Spring on the Farm

The weather has been incredible around here for the last several weeks and life is springing forth on the farm.

ImageThe chickens have been going crazy with the laying and we have more eggs than we know what to do with. Pickled eggs, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, eggs over easy, omelets, casseroles, fritatas, eggs florentine, eggs for baking with… after eating eggs every day, there are still six dozen in the fridge!

 

ImageJeremy and Platypus are pretty thrilled with the sunshine and warm weather, and have been happily quacking about. Platypus has generously donated a few dozen duck eggs for our breakfasts over the last several weeks.

 

ImageDay Lily and Sunflower are pretty darned shaggy. Next month I will try my hand at shearing them (aside from my one attempt at shearing with fabric scissors, I am totally inexperienced in this department). Perhaps soon I will get to washing, carding and spinning the several bags of fleece that are hiding out in my mudroom. I need to find a good project for Sunflower’s lovely fleece.

 

ImageDaisy and Dinosaur are becoming quite large in the middle. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their kids, and the return of goat’s milk! (Since several of you have asked, Daisy – on the left – is an Alpine doe. Dinosaur – on the right – is a Toggenburg/Saanen cross.)

 

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Oddler is growing whiter with age, losing his hearing, and developing cataracts, but he is still filled with youthful energy and can outrun our sprightly Beagle puppy, Echo. Last week, Oddler taught Echo how to tree a raccoon and chased a coyote out of the yard in the dark of the night. Not bad for an old boy!

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Lynden has caught all manner of small creatures: frogs, toads, snakes. Last Spring and Summer, we had a hard time with Lynden wanting to keep all the creatures he had captured. He just didn’t understand that we have to leave Mother Nature’s children in peace where they belong. Now, he’s come a long way – he keeps each captured creature for one night only, and the next morning releases them where he found them. Progress!

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There’s been lots and lots of bike riding around here lately. Our very long driveway is perfect for this beloved activity, and the kids have been out there every chance they get.

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ImageGaia is wonderful and beautiful, and charming us all. Her older siblings grow deeper in love with her with every passing day. I am amazed by her – so calm, so peaceful, so content. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard her cry since her birth. Gaia is the brightest blessing and I am filled with gratitude at being her mother. How did I get so lucky FOUR TIMES!?

Yessir, Spring has definitely arrived. It’s my favourite time of year, when everything is bursting with the freshness and newness of life, renewed.

Spring Has Sprung

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, warm and bright March day – a perfect day for Spring Equinox, and a perfect day for being outside.

The goats and sheep have REALLY been enjoying the fresh, young grass that is coming up all over the yard. They’ve spent the past few days grazing in front of the house, while Oddler seems to have made it his personal duty to keep an eye on them as he lazes in the sun.

Aren’t they so delightfully shaggy with their winter coats on? These ladies will soon be first-time mamas. I wonder who will give birth first, me or them?

We took advantage of the beautiful weather and spent the day together as a family at our local conservation area. The place was humming and buzzing with life! It was a noisy symphony of croaks and birdsong, chattering squirrels, honking geese, insects and more. What a glorious treat for the ears!

We were able to get very close to a pair of swans, who looked at us calmly and went about feeding on the bottom of the creek. The kids watched the swans for some time, then realised that there were bullfrogs croaking very loudly right behind them!

Lynden spotted dozens of very large – HUGE! – frogs sunbathing along the water’s edge. We photographed at least 14 of them within the span of a few feet. For a boy who loves amphibians almost as much as he loves dinosaurs, this was extremely exciting.

This is Echo’s first Spring, and her first time really experiencing the wonders of the wild world. She was as excited about the frogs as Lynden was, and tried repeatedly to catch one. Of course, before she got anywhere near close enough to grab a frog, every last one had jumped far out of reach into the water (which only served to make Echo even more excited!).

Frogs were not the only exciting creatures to be found. Lynden discovered many snakes along the way, some at the water’s edge who were obviously after the frogs, and some in sunny spots along the edge of the trail. Imagine his delight when he quietly approached a sun-bathing garter snake and got close enough to stroke his fingers down its back before it slid away!

We came across a tree growing some lovely fungi on its trunk, and the children decided that this must be a gnome’s ladder – perfect for a wee person to climb.

Indeed, it was a perfect day, a perfect Spring Equinox. We all felt so free, being outside without coats, without leggings, without hats & gloves. My heart soared as I watched my children run amongst the trees, laughing and discovering, slowing down to marvel over little miracles of Nature.

Somehow I didn’t end up with any photos of Robin, who is old enough this year to run and discover with the bigger kids, and to whom everything is so very fresh and new, never before experienced. He was totally amazed by everything he came across, and marched along with such purpose and pride. It was a joy to watch him, blossoming into a big kid.

Happy Spring to you, my dear readers. I hope you are enjoying your days as thoroughly as we are, for life is so very beautiful.

Winter Adventuring

January 2012 was, perhaps, the strangest January I have experienced yet. We were inundated with more rain than I thought possible for mid-winter, with only a few snowy days. What a surprise to wake up on the final day of January to a forecasted 13 degrees Celsius!

We took advantage of the warm, sunny day and headed out to our local conservation area with my dad. The kids brought their bikes; it thrilled them to no end to be bike riding in January. It was Raina’s first time riding her two-wheeler (with training wheels!) outdoors.

(You’ll have to excuse the quality of the photos. My camera is out of commission and I’ve had to rely on my phone for pictures.)

My dad pushed Robin in the stroller, so all this pregnant mama had to do was walk leisurely along and enjoy the sunshine!

We came upon a swan who was being forcibly outcast from the rest of the flock. Two other large swans would attack it whenever it tried to rejoin the flock, and drive it toward the boardwalk. At one point, the outcast swan was a mere three feet away from Lynden – if he had stretched out his hand, he would have touched it. We spent quite a while marveling at the swan, watching it closely and appreciating its magnificence and beauty. It didn’t seem frightened of us at all, and completely ignored our dogs.

In his younger days, Oddler would run off into the woods and have grand adventures while we slow, two-legged folk ambled along. Now, at 11 years old, he is going deaf and losing his sight. Now he prefers to stay close by, and we sure do appreciate his company. I can’t help but wonder how many nature walks we have left with the old boy. He’s been a central part of our family for so long…

Robin was pretty thrilled by the beach. As soon as his feet hit the sand, he was digging and collecting shells. Each new shell was held high in the air with an excited exclamation. (Although he rode in the stroller, Robin insisted on wearing his bicycle helmet because his older siblings were each wearing theirs – a warm woolly hat just wouldn’t do.)

Despite the balmy, early-spring-like weather, the shore of Lake Erie was still a mass of ice. The wind had created incredible ice hills and caverns, which made for some totally awesome exploration.

In total, we spent about three hours at the conservation area. By the time we returned, we were muddy, hungry, and thoroughly happy – proof of a day well spent!

And to think, we would have missed the glorious sunshine and the wonders of Nature if the kids weren’t homeschooled. How blessed we are to have our days open and free!

Life Without School

Before our first child was born, Jae and I knew that no offspring of ours would be attending school.  As new parents, we assumed we’d use a curriculum, but as our children grew and taught us more than we anticipated (and after trying out Waldorf and Enki curricula), we realised that a curriculum was not necessary – and actually stood in the way!

So, we became a family of “unschoolers”. We don’t set out each day to teach our kids; instead, we involve them completely in our daily lives and trust that they will learn everything they need to survive in this crazy world.  Just as they learned to sit, crawl, talk, feed themselves and use the toilet without any direction from us, they are learning to read, count, add, subtract and more all on their own. Kids are hardwired to absorb everything from the world around them, to acquire the necessary skills for surviving – and thriving – in the community in which they live. I’ve come to realise that sitting down to teach a child who hasn’t asked to be taught actually thwarts their learning process.

I won’t go into too much depth about unschooling. I could write a whole series of essays addressing our reasons for keeping our kids far away from the school system, our choice to abandon curricula and our trust in our children, but that would take a long time and I’d rather spend that time with my kids. Instead, I’ll share with you what a day of unschooling might look like in our home. At the end of this post you’ll find a plethora of links for further reading and information about unschooling (or, “life learning” as I prefer!) – please do take the time to peruse! You might find your mind blown ;)

What does a typical day look like in this house where school does not exist? That’s impossible to answer, because there is no “typical” day. Each day is different, with endless options nestled snugly inside of the rhythm of our home. There are several constants – family breakfast, daily chores, feeding the animals, collecting the eggs, etc – and within that framework anything else goes.

Most days include a craft of some sort. My kids are wildly creative beings – all it takes is for one of them to ask for paints or crayons or glue, and all three of them are bursting with excitement at the thought of making new art. A perennial favourite that lingers from our Enki days is watercolour painting. The kids will spend up to two hours at a time on a good day – and sometimes only half an hour – quietly concentrating on their paper & brushes, taking their colour choices very seriously.

Some days, the kids enjoy felting. They like needle felting well enough, but really love wet-felting, getting their hands warm and soapy wet, squishing that wet wool between their fingers. Their creations always look more or less the same – oddly-shaped clumps of felt with no real definition – and usually end up in the compost pile. It’s not the result that matters, it’s the process. It’s the joy of creating something with one’s own hands.

Then, of course, there’s fort-making with blankets. What child doesn’t love that? There’s usually a fort monster to go along with the blanket forts – inevitably a big brother trying to scare his younger siblings.

Puzzles! My children are drawn to puzzles. We do several puzzles each week in this house. The kids are getting really good at figuring out how pieces fit together. One year ago, I helped out quite a lot. Now, I might make a suggestion here or there if the kids get stuck, but mostly I sit back and watch in amazement as they figure it all out on their own. It’s so incredible to watch learning in action!

We do a lot of train play, too. This is Robin’s interest du jour, and Lynden is only too happy to help him figure out how best to put his tracks together. The kids have come up with some pretty elaborate railroad arrangements across the living room and bedroom floors. Of course, causing a train wreck is absolutely delightful, complete with epic sound effects and mourning family members.

Reading is a favourite pastime. There is not a day that goes by without reading happening. We’ll all pile on the couch together, snuggled in close, and work our way through the chapters of the Little House on the Prairie series, Roald Dahl books, Narnia, and more. On a day when something lighter is in order, we’ll go through a stack of our favourite picture books. The kids love the nature stories and fairy tales from the Enki curriculum, and often ask for those as well – we read seasonally-appropriate stories and the kids will sometimes draw pictures to go along with what we’ve read.

Lynden has a dinosaur obsession (and I do mean obsession), and has accumulated several dinosaur reference books and dino encyclopedias. He’s learning to read simply because he wants to be able to look things up in those reference books on his own, without asking for help. He has an extensive knowledge of dinosaurs, the various eras, and the creatures that came before & after dinosaurs. He wants to be a palaeontologist when he grows up.

Raina loves music. She spends her days singing and takes Suzuki Method violin lessons. Here’s where I’ll make a confession – as a Suzuki violin teacher myself, I expect daily practice of my students. But my own daughter? I follow her lead. Some days she practices three to four times, some days not at all. There are times when she cries because I just can’t bring myself to do a fifth practice in one day, and times she shrugs because she doesn’t want to play. Our approach to practice wouldn’t work if Raina were in school like my own students are – school changes the way kids approach learning, and structured teaching requires structured practicing (homework/review/etc) to be effective.

Robin’s starting to want to use the toilet like his older siblings. At 20 months of age, he gets really upset if he pees on himself, and will want to get out of the tub rather than pee in the water. All of our kids have “potty-trained” themselves, on their own terms – I foolishly tried to get Raina out of diapers before our third baby was born, and quickly realised the error of my ways when she rebelled against me, hard. I dropped the issue, and months later she started using the toilet all on her own.

There is no television in this house. No video games. Sometimes our kids will use the computer to watch nature documentaries and dinosaur specials. Sometimes they’ll use my camera to take photos, which they use for a “game” they created – zooming in really close and trying to guess what the object in the photo is when it’s blown up 800x’s. Without the distraction that too much technology brings, they are free to be their amazingly creative selves all day.

Of course, we regularly make trips into the wilderness, exploring local woodlands and creeks and trails. Outdoor play & exploration is what we live and breathe for. My children can identify coyote poop, raccoon poop, deer poop, the tracks of a half-dozen different animals, several birds of prey by sight, trees by their bark & leaves, and so much more. They don’t see themselves as separate from nature – they are part of nature, they belong to the woodlands just as much as the coyotes and raccoons do.

Oh, and socialisation? Yeah, we get plenty of that. We’re blessed to have a large network of homeschooling & unschooling friends, a great family, and the Ontario Early Years centre nearby. The kids are regularly interacting with folks of all ages, races and social classes, with people like them and people completely different from them. They’re not restricted to a classroom with 30 kids the same age – the world is wide open before them, and all people are worth saying “Hello” to.

You’d like to learn more about life learning, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t? Here are some great resources to get you started -

Creating Our Own Structure – unschooling.ca
What is Unschooling? – Natural Child Project
Radical Unschooling – Sandra Dodd
What is Unschooling? – John Holt
Are We Teaching Ourselves? – “Yes, I Can Write” blog
Unschooling for Social Change – FreeChild Project

We sure do love our lives. Our days are mostly happy, my kids are mostly happy, we have almost limitless time together to love & support each other. I can’t imagine sending my kids off to an institution every day, leaving their minds in the hands of impersonal strangers who change from year to year. No, thanks. We’ll keep living as though school doesn’t exist, and keep on loving the lives we have.

Oh, and what child would rather sit at a desk all day instead of doing this?

A Favour, Please?

Dear Soil, Dear Sun,

Please, if it isn’t too much to ask, PLEASE could you do your best to dry up a bit so I can get the garlic planted?  I worry that if the beds are still so saturated from all this crazy Autumn rain, I will be too late getting the garlic into the ground.  And if that happens, I will be one very unhappy farm mama.

Just a little bit drier, that’s all I ask.

Love!!

 

Wild Wonders

It was a crazy and busy weekend, with the kids away for sleepovers with their grandparents and the toddler & I in the big city.  So when things finally calmed a bit this afternoon and we were all together again, it seemed only fitting to take to the woods.


There’s nothing better than a day in the woods.

A Visitor in the Dark

Well, I knew it was inevitable. I knew our luck was too good to be true. I knew, sooner or later, we’d be visited by a creature of the wild wanting to make a meal of our hens. We can only tempt fate for so long, out here on the farm. I’m amazed we’ve made it this long (15 months!) without any sneaky predators taking our ladies in the night.

Over the past several months, a pack of coyotes have taken to wandering our area in the night. Throughout August and September, we heard them yipping in the fields across the street, beside us, and behind us, night after night. My dogs heard them, too, and good old Oddler, the noble and valiant hound, went bounding through the fields each and every night, bawling his hound dog bawl, chasing them far off into the bush and returning hours later.

Lately, I haven’t heard the coyotes. I’m not sure what they’ve done with themselves, but in their place has come another menace.  For many nights, Oddler and Miss Molly have gotten themselves worked into a tizzy, running the perimeter of our farm, barking and yapping and bawling. They keep it up for hours some nights, and other nights they settle down quickly, only to resume their protective vocalising a short while later.

Last night the dogs were mostly silent. Then, at 4am, I was awoken by the shrill yip-yapping of Miss Molly in the field just out my bedroom window.  A moment later, Oddler joined with his deep bawl. They kept it up for ten minutes before racing off through the field, chasing something away from our farm, their yaps and bawls fading in the distance.  I laid there in the dark, listening for their return. Forty-five minutes later, they finally came running up our 1/2km driveway, still very worked up. They circled the farm again and again, barking, until I felt like I was going to go crazy and brought them into the house. They paced by the door for a while, and only settled down to sleep when the sky was becoming ashy, pre-dawn.

Of course the dogs’ nighttime escape was on my mind a great deal today. I had a morning appointment, and when I returned I put on my boots, fed the chickens, and went out in the field. Within minutes I found a whole chicken’s worth of feathers puffing out of a thorny bush along the edge of the field. A few steps to the east, and there was another huge tuft of feathers, blowing gently in the breeze.  Something (or a few somethings!) had taken off with our hens. I only wonder if the theft happened before the dogs went chasing through the field, or after I brought them in the house? Had the dogs prevented more birds from being taken in the night, or had I allowed the hens to be taken by bringing the dogs inside? This is troubling me, and weighing heavily on my mind.

So, now we’re at a crossroads. Do we tie the dogs to the chicken tractors at night for protection? Or do we bring them in at night to keep them safe? I am not comfortable with my dogs racing through the fields at night after some unknown prowler. Anything could happen to them, and I’d never forgive myself. I also don’t like chaining the dogs if there is a prowler around – they are much less able to defend themselves if they are tied. For tonight the dogs are curled up on their blankets in the house, warm and safe, and I am worrying myself silly about the hens left outside unprotected.