The Start of School

Katherine (9th grade) and Nathaniel (8th grade) are one week into the new year at their new school.  So far, so good: they are enjoying swapping Chromebooks and phone-use issues for much smaller classes and textbooks.  And they’re getting pretty good at tying Windsor knots!


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Our kids’ school year hasn’t formally started; the new school they’ll be attending doesn’t start up until after Labor Day.  But they’ve had a few summer Latin lessons and orchestra rehearsals, and this coming week they’ll go on an outdoor retreat with their new classmates . . . with temperatures nearing 100.

Sydney and I, meanwhile, will be juggling our first week of classes at Asbury, and hoping the A/C holds up under such demands.  This is Sydney’s first academic year as a full-time, tenure-track professor, so he has to march in academic regalia for the opening ceremony.  We’ll be two overly warm people in black velvet and red at the front of the hall!

We are also juggling life with a new cat, after our black-and-white one, Domino, died earlier this summer.  Dusty is a young, springy cat who is making sure Dexter gets some exercise.  But both, as you see below, are treacherous on the carpeted stairs.

Katherine maintains a spotless pollinator garden, and her flowers have done beautifully this year.  She has three hummingbirds visit regularly.  She has also had real success with basil (of four different varieties), and we try to talk her into trimming it occasionally so that the insects are happy and we get to use some of it in the kitchen.


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Merry Christmas!

Thanks to Lisa Weaver Swartz, we have family pictures to share this year as we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  After nearly three years of minimal travel, we hosted the Birdsong clan for Thanksgiving, and we’re currently in Nova Scotia for Christmas with the Penners.  We hope you’re able to step away from your usual routines, too, and gather with family.


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Gratuitous pictures of children and cats

We’re still here!

This past year has been a busy one, but we’ve taken plenty of pictures.  Sydney got a fancy new Nikon . . . but he’s mostly using a lens that allows him to take close-ups of tiny, tiny insects and plant life.  He has become an avid poster on iNaturalist: you can see all of the species he’s documented at our farm here.  He’s also keeping up weekly posts on his farm blog here.

And the kids have taken over the other cameras in the house, which lead to a lot of cat pictures, and photograph records of Lego edifices, farm flowers, and the like.

Did I mention that the kids have become allergic to having their picture taken?  I did finally catch them on a generous day, so here you are, with Katherine (13) and Nathaniel (11) snuggling with Dexter.  Domino didn’t want to be left out, though:


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First Day of School

Seventeen months after last getting off a school bus, our kids climbed back on one again.  The last time they were in public school, Katherine was in fifth grade and Nathaniel in third.  Now ages 12 and 10, respectively, she’s taking the bus to middle school to start seventh grade, and he’s taking the elementary-school bus to start fifth grade.

Sydney installed a desktop in our kitchen, and yesterday Katherine emailed back and forth with various friends from school, comparing schedules and getting updates from those who have joined her in the world of braces.  Since her school doesn’t dismiss until 4, she got up early this morning to practice piano; she knew she wouldn’t have much energy left after the bus drops her off at home in the afternoon.

Nathaniel, meanwhile, reported that the chickens loved being let out so early (6:05, he proudly announced to me), and he enjoyed a cup of tea with the oatmeal he cooked for himself.  Although he’s been the baby of the household for this past year at home, he now gets to learn how to be responsible as one of the biggest people in his school.  I tried to refrain from calling after him, “Don’t squash the first graders!”


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Farm Play

The kids just spent a week at Choral Camp in Ohio at Sydney’s alma mater, Rosedale.  Outdoor singing sessions under the tent, shaving cream fights, slippery water slides, and beginner solfege training: it’s a really fun combination of music and field day games.  The kids came home tired (Nathaniel slept much of the drive home) and eager to commit to going again next year.  This was Nathaniel’s first year, and Katherine’s fourth.

We also spent an easy evening at the farm on Sunday:

The habit of climbing a cattle gate and enjoying the breeze and the view hasn’t gotten old.  Katherine’s even wearing one of her old Choral Camp t-shirts.

Nathaniel is intent on gathering the small patch of wheat that the combine left in our part of the field, so that he can dry, thresh, sort, and grind his own wheat for bread.  Once he has a project in mind, he can think of nothing else, so we were glad to leave him to it.

Much to our surprise, a cluster of hollyhocks shot up at the back of the equipment shed.  We don’t know who planted them or how many years ago they did so, but it’s a lovely addition.

This big black walnut is our favorite place to rest in camp chairs (yesterday we ate Sydney’s tasty experimental watermelon curry there).

Katherine and Sydney took their binoculars with them as we walked the path Sydney mowed on the back of the property.


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Our New Farm

We bought a farm!  Let the jokes begin.

After a lovely two-week visit to my parents, the kids and I returned to Kentucky, where Sydney and I signed the papers on a 17-acre farm near Harrodsburg.  It is 25 minutes from our house, ten minutes past Shaker Village (one of our favorite hiking spots), and 1.5 miles from the local ice cream shop.  Priorities.

After years of Kentucky clay, Sydney now owns a farm with silty soil, which soaked up the 6 inches of rain that came down the other day and flooded much of the area (!).  It was a good test of the new place, which held up well.

The farm comes with a tiny concrete-block farm-hand house with a nice tool shed, four barns, and lots of fencing.  It is funny to think that what used to be home to cattle is now owned by vegetarians.  It’s surrounded by huge wheat, corn, and soybean fields.  As much as we’d have liked to farm closer to Wilmore, it’s really nice to be in an area where every square inch isn’t being prepped for new housing developments.

Sydney has been hard at work, trying to break ground and transfer his farm operation from the one we’ve rented to our new place.  This is going to be a busy year, but we know that by the end of it things should be much less chaotic–and we should be thoroughly at home on the new place.

Despite having plenty of new things to take care of, Sydney’s carved out play time at the farm, with late-night campfires (Nutella, graham crackers, and marshmallows), new kites (there’s a good breeze there), and a relaxing Sunday afternoon under the large black-walnut tree. 

He is planning to transform roughly three acres of the farm into beds for cover crop and vegetables, and we’re hoping to plant trees throughout much of the rest of it.  For now, one of our favorite activities is to perch atop a four-board fence and look around, marveling at the space and the view.  I hope it’s a long time before we tire of that.


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End of the School Year

Since we didn’t have a clear start to the school year (will they go to school?  will they stay home?  what would either of those look like?), we thought we would mark the end of the school year with some school pictures.

Both kids have spent a lot of time at these desks throughout the year.  Thanks to the art class they’ve taken in town, they’ve also been able to fill their walls with creative work.  Today we closed up the math and language books, they celebrated the end of their Spanish lessons with me (they have grumbled about just how hard it is to learn a new language), and they proudly tucked away their history research papers.  Their desks are now empty and ready for whatever next year brings, but they’re currently keen on free reading, time outside, and a trip to their Iowa grandparents next week (Katherine corrected me: 3 1/2 days and 4 nights!).

They will both be headed back to public school in the fall.  As much as I’m looking forward to seeing what new topics they learn about in school, we all know that there are some things that they’ll miss from their year at home:

sleeping in

hot oatmeal and tea breakfasts

morning math work in a quiet room and at their own pace

doing English projects that are more than just two paragraphs of reading and two sentences of writing

being able to hum or sing quietly as you work

flexible schedules that allow for morning hikes

good lunches

more family time (including kitchen collaborations)

seeing birds and flowers right outside your window


and homework done with a cat on the lap.


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Last spring, Sydney filled our backyard garden with strawberries.  He has since thinned, weeded, mulched, and watered them.  Since he used to pick strawberries commercially, and since he prefers blueberries anyway, this is very much something he does just because I like strawberries.  And this year we had a bumper crop!

We’ve had a couple of big batches just for our use: I’ve made strawberry shortcake twice, Sydney’s made strawberry freezer jam, we’ve both frozen strawberries for smoothies, and everyone’s had strawberries and yogurt for breakfast the last week or two.  We’re taking our second batch to market tomorrow; they were snapped up quickly last week.  They are a lot of work to pick (we’re both feeling it in our backs and back-of-the-leg muscles this week), but they are such a crowd-pleaser.  And I’ll be enjoying Sydney’s jam on my toast for the next year!


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Spring in the Yard

The joke in our house is that Sydney is slowly reclaiming our yard from lawn, one garden square at a time.  Sydney has sown carrots in the holes in the concrete blocks he’s put down as edging (wood, we’ve discovered, rots quickly in Kentucky).  In this new bed, there are beets for Sydney and blackberries for Erin.  Everyone loves the carrots.


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