Seeing green (and red)

Everywhere I look, green.  At every meal of the day, collard greens and mustard greens and kale greens, alongside dark green kale rapinis and light green turnip rapini.  There are some purples working there way in as we harvest wild violets for fun and the sprouting broccoli from the field, and the purple cape cauliflowers are heading up nicely.  But mostly, it is green, green, green.

The grass is growing–really growing–a bright and tender green. The willows have new neon looking leaves coming on and soon the other trees will start to put on their clothes too.  Everything is greening up as we get so close to the spring equinox I can barely stand it; I am so excited for more sun, or daytime as it were here in the Pacific Northwest.  Even though we have had snow (!) more than a few times this March, and even though spring for us means rain and rain and more rain, the changing landscape and longer days feel good.  So refreshing.

And yesterday,  in the midst of getting ready for a small birthday sleepover for our second boy, born on the spring equinox eight years ago, we all scrounged up something green to wear and checked our Leprechaun traps for magical creatures and treasure in honor of St. Patrick’s day.

This used to be an “enjoy a–or many depending on what age we are talking about–Guinness or other finely brewed beer” day.  Now it is a fun for the small fries kind of day since they love holidays so much and in our home this usually means some kind of feast.  St. Patrick’s day is the easiest, Irish fare being so simple.  Some lamb maybe, or sausages.  Potatoes, cabbage, onion–all good mid-March farm food.  And that is usually it, our passing nod to Ireland and our own heritage (we have Irish blood on both sides).

This year, since we were having extra children over and because it was Luca’s choice, we had homemade pizza instead.

And this year, as the farmer and I start to think about studying history with the children as they get older, I was particularly struck by this article.  We are finding ourselves hard pressed to keep things simple and pleasant as we delve deeper into these studies, even as we try to take things slow.

Our smallest learn history through stories.  They can get an idea of how people lived in other times without too much blood to worry about.  Sometimes we can investigate further and visit museums or check out other books about various time periods to extend our understanding.  All in all, though, we don’t tend to get into any of the nitty gritty.

But our precocious older child, so keen on growing up faster than he needs to–once he finally reaches the level of maturity his taste for talking about current affairs and the seedier side of history necessitates, I hope to share both the good, the bad, and the ugly with him so that he can learn to critically examine the things that have happened before him in this tale of humankind so that he will then be able to critically examine the things that are going on around him.

The history of Ireland is just one of many stories that isn’t all that pretty.

And as the article points out, the great potato famine provides a pretty important lesson for today.  As the genetic diversity of farmed crops and the seed banks both shrink, it doesn’t hurt to give the lumper potato and the famine in Ireland some of our time.

For the farmer and I, we find that there is still so much to be learned from the past.  So much that we weren’t introduced to in our studies of history at school.  So much misinformation or generalization it is maddening.

So this St. Patrick’s day we looked a little closer at this time in Irish history.  When our kids get (much) older, we’ll discuss it with them too.

For now, while they are still so innocent and young, I am happy to get a pinch before I get dressed for the day when I didn’t go to bed wearing green, and to imagine that at the end of every rainbow there really is a pot of gold.

And it is both of these things that are so important to do as we live this life.  We must look hard to discover both the shining gold and the smoke and ashes of our story.

Always learning

A few weeks ago, I was asked by a friend with younger children and plans of homeschooling them how I went about our days and how I was able to homeschool the bigger kids with a little one in tow.  As we spoke, I was reminded of those early years of parenting–reading everything I could about child development and parenting and education, worried about doing the best by these little people entrusted to my care, so desperate to do a better job than my parents did.  I was reminded of myself, ten (and a half!) years ago, and I felt acutely aware of one thing as we talked–everything I had learned about how to parent and educate and be a mom to my children I learned from my own kids and our life as we lived it.  All the ideas were there for guidance and inspiration, but in the end, parenting and homeschooling for us have become a blend of both my intentions and my responsiveness. As we spoke, this was the real answer I wanted to give her, “don’t worry too much because you will figure out what is best for your family as you go.”

Because for all the reading I have done about educating these four, all of it very helpful and insightful and necessary for keeping me fresh and present and aware, one thing has made itself abundantly clear–my children are all unique and as such, our homeschool has been formed around each of them and their individual interests and learning styles.

Starting out with a fiercely independent and highly creative boy, one who did an amazing amount of natural learning in his early years but not only took no interest in compulsory learning but adamantly disengaged in attempts on my part to “teach” him things on my time table once he was of “school” age, I quickly had to adapt.  I found out the things I really would patiently insist on (reading, writing, basic math) and let go, for the time being, of other things (Oregon history).  He is truly a genius, but this may not be revealed on any standardized tests.  He waited until nine to really start reading, but started with the Harry Potter books, so in the end he didn’t really miss much (that early reading material can be rather dull).  He is clever and quick, and I do not worry about how he will do in life even the littlest bit now (I used to, tremendously, that is the job of new parents I think!).

This is a self portrait (sorry for the blurry photo!)  he recently made of himself showing how he will look when he is eighteen!  If he believes this about himself as whole-heartedly then and through all his years as he does now, then he can make anything happen.

The point of all of this, really, is that sometimes our ideas of our children must make room for their ideas of themselves.  In the early years, they are so little, it is really our ideas that so significantly guide them.  But as they grow, they become.  Our early parenting years are not only formative for our children, but for ourselves as well.  What I realized as I tried to explain our homeschool, which has evolved to look very little like “school”, is that there really are no cut and dry answers for any of us, and that my friend’s homeschool will look very different from mine as they go on their path.

As for ours, it too will evolve and change as the children get older and new little people step up to the plate.  Our one girl, almost six now, likes to sit and do lessons in a way that both of the older boys still fight against.  I can’t even say it has anything to do with gender, but more to do with the fact that  they are all so different, it is as equally amazing as it is disarming when trying to parent them.

As a former straight A student and lover of all things “school-y”, I can say that it can take some letting go, both homeschooling and parenting in general.  Still, it is the best job in the world.

As for how we manage it, it is an ever changing challenge and solution.  Yesterday, we worked hard on multiplication, spelling, grammar, and phonics both in ways that probably worked and ways that probably didn’t.  Sometimes, those lessons I most formally bring to the table end up being the worst for everyone.  Today, we counted smashing rocks, unearthed from our giant mud pit, with hammers to see what was inside of them, attempts at finding themes and making statements with altered art and mixed media, and copying animal sounds out of baby brother’s favorite board book as “school”…and those were the parts they drummed up themselves while I taught the baby to do the dishes. I keep at it both ways, but I secretly think that the only learning that matters is the learning they are deeply vested in.

This is the one thing I have learned without a doubt–if we remain open to it, we are always learning.  That is what I hope for my kids to keep with them after they have up and gone from their schooling with me.  That is the most important thing I can teach them.  It’s what they have taught me.

Looking for spring

Today was so brilliant!  It was decidedly sunny and that sun felt so good.  The kids and I spent nearly all day outside.   We started out there this morning with songs and times tables, and after a quick trip inside to do some writing, we happily returned out of doors for picnics and stories and card games.  And although we didn’t do much in the way of farm work (the kids and I that is…the farmer was harvesting for Saturday market), we did make it out to the fields for an adventure.  After lunch, my daughter announced that we needed to go on a walk and find “spring” stuff to bring inside to decorate with, and it seemed just the thing to do–it felt so spring-like out there!

Of course in reality we are still just making our way out of winter a bit at a time, so we didn’t really find anything that satisfied her quest (no flowers!).  Things look a lot like winter out in the field and around the farm still.  There are a lot of bare trees and brown hues and winter hardy garden plants that always look a little worse for wear at this time of the year.  And so, we decided to refocus our efforts, and began instead to look for signs of spring coming. 

And even though our walk showed only the smallest of these signs, we did find some.  There is new growth on the winter greens and the very teeny tiny beginning of sprouting broccoli florets.  There is more green surrounding those food plants in the garden, too.  The weeds and grass in the path are definitely starting to grow and right now, while they are just at the starting, they are a nice sight, all green and fresh and tender!  The daffodils are popping out of the ground, the cherry buds are forming!

Small things, yes!  But small things emerging from underground, budding, and growing–all signs of good things to come!

Stumbling into Fall

I actually shudder to admit that this great slowing down time on the farm, the wonderful quieting of that raucous din that is summer around here, is proving to be neither quiet or slow after all.  September came, and suddenly I am so busy with homeschooling and activities for the kids and trying to squeeze a little bit of time out of all of that for taming the wildness that summer inevitably created inside our home while we worked and played outside for a season (which doesn’t make sense when you think about it, does it?),  that I have had little time to give to my “office” and “writing” duties for the farm.  Ideas come and go, poignant and thoughtful or just simple and funny, but I rarely have the time to sit down and put them to pen (so to speak!).

I keep thinking that with just one day to get things organized, a day to breath so to speak, I could get on top of this schedule and find the missing time; but the reality is that this  life will always be busy, or rather full, what with six of us and a farm in the cards, so the busy part all comes down mostly to a state of mind…and then just a little bit of good planning.  I am making a point to find the moments to breathe, and learning to live with certain piles until that grand day of organizing comes.   In the meantime, we take the time to stop a day of cleaning and wood chopping to carve those pumpkins with the small folks, we scoot the pile of school stuff out of the way and gather around the first fires in the woodstove with our board games and our books or various musical instruments.  I say the heck with it all and pick up the knitting basket instead of the vacuum, because life really is short, and the days, even shorter.  This fall has been glorious, with so many perfect, shiny golden days, with the bold colors of trees exploding before they go to bed reminding us to celebrate it all and the less showy but equally soothing colors of decay all over the farm our companions.  Busy isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Maybe this winter will bring with it some quiet?  Or more likely than not, it won’t, and so we will just have to continue practicing our graceful walk though this life one day at a time…with just a bit of stumbling along the way.

The shift




After a really lovely few weeks of hot weather came along to wrap up August and summer it seems, this week brought with it a definite chill to the air, the seeds of autumn flying in on the breeze, ready to fully bloom sooner than later by the feel of things.  Are we ready for this shift;  the shorter days so noticable already, the extra blanket on the bed?  I’m not sure.  Breaking 90 degrees felt good and a series of nights too hot for blankets went a long way to help, but I have to admit the feeling of an especially “short” summer is still here with me, even as we lovingly ready the house for more inside time, plan and dream about our homeschool year, and talk excitedly with friends about what we will be making for the kids for Christmas this year. 

This week, the farmer felt the beginning of the slow down too.  His window for planting most things is past, he will just be sowing more winter greens–seeds of arugula and Asian greens, transplants of mustards and some kale.  That is about it besides the big garlic planting.  As always, we were behind with some plantings and the time to plant things ended before we had it all done.  This has just been the way of things with the limitations one (very hard) worker and a (very hard worked)  homeowner’s rototiller have brought to our operation.  We feel like we have done an awesome job building the business with our bare hands so to speak, but we are really looking forward to how much more we will be able to grow next year and how much better our timing will be with the help of our beautiful Ford 8N

The kids are harvesting overgrown Romanesco zucchinis, carving faces in them with jackets on in the early morning this week.  They still want to fill up the mud pit/swimming hole Luca so expertly dug and splash around, but they realized on Monday it was just too cold.  It looks like it will warm to the high 80’s again this weekend, and seeing as how our first and last trip to the beach of the summer isn’t happening until the weekend after that, I have to say I am hoping for more warm weather then, too.  Otherwise, I realize it is time to settle and embrace the inevitable.  The moving of the circle around to the next notch again.