Ice Storms to Spring Flowers

Kentucky has been throwing us for a bit of a loop, weather-wise.  Our area endured ice storms in February and we waited a rather anxious week, listening to the tinkling of trees, hoping that the ice would melt before wind and snow arrived.  Then came floods all around Kentucky.  Today, people walked around with a sort of stunned look as they stepped into sunny, 70-degree weather.

But don’t worry: we are prepared for all kinds of weather.  Assuming he has electricity, Nathaniel is ready to bake us some gorgeous bread.  He’s been keeping us supplied with rye bread throughout the winter.  Our cats also seem quite happy to curl up on the various laps around the house, and the kids are enjoying having cat company while they do math in the morning.  And the chickens are keeping us occupied–and out of the house.

Erin

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Merry Christmas!

December has been an odd month for our household.  With the end of the fall semester, we knew to expect a change in rhythms.  And that’s been true: the incessant flurry of emailing and grading has suddenly halted (thankfully!), we’ve sent our students home to their families, and we can look up to assess what remains.

Since I’m on sabbatical for the spring, I have been shifting from adrenaline mode (responding to every new ping on my course management site) to slowly developing the stamina for sustained reading and writing again.  Mostly, that meant I fell asleep when I tried reading something, until I finally caught up on rest.  Thankfully, the reading is now going much better, and I’m going to try to make the most of the next few months of working at home–even if it can’t be as I first imagined it, with long days in a library and my children ensconced in a school building with their own teachers.

In the first week of school this August, though, we learned that Sydney’s dad was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Sydney stayed here for most of the fall, but shortly before Thanksgiving he flew to Nova Scotia, first to quarantine for two weeks, and then to visit his father and brother.  Since he left the camera with me, I only have pictures of the kids.  But, he and I agree, surely that’s more important than pictures of either of us?  The kids have been amused to discover that Sydney and I write back and forth to one another throughout the day, and seeing Sydney’s words appear on the screen usually makes them giggle.  They were appalled, however, to learn that we don’t use standard capitalization and punctuation in our messages, and they went on for a good ten minutes about our lack of good writing skills.

I did get a few pictures of the kids on a recent hike (what my kids think of as a forced march), and on Christmas Day.  Weekly hikes have been a great source of fun: a safe way to get out and enjoy Kentucky’s mild winters.

Nathaniel complains that he feels short in our house, since he’s not quite able to keep up with his sister, who is now only two inches shorter than me.  But it’s clear that both of them are growing rapidly, and I need to be creative to ensure that they get enough opportunities to stretch their legs.

Our paperwhites started blooming on Christmas Eve.

When I reminded the kids that our head tree-wrangler is away, they graciously picked out a slightly smaller, more compact tree.

Katherine gathered pine cones at a recent outdoor meeting of our church small group.

The kids are slowly picking up some of our habits, including a taste for tea.  They have a cup of chai with milk each morning, and for Christmas the kids and I kicked it up to hot chocolate.  Given the blowing snow and temperatures in the teens, we felt that it was warranted.

Erin

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What then?

As you can tell from the lack of fall posts, things got busy in our house.  Since Sydney and I were grading and responding to student queries, the last thing I wanted to do was to spend one more minute on my computer, even if it was to keep family and friends updated.

I don’t have any pictures of that incessant computer work (probably for the best), or even of the sight that I often marveled at on my non-teaching mornings: walking down the hall of our house around 9am to find each kid at his or her desk in his or her room, deep in school work.  We have certainly had our moments of homeschool drama this fall: I hope I never forget the peculiar mingling of horror and fascination in Nathaniel’s eyes as he realized from our conversation that I wanted him to do another draft of his English paper.  And I’m starting to think I need to walk into Katherine’s room periodically to mess with her a bit, just so she realizes that she won’t always have a quiet, solitary, un-timed environment in which to work through her math problems in her pretty handwriting.  But, overall, I’d say things have gone well.  Both kids have really made an effort to take on substantial work in math and reading, with regular shots of history, music, art, Spanish, and geography.  For that, I’m truly grateful.  I only wish we could celebrate with occasional trips to the planetarium or museum, or concerts.  But, well, this isn’t the year for that!

The kids are now joining us in sorting through the mix of work and hobbies that, as all adults know, is more than just “getting your stuff done” so that you can “do what you want to do.”  The tidy division between those categories has begun to erode already.  Even as Nathaniel gasps in horror if he thinks his school work will take all the way until lunch (he starts early), he may well spend the rest of the afternoon helping me with kitchen and yard work.  Which of these things is the “stuff” and which is the “what you want”?  As adults who “read for a living” and “have summers off,” Sydney and I are quite ready for those conversations with the kids.  Both of them have lent a hand with cooking, and Katherine often steps in to tackle a sink of dirty dishes.  Nathaniel is quite proud of his rye crop, which he carefully sorted and stored before he turned to grinding and baking with it.  He makes tasty bread.

Despite all that demanded his attention this fall, Sydney made time to order and plant hundreds of bulbs in our front yard.  I have always loved spring bulbs, and we all enjoy that shot of color early in the spring.  He also ordered a big box of tropical fruit for my birthday.  Of all the intriguing things in the box (that flame-colored thing in the bottom right of the picture is a cacao bean), our favorite turned out to be the key limes.  We agree that we haven’t come across anything so refreshing!

Sydney’s fall squash crop yielded both great food and front-porch decoration.  Nathaniel and I have filled half a deep freeze with frozen squash puree, which we’ve turned into dinner rolls, soup, pizza topping, and much more.  This year, we can add eggs to our list of home-grown food.  Our six chickens have enjoyed castoffs from the garden produce, and outings (chaperoned by Katherine) into our yard and garden beds.  Even today, a 10-degree snowy Christmas Day, they got a baked sweet potato from me in the morning as a treat and offered in return a couple of lovely eggs by the afternoon.

Erin

 

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Where are our children, you ask?

Katherine and Nathaniel are home 24/7.  Like many kids around the country, they’re having to figure out how to occupy themselves–and, thankfully, help out around the house–while their parents get back to work.  Sydney and I can largely confine our classes to different days of the week, but the work continues after we come home.

Our kids have both opted to be homeschooled this fall.  Their arguments against remote learning were pretty strong, and they both committed to shouldering much of the responsibility for getting through their school work.

With the help of friends, we’ve equipped them with math and Spanish textbooks, and the kids have done well in making those subjects part of their daily rhythm.  I’ve set both kids to reading and writing activities (based on books they were already reading), and Sydney’s informal logic workbooks just arrived in the mail (they have cartoons!).

We are jotting down fun and creative family activities we’d like to build in, but a big part of this fall effort is getting the kids to forge ahead with their own work even when their parents are too swamped to check their homework.

The kids have also slowly taken on more responsibilities at the farm and at home.  Nathaniel is caring for the cats and chickens, and Katherine has stepped in to help with dishes and picking the tiny cherry tomatoes that are currently abundant at the farm.  Both kids are also contributing to cooking: Katherine tends to prefer baking, and can be relied on for a good pan of cornbread, whereas Nathaniel’s signature dish is a big pan of roasted root vegetables.  And we’re all making time to drop by the chicken coop in hopes of spying another egg, since the chickens just started laying this week.

Erin

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End of Summer

Although it will stay hot in Kentucky for quite a while, we are firmly in “fall” mode.  Sydney and I just survived our first week back at school, and it has thrown us a number of curve balls: how to be heard through a mask, how to hear through our students’ masks, how to recognize students wearing masks, and how not to get a massive headache if you bring any of your usual energy to a masked class hour.  That’s just the mask stuff.  Other things have shifted, too.  You know the “ick” factor of picking up an abandoned hairband from the ground?  Yeah, well, now we apply that to everything from door handles to paper handouts.

This, of course, is after we battled some of the bigger issues.  How do we not let new requirements that we be ready to shift online and help students who are forced to go online keep us from investing in the in-person conversations that we think are essential to our disciplines?  The answer, as we argued to our administrators, is work.  There is no shortcut: to do right by our online students and to create a strong conversation community for our in-seat students is to tailor classes differently for those two modes.  I did offer an optional Zoom session yesterday for my classes, and it reminded me why I have no desire to just “talk at” a screen full of blank Zoom boxes, or even (for those who had their cameras on) at a screen full of dorm rooms, with my students’ roommates wandering through the background!  Even if I could bring myself to do it, my students aren’t able to hold a strong conversation among themselves in that mode, and that is my main goal with class discussion.

I’ve taken my classes outside, and will plan on being a campus spectacle for the rest of the fall.  I’ll keep working on getting students to speak up over the cicadas.  Sydney will keep working to figure out a way to read his students’ expressions and personalities despite the cloth over their faces.  We both demand a lot of class participation, which is particularly challenging this year.  Interestingly, my 8am class elected to continue meeting in person even though I offered to meet them over Zoom on Fridays.  I was surprised and pleased by that choice, given the unpopular class hour!  Students are more overwhelmed than usual, and the combination of in-seat classes but also much activity on the course website has meant that we’re responding to a lot of emails and repeating a lot of information.

Erin

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Lavender’s Blue

Our lavender produced beautifully this year, so the kids and I set aside a number of hours this week to cut and sort the blooms for drying.  Katherine couldn’t bring herself to leave me to it, though I could tell she was incredulous that it took so long to make a few dozen bunches.  As I walk down the stairs to the basement, though, I can’t help but think that it’s never smelled so good.

Erin

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Backyard Camping

Yesterday I surprised Katherine and Nathaniel by pulling out a tent and sleeping bags and announcing that dinner, bedtime reading, and sleep would be outside.  You don’t get much better than this in Kentucky: 60 degrees for the nighttime low, little humidity and no rain, and nearly bug-free.

The kids played games in the yard while I took over Katherine’s hammock and stole some reading time under Sydney’s fruit trees.  Dessert on the front porch consisted of Nutella on graham crackers, with a handful of marshmallows.  It was a hit!  When I was searching for Nutella in the grocery store, they were out of every size except a big jar . . .

I fully expected the kids to make a dash for the house some time in the night, but they stayed outside all night and said they had had a great time.  It probably helps that they were only a few steps away from the chicken coop, so they knew they had company out there.

Erin

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Real Summer

Our summer is going all too quickly.  The first barrage of work emails has arrived, reminding us that our fall teaching, and the kids’ fall schooling, will be quite a challenge.

This seems like a straightforward math problem: to teach the same number of students, but with more physical distance requirements and with additional support for students to guide them through any and all shifts to online learning, we need more instructors and either more classrooms or a longer school day (or both), more cleaning, as well as perhaps more technological investment.  As in, each student’s learning just got a whole lot more expensive, and that expense can manifest in a variety of ways.

Every educational system I consult is clear that we’ll make the distancing and learning happen; if I drill down into their planning, though, they leave it up to the school/program/instructor to make it happen with the usual resources–or fewer ones.  I’m not into magical thinking or making promises we can’t keep, so I’m still working the math problem . . .

At the moment, that pot is simmering in the background as more local concerns crowd our field of vision.  Sydney has revived our backyard garden bed after it got lost under a pile of weeds, and it’s now half filled with strawberries.  The bushy things just to the right of the white row cover are Sydney’s beloved fava beans, which we recently made into a tasty spread alongside flatbread.  The flowers in the front yard also just keep coming.

I also finally got the chicken coop painted, and the chickens are busy enjoying it and the lengthy run extension Sydney taught the kids how to build out of PVC pipe and netting (not pictured).  These are some spoiled chickens!

The kids have been demonstrating some interesting play patterns this summer.  For the first time, I let go of a clear sense of schedule and left them to find their own diversions outside our meal times and farm or yard work.  They settled in for a month of Legos in the basement and rereading old favorites (I think Katherine first read these Nancy Drew books five years ago!), but now, after I feared the loop would never end, the kids are getting more adventurous again.

They’ve also helped considerably with cooking this summer.  They made samosas at Nathaniel’s instigation, and this is a half-gallon jar containing cornmeal that Nathaniel and I made from Sydney’s dried corn and our new grain mill.  Nathaniel and I were both panting by the time we finished, but we were also very proud of our accomplishment!

Erin

 

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Kids trade school for online lessons, and then for summer play

Katherine and Nathaniel currently share their parents’ distaste for computers (particularly video) and for car rides.  We like both our education and our socializing in person and on foot.  So our biggest struggle with staying at home these past few months has been with the substitutes that are being offered for school and for socializing.  When I told Katherine there was a drive-through celebration for fifth-grade graduates this week, she looked appalled at the thought that we might go; neither kid can be convinced to Zoom with family members.

So, what have they been doing?  Well, some schooling, though their teachers pulled back pretty quickly after initial lessons proved difficult to manage online.  As Sydney and I hunkered down for the final grading push this week, the kids knew they were on their own, so they played with the chicks (peekaboo in the spinach in the greenhouse), dug out all the Legos, helped on the farm (Sydney’s first radishes have arrived), and organized their books.

Nathaniel, only ever having known life with Katherine, may not yet realize that it’s not normal to have color-sorted Legos and alphabetized and labeled books, but she set the tone before he arrived on the scene.  Yes, we know bookcases are usually used vertically, but since those bookcases are ceiling-height, we aren’t setting them up unless Sydney secures them to the wall studs, in case they come crashing down!

Erin

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Spring Hiking

Since this is the first May I can remember when temperatures are not already in the nineties, we’ve been getting out for a lot more hiking than we manage most springs.  Some parks are closed because of crowding, but we’ve enjoyed several hikes at Camp Nelson, the recently expanded trails at Tom Dorman, and today we wound our way through Veterans Park in Lexington.  Erin

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