Sunday, November 12, 2006

Changing Seasons

Our bodies are beginning to adjust to the rhythm of the new season, enjoying more quiet time spent indoors by the fire. The girls have once again expressed an interest in learning to sew, so we've brought out the sewing kit and big bucket o' fabric scraps. They've been patiently focused on learning this new skill, mending anything they can get their hands on, including some of their dad's pants. Jules set up a stuffed animal triage center and mended all animals as good as new—some multiple times as Buddy, our one year old dog who still loves to chew, decided to help her out a bit. Even Sam got in on the sewing action, though not with the same singular focus as the girls.

The kids have been having fun helping to preserve, cook, bake and prep our own mixes. Jules made a bunch of jars full of pancake and waffle mix mostly by herself, which we're now able to pull out whenever. The kids also enjoy making monkey bread as a morning treat, which is basically dough balls rolled in butter, cinnamon and sugar, and baked together in a bread pan—a great homemade alternative to donuts.

We've had more time for reading, too, as the kids keep themselves busy sewing or building or creating. Even Sam, who used to get angry when we'd read because he didn't want to listen, has been passively participating more. Time and maturity have helped. We're nearly through the 6th book of the Harry Potter series, The Half-Blood Prince, which I've already read but the kids' haven't.

I love quiet, snuggly days inside—I love the balance of the seasons!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This is one of those retrospective kinds of posts, full of snapshots from our first year on our homestead.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


One of the rainy day activities we keep in reserve is a box of defunct small appliances and electronics that are fun and interesting for the kids to take apart. Sam was looking for something to do this gray day, so I pulled out an old keyboard for him to open and investigate. The girls soon joined in pulling apart an old coffee grinder—as you can see, this meant taking time out from the game they'd been playing.

This quickly led to the dismantling of all kinds of old toys, some that no longer worked, others that still worked but seemed more interesting as projects than toys. Sam chose to take apart one of his old Buzz Lightyear toys, a rocket that made quite a lot of noise. He hadn't played with the toy for a long time, but it offered a whole new level of interest once we could see inside!

Sam had the spaceship apart in no time, and play rapidly turned to cutting the electronics wires in a kind of Mission Impossible style game. Once Jim got home from work, Sam showed him lots of the wires he'd cut and told his dad that the toy had been working when he took it apart. Jim showed Sam how to strip the wires and splice them back together, and the two of them were able to play with the different buttons and see the electrical connections that made the different noises possible. Very cool!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Riding Lessons

This week we had the last of our riding lessons, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Leaving the barn yesterday, I felt so sad leaving all the horses behind. We've come to know several of the personalities at the barn, and the thought of not having any horses in our lif made me feel very melancholy.

Our plan is to go back for another round of lessons in January when we'll have a little more free time. The lessons are expensive enough (paying anything four times can get expensive!) that we don't want to pay for another session when we'll be gone much of December. In the meantime, we'll enjoy some time off and continue to read and learn about horses as we get our barn and property ready.

The long-term goal is to purchase a family horse of our own, and we've really received loads of help on that front. We have our eyes out, waiting for just the right beast to come into our lives. This spring, I'll be taking a horse ownership class down at a rescue organization called the Ranger Foundation, and we'll open a space in our hearts for a new old horse.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lifecycle of Black Swallowtail

One of our favorite things to do in the summertime is to bring a caterpillar into the house to observe. We used to make butterfly houses out of tulle, but now, we just let them free within the house. The larva is happy to stay where the food is!

When it's ready, it simply crawls around a little bit until it finds a suitable place to attach and begin forming the chrysallis.

When the butterfly emerges, it needs some time to dry its wings, which is usually long enough for us to find it for release.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

2006 Live & Learn Unschooling Conference

Wow! What an amazing experience, and I have so many things to talk about with no time to sit down and write them all out.

Briefly, my experience this year was overwhelming and wonderful and full of connections and joy, dampened only by the absence of my family and the reality of goodbyes at the weekend's end.

Until I have time to write and reflect a bit more on my experience, I wanted to share an exchange between dh and I over the L&L. Several folks may remember that he came last year and had a really difficult time--not wanting to join in and being totally overwhelmed by the energy and chaos of the kids' room.

This year, the venue was so amazing! There was so much more space in general, and the set-up of the toddler areas in the rooms themselves worked out really well, I thought. Kelly did such a fantastic job, and I kept saying to Jim on the phone, "I wish you guys had come this year instead of last."

When I left home to come to Albuquerque by myself, dh and I had a talk about my need to know he was going to be a gentle parent while I was gone and to really make an effort. He assured me he would and had the kids confirm it when I returned home. ;) These open conversations among all of us have been really transforming because he's talked to them about how he wants to be more gentle and solution oriented but that the knee-jerk/ obey me know mode is so much easier in the moment. Em's been able to talk about how that makes her feel, and Jules has been able to share how hard it is for her when he raises his voice.

So, yesterday while he was at work, I sent him an email thanking him again for caring for the kids and making my trip possible. This was what he sent back:

"I had a great time with the kids. It was good for the four of us to be on our own for a while. I feel like I connected better with the kids than I have for some time."

His words brought tears to my eyes, as I realized that yes, as Ren says, we were all exactly where we needed to be.

Live & Learn really is changing all of our lives; our journey just looks a bit different than the overnight conversions. ;) The outward bound type venue of next year's conference together with the closer location and my observations from this year's conference have very nearly convinced Jim to give the conference another try. (breathing deeply and fighting back the tears) I am just so overwhelmed and grateful for this, and we've already talked about a funshop he might be able to offer.

Thank you Kelly and Ben and everyone who puts their time and energy into this amazing weekend! You are all fairy godmothers, truly!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Color My World!

An artist friend of ours visited recently with his family--his wife is my best friend from grad school--and the kids were enraptured with his process. He was so patient and encouraging, explaining his equipment and inviting them on painting jaunts through the meadow. The neo-impressionist landscapes (at least that's how I'd define them) Tom does are absolutely amazing--the texture and colors are palpable and vivid, which really bring the viewer into nature through the senses rather than realism. His website is being revamped at the moment, but hopefully will be back up soon at

Monday, August 07, 2006

Everyday Happenings

Consider this a catch-all post covering all the little things that happen day in and day out, warranting a picture but not seeming quite enough for a whole blog post.

Despite the fact that Em looks extremely bored in this photo (note to self: always take more than one!), she is in fact concentrating on learning cursive. Cursive, for heaven's sake! Who would've guessed that one? She had been looking in my farm journal, trying to decipher some of the notes I'd made for myself in my own hybrid cursive print. Next thing I knew, she was wanting to know what the letters were in the word "goat," then more and more letters, until I'd written out the cursive alphabet for her, and she began writing a story in cursive. Translated: "The girl is annoying to her brothers."

Sam loves building and was dying to build a new catapult with the tools he got for his birthday. Together with their dad, Sam and Jules helped build a trebuchet, capable of launching significantly further than the bungie cord catapult they'd built about a year before. Using several items on hand--a dowel rod as a pivot and a weight from a set of dumbells--they built a trebuchet that was about a foot high and able to launch small items between 10 and 15 feet away. The kids had loads of fun playing with it until the dowel construction gave way; they now have plans for building a 4 foot model that will be significantly sturdier.

All the kids enjoy creating with legos, and Em's recently begun building diaramas that are totally cool. This particular scene involves camping in an RV, though she's made mermaids and space scenes as well. The kids' creativity and internal motivation always amazes me, as they learn and explore in ways I never could have predicted. Learning truly is everywhere!

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Ag Fair

Thursday, we visited the Ag Fair to check out the poultry show and the dairy goat showing, though it was so hot and the fair so small that we ended up coming home before the dairy goat time--just not enough to keep occupied for the 4 hours between the two. The poultry show was really disappointing, as there were very few birds entered--only one layer, for heaven's sake! I'm wondering if it had something to do with the recent mandatory poultry registration required in Maryland as a prelude to the NAIS.

Although the fair was small, it had some great kids' activities like the corn maze and the milking stations. The corn maze had four different animals cutouts to find, making it somewhat of a scavenger hunt. The kids really enjoyed making several crafts from origami horses and pigs to wooden sheep ornaments to which they glued real wool. They transplanted tomatoes, which the kittens made quick work of as soon as we got home, and they made soil profiles representing the different soil layers from bedrock to topsoil. Of course, the baby animals were a huge hit, particularly the swiss cow who had an incredibly deep moo and a very rough tongue!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Springfield Farm

Last week, we took a small fieldtrip to Springfield Farm north of Baltimore to purchase some Narragansett hens. Although it was more than an hour drive, the kids had fun once we were there, checking out all the animals, choosing the hens and devouring a pint of cookies and cream ice cream from a local dairy.

While we were there, the girls fell in love with the Peacocks, and only the incredibly loud noise they make was enough to deter them from wanting to bring one home! Their call sounded a lot like a large woman shrieking for help, which would be enough to send the neighbors into a tizzy. For the moment, they were content with bringing home beautiful feathers, which have been everything from magic wands to royal crowns.

While there, we were able to see the breed of pig we're considering for our farm, Tamworths. Known for their flavor, lean meat and ability to do well on pasture. Sam and his dad are really looking forward to raising some feeder pigs for meat, but Jules is set on raising one to keep. Our big research project this year is to learn as much as we can about the Tamworths, so we'll be able to integrate them into our farm. Designing and locating the pen will depend in large part on where we can locate water and where we'd like to locate our fields. Our trip to Springfield gave us some good ideas and some visuals that will help our planning.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Kitchen Chemistry

The kids have been having fun experimenting in the kitchen over the last several months, making different kinds of "soups" and "cakes." They love having the low baking center and their "own" oven--both parts of the kitchen remodel.
They've moved beyond the simple yucky-mix soups and into the actual chemistry of cooking, figuring out how eggs, flour, milk and baking soda effect the results of the "cake." They've helped bake enough now that they have a general sense of what goes into breads and cookies and have improvised some pretty interesting dishes.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Zoar Valley

While on a recent vacation, we went on the most amazing hike into New York State's Zoar Valley. Wow! Well worth the trip for anyone living in the area. The hike was a good one down into the valley--maybe a mile and a half or two miles? The kids spent hours at this confluence point of two creeks, the Cattaraugus Creek and the South Branch Cattaraugus, wading, moving rocks, playing in all the small pools and falls spread out like a natural waterpark with the low water the day we were there.The kids, of course, had to try their hands at climbing the cascade, which was loads of fun and captured the attention of some Asian tourists in the valley. Em was the subject of several photos. We had a lovely day, and all the kids on the hike (there were 8 of whom Em was the oldest) were amazing in their energy and companionship. All but the two littlest walked the entire way with enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoyed all the exploring to be done.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Springtime on the Farm

We had 50 chicks arrive by the 11th of May and hatched out 7 turkeys from 18 eggs we got through the mail. The turkeys began hatching on Friday, the 12th and finished up Saturday and seem to be doing quite well. The kids enjoyed watching the hatching process, running in and out of the room throughout the day to check for progress.

We have them brooding in a vacant stall while dh builds the new coop off the one side of the barn, which will feature a brooding coop and a breeding coop, one on either end, and a central, all-purpose coop. Sam has had fun helping build the coop here and there, using the new tools he received for his birthday last week, hammering, banging, holding, clamping, etc. Life is good.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Baby Bottles, Mammary Memories and Sleep Deprivation

Good god, it's easy to forget what sleepless nights with newborns are like, and thank goodness I never had to sterilize bottles for my wee ones. This past week, we became surrogate mamas to five newborn kitties, and I can honestly confess to having delirious visions of multiple mammaries as all five clambor at the cage, mewing their voracious appetites. Feeding one kitten at a time not only seems unkind but it also rouses my maternal angst as the babies left behind bawl their indignance at fate's cruel twist.

MY babies, however, are having the time of their lives, having five brand new kitties in the house. They don't begrudge too much sharing their mama's time in such a big way. We've been able to read books while I feed the kittens, which is intensively hands-on, as long as the child's willing to hold the book and turn the pages for me, and we've had some lovely conversation time one-on-one as one child or another joins me to sit and chat and admire the lovely little creatures. We've enjoyed our busy role as surrogate mothers, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we ended up with five barn cats, as it will be so hard to let them go! Between the five of us, we've managed to settle on four favorites. Such is mother love.