A is for apple

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If you follow me on Instagram, then you already know the latest news for our family: we have chosen to homeschool. The idea has been brewing for several years, but with Swee preparing to enter kindergarten, we made the final choice that we’d take the leap and keep her home this fall. There were a lot of very personal reasons behind that move, and I’ll keep most of them private because I don’t know that there’s any way to articulate them without seeming to bash the choices of others (and really, you do you and I’ll do me). There were a few factors that helped make the path clear for us, like the fact that kindergarten here runs a full day, five days a week. That’s a lot for a kid that age, and it would be a lot for our daughter. And then there’s the fact that I really want her (and her sister) to be allowed to be little, for as long as they can. To play freely and follow their interests, to move as quickly or as deliberately as necessary in their learning, to have fun and not lose the joy! I think these desires are understood and appreciated by most mamas (and daddies!) and I do feel fortunate that we’re able to choose this path for our little ones.

Our family already operates on a very non-traditional schedule, so it isn’t much of a stretch for us to work a little more targeted learning into our days. I am with the girls when J is out of the house, and he’s with them when I’m working. The only real changes we’ve made so far are that our library choices are themed and I’m being a little more deliberate in how we structure our time together. Mama and Daddy are both teaching, playing to our natural strengths, though we are somewhat stereotypical in the way they fall: I’m handling most of the arts and humanities while Daddy covers science and math. My own dad has often filled in when my work hours overlap with J’s, so now he is helping us make our way through the library bag and reinforcing what we have been or will be learning.

We’ve already been asked, “How long are you going to do this?” and the only answer I have is that we will homeschool for as long as it works for our family. When it no longer serves us, we will reassess. That may be one year, or it might be five, or it might be all twelve. I’m not going to impose limits or measures of success just yet.

We’ve also fielded a couple of statements (not questions, because opinions were asserted without inquiries being made) on her socialization. Again, I’m calling this a non-issue because our daughter is as social as she wants to be. We play with friends that are her age and have conversations with people of all ages, everywhere we go. We take piano lessons and play on a soccer team. We are teaching table manners and how to order in a restaurant. We attend our community breakfast regularly, and she is participating in a special program for girls here in town. We are deliberate about providing opportunities for her to interact with others beyond what she would be offered in a public school classroom setting.

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And so last week was apple week. Our reading list was all about apples, as were our art projects and our science lesson (what will keep an apple from browning, and the chemical reactions involved). We practiced writing Big A and little a, sorted animals by habitat, and baked apple pie bites to enjoy for poetry teatime. When Thursday struck and Swee didn’t want to even think about apples or letters, and wild animal noises were coming out instead of words, we hopped on our bikes and went for a ride up the dirt road through the corn fields. How wonderful to have the freedom to shift gears like that!

That freedom was also a little daunting at first, and as we got closer to our start date, I panicked a little. How on earth are we going to do this?! The only way I could see was to start small, and start at the beginning. A is for apple. It seems to be working so far.

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here’s what’s happening

IMG_9958IMG_9959IMG_9964IMG_9957IMG_9956Bugs. Truly, I am not a fan. They give me the willies, even as I appreciate how interesting they are. I did my best to hide my revulsion (though I’m not sure I was entirely successful) as we took the girls to Bug Maine-ia, a free event all about bugs at the Maine State Museum. There were dead crawlies, mounted fancily. There were live crawlies in petri dishes and aquariums. There was even food made from crawlies (the girls liked the cricket chips, but only daddy would try the chili lime crickets – they still looked like bugs!). We oohed and aahed over the moths and butterflies, listened enraptured to the storyteller and puppeteer, and gaped open-mouthed as a new honeybee emerged from its cell in the glass-walled hive (mama’s favorite part).

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Two weeks ago we welcomed a pair of male barn cats from a local-ish rescue to our little homestead – one orange, one black. Swee quickly named one Pumpkin, and declared that the second name had to be something spooky (since they are Halloween cats, of course) and so he became Poe. We kept them confined for two weeks, as instructed, giving them plenty of kibble and fresh water, and bribing them with leftover chicken and canned food. This past weekend, we let them out of their cubby with the hope that they’d stick around. We haven’t seen them since, though a paper plate of wet food set out last night was licked clean by this morning, and a makeshift litter box was swept together in the loose dirt of the shed floor. It would seem that they’re still here, somewhere. Fingers crossed they become a little more social.

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Winter is coming. We’ve begun to stockpile firewood for the colder months and hope to heat the house with only the living room woodstove. J has been scouring the For Sale posts for good deals and filling the basement with seasoned lengths. We received a housewarming gift of almost a full cord, a hugely thoughtful gesture, and I was able to help him load and unload every piece – what a workout! We haven’t had a frost yet, but it won’t be long now, I don’t think.

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The “baby” chickens are all grown up, and should be laying any time now. Pocket and Pretty Boy have become quite handsome, and are very attentive to their two little ladies, if not gentle. They squawk terribly when separated from the girls, but really give them a vicious peck when reunited. None of the four little ones mingle with the bigger girls, but there’s no open hostility, so I suppose it’s alright. We need to finish covering a portion of their run to protect the space from the snow. I’ve begun to think about how to keep them all happy over the winter, and noticed this weekend that it’s almost time to bring the sunflower heads inside to dry. About half of the blooms have faded and dropped their petals, so I’ll cover them with paper lunchbags shortly as protection from the birds and rodents. When they’re mostly dry, I’ll clip the stems and hang them inside to finish drying. They make a great boredom buster for the chickens when there’s nothing around to peck at but snow.

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The final farmer’s market of the season was filled with pumpkins and squash, and our yard has regularly been filled with wild turkeys. We counted eighteen the other afternoon, bold as brass, marching through the orchard and up the hill. The apples are almost all ready, and I made our first pie this weekend. I have no idea what variety I used, but they made a delightfully tart filling, the kind that keeps you awake rather than being cloyingly sweet. Really nice.

And that’s what’s happening in our little corner of the world. What are you up to these days?

garden goals

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Summer in Maine. A beautiful, fleeting season, coming and going with a quickness that causes us all to run around like crazy people, trying to squeeze out every last drop. With the arrival of cooler weather and a new page on the calendar, I find the fog clearing enough to think and plan, to settle quietly with a cup of tea and contemplate. It was a lovely, busy season for our family, with a host of new experiences I’m excited to share…now that I have time to sit quietly and sort through them!

So tonight, I want to share my friend Shevenell’s garden with you. She and her little ones invited the girls and I over to visit not too long ago. We brought a big box of apples for the pigs, tramped through the woods like wild things eating blackberries, and wandered in her gorgeous garden. Shevenell and her family moved back to Maine about a year before we got here, so this is her third season gardening in this spot – which gives me so much hope for our own garden’s potential! It was such a beautiful, calming space – definitely the manifestation of some of my own garden goals. I only wish I had taken my photos earlier in the day – the light was so peaceful when we arrived! – but my wild things were off and running for the pig pen before I was even out of the car.

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Speaking of the pigs… I was amazed at how docile they are! All four kiddos hopped into the pen with them, and while not exactly snuggly, the piggies didn’t seem to mind their presence at all. They have a while to grow yet before being dispatched; I’m excited to see how much bigger they’ll get. It was adorable the way they snuffled for the apples and crunched away at them, and I can see how useful they’d be to take care of the kitchen waste not wanted by the chickens or the dog.

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Perhaps I could handle having a pig…or two.

 

a few weeks to go

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The first sunflower bloomed today. Several weeks ago we noticed a cluster of volunteers under the birdfeeder, and when the chickens uprooted this one and its sister, I transplanted them into the vegetable garden. They seem to like it there, growing quickly with thick stems and lush leaves. It’s a small bloom, but I am happy to see it. We had planted three rows of giant sunflowers at the top of the property, hoping to fill in a bare patch in the grass with some color. Instead, we have a patch of tall weeds with maybe half a dozen sunflowers mixed in, the rest having been nibbled off by the deer. The survivors haven’t bloomed yet; I’m hoping they make it that far.

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Our trees are laden with fruit, and I’ve been walking through them periodically, plucking the fattest ripest looking apple I can reach for a taste test. They’re not ready yet, but they’re closer than they were. A sister of mine is picking now down in Pennsylvania, so I’m figuring we have another three to four weeks to go – an estimate our neighbors also shared with us the other evening over dinner. Which is fine by me – we have a lot of sunshine to soak up still. I’ll take a few more weeks of summer for sure.

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august

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I’ve been traveling for the last two weeks, or prepping to travel, or cleaning up from travel. A few days in Dallas for work, a few days in Pennsylvania with family and friends for a wedding. We took a few hours as a family at an adorable amusement park, visited my college campus, and played with many little loves whose parents used to be our drinking buddies. I’ve done eleven loads of laundry since Monday, and there’s one more to go. And there’s certainly no complaint in there because they were both wonderful trips and I am so happy to have made both of them.

But tomorrow is the last day of swimming lessons for the summer. The garden is approaching wild and crazy status, and we found red and gold leaves in the yard yesterday. I knew I’d be loathe to lose even one summer weekend in Maine, but after missing two in a row? Well. It feels like fall is knocking at the door, all of a sudden. The baby birds in the shed have flown away and we have seen several deer poaching our apples – first an eight-point buck, and yesterday a doe.

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Our neighbor gifted us a huge bag of beans the other day. We’ve had them for two meals now, and so tonight I blanched the rest for the freezer, tucking them in next to several bags of green pepper strips for winter chili and fajitas. I thinned the carrots the other evening, and did a little happy dance in the dirt when I saw my hands full of real food. I truly don’t think that feeling will ever get old. The kale is coming out tomorrow, and I’ve started sketching plans for some post-season garden construction to prepare for next year. We found a blackberry bush near the flagpole, too. It was a beautiful 73* here today – perfect for playing outside and exploring the yard to see what changed while we were away.

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It’s not all roses, of course. Egg production has been down since we got back, and I need to touch base with our chicken sitters this week to get their report. We’ve been getting some rough-surfaced eggs over the last month, like unfinished porcelain, and several others that are watery and runny inside with no contained yolk, so I’ve got some research to do. The younger birds still are not mixing with the older ones. And something is eating my tomatoes! But overall, August in Maine is pretty darn nice.

 

local postcards

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I was hoping to sit down and write something witty about the honesty of country folk, and my love for the honor box system used up here by so many, but I’ve almost exhausted the topic right there in one sentence. Having spent most of my years in and around cities, the trusting nature of the arrangement at first sent me into shock, and even now I grin when I tuck my money (or even better, my personal check!) into a coffee can with a slot cut in the lid. It’s a beautiful thing.

I wrote a check today for $13 and change and walked away with three pint cartons of raspberries and two filled with gorgeous Maine blueberries. After a thunderous, wet morning, some time at the computer, and a very chilly swimming lesson, the hot hot sun finally emerged, causing both grass and moods to steam. We had to get out of the house, and so we went berry picking. I had taken the girls last week, and the pickings were slim, literally. A few days of sunshine, and we had no trouble filling our baskets and our bellies. A late afternoon in the berry patch was just what the doctor ordered.

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Our attitudes much improved, we took the long way home so that we could stop at the farm stand for veggies. It’s out of the way for us now that we’ve moved, so I was glad to be over on that side of town. It’s a gorgeous little place. Today we came home with asparagus, romaine, a zucchini and a summer squash for under $8, and a BIG bag of garlic scapes for free. I have no idea what to do with those curly darlings, so would love to have your suggestions in the comments. Pesto, maybe?

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Earlier this month, I got a rare morning out with my mom. I picked her up and took her to the cafe for iced coffee, and then we walked through town, stopping to mail a thank you note at the post office. We were headed for the annual town craft fair at the community center. It was crowded, in a good way, and I picked up a wedding gift, some lip balm for myself, and that adorable dress for my Beans. She ranks raccoons up there with airplanes, and I knew this “woodland animal” print would be a hit (it was). A quick stop to visit Ms. Barbara’s antique shop yielded those sweet hankies. And when I dropped a bag of things off at the swap shed, those pansies were screaming for me to bring them home. On the way home, I grabbed sugar snap peas from the farm stand, local honey and maple syrup from the country store, and the first Maine tomatoes of the summer from a family here in town.

What would your local postcards look like? Mine clearly revolve around food and vintage goodies.

lunch break

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I took my lunch break on the water today.

You might remember my first foray into kayaking at the end of last summer. It was challenging, and I loved it because it tasted like freedom and independence. We mamas don’t get much silence, nor is there often the chance to sit alone in a quiet place and just not talk to anyone. Being on the water in your own personal craft seemed to be the solution, particularly if I could load and unload it myself. That sweet husband of mine surprised me with a second-hand vessel last week, and in my favorite color no less. We struggled together with a roof rack and oddball straps for about an hour before realizing that even if I got it down, I wouldn’t be able to hoist it that high by myself to bring it home. I can however slide it in and out of the truck bed, and so off I went. That maiden voyage was everything I had hoped it would be: refreshing, exhilarating, silent.

We brought the girls down for a little excursion Saturday evening after dinner. It was getting cooler, and the beach was shaded though the sun was still strong further out on the water. It’s a single kayak, but our girls are little enough that if they sit at the front of the opening and stick their legs out, there’s still plenty of room to maneuver. J took Swee first, paddling right to slide behind the country store, then the cafe, then on past the stream with the waterfall where the heron likes to wade. They cut left to cross open water and startled the loons, causing them to dive and swim away. When they surfaced, my people were already heading toward us, and we could all hear their eerie laughter echoing across the valley. Beanie and I watched a seaplane with pontoons circle overhead – she loves airplanes – and then it was our turn to head out. As we pushed off from the beach, that same plane roared over our heads and landed right in front of our boat, leaving all of us amazed as it traveled down the water. We paddled counterclockwise, watching it closely as it turned and taxied back. Beanie was enraptured; I of course was filled with anxiety that it would want to take off again and wouldn’t see us in its way, and so I moved us quickly around and across to see the loons. We were apparently less threatening than my other half, and those beautiful birds bobbed along, staring at us from maybe ten feet away. Daddy and Swee had swum out to the second dock to wait for us, so we pulled up there to watch the plane motor down the length of the lake, rising at what appeared to be the very last second to soar over the trees and disappear into the sky. When I asked her at bedtime what her favorite part of the day had been, Beanie chose the plane, no hesitation. Definitely an atypical experience for our tiny town.

Today, the girls were asleep and J was mowing the lawn when I reached a good stopping point in my work, so I slid my new baby into the truck, gooped up with some sunscreen, and took off. I briefly entertained the idea of trying a new pond, but thought that probably wasn’t wise to attempt unaccompanied and continued on to our own little Lake Minnehonk. It’s small enough that you can see both banks at all times, and I feel confident that should something go wrong, I am strong enough to swim myself out (yes, I wear a life vest. It’s turquoise, in case you were wondering). About halfway down the lake, the wind really picked up and I wasn’t making any headway so I cut across to the other side and paddled back to the beach. The loon turned to look at me as I passed their nest, it’s red eyes following me as I moved away. They have a chick, I’m told, though I haven’t seen it yet. I did see a little dog on a dock, a terrier who made sure to tell me I was not welcome on his lake as his parents chuckled from the swing and remarked on his ferocity. Almost back to my starting point, I swung my legs up and out, over the sides to dip my toes in the water, paddle resting across my legs to allow the slight waves to bob me around, enjoying the sun and the breeze. A quick forty-minute paddle was the perfect lunch break.