Friday, April 26, 2013


We were outside after breakfast this morning, once again attempting to keep the goats inside the goat pen. I was reenforcing fencing with even more twists of wire, The Oldest was hauling rocks to fill in a hole they dug, and Littlest One was trying to herd them all back through the gate. (This part of the story is nothing new. It's a constant, seeing as goats are impossible to keep in any place you actually want them to be.)

As we were working, Littlest One says, "What was that? It sounded like a little donkey saying 'hee haw'."

We stopped and listened.

It didn't take long to figure out what was going on.

Mulan, the very smallest of the new chickens, the Japanese Bantam, was braying like a very small, very squeaky donkey.

Mulan will henceforth be called Genghis. Her His attitude will determine how long he lives.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Confessions of a Modern Homesteader

I just read Jill's post at The Prairie Homestead, where she talks honestly about all of her shortcomings as a homesteader. And it was inspirational... because it made me feel better about myself.

I hear a lot of "I don't know how you do it all" and even was recently called intimidating. Maybe it's because I use my blog generally to focus on positive things. But there is plenty of "dirty laundry" lurking on our homestead, too. I'm about as far from perfect as anyone can get, though sometimes I'd rather hide it. And to be honest, I look at other folks who live lives like ours, and I find them absolutely intimidating and wonder how they do it all. I spend most of my life feeling like a co-dependent failure instead of the self-sufficient homesteader I wish I was.

Here's why:

1. I keep the living room and kitchen of my house relatively clean, so that if company is coming I can have it presentable in about fifteen minutes. But if you come over, please, please don't look at the rest of the house. You might get lost under piles of dirty laundry or trip over scattered toys.

2. I also don't mop, unless the need becomes truly dire.. maybe once a month. Maybe not. So if you drop something on the floor, the ten second rule should not apply. 

2. I don't, in general, love animals. And I'm terrified of horses. I will admit that I've come to care deeply for our animals, but I'm not generally an animal person. I could do without anything that doesn't provide me with food. (The only exception is baby animals. If you don't love baby animals, something might be wrong with you.)

3. I love to garden, but sometimes I get overwhelmed. Like, I threw a temper tantrum and ended up crying angry tears in my garden last year as my husband looked on in bewilderment. It wasn't my fault, the weeds were taunting me and laughing at my pathetic attempts to keep them at bay.

4. I didn't clean out the chicken coop - not even once - all winter long. Finally got around to it this spring, at it was pretty gross. I also didn't shovel horse poo in the barn yard, but that's because it was frozen to the ground, so I have an excuse. (I've come to realize spring is the season for shoveling poo when you live in the mountains and have animals.)

5. I never water the house plants. They were my husband's before we married. I didn't come into this marriage with houseplants, because I'd never had any survive. "Have you watered the plants lately?" is heard with relative frequency around here, followed by my look of shame.

6. I don't iron (unless I'm sewing and need to press a seam.) If someone needs something ironed, my best advice for them is to take a hot shower and hang the wrinkled item in the bathroom with them. I also frequently wash whites last, and leave the load in the dryer so I don't have to fold them. I hate folding whites. If you need socks, go dig in the dryer.

7. My greatest parenting failure: I don't play with my kids. I just can't do it. I can throw a ball, push a swing, read a story with five different voices, I can create something out of nothing, let them help me cook and garden, go for walks or play board games... and I do all those things frequently. But I can not, for the life of me, sit down and make little animals talk and make Barbie dolls adventure around the play room. My imagination can do just about anything, but it shuts down when I look at a plastic replica of a thoroughbred.

8. We eat healthy all week long when we are at home and eating the food we've raised. And then, once a week, we eat McDonald's when we are in The Big City. I wish I had more willpower, but those fries really are the best fries in the world. I can't help it.

9. I take a nap at least three times a week. Right after lunch, when school is finished and I'd rather not be folding laundry, I call "quiet time" and make the girls read quietly in their rooms for half an hour while I catch a cat nap... that sometimes turns into an hour, if I was really exhausted. And I wish I could say I feel guilty for it, but I really don't.

10. I fix my hair exactly once a week, when I have to go to The Big City. Aside from that, it's lucky if I remember to brush through it before putting it in a pony tail. There are days - like yesterday, when my neighbor showed up unannounced - that I don't even get around to putting on a bra, brushing my teeth, and brushing my hair. To be fair, there is usually a reason... like a goat delivering twins unexpectedly... but that didn't happen until noon, so I'm not sure it really counts as an excuse.

11. I'm so terrified of wasps that in the summer, I only work outside before the sun comes up and as it's setting. Other than that, I stay in the house unless I absolutely have to go out. And once, when I found a wasp in the master bathroom, I shut the door and simply wouldn't use that bathroom until my husband came home to kill it.

12. I do manage to get dressed most days, but by "getting dressed" I mean grabbing a pair of jeans or overalls off the closet floor and putting them back on... for the third day in a row. My animals don't care what I look like, nor do my children, so I figure it doesn't matter much. My children can frequently be found in the barn wearing footie jammies and muck boots though... 

13. I know how to bake bread. I know how to make yogurt. But I'm also usually too busy to find the time. (Or just plain lazy.) I make both about once a month. Aside from that, I buy it at the store. I'm working hard to teach my daughters how to make these things so that I can delegate the responsibility, because I'd rather not do it myself good parents delegate.

So there's a little bit of my reality - the imperfections I don't tend to write about, mostly because I write this blog for posterity, I don't want my children to read them as adults and be reminded of all the ways I failed. But in case any of y'all think I "do it all", here's your proof that I don't.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Do I like homeschooling?

I've been asked a number of times recently, "Do you like homeschooling?"

It's a big question, and not one that has an easy answer, especially when it's asked by a parent who is considering homeschooling her own children.

If I were to reply simply, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" But it's not that simple.

A more accurate response might be, "It depends on which day you ask me."

In general, I love homeschool. Ninety percent of the time, when I reflect back on the day I've shared with my daughters, the same thought recurs in my mind: "I love homeschool!" And I truly do. Each day is a blessing. It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done... but, as with parenting in general, there are days when I have to look very hard to see that blessing.

All children occasionally behave in ways that make their mothers wonder what planet they were born on, whose womb they came out of, because it certainly couldn't have been theirs. We shake our heads in confusion and bewilderment at the emotional outbursts, the displays of poor behavior, the absurdity that pours forth from our children in a seemingly random way. When you are a public schooling parent, you have the benefit of simply shaking your head, kissing your child, wishing them a wonderful day and sending them out the door, saying a silent prayer for normalcy to return before school gets out. Homeschool moms don't have that option. We shake our heads, kiss our children, and then pray fervently over the breakfast dishes that some Divine Intervention takes place in the hearts of our children before we lock ourselves in our bedrooms for the rest of the day with a basket full of the kids' Easter candy.

But after a miserable day, when we put them to bed and check in on their calm, peaceful, sleeping little bodies, we breathe again, and realize how blessed we were that we were able to stay with them through the rough spots of that day, to be the ones who helped them deal with their emotions... even if it means a few extra gray hairs.

And then the next day, our love and calm renewed after a good night's sleep half a night of interrupted sleep, we are rewarded with "The Lightbulb Moment". This is the greatest reward of any homeschool mother - seeing that concept, the one they have been working so hard to understand, finally "click". The eyes widen, a smile spreads across their face, and Mom breathes a sigh of relief as she lets go of the fear that her child may go through life never understanding how to do long division. On these days, I am energized, my belief in my own ability is renewed, and I say prayer after prayer of gratitude for these children I have been entrusted to teach.

Do I enjoy homeschooling? Absolutely. But then, I also enjoy hard work, and nothing is harder than teaching your own children. There is the planning of lessons. The constant nagging to "get to work or you won't get any free time." The fear that they may not learn enough, may be behind, might not ever have solid friendships, might turn out socially inept, may never learn to spell "conscience", may hate you for making them miss the prom...

And then you have a little conversation with them where the five year old explains that if you'd just let the plants in the garden bolt, you'd never have to pay for seeds again, and uses words like "apparently" and "inconceivable" in casual conversation. And then your ten year old presents to you her business plan for an animal shelter, gives you a history on extinct and endangered animals, and calculates the amount of feed she'll need for the two horses, fourteen dogs, eighty snakes and four hundred and twenty two birds she intends to care for. You go for a hike and they point out which plants are edible (just in case, you know) and puzzle out exactly what the outcome of the scuffle was when you see footprints and bits of hair scattered about on the trail. They go to the library and choose books about George Washington Carver and Thomas Edison. Your five year old walks along next to you off-handedly reciting "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost to herself.

And then you breathe. And you rejoice in how well rounded and positively brilliant these children are becoming... and not just by accident. Every moment of every day is lived intentionally. It's not just a walk down the road, it's a science lesson, a discussion about economics. It's not just collected eggs from backyard chickens, it's calculating profit and loss. Nothing in a homeschoolers life just happens. A homeschool mom seeks and finds every opportunity for learning... her job never ends. Do I enjoy it? Absolutely. Will you? Only you can answer that.

Homeschool isn't for everyone. And I'll say this right now - a child with a parent who is active in their education and life in general will do just fine. It doesn't matter where they get their schooling. What's right for one family may not be right for another, and no one but the parents know what is right for their family.

So... do I like homeschooling? You betcha. This is exactly what I was meant to do with my life. It's the hardest thing I've ever done on so many levels, and yet it's the most rewarding thing I'll ever do, too.

So there's the long answer to the very simple question... which really isn't all that simple at all.