Homeschooling adventures

I’m on a homeschool field trip high right now. Forgive me.

P1110330 P1110332Yesterday, we toured a real dairy farm, drinking chocolate milk while the cows went in to be milked. Pretty cool. BenBen might have found his life calling. After an hour and a half at the dairy, I practically had to drag him out; he kept thinking of “one more thing he had to do.” Now, I’m thinking we need to tour another dairy, since they are all set up differently.

This past weekend, the kids and I had another learning adventure. Right across the border there was a “walk to freedom” following the path of the underground railroad that escaped slaves used as they traveled into Canada. I was surprised to learn last year that this area was in fact part of the underground railroad (northern Maine? really?), but there was a Quaker community here that aided them in hiding, they crossed into Canada where the federal bounty on slaves no longer applied, and when they reached the lake we hiked to, they knew they were free. From there, it’s not far to the St. John River and travel by boat to the Atlantic Ocean.

P1110272To make the whole event more understandable to the kids, we toured a local church which used to belong to the Quakers, where the escaped slaves were hidden in the floorboards of the altar. We got to see where they were hidden and we talked through how they would have traveled and what the danger was like.

From there, we crossed into Canada and hiked more than 3 miles along a marked trail to the lake. Although the trail was marked, it was rough. We crossed a bunch of streams. We scrambled up and down steep streambanks. We squeezed between trees. We got our feet wet in mud and bogs many many times. These “hardships” were by design. We could easily imagine this was how the people truly traveled. They were not walking on the well-worn path. Their feet got wet. They were muddy. They thought they would never get there (and it was long enough that the kids felt this way). The only difference is that we had a marked path…they didn’t even have that luxury.

More than any book we could read or movie we could watch, this event made real to us what these people felt as they traveled to freedom. It was inspiring, and I am certain we need to do this every year we can. It opened up great conversations.

Another awesome event this past week that opened up great conversation was volunteering at a food pantry in our town. In the past, we have not found places that allowed children to work, because let’s admit it. It is a lot more work to have kids there. The volunteers at this food pantry called our kid chaos “energy”. They said we could come back. And our homeschool group packed up 140 bags of groceries for people in need in our town. I am excited to get a regular routine of helping there.

I feel blessed that although we live in a rural place that there are amazing opportunities all the time to expand our world. In the past month, we have watched a real Amish barn raising, walked on the International Appalachian Trail, toured a fire station, and passed through customs several times. That’s pretty good variety.

As I considered all these interesting things to do, I told John I was overwhelmed with the adventures to be had in our area. John looked at me skeptically.

“Or maybe adventure is just a state of mind..?”

“It’s a state of mind,” he quickly affirmed.

Well, call it what you will. Last week, a friend and I trimmed around some wild apple trees so we’ll hopefully get more apples for sauce next year…even that is something interesting and different. I felt thankful for the variety in my life. Being a homemaker is truly the best job in the world…I have so much freedom.

When we do these events, we do them just because we want to, which brings up an interesting thought. I know at some point my kids need that badge or award for what they do to give it a name. A friend of mine told me that Hannah would naturally get a bunch of girl scout badges, just by nature of what we do, nothing contrived. We don’t need to do it for the badge now but I know sometime we might have to. For now, we’ll just do what we do.

There is plenty to keep us learning.

What adventures have you found lately? What’s your favorite field trip you’ve done with kids?

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Look who’s 3!

Although we told Sammy that at 3, he was now a big boy and ready to wear underwear, Sammy was not so convinced. He looked skeptically at the underwear I brought into the house for him and with all seriousness he said, “Mommy, you can put that back in the shed.” I know he’ll do it when he’s ready, and he’s determined not to wear underwear for the time being. Oh well!

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Sammy is rarely serious. This is a boy that loves to have fun, and he makes sure that every day for the rest of us is an adventure. The other kids say that the Sammy math problem is that Sammy = fun. The rest of us think too much and contemplate big things, but Sammy keeps it light. We need it.

When Sammy is sweet, no one is sweeter, but he loves to be a buster too. “I doing a buster,” he sometimes says. He’s right.

For all his silliness though, Sammy is a worker. He loves to help and wants to work at whatever John or I am working at. He does chores with Daddy and helps with watering or gardening. If I am hanging laundry, I can always count on Sammy calling out, “Mommy, you need my help?” Of course I do. He will help grab clothes or clothespins or pick up what I drop. He’s a tireless worker and he won’t quit until I’m done.

Sammy has great endurance in general. There is only one speed for him, and it’s fast, but he can keep it up for a long time. He plays hard, but he also hikes hard. He has hiked as many as 5 miles in a day. Don’t underestimate those little legs!

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For play, Sammy is all boy. It’s all tractors and trucks and cars. He got some matchbox cars recently and 5 of them have been his constant companions ever since. Those little hands hold 5 vehicles, plus a plastic pizza cutter he’s obsessed with, to the car, to bed, to any location he is going. Add his doll, BB, and the boy was loaded down with his stuff. I had to give him a birthday gift early because he was struggling to manage his things…a backpack. When I put it on his back, he told me proudly, “Now I’m ready to go hiking.”

The way to my heart.

For Sammy’s birthday, we kept it low-key. We did the local corn maze and got ice cream during the day, and then had a family party that evening. The meal pick was an easy one for him: burgers, oven fries, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and strawberry ice cream.

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Doing birthday questions with Sammy, as expected, was a hoot…

How old are you? 3

What do you want to be when you grow up? a farmer with a tractor

Where would you like to live when you grow up? in Canada

What is your favorite thing to do? ride on a tractor with a trailer

What is your perfect day? my favorite day…playing with cars and trucks

What would you like to learn about? getting trucks in my pack-pack

What did you do for your birthday? corn maze and ice cream, family party

Who is your best friend? Mommy and Daddy

What is your favorite thing you did this year? doing laundry with Mommy and picking potatoes with Daddy

Favorites:

food chocolate cake

vegetable tomato and cucumber and carrot

drink orange juice

animal elephant and camel

book tractor

song twinkle twinkle little star

color yellow

toy trucks

game playing with car tracks

restaurant pizza (after asking us, “what is a restaurant?” we had to give him ideas.)

holiday thanksgiving

birthday present backpack, matchbox cars, wallet, car tracks

Where would you most like to travel? to a restaurant

What are some of your wishes for this year? “I don’t ‘member. I love riding on elephants and seeing the kitties and giving them milk and food. I love seeing caterpillars and ladybugs and playing with big trucks. I love riding on cows.”

We love you, Sammy! Happy birthday!

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My planting addiction

Hello, my name is Amy and I am addicted to moving plants.

You might laugh and underestimate the force of this obsession, but it is dangerous. I will spend days and days replanting, rearranging, and otherwise moving perfectly healthy plants to a new location. This obsession also extends to a tendency to expand my planting areas. John is quick to note that I’m sometimes moving something that I literally moved yesterday, and I cannot deny the truth of this claim.

There. I’ve said it. And the truth is that I absolutely love it.

P1110229This fall, I have re-arranged my beds yet again, and I’m pretty excited to see what it comes out like next summer. I had some plants that were truly in the wrong places, as in, they need full sun and they were in the shade most of the time.

This summer, I had attempted to root cuttings of some plants and some of them took!  I didn’t use a mister, but even so, I got cuttings of elderberry and sedum to root beautifully. I planted them in the garden…hooray!

I decided to try an all white garden around the blue shed. I moved anything white blooming that I had to this area (hosta, Solomon’s seal, daisy, white phlox) and since have sought out some other white bloomers (white oriental lily, white astilbe, obedient plant, white yarrow). I think it’s going to be awesome!

I am also trying out a new theory with my plant arrangements. Before, I had similar plants scattered around the beds, like coneflower in various places and black eyed susan in various places, etc. Someone explained to me that it makes a more spectacular display to have similar plants in clump, so when it is blooming, it is a Wow! That made sense, so I have moved a lot of plants into clumps (yes, this was a ton of plant moving). I’ll try it out. If I don’t like it, I can always re-arrange again.

I would like to start using the hoophouse to help with my perennial plantings. I think I could overwinter lots of plants there and expand my stock if I learn how to do it. I have also realized that, not only with perennials, but also with our vegetable garden, I should be saving seeds. I am kind of embarrassed that I buy all my seeds. How un-independent!

Two new planting areas that I’d like to get prepared this fall for next spring is an herb spiral and a new bed that will be an old-fashioned farmhouse/dooryard garden. The plants are mostly for medicine or for dye…a fun concept if nothing else.

Eventually, I see myself having a business selling plants, or that is my dream. For now, it’s purely hobby. And I am trying to temper my addiction slightly. I have a friend who does side work cleaning up people’s gardens that have gotten out of hand. I realize that I am opening myself up to that possibility with too much to care for.

In fact, maybe that is just what I need. I should be finding someone else’s garden to care for, so I can direct my energy in a different direction. :)

Have you ever planted a garden all one color? Any other fun garden ideas you have tried?

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News around the farm…mid October

P1110223Well, it’s not around the farm, but it will sure help with our farm boots/jackets…we have cubbies in our entry now! We just need hooks and we are ready to go. Then, we’ll need to get used to using a different door to go in and out.

P1100952P1110226Our big fall project this year was burying a water line from the house to the barn. Previously, John carried water in 5 gallon buckets to the animals all winter when we couldn’t use a hose (5 months of the year). Carrying a full bucket in snow and ice is hardly an easy job. We hired someone to dig the trench, and we are filling it back in ourselves (minus sod and rocks so it doesn’t settle funny). We’re almost done!

P1110227My dad helped John put a cover over our outdoor basement entrance…oh happy day. No more blue tarp. It wasn’t a standard size and installing a bilco door was going to be very tricky, so they built a cover and I think it looks awesome.

We’re just about ready to freshen up our chicken flock. We have four new hens from this year and I am getting 6-7 more from a friend of about the same age. The older birds will become dinner (they are past their laying prime), plus we have some egg eaters and we are anxious to get rid of them. Ten or eleven birds should be a much more manageable number given the space we have.

I am so excited to start drinking Lila milk again. We took a break this summer from milking and milk processing because there was so much to do otherwise. We have one weekend away coming up and then I think we’re in the clear to start milking. Hooray!

We’re not all done with the garden, but we’re getting there. The outside gardens are almost all cleaned up and harvested. The hoophouse is another story, but we’ll get there.

I love our hoophouse. We’ve had an extra month of fresh picked tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplant, not to mention the increased yields for canning.

The goats are still grazing and cleaning up pasture. Sometimes we debate about the purpose of the goats now that the pasture is in better shape, but we’re keeping them for now. All the females are bred and will have babies this winter. Our thought is seeing if we can use caring for the babies as a kid project, and from there make a decision if keeping them makes sense.

Instead of goats, we were contemplating sheep when we were recently offered a starter herd for a low price. Maybe in the future? Animals are always easy to acquire but not always easy to get rid of. And honestly, wool is cheap, much cheaper than keeping an animal.

The animal I’d really like to try next is a pig. I have a few friends that keep pigs and love them. It’s all about good fencing. If we kept pigs, we would have to learn to process them ourselves, smoke the meat, etc, but we know people who can teach us. Fun times on the farm!

Back to animals we actually have, the kitties are doing great and our kids have been doing daily chores. I’m glad we have them!

How was your garden this year? Any outside projects you’ve been working on?

Posted in Farm | 2 Comments

Going to the fair

P1110070One of my very favorite days of the year is attending the Common Ground Fair in Maine. The first time we attended the fair, while apprenticing on a farm, we hated it. We went on Saturday (too crowded) and we somehow found ourselves in the expensive vendor side of the fair. We did not stay long.

Years later, we tried it again…and fell in love. Wiser, we attend on Friday and we totally skip the expensive vendor section (a tiny portion of all that is there).

P1110055 P1110084My parents call it the “hippie fair”, which I think is kind of funny. They look like normal people to me, but maybe that’s the influence of living in Maine. A friend of mine who is also from away tells me that after living in Maine for awhile, you see things with different eyes. She is probably right. Here, all kinds of houses intermix, there is seemingly no zoning, there are lots of small farms, and nature is always right there. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. And really, doesn’t everyone wear their babies, make their own soap, cloth diaper, and use herbal salves? Yes, I thought so.

I would love to actually attend the educational sessions at the fair. With four small kids, that is not what we’ll be doing for many years. Instead, we check out the handmade wares, see the sheep and watch sheepdog herding, do everything hands-on (apple cider, grain milling, threshing, jumping off hay bales, etc), and we contradance. In fact, we plan our day around the contradance.

The contradance gets more fun every year with my kiddos. When we started, I was herding both Hannah and BenBen through the dances, but now Hannah can follow them on her own. Next year, Sammy will likely be joining us too!

Both of my Maine midwives were at the fair- one of them is always there and I know right where to find her (spinning wool) and my midwife with Micah found me while we were contradancing. I love this opportunity to catch up.

My other mission this year was to find the homeopathy booth and pick someone’s brain about home study and homeopathy schools. I found a very helpful woman and in talking to her not only got ideas for online seminars to watch, but also learned which homeopathy school would likely best fit my personality.

I go into the fair ready to gather ideas, and I seem to always walk away with a few new ones or a resolution to try an old one. This year, the things that stuck out to me were seed saving, rugs of braided upcycled rope, rug braiding in general, and using some other herbal remedies that I’ve learned about in the past but never put into practice.

P1110057In addition, I found a station for kids that would be perfect for farm camp: milling grain by hand, then rolling out dough and cooking it on a griddle, then spreading it with butter they have shaken. Simple but perfect for kids.

The best part of all though is just the act of walking around with other like-minded folks and feeling a part of a farm/homemade/natural community.

Have you found any fun ideas at fairs this year? 

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My not-quite backpacking trip

In the end, I didn’t go backpacking with Micah for this year’s ladies backpacking trip. The weather for the first two days was not ideal (wind and then rain), so he couldn’t be in that and then camp. It’s hard for me to let go of doing everything at times, but it was the right thing to do.

And we were blessed with a beautiful day of hiking. I’ll take it.

The peaks we climbed were ones I had wanted to do for years, but they aren’t somewhere I could take my other kids…too long and in a few places likely too difficult.

The evening before the trip was filled with drama, as expected, from my sweet Hannah. I’ll borrow her words; she was sure she “could not survive a day without me.” I’d be leaving very early and getting back after bedtime, so although I wasn’t gone overnight, it felt epic. Moments like that make me question if I should go, but John is good to assure me that it’s actually confirmation. She was going to be with him and her brothers all day. She was absolutely fine.

P1110178 P1110179 P1110180 P1110181 P1110182Micah and I left home just after 5 am and we were hiking by 9. It was a perfect fall day. Comfortable hiking in a light jacket. Micah was a great hiker, as usual. He’s very consistent in what he does not like- he does not like me climbing boulders and he does not like it when I stand still. Otherwise, he’s a very content little bug. I fed him on every mountain top; he didn’t require too much else.

Ideally, I would have had my external frame carrier, so I can carry food/snacks/diapers in the same pack, but it’s being repaired. Instead, I had Micah in the ergo and then another small backpack carrying my other things. But where to carry that one? I hiked up the first peak with that pack on my front…aw-ful! I couldn’t see footing well and while climbing the bag was in the way and bouncing. After that, we attached the bag onto the ergo, which was much nicer, but the weight was low and pulled on my lower back. I shouldn’t complain- I was able to hike these awesome peaks, and any way I get to do it is good.

We bagged four big peaks (North and South Brother, Mt. Coe, and Mt. OJI). All lovely. Each of these peaks had a 360 view at the top and they all gave us great glimpses of Mt. Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine, as well as other mountains, lakes, lots of forest with lovely color.

It was not my easiest hiking day. I was super tired (as in, I felt like I could fall asleep on my feet). I had a little bit of a stomachache. At times, I was prodding myself forward with thoughts that I’d be so happy to have done this hike later. I could recognize that it was a lovely day, but I couldn’t fully enjoy it. And that is so not me. I love hiking and I’m never happy to be done, but that day I was.

Not only was our hike longer than any I’ve done this year (12.5 miles, I think), it was tough. We climbed a lot of elevation and in places, the footing was really tricky. However, all of this is likely skewed because I was so tired that day.

I would hate for you to have the impression that I was not happy to have gone, because I am so happy to have gone. Spending even a day in the woods like this is necessary for me. Without it, I eventually go crazy. It might not have been the epic backpacking adventure, but it was a taste of it enough to make me feel that part of myself and know that it’s still alive.

How do you recharge? Do you have an annual (or more often) tradition for that purpose?

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The Mane event

Sometimes all you need is a different perspective (literally) to see something you’ve been looking for.

This past weekend, we did a family hike on some trails well known to me. I love exploring new trails, but I feel thankful that one of my favorite spots is the one closest to me. I had never taken the kids on this particular hike (it’s one I usually run) because it’s a little longer than most. They had asked to do it, so I was happy to oblige.

Usually when we stop to have a snack mid-hike we sit on rocks or logs or something up off the ground. However, this particular trail didn’t offer any seating when we were ready for a break. So we sat on the ground and as we ate, I started noticing the plants at ground level.

I noticed a berry that I had never noticed before. I had a hunch that it might be wintergreen, something that I know grows here, but I have never found. When we got home I looked it up, and it absolutely is wintergreen. If I had been sitting up high as usual, I never would have seen it. Now that I know what it is, I’m seeing it all over in the forest.

As an aspiring mushroom forager, I was also pleased to find a specimen that I was pretty sure I had seen in my studies of edible mushrooms (I did actually retain something I read!). I have found chantarelles once, giant puffballs once, and the ubiquitous turkey tails many times, but usually when the kids proudly show me the mushrooms they spot on our hikes (they are as anxious as me to find something edible…but interestingly not so they can eat it- just to know it’s there), I knew they were not on the edible list. I was starting to worry that they might give up the hunt. It is really so hard to find the ones you can eat.

However, this mushroom stood out to me. It was unlike any I had ever seen in my searching, and I was almost positive we could consume it. At home, I checked my book and sure enough, it was a Shaggy Mane. I learned that many people have success making a slurry with these mushrooms and propogating more of them in their yard.

P1110167I hurried back to harvest what I could find…only 3 of them. With so few, I sacrificed them all to a spore slurry over the weekend and poured it out in the yard yesterday. I have tried growing mushrooms indoors in the past enough to know that it’s not a sure bet. I also threw the chopped up mushrooms (post slurry) into the yard in the same area, because it couldn’t hurt.

Hooray for new discoveries and possible future mushrooming at home!

Have you discovered anything you hadn’t noticed before with a new perspective lately?

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