It’s only a test

It’s easy to put way too much into our kids’ achievements. There, I said it.

I want to help my kids to be successful and improve their skills and knowledge, and I can’t see any reason why that isn’t a good thing. However, their learning and skills do not make me a better person or parent.

I caught myself in this trap recently as I thought about Hannah taking the annual achievement test required for homeschooling. This will be our first year taking the test and I started to wonder what was on it and how to prep her for it.

When I learned that the math portion covers multiplication, I started to worry. Hannah is two weeks shy of finishing our second grade math curriculum, but our curriculum doesn’t cover multiplication until third grade. She’s never seen a multiplication problem. Part of me wondered if I should delay the test or if I should teach her just a little for the test.

But no! I don’t want to fall into the trap of teaching for a test. At the core, I believe that is wrong. I don’t believe in rushing kids so they can perform the right answers and I know that I didn’t do multiplication in school until third grade. She’s not “behind”. In fact, I don’t even think that tests are a good indicator of what we know and how well we can apply that to life.

But me, I wanted Hannah to rock that test. It doesn’t matter for anything. If she does terribly, it doesn’t matter to the state. Taking the test is purely a formality. In vanity, I wanted her to rock the test. As an affirmation that I am doing well. That I am a good parent and a good teacher. And lots of hogwash like that.

For all that I think what I value is real life experiences and learning in its own time and learning to live in real life rather than focusing on the narrow bands of academics, the rubber met the road and I was surprised how much it bothered me that I was setting her up to do poorly. On a test that doesn’t reflect at all what she knows or who she is as a person.

So we’re just going to take the test and get it over with. I have to live what I believe; that means we do our best and move on. And it doesn’t mean a thing, except I will be healthier in knowing that my kids’ success or lack thereof is not where my value comes from. If they are good at an activity, I can be proud of them- for them. They are their own people.

Really, you can laugh at me! I’m already over it.

Have you ever found yourself in this place with a test or something else your kids have done? What helped you?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What Micah has taught us

P1120372When I told Hannah this week that Micah was now 11 months old, she started to tear up, “But I love him being a baby!” Although babies have their challenges: sleep deprivation, getting into everything, needing held at inconvenient times, in some ways I agree. It’s nice to have a baby.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we should have 100! I just like the baby we have. :)

You could make a case that any one member of any family has a special place in it and a family would not be the same without that person. Yet, Micah holds a special place in our family. I can’t explain exactly why or how, but Micah has taught all of us how to love better.

He’s the one who gets special hugs from everyone before bed- on their insistence. He is adored by everyone like no other. Not that we didn’t love on and adore the others as babies, but the older kids have learned more of how to love through him.

Maybe it’s that I’m more harried and needing them to watch after Micah more, so it’s out of necessity? Maybe it’s that he’ll truly let anyone love on him? Or it could just be that with a 7 year old with motherly instincts as the oldest, everyone else is getting their cues from her.

Micah might eat the kids’ legos and destroy their creations constantly, but when they hear that he’s woken up from a nap, they all rush in to get him up. If he’s been sleeping for awhile, they check to see if he’s woken up yet. They know to watch out for him and potential dangers, and they are for the most part gentle in their protection (Sammy is 3- need I say more?). They love to find things to keep him busy. If they get to take him up to their room to play with him there, that is awesome. They love this little guy so much.

Kids are amazing in general in how they see all little people as another person and value them as such. I love watching how Micah has grown that capacity in all of us. He has taught us so much in his 11 months!

What is Micah up to? He’s crawling, he sweeps the floor for any morsels to sample (including under appliances, because that’s where the good stuff is- he knows!), and he’s got the best little thighs around. When we tickle him, he laughs like crazy and his face lights with excitement each morning on waking up.

Micah is a blessing to us for sure! We wouldn’t be the same without him.

Is there someone in your family that has this role?

Posted in Kids | Leave a comment

Road trip 2015

P1120221We put 4100 miles on our minivan over the last two and a half weeks, and it was awesome. With that many miles, it wasn’t a see-everyone-and-do-everything kind of trip (unfortunately!), but we got to see a lot of people and enjoy some beautiful days and places. I usually take a road trip with the kids to see folks in the spring, but this was a more ambitious venture, and we were thrilled that John was with us!

P1120307We drove to Kansas, then Illinois and Kentucky, on to western North Carolina, to Raleigh, and home again through New York. We dipped our fingers in Lake Huron and went for a little hike in western North Carolina, but other than that, we just hung out with people. It was lovely.

P1120195These are my crazy kids the day before we left- 29 degrees outside for the record!

We drove into spring, leaving snow behind and donning shorts, and then we drove back into snow (but not too much). Honestly, I feel happy about watching spring happen and I’m glad we didn’t miss it.

John and I had windshield time to chat and bounce ideas around….ideas are the best part of road time for me. It was so interesting and instructive to visit lots of people in their homes and learn from them, and I’m pretty sure I learned something from everyone we saw! Every family is so different and what people value is so apparent when you go to their homes. We are all different people. I can think that all families are fundamentally the same or that it should all look a certain way, but that is so not true! Seeing lots of families in a short piece of time made it all the more clear.

That begs the question: if someone came into our home and spent time with our family, what would they say that we are about? Are we living our values?

I feel more passionate about community. I am more happy to live in a rural area (not that I was unhappy before). I am so glad to have a little farm. And I have more ideas than I can implement about things I’d like to try. And all is right with the world. :)

As we were driving, I had lots of thoughts about what I was going to do when we got home, but actually home, reality that I have 4 young children set in, and yeah, I’m not really able to do much of anything. I don’t like making excuses, but John tells me that it’s just my life right now. Maybe? What I do see clearly is that I have too many open projects (as in, on my counter) and making a little visual space in our house would likely clear up some mental space.

P1120353 P1120354 P1120356But I can do some things! Since getting home, we tapped one maple tree across the road and we have had plenty of sap to drink. It’s outside clothesline season…so exciting. We had our first picnic table meal. We watched a couple different people boil maple syrup. We witnessed part of ice out on the river in town. We started a couple flats of veggie and flower seedlings. And all the animals are well.

On to spring! A new season and new routines.

How have you been enjoying spring?

Posted in Family news | 2 Comments

In March

March goals…

  • fun breakfasts for St. Patricks Day and the first day of spring
  • date with John
  • dates with kids
  • take the kids to the pool, the library, and the indoor rec center
  • watch dogsledding
  • visit a maple sugar house
  • tap trees for our own maple syrup
  • learn about tree grafting and make a plan for propogating plants this year, build a misting chamber
  • skate and ski once a week
  • work on toy room organization
  • read a book by a local author (although I didn’t finish it!)
  • take the kids to the food pantry and the nursing home
  • listen to 3 homeschooling podcasts
  • make donuts with the kids
  • take the kids downhill skiing
  • monthly family adventure

March highlights: I tried milking Lila (I need practice, but I liked it. Eventually, I think, I’ll be doing the milking.), and we got a rowing machine. I did rowing when Hannah was a baby, and I loved it. I have wanted to row ever since, but of course we’ve never lived anywhere with rowing within two hours of our house. Instead, I decided a rowing machine would be a great way to get strong and work on my form until I can get my own boat….like 5 years ago. I’ve been watching for used rowing machines, and 5 years later, I finally have one.

I am so glad I waited. John found a used water rower, so I am actually pulling water (it’s super cool), the sound is lovely- I could close my eyes and think that I’m really on water. John tells me the sound is nice in other parts of the house as well while I’m using it. He also loves the rower and the kids have been using it too.

From the bookshelf…

  • Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber
  • Die Empty by Todd Henry
  • Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield

What is working…

One thing I’ve been consciously working on this year is decreasing my use of disposable products. We don’t use many disposable products- no paper napkins, no paper towels, no disposable feminine products or diapers, and we don’t tend to buy bottled drinks. However, I realized a few ways we could do better- and it’s made me feel so happy.

  • bringing our own coffee mugs anywhere we might be getting a drink
  • if we’re eating at a restaurant where water comes in disposable cups, we bring our own water bottles
  • on dates with the kids, I started bringing drinks from home for them so I wasn’t purchasing a plastic bottle of juice (also a great money-saver!)
  • eating real food has definitely helped in this area- we simply don’t have as many packages to throw away

We are not perfect at this, but we are getting better.

In the world of real food, I continue to be happy with our improved diet. Last week we were out and I hadn’t brought enough snacks. I told the kids I’d let them get a snack at the grocery store. BenBen was insistent on tortilla chips. Fine. Hannah ate one chip and said she’d rather eat a banana. Sammy ate a couple and lost interest. BenBen had a handful and then handed the bag to me, saying they made his mouth feel funny.

I couldn’t believe it! I know tortilla chips aren’t healthy, but they always seemed acceptable to me- they only have 3 ingredients. It felt like a real food victory for sure.

April goals…

  •  annual Passover Seder
  • annual Earth Day trash pick-up
  • date with John
  • dates with the kids
  • take the kids to the pool, indoor rec center, and library
  • take the kids to the nursing home and food pantry
  • plant Christmas trees on our farm
  • make bagels with the kids
  • set up for the kids to measure the weather at our house
  • take the kids stargazing twice
  • boil our own maple syrup
  • attend grafting workshop
  • go on a long run
  • monthly family adventure

Any purchases you’ve waited years for, and been glad for the wait? What are some tricks or tactics you use for throwing away less?

Posted in Learning/Goals | 3 Comments

The best part of spring

It’s no secret that I love winter. I love snow. I love the sports of cold weather. Yesterday we mentioned something about snow melting to our kids and they were almost in tears, “Nooooo!”

The last weeks of winter, like the last weeks of every season, are the loveliest. Skiing under blue skies. When it’s 29 degrees and the kids wear their bathing suits because it’s so “warm” and we drive with the windows down. (really)

P1120192 P1120193

(this is really our backyard!)

P1120185As seems to be our tradition, we got our last hay delivery last weekend- the end of March in the snow. I have a picture almost exactly like this from last winter. John would tell you that it’s time for the snow to go. Chores are much harder in winter- no doubt!

In some ways, snow keeps us from feeling the urgency of planting and outdoor work, not that there isn’t work in winter- we heat with wood- but it feels different.

But I look forward to spring too. We had a conversation about spring and what we look forward to a few nights ago and the answers were pretty predictable:

Tapping trees, drinking sap, and making maple syrup

Watching the plants begin to grow and daily walks around the perennial bed to see what’s woken up

Baby animals

Climbing in the apple tree

Planting the garden

Those are wonderful, but for me the best part of spring is the feeling it quickens inside, the feeling that anything is possible. There is so much energy. It seems like the year is just starting in a sense and we can do it all. The things that have held us back in the past seemingly won’t any longer. Any feeling of winter doldrums is offset and worth that through the roof elation.

P1120150Until then, we’ll be skiing every day we can.

Does spring hit you in that same way? What do you love about spring?

Posted in Farm | Leave a comment


It’s too much trouble to go to the beach.

We’ll wait for another day,

When the floors are scrubbed

And the clothes are washed

And everything’s put away.

And then one day my work was done-

“Let’s go to the beach,” I said.

And I looked outside, the wind was cold

And summer’s leaves were red…..

As a recovering household perfectionist, who went to bed each night with the clothes put away, the dishes washed, and toys picked up, I realized a couple nights ago how much I have embraced the messiness of life at the moment…and it’s not even summer or fall when I would normally attribute a less than stellar home to the season. It’s winter, for goodness sake!

I got the kids to bed and sat down at the table, looked around, and laughed. Out loud.

The table was covered with crumbs. I couldn’t enter either room at the top of the stairs for the pile of clothes to be put away. The dishes to be washed extended far beyond the sink. Toys were literally everywhere.

And yet, I’d spent the day taking the kids skiing, gotten them out to play with the baby goats, we’d found Jupiter, Venus, and Mars in the night sky, and we’d baked a fancy tart all together.

It’s hard for me to let go of my perfectionism. That I think I should be able to do all of those fun things with the kids and keep the house clean. Ha!

Instead, we might have baby goats in the house, and we’re going to track mud in, and we’re eating real food so we have to make it all from scratch and the kids love to change their clothes…and why not!

There are so many things to do in a day and so many things I’d love to explore the idea of, learn how to do, and experience and at the same time so much upkeep on our daily life. I have lots of little habits that I do (or attempt), and sometimes I start to wonder how many of them I really should do. They all feel important to me (of course!), but I’d wager a lot of them might not be (which ones?).

Should I be doing the dishes? Or is it more important to read a book?

Should I take the kids skiing? Or should I finish a project?

Should I be spending time exercising? Or is it more important to play a game with the kids?

I get up early to read and have quiet to myself, but even that requires ignoring the kids for a time because they often get up early too.

I read a fascinating article recently that said we should be reading books and growing ourselves rather than only dealing with all the chores of daily life. You could take this to an extreme and never do dishes or laundry again, but that’s not the point. The idea is that we can fritter away all of our time (plus some!) taking care of the immediate needs of our family and household and miss the greater picture and in the end not be the person that our family needs us to be because our brains have atrophied in the process.

I hear that and it makes so much sense to me, but don’t you just want someone to put a wand over your life and tell you what that should look like? I don’t want to be the extreme of not spending enough time with my family because I have too much of my own agenda and projects.

Blah, blah, blah. Right?

I’d love to hear what you think and how you strike a balance between caring for your family and growing your brain and person. Is this something you’ve thought about?

Posted in Simplicity | 1 Comment

Meet the kids

P1120128 P1120132We are celebrating 12 goat kids on the ground!

Although we often debate the merits of goats for our farm, we all agree that nothing beats goat babies. They are so little and sweet.

In the past kidding has been mostly uneventful, with the exception of last year when we had only one baby and it died within a day. Usually the moms push out the babies easily- we just go out to the barn one day and there are healthy babies on the ground. We have never had birthing troubles….until this year.

I wrote before that I had become a goat midwife once- make that twice. I was shocked last week when John came into the house and told me I needed to get out to the barn NOW because there was another mom having problems. It is new territory for me to be the authority about anything regarding the animals! My first comment was something to the effect of “but I haven’t read anything about animal midwifery yet!”

In this situation, what worked before didn’t work. It was the same presentation with the head out to the neck, plus one foot. I couldn’t dislodge this one, but the mom was in much better shape than in the last situation. I didn’t feel that it warranted yanking it out for awhile. We were able to get ahold of a woman who does assist goats in labor and she came out, tried the same thing I was doing and was unsuccessful, and then made the call that we had to just yank the baby out. Those are the calls that are hard! In both cases, we were certain that the baby was dead and were purely thinking of saving the mom. And in both cases the baby came out fine. Very thankful and amazing to witness what I considered a miracle. It was great to watch someone else who knows more than me, and before she left she told me that now she knows who to call if she ever needs help (me!).

P1120106Our kids were witness to the ups and downs of kidding. They all watched a couple babies physically come out of the moms- witnessing a live birth is about the best homeschooling ever. They watched when I played midwife and it didn’t go smoothly. When babies were born in the night and John brought them in to warm them, they helped dry them off while we discussed umbilical cords and the needs of babies. And they also loved a lot on one that eventually died. And we talked through that too.

P1120065It was our first kid of the season. John had gone out to check the animals at 10 pm and then again at 6 am a couple weeks ago, and sometime in between one kid had been born. It was well below zero that night and the baby was in the coldest spot in the barn. John thought it was dead at first, but he saw that it was breathing, so he brought it in the house.

Its legs were completely solid from cold. I felt them. We started warming him up, warning the kids that this one would likely not make it, but that we’d do our best. He kept breathing. He stood a little bit, but his back legs never worked right. We took him with us everywhere to watch him and help all we could (literally he rode around in the minivan with us). The second day he rallied a little. Enough that we named him- Popsicle. But the third day it was clear to all of us that he wasn’t going to live. Later, John read that if a baby’s legs freeze, they will never be able to use them- we hadn’t realized that- but we did all we could.

As we found that Popsicle had died and were talking through it with our kids, John went out to the barn and from the house, I could hear a baby crying. It was literally at the same moment.

Goat kidding means that John has multiple trips to the barn each night to check on everyone. Because we need more sleep deprivation around this house! :) With it being winter we have to make sure the babies are dry and warm and all of them have required a little time in front of the woodstove. It seems like once they get a day under them, they are good to go and handle the cold just fine.

P1120079 P1120093Our job now is visiting the goats every day and spending time with them in the barn, otherwise called chasing them and picking them up. We want them to be used to us and easy to handle and there is no other way for that to happen than spending lots of time with them when they are little.

I see fun aspects to my kids that I wouldn’t otherwise know. Like that BenBen is amazing with babies and truly loves them so much (this is true with our baby too, not just goats). Hannah has grown less fearful of the animals. Sammy is soaking it all in; he’s always loved the goats. Even Micah plays with the goat babies, although they don’t particularly like his kind of play…at least I know the goats won’t bite him when he pulls their hair!

We don’t do a lot with the goats overall, but it’s hard to imagine not having this experience. I know I have grown from it.

Hooray for babies!

Posted in Farm | 4 Comments