The Good Life Map

Isn’t life interesting?  How it changes and ebbs and flows from one experience to another?  Always opening doors to dreams and lessons and then moving us through to the next bend.  It all can be breathtakingly beautiful in its innate simplicity and flow.

I went for a job interview yesterday.  I got it, but realized that I really do not want to go back to working the same old things I have done off and on since I was sixteen.  I gave my apothecary to my daughter, Shyanne.  Yes, I am tired of expensive printers, and labels, and sales taxes, and such but I gave it to her because I can think of no better gift to give her than a career and a set business.

“I don’t know what I can do.  I need to do something!” I mentioned to a friend over coffee about jobs.  “You can always teach,” was her reply.

I had said (oh, how many times have I said things and then changed my mind?!) that I didn’t want to teach anymore.  Why?  Because my classes are three months long!  It then occurred to me that I made that up, I can change it!  Ha!  We forget our own power of decision.  I will be teaching a six week Certified Herbalist Course.  I’ll start each week with tea, a bit of ceremony and camaraderie.  They will learn all the important things they need.  Ditch the text book.  Teach them real herbalism.  Make it less expensive so it can help more people.  And it helps me.

We often forget the power of decisions.  We can manifest anything we wish, but we are also at the mercy of fate.  So, make simple changes to make your life better, and breathe.  Your gifts are your map to your good life.

Grammie School

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It used to be referred to as “Mommy School”.  That is what Andy used to call it.  He loved workbooks and extra reading.  We loved to visit museums, art galleries, and book stores.  This was when he was five or six.  He would tell his teacher all about Mommy School.

But time found us getting busier and I with three little ones and Mommy School was limited.  When after a year of high school and Andy struggling out of lack of interest I decided to homeschool all three of them.  We visited the teacher supply store and went crazy buying workbooks and educational toys and various items like stickers. (Gosh, who doesn’t like stickers?)

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Andy was fifteen, Shyanne was twelve, and Emily was eleven so their interests and levels were different so as we made our way through we became more of “unschoolers”.  Unschooling is when each kid devours every topic they love, whether it be cooking or pirates.  In each topic they learn valuable skills such as reading, writing, spelling, history, science, and math.  They also have time to indulge in arts and music.  Because they were home with us they also learned what we deemed important, not the slanted school system’s ideas.  They learned about herbalism, animals, agriculture, our ideas on spirituality and they were left to fill in the blanks for themselves.  They were able to make their own paths with a well rounded base.

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Andy went off to college and the girls felt amiss.  They wanted to try the small high school in town.  Shyanne, my socialite, loved it, thrived in it, and graduated.  Emily went back briefly but found herself unhappy in the school system and then learned she was with child so she reverted back to homeschooling pretty quickly.  I enjoyed homeschooling my children and I believe they are intelligent adults that were more realistic about the world out there then children just graduating from traditional high school.

Now, I have my first grandchild here four days a week while mom and dad work.  It is my greatest honor and profound joy.  In many cultures the grandmother is put in charge of the children’s well being, growth, and education.  These grandmothers hold the wisdom of half a life or more and tend to have more patience.  Maryjane is a special child.  When she was six months old we attended the funeral of Shyanne’s best friend who had committed suicide and the depth of sorrow was intense.  As I would approach people Maryjane would put her hand on their face as if she were trying to comfort.

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She is a bit of a wild child, the child that usually comes last, the one that has so much life bubbling forth that her parents want a nap!  She is also highly intuitive.  She has the same healing gifts that run through my family.  It is obvious even though she is only two years old.  She eats wild herbs and helps me make medicine.  She comforts those that are upset.  But she “knows” things too.  We were to meet Emily and Maryjane at the coffee shop the other day.  Maryjane started to yell, “Pa! Pa!”

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“Grammie and Pa aren’t here yet,” Emily replied.  About a minute later we pulled into the turning lane to get into the parking lot.  Emily was a little shocked.

“If you send her to school they will squash this little girl’s spirit,”  I lamented.

“I wasn’t planning on sending her to school.”

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Oh, happy day.  Emily and I will be homeschooling that amazing child.  Four days a week (depending on the kids’ schedules) we will be having the raucous event called “Grammie School”.

Daydreams of workbooks and drawing pads and finely sharpened pencils danced in my head then I realized that I am already homeschooling.  Learning doesn’t begin at age four and end at eighteen or twenty-two.  We have already begun.

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Here are five ways to teach a little one:

  1. Count- everything I hand the baby I count.  Here are some mullein flowers to put in the pot.  One, two, three, four, five…She now tells people she is five.  She can’t put them in order, but she can randomly sing, “one, five, nine, three, six…”
  2. Spell- Dad, d-a-d, is on his way!  I don’t spell everything we say, I would annoy myself, but she is really in tune to simple words.  Pa, p-a, Mom, m-o-m.  She has no idea what we are talking about yet but the letters stick in her little head.  She sure surprised her mom by writing D-A-D on her arm!
  3. Point out everything.  Birds, trees, flowers, dogs, coffee, books, people, cars, rain, everything.  These babies are sponges and they will remember all of these things in detail.  It is terribly sad to me that so many parents I see just set their kids in a corner and ignore them.  They just “get through” until the next stage.  Babies being lugged around in car seats instead of being held.  Perhaps it is a grandmother’s perspective to see that children grow quickly and time is so precious.  These little ones cannot be all they aspire to without nearly constant attention and guidance.
  4. Teach them about animals.  Teach them not to be afraid of animals.  The kids used to have friends come over to the house that were terrified of our cats!  A child that knows animals, speaks to animals, is gentle with animals, and who is well versed in the various kinds of animals naturally grows to be a more compassionate and gentle child and adult.
  5. Read- read, read, read!  Read labels, books, magazines, signs, and fill the child’s head full of adventures and stories.  Give them a love for reading early.  Visit the library, read to them on your lap, just read.  This is special time for the child and for you and the libraries will forever hold a place in that child’s heart.

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There are many more things, manners, cooking, chores, things that we have Maryjane do as well, but the above five are easy and effective ways to homeschool whether one chooses to send their child to school or not.  There is always the opportunity to reach out to a child and make a difference in their self-esteem and in their learning.

Homeschooling 101 (laws and unschooling)

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I was pretty certain I was going to screw up my kids if I did it.  I wanted to be a teacher for a while.  I majored in English.  I love all things academic…except math.  But, what if I didn’t do it right?  The kids had been asking for a few years, off and on, to be homeschooled.  I had read in one of my favorite books, Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel, the recollections of the grandmothers in a village in India where they talked about how once the children went to school they became more immersed in television, consumerism, and a culture that did not reflect that of the previous generations.  The children were losing the knowledge of plants and skills and it felt like a great loss to the elders.

I, too, wanted to teach my children how to garden and about herbs.  I wanted them to read great books and explore the woods on a weekday and breathe in life.  I remembered so clearly being a child sitting in a classroom gazing longingly for the mountains and wishing I were at a nearby park writing poetry and feeding ducks than being cooped up learning who knows what that I would eventually forget.

Meanwhile, Andrew was in his first year of high school.  Near the end of the school year Andrew had a poor grade in one of his classes and I had emailed the teacher a few times with no response.  At the teacher/parent conference I asked her how he was doing.

“Great!” she replied.

“Really?” I retorted.  “Then why is he failing?”

“What is his name again?” she asked as she shuffled through her papers.

I could do this better myself, I decided.

I had always done what my son called, Mommy School.  Workbooks, library trips, writing club, museums, additional things to help them learn more without seeing it as “education”.  So, with that I began researching homeschooling.  I found a lot of information that I had to glean through.  So, here it is in a comprehensive format.  It is specifically for Colorado but most places do not have too many variations.

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What?   Homeschooling is the realization that often times parents are the best teachers and that the wide world around children is often kept from them in favor of a classroom where someone else determines what your child will (or won’t) learn.  Homeschooling is an important aspect of homesteading as it teaches children self-sufficiency skills, teaches them values, and lessons, as well as providing plenty of time for reading books they wish to read in trees.

Why? Homeschooling is recognizing that information is retained far better when used and learned on their own accord.  It is unfortunate that the standards in schools have gotten out of hand.  All children are different, yet the standards are ridiculously rigid.  For instance, all children must be able to read by the age of five or they have something wrong with them.  The truth is, children can learn to read anytime from the ages of four to eight, and making them feel as if something is wrong with them starts the cycle of self-esteem issues early.  Children will learn what they need to learn and retain it, much more so if it is on their own terms.

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When?  Anytime you want.  If you work then it is after work or on weekends.  Think about how much time is wasted in schools with passing periods, settling in time, time getting to and from school.  You can have the equivalent class time in about two hours at home.  This also allows homeschoolers to take vacations when others are in school.  We used to take the kids to New Mexico or Wyoming or Kansas to see hot air balloons (science), art museums (arts), history and science museums, and horse back riding adventures. We would study geography by using workbooks and for each country we would research the clothing, art projects, and foods.  We went to a fantastic African restaurant in a rough part of town that we would never have tried on our own had we not been looking for it for school.  We put cardamom in our coffee and grew seedlings in windows.  We read books and participated in events at the library.  And a lot of the time was spent playing and building forts in the large open space near our home.

Where?  Anywhere you wish.  Learning is everywhere and the sooner we figure out that we don’t stop learning at eighteen years old or twenty-two from college, the better.  We ought to learn our entire lives.  Perpetual homeschool!  

How?  So, you have decided that you would like to give it a go.  Really, worst case scenario, you can always sent the kids back to school.  First alert the school system that you are intending to homeschool.  A NOI is required first.  A Notice of Intent is simple.  Just drop it off at the closest school.

To Whom It May Concern;

This Notice of Intent is to notify you that I will begin home educating my child, Emily Lynn Sanders, 5 days from today, beginning on October 1, 2012. My child is 15 years old and resides at 203 Ute Street, Kiowa, CO 80117. Mailing address is P.O. Box 2012, Elizabeth, CO 80107. The number of attendance hours this school year will be at least 688 hours.

Sincerely, ___________________________________ Date ________

From here, your requirements are to get them evaluated on the odd year, 5th, 7th, 9th grades, etc.  There are two ways to do this.  You can either subject your children to the battery test they offer at the school (which is not intended to help your child succeed.  The schools get pretty testy when they lose your tax dollars for that child) or get someone to write you an evaluation.  It has to be a teacher or a psychiatrist.

The first year we found a lovely lady on a homeschooling Yahoo site.  I sent her the children’s resume and she wrote out a statement that the children were at or above grade level.  This was submitted with a copy of her teacher’s license and we were free and clear for another two years.  She became ill and wasn’t able to help us the next time.  Our lovely waitress at the bar that we shot pool at happened to be a high school teacher and was happy to evaluate the kids.  I sent her their extensive resumes (you would be surprised how much your kids learn) and fifty dollars a kid and she sent in the evaluation and copy of teacher’s license to the school district that we resided in.

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Different Ways to Homeschool

You could choose online schooling where the children take online classes and the online school takes care of everything from NOI’s to evaluations.  This to me seemed not unlike the school programs I was taking them out of so I didn’t opt for this course.

You could set up around the dining room table with workbooks from the teacher supply store and books and a fun teacher ledger.  I tried this for four months.  I enjoyed it immensely.  I could make the kids read what books I found the most fascinating, had them learn all the important sciences that I deemed pertinent, and did math drills.  It wasn’t long before the revolt began.  “This is just like school, Mom.”  They were unhappy.  Learning is not supposed to be unhappy.

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And that is when I heard of Unschooling.  Sound like the kids are just running buck wild around the farm (or suburbs at the time, in our case)?  They are, kind of.  And learning every second of it.  Once I let them have their freedom the children took on their own studies.

Shyanne became very interested in baking and spent her time reading cookbooks, writing recipes, performing fractions, halving and doubling recipes, writing grocery lists, and figuring finances to afford items.

Andrew was obsessed with music and taught himself how to play the guitar, recorder, banjo, piano, harmonica, and composed his own music with beats and wrote poems to fit the songs.  He also wrote a children’s book, read everything he could on pirates, designed a board game, and completed a finance workbook for real world math.

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Emily followed her siblings learning along side them.  She became interested in photography and her business, Emily’s Art and Photograpy, now brings in a little extra cash.

All three kids were active at the library and in youth group.  They were in a writing club and read fervently, whatever they pleased, and often at a higher grade level.  They had more time to find themselves and really embrace their own passions.  They can all spell, read, love history, know science, can keep a budget, and love learning new things.

One of the benefits to homeschooling is that the children do not just interact with peers their own age.  My kids have always been just as likely to befriend someone fifty years their senior as the kid next door.  They have manners, we instilled what values we felt were important (of course, now as adults, they have to find their own way and ideals, but we didn’t let a secular government institution decide their morals for them), and they had a great time being kids.  Playing outside on nice days.  Reading books in trees.

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But, I warn you, children raised in this atmosphere are not followers.  They do not do well working for other people their whole lives.  They are ambitious, confident, entrepreneur types.

The kids can still participate in school events.  Shyanne went to prom and participated in a school play.  Emily participated in Cross Country Running.

Where are they now?  Andrew works for a large, growing company in Denver and is the Chief Supply Chain Officer (fourth in the company).  He is twenty-one years old.  Shyanne works at a hardware store, was baking professionally, and was just hired on at a graphic design company to create logos and art on commission.  She will be nineteen Sunday.  Emily works for a restaurant, has her own photography company, and homeschools her toddler.  She is not even eighteen years old yet.  It may sound like a mom bragging, but my point is, I didn’t screw up and you won’t either!

The gist here is that if you feel that it is time to homeschool, then by all means try it.  There is a learning and teaching style for everyone.  For us it was running buck wild in the woods and reading books in trees.

 

 

 

 

Farming Failure? (or enlightenment?)

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I am not sure how to tell my CSA members this week that I have more….lettuce.  Not many eggs (the girls are hiding them) and not much milk (Isabelle is giving less and I am taking more for cheese making).  Doug and I have been eating well.  We go out each evening and see what is growing.  We harvest four beets, fifteen snap peas, a large handful of beet greens, kale, spinach, and chard, four pods of peas, and ten purple snow peas.  Add some fresh garlic from the garden and a handful of chives.  This makes a really tasty dinner sautéed or roasted with a bit of goat cheese and some homemade bread.  Each day there is slightly new bounty, but not enough for a bushel extra a week to be harvested.  I keep thinking I need more space!

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After I read that book with the great CSA model that I wrote about last week, I was fired up.  Lord, when I get fired up, watch out.  I do everything intensely.  I give my husband a full time job with all the work I put out there for us.  I am gung ho.  But, I also just as easily see when that idea is not working and promptly put a stop to it.

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I was chatting with one of my friends who is one of seven kids from Miller Farms.  The work there is difficult.  That would be an understatement.  A thousand acres and a ton of farmer’s markets, crazy weather, and having to purchase food to bring to the farmers market at the beginning of the season is debt inducing and back breaking.  The kids, one by one, making their way to new fields.  Not farming ones.  Her friends who had a large farm near them just sold out and started a brewery.  Happy as can be and not nearly so tired.  This caused me to pause in my plans.

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I want to farm.  I want to farm and teach for life.  Can I imagine myself tilling enough fields and planting enough and hoeing enough and harvesting enough to feed even a hundred people?  Our quarter acre garden takes up a lot of time and there wouldn’t be much more to give.  When I brought produce to the market, there was very little of it.  I felt like a failure.  But, looking at the farm next to me unpack box after box of produce from Mexico and California, then stare at a customer right in the face and say they grew it made me realize, I am not a failure.  There is not a lot of produce right now.  I do not live in a climate that allows a ton of produce right now.  Also as I sold a bundle of onions for a buck, or last year with a handful of potatoes for a few dollars, I am not doing anyone any favors. I sell them the food that was supposed to feed my family, they may or may not let it rot, and then they (and we) are hungry again.

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I am a natural born teacher.  Even as a child I taught everything I knew.  I stayed in at recess in second grade to teach younger kids how to read.  I taught dance, modeling, and teach everything else I know from cheese making to soap making.  I am a teacher.

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I have become quite interested in Permaculture.  I have heard some lectures and read a bit about it and I think I will hit the library today to find out more.  I love the idea of everything growing willy nilly where it wishes and the lower impact on the earth.  The gardens I am attracted to are ones that hold a bit of spiritual magic, a place where prayer comes naturally, and the wild world lives as one, from micro-organisms to lady bugs to blue jays and squirrels.  A place I can teach my herbalist classes and homesteading classes.  Workshops and visitors, plenty of food and homemade wine, goats and chickens, and a pony for Maryjane.

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I do not want to quit being a farmer, ever.  But perhaps my vision of what a farmer is is being held captive, only seeing farmers as market farmers.  There are a lot of different farmers and farm techniques.  I could sell you a bundle of radishes or teach you (inspire you) to grow your own.

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This has been an amazing practice farm.  What a blessing to be here.  We have learned a few things.  When I started this blog we only had a handful of chickens and some sad looking plants in the garden.  We have learned how to grow food.  In the driveway, on the porch, in the side yard, the front yard, and in the raised beds.  I realized that the ants I tried to kill were taking away larvae that were eating my green beans.  I realized that the voles that Doug tried to kill were aerating the soil and that the mounds where I thought they took plants actually just covered the plants and those were the biggest under the soil.  I realize that city water is not much better than a swimming pool.  If  you set a bucket under the spigot to catch drips, the nauseating smell of chlorine rises up as you approach.  We have learned what we are good at and what we are not.  The search for a new farm to lease will be on shortly and we know what we are looking for.  We need an enchanting place to make into a learning place.  A spiritual place.  A place where we can provide for our family.  A place to learn more and more and more…..

Homesteading School

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“I am not able to can, I live in the city.”  The young lady stood in front of me shifting from one foot to the other in front of my booth.  She looked at our array of canned sweet apples, pickles, beets, zucchini, apricot syrup, just a bit of this and that from our root cellars.  They don’t look like the ones at the other booths at the farmers market.  Ours sport handwritten labels on clean glass canning jars without anything resembling a store shelf.  It makes people wonder while holding the glass orbs in their hands.  “You made this?”  No factory, no helpers, just a housewife in the kitchen putting up food for the winter.  An image that appeals to young and old that come by the booth.  “My grandmother used to can.”  “You are able to can zucchini?”  “This is spaghetti sauce?”

“I can teach you,” I say and their eyes light up.

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They say the economy is getting better but I am not sure how that can be.  I know an awful lot of people trying to hold onto jobs, keep their shops, keep their houses, keep their way of life but we are all being forced to make some decisions and go back in time a bit to a more simpler and, yes, easier time.  I may not know if we have to move or if we can afford to stay here, or what will happen, but I am preparing for slim pickin’s.  We will have food, that I can tell you.  This week I am canning carrots; brown sugar carrots for a delicious side dish and plain for stews.

Doug made me some beautiful brochures that I can distribute at farmers markets and to curious folks.  I am speaking at a few events this summer where I can share these brochures as well.  Besides telling about our apothecary, I am advertising about my homesteading school.  I will set up classes to teach people how to can, how to knit, crochet, spin, take care of chickens, garden in small spaces, make their own bread, make their own medicines, and inspire folks to become more self sufficient.  If we are more self sufficient, we are in a better place to help others and they can help those around them too.  We end up becoming a stronger community if we know these skills.  It takes the worry out of everyday life as well if you know you can make a sweater, pull out fish from the freezer, retrieve eggs from the chicken coop, or pick a lovely salad out of the pots on the front porch.  You worry just a smidge less.

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I keep thinking, ‘If I could just get somewhere that has a well, or that I can stay in for many years, that already has an orchard, that already has a root cellar, that I can afford easily….’  Acquaintances of ours have lost houses, animals, everything.  The fire wiped out over four hundred houses not far from us.  They had everything they wanted in a homestead, and in a second, it was gone.  Perhaps I should stop searching for the perfect because perfect is not guaranteed to last.  Perhaps my faith needs to get a bit stronger.  God has always provided.  And I can do my part by providing just as much for my family as possible.  And help others learn to do the same for theirs.  I have carrots to chop.  Have a blessed day!

Farmgirl Swap

Hi, my name is Katie and I am computer illiterate.  Ok, I can find my way around a computer but anything more than folders on the desktop, email, and Facebook and I turn it over to Doug who is a happily retired computer guy.  Just like overhead lighting, anything with a red or blinking light gets unplugged.  I dream of gadget free households, unplugged, off grid, by candlelight.  Doug looks at me in horror when I say things like that.  So, why on earth am I asking for a laptop and camera for our anniversary as well as a spinning wheel?  To blog.

Such a simple thing, to write stories and ideas and share memories and hopes for the future but once I started putting pen to paper…ahem…fingertips to keyboard (I do miss my old typewriter) I am enthralled, complete, and inspired.  Here in our little corner of the world I have friends, I love the people we surround ourselves with, I love our town.  In any time period before, this is all I would know.  I have been enlightened by farm girls (and guys) all over the country….nay, world through this blog.  Farmgirls choosing what chickens to get this year, what to plant this year, how to afford land of their own, how to raise children, what to can this year.  I have kindred spirits in other states, secretly holding each other up, cheering each other on, laughing at jokes, and sharing recipes and experiences that have thus far only been found in library books.  Real people, real friends stretched out across the globe, together.  This blog has helped the world get very small for me and comforting.

I am so thankful for all the other bloggers out there, as well as for the friends that see me nearly every day that still read my blog and comment.  You have no idea how much that means to me.  I have been inspired to go back and finish what I started, a writing degree.  Grandma is going back to college!  Luckily Metro State has lots of late thirties students….I think.  I dream of teaching writing and literature part time at a community college, getting a book deal, supporting a homestead which we both want so much.  All because of a blog.

The laptop is so that I can write outdoors when the weather warms up.  I don’t like being cooped up!  The camera is so I can stop stealing Doug’s ITouch to take pictures.  But, then that is all, no more gadgets!  I just need enough to connect.

Now, you are probably wondering where the farmgirl swap comes in.  I was reading  http://simplyhomesteading.wordpress.com and Eileen was making aprons. We are like two farmgirls split at birth, I swear, we write about nearly all the same things.  Except for the butchering stuff, I have never had a deer on my dining room table and if there were, we probably would be petting it and wondering where to keep our new pet.  But, she is a homesteading girl of humorous words, and a similar life and ambition and I just adore her.  I suggested we make each other aprons.  An apron swap.  This is what we came up with.  I made her the one with the rooster on it.  I was so pleased with it, I am going to make some more to sell at the farmer’s market.  And she made me this sassy Mennonite number.  I love it.  And through the world wide web, two farm girls connected and now have lovely aprons to get us through our chores!

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