tea time

a conversation between the farmwives

robin says… i remember a couple of springs ago, a wren made a nest in our summer kitchen. i spent many days that spring watching mama spending all day flying to and fro, returning with morsels to feed her babes. she would return to the nest and all those little beaks would open up for her, begging for nourishment. this is me  i thought so often, back then i only had 2! question is, how do you keep up with feeding the family? sometimes it feels that i can spend the entire day in the kitchen and still they appear hungry the minute i step away. i have heard that the teenage boy eats more than any other and sasha is proving this to be true every day. give me some clues ladies, how do you do it? do you cook way ahead, maybe bake once a week? any order,structure. or suggestions? with thanks and love as we try meet the caloric needs of our families, robinIMG_1958Cher says… Oh, how hysterical! I just finished cooking lunch and must have heard “I’m hungry” a hundred times this morning. Especially from my boy, Ira, who has a metabolism much like his papa’s. Robin, I can’t even imagine what it will be like when he is a teen. Whew. Some days I do much better than others at being one step ahead of the hungry little mouths. Those days that I don’t plan ahead can verge on nightmareish, and I am then reminded how helpful it would have been to just soak a pot of beans. Oh, well, eggs cook quickly and we have lots of them. One twist that I can add to this conversation is that for me, cooking means first building a fire, so I absolutely can not wait until melt-down time to start the next meal’s preparation. Through the winter months this is no big deal because we usually keep the fires going. And with lots of years of practice, I have gotten pretty good at building quick hot fires for summer cooking. (I do have the luxurious option of gas in the summer months when our outdoor kitchen is up and running, but I actually want a wood cook stove out there as well. I love cooking on wood that much!) So, when the cook stove’s oven is warm, I’ll usually throw some sweet potatoes in to bake, just to have ready for when someone is seized with hunger. And I do bake a big pan of cornbread fairly often, and this will last us a few days. I used to do a lot more traditional bread baking than I do now, but we suspect a wheat intolerance in our family, so I’m not consistent with a “baking day” any more. And, lastly, I will admit to purchasing a few snack-type items (like dried fruit & nuts) from our local co-op. The kids love it and then I get a break from also having to prepare their snacks! It is a daily dance, for sure… some days are clumsy, some are graceful, but meals don’t always have to be a fancy waltz or sexy tango to be nourishing. Simple fare works just fine, too.

xo, cherIMG_1960

Coree says…Oh yeah.  I hear you.  Thank God for sweet potatoes, kale, and eggs.  Until my kids get completely tired of them.  We’ve eaten a lot of popcorn this winter.  We’re not great about convenience foods.

Robin, you are the first to enter into the realm of feeding a teenage boy.  Bless you.  I think you’ll be the one giving us advice in a few more years.

One thing I’ve found helpful to my sanity around mealtimes is to make a loose schedule of meals.  For instance, Tuesday is noodle night (everyone loves that one).  We also have a night of rice and dahl (Indian style lentils), another of venison, pancakes on Sunday morning are a firmly held ritual, etc.  It’s not hard and fast, but it takes some of the pressure off my mind.  I don’t have to THINK about what’s for dinner – just make it.

And, there are days when I very purposefully cook alot extra to help out when I know the next day is going to be too busy.  We don’t have space to keep lots of leftovers, but now and then it sure can help.  Sweet potatoes keep for a long time by the way.

Love from the kitchen, Coree

who gets unschooled?

The days have been cold and gray again.  Oh Spring!  How temperamental!  So we’re back to the books and papers, trying to do what still needs to be done from Winter.  And studying.  I’ve been studying homeschooling for at least two years now. I may finally be learning something.

Allow me to preface this post by saying that I hold no hard feelings toward my parents or teachers (most of them) for my attitudes about education.  I don’t know who I would be if I didn’t have the life I have had.  That life included attending this rural public school.  I’m glad to be who I am and have this life, so that’s that.  I can also see, looking back, that everyone personally involved in my learning was doing the best they could do.  There’s nothing more to ask.  Also, this is NOT written with an iota of criticism towards my many friends whose children attend public schools and thrive there.  This is just my own exploration.

I credit my parents, and a few exceptional teachers, with my education.  The real learning I did in my school age years was due to their support and participation.  I’ve felt this way for a long time, and this thought is what initially inspired me to want to educate the children at home.

Actually doing the educating has been another story altogether.  That’s where the soul-searching really began.  I guess it’s been said over and over, that if you want to find out how much you know, try to teach.  I began to try to teach my daughter, and very quickly discovered that I really didn’t know much.  Specifically, I didn’t know how to teach her.

My girl Lulah is strong.  She was born with a streak of will power, a dash of temper, and  a cherry of pure strength on top.  She stuns me.  She teaches me about LIFE in ways I never saw coming.  If she had been a more complacent child I never would have made this journey.  I am challenged.  I love her for that.

take time to see

in summer biology class

As soon as I began to “teach” her what seemed to me important “teachable” stuff, Lulah resisted me with every ounce of her strong little being.  I was a little miffed, doubled my efforts, and we struggled through each session.  Afterwards, we would both have to recover in order to hang out again.  School meant minor, and sometimes major, warfare.

So I was caught.  Some part of me believed that I had to just muscle through this, and eventually she would relax into it and we could have a “normal” homeschool experience.  And another part of me thought this was just WRONG, and frankly didn’t know what to do.  Summer arrived and the first “school year” ended, so I let it go and decided to study.

It’s been a long road, this study.  I started with Summerhill, by A.S. Neill.  A-ha!  Free school.  This is good!  But there’s community.  But…  But… But… I couldn’t sink into it.  It was too far from my own experience.  I enjoyed the works of John Holt, but still couldn’t integrate it.  Finally I put my hands on Dumbing Us Down.  John Taylor Gatto is so smart and right on target.  Reading his work helped me reflect on what had happened in my own school experience.  What was it?  What do I remember?  Can that really be?

I remember almost nothing.  Really, nothing.  Reading, writing, and basic math happened early enough that I have few memories of the learning itself.  Other than a few snippets of concept, a couple myths, and a stray piece of literature, the content of my public education has not stayed with me.  What does this mean?

To be honest, I don’t know yet what it means to me.  It may take a few more years to get clear about it.

What is clear is that school was a chore to me that often made no sense.  I knew I had to go, and I had to do well.  So I did.  And that paved my way to college, where I was fortunate enough to land at a very small liberal arts school that actually emphasized independent, creative, critical thought.  And so I did some actual learning there, but it was a new and strange process and I spent a good deal of time just learning to organize, think, and learn.  I was out of school, exploring the world on my own, before I became an organized self-educator. And it was not a neat and tidy process.

After 12 plus years of compulsory public education, all I knew how to do was teach as I was taught.  What a drag!  No wonder Lulah was bucking my efforts.  As I reflected on her struggle, it became all too familiar. I remembered that no one ever explained mathematics to me in a way that felt good. If the equations went over my head, the talking teacher, far away at the front of the room, just seemed to repeat the same explanation over and over, and it never touched me.  So even though I liked word problems and shapes, I ended up muddling by with angstful resolve.  To this day I have a rudimentary way of going about numbers (my Fellow Man Around Here says I do math like an english major), but have found that when left to my own devices I eventually begin to enjoy it.

Notice that: “left to my own devices”.  No one ever does that in public schools.  I hadn’t done that with Lulah.  It hadn’t even occurred to me. It is so hard to stop doing the only thing you’ve known how to do.  It’s a particular leap of faith to do it in relation to something as crucial as your child’s education.

reading kids

Anyone can see my daughter is smart.  So why doesn’t she like to read at 7 years old?  She CAN read now, but she isn’t interested.  Perfecting her handstand, collecting flower seeds, building fairy tree forts, grinding creek stones to see what colors they make, dancing the stomp dance in the rain, all these things are much more important.  Am I worried?  When the world creeps in, maybe, a little.  But I can also see how she is right in her own world, and she loves to read, when she’s good and ready.

This is not to say that we live a child centered life of whimsy.  This is still a farm, and we run three small family businesses.  We like structure.  Lulah and Levon participate in the rhythm of our family, like it or not.  I just don’t believe in imposing an arbitrary curriculum on them that is irrelevant to their lives.  Lulah reads and writes, does math, and explores many facets of sociology, biology, and physics mostly in relationship to her daily life. We’re here to make sure she gets help when she needs it to move forward, and to stand amazed when she leaps ahead on her own. In some subjects, she’s likely far ahead of her peers.  In others, she’s probably behind.  Seems like the same would be true in a public or private school setting as well.

learning gravity and balance

learning gravity and balance

After examining my own experience, I feel more confident.  It took me a long time to get organized inside myself.  I believe more and more now that if I had the freedom to organize myself from the inside out when I was so young, I would not have had to make so many mistakes in my disorganized early adulthood.  I can’t imagine now who I might have been in that alternate reality.  It’s not important; I’m glad to be who I am.  I’ve finally unschooled myself.  I know I can learn, from the inside out.

What is important is for Lulah to imagine herself from where she is now.  And I can believe in her, support and aid her vision, and see that she has the tools to create her own life from deep inside her own brilliant person.

lulah handstand