting lovely art prints from books opened around the house and changing them periodically
  • extremely informal composer study – just playing lovely classical music in the background of our lives when we are home, which helps the music become familiar to the children (in fact, Adele has a lot of the music from the Nutcracker memorized)
  • nature study – we still don’t get outside as much as we should (several hours every single day, according to CM), but we got some lovely binoculars from Grammy for Christmas (thanks Grammy!) and we have been using them for some really fun bird-watching. We also have a nature study shelf that we all really enjoy (you can see it HERE)
  • nature study notebooks – I have REALLY enjoyed doing this myself (you can see a few pages from mine HERE), but Adele isn’t really ready for it yet, which is totally fine
  • art class – we just started an eight-week class from a local artist (I’ll post on that next week)
  • music class – we took a Music Together with our friends the P family last year (lots of fun, but not exactly CM)
  • reading, writing, and arithmetic – Adele has a little bin with her “school stuff” in it. I think I’ll post about this next week too, but basically it has letter tiles from Bananagrams, words from Delightful Reading (a reading book/program from, a book to practice writing letters, and a small container of beans to practice counting and super-early math. We ONLY pull out the bin if Adele decides that she wants to “do school” – it is never a scheduled activity – but she really likes learning to read so far. Many times when I am reading to her, she will just start reading sentences with words that she knows (and her word list is getting bigger!)
  • read-alouds – this is one area I am really happy about. I have been accumulating lots and lots of living books (mostly from the lists on and we have been plowing through them at an alarming pace. I should note that we’ve only been reading books from the Free Reading category since we want to save the ones selected for school-work in specific grades until we get to that year. I am also a member of the “homeschoollibrary” yahoo group, which is mostly composed of people who run “living libraries” filled with excellent books from the Renaissance of Children’s Literature (1935-1965), which of course can no longer be found in most government-run libraries. I guess I have been accumulating my own Living Library, although I don’t even have 1,000 books yet and some of the ladies in the yahoo group have ten thousand or more!

Fruit Orchard

I would like to plan and implement a permaculture food forest for our house in Mystic. It will probably take more than a year to prepare the soil though.

Na-da. Our current rental house does have a mulberry tree in the backyard, though. =)


I would like to improve my skills in sewing, perhaps getting more comfortable with garment sewing, both using patterns and also the draping method.

Well, I did complete my largest quilt yet (Adele’s quilt was QUEEN size!) and made a braided rag rug for the first time (you can see both the quilt and rug HERE),  but I didn’t get anywhere with garment sewing. Maybe in 2014? I think I’d like to get better at using my sewing skills in a homesteading way, i.e. to reduce consumerism (either making something that we need or fixing something that we already have). I already do this, but I could certainly get better at it.

Root Cellaring

I want to convert part of our basement in Mystic (or the area below our deck, adjacent to our basement) to a root cellar. I want to stock it with enough produce to last us an entire year – that will be a LOT of quarts of diced tomatoes, butternut squash, onions, garlic, celery/celeriac, carrots, saurkraut (using my new German crock (thanks, Santa!), beets. Once we get our apple trees going, I’d like to process a lot of applesauce too. Of course the applesauce and tomatoes will be canned, but in general, I’d like to have most of the stuff in our root cellar in its raw state (some raw apples packed in DRY sand would be great!).

Na-da. This one’s on hold until we live in a house that we own.

Permaculture Design

see fruit orchard above. I would like something to eat ready to harvest throughout the growing season (for us and the chickens), some cut flowers in bloom at all times throughout the growing season, and other (regular) flowers as food for pollenators throughout the year.

Not really. I did plant a bunch of organic bulbs for the bees to eat from in the Spring, though.


As far as annuals, as part of my permaculture food forest, I would like the following annuals to fill up my root cellar: lots of tomatoes for canning, lots of garlic and onions, carrots, celery, butternut squash, potatoes.

Not much gardening going on until we move.

Building a Solar Oven

Not yet, but Derm Dad is planning on this and also a brick pizza oven in 2014. He’s already looking at plans and figuring out which type he wants to build.

Organizational Skills

I need to go through the whole house before we move in July. I need to do one room at a time and PURGE!!!! I’m starting in the basement – scary!

Ha! Moving last July didn’t happen and going room-to-room through the whole house didn’t happen either! I guess that means I have to do it in 2014 =)

Soap Making

I’d like to start making soap for the shower and also a lanolin soap for washing wool (mostly diaper covers).

YAY! I did this! I even got THIS super cool new soap mold and cutter for Christmas (thanks, Derm Dad!!!!). On my first batch, I was really happy with the consistency of the soap, but since I didn’t have a mold, the shapes were awkward and it stuck to my baking pan. I can’t wait to make a fresh batch in my new molds. I made a regular bath bar, not with lanolin, but I guess that’s next on the docket. At this point, I hope to never buy any more soap!

Well, it’s a stretch, but I’d say I accomplished about five out of my original goal of 13 new skills. I do hope to learn the rest this year or next =)

Fresh Thoughts on Real Food

I would like to share this newsletter I received from the Shank family a.k.a. Your Family Farmer regarding the Hershberger case. I am just so sad at what our government is doing to farmers and to consumers.


Fresh Thoughts On Real Food

Vernon Hershberger with his wife and children.  Our government says: this family is criminal!  God says: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;”  Isaiah 5:20

Vernon Hershberger with his wife and children.
Our government says: this family is criminal!
God says: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;”  Isaiah 5:20



The Hangman

Quick. Pinch me. This is America right?

Just when we think all history-making events have occurred in, well, history, something comes along that blows all. History happens in front of us!  We pinch ourselves. Here’s what is happening even as I write. This is serious.

Vernon Hershberger, an Amish raw milk famer from Wisconsin and father of ten, is in trial right now for selling healthy food to his neighbors. If he loses, he may face over two years in prison and be stuck with crushing fines. Can you believe it? I’m not making this up. A peace-loving Amish man who has never hurt anyone is facing jail time for selling raw milk. And he only sold to his private food co-op cow share members!

This is too close to home! It’s not our family now…but if they can do this to Vernon and his family, what guarantee do we have that our day is not coming!  After all, the FDA has openly declared as one of their 2020 objectives to make raw milk illegal in more states and they are funding states initiatives to get it done. (Pssst, hey, five million federal funding for your state budget in 2013 but you must work with us to make raw milk look bad.) Here is what one writer had to say about the atrocity of it all on Monday.

“Vernon Hershberger is Wisconsin’s best-known accused criminal. Like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, Pancho Villa, Billy the Kid, and plenty of others, Hershberger has developed an “outlaw mystique.” People are flocking to Baraboo, Wisconsin to witness his trial, which begins today.

But Hershberger hasn’t killed anyone. He hasn’t even robbed anyone. His alleged crime: Milking cows and selling the milk – without cooking it first.

Actually, it isn’t Vernon Hershberger who is supposed to cook the milk. It’s the big corporate distributors, who own the commercial pasteurization systems. Hershberger is supposed to sell only to them – not to his neighbors. Guess who wrote THAT law?”  read full story

But really, why are we surprised? We were warned. Michael Schmidt (featured in the documentary Milk War) has warned us of the steady steppings of tyranny. (Michael is an Ontario raw milk farmer who is the most intelligent, classy farmer that I have ever met anywhere. He directs classical orchestra in his barn!).

Michael is intensely sensitive to encroaching tyranny. To understand why, you must know that Michael is a recent (1983) immigrant from Germany. His parents lived through Hitler’s reign of terror. Michael was born 9 years after Hitler’s death and as a boy he’d ask his parents how they ever allowed their freedoms to be taken away by the Third Reich. His parents would sadly reply that it happened so subtly. By the time the common people realized what was happening, it was too late.  Michael’s resolve and mission is to warn us before it is too late. He has been warning!

The seducing apathy that drugs us who are not yet personally strangled by government over-reach is this: We hear about these things…we know they are real…we believe they are real… yet they seem so unreal that we go into a sort of denial. I know I do. It can’t happen here! We look out our windows…the sun is shining, the grass is green, the birds are chirping and life is normal. (I guess the birds chirped in the green grass and the sun shone around the slave markets of 1850 and at the ovens of Auschwitz in 1943 too!)

We go into denial and into sit-back-do-nothing-because-it-isn’t-me mode because we are not sure exactly what to do. How can we make a difference? Someone will do something. I mean, this is America the land of the free and the brave right?

Right. But remember, the only way the free stay free is if the brave stay brave. If we lose our freedom it is because we lost our bravery first.  In the early stages of tyranny, all it takes is enough brave people to stand up and say NO! or maybe sit down and say NO!  Think: Rosa Parks…Vernon Hershberger. Think: the Quakers and the Underground Railroad. Brave Americans.

Maurice Ogden’s classic “The Hangman” comes to mind as I soberly contemplate the growing list of farmers and families who feel the cold, heavy hand of “the hangman” on their shoulders. It is always someone else. How many times have I sighed with nervous relief that was not me? It will never be me.

Delusion.  Denial.  Apathy.  Too late.

Folks! We must wake up and know that Vernon is not alone in feeling the hangman’s hand. Even if he escapes this time, this will not be the end nor will Vernon be the last. The Shanks at The Family Cow may be next. The form of attack may be different but the motive and end result will be the same.

Or… you and your family may be next.

There have been numerous instances recently where armed food police/militia have raided civilian homes in search and destroy missions of “illegal foods” (read, local, non-processed, non-industrial food)  In some cases swat team style have held families mothers and children at gunpoint for hours while they raided and destroyed their family’s entire supply of stored food.

What are the answers to this urgent Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Food Rights crisis? How can we help? We can’t all go to Vernon’s Trial. We can’t all be Vernon’s customers and support their family through purchases. Most of us can’t even volunteer to milk Vernon’s cows if he does go to jail or while his family is tied up wrangling government red tape and stress.  So what can we do?  What can brave moms and dads do to make a difference…to help more farmers than just Vernon? What can brave Americans do to help our whole community of connected raw milk farms and families?

Here is the best thing I know you can do. Link up with the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund. (FTCLDF) I know of nothing better to advise you. There is power in numbers. There is hope when we all work together! There is liberty in linking arms for a higher truth and justice. The fine people at FTCLDF make this very thing their life’s work. They are in Wisconsin right now at Vernon’s side. Mark McAfee, David Gumpert, Joel Salatin, and Liz Reitzig are all there too supporting the FTCLDF team advising and defending Vernon. Do your research… there is no better or more effective organization out there protecting farms and moms.

Maybe you think you can’t afford to join the FTCLDF for Vernon. But please do it for us. Our family may be next. I’m dead serious. We have a foreboding sense of urgency. If you cannot do it for us either, we do understand. But please, join at least for yourself and for your children.

The hangman takes one at a time!

Soberly ~ Your Farmers,
Edwin and Dawn Shank & Family


By Maurice Ogden

Into our town the hangman came,
smelling of gold and blood and flame.
He paced our bricks with a different air,
and built his frame on the courthouse square.

The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
only as wide as the door was wide
with a frame as tall, or a little more,
than the capping sill of the courthouse door.

And we wondered whenever we had the time,
Who the criminal? What the crime?
The hangman judged with the yellow twist
of knotted hemp in his busy fist.

And innocent though we were with dread,
we passed those eyes of buckshot lead.
Till one cried, “Hangman, who is he,
for whom you raised the gallows-tree?”

Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye
and he gave a riddle instead of reply.
“He who serves me best,” said he
“Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree.”

And he stepped down and laid his hand
on a man who came from another land.
And we breathed again, for another’s grief
at the hangman’s hand, was our relief.

And the gallows frame on the courthouse lawn
by tomorrow’s sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way and no one spoke
out of respect for his hangman’s cloak.

The next day’s sun looked mildly down
on roof and street in our quiet town;
and stark and black in the morning air
the gallows-tree on the courthouse square.

And the hangman stood at his usual stand
with the yellow hemp in his busy hand.
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike,
and his air so knowing and business-like.

And we cried, “Hangman, have you not done,
yesterday with the alien one?”
Then we fell silent and stood amazed.
“Oh, not for him was the gallows raised.”

He laughed a laugh as he looked at us,
“Do you think I’ve gone to all this fuss,
To hang one man? That’s the thing I do
To stretch the rope when the rope is new.”

Above our silence a voice cried “Shame!”
And into our midst the hangman came;
to that mans place, “Do you hold,” said he,
“With him that was meat for the gallows-tree?”

He laid his hand on that one’s arm
and we shrank back in quick alarm.
We gave him way, and no one spoke,
out of fear of the hangman’s cloak.

That night we saw with dread surprise
the hangman’s scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute,
the gallows-tree had taken root.

Now as wide, or a little more
than the steps that led to the courthouse door.
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
half way up on the courthouse wall.

The third he took, we had all heard tell,
was a usurer…, an infidel.
And “What” said the hangman, “Have you to do
with the gallows-bound…, and he a Jew?”

And we cried out, “Is this one he
who has served you well and faithfully?”
The hangman smiled, “It’s a clever scheme
to try the strength of the gallows beam.”

The fourth man’s dark accusing song
had scratched our comfort hard and long.
“And what concern,” he gave us back,
“Have you … for the doomed and black?”

The fifth, the sixth, and we cried again,
“Hangman, hangman, is this the man?”
“It’s a trick”, said he, “that we hangman know
for easing the trap when the trap springs slow.”

And so we ceased and asked no more
as the hangman tallied his bloody score.
And sun by sun, and night by night
the gallows grew to monstrous height.

The wings of the scaffold opened wide
until they covered the square from side to side.
And the monster cross beam looking down,
cast its shadow across the town.

Then through the town the hangman came
and called through the empty streets…my name.
I looked at the gallows soaring tall
and thought … there’s no one left at all

for hanging … and so he called to me
to help take down the gallows-tree.
And I went out with right good hope
to the hangman’s tree and the hangman’s rope.

He smiled at me as I came down
to the courthouse square…through the silent town.
Supple and stretched in his busy hand,
was the yellow twist of hempen strand.

He whistled his tune as he tried the trap
and it sprang down with a ready snap.
Then with a smile of awful command,
He laid his hand upon my hand.

“You tricked me Hangman.” I shouted then,
“That your scaffold was built for other men,
and I’m no henchman of yours.” I cried.
“You lied to me Hangman, foully lied.”

Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye,
“Lied to you…tricked you?” He said “Not I…
for I answered straight and told you true.
The scaffold was raised for none but you.”

“For who has served more faithfully?
With your coward’s hope.” said He,
“And where are the others that might have stood
side by your side, in the common good?”

“Dead!” I answered, and amiably
“Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me.
“First the alien … then the Jew.
I did no more than you let me do.”

Beneath the beam that blocked the sky
none before stood so alone as I.
The Hangman then strapped me…with no voice there
to cry “Stay!” …for me in the empty square.

“…I did no more than you let me do.”


Read More about the case:
Author David Gumpert’s Blog
Vernon’s Family and Trial Site
Raw Milk Food Terrorism

More Prepping for Christians: Is Prepping Fearful or Faithful?

I thought THIS post from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship was really well written.

I also found two more from Homestead Revival: Is Prepping Biblical? and The Spiritual Aspect of Prepping Biblically

You can read the rest of the posts (written by others) on this topic HERE.  I think this topic has been pretty thoroughly covered. I am so happy to see so many people who I respect coming to the same conclusion:

Soul first, Body second

(Just to be clear, this means the most important preparation is for your soul – to get right with God; once you have that priority squared away, you can and should move toward preparing for your body – getting healthy, eating whole foods, storing food, etc.).


Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments – you don’t have to agree =)


And, just for fun, here’s a little home video of Adelie-pie practicing on Derm Dad’s guitar

A Christian’s Point of View on Permaculture

Another post in this topic, this time from a New Zealander:

A Christians point of view on Permaculture

p.s. For any readers unfamiliar with terminology like prepping or permaculture, I am simply describing a transition to new ways of thinking about the future. I.e. not assuming the current model of “Just In Time” delivery will always be there (food, electricity, etc.). I think it honors God for us to be prepared, but I am NOT suggesting that we should be AFRAID. Also, I am not advocating putting our faith in preps or ANYTHING but God Himself. In my opinion prepping and permaculture flow from a full trust in God.

Please feel free (as always) to share your thoughts in the comments! Even if you completely disagree!

If you want to read the rest of the posts on this general topic, click HERE