Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

An impulse buy pays off.

Okay, I admit it.  I’m a bit of a sucker for an enticing craft kit.  Which is maybe a little strange, given my love of free-form, open-ended crafting.  There’s just something about having a package that has all the parts that you need to make something fun–no gathering required.  No thinking required!  With any luck, it’s instant fun in a box.

Of course, sometimes this works better than others.  Because the kids and I are used to working with good quality materials, sometimes what we find in a kit is disappointing or frustrating to work with.  Or kits can often be stingy with the quantity of supplies.

So anyway, when I was in JoAnn Fabrics right before we left for our trip, there was a huge wall of craft kit-lets (the kind designed for summer camps) on sale for half off.  Now, if a craft kit is hard to resist, a craft kit on clearance is nearly impossible.  So I meandered over to see what was there.  Most of it was pretty unappealing–lots of foam projects.  But there were a few goodies, including a tie-dye kit which caught my eye.  I picked up this and a couple of other things to pull out when we’re having a lull in NY and a project seems like the thing we need.

We’ve been having unusually hot weather, which means that we really don’t want to spend much of the day inside.  Not having air-conditioning, the inside spaces get pretty steamy.  This means I’ve been knitting on the deck instead of sewing inside, and it also means that it’s good to have some outside projects for the girls.  Tie-dyeing seemed like just the thing.

And it was.  We’ve done this a number of times at home, but this is the first time that (by necessity) we did it outside.  Um, why didn’t I think of this before?  Squirt bottles of dye out on the grass (instead of anywhere inside the house) makes for a much more relaxed mama.  And thus much more fun is had by all.

One great thing about this kit was that it came with a combination of pre-mixed colors (green, turquoise, blue, purple, pink) that created only minimal opportunities for making brown.

All-in-all, a very satisfying project.  I would say out of the whole endeavor, only two of the dyed pieces were less than really pleasing, which is a pretty good outcome in my experience.

And of course, we got the added bonus of getting to see our creations hanging on the clothesline!

The clothesline.

Of all the things I love here in New York, the clothesline is one of my favorites.  It is long and sturdy and perfectly place to catch bright sun and drying breezes.  Situated between the cabin and the bunkhouse, we are often ducking under damp clothes to get from one building to the next.  I love seeing clothes strung out on the line, swinging in the wind.

And here, the clothesline is a necessity.  There isn’t a clothes dryer, so (short of making a trip to the Laundromat) it’s the only way that are clothes get dry.  In fact, the washing machine—a tiny single-cycle unit that runs only on our very cold well water—is a relatively new addition.  Before that, we had to go to the next town over to wash our clothes before hanging them out on the line at home.

I have made half-hearted attempts to add a clothesline to our backyard at home.  I put up a retractable clothesline attached to a tree, but it didn’t really have enough linear feet to hold a whole load of clothes, limiting its usefulness.  Steve and I have talked about putting in a clothesline, but he’s always been reluctant—he sees how busy we both are, and just doesn’t think that when it came down to it, we would actually walk outside and hang out the clothes instead of putting them into the dryer.

And maybe he’s right.  Line drying is time consuming, and certainly requires more attention than throwing clothes in our gas dryer.  The clothes need tending—are they dry?  Is it going to rain?   Should we bring them in now?

In a way, what I love about our clothesline is what I love about our time in New York.  With much less outside-the-home work, and few things-to-do-places-to-go-and-people-to-see,  there is plenty of time and attention to tend the clothes on the line, to pick and process produce, to start and complete craft projects, and all the other everyday things that sometimes get short shrift in our busier lives at home.

Life at home will always be busier.  For one thing, many more adult-hours are spent earning a living.  And there will be classes and friends and other activities.  But I’m thankful for this little slice of the year where things slow down, and we really can spend days quilting and writing and tending the laundry.  It gives me a little glimpse of all kinds of possibilities.

In the meantime, I don’t think we’ll put up a clothesline at home.  Not yet, anyway.  But I’ll continue to strive for more balance, aspiring to a life that includes plenty of time and space for all the richness of life—work and play and domestic tasks and all.


Time to can.

And by this I mean not just that it’s time to can (which it is) but also that I have time to can.  One of the luxuries of our largely unscheduled time in New York is that it feels so much easier to plan and execute an ambitious schedule of canning.  And lately, I’ve been doing just that.

Really, is there anything more satisfying than a beautiful shelf full of canned goods?  I love it so much that I actually cleared out a space in our cellar here for just such a shelf. The main part of the cabin is really too small to be used for storage anyway, and who can resist actually having a cellar to store canned goods?  I mean, at home I have a basement, but here I have an actual cellar.  It has big slanted double-doors that you open from the outside, and then you go down a set of wooden stairs into the cellar.  I dug out a little set of shelves and a couple of boards to make some more shelves.  A hosing down and a little scrubbing, and I had a nice downstairs pantry.  Which I’ve done my darndest to fill during the last week.

Here’s the tally for the week:

  • 4 pints of raspberry jam.  I tried a new (to me) pectin, Ball’s no-sugar-needed pectin. I assume this is the same as their older one, but I love that it comes in a bulk package, so you can make a batch of any size.  I used 2 cups of sugar for 6-plus cups of crushed fruit, which made for a nice tart product.  And I thought the texture of this was pretty good, not too gummy.
  • 6 pints rhubarb chutney.  Having never settled on a favorite recipe, I tried this one from Mrs. Wheelbarrow.  And then I tweaked it, adding a bit more sugar and some orange juice and some powdered ginger to make up for not having enough crystallized ginger.  I couldn’t get thai peppers so I used what I could find, which weren’t as hot.
  • 5 pints of chocolate-raspberry jam, or confiture, or whatever you want to call it.  This was how I found Mrs. Wheelbarrow in the first place, and if you haven’t done so already, you should check out her amazing blog.  Every time I visit I find something new that I want to make.  I have my last precious sour cherries in the freezer in the hopes of making cherry-apricot preserves once the apricots come in.  But I digress.  This chocolate raspberry stuff is magical and amazing.  It’s great just by the spoonful, but I’ve been especially enjoying it stirred into plain greek yogurt.   I actually made two batches, hoping that I’ll have plenty to give as gifts.  At this rate, I’m not sure I’m going to be willing to share!
  • 2 pints of cherry jam.  2 precious little pints!  I went with the recipe from Food in Jars with mixed success.  I had to cook the jam for longer in order for it to reach the gelling point, and it cooked down quite a lot–meaning a lower yield and a sweeter jam than I would like.  Sadly, the sour cherries are now gone for the year, so I won’t have another chance to get it right.  But still, cherry jam is cherry jam.  Yum!
  • 2 precious pints of cherries.  I did a hot pack, simmering them with some sugar and then adding some Grand Marnier at the end.  I made some stewed cherries (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything) earlier in the month and loved having them in the fridge to eat out of the jar, so my hope was to basically duplicate this for canning.  I’m hopeful these will be a burst of summer in the cold months.

So that’s it for now.  I’m kind of on a canning break, waiting for the New York apricots to come in.  Meanwhile, I’m turning my attention to sewing and knitting….


The Maple Diner.

One of the best things about revisiting this special place once a year is that the kids love rediscovering favorite toys or games that have been left behind.  Without a doubt, one of these favorite activities is the Maple Diner.  Making use of a well-loved set of plastic toy dishes, the girls put together a feast of lily flower tea and various other goodies, mostly inedible.  (There were a few blueberry pancakes thrown in for good measure.)  Everything is served on the stump of an elm tree among the maple trees next to the cabin.



The sparkly ribbon centerpiece is courtesy of Anna, of course.

The setting is beautiful, and the food inspired.  Limited reservations available in advance.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your own diner, the chefs heartily recommend “Mud Pies and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Dolls” by Marjorie Winslow.

It all started with the bananas.

Three overripe bananas, that is, brought to us by Steve’s cousin  Laura as she headed back home.  Along with a number of other goodies like a pint of local heavy cream and a half-gallon of ice cream.

Oh yes, I said, I’d love those bananas.  There’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try that calls for three ripe bananas.  It’s this one for “Healthy Cookies” from 101 cookbooks and Heidi’s wonderful cookbook “Super Natural Every Day.”  But because of being brainwashed by Barbara Kingsolver (well, and perhaps also because my kids don’t really like them anymore), I’ve mostly stopped buying bananas, and can’t remember the last time I had several that were ripe enough for baking.

So it started with the bananas.  Because it is my nature, and because I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand (I almost bought some almond meal, but who knew it was so expensive?), I tweaked the recipe more than a little.  I added an egg, because I consider pastured eggs a health food–though I’m sure you could leave it out, and then the recipe would go back to being vegan.  I added peanut butter because I love peanut butter, especially with bananas and coconut oil.  I left out the baking powder because I didn’t think I needed it I forgot to put it in.  And I made it into bars because it seemed easier than individual cookies. So the recipe I finally made was pretty different from the original.

And my oh my were they good.  So good that yesterday they were practically all that I ate.  And while they are certainly healthy when compared to, say, a bag of oreos, I wouldn’t say they are in the same league as, for example, a salad.   But fortunately the pan was small and soon they were almost gone.

I ate the last one for breakfast this morning.  I have mixed feelings about the batch being gone. I think my body is glad that I actually consumed some vegetables and protein today, but I’ve been craving that banana-oat-chocolate yum.

If you decide to make these, they seem pretty robust, so do your own tweaking.  You could probably leave out the egg and it would be fine, and also vegan. Next time, I think I’ll use more walnuts, fewer chocolate chips, and probably put the coconut from the original recipe back in. A cool thing about this recipe is that it doesn’t have any wheat or other flour, so as long as you source gluten-free ingredients, it’s both gluten-free and 100% tasty–not so easy to accomplish in a baked good.

Banana Oatmeal Bars

3 ripe bananas

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted if needed

1 egg (or not)

2 cups rolled oats

2/3 cup flax meal

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or more to taste)

1 tsp. salt

1 cup chocolate chips

Mash the bananas and stir in the coconut oil.  Beat the egg and stir it in, and then add the rest of the ingredients one by one.  Spread in a 9 x 9 pan and bake at 350 degrees until they’re cooked through (sorry, I didn’t watch the clock!).  Enjoy.


Yes, we are on vacation–and yes, homeschooling continues.  Partly this is philosophical–learning never stops–but partly practical.  I’d much rather spread our learning out over the whole year than to alternate intensive periods of learning with total vacation.  I especially notice that when Anna is understimulated, she gets particularly squirrelly.  Which can quickly turn into annoying and then destructive.  Which is not good.  But when I make an extra effort to engage her, especially early in the day, it seems to settle her somewhat, and help her get started on the right foot.

Thus the advent of bedschooling.

Really, the picture above is not much of a representation, since I’m missing from it.  Bedschooling is all about the three of us piled up in the bed together, with me in the middle.

Often we start the morning reading together, whatever chapter book we left off with the night before.  Then we might pick up “Grammar Island,” which we’ve been reading together.  It seems to hit at a good spot for the two girls–(mostly) interesting enough to hold Anna’s attention, and filling in some gaps and providing some review for Cate, who is really wanting these days to feel like she is accomplishing some academic work.

Anna sometimes decides she doesn’t want any part of it, and she is free to opt out if she wants.  But when I tell her this, she often decides that she only wants to stop if we stop too, and may start singing loudly or jumping on us.  So the deal is that she can stay on the bed with us, but she can’t interfere with the reading that Cate and I want to do together.  She generally doesn’t like this response, but I find that after about 30 seconds, she’s right back in there with us.  And while there is a certain amount of back-and-forth that happens, I think this level of engagement for her busy little brain early in the day, interestingly, helps her settle in to the rest of the day more calmly.

All of this happens before breakfast, so the call of the cabin and food eventually pulls us out of bed and on to other things.  And often there isn’t much else in the way of explicitly academic work for the rest of the day–there are cherries to pit and hay to help with and barn cats to visit and hikes to go on and clothes to hang out on the line.  But this little bit of time at the start of the day helps both the girls in different ways.  For Cate, it helps fight that niggling concern that she isn’t doing “enough,” whatever enough is.  And for Anna, that extra bit of engaging her mind first thing seems to help start the day from a more settled place.

I always leave New York thinking about what we can bring back with us when we come home.  I’m looking forward to making bedschooling part of our mornings for a good long time now.

A tour of the compound.

As we were preparing for our annual trek to New York, several friends asked me about the place that we stay here.  I realized that most of my friends and family don’t have much of a picture of this place, so I thought I’d give a little photo tour.

Steve’s parents bought the land that the cabin sits on in 1975 from Steve’s uncle.  It sits on a hill overlooking the farm where Steve’s mom grew up.  For the first ten years or so, Steve and his family camped out in an old bus that had been being used as an office (on a construction site maybe?).  After that, his dad found and bought a tiny vacation cabin nearby, and had it moved to the hill.  With some renovation and expansion, it became the Cameron’s summer home.  When I met and married Steve in 1995, his parents were spending all summer and sometimes part of the fall in the little cabin.

Inside the cabin, there is a tiny but well-equipped kitchen:

I’m sorry that when I took these pictures, I didn’t get a picture of one of my favorite details in the kitchen: left over from it’s days as a vacation cabin, there is a small sign over the table that says, “Guests staying past check-out time will be charged for an additional day.”

The rest of the cabin is a single bedroom/living room with an attached bath.

That’s my mother-in-law at her bed; the cabin is really still her space, though she now only comes for a couple of weeks.  Since the travel became too difficult for my father-in-law a few years ago, my brother-in-law stays up here in the cabin with her.  I’m sure he’s thankful not to be living with the chaos that comes from sharing one room with a two small children.

One of the best features of the cabin is the huge deck, which has about as much square footage as the interior of the cabin, I think.  Because even on the hottest days it’s still pleasant outside, the deck is where we spend a lot of our time.  This is where we eat meals and hang out with visitors.  It’s also where we feed the chipmunks, our frequent visitors.

(Holy cow, it’s taking me a long time to complete this picture-intensive post using our slow internet…)

Up until about fifteen years ago, the cabin was the only building on the property.  But then I entered the picture. : )  The first summer that Steve and I came to New York together, we stayed in a little trailer that belonged to one of the many nearby cousins.  It worked fine, but Steve’s dad got to thinking (with visions of future grandchildren, I think) that it was time to expand the living space.  He generously undertook to build what we call “the bunkhouse,” a separate structure in a spot he had long-ago picked out, for its beautiful view across the valley.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself, but that’s the view from the deck of the bunkhouse.  Now we’ll go back to the cabin and head up the path towards the bunkhouse…past the clothesline….

(It is worth noting that when we arrived this year, there were no paths.  Steve–after driving all night–cheerfully set to mowing.  And this was some serious mowing.  What a guy.)

Can you see the bunkhouse at the end of the path?  Here’s a closer look.

And then, a peek inside!

(And yes, it is suddenly night-time.)

Theoretically, the big bed is for Steve and me, and the bunk beds are for the kids.  You can guess how that works out.  One improvement we have our eye on is replacing the queen-size bed with a king, but the practicalities are bogging us down a bit.  Not so easy to locate a king-sized futon and frame in rural central New York.  The frames on the wall around the bed are a project from last summer–pictures of the girls u here in NY, with some from each year since they were born.

On the other side of the room, one of the things I would have never put in any residence of mine:  his and her recliners.  They were lovingly tracked down and bought for the bunkhouse by Steve’s dad, a lover of recliners.

Despite not being something I would have chosen, I’ve become quite attached to these chairs over the years.  This is the spot where Steve and I spend our evenings after the girls have gone to sleep–reading, doing crossword puzzles, me knitting.  I remember when girl sleep felt so tentative and we would oh-so-carefully lean back in the creaking recliners so that the noise wouldn’t wake them.  And while I still don’t think a recliner is anything I’d buy for my own house, it’s part of the New York experience for us.

In the other corner, is the craft area.  It’s actually a desk, and was intended to be a spot where you could sit and write an enjoy the view.  In my hands (no big surprise), it’s become a place where you can sit and sew and enjoy the view.

And last but not least, the kitchen/bathroom.

You can see this is a busy little corner.  When the bunkhouse was first built, we didn’t have running water.  We had a sink with a drain, but used water in bottles for drinking and washing.  And there certainly weren’t any toileting facilities.  About seven years ago, we made some improvements–ran a water line to the bunkhouse, installed an outdoor shower (yay!  one of our favorite things up here!), and also put in a composting toilet (in the little room to the left).  We aren’t really set up to do any actual cooking up here, but bewteen the little fridge, the microwave, and the toaster, we can usually manage breakfast.  It’s not such an issue now, but when the kids were really little, it prevented us from storming the cabin with loud little ones looking for their breakfast at 6 in the morning.

So there you have it.  A little tour of our home-away-from-home.  I’ll close with a final picture of the evening sky out our bunkhouse window.

I admit it, I think this book is really f#*king funny.

One of the things that I enjoy about Facebook is the links of interest that make me think or laugh.  When the Amazon link for this book came across my news feed, I laughed and laughed and quoted it to Steve and then shared it around.

(sorry the picture is crappy, but at least that makes the post SFW.)

Anyway, in the intervening weeks, the world of social media has also brought me a couple of different articles that are critical of this book, saying that the book is not funny at all.  It actually made me google “go the fuck to sleep isn’t funny”  to see what was being written out there.  PhD in Parenting (no big surprise), has a very reasonable take on the book, in my opinion.  I liked this article (found through my googling), too.

One article I read that said that this book is not funny because there are too many kids in the world that are neglected and abused, and it’s not funny to make a joke about that.  While I think the author misses the point of satire, she’s been savaged enough by other bloggers that I’ll keep my mouth shut on that front.

The article that stuck with me, though, was one written by an attachment parenting/unschooling guru,  who expressed the opinion that this cruel and harsh thinking toward children only results from not honoring a child’s needs.  If only children are let to sleep and wake on their own schedules (rather than being coerced to sleep by their parents), then these kinds of sentiments never come up.  We should certainly never be commanding our children to sleep.

Now, I am certainly sympathetic to the idea that our culture places waaaay too much emphasis on organizing babies’ and children’s sleep for the parent’s convenience.  And I’m sure that there are children out there who, left to their own devices, will sleep easily and well on their own.  But I didn’t give birth to any children like that, so I’ve been intensely involved with bedtime for the last 10 years.  Not because I insist that my kids keep to a particular schedule, but that my kids require my presence and active participation to transition to bed.  And I’m okay with that.  But there are regularly times when I am exhausted and just ready for my kids to go the f&*k to sleep.  Although I admit that at times I have said, “Go to sleep!” (never with the f-bomb, though), it’s more likely to be a plea than a command.  I want to talk to my husband, do the dishes, read a book, or just sit and have no one talking to me or touching me.  This is not a sign that I don’t respect and honor their needs, just that I am HUMAN.

I’m going to try and give this particular writer the benefit of the doubt and assume that since her kids are grown, amnesia has set in, and she just doesn’t remember the intensity of those early years.  Or maybe she really did have kids that were easy and independent sleepers.  But I take issue with the idea that respecting a child’s autonomy means that we can sit back and let them parent themselves.  Because I care deeply about who my kids are and what they want and need, I am intensely engaged with them for many of our waking hours.  Which means that often, at the end of the day, I am tired.  Bone-deep, falling-over tired.  And I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Don’t get me wrong.  Parenting my children is by far the most rewarding work of my life so far.  But it is work.  Joyful, frustrating, challenging miraculous work.  It’s bad enough that we have books like “Babywise” selling a bill of goods that says if you only take charge and follow their program, having kids will be easy.  We also have experts from the opposite end of the spectrum saying that if we just trust and honor our kids enough, it will be easy.  If it feels hard–or if we find ourselves frustrated to the point of profanity–then we’re doing it wrong.  As parents, we can’t win!

To my mind, the goal isn’t easy.  The goal is rich and joyful and textured and meaningful.  Which is sometimes easy and sometimes a lot of hard work.  Both of which are okay.

In the meantime, I won’t begrudge myself a little crass humor, remembering that it’s not to be directed at my children, but to be shared with my spouse or my mama-friends, to laugh at our shared challenges and get through tough moments.

And then I’ll go kiss my sweet babies, who are blessedly asleep.

The first tomato, and the last for awhile.

Okay, technically not the first tomato.  Before I plucked this one, we’d had a few sweet-like-candy sungolds.  But this was the first full-size ripe tomato.

It appeared just over a week ago, on the day before we were headed to upstate New York through the end of July.  It was a thrill to get to pick at least one red tomato before we headed off, and I immediately used it to make a favorite sandwich–tomato plus basil plus white cheese (in this case soft chevre, often fresh mozzarella), with a dash of olive oil and balsalmic vinegar.  The quintessential summer sandwich, and one I’d eaten often over the previous week.

And then we packed up and said good-bye to the garden, and all the seasonal produce that is arriving full-force in North Carolina.  And thus is the trade-off of our trip up north.  One of the many joys of heading to our little corner of central New York is the blessedly cool weather.  By late June, North Carolina is blisteringly hot.  When we arrive in New York, we often need to pull out our sweaters and jeans again.  So, not surprisingly, we also experience a little seasonal backtracking.  We get another shot at strawberries (though barely, this year) and the greens that are on their way out at home.  But full-on summer vegetables–cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and beans–are still a dream in early July.

Which is not to say that there aren’t local produce treasures to enjoy.  I always make a point of putting up some rhubarb chutney from Steve’s uncle’s ancient plant.  We all practically consume our weight in fresh English peas, which hate the heat of the south but thrive in these cooler climes.  And while we are baffled by the difficulty of laying our hands on organic apples around here, we are already enjoying heaps of gorgeous local raspberries (red and black!) and cherries.  Later in the month, we should be able to get some beautiful, blushy New York apricots.

In the  meantime, I brought a few green tomatoes along with us, and they are starting to pink up in the kitchen windowsill.  Not quite the same as plucking a warm tomato off the vine, but it should tide us over until we’re back in the land of sweltering days and exploding gardens.