Monday, September 29, 2014

What are my fears about the choices my children face, beyond inebriated car accidents, addictions, and entanglement with abusive partners? Its always been clarifying, in this house, to define the worst fear and move up from there in terms of homeschooling goals. What are you afraid of and why?

My kids won't learn math. Well, no one does unless they want to, including schooled kids. Try asking, where will my kids need math? Because that math is simple to apprehend. All other math can be understood as either esoteric art form, a sorting criteria for universities, or the language of the physical world. Understanding exactly where you are aiming and why simplifies the path to the goal. Despite what (and how) we were taught in school, math is neither all that difficult nor time consuming to learn, IF its introduced at the appropriate age----in the teen years for everything over money and time, in any formal way. Unless there is a specific need, say, for construction or programming. Unschooling experience suggests there will always be needs. Needs are excellent teachers.

My kids won't read well. 99% unlikely in our culture if you homeschool---even if you do not teach. Unless your kid needs glasses or has other physical eye issues.  (Ugh, parenting fail over here!)

My kids won't be intelligent. Absurd notion. Not even worth discussing. They were born intelligent. Their minds are growing whether you like it or not. Intelligence is generally only suspended by poor nutrition and/or abuse.

My kids will turn out lazy, spoiled, or pernicious.  Here it is, the biggest most unspoken fear for homeschooled kids in our society. I'm not sure what to say about this except that I've embodied all three and I was schooled relentlessly. The seven deadly sins were listed thousands of years ago, for a reason. It has been officially noted that humans are broken. Far as I can tell, we must put some effort into rising above ourselves. This is a parenting issue, not a homeschooling issue. Try to be an excellent example. Give your toddlers a firm and consistent understanding of basic manners and shield them from unworthy authority.

I was sitting on the couch drinking coffee when my son walked downstairs this morning and paused to glance out the window in our front door. The early light hit his beautiful face as he was quietly mouthing words to a song. I wished him good morning and asked what he was singing. Then I looked up the song. The video I happened upon for this song is a stunning work of art that portrays what happens to a large majority of white kids who go to college or find jobs after high school and give themselves over to their very first genuine encounter with freedom. Approximately 10 years is promptly wasted in a cycle of drinking, looking for love, and feeling like shit while pretending to feel okay. I've been there. I've lived it. I watched most of my friends live it. I can say something true about this cycle of constant partying: With exceedingly few exceptions, you can not find love nor happiness in this cycle--despite marketing illusions to the contrary.

The only people I know who stumbled early out of the cycle of partying into a happy loving life were lucky enough to get accidentally pregnant and chose to give family life a shot. The 10 Year Cycle of Partying can waste your life, if you let it. Its fun for a while, but dangerous, my darlings. Also, it will eventually destroy your liver. Have fun. Party for sure. But heed your old fat lazy spoiled pernicious mother. Decide to do something, anything, smart or daring or inspiring with your twenties.

The trap looks like this. Beware: 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

One Bite Pie
This has been done before and can be read about in lovely books. But I learn from doing and taste simply isn't conveyed well in print. Plus, the books never seem to break it all down to what I want to know: which apple is most delicious and which apples are best for pie? So I've decided to get systematical about the situation.

Here we have, from left to right: Gala, Braebrun, Diva, Granny Smith, and Jonagold. The selection criteria was availability in the store. Before this taste test I would have said Galas are my favorite eating apple, though they can be a bit mealy. And Granny Smith makes the best pie. Pies are improved with a mix of apples for varied flavor. But Granny Smith should be the sustainer, both for supportive texture and tartness to set off the sugar. The Diva pictured here is upside down because its more distinctive looking from the bottom. It looks kind of Gala-ish from the top. It was the only apple of the group to have that old fashioned scabishness, but only barely. Why is Diva in the middle? Probably because she knew she would steal the show, though I did not.
They are lined them up in no specific order and were tasted, left to right, with one exception. Granny Smith was tasted last because its sour and I didn't want that to influence Jonagold's flavor.

I would rate the sweetness of this group, from sweet to not:
Diva, Gala, Braeburn, Jonagold, Granny Smith.

Jonagold and Diva were the two surprises. Diva has a rousing WOW of flavor and is very sweet. Jonagold was only slightly more complex and less sour than Granny Smith. I tasted twice and concede that Braeburn may be the most balanced. If you're into that sort of thing. Tending toward various extremes, I will be eating more Divas this season, for sure. But I won't be mixing Divas and Galas in pie. Together, they would be too sweet. Diva seems to have better, snappier, texture than Gala. But texture often has more to do with season.

I have an apple obsession that I keep carefully tamped down. Beyond grocery store beauties, native apples are my real interest, originally sparked by traveling as a child through the NC mountains. And intensified later when I discovered an heirloom tree in Pittsboro, NC, that gave apples black on the outside and pink on the inside. Sadly, I don't have a farm for developing orchards. Maybe one day I can start an heirloom orchard for collaboration with future grandchildren? Its generational work.

But pies are current and its time to roll some crust. On that topic I have one solid piece of advice. Salt your crusts, people. I mean, salt them more. Crust should never taste pasty. Pasty Pastry is an abomination. Plus, the extra salt allows you to cut sugar in the pie, always a good thing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tools from yesteryear. I'm trying to get reorganized, better, after our remodel. Some items defy all logical attempts at letting go. When I look through these things I'm teleported back to long lazy summer weeks at the beach before air conditioning, being rocked in my Aunt Katherine's lap well after I was too big for such things, and my Grandmother's kitchen. ...pardon me while my heart shatters...
 My Grandmother Julia's recipes. What the internet looked like 50 years ago.
 note: "butter both sides of the bread" 
 Anyone know what these baskets are called? They don't make them anymore.
Thank You Note 1958, five pages, both sides of the paper
 Secondary Thank You Note from the parents of the first thank you note's author. I don't know what Aunt Katherine did for these people. But they were mighty grateful.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I was sitting outside downtown last night knitting while waiting for my husband to bring pizza to the table. Two kids walked by, a little girl age 7 and her brother age 5. 5 looked at me and shouted in his excitement, "IS THAT YARN?! Do you have YARN?! Like for a KITTEN?!!!" They were very bright and inquisitive and curious and forward kids. I smiled and replied that yes, this is yarn, exactly as kittens universally love, and its very soft. I offered the yarn to 5 and for a moment he existed for that yarn. He squoze it, really dug in. He rolled it around in his hands. He noted the ball was attached to a string that was attached to something I was doing and he got right into the physics of the situation, winding and unwinding, carefully. I suggested his sister might like a turn. He handed over Precious Yarn right away with no hesitation to share.

7 was more interested in the knitting itself and I was so happy to hand her a wrap I had stashed in my bag so she could pour over the details of a Knitted Thing without unraveling the knitting on my needles. She noticed that knitting is full of holes. I explained that knitted things are actually made of holes and we all shared a very excited wonder-filled laugh about the irony of holes creating warm things. 7 thought it might be nice to know how to knit but was worried about the sharpness of the needle. Rather than using words she communicated in silence, pricking her left pointer finger with her right, while wincing. I held up the knitting needles so she could feel for herself the softness of their tips. I told her she was old enough to learn how to knit but she pointed out, rightly, that she couldn't do it by herself. She would need someone to help her learn how to knit. She said this with a resignation and tacit understanding that no such is help available.

The whole lesson took about four minutes, embodied principles of math and science, art, and physical intelligence. It was quite possibly richer in a visceral way than anything that happened to those kids at school this week and more memorable. It was free. It was unscripted and genuine. It had a clear note of truth, beauty, and pleasure for everyone involved.

Picture 7 and 5 two years from now. After two years in the school system, how might we expect them to be different? We all know exactly what they will have been taught, both intentionally and unintentionally. The curriculum for that age is predicable, purposefully average, institutional. Everyone who has been there has felt the results.

Homeschooling is a thing made of holes creating a loose interconnected vibrant warm colorful fabric of infinite possibility and shape. Homeschooling looks into the worried longing eyes of a bright child with the authority ability and intention to say, "Yes, here, let me show you how" in an atmosphere of love without competition, with an understanding of time bound only by issues of practicality, for reasons driven by curiosity, yearning, and tangible needs.

More often these days I encounter that same look of worry and longing in the eyes of young parents. Its not as easy to say, "Yes, here, let me show you how" to them. They've already been well trained in, "No, not right now, it won't work, we don't have time, we don't know how, these things are necessarily procedural, we can't."

                                                                                                                           image credit   ~ RWR

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The backdoor to our house rotted out and it took the floor, subfloor, and insulation with it. But not, thank goodness, the sill of the house. We also lost associated siding. All of which had to be replaced. Insurance helped a lot and we took the opportunity to upgrade our truly ugly cheap plastic floors to oak. Plain and simple. We are very pleased with the results, one continuous floor downstairs. 
It should wear well and last a hundred years. This is a floor someone could pull out and use in another house someday. That feels worthwhile. Not always doing the cheapest fix feels like a gain.
Meanwhile, 3 days ago this remarkable fellow was hit by a car AGAIN. That makes 4 times he's been hit and hit hard. Two of the hits were witnessed by humans who were certain, both times, he would not live. He walked away. Jackson, dear boy, how is this possible? Please stay out of the road.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Here's Courtney moments after she had Callie. You can see the red chain she's wearing and I was so heartbroken not to find, when she failed to report for work two days later. Both are well and happy now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dear Husband is still home sick with the endless cough. Dr. Bruce agreed with me that it might be pertussis, so he's been tested. Our community has been alerted. And we're waiting it out. Well, I'm waiting it out. First Ry, then H, now J. I'm hoping my daily quart of warm fresh milk at work is keeping me safe. Damn, we really NEED to buy our own cow.

Meanwhile, our house is full of workers installing the new floor. We are sick and (still) tired and very excited. We've evacuated to the coffee house in Saxapahaw. All here together, everyone with their own computer, drinking coffee, digging the awesome tunes, and watching the light change over the river. It feels like fall outside. I'm shopping for wall paper. Life is good.

Time to cross the parking lot for grass fed burgers in the gas station. Gotta love the new south!

Monday, September 8, 2014

One of the important differences between cows on pasture and cows living in confinement is that cows on pasture must be counted constantly. They are brought into the barn from pasture. Huge amounts of hay and a bit of grain are served down their lane, they start eating, and as they eat they are counted. We are into fall calving season now. As each dry cow calves, the milk cows will rise in number from 20 to 36. Sunday morning I should have had 22 cows eating in the lane. I counted 21. So I counted them 3 more times, thinking surely I was mistaken.

All newly fresh cows, cows who have just calved, wear red plastic necklaces around their necks for quick identification. They are held back and milked last so their milk can be saved individually for their own calves. At this point I should have had 2 red chains, Dakota and Courtney. Dakota was there.

Missing a cow is not good. Missing a newly fresh cow made my blood run cold. Fresh dairy cows are susceptible to a condition called milk fever. So much calcium is going into their milk, they can't pull it from their bones fast enough to keep up with their own needs. The first symptom of milk fever is cold ears. If you see a fresh cow looking a little weird you feel their ears. If they are cold, you administer calcium. And you do it right away because milk fever can progress quickly and it can be fatal. Courtney was missing.

Still desperately hoping I was counting incorrectly, I went to find a flashlight, a halter, and our herd boss, Allison. It was 5:15 a.m. and black dark outside when I knocked on her door. Hearing a fresh cow was missing, she didn't even pause to change out of her pajamas or put on boots. We ran for the cart, turned off the pasture fence, and drove across the fields. I was still half-believing I'd made some silly mistake, Courtney was standing somewhere obvious, and I was actually apologizing for waking my boss when our light reflected eyes out in the darkness, silent pleading kind of eyes. I think we both felt a momentary flash of panic. Allison cried out Courtney's name.

We flew into action. Courtney was down and bloated. Milk fever could kill her but bloat might kill her faster. We had to get her head up and Allison knew just what to do. She had me push on Courtney's head while she haltered her and tied her head to her back hoof. It sounds awkward and painful and I'm sure it was, but Courtney was so bloated she was feet up and almost on her back. We had to keep her head higher than her stomachs to keep her from aspirating digestive fluid.

Approximately 90 seconds later I was sitting in the dark in a field on the downhill side of Courtney, doing my best to prop up her shoulder. Despite getting thrown off twice, I sat next to her and rubbed her neck and told her Allison was going to save her. I sang Amazing Grace to her several times in a low humming cowy kind of way. It was entirely possible she might die while we waited there. You can bet your ass, I was praying. Allison was getting medicine and supplies.

From the time Allison got back with all the tools we needed and more help on the way, everything moved very fast. We got a lot of mineral oil down Courtney's throat plus a calcium drench, and set an IV into her milk vein. Several bottles of calcium plus extra fluids were administered. With the arrival of the farm owners we had plenty of hands to help. Courtney was rolled almost all the way over to a more proper sitting position for a cow and propped up with a hay bale. Light was beginning to brighten the sky in the east. The milk cows were standing alone in the lane on the other side of the farm wondering what was going on. Allison was holding the IV needle, Courtney's owner was holding IV bottles at the proper height, and I was looking on. I reached down and loosened the halter across Courtney's nose. We were all calm. She knew, understood fully, we were helping her.

I left them all there and went to milk the cows. An hour later, as unbelievable as this sounds, Courtney walked herself across the farm, down the lane, and into the holding pen to be milked. She showed up right on time, joining Dakota as I was finishing up with other milkers. Bloat and milk fever are both mechanical issues. If corrected, the cows recover completely and almost instantly---usually. So it was with Courtney.

I, however, was wasted for the rest of the day. That afternoon I was almost too tired to walk myself across the level floor of the hardware store. She said she was going to rest, but I'm sure Allison worked the rest of the day and milked the cows last night. The adrenaline rush hit both of us, we both wrestled that cow in a field in the dark. But Allison did most of the heavy lifting while shouldering the burden for Courtney's life. She is an amazing woman. I'm lucky I get to work for her and I love my job. There is always so much to learn, each day is unique, and often filled with wonder. But it took a full day before I recovered enough energy to even type out this story. Whew.

Friday, September 5, 2014

3:20 today, message from my boss: "Courtney is going into labor. I give her 30 minutes and there will be baby." Ry and I were out the door at 3:25 and the baby, a gorgeous heifer named Callie, was born about 4:00. I have the best job ever.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Evenings out for teens have been super fun for them, and give me time for wandering.
 That's lightening in the sky. The moon was behind me. Don't think I've ever caught lightening before.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Yep, calving season started today! This is Dublin, the very last daughter out of Dakota, who is Allison's favorite cow. I got to work at 5 and started putting out feed like always when I heard one very small short soft, "oooo." I put down my buckets and went to fetch a flashlight. That's how mother cows talk to their calves. Sure enough, Dakota and Dublin were standing off in a far corner of the pasture all alone. I got to call Allison with the good news and I have never seen her so happy as she is today. What a pretty and fortunate baby!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Happy Birthday To Me!
Calving season tomorrow. It sure does give the drive into work an extra layer of happiness, wondering if a new calf will be standing in the barn.