Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Searching And Working

Last week some huge changes have hit our family.  The first one came last Tuesday, and it was that Mirin was accepted to a new charter middle/highschool.  He had been #2 on the list at the beginning of the year, but we didn't expect him to be accepted so soon.  He started Monday for the first time ever at a "real" school experience.

The second and biggest change came on Friday (exactly like the Fox in Chanticleer).  Ethan was laid off from his job.  Usually his pay is cut back during the winter, but this came as a complete surprise.  He has worked there for eight years, and has been heavily involved in designing the systems his company marketed.  It wasn't, as is to be expected of the corporate machine, personal.  They also laid off most of the other people in his department.  He was told to leave immediately, and had to return hours later after the rest of the lay-offs had been to the chopping block with HR to get all of his tools he had been letting the company use for years and say goodbye to the friends and co-workers.

We have spent the past four days trying to process what has happened, working as hard as possible on all the work that we have been behind on with the farm and around the house.  We have been enjoying being together, feeling grateful for each other.

Now we find ourselves facing survival in the face of the unknown.  A death of our old life.  With growing our own food and being very thrifty, we were fairly comfortable with our upper-poverty-class lifestyle, but in many ways we wanted this change, but it was the fear that held us back.  We have three children we are responsible for, and their experience of childhood is important to us.

We are trying not to get stuck in the shock part, not to be stuck in the anger, frustration and fear.  Instead, this is a freeing opportunity, a cleansing moment, a step onto a new threshold from which we can't turn back.

One thing seems clear - our old life is gone.  We will never have it back.  This is not the time to be looking over our shoulders and mourning what we have lost, but to be looking forward and drawing on our experiences and skills.  When old things are taken down, when old structures are shattered, when the routine is broken - what is left but to love each other, be grateful for what we do have, and to delight in the way that anything could happen

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Showers of Blessings

We finally got some rain yesterday evening as we were doing the chores.  It was ominous and cloudy all day, but for some reason the rain gods seem to prefer to shower us with their blessings exactly when we are out doing the chores.  Every day for ages there have been huge thunderstorms crowding around, but alas not actually raining on us.

The rain was more welcome than you might think - it has been so dry.  The cows are at the end of their pasture rotation, and the grass in the beginning is dormant and there is no regrowth.  The plan has been to put them on hay at the top of the garden - expensive, of course, but not deplorable, as I need hay and manure to start building the winter garden.

The most I have started on the fall/winter garden are some pathetic-looking starts.  I started early this year, back in August, but the hurricane that came through was not good for them.  I replanted again a couple of weeks ago, and everything has popped up right away.  The funny thing is that the replanted starts are at about the same stage as the older ones.  I don't know how people actually get kale in the ground on September 1st, as all my starts seem to hate growing when it's so hot.  I am wondering if it is even worth starting things until September if the later-planted starts catch up so quickly to the early starts.

The pigs have been in the garden, and have cleared out a good portion of the back of it.  It's about time to give them another section.  Things are (finally!) moving along a little.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Week of Birthdays

Every day is so full of things to do, I am always working on something.  There has been no time for involved cooking projects, French translations, knitting or writing.  I have also been too busy to enforce the chore lists for everyone, and most of the time end up doing it myself because it's easier.  It's funny how the busier I am, the lazier my children are.  This has been very bad for Mirin, especially, with his "lazy constitution", he is getting up later and later and spending so much time loafing around on the sofa or in bed reading stupid comic books (there are some great comic books out there - he is reading stupid ones - if you don't believe me, just flip through a My Little Pony comic book and you'll see what I mean).  The chore chart has been untouched for a week.  I am just realizing this and feeling the need to do something about it (= Mama Monday Chore Crackdown).

There is just so much going on these days.  So many big projects, so much catching-up to do....and we were just hit by THREE birthdays within a week - Clothilde's fourth birthday (I can't believe my baby is already FOUR!!),  Mirin's twelfth birthday (last year before the teens!), and my little brother's 26th birthday.

I have been fated from the age of seven in my family to carry out birthday celebrations for everyone.  For the children, this is a special dinner of their choice (Clo wanted hotdogs, Mirin picked baked fish) and a homemade cake of their choosing.  My children literally spend all year deciding what kind of birthday cake they want.

Clothilde wanted carrot cake, so I made the soaked-flour carrot cake from Nourishing Traditions.  Mirin wanted a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cake  - one of the more involved cakes I've ever made, as I also had to make ice cream.  It was really, really good though - being made only of chocolate chip cookie dough and homemade vanilla ice cream.

For my little brother's birthday, the children were going to make a cake, but were too lazy (see above) to even pick one out.  So I ended up making cream puffs - I really am fated to do it - instead.  Unfortunately Ethan was reading something aloud to me (very interesting that I wanted to hear) while I was measuring the recipe, and I measured twice as much butter as necessary for the 3x recipe.  I only realized the error when I added the flour, and it didn't thicken properly - and horrifically we were out of flour, so no correction could be made.  My mom scrambled around and found some Einkorn flour I added, bringing the recipe up to 6x the original 8 puffs.  It turned out OK, except that my oven could only hold four baking pans at once - the cream puffs were abnormally large in compensation, but they (mostly) turned out ok!

Looking forward to a more leisurely week this week - but we'll see.  What is it about this time of year that always seems like busy madness?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Out Of The Dark

It's interesting that whining seems to be almost a universal offspring behavior.  The little goats are successfully weaned - for the most part. We are still bottle-feeding a few of them - not because they need it, but because we were trying to tame them.  The bottle-fed babies are not just tame, but will actually attack you if they think you have milk.  If you walk by, they bleat with the same persistent, high-pitched, piteous and annoying sound that Clothilde makes when she wants something and feels ignored.

A terrifying thing happened to me and the girls last week with David.  We were walking up to bring the cows their salt and minerals.  The sun had set, and it was that in-between time of evening when it is so difficult to see.

The cows were on the last line, and Ethan was milking Matilda way down at the milking shed.  I had started pouring the salt and minerals into their dishes when Rose suddenly said, "Something is coming!"

We peered into the gloaming.  There was a faint rustling along the path, and suddenly David, huge and black in the failing light, loomed out at us.  Oh no! I said.  He can walk through all of the fences, and was heading straight for us.  He has attacked me and the girls before, but I had a stick handy and had managed to protect us.  Clothilde leaped into my arms, Rose huddled behind my back and I quickly scanned the ground, trying to see if there was a stick, a fence post, anything.  The ground looked grey and homogeneous; there was nothing. 

David walked through the electric fence, towards us, bleating a small, psychotic bleat.  We dropped the mineral scoops, and backed away carefully, hoping that would distract him.  There was a grove of small pine trees we went into, hoping that if he couldn't see us he would find something else to do.  I looked around desperately for a tree to set Clothilde in - and then help Rose up. I knew I could scare him away if they were safe - but with one child in my arms and the other clinging to me, I felt so vulnerable.

David left the scoops and started coming towards us, bleating small bleats, almost like he was hunting us.  I saw a huge pine tree through the small ones, and thought maybe there would be a low branch.  Clothilde started screaming for Ethan, which attracted David more, and seemed to excite him.  I shushed and shushed her, while directing Rose to hide behind the tree.  David followed, getting closer and closer.  I tripped and fell over one of the pine's roots, David loomed over us, his ears raised, ready to come cracking down on us, perhaps killing us.  I screamed at him and forced myself up again, and backwards.  The large pine tree had huge branches that had fallen all around - I hadn't been able to see them from a distance.  I ripped Clothilde off of my side, handing her to Rose, and picked up two large branches just in time to bar him from pushing into us.  No longer unarmed and vulnerable, the situation had turned.

Instead of attacking us, he rammed his horns into one of the small pines very close by and savaged it, ripping off shreds of bark and shaking the whole tree.  The girls were screaming again, I begged them to be quiet.  If only they would be quiet, and not antagonize him....I wasn't so sure how the weak pine branches would hold up if I actually had to fight with him.  I had once tried to fend him off with a sturdy-looking branch that snapped right away and left me weaponless and having to keep him away by kicking at him with my feet.

I held my breath while he ripped at the tree, obviously trying to show us what he was capable of - trying to make us afraid.  He was distracted, so we backed farther away around the tree, out of the clearing.  I had both branches in hand, Rose carried Clothilde - always best to consolidate your vulnerabilities.  We headed for the open, so we could clearly see him coming towards us, ready to fight.

Just then we heard a heavy tred.  Matilda was back!  I felt relief.  Matilda takes every chance to make sure David knows he is smaller, weaker, and therefore pathetic.  She is like the guard cow.  Ethan was there, too.  He had heard us screaming, but was busy with the milking.  He found a fence post in the grass (alas, we would have had to walk towards David to find it at the critical time), and ran David off onto the next line.  The girls and I ran down to the barn while Ethan walked behind us, keeping David back.

When we reached the barn, Ethan yelled, "He's coming your way!" and we rushed for the barn and shut the door.  Then Ethan said he was holding him off, so we ran into the car and shut the doors.  David ran past, back to his girls who were up by the milking paddock.

When Ethan opened the back of the car to put in the milk, he teased us by bleating (he has not been in the situation having two children cling to him while he fights off David, so it didn't seem very serious to him).

We couldn't figure out why David followed us all the way across the farm when his girls were at the other end.  He is up for sale with "make an offer"!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back To Homeschool

We started homeschooling again last week.  It is nice to be back to fall structure rather than the loose, unplanned summer days.  I realized we actually do homeschool year-round, but with different styles.  Very structured schooling in Fall and Spring, unschooling in Summer.  It seems to work well that way.  Beginning of summer, the children and I alike are glad to shake off the daily rhythm and have some freedom.  September-wise, it feels sort of like putting things back together again.

This year Rose is in 3rd grade, Mirin is in 6th, and Clo is in a difficult age where she can't quite join in, but doesn't want to be left out.

I put off planning for most of the summer, and did it all in a few desperate weeks in beginning of August.  I was trying to figure out what we were doing.  Now that we are not Waldorf homeschooling, I felt a loss.  I thought last year I had it all figured out, but I found myself back to the drawing board.  I haven't had enough time to study, figure out, and implement anything else.  Running out of time, I went ahead and planned 3rd and 6th grade by taking the things I liked the most from the Waldorf plans, adding my own stuff, and finding some new interesting things that we never would have found if we had been still stuck in the Waldorf rut.

For 3rd grade I chose the things we had enjoyed when Mirin was a third-grader.  The Native Dwelling series by Bonnie Shemie are fantastic.  We loved studying the Native Americans, so I kept that as part of the curriculum.  We are also studying the great civilizations of Central and South America.  These blocks include Language Arts, culture, and history.

Science in 3rd grade was Weather - and we are keeping that.  It was fun and interesting to keep a weather journal, and included honing observational skills, measurement (inches, centimetres and temperature), cardinal directions, graphing, data analysis, and weather phenomenon.  It is a very rich subject.

I found a beautiful cursive practice book that includes beautiful artworks.  After the basic letters are taught, the lessons center on finding and describing things in famous classical paintings.

Looking around this same website, I discovered the Life of Fred books that intrigued me.  I bought a few to see how my children liked them.  I got the first book for Rose, thinking it would be a good review, and I got a more advanced one for Mirin.  We ended up working through the first one and are starting the second.  Some of the content is very easy, but it also has things that we have never done before.  I looked through the harder book and decided to just start them both at the beginning.  So far we are really enjoying it.  The story is entertaining, and includes much more than just math.  I particularly like the way the negative effects of sugary foods and television are worked into the story!  How great is that?

For 6th grade we are working on Geometry, Greek Myths, studying the planets, stars, and solar system.  I planned it very lightly, because Mirin balks at lots of planned, structured schooling.

And of course I had to include Clothilde in my plans.  Every week we are trying to do some cooking together, some art together, and some small lessons - like counting and listening to stories.  Every day we do a seasonal verse (one of my favorite things I learned from Waldorf - I have always loved poetry and awareness of the seasons).  We also have a break between different parts of the lesson and do yoga stretches from a wonderful book written for children, picture-book style.  Often Clothilde will get the book out and do the stretches herself - even at age 3 she can do this because of the very simple format.

While I was planning, I remembered drawing shapes with my mom when I was about Clothilde's age.  I recalled being so pleased learning to make stars and hearts especially.  Last week, while Mirin was plugging away at Math and Rose was working in the cursive book, I got out drawing paper and crayons and tried to draw shapes with Clothilde to keep her occupied.

To my surprise, it wasn't just the casual, "Oh, we'll just play around with shapes and colors" that I had expected.  No, Clothilde takes things seriously.  I started drawing a few circles, which she tried to copy, and was quickly screaming and sobbing because her circles were not exactly the same as mine.  Simultaneously, Mirin got frustrated with his Fractions review and was clamouring for my attention.  Rose got angry because during the excitement, the table was jostled and messed up her letters that she was painstakingly working on.  We ended up with everyone screaming and crying - not exactly what I'd had in mind!

After the older children were done with their lessons, I got out the crayons and paper again, and sat down with just Clothilde.  I thought my approach was wrong.  I didn't remember this sort of thing being such a crisis when I was drawing shapes as a child!

Instead we opened the crayon box, and I told Clothilde to pick three things.  She picked:  a girl, a dog, and a horse.  I drew them on the paper, and began making up a story about the three of them, drawing as I went.  Halfway through, she pulled the crayons away from me and began drawing confidently, making up the end of the story on her own.  I found it fascinating to watch her creative process with this, and how a different approach can completely change a child's reaction to an activity.  My structure of drawing a circle did not inspire her, as I had expected, instead she became focused on how her drawing was not the same as my adult drawing, and felt inadequate.

When the process was freed up to her creativity, she became inspired, the flow of the drawing and the story came bursting out.  After she was finished and went off to play, I quickly jotted down the story on the back of the picture. I am imagining making a little book with her drawings and stories.

It was an intense week back to schooling, and I am having trouble finding time to write here, or work on French recipes.  My garden is very weedy, and my fall seedlings got slammed by hurricane Hermine over the weekend (and we lost electricity for two days - no joke when you have chest freezers full of your year's supply of meat!).  Dinners are usually a scramble and end up being something I pull desperately out of the freezer at the last minute - usually steak (not complaining, I love steak).  But I will try to write at least once a week until things settle down.