Sunday, March 25, 2007

signs of spring

We've been reading books and talking a lot about the signs of spring with the kids over the past couple of weeks. Some of our favorite books have been Spring Thaw by Steven Shnur, illustrated by Stacey Shuett; Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall, illustrated by Jim Daly; and "Raven and River" by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle. But it occured to me as we read and sing and search for crocus sprouts and swelling buds on the maple trees that there are more significant signs of spring to farmers in New England, that for some reason never get coverage in children's books. I thought I'd share these important things with you.

The Top Ten Signs of Spring on a New England Farm:

1. The mud is up to the top of your boots, no matter how high your boots are.

2. The sheep, who have looked like they were immenently going to go into labor and produce quintuplets back in January, STILL have not given birth and all look like they are going to explode rather than actually produce lambs. Interestingly enough, in all the years we've been doing this, we've yet to have a ewe actually explode, or give birth to anything more than triplets (and even that's been a rare occurance, it's usually twins).

3. Little dead rodents start appearing on your doorstep every morning, courtesy of the barn cats who have been waiting all winter for the small critters to come out of hibernation so they can slaughter them, then regift them to us in exchange for a bowl of cat food.

4. The chickens can't seem to say in the barnyard. Suddenly they're in the front yard, the pony pasture, the neighbor's yard, the woods, the garage, and occassionally, tragically, the dog yard.

5. The dogs find all sorts of disgusting half-rotted things from the previous fall to unearth and drag into the house.

6. The ducks start beating each other to a pulp. I could never understand why this is, but male ducks apparently think the greatest show of affection is to pulverize the objects of their obsessions. Makes me wonder how the species even survives with that strategy.

7. Bugs. Oh, they're not here yet, but I can almost hear the long-dormant eggs just waiting for the first truly warm day to hatch in unison. As a good friend of mine who has lived in a lot of places, but never New England, said when she came to visit a couple years ago: "It sure is pretty, but it looks like a mosquito swarm waiting to happen." That pretty much sums up late April through mid-September here in New England.

8. The frost heaves begin to settle back into the earth from whence they came. You'd think that would result in those fence posts, that were thrown assunder when they first sprang up, to settle back into place, but somehow it just causes them to become further displaced so that the fence line looks something like a half-folded fan, and none of the gates latch properly. Rehanging gates and restringing fence wire is a long-standing New England Spring tradition.

9. Accidentally breaking that egg you found behing the hay bales, which has no doubt been there for months if not years, produces a unique aromatic experience unrivaled by anything except:

10. The skunks come out of hibernation. Apparently there is a direct line from wherever the skunks hibernate to wherever they'd like to go when they first wake up that runs right through the center of our dog yard. The fact that the yard is entirely fenced, and that there are a half dozen dogs on the other side, doesn't seem to deter them, and as they desperately try to dig under as the dogs are desperately trying to make them cease and desist, they let out their dastardly perfume to remind us all that spring has, at last, arrived.

Ahhh, spring in New England!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

all the pretty ponies

Just thought I'd take a few minutes to introduce our equine herd. The little dude on the left is J's Shetland Pony, an 8 year old bundle of adorable who acts more like a lapdog than a horse. Other than following the kids around, his favorite thing to do is grabbing my hat off my head when I bend over to look at his feet. Which happens frequently, as he's had foot problems as of late. More accurately, he's had metabolic problems than have resulted in foot problems. In any case, he's retired from the kids riding him around the pasture, at least while I get his medical problems under control. J's sort of outgrown him at this point anyway. This little guy was our solution to wanting to get J into a therapeutic riding program -- when I saw the cost of the program, I said well, heck, we live on a farm, we can BUY a pony for less. Perhaps an impulsive move, but a good one. Not only has J benefited greatly from riding, but bringing this little guy home opened the door to fulfilling my lifelong ambition of owning my own horse, after spending a huge amount of my childhood riding other people's horses. I'm honestly not sure WHY it took me so long to get my own horse. I guess I just sort of got used to NOT owning a horse. In any case, after we got this little dude for J, I got myself a gift:

This is my 17 year old Connemara mare. She's black, so she's a little hard to photograph, particulary in a snowy scene, but trust me, she's just gorgeous. And sweet. And just an all around GOOD horse. I only wish I had more time to ride her, but she doesn't seem to mind either way. She was given to me by a woman whose daughter used to trail ride with her, but has since decided to pursue other hobbies. Funny thing is, though, despite having been a kid's pony, she doesn't really like kids. The popular theory is that she was some child's hunter-jumper pony and she was mistreated by that child, so she hence developed a distate for kids. It's too bad, because Zoo Boy has pretty much claimed her as his own, even though she takes off for parts unknown every time he walks into the pasture. She's not dangerous with the kids, she'd just rather avoid them. So I let her. Which bring us to our most recent equine addition:

This is J's new pony. She's a rescue, supposedly from a really disgusting situation (they had to put on chest-waders to make it through the muck to remove her from her former home, the thought of which just makes me sick). She was pregnant, so she went to one farm to have her foal (must have been a REALLY cute foal, because she's a REALLY cute pony). Then she went to another farm where she gave Kinderides to special needs kids. Then she came to live with us! They'd been trying to find the right family for her for awhile now, but she's sort of particular about who she likes. She instantly fell in love with us, and the feeling was mutual. She's already extremely bonded to me despite only having been here about a month. She's really peppy for her age, which is somewhere in the late teens/early twenties range, and she moves right out with J aboard her, which he loves. (Big change from the little guy, who needs to be coaxed along and begged to trot). Zoo Boy has yet to agree to ride her, insisting that she's not HIS pony (despite the fact that he's ridden J's other pony without such hesitation). J has assured him that he'll share and he can ride her too, and I've assured him that when he's ready to ride, I'll be happy to get him his own pony if he wants. (I mean, 3 horses, 4 horses, what difference does it really make??) He suggested maybe an elephant, bringing up the fact that SOME people ride elephants. And camels. I assured him that he could have a PONY when he's ready to ride something. For now his response is "no thank you".

Friday, March 23, 2007

banana muffins

Yesterday morning Zoo Boy came in while I was typing away here at the computer, a book in his hand. (He regularly tests my policy of I'll-drop-anything-to-read-to-you.) The book was Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert, a regular favorite of ours. As I read to him, J came wandering in, and when I finished the last page, asked if he could read the book. He took it and read the first couple of pages, then, getting to "Banana" he suddenly piped up "hey, can I have a banana?"

Banana in hand, he strolled back down to the bedroom and hung out around my chair, reading over my shoulder (something I'll never get used to -- there's something about having the words you are typing echoed back into your ear that is extremely disconcerting). I suggested he find something else to do. He suggested making Banana Muffins. I threw a glance over my shoulder at him to make sure he was serious (he's a bit of a joker that way), but he looked back steadily at me, without the sly "watch, I'll get her going" look that he hasn't yet learned to mask when he's trying to pull a fast one on me. He repeated "We could make banana muffins." I went back to my screen and muttered in his general direction "yeah, I guess we could, if we had a recipe, a muffin pan, and the ingredients".

Mind you, asking to bake is a perfectly reasonable request that many kids make, especially homeschooled kids who often learn more about weights and measures in the kitchen than the average kid learns in the classroom. However, these are MY kids. That means they live with me, the fabled Mom Who Doesn't Cook. (Yes, she really exists, and she is me.) They also happen to be exceedingly picky eaters who don't, in general, ever try new things. And they'd never had a banana muffin before. It came as a bit of a surprise to me that they even knew there was such a thing as a banana muffin.

Undaunted at my casual attitude at his great idea, J hunted up a cookbook (First Meals by Annabel Karmel, a cruel joke of a gift from some well-meaning baby shower guest), and lo and behold, found a recipe for Banana Muffins. He triumphantly shoved the open book between my eyes and the computer screen. I sighed and followed him to the kitchen in search of a muffin pan, which I was pretty certain we didn't own, realizing that offering to buy him a banana muffin at the grocery store wasn't going to cut it.

We spent awhile rifling through my cupboards, but as I strongly suspected, there was no muffin pan to be found. I took a look at the recipe and realized that we didn't have quite a few of the ingredients either -- you know, exotic things like Flour. And Baking Powder. Bananas we had. I told him that we could go to the grocery store and buy the things we needed today, then make the muffins tomorrow. He chime in "OR, we could go to the grocery store and buy the things we need, AND make the muffins today." Ok, the Boy Who Doesn't Like To Be Around Food is actually showing a culinary interest. It was time for me to suck it in and run with it.

So off to the grocery store we went, list in hand. J picked out the ingredients we needed. I picked out a muffin pan that was half the price of the one he wanted to buy. I also had to buy measuring cups and spoons -- oh, we own some, but most of the sizes have been used to clean out fish tanks, medicated ponies, and worm dogs. The rest have teeth marks in them from a cat with a plastic-chewing fetish. I bought a sifter, with a strong feeling that it may wind up in the sandbox this summer.

At the check-out, J detailed our muffin-making plans to the cashier. I heard her mutter "pretty expensive muffins" as she rang up the total. I commented that perhaps we'll get more than one muffin batch's use out of the materials, but then laughed at the concept myself. As we rolled our cart of baking implements away, she called after us "Good luck with the muffins!" I'm hoping she didn't hear my involuntary reply, "Thanks, we'll need it".

We set right to work as soon as we got home -- J is savvy enough to know that he'd need to keep me moving on this one. I washed up the new pans, cups and spoons, and laid the ingredients we needed out on the counter while J read the recipe to tell me what we needed (see photo above).

The kids took turns mashing the bananas.

And measuring out and sifting the dry ingredients.

We used the mixer (I actually own one! Imagine my shock!) to cream the butter and sugar (after a quick consult with Mimi -- my mom, an experience cook and baker, proving that culinary skills are not genetic -- to trouble-shoot our butter-is-too-cold-to-cream problem), then took turns adding the dry ingredients, and finally the bananas. Then we scooped the mix into our shiny new muffin pan, and popped them in the oven to bake.

Rumor has it that they are pretty good muffins. I'll never know, as I am deathly allergic to bananas. J didn't wind up liking them, but he DID try them (which is more than I can say for Zoo Boy, and fairly atypical for J even). We had some friends over today, and it was nice to have fresh baked goods to offer them (even though I thought I might need to do CPR to revive them when they found out I'd baked....).

I'm secretly hoping this sort of activity will cultivate a love of cooking in my kids. The reason we had them in the first place was because we need cheap farm hands. But free kitchen help would definitely be a bonus.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

a good reason to avoid school

(Here's Zoo Boy with his "hook birds" -- clothes hangers. He says that they live in a swamp. I've noticed that most of his favorite pretend animals live in swamps. Obviously the swamp is a prime habitat for growing imaginations.... The boy's favorite toys have always been things that were never intended to be toys. I'll have to get a picture of him with his "robot" -- a camera tripod -- at some point.)

The other morning J came bouncing in to wake Zoo Boy and try to cajole him out of bed by saying they were going to play school, and that he had a schoolbus all set up and everything.

Zoo Boy looked at him sleepily and said:

"I can't go to school. It will make me all crazy."

Out of the mouths of babes....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

the frog lecture

This morning I learned all about the life cycle of frogs, from the esteemed Professor J, who gave an impromptu lecture, along with illustrations that he provided in real-time. So that you, too, can benefit from his years of amphibious experience, here is the transcript from the lecture:

(holding up a picture he drew on his beloved Magnadoodle of a frog entitled "Yong Frog"): "This is the lifecycle of a YOUNG FROG."(capitalization to bring to life the emphasis he put on certain key words during his lecture)
(drawing some small circle with dots inside): "These are the frog EGGS." (writes the word "eggs" next to the picture)
(pointing to the eggs): "When the eggs hatch, they are TADPOLES." (writes the word "tadpole" next to "eggs" and does his best to turn the eggs into something resembling tadpoles)
(pointing to the front legs of the frog): "First, the FRONT LEGS begin to grow" (writes the words "front legs grow" on his picture)
(pointing to the back legs of the frog): "Then, the BACK LEGS begin to grow" (writes the words "back legs" on the picture, then draws an arrow to the word "grow" as he's now running out of room on his magnadoodle) see next photo for proof to this point:

As you can see, he's starting to get a little crowded for space. That doesn't stop our illustrious Professor J, tho!

(looking earnestly at me, and with great drama in his voice) "And then," (pause for effect) "the TAIL starts SHRINKING!"(in the space his pen is poised over in the photo, he crowds the letters "Tail shri" then ran out of room -- so he moved to that available space in the lower left corner and finished with "nking")

After his presentation was complete and his illustration chock full of information, he sat up and asked his class of 2 (me and Zoo Boy), "So, what have we got?" I took a stab in the dark "A young frog?" He threw his hands in the air, jumping up and down and squealing with glee, as if I'd just scored the winning touchdown at the Superbowl, "YES!! A YOUNG FROG".

You know, if every professor I had in college had been that involved in their presentations, I probably would have gone on for my PhD....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

homeschooling and Enki Education

(To the left, the boys show off the planet Saturn that they made out of purple playdoh -- they had already made The Sun, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter out of other colors, and were on their way to making Uranus, Neptune and poor little neglected Pluto, which they still refuse to believe isn't a planet despite current scientific categorizing. This was not a planned activity -- I had just handed them a box of playdoh and left them alone for a half an hour, this is what they came up with.)

One of the things I most want to post about on this blog is homeschooling our boys. I've been dying to homeschool my kids decades before I ever HAD kids. Before I even married The Map Man. The homeschooled kids in my classes and environmental camp groups, and the Homeschool groups I did museum and nature center programs for, convinced me long ago that homeschooled kids have a big leg-up on their public-schooled peers. Their quest for learning was stronger, their exhuberance at the introduction of new material was contagious, and the confidence with which they carried and conducted themselves was nothing short of massively impressive. That's what I want for MY kids, I always thought.

So it's no surprise that from the time J was the size of a pin head, I've had our homeschooling plans in place. I've long been a fan of John Holt, and had already read most of his books before even getting pregnant. Unschooling made so much sense to me, so I never even considered looking at any specific curriculums -- I had my mind pretty much made up as to how our kids' education would develop. But when J was just a few years old, I realized that for our particular kid, we were going to need a bit more structure. I welcome you to read my other blog for more details as to why that is, but I started looking for a curriculum that I thought would both support the things we were already doing with J, yet still give us enough flexibility to let Zoo Boy decide whether or not he wanted to be a part of it all. And something that mirrored child development, didn't put too heavy an emphasis on academics at the K level, was environmentally kosher, and leaned heavily towards hands-on discovery-based learning. What we found was Enki Education.

I've posted about some of Enki's philosophy and how it jives with our own on my other blog, so rather than being redundant, I thought that I would just link you to those posts:

For the reasons we chose Enki Education for our family, read this.

For information about Enki daily rhythms and how we incorporate that with our family, read here.

You can read here about transitions and why we sing through them.

And this is a place you can read about why a young child's most important work is pretend play.

I wrote about what Enki has to say about the important topic of Sensory Integration here.

And I also wrote a bit about Enki's stance on viewing electronic programming, as well as my own take on that topic, here.

An important part of the Enki daily rhythm is rest time, which I talk about here.

And finally, if you want to see a sampling of our "preschooling" Enki activities, you can go read here or here or here or here or here.

That ought to keep you busy enough for one day....

Monday, March 19, 2007

as way of an introduction

I was thinking it might be polite to give a bit of an introduction, in case there are folks arriving here that don't already know us. I go by Harvest Mom in cyber-space, and that's me in the funky tie-dyed t-shirt, standing next to my incredibly handsome and insanely tolerant hubby of 18 1/2 years, The Map Man, also known as "The Accidental Farmer" -- the boy was raised in a suburb for heaven's sake, the closest he'd ever been to a sheep before he met me was at the county fair. Well, to be fair, I too was raised in a suburb, but I come from a family with a long tradition of farming and was around (and on, and on the rare occassion IN) farm animals my entire life. He comes from a family with a long tradition of spending summers at the beach instead of on a hay wagon.

Those two ridiculously adorable kids we're with are, amazingly enough, the combined product of our genes. J is the bigger dude, he's 6 1/2 now. Those fingers in his mouth were a stage that I think he's beyond now (thank goodness, because when you live on a farm you DO know where your hands have been, and 98% of the time, it's nowhere you'd want to wind up in your kid's mouth). Zoo Boy is the little guy, who recently turned 4. As you probably guess from his nickname, he likes animals, the more exotic the better. He's definitely living in the right family. Although he's still not likely to get the pet Vulture he wants.

Our farm is part-hobby, part-subsistance, and 100% lifestyle choice for us. Our day starts at 5 am, and never really ends this time of year, with lambs expected in sub-freezing temperatures. But most of the year we pretty much run a sun-up-til-sun-down sort of operation. The Map Man escapes the property for 10 hours every weekday, since we're not actually susbsisting on what the farm brings in. In fact, we're not exactly breaking even. What we are doing is sinking a lot of our income into a place that may never be self-sufficient. Which I guess is what makes it more a lifestyle choice than a business. However, I do make my meager financial contribution as a direct result of this place. I'm a dog trainer, and what I train dogs to do is to herd sheep, and the sheep I do that with are in our pasture. In theory that business alone could be enough to pay for the upkeep of the place, but in reality I have two small kids to raise, so can't spend as many hours in the pasture as I would need to in order for that to happen. So I also work as a contractor for a couple of other dog businesses part time in order to generate a bit more income to keep food in the troughs and hay in the loft. And still we need The Map Man to keep his day job in order to pay the mortgage. I also personally need him to haul water, dig post-holes, chop ice in the winter, clean out the sheep barn in the spring, and do various other manual labor tasks that keep him off the streets and out of trouble and looking as ripped as a body builder. Ok, maybe not quite. And a little smellier. But I think he's darned sexy all the same.

So that's us in a nutshell. We're a homeschooling family, which I'll be talking about in nauseating depth as we go along, so there's really no need to say more than that here. I'll introduce some of our critters as we get rolling too. But right now it's feeding time and the sheep are working themselves into a frenzy, so it's time to mix up some grain and head out to the barn.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

hello, I'm back!

It's classic me -- I started this blog, I deleted this blog, I started it up again. Fortunately my title was still available, otherwise I'm not sure what I would have called it!

I've spent the better part of the past year writing about my son's journey through Autism Remediation, from the time of his birth to the present, on my blog Jacob's Journey. I now find, that as we are nearing ever closer to the end of that journey -- to a point where the label "Autism" no longer has significance in regard to my son -- that I'd rather start anew with our story. It's a story that has everything to do with raising and homeschooling our boys, living our lives on our little slice of this earth, and celebrating that life with our families and friends. It has very little to do with Autism.

At the same time, I don't want the work I did with my son buried in the depths of blogging archives. There are parents that actually read what I've had to say and (shocking as it seems to me) parents and RDI consultants who refer people to my blog to see what working on Autism Remediation via RDI looks like. It feels to me like I would somehow be diluting that if I were to then pile years of life without Autism on top of it. I'd like to keep it there for anyone who needs it or is interested in it.

And my final reason is my desire to physically move on with my life. I love our farm (good thing, because we're pretty much stuck here for the rest of eternity), but there's a part of me with a strong desire to up and move us to a place where nobody ever associated us with the word Autism. To return to anonimity amongst the other faces on the playground. I guess the boat's sailed on that one, but moving this next chapter of our life's adventure to a new blog address gives me a bit of that feeling of freedom and liberation that I'm desiring. I hope some of the friends we've made at Jacob's Journey will follow me here and still be interested in reading of our adventures, despite the fact that Autism no longer flavors our life in the same way it used to. Maybe we'll meet some new friends along the way too.

So, here I am. Again. This time to stay.