Thursday, October 31, 2013

Small Space Homesteading: Contentment

     One of my biggest struggles with regard to my homesteading is contentment. It seems my heart is always reaching toward a bigger, grander plot- but it shouldn't be. There isn't any reason why my heart can't thrive right where I am with the blessings I have been given.
      A great bit help in this area is to occasionally take stock of how far I have come. Sometimes we just need a reminder of the path we have been traveling. From the balcony of a tiny apartment to the lot of a subdivision, our family made strides and steps that each brought us closer to where we are now. Remembering the journey strengthens me for the road ahead or the tough day I may be having at the time.
      Sadly, though I live a larger homesteading life now than I did back then, I still struggle with contentment. The world has grown up around my homestead and that feeds the desire to move to a larger set up. Homesteading isn't about size or grandeur, I believe it is about doing what we can, with what we have, where we are- and that means staying within our budget in doing so.
      Another issue with contentment is remembering that we have to have a unified homesteading vision. This journey should not tear my family apart or cause division- and it can. While I am a dive right in and do it all right now personality that grew up with large family farm visions, my husband has a completely different personality and outlook. Sometimes this rages into a discontentment bringing me a need for perspective. His outlook balances my wild fancy- without each other this homestead would never work. I dream it, he plans it and eventually determine whether we do it.
      In the end, a walk through the gardens, a breathed prayer and a bit of perspective often restores my soul and sets my mind back in order. Grow where you are planted and enjoy the blossoms along the way!

Next week we take a look at broadening our horizons as we move into larger homesteading!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Small Space Homesteading: Health

     Health concerns are prominent in most homes- everywhere we look health conscious advertising, marketing and information. One area of homesteading often overlooked is maintaining our health. Dependent upon the depth of homesteading commitments, health coverage may not be an option- or it may be a modest coverage. There were many of our early years where health coverage wasn't available to us.
      Whether or not coverage exists, we are still responsible to educate ourselves and be aware of things within our means to improve our overall health. Homesteading offers us whole foods and plenty of exercise to keep us moving and improving, but illness and accident can happen to anyone.
        It has been our personal conviction to educate ourselves about natural and common sense proactive, preventative treatments. Understanding our bodies, our immunities and how they work give us a leg up on the germ war. The more we can do for ourselves the less dependent we are on outside care. Our family always focuses on what we can do and going for help when it is apparent we need it.
         Some areas we continually strive to learn more about are: nutrition, fitness, essential oils, herbal remedies, and improving immunity naturally. Integrative, holistic health improves our independence and strengthens us for times when illness does come. Overall, we have been very blessed to have minimal health needs while living a healthy and very active homesteading life.
          No matter what size our homestead, or even if we homestead at all, our health is in our hands- an area we can improve upon one step- one choice- at a time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Early Homesteading Skills: Laundry

     Crisp bed linens snapping in the afternoon breeze- sunshine brightening white shirts as they sway on the line. We tend to romanticize the notion of line dried laundry often forgetting the reality- it's work. Hand washed or done by machine, wet clothes are heavy- messy- and time consuming. Despite the work involved, I must say there is nothing like line dried bed sheets or sun-brightened shirts. No bottled detergent fragrance can compare to clothes off the line.
      In the early years we often dried our clothes on racks in the living room- directly under a ceiling fan. When allowed, we strung clothes lines on the balcony or between nearby trees. One early home had a wonderful old T-post clothesline I absolutely loved! It was continually blessed with load after load of cloth diapers and baby things.
     Before we get too boggled down with the washing, we must realize that laundry on the homestead is so much more. Here we must take stock, do ourselves, make do, or do without- even with our laundry. As a homesteader, my wardrobe is simple- cottons and denim are prime for the task. Sturdy clothes stand up to our routine and last many washings. Closets are frugally suited with items necessary for our lifestyle and 'good clothes' are kept for special occasions.
     In the run of things trouble can occur making basic mending skills necessary- replacing a button, patching a hole, even a hem here or there. Simple sewing skills keep us careful of our finances, making every penny count as our clothes last as long as possible.
     Then there is the issue of ironing. We are fairly careful not to purchase items needing dry cleaning, but ironing seems to fit many fabric needs. Simple ironing skills- dress shirts, skirts, or jackets, can help us save time and money while keeping us nicely dressed.
    Let me note while I do not hand wash my laundry, I did make it a point to learn that skill and acquire the needed supplies to do so. Knowing how and being able to in a bind have been a blessing on more than one occasion. Each one of us will have a different path toward self sufficiency in homesteading- no one is better than the other. Our family has taken the time to acquire the skills we felt would benefit us in our daily routine as well as prepare us in cases of emergency or distress. In the end, a simple yet attractive wardrobe, basic laundry upkeep skills, and some careful planning help us take one more step toward our homesteading goals.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Early Homesteading Skills: Preservation

Whether living in a small apartment or renting a plot in town, my home kitchen has always been a place for preparing and for preserving. Here in we make the best use of the seasons and our local sales allowing our dollar to stretch well beyond the moment.
During times when a garden wasn't possible, productive, or just not enough local store sales were my suppliers- and preservation was how we made it stretch. One store often has bulk produce bags, bruised fruit specials, or the bulk quantity special. Those are perfect opportunities to spice up the canner or the dehydrator and get busy 'putting up' for later. 

1. Freezing
    In the heat and humidity of our southern home freezing is my top method of choice. Produce is picked at its peak, mildly processed (if at all) and frozen quickly. Safe in the freezer, mold and pests don't stand a chance. The down side of freezing is space; with broilers and turkeys also stored in the freezer, space is precious and must be used wisely. My food freezing musts are: cole crops, greens (chard, spinach), okra, corn and squash/gourds.

2. Canning
    Second in line and next on the list is canning; water bath and pressure methods. High acid foods, jams, jellies and relishes and pickles hold well with a gentle water bath set up where as sauces, veggies, and pie fillings require the intensity of a pressure canning. Space is not quite as competitive with canned goods since they store easily in the top of a pantry, under a bed, or in any cool dark place.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and carrots along with berries of all kinds are excellent canning candidates.

3. Dehydrating
    Last, but not least I love dehydrating. Dried goods are space friendly and easy to incorporate into everyday cooking. Some items lend well to a simple open air drying method: hot peppers, garlic, onions and herbs are a few...while some require a bit more intensity. My electric dehydrator is perfect for putting up apples, bananas, bell peppers. We love the tasty tang of kale chips and the chewy zing of a dry pineapple. Dried foods need airtight conditions to keep well; canning jars or sealed bags work very well and store right alongside other canned goods. 
     Admittedly, organic produce hasn't always fallen within our budget. With that in mind, we started washing our produce in a sink of water with one tablespoon of lemon juice. This tip was given to me years ago by a nutritionist my pediatrician recommended. The acid in the lemon cuts pesticides and wax additives. Even now, I prefer to do this with my home grown produce as a means of removing dirt and pests.
     Homesteading means so many different things to many different people, but in my early years it meant doing what we could, with what we had, to the best of our ability and financial means. In whatever situation you are placed in, consider the steps you can take and take them. Each step counts!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Our First Steps: Small Spaces

     My husband and I both came from large family farms. That connection to the land, our food, and family values was something we wanted for our family, yet, early married life didn't offer the means for that. Our early years of homesteading life came in phases- steps, one at a time, that brought us to where we are today.
     We started with an apartment- a place were we loaded a balcony with plants, dried laundry on racks inside, and canned as much seasonal, on-sale produce as we could. Committed to purchasing whole food, our children came and grew with simplicity and meals around the table. A rental and a home in town gave us more garden space and an outdoor clothesline- another step forward.
     The early years were not overly self sufficient; not much food was produced in those small spaces. Those years gave us focus on doing what we could with what we had. Groceries were not 'organic', but they were whole foods we cooked and prepared simply and nutritiously. Handwork was honed and developed as was canning and cleaning. We reconsidered natural living and bucked the trend to be overtly modern. TV was foregone to make way for parks and museums. Staying out of debt was a priority as was growing a safe, healthy family.
      My early simple years gave me time to learn, research, and prepare for larger opportunities which came eventually- in their own time. When I stop and ponder the humble beginnings we faced then, I am amazed at how far we have come- from little steps to big leaps. Our humble beginnings may have seemed so small then, but today we realize without them we would not be where we are today.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Welcome to My Home

     From my childhood there has been a longing to stay connected to the land. My feed crave the cool softness of earth between my toes. For a time my path confined me to places less than fulfilling where my creativity kept itself with balcony gardens, desktop flowers, and early morning biscuits. Blessed with a husband who loved the farmland of his childhood, we longed to bring our children the joy of such connections; an education in life not found anywhere else.
      After a rental and a house in town, our journey brought us to the home we have now. At the time few others shared space with us and only a couple businesses dotted the roads leading here. Sadly, the wooded areas and serene roads have been invaded by industry and cluttered living. We remain as we have been, the little farm at the end of the road. Children stand at our gate offering carrots to the herd and giggling as the donkey announces their presence. Despite the crowding, we still have woods to the back of our property offering us the scenic beauty of nature despite it all.
      We live in an old two story house with wood floors and no central heat or air conditioning. By wood floors, I do not mean the polished wood floors of many dwellings, but simple wood of natural disposition and primitive humility. The furnishings are simple; here out of necessity not their appearance. A large metal shop doubles as workspace and barn, giving refuge to our herd, flock and the many machines/tools that aid our daily doings. Gardens and pasture mark every inch of space; no lawn or manicured landscape anywhere.
        While the location is not necessarily ideal; the buildings may not be aesthetic, our homestead is a haven. This is the place I long to be at the end of my day; the gate I close when the world overwhelms me. My greenhouse offers me a solace from technology and a place to seek peace from the God of all creation. Sitting on the fallen tree play area in a pasture soothes tensions giving me focus and time to breathe.
          Welcome to my homestead. Simple and plain; we wouldn't have it any other way.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Homesteading: Let's Introduce

     Homesteading seems to be on the rise with interest shown from all age groups. Working with extension services gives me the opportunity to hear some of the questions and concerns people are seeking in and around my community. This is amplified by the online media presence of homesteads, gardeners, and even the prepper groups.
      With all the information currently available, I hesitate to broach the subject. After all, what makes me an expert; nothing. I am not expert, therefore I will not claim to be. My background is family farming, education and the combination of the two. The goal of my family has always been to be as self reliant as possible, not dependent on corporate business.
       Those things in mind, let us travel a simple path to some simple basics we have found useful to our family's homestead life. Subjects will include the garden, meat/protein production, our dairy, pantry and continued education path. Many of you will find this simple. Some will have much greater experience or insight. I welcome sharing, linking, and an all out glean and gather. Conversation is more than welcome; it is encouraged.
       So, join me if you will for a tour of our path from the humble start of a small kitchen garden to the creative and crazy theme gardens. Let's walk the barn stalls and find out the ups and downs of some herd choices and why we have what we do now. Stand in the kitchen with me as we stir jams, can soup, and talk about storing provisions and how they have been used. Sit by the fire as we consider mending, making, and stitching in the calm of the evening.
        Welcome to our homestead. Let's share our journeys.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

If You Give a Kid a Fig Tree

     In the chaos of students rambling and rummaging about, a boy held a fig tree. Quite and detached, he stayed back- unwilling to join in. There near the tree he watched as a hole was prepared- attempts were made to draw him in; he remained silent at his post.
     One approached him, asking in Spanish- won't you join me? I need your help preparing the tree. He eyed warily, searching for recognition- how did he know this person who called him by name? Realization came, the ID badge was hidden by a jacket, as was hair and other features that might strike remembrance. Once revealed, again he was asked in his language- Will you help prepare the tree? Show them and I will explain it. A hint of a smile was all the answer he gave.
       No prompting, no direction, the boy gently coaxed the tree from it's container- ever so careful to protect the tender trunk. Skillfully he loosened the root ball, fanning them about as he placed the tree into it's new home. With confidence he held it steady as fellow students filled the soil in all around offering it water and nourishment.
        Tools cleaned, task complete- back to class they headed, each filled with excitement and chatter over the planting of a tree. One stood a bit longer- satisfied with the task, fulfilled in his purpose. Thank you for your help with the tree. Only a faint hint of a smile was seen as he walked away.

         The desire of my heart has always been to reach the unreached, to love the unloved, to tell the untold. Earlier in the school year this quite young man approached me with grace and kindness- I had misspoken in translating for some of his classmates. I learned he struggles with English and is often off to the side due to his lack of confidence in the language. Chatting with him in the garden we built and planted, I learned his father owns a landscaping business- making him well acquainted with plants.
          God's wisdom and grace opened a door, that opened a connection, that gave a child victory in a small thing- he helped me, and I helped him. Each time this young man arrives at his school, there will be a reminder of this moment- a fig tree, representing his confidence and success amidst classmates he struggles to understand. I gave a boy a fig tree- God gave a boy direction.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Perspective...It's a mess, I Confess

     Oh the woes of how to get it all done. Let me just say- I don't. Tonight, the reality is, laundry resides on the couch (give me a little credit- it is clean and it is folded), dishes are in the sink, and- for goodness sake- the cob webs I spent hours removing are back with a vengeance! Such is a day in the life of a creative and way too busy woman.
      The good news is- it will get done. Not right now; maybe not tomorrow, but it will get done. For years our home ran on the premise- every day has it's work. Mondays were for laundry, Tuesday was for dusting and floors- you see how it goes. The past few years have found me in a bit of disarray with such routine. Instead, my days are more geared toward lesser lists- make the cheese, harvest the beans, write a report for the office. Fridays are my cleaning days (unless, of course, there are children to garden with).
       Needless to say, I'd rather be in the garden- or the barn- or the quilting room- or with some awesome students.. maybe testing a new recipe. Who wants to clean when there is so much amazing living to do?
       All joking aside, I need a kitty-gritty-get-down-and-dirty clean the house day. Any takers??

Sunday, October 20, 2013

While Weeding the Lettuce

     This weekend found me very busy in the garden. Already this season, weeds are cropping up where the rabbits have yet to wreak havoc. One of the most difficult places to combat weeds (aside from the carrots) is the lettuce patch. That being said, I obviously spent a lot of time squatting and pulling in that row.
      While I kneel alongside the tender baby leaves, my mind wanders back to the prairie kitchen where my grandmother stands. In her kitchen there were no bottled dressings- heaven forbid "Ranch" be found there. Convenience food was a waste of time and a hindrance to health. Today I heartily agree with her, forgoing the conveniences and making much of my own. However, there is one thing I never could quite find agreement with- her 'wilted salad'.
        There in the garden between the onion stalks and Doc's pen, my nose wrinkled up and my mouth puckered at the remembrance of that dreadful salad. Beautiful greens that had grown from tiny seed were fresh picked and thoroughly washed. What happened next, I'm sure, was an abomination to nature. White vinegar was boiled with sugar and other dreadful things before assaulting the greens in a most vile manner. The smell of that dressing permeated every fiber of your being and caused a violent shiver that reached deep into your soul.
         Mealtime would find me seated with dread as that vile smell overpowered every morsel before me. My heart broke at the sight of that lettuce- once so crisp and fresh- now wilted and pathetic looking. Hours would be spent starting at that mess on my plate - you didn't leave until you finished, of course. Choking down that horrible disaster was a test of my grit and a scar on your taste buds.
         My husband laughs at the recollection of such things- he is quit sure my naughtiness was to blame for it, after all, the salad couldn't have been that bad. Fortunate for him, I have no copy of that recipe to torture him with- not yet, anyway.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Closing the Gate

     This week has been so full of activity and anxiety. Work and worry mixed with wonder and excitement, but today it is time to close the gate and regroup. Time is needed to rest, to tend my home, and work my gardens. There is cheese to make and yogurt to culture; laundry to wash and a quilt that need completing.Today will be a day for soup on the stove and coffee in hand- maybe a batch of cookies will find their way to the oven.
       While time with the students is a gift I cherish, time at home is a blessing. Today, the gate is closed, the herd is grazing, and I am nestling in for a weekend of family and home.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let Me Show You

     We had a wonderful time planting the gardens- despite the drizzle and impending cool front. Students got downright filthy as seeds were planted. My soul was touched by the roughest young man ever so gently handling a transplant; not one leaf broken. Giggles abounded as the fragrance of herbs was discovered- yes, we had a great day. One student comment- usually you are the Go Lady; today you are the Grow Lady. Ah, melt my heart.
       The best part of the day- which may seem odd when you hear it- was a youngster with quite a surly and often uncooperative disposition. After our activities today he approached me at the edge of their garden with a smile and a comment- at first I thought you sucked, but now I am starting to like it when you are here.  Again, melt my heart. That is why I do what I do.
        That said, my point today is let me show you. Naysayers abound, especially where change is expected. Getting classes to implement 'new' or unfamiliar activities often meets with hesitation. A common concern often is lack of time/lack of student interest. This applies with parents as well. Many believe a child who has never had interest surely won't; let me show you.

Let me show you:
..a hyper child dig for worms
..a timid child take charge of a plant
...a disabled child find a way
...two who quarrel work together
...the most disinterested student join in
Let me show you it can be done.
         I have taught, hosted camps and mission trips, and led several projects over the years. Children are amazing and eager, but they have to have opportunity and we have to have a bit of trust. I could have done all the planting myself in 1/4 of the time with less mess and crazy; what would that gain? I could have given up and never got the activity scheduled; what would that show? I say, give me an opportunity, and I will show you how amazing a child can be; and sometimes we have to step outside of ourselves and let them show us. 
 Every step is important- even the smallest ones!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Grow with the "Go Lady"

      It's true, my job comes with quite a lengthy title- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Project Specialist for Texas Grow Eat Go. Answer the phone with that one. Then there is my last name- get a third grader to pronounce Scaife- I dare you. It will get some giggles. Needless to say, students in my project have affectionately dubbed me 'the Go Lady'. I'm good with that; it works for us.
      Today and tomorrow are super cool way awesome days for the Go Lady and her totally tripping team- we get to kneel down elbow to elbow in the gardens! It's grow time- my favorite! Students will set seeds in square foot garden format, discover the care and considerations for transplanting, and go over the requirements for maintaining a garden. How fun does that sound?
      I have to say- I would rather be in the garden (or the kitchen) with these amazing teachers and their classes than anywhere else. Office work is my nemesis; paperwork and politics drive me to absolute tears, but getting down to the nitty gritty- that's the stuff that keeps me sane.
      Take a cue from our tenacious team of energetic youngsters and their teachers- get out there and grow something wonderful!

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Natural Girl

    Loading plants into a very small car, a conversation was sparked over Jujubees. The gentle, older man and his wife talked of medicinal properties- the reason for their purchasing four trees, and for me trying to put them in this tiny, tiny car. Such a sweet conversation with a sweet couple. Before we walked away, another man assisting us asked why the couple shared the information with us- what was the reason he thought we might want to know. The couple smiled, she is a natural girl.
    We walked back to our station as the couple drove away- trees safely tucked inside their tiny car. The man asked what they meant- a natural girl. Not sure myself of the reason I asked his thoughts on the matter- because you are plain? We had a good laugh, never solving the mystery of the couples insight. Could it be my long, simple hair? The lack of make up, manicure, or such?
     My guys back home had quite a laugh-themselves not sure the nature of their comments. In the end, it doesn't matter- I enjoyed the information and the calmness of our conversation. Besides, there is nothing wrong with being called a natural girl.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

So I Wonder

     It was one of those weekends. The kind that find you without a phone, broke down in a parking lot, wondering why on earth you do the things you do. No, I am not kidding. In a county I am not familiar with, with a GPS that couldn't figure it out, on the day after losing my phone my SUV decided to overheat and not get over it. That brought a hopelessness that I haven't felt in a while.
     Sitting in there in a parking lot defeat slapped me hard. What was I doing- and why? Well, I was looking for a garden center who had seeds needed for our classrooms- and I do it because of the kids. That reality caused me to pull up my big girl panties and get on with it. Water was put in the tank, another look was given to the directions, and the GPS finally woke up. I made it. I bought them. I got on with the day (not that my vehicle really recovered, but I made it).
      That unfortunate misadventure caused me to lay awake wondering why I do a lot of things I do. Why do I quilt- no quilts have been sold in a long time. Why do I garden- the critters are sure enjoying my hard work. Why do I blog- I'm not sure anyone reads it. Why do I - oh, fill in the blank. A deep breathe and a sleepless night really didn't solve anything.
      The next day found me thumbing a ride to the extension office where I spent my day loading plants into vehicles at our plant sale. During the course of things I became aware of a young person assisting us who seemed rather lost, and somewhat picked on by the others. Taking the youth under my wing- even addressing the unkind actions of a few others- I realized something; I do it for the one.
       Two days of wondering and the answer was right in front of me. I quilt for the one body warmed by a hand made gift. I garden for the joy of picking even one fresh meal I grew myself. I blog for the one soul who saw something I didn't. I work for the one smile on a child's face- one hug when I walk away- one thank you note from a teacher who wanted to throw in the towel.
       In the end, it doesn't matter how far my hands ever reach. Applause and accolades have never been my thing. Money matters little to me and I could care less what the world has to say about my little corner of the planet. What matters is the unexpected 'one'- that one thing revealed when I am ready to give up.
       So I wonder, why do you do what you do?

       Is anybody out there reading?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Come Join Me

-MCMGA Fall Plant Sale
Join me and the rest of our county master gardeners for this weekend's amazing fall plant sale. Visit with the experts, hear a great lecture on fall gardening, and purchase Texas friendly plants for your garden.
For more information, call the extension office (936-539-7824) or visit Montgomery County Master Gardeners.
See you there!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Humility Comes

     There is an amazing kind of tired that hits you after a great day of amazing accomplishment. We pulled it together, planned the work and worked the plan- dealt with changes and pulled through anyway. Today we built a large set of garden beds in record time with a handful of people. It was a great day. In the end of it all, what goes up must come down and a great day is no different.
     After the joy and amazement of a great day, humility comes when:
the sink is full of dishes
laundry is waiting to be folded
the printer fails
the donkey wails
tools and trailers need unloaded
and unhitched
as the final ounce of energy slips from your body
     It's true. I could use a little more time management- a bit more constructive planning. So, while the day was a success and the children enthusiastically anticipate planting seeds next week- chores are waiting for me. After every success, humility comes when we face the reality of daily drudge. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Today We Build

They say every day holds challenges of its own. I don't know why 'they' are, but they are absolutely right. Today's challenge is building a garden where no garden has been built before. Today I walk onto a school campus armed with shovel and trowel, soil and cinder in preparation for intense physical and mental exertion.
Building a garden is challenging. Working with a school is challenging. Put them together and you face a double whammy. Get passed the forms, files, and red tape and you still need volunteers, staff participation and some strong grit. While the task seems quite daunting and the totality of it rather overwhelming one thing and only one thing drags me from that dark cloud. One thing pressing me to put one foot in front of the other. One thing makes me forget the crazy and get out there; the children.
Nothing compares to the smile on a child's face, the wonder in their eye, and the absolute freedom to be completely dirty without consequence. A garden holds the promise of wonder, of miracle, of things unseen and things to be seen. In a garden you are not judged; your clothing doesn't matter. Social parameters do not exist-  a garden doesn't judge. It doesn't discriminate. In a garden, color is beauty and natural is seen through new eyes. Every child has a place in the garden and every child is valued.
As I load my shovels and lug my wheelbarrows, the image of giggly girls and burly boys lugging buckets and toting soil pushes me onward. Today, we will unite; we will sweat; we will get dirt under our nails. Today we will chat about seeds and ponder the position of the sun. We will fret over levels and the slope of the earth. We will prepare a place where wonders abound and the glory of the Lord shouts the loudest. Today, we will build a garden.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Earth Between My Toes

Tonight as I walk through my garden, soil crept between my toes bringing to mind the joys and loves of those days long ago.
   It was a long standing battle between my grandmother and me whether or not shoes should remain on my feet. In my prairie home flip flops were just for swimming pools; tennis shoes or boots were made for farm feet. Yet, whenever my soul found its way near the soft fertile soils of home, temptation would get the best of me..and I would undoubtedly end up with dirt between my toes. 

   Basket loaded, shoes on my feet, I head away from the big farmhouse off to the far fields to find my grandfather. Over the dusty roads I ride as fast as my petals can hair tears free from binding braids as the sun warms my skin. The blue farm truck is spotted just ahead.
   I pull up to the truck and climb in the bed..stretching tall I have wildly with hope he sees me from the combine. Standing there my eyes close as I breathe deep the scent of the fields: rich nutrient dense soil, nutty stalks of grain, the heat and oil of massive farm machinery. Breath.
   My ears soak up the sound of birds singing from the tree lines..they're just waiting to swoop down on the grain fields. The combine's steady hum; its blades whirl over the stalks. Wind swishes and whirls scattering dust.
   Grandpa startles me from my wonder ready for the afternoon snacks I brought. The tailgate is lowered for us to sit together and share jars of iced tea and a melon fresh from the garden. His handy pocket knife swiftly slices the melon as he sends me to the cab of the truck for the pepper shaker. Never in all my days have I ever seen anyone ruin a melon like Grandpa....pepper scatters over his piece of melon like a blanket. My scrunchy expression makes him laugh - puts hair on you chest- well, that settles it for me...I don't want pepper or hair on my chest.
   Here in the fields we are to spit melon seeds as far as we to dangle our legs and swing them with reckless to giggle and chatter in the open prairie. Grandpa's eyes twinkle; his smile as big as the sky...he understands a farm girl.
   I shed my shoes hopping down from the tailgate. Jump and run and twirl with delight! Standing at the edge of the field I dig my toes deep into the soft cool earth..soil and sun...and earth between my toes!

   To this day I can be found standing at the edge of the fields, shoes left at the gate...a trail of footprints leading to the soft tilled soil. Yes, even now, the temptation over takes my face turns toward the sun, my eyes close. Breathing deep the scents of the farm  and listening to the sounds of life...even now, I wiggle deep down and get a good feel of earth between my toes!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blurred Lines

     Returning to work brought me face to face with a reality: most employers expect us to leave our personal lives and worldviews at the door when we enter the work place. Most also warn us to be cautious in our political activities. As recognizable personalities, our personal life may blur with our professional life. This often leaves us in a quandary: how do we stand for our convictions without reflecting them onto our employers? Do we simply stop our personal community stands/outreaches out of courtesy for our professions or do we risk the possibility of blurred lines?
     This weekend brought to light the question of blurred lines. Why do we require such staunch sacrifices from employees? Aren't those convictions the very things molding us into the hard working individuals hired by your company? As long as we are not in uniform there shouldn't be any issue, yet the problem lies in our recognizable character. Yet, if we are easily recognized, does that require us to be more discreet?
      Once we accept the boundaries, decide to try separating our two lives, then we must consider- what if the lines blur. What if some one recognizes me as an employee of said company while I am attending the Life Chain- what if they are offended and raise issue? Is the stand I am personally taking worth the professional risk that could potentially face? Should this even be an issue?
       While it may seem I am reaching, this is a reality employees face. We commit to our families, our communities, and then to our employers..only to realize we are not to blur the lines; distinction is expected and could be enforced. My question is- why? Our character is formed by the convictions we hold. That character is what led you to hire us. As long as we do not impress the company name on our activities shouldn't we be free to live our private lives as we are burdened to do.
        Let me say, I have not faced any issue for my activities- I am simply pondering the reality we face as employees. What do you do when situations arrive that blur the lines?
        As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord- without hesitation- without reservation.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Children in the Garden: Discovery

     Unfettered exploration often opens children's minds to question their surroundings. Time in a garden gives us time to consider the name, nature, and behaviors of the living things found there. A time of discovery can be independent and self directed, or guided and assisted- sometimes overlapping each other as the child expands his awareness of his surroundings.
     Consider with me, strolling through the garden. Movement catches the eye as down on our knees we gaze under the salvia. Rusting the leaves, turning over the wood chips we spot a green lizard. Watching we discover his behaviors, movement, the way he bulges out his throat. Intrigued, we make note of his eyes, ability to jump from one stalk to another.
     Here we have just experienced a self directed, independent time of discovery. Curiosity will lead to questions only answered through research. Independent discovery gives a child the freedom to look and question on his own and seeking the answers to his questions. It may be the curious design of a leaf, the longing to know the name of his favorite tree, or a desire to understand the break down of organic matter to nourish the soil. Either way, a self directed discovery is perfect for children with a natural curiosity needing the freedom to roam and to guild his own course of knowledge.
       Riding to the local natural forest, the conversation turns to various aspects of the trip. Each child on the trip is encouraged to find one thing they have not seen before, or something they are unfamiliar/not knowledgeable about. During a lake side fishing, this beautiful bird is seen. A picture taken will give reference when they arrive home where resources will be searched to discover the nature, habit, and name of this unique creature.
       Here is one example of directed discovery. The adult could also have assigned an element from nature to be found by each child or the group collectively. My children and students generally enjoyed the freedom to search a new discovery, but did well with assigned finds. On occasion we searched for things they had read or encountered I study. Nature journals and disposable cameras offer creative documentation and a record of their finds. Not every child enjoys journaling; our farm by loved discovery and learning, but never found pleasure in journaling it.
       Discover in the garden can be the basic home garden, an arboretum, or a natural park. The effort, time put into the activity can be as detailed or relaxed as suits your family. For me, discovery was something I enjoyed as well- giving us opportunity to learn together, in turn, leading by example. If nature and garden time is new to your family or students then relax and let it flow- resistance may come at first, but in time they will warm and settle in.
       Let's put on our comfortable shoes, grab some water and spend some time with the living things.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Doc's Little 'Love Notes"

     Every day this week I have been off the property and in the field doing work with some local schools. My arrival home is often greeted by a very 'needy' baby who's bellows shake the windows. Even though I haven't been home to see his antics, each day he has left me plenty of little 'love notes' to show me he has been here.

1. Piles of 'Doc apples' right beside my garden gate.
2. The Coke can tub has been overturned.
3. One corner of the corn field fence is pushed down.
4. Any and every piece of cardboard he can find is shredded and strewn at the back door.

     Four days off the place- four interesting gifts left for me to find. As if him running toward my vehicle, pushing himself as far into the door as physically possible, and hollering in my ear while rubbing his slobbery lips on me isn't enough. I guess it is just nice to be so missed. Did I mention he has discovered how to open the back door?
    Crazy donkey of mine!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Soothing Afternoon Rain

     Dark clouds moved in covering the sky as I drove home from a busy morning. Those clouds offered heavy rains that arrived moments after I passed through my back door. A deep breathe, a warm cup, it's time for a rest during a soothing afternoon rain.  
     The farm boy and I touched base, sharing bits and pieces of our day; homework questions, how the gym class went, my morning with 3rd graders. Drip drops cycled from soft hums to heavy drums as we sipped hot tea and read the day's news and shared our thoughts. Those calming moments quickly found us cat-napping in our chairs, after all, it was a very soothing rain.
      Days like this remind me the importance of rest; that unwind we often overlook. Life is full of lists and responsibilities that pull us in various directions. Sometimes it takes a rainy afternoon to force us into a place of calm respite restoring our system and allowing our busy minds to just stop.
      Chores found us sloshing through puddles as little droplets fell from overhead leaves; the scent of wet gardens welcomed our senses. A slow day ended with a great workout, a hearty meal, and the blessed feeling of restoration and peace. Tomorrow may be clear, but today, we are grateful for the gift of this soothing afternoon rain.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why Do You If You Don't

     My daily interactions with people often bring up the topic of employment; my recent employment, to be precise. Confusion tends to cross their face, often followed by the question: Why do you work with public schools when you don't attend them? Good question.
      As parents, our decision was to place our children in private education until a time when home schooling became our path. While we chose those routes for our convictions regarding curriculum and the need for flexibility with one of our children's medical schedule, it never negated our need to be aware and interested in the public school system.
      To clear a few things up. Public schools, whether we attend them or not, are still a huge influence over our families and our community. Students will interact, mingle, and become friends with our children through community activities, sports, and often worship. These families may not have shared my convictions about education, but their convictions regarding education will cross paths with my life.
       Then, 'once a teacher, always a teacher'. My home schooling journey is near an end with the last of our teens a junior in high school. Those years of experience have led into an avenue allowing me to share my passion and heart for education. Assisting teachers in implementing curriculums that largely share influences I used at home is an awesome privilege and joy.
        Finally, I do it for the kids. Face it, students and teachers face a great deal of red tape and social/cultural obstacles we didn't have when I was a student- even when I was a classroom teacher. My heart goes out to them as they cross through locked doors and guarded playgrounds to struggle to educate and learn. It's a battle and we all need to stick together.
         So, why do I work with the public school system- because I care. I care about the future generations being taught there. I care about the teachers who need every ounce of support they can get in a tough and often adversarial job. I care what happens to our community as these students grow up taking on authority and leadership roles that will affect my family in years to come.