Footprints ‘Cross the Floor (the fallacy of the clean farmhouse)

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Now I said it with my mom voice.  You know the mom voice?  Even if the kids grow up and move out the voice still finds its way around.

“No shoes in the house!” I says.  Best mom voice.

No…(pause)…shoes in the…(pause)…house pleease!

Now I am married to an independent man but one that likes (wisely) to keep mama happy.  He comes in from work- tired and hungry- and takes off his shoes first thing.  He stashes them below the sofa so the puppy doesn’t play with them.  He puts on his bedroom slippers.

And then!  Later he walks out the back door in his slippers, through the chicken yard, into the chicken coop, gathers eggs, and comes back in tracking chicken straw, mud, and myriads of stickers, his big, doofy pup following with large paw prints ‘cross the cleanish kitchen floor.

Well, they ain’t shoes, I guess.

Now Folks, the idea of the perfectly clean house is a fallacy designed by gents in suits selling the finest cleaners and somehow it stuck.  Only the very bored and those that have lost a hobby or two have a perfectly clean house, in my mind.

There is clutter, and dishes, and overnight guests, and animals galore, and laughter, and spilt wine, and a dog on the sofa.  The dust falls like fairy dust and the home is cozy and fine as it should be.

So, y’all, I look at them two traipsing across the kitchen floor that was clean for five minutes.  Pa hands over the eggs and the hundred pound puppy drools on the floor, both waiting for mama to smile.

And my heart swells, and I do, because that’s what brooms are for, and puppies, and husbands, and kids, and guests were always more important than footprints ‘cross the floor.

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Grammie School

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It used to be referred to as “Mommy School”.  That is what Andy used to call it.  He loved workbooks and extra reading.  We loved to visit museums, art galleries, and book stores.  This was when he was five or six.  He would tell his teacher all about Mommy School.

But time found us getting busier and I with three little ones and Mommy School was limited.  When after a year of high school and Andy struggling out of lack of interest I decided to homeschool all three of them.  We visited the teacher supply store and went crazy buying workbooks and educational toys and various items like stickers. (Gosh, who doesn’t like stickers?)

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Andy was fifteen, Shyanne was twelve, and Emily was eleven so their interests and levels were different so as we made our way through we became more of “unschoolers”.  Unschooling is when each kid devours every topic they love, whether it be cooking or pirates.  In each topic they learn valuable skills such as reading, writing, spelling, history, science, and math.  They also have time to indulge in arts and music.  Because they were home with us they also learned what we deemed important, not the slanted school system’s ideas.  They learned about herbalism, animals, agriculture, our ideas on spirituality and they were left to fill in the blanks for themselves.  They were able to make their own paths with a well rounded base.

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Andy went off to college and the girls felt amiss.  They wanted to try the small high school in town.  Shyanne, my socialite, loved it, thrived in it, and graduated.  Emily went back briefly but found herself unhappy in the school system and then learned she was with child so she reverted back to homeschooling pretty quickly.  I enjoyed homeschooling my children and I believe they are intelligent adults that were more realistic about the world out there then children just graduating from traditional high school.

Now, I have my first grandchild here four days a week while mom and dad work.  It is my greatest honor and profound joy.  In many cultures the grandmother is put in charge of the children’s well being, growth, and education.  These grandmothers hold the wisdom of half a life or more and tend to have more patience.  Maryjane is a special child.  When she was six months old we attended the funeral of Shyanne’s best friend who had committed suicide and the depth of sorrow was intense.  As I would approach people Maryjane would put her hand on their face as if she were trying to comfort.

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She is a bit of a wild child, the child that usually comes last, the one that has so much life bubbling forth that her parents want a nap!  She is also highly intuitive.  She has the same healing gifts that run through my family.  It is obvious even though she is only two years old.  She eats wild herbs and helps me make medicine.  She comforts those that are upset.  But she “knows” things too.  We were to meet Emily and Maryjane at the coffee shop the other day.  Maryjane started to yell, “Pa! Pa!”

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“Grammie and Pa aren’t here yet,” Emily replied.  About a minute later we pulled into the turning lane to get into the parking lot.  Emily was a little shocked.

“If you send her to school they will squash this little girl’s spirit,”  I lamented.

“I wasn’t planning on sending her to school.”

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Oh, happy day.  Emily and I will be homeschooling that amazing child.  Four days a week (depending on the kids’ schedules) we will be having the raucous event called “Grammie School”.

Daydreams of workbooks and drawing pads and finely sharpened pencils danced in my head then I realized that I am already homeschooling.  Learning doesn’t begin at age four and end at eighteen or twenty-two.  We have already begun.

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Here are five ways to teach a little one:

  1. Count- everything I hand the baby I count.  Here are some mullein flowers to put in the pot.  One, two, three, four, five…She now tells people she is five.  She can’t put them in order, but she can randomly sing, “one, five, nine, three, six…”
  2. Spell- Dad, d-a-d, is on his way!  I don’t spell everything we say, I would annoy myself, but she is really in tune to simple words.  Pa, p-a, Mom, m-o-m.  She has no idea what we are talking about yet but the letters stick in her little head.  She sure surprised her mom by writing D-A-D on her arm!
  3. Point out everything.  Birds, trees, flowers, dogs, coffee, books, people, cars, rain, everything.  These babies are sponges and they will remember all of these things in detail.  It is terribly sad to me that so many parents I see just set their kids in a corner and ignore them.  They just “get through” until the next stage.  Babies being lugged around in car seats instead of being held.  Perhaps it is a grandmother’s perspective to see that children grow quickly and time is so precious.  These little ones cannot be all they aspire to without nearly constant attention and guidance.
  4. Teach them about animals.  Teach them not to be afraid of animals.  The kids used to have friends come over to the house that were terrified of our cats!  A child that knows animals, speaks to animals, is gentle with animals, and who is well versed in the various kinds of animals naturally grows to be a more compassionate and gentle child and adult.
  5. Read- read, read, read!  Read labels, books, magazines, signs, and fill the child’s head full of adventures and stories.  Give them a love for reading early.  Visit the library, read to them on your lap, just read.  This is special time for the child and for you and the libraries will forever hold a place in that child’s heart.

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There are many more things, manners, cooking, chores, things that we have Maryjane do as well, but the above five are easy and effective ways to homeschool whether one chooses to send their child to school or not.  There is always the opportunity to reach out to a child and make a difference in their self-esteem and in their learning.

Capturing the Joy of Kids and Summer

We fill our days taking Maryjane here and there.  We always wanted to enjoy summer!  Farmer’s markets, canning, gardening, and farm animals made us so busy we would blink and it would be fall.  We always missed out on that hammock or ice cold drink outside in a lawn chair.  Every day we are out and about enjoying summer since we now have absolutely nothing to do but be grandparents.

We took Maryjane to the park yesterday.  It was a large sweeping park with large playgrounds and rolling grass for soccer games.  Daycare groups and families filled the playgrounds and pavilions.  Maryjane loves children and we watched close as she went from one group of older kids to another.  A low water fountain created a strong stream to fill dog bowls and water bottles.  The children splashed and played and Maryjane stayed near, laughing if the water droplets hit her.

Suddenly a universal scream of glee rose up in a bubble of sound above the park.  A mass exodus ensued as dozens and dozens of children left their posts and began to run downhill.  Maryjane looked around wondering, saw what they saw before we did, and took off running with the mass of children.  The sprinklers were on.

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Can you imagine if adults did that?  What fun!  How do we recapture some of that intense joy of simple things?  Those days in the sun with our sweet granddaughter and walls of screams of laughter and joy help push us on to the next day.  May we all capture that kind of joy!  The next sprinkler I see you will find me in!

Well, off to Rodney’s!  Tomorrow I will write you from Wyoming!

Guess Who Came Home for Christmas!

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This farm just hasn’t seemed like a farm lately.  The chickens are still running amok and always hungry, the farm dog is sleeping, the cats are mousing, but something was missing.  We sure missed our goats!  About a month and a half ago they went to see about some men.  We hadn’t a clue what we were looking for regarding heat cycles so Isabelle’s original owner agreed to let the girls stay there and she would make sure they were bred.

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Goats have a twenty day heat cycle and on the eighteenth day of being at boarding school, Isabelle and Larry hooked up like long lost lovers and a few more Elsas may be born the end of April.  Elsa was not as easy to detect when she was in heat.  She is rather shy and wasn’t entirely impressed with the strutting boys.  I agreed to let the girls stay another twenty days.  We were already in for hay and Larry fees, may as well see if we couldn’t get Elsa knocked up too.  And around the 18th day she and a real shrimpy, but very good looking, Alpine got it on.  Not the original boy I had planned.  He is one of Larry’s sons, which I guess would make them half siblings….wait a ticket, didn’t think that one out….hmm.  He is a teenager himself and neither of them had any idea what they were doing, as can be true of any species at that age, but the owner of this fine barn and brothel had high hopes that she took.  So, in five months time, at the beginning of May for Miss Elsa, a baby or three may be born.

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My favorite part of Spring is finally getting my hands back in the soil and the ever enchanting miracle of baby animals everywhere we look and go, and on our own farmstead too.  Raise your glass of eggnog for my girlies and let’s wish them a healthy pregnancy and easy births!

New Arrival on Pumpkin Hollow Farm

newbornpapa and goatnew goatGuess who came early?  I don’t usually pull all the way to the back of our driveway but I had a bucket of grounds from the coffee shop to add to the compost pile before the cab of my truck took on the distinctive moldy coffee smell.  It wasn’t long after I noticed that the goats were in their igloo, odd for that time of day, that a tiny third head popped into view, then out again.

I yelled for Shyanne excitedly and we ran over to see the new baby who had just been born.  Placenta and mucous still present.  Shyanne swayed between cooing and ewwing while adoring the new addition who was not much bigger than a Chihuahua pup.  Nigerian Dwarf kids are incredibly tiny and impossibly cute!

Mama did good and is taking care of the infant.  We now wait for Loretta.  We are tired as one of us goes out every few hours through the night to make sure the new kid is okay.  She tends to wander from the igloo and get lost and is so small I fear a predator will swoop her up.  Just worrisome Mommy instincts, for there have been no issues.  Today she turns two days old.

This is one of the greatest joys of farming.

Goats in the Kitchen (and homemade chevre)

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Not in my kitchen, though that would be fun!  My cats would wonder what kind of odd dog I had brought home this time, and Bumble, the greyhound, would have thought he had a new playmate.

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I went to Nancy’s house for an impromptu lesson on cheese and butter making.  The snow was falling softly and thickly outdoors, creating a mood more like Christmas than Spring, but the effect was nonetheless calming and beautiful.  Her little farm lay softly beneath the quiet snow and inside the kitchen things were hopping.

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Faleena brought the infants in to play for a few minutes and as they skittered about the floor, and took to us snuggling them, all was right with the world.  Goats in the kitchen seemed a perfectly normal activity and fueled my desire to have a proper homestead, complete with goats.

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The kids are still nursing so there is less milk to be had then if Nancy chose to run her mini-dairy as a commercial operation.  Which suits us fine as we don’t do anything to maximum production, just enough is fine with us.  We still had several half gallon canning jars filled with fresh milk at our fingertips to turn into delicious chevre.

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These little packages sure make life easier.  If don’t happen to have a young calf or goat to slaughter and retrieve the stomach lining from (traditional rennet), you can use one of these packets that have the proper cultures already made up for you to make your cheese.  You can also use vegetable rennet.  All we had to do was sprinkle this packet onto a gallon of raw, fresh milk and wait for 12 hours.  Nancy set up a bit of a television test kitchen by preparing half the batch the night before and letting me prepare the second half.  The first half was ready for me to finish and take home.

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At the end of the 12 hours, the milk has coagulated into something resembling panna cotta which made me start craving caramel sauce.  I then strained the mixture through a thick cheesecloth lined colander saving the whey for soups or dressings.  I was instructed to gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and hang it over the bowl to drain for 4-12 hours depending on desired consistency.  Promptly at 4 hours I unwrapped it.  Forget desired consistency, it depends on one’s patience!

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I made a delicious dinner of chevre filled manicotti covered in rich sauce of tomato, spaghetti sauce, peppers, wine, and spices, all from the root cellar.  Topped it with parmesan and breadcrumbs and baked it for 25 minutes.  I still have more chevre in the fridge waiting for the addition of green chilies to be spread on crackers for lunch.  Self reliance never tasted so good!

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Feeling rather pioneer woman-like, we moved on to butter.  We set up an elaborate hand cranked cream separator (goat’s milk has to be separated manually) and went to work separating rich cream from sweet milk rendering it skim and still quite good.  We placed the cream in pint jars and each took one.  We shook, and shook, watched homesteading films, and shook…..then moved it to an old butter churner and cranked…and cranked.  Doug has delicious cream for his coffee but alas, we did not succeed at making butter.  Next time!