Morning Rituals

For most of my life, I was not a morning person. It was really, really hard for me to get my butt out of bed. But living on a farm means getting up each morning and getting right to it – there’s no time for easing slowly into the day! There are things that must to be done before breakfast is made, animals waiting to be fed, goats waiting to be milked, eggs needing to be collected. These days, I love mornings and the routines we start our days with. Take a peek at a morning on the farm!

The Swing of Things

My recent pregnancy and birth took a lot more out of me than I anticipated it would, and Jae has shouldered the vast majority of the farm work for many months now.  Today I woke feeling much more like my normal old self than I have in a long time. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and I really wanted to get back into the swing of taking care of this little farm.  After getting appointments (for mama and baby), speech therapy (for Raina) and grocery shopping out of the way, the kidlets and I spent our evening out in the yard, getting things back in order.

ImageLynden and Raina had picked out some bird houses from the dollar store a little while back, and today we finally found some places for them. (This one is sitting on a slab of concrete that protrudes from the tree – the tree actually grew around the concrete over the years and engulfed almost half of it!) It puts a smile on my face to see these cute little bird houses nestled in our trees. Whether the birds make use of them or not, they sure look sweet, and the kids were so excited to put them out there.

ImageGaia spent some time swinging in the shade of an old maple tree, which was just fine by her. She gazed around the yard, watched shadows dance on the blanket next to her face, and stared for a good long while at her brothers & sister playing nearby. Indoors, Gaia doesn’t usually want to spend time in her swing, but out in the yard it was another story altogether. I enjoyed having my body to myself for a little while!

Image

Dinosaur and the sheep were tethered in the front yard for a while to graze down the grass that is already becoming pretty darned long! They seemed to enjoy the fresh greenery and the shade of the maple. Dinosaur’s winter coat is shedding out, and she’s pretty patchy looking these days. I really ought to shave her, but the memory of Daisy’s recent shaving and all of the tiny bits of goat hair that stuck to me for days is a bit of a deterrent.

Image

Because the gardens were put to sleep for the winter and it wasn’t necessary to keep chickens out, our chicken tractor was out of use. Now that we’re almost ready to start putting some things in the ground, it’s time to confine the chickens. They can tear up a garden pretty fast! Jae and I filled the top of the tractor with fresh straw and moved it to a shady, thickly grassed area. The tractor doesn’t have wheels yet, so moving it is quite the labour-intensive task. That thing is heavy! We put six birds in for the time being. A second tractor is in the works, almost finished and soon to be filled.

I got a lot of debris raked up around the yard – twigs, branches, stray bits of straw, chicken poop – and we had a roaring fire going. The kids sat around on their little chairs, making plans for camping this Summer and having sleepovers. I managed to nearly fill the compster with chicken waste, which I’m sure the gardens will love in a few months’ time.

It was an unremarkable evening, much like other Spring evenings past, but it felt superb to be outside & working again. I haven’t moved my body this much in many months, and my limbs & back were rejoicing to be bending and lifting and working again. Physical activity sure does feel good.

Digging In

What greater joy is there in early Spring than seed starting? Normally, our family starts seeds in the early days of March, but this year we were busy looking for a new  home – and not finding one. I felt antsy as the days grew longer & warmer, wishing I had a garden to prepare for. Finally, we gave up on looking for a new place to live, and decided we’d stay put right here.

Staying here on this farm means it’s time to get the gardens ready for planting, and time to get some seeds started!

Image

The kids were so excited when I got out our seed packets and growing supplies! They had been disappointed at the prospect of not having a garden this year, and were quite happy when I told them we’d be staying in our current home and planting in the gardens we’ve worked so hard on the past two summers.

ImageLynden declared that he was old enough to plant his own seeds without any help this year, and quite proudly planted a tray of zucchini before losing interest and running outside.

Image

Robin wanted to touch everything. He thought the seed packets were great fun to shake, and pulled them off the grow table repeatedly. This was distressing to Raina, who wanted everything just so, and she hollered at her brother very loudly.

Image

Gaia watched intently from the comfort of the sling (thanks, Laura!), calm and quiet the entire time. She may only be four weeks old, but I swear she was enjoying seed day as much as her older siblings were!

Image

Robin started getting cranky, even though he had napped only a short while before. I held him close on the rocking chair, and noticed that his forehead was pretty warm. Within another ten minutes or so, he had a full-on fever going, and fell fast asleep.  The poor little guy slept the rest of the afternoon away on the couch.

Image

After Robin fell asleep and the rest of the seeds got planted, we headed outside to start preparing a new onion bed in the front of the house. I had dug up this space last Spring with the intention of growing carrots, but never ended up using it. The grass and weeds moved in on the freshly-turned and conveniently neglected soil, so now we’re starting all over again. Lynden and Raina thought it was great fun to pull the weeds and grass out of the soil (with their new garden gloves, hooray!) as I turned it over with a shovel. Turning soil is not so easy with a newborn baby in the sling!  Garden work will be much easier when Gaia gains some head control and can hold herself steady.

All in all, a tiring but extremely satisfying day. It felt so good to get my hands in some dirt! There is such promise in a packet of seeds and a patch of soil. We may have gotten a late start, but it’s going to be a fantastic growing season!

Life & Living

Once upon a time, I was waiting for “life’s grand adventure” to begin, something thrilling that would free me from the monotony and boredom of everyday life. I realised, not too long ago, that somewhere along the line “life’s grand adventure” ceased to hold any importance, and I contentedly settled in to the joys and pleasures that everyday life brings. Each new day holds little miracles and wonders! Each new day is a grand adventure!

Every now and then I come across a poem or a photo or a book that sums up my feelings more eloquently and beautifully than I seem able to do. There’s a poem on the very first page of my Encyclopedia of Country Living  (a fantastic resource by Carla Emery) that I return to again and again. It confirms for me that I’m on the right path and reminds me to rejoice in life’s little pleasures.

Mama’s Mama

Mama’s Mama, on a winter’s day,
Milked the cows and fed them hay,
Slopped the hogs, saddled the mule,
Got the children off to school.
She did a washing, mopped the floors,
Washed the windows and did some chores.
Cooked a dish of home-dried fruit,
Pressed her husband’s Sunday suit,
Swept the parlour, made the beds,
Baked a dozen loaves of bread.
She split some wood and lugged it in,
Enough to fill the kitchen bin,
Cleaned the lamps and put in oil,
Stewed some apples she thought might spoil,
Churned the butter, baked a cake,
Then exclaimed, “For Mercy’s sake,
The calves have got out of the pen!”
Went out and chased them in again,
Gathered the eggs and locked the stable,
Returned to the house and set the table,
Cooked a supper that was delicious,
And afterwards washed all the dishes,
Fed the cat, sprinkled the clothes,
Mended a basket full of hose,
Then opened the organ and began to play,
“When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day”.

- Anna Rees Henton, age 85, 1953

 

Of course, my life is not nearly so chore-filled as our poem mama’s is, and I have a few modern appliances that simplify things for me quite a bit. The sentiment, however, touches me deeply – life is a series of days, each day a series of fairly predictable events, and each day perfect with its chores, child rearing and meal preparation.

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.)

 

Image

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!

Image

Image

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!

Image

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.

Image

Image

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.

She’s Here!

It’s been six days of wonder and awe for this lovestruck mama. Our sweet fourth baby, Gaia Claire, was born at home on March 28 in the early hours of the morning.

Since Wednesday, life has been a bit of a roller coaster, but we are well and happy and the kids are totally in love with their new baby sister. Read on for her full birth story, with photos.

Continue reading

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?

Yarn Along

Woo! My second week joining in Ginny’s Yarn Along! This week I actually have a book to share…

Here is a little something that is being knit with some of my handspun – but I can’t tell you what until after the holidays! I detailed the process from carding to spinning a week or two ago, here it is for those who missed it. Try as I might, I could not get a decent shot of this project. The light was all wrong, then when I tried a different angle & different lighting, I couldn’t get anything in focus. Oh well, there you have it – a mediocre shot of a pretty cool little project.

Lynden’s winter sweater is coming along very slowly, between holiday projects and household chores. I managed to finish off the body, bordered around the bottom with a moss stitch. I think I’ll do the same around the edges of the sleeves, whenever I manage to finish them. The first sleeve is underway! I am making SOME progress! Being just a simple knit sweater with no cables or lacing, one would think it would be coming along quickly, but somehow the opposite is true. As long as Lynden gets to wear it a few times before the snow has come and gone, I’ll be a happy mama. (As an aside: I love, LOVE bamboo needles. They are so delightful to work with, so gentle on the hands, they warm so quickly to the touch, they’re so smooth to knit with. Bamboo is where it’s at.)

I’ve been reading The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller. It’s a great book for people who don’t feel right about “conventional” training methods. The book deals with clicker training, a method I began using with Oddler when he was a pup after a “conventional” trainer permanently damaged poor Oddler’s throat with a prong collar.  I love clicker training. It is so much fun for human and dog – I find my dog & I really work as a team, and it’s so neat to watch the dog’s wheels start turning and the thoughts get flowing. Clicker training really makes a dog THINK. Oddler is nearly 11 years old now, but every so often I like to brush up on training. When all the old commands have become so familiar that they are just a part of every day life, it’s nice to add a new trick to the bag. (Hey, did you know that any critter can be clicker trained, even a chicken? So cool!)

Alright, with that done, I’m off to ogle other yarn alongs!