Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thoughts on Education

The print above really sells it all. It was created by the lovely Heather Bruggeman. It is exactly what I feel education should be. It is so exciting to watch a child's eyes get big in wonder as they discover something new. You know the look I am talking about. I put this print on the front of my homeschool planner for the year. An every day reminder of what I want to keep forefront in my mind.

As you know, Athena opted to try public school this year. At the 11th hour. One of the reasons we homeschooled in the first place was that she had a very hard time concentrating on her work. She was very easily distracted. I had noticed considerable improvement in the past year especially and so I hesitantly agreed to let her go. I had the whole year planned out. Good stuff I tell you. I was excited about it myself.


One month in, I have made a few observations already. She is taking out ridiculously easy and not very meaty books from the library. Rainbow Fairies to be exact. She has never been one to get her own books out. I always picked out 4 or 5 books and she would read the backs, look at the cover and choose from those. It has worked very well. The shelves and shelves of proffering is too much for her to consider. I suggested she take a book from home and she thought that was a much better idea. I bought a whole stack of books that we planned to read for grade 4. Good books. I don't know why the schools don't promote this good literature.

There was a PD day already and since I had to run to town for a library pick up and since she said she was missing her writing notebook we decided to stop in and I would show her how to organize her desk. Her desk was a disaster. Loose papers strewn about, paper clippings here and there, library books stuck between loose leaf and duo tangs. So we removed everything and started from scratch. As I picked up each paper I asked her where it went. It was either in a specific folder or in her binder. Health, Math and Language Arts... all in the same binder with no dividers, no order no nothing. Ridiculous. So I got her some dividers so she can at least have some division. Her teacher says it is completed work so just put it in anywhere.
As I looked around the class room it was easy to see the teacher herself was unorganized too. Papers everywhere. Boxes stacked, one on top of the other. Papers on the floor. More than one half filled cup of coffee on this desk or this shelf. It was horrible.

One thing that I did really like was that the school is using the Spelling Workout Series and the Vocabulary books from Modern Curriculum Press. Good solid stuff. Score one for the school! The math... oh the math. I don't even know where to start, so I won't.

I have also learned that kids are a lot meaner than they were when my older girls went to school. Almost every day there is something that we have to discuss. I have also had to go to the school to talk about a bullying issue. Athena is just too kind. She wouldn't dream that people would make fun of her or try to be mean. Innocent and so na├»ve. Can you imagine the difficulty a mother has saying "Maybe don't pretend you are a dragon at school. The other kids might not think that is an acceptable thing to do." Only to have her cock her head and ask "Why not?"
She plays alone at lunch and recess so of course she is a target for those mean kids. I told her today that she is not allowed to play with a certain girl. It is passive aggressive bullying every single day. I also encouraged her to ask some girls in her class if she could play with them. I hope they don't say no. 
And as for me? I walk past her empty desk every day, which has since been moved to her bedroom, and I feel guilty and sad. I think I am a bit depressed about the whole thing to tell you the truth, and I don't get depressed. I think about the poor little thing most of the day. I have to listen to her stories when she gets home. I sit with her while she does homework. Things that she gets done easily at home but is too distracted to complete at school.
She has asked if it is too late to be home schooled again. My motherly instinct is to bring her back home the very next day. Her father has another opinion. He does not want her to learn that quitting is the answer. She has to stay until Christmas break. When I ask her how her day was she always says that it was great. She likes it well enough. Why? I don't understand it yet.
She wants to be successful at school and even though I think home is a better place for a girl like her, I want her to be successful too. I love that this little girl is so unique. Never have I known anyone like her. But there is a part of me that wishes she would fit in and be "normal". Not because I want her to be different. Not at all. But simply because I want life to be a little easier for her. I think we would both feel better if she could just have one good friend. Just one. Is that too much to wish for?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Walk Down Our Road

The beauty of autumn is beginning to reveal itself around here. The mornings are crisp and cool and the afternoons are warm and sunny. We are having somewhat of a drought in the Battlefords. In the three months we have lived here it has rained a handful of times. Tomorrow promises around 1mm. Woohoo!

(We have a lot of turkey vultures around here)
The walk down our road (driveway)  to the bus is a chilly affair. The girl is wearing gloves and a lined jacket. When she gets off the bus her gloves are tucked away and her jacket is unzipped and trails behind her as she runs up the road.

I am trying to train the dogs to take her in the morning and go get her in the afternoon. I say "Let's go get Athena from the bus!" each time we head down. They wag their tails and head out with me. Jack was very ill for a week with parvovirus. He is miraculously back with us and making the trek once again.

The walk is about two blocks long. The road was dug up to a wide mess by power, energy, phone and water people but it will fill in one day. The view from the road is of wide open spaces, a little water and a lot of prairie. I marvel at the beauty of it every single day.

 (Max. Typical German Shepherd coloring)
(Jack, the one who was ill. Does he not look like a coyote?)
The dogs and I wait for the bus in the afternoon. They sit on either side of me and sometimes the neighbours dogs come for a visit. I tried to get a picture of them walking down but they don't get far enough ahead of me. They stop and wait until my legs catch up to theirs and then they are on their way again.

When they see the bus come over the hill their tails begin to wag and they let out a few barks. But when they see that girl get off the bus they run to greet her. She loves this time of day and so do they.

We all walk up the hill together, talking and laughing and throwing rocks for the dogs to chase. (They won't chase balls but love rocks. It is really odd.)

As the weeks march on, the aspens will turn brilliant yellow. I can't wait for that. Hopefully they will hang on the trees until Thanksgiving in October when the girls all come. The family pictures will be all the lovelier with the beautiful fall colors in the background.

I should add here that school is presenting its challenges. She still likes it and we are supporting her as best we can. I have talked to the teacher twice already. Once about a situation on the playground with a bully and once about Athena's hard time concentrating. (The reason we took her out of school back in kindergarten) We will re-evaluate next month but she will be staying until Christmas break for sure. All this is another post, I guess. I will keep you informed.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Sometimes I just need a day in the kitchen. A whole day devoted to nothing but food. Simple every day tasks done one after another. Seeing my accomplishments on the counter in front of me. It is very good for the soul. And the belly.

I had been given a whole lot of tomatoes from our Hutterite friends. They were all picked green. Not a splash of red to be found. Paul asked why they did this and they replied: "Just have your wife put them on the window sill until they are red. Then taste them. Then ask me the same question." And so I did.

Some of them started to shrivel the slightest bit  before they turned red. They were still very firm. After they ripened It was time to eat them. I gently seeded one and cut it up into eighths, drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt and ground pepper. Oh my it was delicious.

We ate tomatoes every day for a week. When I realized I couldn't use them all up before they were over ripe I roasted the rest with olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped onion and minced garlic. Put the works in a slow oven for an hour and a half and stored them in jars in the freezer. Some time in the depths of winter I will bring them out to toss with pasta and top with some parmigiano reggiano. And this taste will come flooding back. I do love a good tomato.

I also got my hands on some beets. I still have borscht on hand so I roasted them whole. After an hour or so the skins slip right off. They, too are in jars but in the fridge. They are ready to use in salads or for pickling or to be roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I love beets too. And cabbage. Fried cabbage. Oh my. So simple and so very tasty.


I had several bananas in the freezer and so I made a few loaves of banana bread. We you would have thought I made a black forest cake! Paul and Athena gobbled it up. Funny, I didn't even know they liked it. I am not a consistent dessert maker but this I'll make again and again. So simple and so delicious.

Banana Bread

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp butter
1 large egg
2 bananas

Mix gently. Do not over mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
Makes one loaf.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A New Day

First of all I really want to thank you for all of the kind words of support and encouragement you gave me on my last post. I tell you, you friends are real and dear to me. I am not surprised by the response. It is amazing which people in your life step up and give a little help when needed just as it is surprising which people don't. I appreciate all of your words.
And it is a new day for me and a new day for Athena. I am a big supporter of home schooling. I still think it is the best way to educate a child. I am not the biggest fan of public school, I don't mind saying. As we have now entered that realm my job is not to criticize but to support and I intend to do so. The days start early. It has been a rush to get the girl up and out the door. The bus pulls up to the end of our road to pick her up at 7:50am and drops her off at 4:20pm. Long day. Then she spends some time with homework and eats her lunch. She doesn't seem to have much time to eat it, she says. I hope hunger will prevail soon.

Paul leaves for work around that same time and I am here alone. Alone with the cats and dogs I should say. It is going to take some getting used to. It has been a long while. It is almost as if I have to get to know myself all over again. My essential self has been put on a shelf for quite some time. I have a big opportunity here ahead of me and I want to use the time wisely. There are so many ideas floating around in my head about how to fill my days. I will still have the work of this homestead to manage. Right now I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Tomorrow I will make a large stock pot of marinara. It will be nice to have tomatoes that don't come with a side serving of BPA!

My desk was all ready to go for the upcoming school year. I love to learn so I might just learn some things on my own. Our tree study I planned wasn't just for her. I had a notebook ready too. I will also have more time to read. While perusing my shelves for a book to read for no other reason than I just want to, I came across a book I bought some time ago and haven't had the chance to read. Magical Journey by Katrina Kenison.  Sometimes the right book just falls into your hands at the right time. I am not too far in and I have so many pages dog eared already. A particular part, right in chapter one nearly slapped me right in the face:

"I tried to sneak past my fiftieth birthday without a celebration, stunned to realize I now had fewer days left on earth than I'd lived already. And, having crested the arc of life and begun to make my way down the other side, I'm a little weak-kneed, unsure of my footing on this scrabbly descent. How and I supposed to feel about aging in a world where beauty is younger than forty years old, where wrinkles mean it's time to consider "getting some work done," and where I often feel invisible when I enter a crowded room? Going down turns out to be harder than climbing up; it seems there's more to this second part of life's journey than meets the eye- and without the familiar landmarks of day-in, day-out family duty to keep me on track, I'm not at all certain of the path ....The days are full enough. And yet, the question nibbles at my edges: What now?"

And so, what now? It will be bittersweet I am certain. A little desk remains empty. The girl who used to sit there is now expanding her horizons. She is tired but she is so full of joy and excitement and stories and wonder. Every day is better than the one before. So I rest in the knowledge that I gave her the foundation she needed to take this next step. I did what I had to do and now I am again doing what has to be done.
In these first few days I have renewed my yoga practice. I am giving myself an hour of each day on the mat. My years of yoga have taught me to hold things loosely, whether they be material goods, relationships and even stages of life. And now as I am only a few years away from fifty, I will have the chance to find out what I am made of. One thing I know for sure, in my future, there will be chickens. And maybe a goat or two. And a duck. Just because.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Taking Flight

Sometimes, things don't work out as you expect. Sometimes, life throws you a curve ball and you are totally unprepared to face it head on. Sometimes you end up flat on your back. This week that is what happened around here.
I was fully prepared to write a post about our homeschooling plans. All the books were bought and lined up on the shelves. I had pretty pictures to go with it. Tree study, rocks and minerals, astronomy! An excellent Canadian geography unit that my friend planned. A great math and language arts curriculum. Art and music. Herb Fairies. Nature study. Home skills. It was going to be an amazing year for both of us. 4th grade is a big year!

The first day did not go as I planned. One of the dogs barked at a perceived threat for two hours straight the night before, keeping us all awake. We got a late start. I was discouraged already but managed to complete the day with a positive attitude. The next day started out much better. English for the Thoughtful Child seemed like it was going to be a good fit. She wrote a letter to my sister and illustrated it as well. We listened to the second CD of Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. We read about deciduous and coniferous trees and I asked her to write a few lines about each type in her notebook. Then it happened. She said she had enough writing for the day. And I lost it. It wasn't my finest moment.

I told her to write down what I told her and I went to the kitchen and ground up a weeks worth of coffee beans. I knew this would happen. I knew it at the end of last year. I knew that our run of home education was coming to an end. I thought that I could extend it a few more years. I wanted to give her a good foundation. I know her better than anyone. I know what she needs and how she learns. When we started homeschooling way back in Kindergarten I planned to take it year by year. Each year, at the end of May I would ask her if she was ready to go into public school. Each year it was an emphatic "no way". I asked her this May and received the same answer.

Somehow I already knew this would happen. When I told her that second day of school that I think she should go to public school she said that she thought so too. Later that day we drove to the school in the nearest town and registered her. She would start the next day. We bought her supplies and a shiny new pair of gym runners and a backpack. That night  she nearly scrubbed her skin raw and rubbed her hair out. She wanted to be shiny clean for her first day. She was giddy with excitement. I thought she would be nervous and change her mind. After all, we talked about this a lot. When I was a kid I LOVED school. Even in high school I loved it. I told her this but she was unmoved. She wanted to stay home with me. The next morning I drove her in. She didn't look back. She said "Are you proud of me for my good decision?" I told her I was but was worried all day. I had a tension headache. I thought about her non-stop. Would the kids make fun of her? Would she be scared? Would she know what to do when the bell rang?

I picked her up later that day. I was not so secretly hoping that she would tell me she hated it and she wanted to come back home. That was not to be. She loved it! She said "Public school was way better than home schooling!" And I went outside to feed the dogs and I cried. I cried because I was scared for her. I cried because I thought I could be everything for this little girl. I cried because I thought I had failed her. I cried because I thought I was shirking my responsibility to her. I cried for so many reasons. I also cried because I didn't know what I was supposed to do next.

And today I let her walk down our hill, across the grid to her friends house. I made her take the dogs for protection. She played all afternoon and was invited for supper and a movie. And now in the span of three days, my little girl is growing up. I am excited for her, and scared for her and I will worry about her for her whole life, just as I do for our other three daughters. And now... and now, what will I do with this next phase of my life? That is the question.

Friday, September 6, 2013


When we were trying to position this house on our land I really wanted my bedroom windows to allow the sun to peek in in the mornings. We sleep with our windows open all year round and we don't use blinds. For a week each month the nights never get dark around the full moon. I love moonlight and sunlight streaming in on us while we sleep.

We placed the house in a way that made sense. The front porch with the overhang facing south, which placed the master bedroom facing north. It wasn't what I wanted. But oh, the surprise I had when the slight off set indeed did allow the sun to shine in on me in the morning. Every morning, now just a bit later than the day before, the sunrise awakens me. The colors are truly amazing.

 I look out my window which is as low as my bed each and every morning. And each and every morning I tell myself that I should get the camera and try to capture it. I have never done it until today. Today a flock of Sandhill Cranes flew over. As happens with cranes, you hear them long before they come into sight. I ran to get my camera and clicked away as they flew from the bluish/purple into the pinks and orange/red of the sunrise. The pictures aren't as clear as I hoped but you can see what I mean about the morning sunrise. The brilliant colors only last a short while and then the sky turns a lovely soft blue. If you blink, or sleep in, you will miss all this beauty.

(These cranes fly overhead several times a day. As with the sunrise, soon they'll be gone to their summer homes. It only lasts about a week.)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013