Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

Month: June, 2009

The tomatoes are coming!

This is the sight that greeted me yesterday when I came around the corner in the garden!

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Lovely little Juliets!  That I started from SEED!

(yes, I am a little excited.)

They didn’t last there long–I picked one and ate it right off the vine.  Maggie even took a bite, which is extremely adventuresome for her.

Sweet, tart, warm, and with the planty smell that only fresh tomatoes have.

Woo Hoo!

Coming around again

I’ve said it before–around here, kale is the vegetable that keeps on giving.  And giving.  This fall, I planted some red winter kale, and it produced steadily all winter long.  Somewhere in April, though, it gave up the ghost, bolting and producing flowers.

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Honestly, I didn’t pay it much mind.  There was so much else to do in the garden, and with the abundance of lettuce and spinach, the kale got a bit sidelined.  The flowers were pretty, so I just enjoyed watching it do its thing.

And boy did it do its thing!  After putting out the flowers, it produced a truly astonishing number of seed pods.  Anna and I finally harvested them last week, and got down to collecting some seeds to plant again this coming fall.

Anna’s favorite technique was to grab a bunch of pods and shake them until the seeds fell out…

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..and then collect them off the deck.

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Fortunately, there were so many seeds that we didn’t need to worry about collecting every last one.  As it is, I think we have enough seeds to feed the whole neighborhood kale for the winter.

As we were sitting on the deck together, Anna turned to me and said, “Mommy, I think homeschooling is the best way.  You get to learn stuff and spend time with your family.”  We talked about the various techniques for harvesting seeds, about the different kinds of seeds that come out of the garden (“peas are seeds? are you sure?”), about plants and flowers and our plans for the garden.

Steve laughed at me a little when I proudly announced that we had collected our own kale seeds, so we could plant these instead of buying new ones.  As if the price of a packet of seeds was going to break the bank.  (He chuckles similarly when I speak of putting up produce for the winter, as if we’ll starve if I don’t get enough strawberries frozen.)  And while the frugality appeals to me, it’s more about the feeling of closing the circle, of really taking the process from beginning to end–and sharing that with the girls.  I think it helps give them a deeper understanding not only of plant life cycles but also how we grow our own food.  We currently have popcorn growing in the garden from seeds that Maggie painstakingly removed from the cob last summer, and there’s something especially satisfying about seeing those plants get taller and taller.

I think we’re really going to enjoy eating that popcorn.  The kale, well, that’s still grown-up food in this house.  I can live with that.

I am obsessed with this salad.

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One of the books I’ve read recently is Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson.  The main character is a caterer, and in one scene she fixes her husband a big salad of frisee that she tops with a fried egg.  Once I read that, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I think I may have had something like that at our favorite fancy restaurant, but the specific dish eludes me.  At any rate, dreams of salad with a yolky egg danced in my head for a week before I finally made it for the first time.

I’ve tried a couple of variations, but my favorite is salad greens, chopped steamed beets, and crumbled goat cheese, dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and plenty of salt and pepper.  Top with a fried egg (or two), and sprinkle with a generous helping of little pieces of bacon.

It’s 8 a.m., but I think that may be what I’m having for breakfast.  Yum!

The carrots were just the beginning.

We spent Saturday morning out in the garden, harvesting a big pile of root vegetables.  My intention had been to go out and pick some beets for a salad at lunchtime, but the girls came with me–and the harvesting began.  Beets (hooray!) and carrots and onions and garlic, plus a couple of early cucumbers and some late lettuce.

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We carried armloads up to the deck, where Anna spread them on the little table and exclaimed, “Root score!” Then she explained quietly, in case I was typically slow on the uptake, that she said “root score” because we scored so many root vegetables.

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Anna made good use of the water table to wash everything, which I think is one of her favorite parts of root veggies.  She enjoys telling me how dirty they are and how much scrubbing they need.

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We then shared carrots for breakfast and fixed fresh beets for lunch.  Yum!

Carrots!

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I really think of carrots as a recreational crop, kind of like radishes.  The kids love to pull them, even if we’ve never had much luck growing them.  Even the tiniest little carrots are pretty thrilling.  And unlike radishes, the girls actually like eating them.

This year, though, we’ve had quite a bounty of carrots.  I planted them in the new beds, which seem to be much friendlier to root crops.  And it’s been rainy and cool enough to keep them happily growing.

We all love the surprise of these plants.  We look them over, trying to decide if they’re ready.  Maybe dig around a little, peering closely for glimpses of the growing vegetable.  Then a big pull, and often a squeal of delight, as they discover the treasure under the soil.

Good times.

The Chicken Dance Cure

Friday was just one of those days.  It was the end of a long week, it was hot, the house was a shambles, I was tired, and I could just not get on track.  Tempers were running high–especially mine.  I won’t share the details of an incident involving an unraveled cassette tape and angrily pulling over on the highway, but suffice it to say that I was not in a groovy-mama groove.  I actually had the thought–rare for me–that maybe the kids would be better off in school than subjected to their stressed-out mama all the time.

Thankfully, that dread car ride ended in a trip to the roller skating rink with our homeschool group.  This gave all of us the chance to hang out with our friends, have a little fun, and get a little space from one another.

The highlight of the roller rink?  At one point, they called everyone to the center for roller-dancing.  First the hokey-pokey, and then the chicken dance.  I was there with Anna, and I realized as we started that although she’d heard the song, she’d never done the chicken dance.  So I started showing her how it went, and she copied me, and absolutely beamed.  Anna loves to dance, and this was just her kind of fun.  After a frought morning, we had this moment of joyful connectedness over, yes, the chicken dance.

The afternoon wore on with the usual ups and downs of a Friday at the end of a long week.  We ended the day at the pool, and I was sitting around the baby pool with Anna, who was busily retrieving balls and diving toys and experimenting with putting her head in the water.  No big surprise, at some point she ended up with a big noseful of water.  In a moment of inspiration, I asked her if she knew what the cure was for water up the nose; she said no.  I said, “The chicken dance, of course!” and proceeded to “peep peep peep peep, flap flap flap flap, wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, clap clap clap clap.”  She  joined right in and was soon jumping right back into the pool.  We repeated this a number of times over the course of the evening, including a variation for a single-nostril inhalation that used only one hand, doing the dance with only half of our bodies.  After that one, she crawled up in my lap, hugged me, and said, “Mommy, that is a very funny remedy.”

It seems to me that so often our day tips on these tiny decisions I make in the moment….do I make a joke?  get annoyed?  move on to something else?  reach out to connect?  When I can step back and go for the silly–tickling or playing or singing or running around–it gives us all a little energy and ease.  And we can certainly use as much of that as we can get.

Our classroom

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When Steve and I first walked past our house (it’s just a few blocks from where we lived before), the screen porch (along with the for sale sign) immediately drew our eyes.  On the side of the house, it looks out on the woods that adjoin our property.  And living in the climate that we do, we can really use it as a room for most of the year.

Around here, though, spring does present some challenges.  For those of you who have never lived in this part of the world, the pollen production in the spring is truly a sight to behold.  The pine trees produce a thick yellow pollen that covers EVERYTHING.  So while the weather is warming up and inviting us onto the porch, we empty it out and cover the furniture with sheets and wait for the worst of it to pass.  Even so, the mess is daunting.  But once we clear it out, there is a clean slate to play with.  It’s usually at this time of year that I do some rearranging or re-thinking of how we use the space, and this year was no exception.

For the first time, I’ve made the point of actually putting supplies out on the porch–pencils and paint and clipboards and the like.  The girls naturally spend so much time out there, it’s nice to have stuff at hand.  And honestly, it’s the easiest place to clean up a messy art project, so I’m happy for materials to suggest that the porch is the place for painting.

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We also have a hammock set up, and that is a favorite spot for reading and writing.

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Naturally, it is also a favorite spot for wrangling with your sister, or swinging so high that this mama envisions heads slamming where they shouldn’t.  But that hasn’t happened yet.

Of course, it’s downright silly for me to describe any spot as our classroom.  We have materials and workplaces spread all through the house, that the favorites change faster than I can rotate the supplies.  But on this particular morning, when we had all been surprised by a deer visiting in the yard, and the girls were inspired to write and draw and paint about what they saw, I was a bit overcome with gratitude for this lovely little spot where we get to live and learn together.  An outdoor classroom on the edge of the woods sounds almost too idyllic to be true, and here we have it literally right outside our door.

Sticking with it.

I admit it–I’m a sucker for a craft kit.  Which is strange in a way, since I really do want my kids to have craft experiences that are about process rather than prodcut–and nearly every craft kit out there is about the product.  Not to mention that the projects tend to be very proscriptive, with no room for creativity.  But there’s something so enticing about the neatly packaged little bits of yarn and fabric and wool or whatever.  There is so little in my life that is pre-packaged, and armed with my 40% off AC Moore coupon, I have a hard time resisting what seems like a quick and easy way to some crafty fun.

Which is how we found ourselves pulling out this sewing kit.  The little stuffed animals are just the kind of thing Maggie loves, so she gravitated to the little stuffed dog.  She read through the directions and began assembling the pieces.  And then we hit some snags.  The scissors were TERRIBLE, and didn’t actually work to cut embroidery floss.  The needle wasn’t all that sharp, and she kept having trouble getting it through the (icky) acrylic felt.  Maggie found herself in a place of determined frustration, angry at everyone and everything around her, but entirely unwilling to take a break or walk away.

The final straw was when she realized that she’d sewn the decorations on the wrong side of one of the pieces, so it all had to be snipped off and resewn.  At that point, when my suggestion of taking a break was once again rejected, I gathered Maggie and her sewing materials into my lap on our big armchair, breathing deeply, speaking soothingly and just holding her while she kept at this frustrating effort.  So finally she was ready to stuff and sew the edges.

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At which point, the tide turned.  The whip-stitching around the edges came easily, so she was able to make progress and feel satisfied.  She spent the better part of the day listening to audiobooks and sewing up the dog.  She then asked for my help to finger-knit him a collar, and both she and Anna played with him for much of the remainder of the afternoon.  She feels very proud and accomplished, thrilled to show off her creation to all.

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So in the end, we got to a good place.  I’m so glad for her to have this experience of moving through frustration to satisfaction.  It seems especially valuable that she and I were able to sit down and reflect on this process.  And in terms of the craft kit, I’m realizing that part of the appeal is that she can finish with a very satisfying product, which also feels good.  Not so good is being thwarted by sub-par materials, which I think most of these inexpensive craft kits are plagued with.

Lesson learned? These kinds of projects are great for Maggie, but I’m probably better off putting everything together myself.  Or putting it together with her.  Which will ultimately be even more satisfying for both of us, I think.

P.S. The best part of that kit?  It came in a little suitcase, which has been played with around here about a hundred times since it arrived at Christmas.  Who knew that a little suitcase could be so much fun?

Sunflower House–we’re still trying.

Or should I say, we’re trying again, as the original planting is mostly gone.  And the planting after that.  And after that.  We have many birds in our yard, especially lots of crows, and they LOVE the sunflower seeds.  They seem to be eating them as fast as I can plant them–we keep finding empty sunflower seed hulls scattered around the garden.  So we have only a few sunflower seedlings, a lot of morning glories, and some rapidly growing pumpkins that I tossed in around the edge.

In desperation, I’m trying a new approach:

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There’s a flat of sunflower seeds planted on my deck, and hopefully I’ll be able to transplant these little beauties into the soil, and have more success than with the direct seeding.

My only worry now is the deer that surprised us in the yard yesterday morning…hopefully she won’t be back to munch the seedlings down to the ground.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

May in Review

Yes, I’m still here.

I was inspired by this idea at Holistic Mama last month, and wanted to try it out.

May in Review, in 1 sentence.  We are transitioning into the warm season, finding our new rhythm in the cool mornings, hot and sunny days, and long light-filled evenings.

Summary (3 sentence max)
Spring is here, and summer is not far behind.  Picking (and putting up) strawberries, weekly trips to the farmer’s market, lots of gardening.  Remembering the importance of SHADE.

Fun
The pool is open!  Maggie turned 8!  We’re making our own cheese!

Challenging
Finding balance between work and family and time for myself.  Keeping the chaos at bay.

Thoughtful
Summer is almost here, and I’m listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Again.  This book always inspires me to try and live in my own foodshed and appreciate seasonal produce.  I love that this book is so much about the joy of eating this beautiful food rather than being about deprivation.

An insight/thought
I’m learning to sit on my hands more with the girls, letting them find their own way as they are creating and learning.  Every time I get the urge to instruct or offer suggestions, I try and take a moment and ask myself if my interference is needed.  I’m finding that usually, it’s not.

Website/blog Find/Tip or Idea from web

A regular source of inspiration these days is Camp Creek Press.  A post I keep going back to is this one, “Making Room for Their Ideas.”  It’s really helped me frame the way that the girls and I work together.

Words (quote/reading/book recommendation/1 sentence review!/anything word-related)

“If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert.  He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator.” — W. Beran Wolfe  (thanks to Lori at Camp Creek Press, see above)

Note to Self
Take a deep breath.

Slice of home (A photo of a tiny corner of your home, or objects, that represent something about this month.)

Summer evenings:  Dinner on the deck!

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