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Homestead happenings: summer’s last fling

September 7, 2010

Yesterday morning at 6:00 AM Dan reported to my groggy self that it was 34 degrees outside. I snuffled around my pillows anxiously wondering if this was how the village of Lexington felt when Paul Revere galloped in at midnight, announcing that the enemy was on its way. September brings torrents of produce and also the first exhale of frost.

This week in baskets:

What do you think about beets? I'm wild about the roots and greens, but find many men are inexplicably suspicious of them. I canned a bunch of pickled beets and onions - they're that exact bruisey magenta shade I tried to dye my hair most of my fifteenth year.

That's amaranth and purslane under the tomatoes, common garden weeds which have both earned places of respect in my kitchen. I've actually been blanching and freezing bags of amaranth.

Grapes that we picked in Claire's alleyway in Aztec, New Mexico where all her neighbors have been sick of grapes for the last decade. I made jelly from the juice and gave the chickens the skins.


It’s week two of kindergarten. When I pick Col up at 3pm, his eyes are bloodshot and he seems a little dazed like his body is wondering why it’s not asleep on his moose pillow. Prior to kindergarten, Col still napped everyday, which worked well for us; we’d have a big, active morning, take our midday siesta and then wake up refreshed (or caffeinated) enough to embark on a whole new afternoon adventure, swilling sunshine until the lights went out. Now, I spend afternoons delicately preserving the minuscule shred of energy that Col still possesses, as if someone has handed me a fragile, blown egg and told me that if the tiniest crack appears, the world will collapse.

And maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but there was a scene at the library last week which involved a five year old writhing around on the carpet like his appendix had burst and the nearest hospital was on the moon, all because I interrupted reading Madeline and the Bad Hat to say hello to my 40 weeks-pregnant friend Karin.

And you’re right, I’m just a teeny tiny bit begrudging about this educational system that insists a five year old must be in school 4 full days each week (public school is 5 days, Col’s Montessori school minimum is 4). I mean when are the children going to have time to harvest apples or make a trap for the skunk that killed our chicken?

Skunk trap constructed by Col and his buddy Mathew. Note: very sharp rose thorns positioned to prick skunk's paws as it tries to leap through our cat door and eat cat's kibble before going on a chicken bender.

And I know what you’re thinking: stop whining already and homeschool the kid.

And when the kids and I are outside and I realize that Col knows over 50 cultivated and wild plants by name and use, not because anyone taught him, as in let’s sit down with flashcards, but because he absorbes this information as we pluck amaranth from between the carrot rows or stain our fingertips red on a chokecherry-picking binge, I think: homeschool, what a perfect fit, that’s what we do anyway.

And then other times I think homeschooling my kids is a one way ticket to the looney bin, plus I’m guessing children need to learn more than just the useful plants of their bioregion. Someday the kid’s going to need to learn math, right? I can still remember my parents bribing me with promises of a boom box if I would simply pass 7th grade math.

We’ll continue to see how it all goes.


Meanwhile, I am swooning over these morning glories (thanks Audrey, for the seeds):

In one week we gained 3 new chickens (via adoption) and lost one (via skunk) for a total of seven, which is a good number, if you’re an egg-a-holic. Now that the garden plants are stout, the chickens are free to roam, scratch and peck outside of their enclosure, and it always feels festive to have them clucking around, like we’ve unleashed a troop of old ladies about the yard.

Penelope betwixt hollyhock and chard.

Rose stalking chickens who are stalking insects in our compost.

The babies have been laying these double-yolked eggs, which makes me swell with undeserved pride.

porn for egg-a-holics


Dan is studying topo maps of his hunting territory beside me right now, and I love this about him, like if he stares at the contour lines long enough he’ll see where the elk are. Last weekend he convinced me to leave the garden and the kitchen, which has become a one woman cannery, complete with occasional child labor, to have one final summer fling in the mountains.

Of course I got one last pot of roasted tomato sauce in the freezer before we left (because I’m manic).

Romas, porcinis, broccoli, roasted zucchini and amaranth greens: swoon!

And then I thanked Dan all weekend for badgering me to go camping, because we spent three days here:

right here

You could smell fall in the seedy-head plants, sweet and overripe, like apples fermenting in creek water. And you could see it too:

wild strawberries laced with morning dew.

Col and his friend Kiva spent much of the trip grinding up plantain seeds with rocks, mixing them with dirt and telling Rosie “if you eat this dirt which is sweeter than vegetables but just as good for you, you’ll turn into a princess with a real dress, wand and crown.” Rose, bless her princess-loving heart, was pleased simply to be included. Unity through exploitation, Dan called it.

There was also a home built for a squirrel (with indoor and outdoor storage and a place to dry mushrooms).

Rose and I did some mother-daughter target shooting,

And as usual, food was a central theme. There was wild trout,

And wild mushrooms,

Chanterelles and boletes (porcinis).

And wild children,

Chanterelle assembly line: Rose passes mushrooms to Mariah, Mariah passes them to Col, Col passes them to Dan who trims the stems with his knife. Mariah's sister Tara forgoes mushroom labor-camp to snuggle with her mama.

We found this gorgeous patch of chanterelles which we settled around like a nomadic tribe on a buffalo kill. Or miners on a vein of gold. Because, have you ever had chanterelle mushrooms? Just the sight of them, glowy pumpkin-orange, is intoxicating.

We spent a long time at the chanterelle patch, sweeping soil off their amber stems, muttering loonily about garlic and butter, and breaking into the spontaneous giggles of the newly wealthy.

Remember this skirt from the beginning of summer? I haven't taken it off since June!

That camping trip put good closure on summer in the mountains, another amazing season of imprinting wild living on our children, on all of us.

And now we are home, hauling in baskets of garden veggies and fretting about frost.



30 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2010 7:41 am

    Totally envious of your garden loot….. so far, I really suck at gardening! ha!

  2. September 8, 2010 9:36 am

    As you live an active, engaged life with your children instead of just plopping them in front of a tv, I would suggest investigating homeschooling. There are so many amazing programs to help fill in the gaps-things like co-ops and even on-line programs.
    I taught kindergarten my last year of teaching and it was hard to watch the little ones struggle because they were simply tired. Deciding who is ready for kindergarten based simply on where a birthday hits was a source of frustration to me bc some simply aren’t physically ready-especially those who may have been preemies or had other compromised health issues.
    It may just be a few weeks to adjust and then everything will work out great, but I would watch him and trust your instincts.

  3. Ellen permalink
    September 8, 2010 9:44 am

    7 chickens, all those vegies … what abundance! I loved the whole post — especially the chanterelle assembly line.

  4. Ami permalink
    September 8, 2010 10:19 am

    You are such an inspiring goddess! This post encapsulates everything I love about your family! (OK – well, not everything!:) We were homeschooling, until we found the perfect private school with SUPER flexible hours/days options. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it, to know that if Cole doesn’t want to go to school, or if he wants to only have a half day, it’s no biggie! So, we opted for the “school” route, since that’s what Cole wants, but he still learns his reading and botany from me, and his science and math from Stone. At any rate, homeschooling is a WONDERFUL option (especially in these early, precious years) if you can find the community support and social connections! Good luck! Thanks again for the inspiration!

  5. September 8, 2010 10:58 am

    Oooh, 34 degrees…I’m not ready for that yet!! But those mushrooms are gorgeous (no I’ve never had chantrelles and I was probably too schooled in the horrors of “toadstools” as a child to ever dare picking and eating a wild mushrooms, but they do look good). Wow, a napping five year old (you have been lucky! I spent my summer begging daycare to not make mine nap so that they wouldn’t stay up partying till 11 p.m. every night). Homeschooling does seem seductive, but I’m not sure if I could do it either (aside from the full-time job impediment). My oldest son has gotten some truly wonderful things out of (public) school that I never could have given him (including–especially–math, which he inexplicably loves). If I ever ask if he’d rather be homeschooled he shouts “No way!” as if I were suggesting he go to school in a burning cauldron of boiling zuccini (which is probably how he imagines all day every day with his mother would feel). Knowing wild plants is a handy skill, though…one we’ll probably need more in the future!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      September 8, 2010 11:35 am

      I’m glad your oldest is doing well in public school, I can see that it’s a great option for a lot of kids.

      As for Col napping at five, I think it comes from the fact that he’s extremely active, and extremely small, and so, like a hummingbird, he uses a lot more energy to get to the same place as an average 5-year old. Also, because of his compromised lung function, he takes more breaths per minute than a child with normally-functioning lungs, this too tires him out.

      And yes, plant identification skills will become more relevant over time.

  6. nataliechristensen permalink
    September 8, 2010 11:41 am

    Also, before you get bogged down with the idea of teaching algebra, take a look at unschooling, otherwise known as life learning. Our kids have natural learning desires, as you well know, and don’t particularly need someone taller than them teaching in order to learn. It’s a real thing this unschooling thing, and actually works. Just another idea to toss into the basket.
    ps. I love this blog. I suspect you could write about absolutely anything and I would enjoy it.

  7. September 8, 2010 12:41 pm

    we are not at kindergarden age until next fall but i think about homeschooling a lot. and i have no idea if i can/will/should do it. right now beanie goes to a half day preschool program 2 days a week and that in and of itself feels like plenty of time in school for us. but, i don’t keep him home from it. well, i did for the summer but he started back today.

    ok i am about to veer off into a whole different topic. what i started this comment to say was that i read somewhere (i think camp creek blog) that the decision to homeschool is one you can make at any time. and you can change also. so i get all caught up in should i? will i? would it be good? would it be terrible? and she as saying, try it. if you like it keep with it. if you don’t like it enroll you kid in school. you don’t have to chose now what you are doing for their entire life.

    as for math, he probably learns it cutting up papers, watching you cook, and constructing skunk traps….

  8. September 8, 2010 1:31 pm

    I can say with confidence that the knowledge Col already possesses far surpasses that of anything he can learn in school. That said, I’m on the fence about the options (school v homeschool v unschool). (BTW, when you write that word a few times, it looks simply silly!) My girls are only 3 1/2 and go to “play school” (which is a combination daycare/pre-school) 4 days a week and I’m already starting to form strong opinions about what I DON’T want for my children (namely bullying and a schedule dictated by older kids that don’t nap). I’ve read that sleep for children is _crucial_ for their development (especially preemies) so I spent the last 3 years being very vigilant about schedules and nap times/bedtimes, only to see it thrown out the window at daycare.

    I’m rambling, but here are my 2 bits:
    1) Perhaps Col can take a nap after school. I know the accepted wisdom is that children will be up all hours of the night if they nap “late”, but my girls will sometimes sleep from 2:30-6:30 and we still insist they go to bed at 8 or 8:30. And they do!
    2) My own childhood memories are much more about the positive experiences with my family than my boring and sometimes painful memories of school.

  9. September 8, 2010 3:10 pm

    Oh how I wish I could grow veggies (or any plants for that matter) like you do. I swoon at your haul. So so jealous.

  10. Just Peaches permalink
    September 8, 2010 3:58 pm

    Oh poor Col. A whole day is a long time for young ones.

    I live in Canada and my kids are in public school but they were in kindergarten for only half days. This was perfect for us. I believe kids learn so much at this age just from their experiences especially with the natural world. I think that learning experiences in the class are enriched by tactile experiences. For example, a child that has held a worm and watched it consume kitchen scraps will understand decomposition in a real way.

    Unfortunately the government here in Ontario is changing the system so that in 2015 all children over the age of 4 will be in school for full days. Too bad :(

  11. September 8, 2010 5:15 pm

    I sure wish I could prance about betwixt hollyhock and chard. Talk about some serious fun! And frost already … I know that means doom for the garden, but I am so jealous. We’re still floundering about in stifling heat over here. At the end of the day, we probably look like Col after kindergarten! =>

  12. September 9, 2010 6:15 am

    Your end of the summer camping trip full of wild foraging and trout catching sounded wonderful. The perfect closure to the season. It amazes me at how soon the frost comes for your guys, but I know that we are not far behind. I don’t reall yknow because we homeschool, but I’d imagine that kindergarden and first grade might be the toughest transition since some of those littles still get so tired so fast. We used to atteand a homeschooling resource center, which essentially is like school one day a week, and when Bella was 5 she would get so tired she would ask her facilitators to carry her if they were on a long walk. She also was tiney and just got so tired by the end of the day. Lucky for her she is a sweetie and her facilitators carried her around a bit, but also kindly urged her to walk. Best of luck with the transition…they’re in the air these days.


  13. Audrey permalink
    September 9, 2010 11:00 am

    I should have given you all my seeds — my plants sputter at best and in your hands the EXACT SAME PLANTS look like they were growing in… well, California.

    I forgot to tell you we have a mushroom log half-buried under the blue spruce, if someone hasn’t moved in yet.

  14. September 9, 2010 10:15 pm

    1) love love LOVE beets AND greens, but yes, not so much others…

    2) the blown egg analogy is the best I’ve ever heard for after-school children. Exactly precisely. Even in fourth grade. Oy.

    3) the home school / public debate raging inside one’s mind? yes. so sticky. been there, raged that. still public. but still…

    4) i have huge chanterelle envy.

    5) all the best with the last of the crops. they are so so gorgeous!

  15. Jen permalink
    September 9, 2010 10:43 pm

    My 5 year-old (Relentlessman) is very ready for all-day kindergarten, but I agree it’s not ideal for every child. Being wrung-out exhausted at the end of the school day doesn’t seem right somehow. Wouldn’t it be neat if you could set up a home school like your food exchange – someone brings the yogurt, and fractions, the hummous comes with a side order of French…

  16. September 9, 2010 11:06 pm

    Hi Rachel – I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Linda over at All & Sundry, but she just started homeschooling with her son, and there is a lot of good food for thought here:

    I laughed when I read about the cake made of tofu because I follow both of your blogs, and if I had to choose which one of you would homeschool, it would definitely had been you, not her! LOL

  17. September 10, 2010 4:18 am

    My son River was a preemie (late-preterm but always little/fragile and seeming to pick up every bug coming down the pike in the fall). We’ve had him in some great half-day preschools and our public kindergarten was half-day last year, which seemed a little tiring even at 6 (his is a late November birthday so we could choose to wait a little longer for K). All I can say is that I’ve always mourned not having the insight that being home together those earlier years probably would have been better (happier, more mellow and definitely more Vitamin D!) and doable. Now that he’s in 1st grade he seems to be having fun and the classes morph a lot so old friends are already in other classes and new friends made (ie nothing missed there). We read 5 books a night (yeah, we’re pushovers and bedtime extends long into the night) ;) and he was in the highest “skill-group” for that last year (can you believe they tier that out in K?) but he still doesn’t read on his own yet. (ie I don’t know how much is gained “academically” by pushing learning before they are ready on their own…).. Hope you guys find the decision not too difficult and to hear of more smiles on that beautiful little boy’s face as the year flows on. I want to send my kid to your homeschool. ;)

  18. September 10, 2010 11:16 am

    This is the year I fell in love with beets. I’m slurpin’ them up like it’s all there is. Which makes life colorful in all ways. What a lovely life you’re living. Love the blue blooming and the red tomatoes. A charmed existence.

  19. September 11, 2010 2:46 pm

    I kind of, almost like beets, but I have to roast them for a good long time. I’ve been too hot to think about roasting anything of late. My husband absolutely refuses to eat beets (and liver, but he’ll eat pretty much anything else).

    You can homeschool me! I am woefully ingnorant about almost every plant (even the commonly-eaten ones) and would love to have someone teach me, and not through flashcards.

    I agree with the others here who have said that you can, of course, homeschool for a while and then put Col in school if that’s best for all of you. As for math (or any other subject), I’m sure he’s learning plenty right now and will continue to learn what he needs (either through living or taking classes at a co-op or community college or wherever). I often think about how little I use the skills I learned in my higher-level math classes (I’m pretty sure I never use Calculus and I never have to figure out the area of a trapezoid or whatnot…and if I needed this information, I’d find a way to figure it out).

    Anyhow, whether Col is in public school or homeschool or a combination, I wish you all luck!

  20. September 11, 2010 8:04 pm

    What a great post! You are one BUSY lady! I admire all that you do … I struggle just to keep up with Luna and my writing most days :) …


  21. September 14, 2010 9:31 am

    I adore this post. I just keep falling more and more in love with you and your family.

    Pretty please tell me what you do with purslane? I am at war with it and losing. Help me win.

  22. September 14, 2010 9:52 am

    i devoured your blog upon finding it! so much that resonated with me, that I felt we have in common, and that inspired me.
    and so many mushrooms!!! i have never seen so many!

    have to give my two cents: try unschooling (and might i recommend (-: ). what authority has the right to tell you what’s important for your child to learn more than you (and your children) do? when it comes time for 7th grade math, you can barter with a math tutor. i think your children would be blessed to get to continue spending their days as they do in your nature-home.

    happy harvest time! and thanks for the inspiration! :-)

  23. September 14, 2010 10:11 pm

    I totally hear you on the homeschooling highway to hell. I’m going to do it for Kindergarten and we’ll see what that teaches me! Your photos are insane and your glories are glorious. Such fun getting caught up here!

  24. September 15, 2010 1:03 pm

    How did I miss this post in my blog stalking?
    Here in N. Ontario-land ( well, all of Ontario), my still 3-year old is considered kindergarten age, and the school he is (in theory) attending is 5 days per week…I have every intention, once he actually starts going (I was thinking next year. Or maybe the year after that) of keeping him home 2-3 days/week. Because my child cannot identify more than 10 plants (though is curiously obsessed with Jacob’s Ladder…), I think in the early years, it’s all about balance. Like I have a clue. And for all I know, the school is not going to sanction my alternate attendance scheme (but really who cares). That’s my thought. Keep him home an extra day.

    And yes, the male counterparts in this household is also wary of beets. Baffling. But more for me.

  25. September 17, 2010 4:49 pm

    I think it’s probably been said already, but I’ve got a post clunking around in my head about some of the self-teaching Orlando is doing right now, and thought I’d share.

    Orlando (age 7) is teaching himself math right now figuring out to read speed limit signs (he is a “late” reader) and drawing pictures/creating elaborate bulls-eyes, with all kinds of numbers all over them. He is asking lots of questions and I supply the right amount of answers and materials. Also, we just found out about an introductory physics class offered by local homeschooling mom, focused the mechanics of movement, and we are looking into it b/c he’s interested.

    He doesn’t quite recognize all the letters of the alphabet, but he has a book that we are filling up with homonyms — all of his own interest after he accidentally discovered “thai” food and “tie” score. I mentioned they were homonyms and now he is constantly trying to find others, and here I am talking about spelling and meaning and word usage to a kid who doesn’t even read yet. :-)

    You can do it — more importantly, Col and Rose can do it! :-)


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