Chinese New Year is coming, and it’s the year of the rooster! This is going to mean a lot to my fellow chicken friends.
I would love to sit here and pretend I’m this cultured person who has traveled the world and fully appreciates all the beautiful cultures our big world has to offer, but the truth is that this is just what I aspire to be. So I, shameful as it is to admit, originally grew excited about the Chinese New Year because it’s the year of the rooster—and, well, if you’ve read my blog before, you know I love all things chicken.
Now, I really was always pretty interested in the Chinese New Year anyway. As I said, I aspire to be more cultured and learn more about the world, but I never took the time to dig into the history behind this lovely holiday. Then, when I saw it was the year of the rooster, I was super excited about the holiday. Shallow, I know.
But somewhere along the lines, in my daily self analysis, I realized I should research the holiday and use this opportunity to teach my son and myself a little about Chinese culture.
Before I developed this plan to learn more, my knowledge of the Chinese New Year was limited to having some fascination with Chinese astrology and finding out that I was born in the year of the rabbit. According to what I’ve read, this means I am cautious, patient, quiet, kind of a worrier, and also stubborn and melancholy. I’m like, yeah, that about sums it up. I like this stuff!
But I never really investigated the history of the holiday—until the rooster.
And what I learned with my son has us both excited to learn so much more about this holiday.
The Chinese New Year celebration is thousands of years old. It’s so old, there is some debate, apparently, about when it started. It’s the most important festival in Chinese culture.
The myth behind the holiday is that, long ago, a monster named Nian (which also means year) would come on the first day of the year and eat the crops and the livestock. But the people learned that Nian was afraid of red and loud noises, so people started decorating their homes in red and using fireworks to keep Nian away. Since the Chinese invented fireworks, this makes sense.
The celebration lasts 15 days, and people celebrate with fireworks, costumes, parades, and people give gifts of money in red envelopes. We learned that the money gifts should be in even numbers, and it’s considered rude to open your red envelope in front of the giver.
Of course, this is just a bit about the holiday, and it’s a fascinating event. Thankfully, here in Bangor, we’re going to be able to expand our learning about Chinese New Year this weekend. There’s a Chinese New Year parade at our local mall, and I encourage you to check in your area, as, chances are, there’s something fun and educational going on.
I have a lot more to learn, but I’m going to keep at it. My curiosity has been sparked, and my son’s has been as well. We’re headed to the library to pick up some books, and in addition to attending our local parade, we’ll be having Chinese food on Saturday.
Also, I’ll confess, I will be taking advantage of this opportunity to get some rooster gear. I already found some flour sack dish towels with red roosters on them. My frugality goals went out the door, but I’m giving myself a pass. I mean, really…
I’ve always been the kind of person who is hesitant about making New Year’s resolutions, but I made a couple last year that I mostly stuck to. This has me thinking I might try this again. Last year, I resolved to simplify my life and to eat more plants. Although I still have progress to be made in both areas, as we begin a new year, I realize I am doing better in terms of living simply and eating more plants.
With this in mind, I am trying this whole New Year’s resolution thing again.
For 2017, my big goal is to become more of a Maker. You may be wondering what it means to become a Maker, and it’s a pretty broad term. Essentially, just making some of the things you need instead of being a consumer makes you a Maker. But there are, of course, varying degrees of Maker-ness.
I have been working on this for some time, but a few goals have eluded me. I am hoping 2017 will be my year.
Here’s some of the progress I have made so far:
I learned to crochet scarves, and we really use them.
I cut everyone’s hair in our family, and I am not trained in this endeavor. I just watched, learned, and bought some really nice German scissors.
We raise chickens for eggs, and my husband raises some chickens for meat.
I make home-cooked meals for almost every meal. This has saved us a ton of money and had made us healthier.
My husband is relentless about repairing instead of replacing.
And these are my Maker goals for 2017:
Learn how to knit. I want to make socks and hats!
Re-learn how to can jams and jellies. About 15 years ago, I was taught how and did it a little, but I think I’m just going to have to re-learn this year.
Plant apple trees.
And, because I love infographics, I made one to emphasize some of the many benefits of becoming a Maker and trying to leave those consumer ways behind. I also have a few fun suggestions, but I would love to hear more.
I think many can agree that 2016 was a doozy. It was a tough one for our family in many ways, and we are not the only ones. I’ve even seen songs written about how crappy 2016 was. But we made it and are looking forward to a happy and healthy 2017!
I’m not one for superstitions, well, sometimes I am. I do like cultural traditions, and I knock on wood a lot. So I’m sharing a little bit of my superstitious southern background in this week’s blog post. If you want to have good luck in 2017, you just need to eat your black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.
I’ve been eating black eyed peas on New Year’s most years since I was a little girl. When I was 16, we didn’t have black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, and later that year, in August, I overslept on the first day of school. Coincidence? I think not.
I knew it must have been because I missed my peas, and when you’re 16, waking up late on the first day of school is completely traumatic.
My husband is from Montana and had never heard of this lucky tradition, so when I first explained it to him, I’m pretty sure he thought I was crazy. And, I’m sure, if you’re reading this and are not from the south, you might think I’m crazy as well, but hear me out.
In addition to making your New Year’s resolutions, why not add a little of this lucky and highly nutritious bean to your menu? It’s worth a shot, right?
I did a little research, and it turns out that the black-eyed pea tradition goes back even further than I thought. Apparently, there is some disagreement about how this tradition began in the south. Some say the tradition started after the Civil War when there was nothing left to eat anyway. Black eyed peas were considered more for animals, and when times were tough, well, black eyed peas really were lucky.
But it turns out myths and traditions related to black eyed peas go back much further. The Egyptians considered the black eyed pea to be a humble food, and it was important to eat the peas in order to show humility before the gods. Apparently, the peas were also connected to fertility and good luck, and some Jewish communities picked up the tradition and still eat black eyed peas for good fortune.
So it’s not just a southern thing, and it turns out that black eyed peas are way less humble than people originally thought. They are amazingly good for you.
This humble little pea is rich in vitamin A, which is good for your eyes and skin; it is high in fiber and aids in digestion; and it can, apparently, help lower blood pressure. That’s pretty good for a pea that people thought was unfit for human consumption.
Now, here in Maine, black eyed peas are not so easy to grow—at least my husband and I found this. I love black eyed peas. I think they might be my favorite bean, so I wanted to grow some in our garden. We tried, and we got some delicious peas, just not too many. They really do need hotter weather to grow, but I intend to try a few again and would love to hear from anyone out there who has been able to grow these peas in a colder climate. I want to know your secrets!
In the meantime, I’ve purchased my black eyed peas from the grocery store and am ready for some good luck in 2017. After all, it doesn’t hurt to try, and after 2016, I’m willing to try anything. I’m just about ready to eat a whole pot of black eyed peas to make 2017 better!
Maybe, if we all gave it shot, it would work.
Of course, as someone who has lived in several distinct parts of the country with some distinct cultural traditions, I’m always a fan of blending cultural traditions. What are some New Year’s traditions from your part of the world you can share with this southern girl? If it will bring me some luck, I’m willing to give it a try. Let’s all try every lucky tradition we can think of.
I always feel a sort of push and pull at Christmas time. For years, I’ve been trying to learn to live more frugally, and, in the last year, as we’ve worked to simplify and work less, sometimes, I do feel like things are a little too austere around here.
I should provide context. Austere for me is certainly not austere for most. Although we grow as much of our own food as we can, we buy organic food at the grocery store for what we can’t grow, and, as a family, we eat very well. We also have a comfortable house and a reliable vehicle.
But I’m pretty sure 90% of my socks have holes, and since we gave the family car to our oldest son, sometimes, I really miss having a car. But that’s about as austere as it gets around here, so I shouldn’t complain. I hope I’m not.
Still, since it’s Christmas time and it feels like it has been a really tough year, I’m having really strong urges toward “retail therapy,” but I’m trying to keep my head.
I have a long history of struggling with materialism, mostly in relation to my boys. I think mom guilt played a role. For example, when my youngest was a toddler, I had a particularly demanding job. I worked about 70 hours per week and had to travel quite a bit. I missed my family so much, but I think it was hardest being away from my little one. So, every time I traveled, I would shop for him way too much and shower him with gifts when I came home.
My husband expressed concern about this, but the problem with this mode of operation really hit me in the face when I arrived home after some travel for work and my husband and little one met me at the airport. The first thing my toddler said to me was, “What did you bring me?”
Yep. I knew I had been making a big mistake at that point, and, really, that was one of the moments that caused me to start rethinking things, to figure out how I could exchange money for time. To get more time would mean less money, but it felt like a necessary move.
But Christmas is still a struggle in materialism for me.
To help, my husband and I read about a plan to keep Christmas simple and still make it special. I read a blog post last year about a family who kept a plan to give each person four gifts and four gifts only—something you want, something you need, something to share, and something to read.
I loved this idea and thought that we should try it this year, especially since we would have to be more budget minded than we usually are. But I loved the way this plan kept Christmas special.
So, this year, we’re doing it! I made a little grid for each member of our family, and my husband and I have been figuring out a gift for each category. The most fun has been the “something to share” category, and I’m excited to see how this works out. We’ve been looking at games, fancy chocolates, and other fun presents for this category, and I’m excited for all of us to share a present with one another.
This seems like a good plan for our family. I do believe in keeping Christmas special, even though I totally understand that it has turned into a terribly commercial holiday. But life can be a grind. It feels good to take a break from it and celebrate. I mean, that’s what holidays are for, right? Humans have been doing this a long time. We need a holiday break from the grind, and I believe holidays are necessary to overall happiness—however we choose to celebrate.
But I don’t want to charge things on the credit cards either. I believe we have a plan for balance, and I’m excited to see how this goes this year. I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, what are your plans to keep the holidays special without breaking the bank?
What do tomatoes and witches have in common? Where did the tradition of carving pumpkins come from? What ominous events loom if you get a double-yolked egg?
A lot of the farm foods we consider a little on the boring side actually have some fascinating and even creepy backgrounds when you look at history, folklore, and tradition. As we prepare for Halloween, I thought it would be fun to dig into a little produce and farm food superstition and history. It might be a great way to get your kids to eat their meals this Halloween season.
Read on to learn some creepy stories from history and folklore about some of your favorite farm foods.
You might think that there’s nothing more boring than eggs, but there’s a lot of superstition and folklore surrounding our incredible, edible eggs. The double-yolked egg is one of the most interesting.
One of our chicky girls regularly lays double-yolked eggs, and since I am fascinated by folklore, I found out that, while most cultures consider double-yolked eggs to be all good luck and signs of fertility, there’s a darker side to the double-yolkers.
In parts of Britain, it’s bad luck to get an egg with two yolks, and in Norse folklore, it’s downright dreadful. According to the folklore, cracking an egg with two yolks is a sign someone in your family will die soon.
But let’s not think too much on that story. Let’s just focus on the extra protein.
Of course, there’s even more to eggs than you might think. For example, ancient cultures believed it was critical to crush up your empty egg shells. Otherwise, a witch might steal the shells and use them to cast spells and create terrible sea storms.
Garlic and onions
Everyone knows that the best way to keep vampires away is to use garlic, but did you know that an onion in your windowsill will also keep bad spirits away from your house?
But there’s even more creepy and interesting traditions related to garlic and onions. In addition to being used in European traditions to keep away vampires and werewolves, garlic was used by the Greeks in a creative sort of way. They placed garlic on piles of stones at crossroads to keep away demons. And onions, according to some sources, were used during the Plague in Europe. People believed the Plague was caused by evil spirits, and wearing a string of onions around your neck would supposedly protect you from the spirits
Tomatoes have a fantastic back story. I remember learning in college about how people were terrified of tomatoes for a long time, and I remembered imagining the poor soul who had to be the first in an area to try a tomato and say, “Don’t worry. It’s cool!”
But I never knew why people were so terrified of such a delicious fruit or “vegetable,” depending on who you ask. Well, it turns out that tomatoes were closely associated with witches and witchcraft in Europe.
According to Romie Stott’s article, “When Tomatoes Were Blamed for Witchcraft and Werewolves,” tomatoes were a new food in Europe about the same time the witch hunts were in full force. It was earnestly believed that witches used mandrake to fly their brooms and cast other spells, and, well, the tomato plant looks a lot like the mandrake plant. Yellow cherry tomatoes apparently look a lot like mandrake fruit.
So the tomatoes were guilty by resemblance.
It was thought that eating a tomato could turn you into a werewolf or worse, lead to your death. Now, I totally understand the fear of the unknown, but this is a fantastic story. Who knew tomatoes and witches had so much in common?
Of course, no creepy food superstition list would be complete without the most important Halloween food item. Pumpkins are wonderful, right? They bring us pumpkin pie, jack-o-lanterns, and a fall pumpkin spice craze that will surely drive most of us mad. But there’s a cool and creepy backstory to pumpkins as well.
People have been carving pumpkins for centuries, but most of us don’t know where the tradition comes from. According to the History Channel, It all goes back to an Irish story about a man named Stingy Jack.
Apparently, Stingy Jack convinced the Devil to have a drink with him one night, but, because Jack was stingy, he didn’t want to pay for the drink. So he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin, but when the Devil did this, Jack put a silver cross next to the coin, which kept the Devil from being able to turn back into himself.
Finally, Jack set him free but tricked the Devil again the next year and made the Devil promise he would never claim Jack’s soul. When Jack died, the story goes that God would not allow such a character into Heaven, but since the Devil couldn’t claim Jack either, he was doomed to wander the earth. The Devil sent Jack into the darkness to wander with only a burning piece of coal for light, which Jack placed into a turnip he had carved. So Jack carried the carved turnip to light his way for eternity.
In Europe, people carved turnips and potatoes with scary faces and put them in their windows to scare away Stingy Jack, and when the tradition came to the New World, well, people discovered the awesomeness of pumpkins. Of course, the rest, as they say, is history.
And that’s my list of creepy farm food superstitions, but I know there are more fantastic stories from folklore about many of the foods we raise on our farms. If you have some to add, please share in a comment below. Who knew farm foods could be so interesting?
Hopefully, sharing these stories with the family will make for a fun Halloween tradition. I know I can’t wait to tell my son that about tomatoes turning him into a werewolf. I’m sure he’ll be intrigued.
This week, I’m late with my post. I have a very good reason for being late. My youngest, my baby, turned 7 this weekend!
I actually spent Friday feeling a little guilty that I had not managed to get my blog post up on time, but then I remembered what my blogging self would tell worrying self: This is your child’s birthday. The blog can wait.
So it did. Until now.
I just put my youngest son to bed at the end of his 7th birthday. Right as he was getting into bed, he paused and said to me, “Now, I have to wait a whole year before it’s my birthday again.”
Then, he said, in a thoughtful tone, “It wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be, but it was still really good.”
“I totally understand, sweetie,” I told him. And I do understand. But I was a little taken aback by his wisdom in the way he spoke this.
He said it like he understood that this is just how it is. You build something up to be so great in your head that it can’t possibility live up to your expectations. But it’s okay if it’s still good. In fact, I’m sure that was his tone, and since he just turned 7, I was surprised by his seemingly deep understanding of this concept.
I always want his birthdays to live up to my son’s expectations, but I know there’s just no way this is possible. I hope it doesn’t seem like my kiddo is spoiled. He’s not. He’s actually this beautifully and honestly grateful kid most of the time. Well, I’m sure he’s a little spoiled, but I’m firm believer that we should all be a little spoiled, at least by love.
But he has this great imagination. No a fantastical imagination! And that means he dreams really, really big, even when I can tell he’s trying to be realistic. It’s pretty fantastic, actually.
Reflecting on the way my son dreams so big got me to thinking about my own dreams for myself and my family. I’m generally such a cautious person, but I’m trying all the time grow and change. I think “adulting” every day makes me forget how to dream big, however.
When I was in college, Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe versus Wade to the Supreme Court when she was in her 20’s, visited my college. She gave a talk about dreaming big, and I remember thinking that this was an important lesson. Her message was that someone has to do the big things, so it might as well be you—if you want it to be. This felt like such a powerful message to me.
But I grew up and forgot it.
As I thought about my son’s big dreams tonight though, I remembered my own. My husband and I want to start our own independent publishing company. In our family, my husband is the real writer, and reading his writing makes me feel like I’m just wasting words. He’s really talented.
I think we could do it. I think his writing could help us get our publishing company going, and I so have my own dream of writing a children’s book about chickens.
Many days, however, this feels like a fantasy, but, as I write this post, I remember that talk from college and I think my son’s ability to imagine so much greatness. He really does do everything with gusto, and if it doesn’t quite work out, he’s at least had a really good day.
So, tonight, as I finally get to my blog post for the week, I write it in honor of the most beautiful 7-year-old boy in the world to me. He has taught me to love bigger, think bigger, and, now, maybe tonight, to dream bigger. I hope, if you read this, you will dream bigger, too!
It has been just over a year since we brought home our first baby chickens, and they’re all big girls now. We got another set of babies in March, but they’re almost big girls, and just this week, they moved into the “big girl house,” the chicken coop.
I was so worried about this big move. I love my big girls, but they are Rhode Island Reds. And while we picked a breed of chicken that was intelligent and winter hardy, I didn’t even think about temperament. Apparently, Rhode Island Reds can be stinkers and can be bullies, and this made me worried about the little girls moving in with the big girls.
But we followed the guidelines from all of the wisest chicken bloggers we could find, and it worked. After quite a few weeks of a slow introduction process, the little girls were big enough to move into the coop, and the first night was so hard on this chicken mama. My husband built a new roost, so there would be plenty of room in the coop, and, one by one, we brought the little girls in to sleep with the big girls. I was so worried that I stayed in the coop a long time with them, and when I had to leave, my husband stayed.
Thankfully, all went well. I was so proud of our little girls that I took pictures. My babies were growing up!
This experience with our babies growing up and moving in with the big girls got me to thinking about the kind of chicken mama I am and the kind of human mama I am. Our chickens have taught me many things about myself, but one thing that I find most interesting is how raising chickens has caused me to reflect about the kind of mama I am to my boys. I think reflection is an important part of growing as a person, and our chickie girls often make me reflective. I think that might be one of my favorite things about them.
Lesson 1: I’m an “elephant mom.”
First, I’ve learned that I’m definitely an elephant mom. If you haven’t heard of this, here’s a great read from The Atlantic on what being an elephant mom involves. Essentially, an elephant mom is super nurturing and supportive when her children are young but then gradually lets go and pushes them, when the time is right, into adulthood.
I’m definitely super nurturing as a mom. I spoil both our boys and all of our chickens. But I have one boy who is 19, and I’ve been able to be tough when I’ve had to. I know he’s got to grow up and become independent, and after he graduated high school, I made him go to work and learn how to handle his business at college. I didn’t want to be a helicopter mom.
My oldest especially didn’t like the going to work part, but I know it’s good for him. So even though my heart is sad that he has to sometimes work long hours and deal with grumpy customers at his job, I know he needs to do it. And I have faith that when my youngest needs that push, I’ll give it to him, too.
I’m the same way with my chicky girls. They’re spoiled rotten, and I baby them too much for sure. They get bagels in the morning, grapes cut in half to make them easier to eat in the afternoon, but when they start bullying and acting like this is Orange Is the New Black around here, I’m a tough mama. I stomp my feet and scare those girls into better behavior.
I was watching a nature documentary one time about a family of elephants. There was an incident where a baby elephant fell into a deep mud hole and couldn’t get out. The baby’s mama was a young mama. It was her first baby. She kept trying and trying to get the baby out of the mud hole, but she couldn’t do it. I started to panic, as I was sure I was about to see that poor baby elephant be stuck for good, but then the grandma elephant, who had been watching the whole time, came over to her daughter, pushed her out of the way, like with a swift kick in the butt, and then pulled the baby elephant right out from the mud hole.
It’s good to be nurturing, but, sometimes, I guess you just have to give ‘em a kick in the butt.
Lesson 2: But I can still let go.
Second, I learned that letting go is hard but possible—and necessary and important. When my oldest was little, I couldn’t imagine what I would even do with myself when he grew up and moved out of the house. I realize now it’s a process, and you have to let them gain their independence, mainly for their own sakes. There are many days I hardly see my oldest because of his work and school. And, when I do see him, sometimes, he’s so grumpy that I feel more than ready for him to get his own place, but mostly, he’s a good boy—well, young man. And he’s learning, gradually, how to “adult.”
Seeing our little chicky girls move in with the big girls and be totally fine with it helped me think about the importance of letting go. I was so worried that the little girls would get hurt or be sad, but most of them actually seemed quite happy to be with the big girls. And the couple of little girls who seem to be more mama’s girls and daddy’s girls got used to things after a day or two.
Interestingly, the letting go part and learning I can do it has led me to the greatest epiphany about myself as a mother.
Lesson 3: It’s important for me to take time.
The biggest thing I’ve learned from my chicky girls and, well, also from having a son who is nearly grown, is that they do grow up fast. You had better stop in any way you can and take a minute to take it all in.
Not everyone can manage it, I know, but working part time is the best thing I could have done. Though we’ve had to learn a lot about frugality, it’s my time that’s priceless to me.
My youngest son is little, and I want to enjoy this. Raising chickens is a good reminder for me that I need to slow down. I mean, they’re babies for just like six weeks. When they’re babies they are so adorable, so sweet, and so funny. But it seems like overnight they’re grown up, moving into the big girl house, and fighting over the top roost.
If you’re a mom or a dad, I encourage you to take this one lesson from my chicky girls and make sure you take some time out to treasure the days when your little ones are little. It’s not always easy. There’s work, errands, cooking, school, activities, and so much more, but I know we need to make sure we make an effort to slow things down.
Being reflective reminds me that I need to take time to go say hello to the chicky girls, admire the Lego creation my youngest built, and really listen when my oldest is telling me a story about a crazy customer at work.
The letting go is coming, but you have to try to treasure the time before the letting go.
I’m a former university professor, and I spent nearly 20 years teaching freshmen in college. One of the biggest lessons I learned from my students is that something is happening somewhere in our school systems that makes many children lose their curiosity toward learning. Of course, I’m not saying this happens to every student, but it happens too often. It worries me.
But I was even more worried as a mom when my youngest son was being sent to the principal’s office in preschool and came home from school one day calling himself “the bad kid.” I knew I had to do something different.
Our family made the decision to homeschool. If you’ve been following my blog, you know this meant quitting my full-time job and learning to live much more frugally. But we decided it was worth it.
As a teacher, homeschooling was an opportunity for me to teach one of the most important people in the world to me, and I’ve enjoyed our first year doing it.
The key lesson I’ve learned from homeschooling my six year old is that everything is an educational opportunity for children—from baking scones to visiting our neighbor’s beehive. Pretty much all activities provide us with “teachable moments,” and learning is everywhere.
When my children were in public school, I had the notion that they were learning at school, so if I could get in some extra learning at home, that would be great but not necessary. I now understand just how necessary it truly is, and it’s not as time consuming as you might think.
It’s just about seeing everyday activities, things that are a part of everyday life, as “teachable moments.” The former university professor in me wants to tell you how important these kinds of things are for helping your child grow into a curious adult. The mom in me wants to tell you how much fun this approach is and how much you’ll learn as well.
So I created a Top 5 “Homeschooling When You’re Not” list to get interested parents thinking along these lines.
Cooking with your child is a great opportunity to learn math, reading, and an important life skill. It’s just about emphasizing these things while you do it. Talk about what you’re doing with each step. It can be tough when you’re busy, but if you can take the time to slow down for this a couple of times a week, it’s totally worth it.
At our house, we have lots of animals—chickens, ducks, fish, cats, a dog—and we have wildlife that visit us, everything from wild turkeys to chipmunks to crows. I’ll write more later about the “kindness lessons” animals can help teach our children, but animals also provide amazing educational opportunities for learning about the lives and habits of different species.
“Why do crows like shiny things?” and “Why do ducks whistle?” are just a few things we have researched, but you can teach your children about habitat, the environment, and animal behavior just by talking about animals in and around your home or the ones that visit your bird feeders. I know our chickie girls have taught us more about the amazing personalities, intelligence, and resourcefulness of animals than I ever could have imagined.
Just read. I’m a literacy teacher. I can’t tell you what a difference this makes. Take 20 minutes every day, maybe every night before bed. And don’t worry about making sure you’re reading “great literature.” You want reading to be fun. Once you get that, the rest will work itself out. Comics, graphic novels, we even sometimes just read short articles in the National Geographic magazines on space because my son loves anything related to space.
I know parents are busy beyond on all reason, but taking 20 minutes a day makes all the difference.
When I was a kid, our parents just sent us outside to play, and we played all day. While I often hear adults from my generation romanticize those “good old days” and while I do think outdoor play and even a little boredom is very important, I’m talking about outdoor exploration together. For homeschool geometry, we measured the circumference of the trees in our yard. We found we had one that was 88 inches in circumference! This is great stuff, and you don’t have to be officially homeschooling to do it. If you know your child is studying something at school, see if you can find a connection in your yard. Talk about it. Explore it.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in place like Maine, there are parks, hiking trails, the ocean, the mountains. Take a day trip when you can. Our family has some day-trip goals for this summer, but more on that in a future post!
While I know screen time gets a really bad wrap these days, there are some amazing educational videos and games out there. And, when you take 30 minutes and play the game with your child, it’s all the better. Ted Ed has some amazing YouTube videos on everything from the size of an atom to narrative structures in literature, and they are so much fun.
I’ll write more about free online educational resources in future posts, but one great idea I wanted to share now is “Question of the Day.” We started this in our family, and I’m learning a ton of stuff as well. I mean, I’m here to tell you. If you’re in your 40’s like me, the field of science has way more information than it did when we were in school.
Homeschooling my youngest son has been one of the greatest experiences of my life so far. I’ve learned about how he learns, how he thinks, what works for him, what doesn’t, and what inspires him. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, and I’m looking forward to our second year together. But I know not everyone can do this. Not everyone can quit their full-time jobs, and not everyone feels comfortable as a teacher.
But, if you’re a parent, you’re a teacher. You don’t have to be a formal homeschooling family to bring homeschooling into your home. It’s going to do great things for your children, and, ultimately, it’s going to do great things for the bond you have with your children. It’s just about taking advantage of even the smallest opportunities.
In my grand designs to become more self-sufficient or at least a really good maker, I have many skills I need and want desperately to learn—knitting, canning, making jams, and maybe making wood furniture, but I don’t know how realistic that last one is since I’m terrified of even the smallest power tool. It’s like a phobia or something. I hear a power tool, and my heart just races. I worry about my husband all the time.
But I digress…
One of the things I can make is a quilt. Now, I’m not the greatest, though I used to be pretty good, but I can make some decent quilts—at least I can very slowly. Recently, I was actually very slowly working on a quilt for a friend, when I had a quilt emergency: We decided it was time for our youngest to sleep in his own bed. He’s six years old and a pretty big boy, so my husband and I, even in our king-sized bed, were running out of sleeping space.
Now, if you’re one of those people who is going to say “What in the world are you doing letting your kid sleep with you?” let me just say that you can save your breath or text trying to change my mind on this point. We researched it thoroughly, and my husband and I made a conscious decision to let our son start co-sleeping with us when he was little.
We read all the advice from every major theorist and child psychologist out there and settled on this point—we wanted to get some sleep. Also, we believe in the health and bonding benefits of co-sleeping—but mainly we wanted to get some sleep. But, if you’re a new parent and interested in some of the research on the benefits of a family bed, please message me.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, our youngest made the big move to his own room and his own bed. The first night was hard for me, and I cried a lot. But, by the second night, I was like “Oh, this space is lovely.” “Oh, it’s nice not to be kicked in the back.” And, “oh, I love getting to keep the covers on me.”
However, much like his mama, our youngest is afraid of the dark and has a vivid imagination, so I have decided to make him a “good dream” quilt to keep him safe. It will be complete with a shied of love from mama on it. This is definitely a quilt emergency, right?
This is a picture of the plans I sketched out under my son’s direction. It’s all wrinkly from carrying it around at the fabric store.
So, inside the dream tree in the middle, I told my youngest we could put all the things that make him feel happy and safe. Here’s what he chose:
a Pi symbol
a present with a red bow
a pink heart that represents mom and dad’s “love shield” as he calls it
a Pac Man
a Minecraft block
and a green canoe (something our family has wanted for a long time)
It all sounds great, right? I’m so excited just writing about it.
The problem is I barely have time to work on it. In all of my efforts to simplify, I still struggle to get everything done at the end of the day, and I am even, realistically, always a little behind. I still work at least a half day every day, and that includes weekends, and with homeschooling, cooking, planting the giant vegetable garden, and helping to care for the animals, I run out of time at the end of every day. Of course, right now things seem to be worse because the animals are little and the garden planting is a slow, tough process when you’re tilling with a shovel, and there’s just no way to plant carrots quickly. Those seeds are a tiny nightmare!
So I’m determined to make the time. It turns out that, in my efforts to be more of a maker, one of the things I’m going to have to learn how to make is time. Quitting my full-time job helped, but I’m still partially immersed in the academic world, and sometimes, the push and pull between that world and our little hobby farm leaves me with so little time at the end of the day.
But this quilt is important to me because I think it will be important to my little boy. When my oldest son was little, there was one Christmas (my first year of teaching full-time) that I couldn’t afford Christmas presents for him. I made him a star and moon quilt, and he still has it—and seems to really care about it. For his high school graduation, I made him a second quilt because, of course, high school graduations are important. He sleeps under it every night.
Now, it’s my youngest son’s turn. This dream quilt is important, and I am determined to make this quilt for him. It feels representative of my efforts to simplify, make, and find out what’s important. It’s not easy, but it’s what I want. I have my fabric selected. This weekend, I will get this going.
I think the lesson here is that it’s going to be hard for all of us to find balance in our lives. We all have so much going on with work and family and about a million other things we must balance. But I’ve learned that you have to set your goals about what’s important to you and then just take the time—or make the time—if you want to be a maker like I do and still have time to enjoy yourself and your family along the way. Life’s just going to pass us by otherwise, I think.
I’m an introvert in a pretty extreme way, and the older I get, the worse it seems to get. I mean, I can function when I have to, and for nearly twenty years, I stood in front of a classroom as a teacher. But it’s hard.
And, as an introvert, I always find it interesting that I both love people and feel drained by being around people. From my perspective, it’s definitely a myth that introverts don’t want to be around people. I’m so interested in people and love to hear their stories, but I get so nervous on the inside when I am around people that I end up being worn out from trying to pretend like I’m “normal.”
Interestingly, there are some people who can, somehow, actually add to my energy levels when I am around them—people who are warm, safe, and highly interesting to me. I wonder if they know who they are, if they know how wonderful they are to me. And, since I am not drained from being around them, I always wonder if I am draining them.
Anyway, since human-to-human friendships have been difficult for me, I have always been a good friend to animals. I remember loving animals a little more than the average kid when I was younger, but I was mainly just a dog person. As I have grown older, I have found great joy in just hanging out with animals and a greater variety of animals. It started with our first cat we adopted.
I’m allergic to cats, so I have never been around them too much, though I have always had a great admiration of them and always wanted one. When we moved to Maine and I learned that Maine Coon Cats are a little easier on people with allergies, I knew this was my solution to my conundrum. Then, I found out how much Maine Coon Cats cost, and I realized I had not really found my solution.
So, we just decided to find a cat that had some Maine Coon “leanings” and hope for the best. I was willing to take allergy meds if necessary. I really wanted a kitty.
One day, pretty much out of the blue, my husband said, “Let’s go see what they have at the Humane Society in the way of cats.” I was surprised but ready—and nervous. I didn’t know how to be around cats at all. My general impression of them was that they were more aloof than dogs and could be grumpy and less forgiving. That, plus my allergies, made me a little nervous, but I didn’t want to admit this to my husband. I had been considering a kitty for a long time. I thought this might be my chance.
When we arrived at the Humane Society in Bangor, Maine that day in February, they had one cat available for adoption. One cat! The rest were not ready for homes yet. I was like, “Well, let’s see this kitty!”
In the cage sat a beautiful but skinny kitty who definitely had some Maine Coon leanings, at least I thought—big feet, tufts on her ears and feet, and she was super soft. I decided to give her a test: I would give her a pet, and if she responded well, I figured she passed the test. I reached in to pet her, and she leaned in so hard to my petting that she fell off of the ledge she had been on. This was my cat! Love with gusto, even if it hurts sometimes!
In the days after we brought her home, my allergies flared horribly, so I had to go on allergy meds. And, sadly, our beautiful kitty I named Sophie seemed terrified in our house. She hid in the basement a lot. But we hung in there, and we found that Sophie and I have one key thing in common—we love, love, love soft fuzzy things.
Enter my robe. Since it was February, I was wearing my robe around every morning and every evening. It’s a thick, soft, fleecy robe, and I soon realized that Sophie loved it. She would stay in my lap when I had on the robe. And, soon, she was kneading on my tummy and purring. It was a process, but Sophie and I fell in love with each other.
In the last year, I have also learned how to be friends with my chickens. I like to hang out with them and watch them do what they do. They are always busy and have so much personality. Now, I don’t want to give a false impression: We have 17 chickens, plus 8 baby chickens. Not all of them are sweet little birds. Some really are. Some are pretty ornery.
There’s one girl, the smallest of our original 17, who escapes the run, even when it’s not time for free range, runs around like mad, won’t let me pick her up in my arms like many of the others, and generally just drives me crazy. One time, I yelled at her that she was going to the chicken stew first, but then I felt really badly and decided this would not be true.
If you have been following my posts, you know that I hang out with animals a lot, maybe too much. I have found that even just watching the squirrels and birds at the feeders brings me great satisfaction. I’m convinced I have made friends with one of the red squirels in our yard. I still love people, but animals are way easier for me to hang out with. There’s no judgment, real or imaginary. At least I don’t think so.
And, hopefully, my kitties and my chickens are good with being my friends as well. Of course, I don’t know what’s going to happen when my chicky girls quit laying eggs. I’m not sure how I’m going to separate friendship from farming. I have been reading about it and trying to prepare myself. I think I can do it when it’s time, but I’m not sure.
For now, I have some really good friends to help me get through the days, to help me feel happiness and joy. In fact, this week, we added 6 animal friends—baby Indian Runner ducks, and they are hilarious. Already, I can’t wait to write stories about them! And, in the meantime, I think we should all take a lesson from Sophie–love with gusto!