Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spring Break

We recently took an inadvertent Spring Break. We usually hold off until May for that, but life happened. A whole slew of baby animals were born in the course of one week, and then I ended up with a nasty cold-turned-brochitis that lasted another week. Add to that a baby goat that needed help eating every three hours round the clock, the first starts for the veggie garden, and Spring Break seemed like a necessity.

So I didn't ask them to do any school work. No math, no English, no history or science. They had free reign to do as they pleased for two whole weeks.

So what did that look like? Surprisingly, it looked a lot like.... school. Not normal school. Not scheduled school. But educational nonetheless.

There was, of course, biology - watching laboring animals, discussing what happens internally when contractions happen, defining things like amniotic fluid and umbilical cord, seeing the water break, discussing instincts, helping babies nurse for the first time and milking the mamas to reduce the likelihood of mastitis, how mammary glands work, the parts of an udder and teat, and relation of all that to humans. I'm pretty sure enough biology happened that week that we could skip science for the rest of the summer... if not the whole year.

And also on the subject of biology, we had our puppy spayed. This prompted a discussion of surgeries in general, spaying in specific, and walks every two hours - which meant watching the clock and learning to read it.

For fun, The Oldest read a biography about Benjamin Franklin, and topped it off with Paddington, which was on our "to read" list. We also read several chapters of The Secret Garden, and Littlest One worked painstakingly through yet another horse book. So there was our reading, literature, and a bit of history and social studies (with both The Secret Garden and Paddington taking place in England.)

We spend at least three hours making fairy dolls out of clothespins (art and history - clothespin dolls are historical, ya know) and then The Oldest spent another several hours trying to fashion a boat that would hold clothespin dolls and not be top heavy or sink, and that would float straight (engineering and physics.)

Littlest One spent an inordinate amount of time calculating the number of animals we have, how many we would have after we sold or ate them, how much money she could make selling babies and selling eggs, estimating how many birds we will have when some are hatched. Her little brain works numbers constantly. They also played a few different games we have lying around that involve the memorization of math facts and calculated more than a few times how many days until Daddy would be home to help with everything. They paid constant attention both the indoor and outdoor temperatures, sorted eggs into dozens, and calculated gallons of milk from pints and quarts. Add to that the fact that The Oldest did at least a quarter of the cooking for two weeks, and I'd say we accomplished plenty of real-life math.

While I was sick, they did a fair amount of laundry and cleaning (home ec) and even caring for many of the animals (animal husbandry, responsibility, patience, diligence.) In general, their lives revolve around the development of character traits, and this was no different.

There were many, many hours spent wandering the hills, the pasture, the irrigation ditches, the pond, and the garden, just enjoying spring. Such small changes as sprouting tulips, singing meadowlarks, and gobbling turkeys were duly noted. I'm pretty sure that all counts as nature study.

When they did have free time indoors, they spent it playing games on National Geographic Kids. There was problem solving, math and science and history and learning about different cultures. They don't often get to play computer games, but considering we were on a break from school, that seemed pretty reasonable.

While I'm not sure I'd ever commit to 'unschooling' like so many do, I feel very confident in saying that my kids aren't any worse off for having had a longer-than-normal and unplanned break. When your kids grow up with play and learning and life so constantly integrated, they simply don't know how to divide them, and they tend to enjoy nearly all of it.

School doesn't have to happen sitting down!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Keepin' It Real

I usually do my best to keep every post on this blog positive. Because, honestly, so much great stuff happens in our lives that I can document, and I don't feel compelled to write about the not-so-great stuff. And also because this blog is primarily intended for posterity, and I don't want a big focus on all the rough parts.

But I'm also a big fan of keepin' it real. No one likes someone who pretends things are perfect all that time - after all, no one's life is perfect all the time. So, in the spirit of keepin' it real, I thought I'd write a little bit about what it's actually like, being a mom of two homeschooled daughters, on a forty acre farm in the middle of nowhere, with a husband who works away from home nearly all the time. Because that's my reality. Yes, good things happen. It's a beautiful life, because we make it that way. But being on my own all the time... well, it's not always pretty.

So, here's what it really looks like.

*I stay busy. And by busy, I mean really busy. I wake up at 5:30 am. I allow myself fifteen minutes for coffee and Facebook, and then I get to work. And I keep working, and schooling, and cooking and cleaning and working and parenting and cleaning and working until the kids are in bed at 8:30. And then I work a little more, or I spend some pitiful time alone, until I'm too exhausted to stay up anymore and I go to bed. Busy is my coping mechanism. If I'm busy, I don't have time to feel sorry for myself or miss my husband or think. So if you ever wonder how I "do it all", just know that I'm really just coping.

*There are a lot of tears. Tears because I don't know how to do something that needs to be done, that normally my husband would do but he's not here to do it. Tears because I feel inadequate to parent two girls on my own all the time, with no Daddy to help temper my maternal ways. Tears because I'm overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that needs to be done, and that there isn't time for. Tears because my kids are doing something amazing that my husband is entirely missing out on. Tears because I hate going to bed alone all the time. Tears because I'm just damn lonely and need someone to talk to, and my someone is working on an oil field six hundred miles away.

*Going to bed is a weird thing. I sleep alone so much that, while I hate it, it's what I'm used to. And that moment that you realize that you're uncomfortable having to share your bed is a little depressing.

*My husband is working his life away, and the constant guilt that I feel eats at me every day. He works day in and day out so we can live on this amazing piece of property surrounded by this incredible life, and he doesn't even get to enjoy it. He comes home a couple days at a time, works the entire time, and never gets to just sit back and enjoy it. So when he's gone, in an attempt to temper the feelings of guilt, I work even harder, to somehow try to make up for the fact that he's doing so much and getting virtually nothing in return, just for our happiness.

*I'm a very traditional, Christian wife. I view my purpose as being a "help meet" to my husband. But when my husband is not actually here, my purpose disappears. I spend an awful lot of time telling myself that I don't need a man to take care of me, and I don't need a man to take care of. When one's fulfillment comes from meeting her husband's needs, but her husband isn't even there, one lacks fulfillment in a very deep sort of way.

*I spend an embarrassing amount of time fantasizing about selling all of the animals, selling off the farm, moving to the Even Bigger City, and living in an apartment with my kids, my dog, and most importantly, my husband. While I deeply and desperately love every animal we own, and I love milking and gardening and growing hay and being part of a small-town community and watching my kids raise 4H animals and compete in rodeos, I even more deeply and more desperately want to know what it's like to be married all the time again. And if that means living in a city, on a city lot or even in an apartment, a part of me would be willing to do it. A part of me would also die, but sometimes it seems like that would be worth it to actually experience a married relationship again.

So no. It's not all perfect. It's a beautiful life, but it's got an ugly side, too. The ecstasy of living in the most beautiful part of the country is tempered with pain of living it all alone, save for  55 animals and the two most amazing little girls on the planet. But even they don't take the place of The Love of My Life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Little Things

I was perusing my own blog last night, from back in 2009, reading about our lives and our adventures (and mis-adventures) and comparing it to now. Sometimes I feel like I was such a better mom then... like somehow I'm failing a little more now than I did before.

But no... no, it's not failing. True, I've lost some exuberance. I'm also older, and tireder, and most importantly, my kids are growing up. I'm not a mom to toddlers anymore. My days, while still full of exciting things, aren't filled with silly phrases spoken by a twelve month or teaching a five year old how to plant peas. Life has changed. I have changed. It's not better or worse, it's just different. I'm now parenting an eleven year old and a six year old. Toddlerhood is a fond memory of days gone by, and I've had to adapt to this new phase of "bigger kid" parenting.

It's hard sometimes, raising these "bigger kids". There's more pressure now. Suddenly I don't just have to feed them and keep them alive - I have to turn them into responsible, upstanding citizens. And time, as it is wont to do, is flying by. So we don't get to spend as much time just playing and taking cute pictures and making fun crafts. Especially as homeschoolers. We have to do math, and English, and social studies and science. They need to learn to type, and cook, and take care of themselves. And all those things take time.

Sometimes... okay, often... at the end of the day, I feel like I've not done one noteworthy thing with my kids. Nothing to blog about. (Hence the extreme lack of blogging for the past couple of years.) But I think I'm just looking in the wrong places.

We're still exploring. We're still gardening, and even raising livestock now. We're reading and creating and learning and spending special time together. I'm just not as good at seeing "the little things" as I used to be. Some of it has just become normal, nothing special anymore. Some of it is plenty important, but doesn't seem as humorous or noteworthy as things like, "This is my sister. She bites babies."

But I've gotta start writing again. This time is just as special as years gone by, albeit different. But I love re-reading our stories, and I imagine my girls will love them some day, too. I don't want them to think life is less important now than when they were little.

Heaven forbid life ever just become "normal", that I lack the ability to see how special each day is. Because that's what makes life amazing. It's not the big things. It's the little things.

April 1 - Spring is here!

It's amazing how quickly things change, if you spend just a little bit of time watching, and a bit more time helping things along. So much has happened since last month - every walk outside brings our attention to something new.

In the garden, the garlic is now upwards of 4" tall and thriving. Snowstorms every few days that lay a thin blanket of snow and then melt by noon are keeping everything nice and moist. (This also means we are wading through ankle deep mud some mornings.) The chives are tall enough to be cut and used on baked potatoes, and the thyme and oregano are nearly there. We've tidied all the beds and added composted manure (plenty of that around!) and planted the peas and spinach and lettuce and mesclun greens. The lettuce and greens are just starting to sprout, though we're still waiting on the peas and spinach. It's a little hard up here, waiting so long for things to grow. When we lived in The Big City, we'd be close to harvesting spinach already, and peas would be happily climbing trellises.

In the flower gardens, tulips and daffodils are inches tall now, green life is sprouting from the dormant perennials, and the lilac is covered in buds. Littlest One and I spent a lot of time cleaning the gardens, trimming back old growth and getting ready for the new. I love listening to her talk and dream about flowery things - her little heart has a passion for the beauty that flowers bring. She's been filling her bird feeders again, and the house finches and goldfinches and chickadees and bluebirds show their gratitude every morning as they come for breakfast.

The birds are only some of the wildlife entertaining us each day - bluebirds fighting over nest boxes, birds hopping along porch railings, driving our cat absolutely bonkers, swallows just returning from wherever it is they go in the winter, swooping across the lawn and catching what bugs they can find. But there are also deer, finally back from their own wintering grounds, sneaking into the lawn through the open driveway gate and grazing on the green grass. The elk bed down in the pasture some nights, as many as a hundred at a time, so that when the sun comes up in the morning we are surprised to see them out there, just starting to wake up for the day and move down into the trees. Marmots scamper across the driveway when we come home, owls sing their eerie songs at night when we do barn checks, and coyotes howl, often a little too close for comfort. The noise and activity is constant, and yet peaceful.

There has been much new life brought forth this month in the barnyard. Mae, our milk cow, gave birth to her first calf, a little heifer named Clara Belle. The milking does each kidded, bringing five new little kid-goats into the family. All this new life also means lots of fresh milk, and we are having to get used to a new morning routine now. Between milking, feeding and watering, shoveling manure from one stall or another, caring for the old poultry and the new poultry (5 turkeys, 3 chickens), watering the garden, making and eating breakfast and some basic household chores, we average about 3 or 4 hours of work each morning before we even start school. Eventually, this will work into a (relatively) smooth routine, but right now it sure feels overwhelming!

The kids are reminding me a lot of everything else - growing and changing. The beautiful weather has them playing outdoors now, instead of stuck inside. They are constantly exploring the hill or the pasture, racing sticks in the irrigation ditch, working on their hayloft fort, playing with dinosaurs in the pond, riding bikes, cuddling chickens or baby goats... the list of things goes on and on. Between their imaginations and the never-ending supply of outdoor activities, they are like little butterflies, flitting from one thing to another. Some days I don't hear from them until they are hungry, or until I sneak up on them and take a few pictures of them engrossed in some imagining or another.

New life, new growth, surges of activity everywhere - our world is awake again!