Everything you need to teach preschool (and you probably don’t need to buy anything at all)

Sitting around chatting with other homeschoolers, I almost invariably get asked, “So what curriculum do you use for your preschooler?” And stumble around for words, trying to explain what it is exactly we do. I know it comes out sounding more like, “Oh, we don’t do anything at all!”

Except that isn’t true. What I really want to say is something more like this. Preschool means pre – school. Before school. To have curriculum before school seems, well, somewhat disingenuous. I believe that children at that age should be running, jumping, climbing and exploring. They should be splashing in puddles, making forts under your furniture and asking, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”

Quite simply, play is the work of a child. Especially a young child. And to push curriculum . . . textbooks and workshets . . . too early interrupts their natural intellectual and emotional development.

This has been backed up by research over and over. As Germany was beginning to move away from play-based kindergartens (note that “kindergarten” in Germany is more like preschool here and takes children ages 3 – 5) and more toward instruction focused early learning, they conducted large scale research involving 100 kindergartens. While those who attended the more academically focused kindergartens did indeed show early advantages over their peers, these gains were not only lost but reversed by 4th grade. By then, graduates of play based kindergartens fared better on every measure used, especially in reading, mathematics and social development. The results were so clear that Germany moved away from the direct instruction model and has stuck with its play based model even to today.

Studies in the US have shown similar results, though they are complicated by the fact that most of the studies focus on poverty and it can be difficult to differentiate between the effects of early education programs and the lasting effects of poverty. Still, they indicate the same results. Children in more academically focused programs show early gains that seem to disappear by third or fourth grade, while those in play based preschool programs demonstrate better academic and social development.

America, however, never has made any serious effort at reversing the trend toward direct instruction at earlier and earlier ages. Particularly schools in poorer areas get bogged down in test prep. I had to provide 45 minutes of test prep instruction a day as a first grade teacher. Schools are under incredible pressure to perform and they are passing that pressure down to students at earlier and earlier ages. Research or no, stepping away from academic instruction in favor of increased play time is a tremendous leap of faith that schools struggling with low test scores are just not willing to take.

Why do homeschoolers get caught up in the feeling that we need curriculum for preschoolers? Quite frankly, I think it’s because we’re inundated with it. Have you noticed that television programming and even toys aimed at young children now come with a list of the educational objectives met?

That and the message that really what your child needs is opportunities to explore and play guided by a parent willing to engage them in discussion, acting as guide in this crazy world doesn’t sell product. It doesn’t sell toys. It doesn’t sell television. It doesn’t sell books. And it doesn’t sell curriculum to those beginning homeschoolers who still feel like they’re competing with the public school system even as they’re experimenting with stepping out of it.

So what do preschoolers need?


If you care enough to ask the question, you are probably already doing everything your child needs, but this is what I believe preschool children need to help encourage their academic and social development:

  • A variety of toys to encourage fine and gross motor development as well as imagination.
  • A library, whether at home or provided through regular trips to the library.
  • To be involved in daily chores and activities.
  • Someone to answer their questions, even if the answer is, “Hmm, I wonder?”
  • Someone to narrate events and describe what is going on at home and on outings.
  • Outings. Around the neighborhood, on walks, to the store, to museums, to zoos.
  • A variety of textures. Sand, mud, water, dirt, play dough . . . whatever you have.
  • Crayons, markers, pencils and paint.
  • Time. Enough to get absorbed in a task of their own choosing.
  • Someone who will listen.
  • And most importantly, love. Love and support and encouragement.

Take heart. And have the courage to set the curriculum aside and focus on the play.

A day in the life of a wannabe farmer

Recently, leaving the city for a more “sustainable” life on a hobby farm seems to be all the rage. Now, I love our life out here, but I thought I’d provide a little snapshot of life with animals. Both for those considering making the jump and for those who are more the armchair dreamer type. Because it is not for the faint of heart. Animals, like children, almost never behave according to plan.

Candy, not where she belongs

A system that works for months will suddenly break down at the most inopportune moment. And so this particular snap shot begins as I’m driving my children to town for tumbling/dance camp. An event they have been out of their minds excited about for weeks.

And I don’t see the cow in the pasture. Or the little bull calf that is her constant shadow.

Now, there are plenty of places in the pasture she could be and I wouldn’t see her. The grass is just tall enough, she could even be out in the open and I might miss her just driving by, especially considering how high above the road our pasture is. This doubt of my own observations sustains me all the way to town, but there is no way that lingering question mark is going to leave me alone. So I instruct the girls what to do if I’m not back when I’m supposed to be and head home.

And as I pull in the drive, Candy pokes her head out of the pig barn to say hello. Not catastrophic. She is technically still in the pasture, just not the section she belongs in. So I get a bucket with a little bit of grain and open the gate to let them out of the barn and the pasture gate to let them in with the sheep.

They aren’t interested in the grain bucket. Not one little bit. They run to the big barn and make themselves cozey in the corner. Which really wouldn’t be that big of a deal either, but this section is overgrazed and I really just need them to go take their morning snooze in the shade provided in the outer pasture where they belong.

So I shake the bucket which alerts the sheep who come running. The ram unnerves me. He’s never done anything, but I don’t know what’s going through his head when he looks at me. He stands too close, rests his head against the side of my leg and . . . thinks. I’m not sure if he’s planning on killing me for the bucket or claiming me as one of his ewes or if he’s just a nice ram that isn’t at all like the ones I’ve read about and I really should put more trust in his history of never doing anything than all I’ve read about how dangerous a ram with no fear of humans can be. After all, he only acts this way when I’m holding a bucket.

I finally give up on enticing the cattle out of the barn and lock the door, hoping to keep them in until they’re hungry enough to follow me back to where they belong. And I dump the grain on the ground to be rid of my uncomfortably friendly ram who doesn’t pay me any more attention.

Except now I notice that while I had closed the gates behind me, I had failed to tie the gate to the pig barn shut. This isn’t a quick task. It involves lacing baling wire through the gate and around a post because the gate is really just a collectiong of things we found in the barn and tied to an old metal gate to keep the animals from getting out. I think I had more hoped the gilts would just not realize that all they needed to do was push to get out.

That’s actually Mr. Freckles, but you don’t stop to take pictures when your pigs escape!

Normally, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal to have happen right there where I can see. Miss Tumble (the one who got out) is a friendly gilt and more than happy to go where I direct her, with or without a bucket. Except that this particular exit to the barn leads to the little “porch” I made for the boars to acclimate them to the electric fencing. And given the odd “songs” Miss Tumble and Mr. Freckles had been singing to one another the night before, I was a little concerned that Miss Tumble might be in heat.

And by “songs,” I mean deep throated growls. Roars, even. I went down in the middle of the night to collect some chickens I knew were out and thought there was a bear in the pig barn.

Perhaps it is relevant to also mention here that the chickens were out because the day before the gilts had knocked over my daughter’s poorly conceived fencing to steal chicken feed, allowing all of our most prized birds to escape. None were injured, but they all eluded capture until nightfall led them to roost. In the pig barn. With the roaring-bears-that-were-pigs. Where I collected them by the light of a cell phone and tried not to imagine all that crossed the boar’s mind when he trotted over to me.

I thought he might be on a murderous rampage. He just wanted scritches so I obliged and escaped before he changed his mind.

At any rate, the little gate that I had propped open to let the boys go in and out of their half of the barn was wide open and doesn’t close as easily as the main gate Miss Tumble wandered out of. So I threw a rabbit cage in front of it, hoping to thwart any attempts at blocking me from extracting the object of his affection from his “porch.”

With all the animals finally secured, I walked out to the far pasture to see how exactly Candy and her shadow had escaped.

The actual exit point wasn’t that bad. I live in continual fear that Candy will cease to even pretend to fear the electric fence and that will be the end of containing her. But the top two lines had been dropped, probably for the short legs of small children who were retrieving a bucket. It was a small hop over and a short walk to the pig barn where they know there is grain available.

What was inside the pasture, however, was a far worse sight. Half a mile of fencing down and criss crossed across the pasture, like a glistening spider web of metal. Worried that the horses would get tangled in it, I shooed them over to the pasture section with the least damage and put up a line of fencing to keep them from walking through the tangled mess. The horses are good. I think they’d stay in a fence made of yarn as long as they were together.

I walked back to the barn and told Candy and Endeavor they were hamburger. Candy walked up to the barn door and stuck her head over the bar. I thumped her brisket.

“You know why this is your brisket? Because that’s what you make out of it. Slather it in BBQ sauce and it is far better than restringing fencing.”

She nuzzled me. I’m pretty sure she thinks the various cuts of meat I have taught her over the years are various pet names for how wonderful she is.

I looked at my phone. 9:45. I would be right on time to pick up my youngest daughter and take her over to her sister’s five day club.

Not even lunch time and I felt like I had already put in a full day’s work without actually accomplishing anything. And I still had a half mile of fencing to untangle and restring before I could begin the projects I had planned for the day.

So if you ever wonder what this whole sustainability-hobby-farm-thing is about, now you know. Working, re-working, planning, re-planning and always learning on the fly.

That and the soft brown eyes of an impish cow who rests her head on your shoulder while you threaten to turn her into hamburger because even she knows you don’t mean it.

And this. Because in the end, it really does all come back to your children.

Micah with his very best friend.



Stop. Breathe. Cry. Sometimes, it’s worth more than a smile.

So this popped up in my facebook feed.

And I just thought, “No.”

When life gives you one reason to cry . . . cry.

When life gives you one hundred reasons to cry . . . cry and find someone who will cry with you.

When life crushes you, when the power and the depth of the anguish threatens to overwhelm you as it crashes over you wave after wave, fight back with tears. Tears and cries and even screams if necessary.

But not with a forced smile. Not with some fake attempt to “count your blessings” (as if six living children makes up the balance sheet for one who went to heaven far too soon).

Because the continual message that a smile equals strength and tears are a sign of weakness is false. And destructive.

It’s designed to make others feel better about your pain. But it doesn’t help you.

As a Christian, grieving the loss of a child, it surprised me how quickly the body of Christ lost its patience with grief. Less than two weeks after my son’s death, a Christian man told me it was time to stop grieving. That he was in a better place and that if I believed that, I should rejoice. Grief was a lack of faith.

Less than three months later, someone from church asked me how I was and when I said not so good, she wanted to know why. I stumbled over the words because I didn’t really know her and what was obvious and inescapable in my world wasn’t in hers. Nor should it be. And I never like putting people in the position of feeling like they need to apologize for an innocent enough question that bore no malice. So I just said I had been thinking about Tiggy a lot.

“That’s still bothering you?”

Said in such an incredulous tone. It stung. Three months after he died, I almost gave up on going to church. Because right there in that moment, I couldn’t see all the love and support and one comment almost overshadowed it all.

But I went home and cried.

It seems to me the Christian church should understand suffering. That strength is not in a smile, but in vulnerability. That joy is a promise we cling to, but it is a very different thing from happiness.

Because Christ Himself went to the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion and sweated tears of blood, pleading for this cup to be taken from Him. And when His disciples, His closest friends, could not stay awake, He didn’t count his blessings and put on a happy face. He didn’t talk about His miracles, His ministry, that He would rise again in three days or even that His kingdom was about to conquer death itself.

No. He said,”Can’t you even watch with me for an hour?”

Because I believe this is what we are all called to do for one another. Just sit. Listen. Show love. Show mercy. And let the tears flow.

Because weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

And blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

And God himself will turn their mourning into joy. (Jeremiah 31:13)

And while the world constantly presses in, telling the hurting and the grieving to “just smile through it,” I think it is good to remember that His Word tells us that is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Because grief gives you a glimpse of the state of a fallen world. It reminds you that this is not our home. It draws your attention away from yourself and toward Him. And only then can He give you beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Updated to add:

My husband wrote a free e-book about our journey and finding hope in Christ. If you are interested, you can download a copy here: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet.

Free Date Printables for Your Calendar Center

Last week I shared a little about our calendar center and showed how I set up our little weather station. That is by far the favorite of the kids. After all, they get to go outside, rain or shine, and take measurements. I think I’m going to add on a rain gauge, but more on that later. If I actually follow through!

So, next up, the date!

That’s simple enough. Every day that we do our calendar time, we advance the date. The children tend to do this on there own, even on weekends, because it seems to bother them to have the wrong date hanging on the wall all day long. Putting it together really is simple enough, and if all you need are the months and numbers, here they are! You can download your own copy here: Calendar Center Months and Numbers

You will ultimately need to print of the numbers three times (six complete sets). That will give you some extras, but who doesn’t need extra number cards?

If you want more instruction on how to put it together and exactly what I used, read on! And yes, this involves some affiliate links. And although it would be great if everyone threw everything in their carts so I could earn a few cents, I’m really doing it so you know exactly what I’m talking about. Because I didn’t get any of this from amazon. Most of it was just laying around in various places it didn’t belong and the rest I picked up the copy store while I was waiting for my laminating job!

First off, did you notice my dry erase marker holders? Binder clips! That was my own personal moment of genius. Then again, I get excited over pretty little things. Like how well a binder clip holds a dry erase marker right there where I need it but out of reach of little hands who only use them to color themselves, anyway.

Next up, of course, are the months. I just made up a set that fit nicely on a standard poster board, printed them off on card stock and cut them apart. They would need to be smaller if you wanted to add the day of the week, too, but I like them a little bigger so they are easy to read. And trace. And copy.

I love having the months of the year on binder rings. It just helps emphasize the whole cycle of the months thing. And they can totally pull them off the calendar to cheat on their exercises when they forget what month comes next. Or, you know, just to practice. Because that sounds way better than “cheating.” A hole punch obviously works to punch the holes, but I thought I’d throw a shout out for the second coolest thing I’ve ever bought for homeschooling: my Japanese book drill. More about how I use it later, but for the moment, suffice it to say that it is perfect for making neat little holes anywhere on your project. Even the center of your poster board.

There are cheaper ones available if you only want to use it occasionally. Unfortunately, the nice one at amazon only comes with one bit and you probably want the larger, 4mm or even 4.5mm bit for this project. If you like making books, however, this one is definitely worth the price along with all the bits!

And, of course, a hole punch works, too.

To hang these and the numbers up, I just used these nifty little hooks. The best part is, they are removable. So when you get all your hooks arranged neatly on your poster and go to hang everything up and suddenly realize you put one upside down, you can totally fix it without destroying your poster. Not that I’d know from experience. Ahem

For the year, I put four pieces of Velcro on the laminated poster and then put some on the numbers. You could get away with just a few years worth of numbers, but I made a full set. Then we can use this to  practice adding tens and hundreds as I ask, “What will the date be ten years from now? Two hundred years from now? A thousand years from now?” And they can switch out the numbers with the Velcro.

After they put the comma where it belongs in the date, they copy it on the nice space provided. It’s a bit of lined posterboard. This stuff is great if you happen to have it. I have one sheet laminated to practice literacy skills. Once upon a time, it was part of my calendar time, too, so you might see it later! At any rate, this stuff is kind of pricey. You might want to just get some poster board or large paper to cut down to size. The lines are nice, but not necessary. This was given to me when I used to teach and I’ve dragged it through three moves!

The last thing I did was take a bit of leftover laminating film and attach some Velcro to make a pocket. This is a great place to put flash cards. More on the cards I have in mine later, after I convert it to upload!

And that’s it! Everything I used to make the date section of my nifty calendar! Stay tuned for the days of the week next!

Walking through our Calendar Center: The Weather Station

I love setting up a weather center because it encourages young children to observe and measure changes in their environment. From simply learning weather related vocabulary to learning to use a thermometer, anemometer and barometer and finally recording, displaying and interpreting data, it is real science that they can do every day.

The other day, I shared a little about setting up our calendar center for Micah’s big start to kindergarten and this weather station is part of that.

Calendar time

And for anyone who hasn’t done this before, or would just like to see how different people do their calendar center, I thought I’d walk through how I set this up. It isn’t finished, yet, but you can definitely get the idea.

I’ll start with the weather station. Basically, because I loved the weather station at Mr. Printables and there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel!

Calendar Time Weather Center

The only problem I had with the one on Mr. Printable’s site is that there is no way a weather station printed on cardstock would last around here. So I added it to the “to be laminated” pile and had it professionally covered in glossy plastic. That made it a little trickier to put together, but it wasn’t anything a fastener and a little tape couldn’t fix!

I also don’t have a color printer and didn’t see any reason to use that much toner on the weather cards, so I redid them in black and white with some symbols on a few of them. I also used a tracing font so his sister (and later he) could trace the words. Then I just added a bit of Velcro to the back of the cards and to each of the squares on the weather station and voilà! Our very own place to track the weather. The little bit of color that is on the chart is crayon.

Because I want them to practice reading a thermometer, I also made a little weather card. As you can see, right now we just tuck them in a pocket on the big calendar. I’m going to add a couple of hooks to the bottom of the weather station, however, so all things weather related will be together.

Recording weather observations

There’s a space for them to draw the weather at the top and then record the temperature at the bottom. I debated whether to add the F on the card, but decided not to. That way we can use these same cards when we learn about Celsius and they can learn the importance of adding the F or the C after the temperatures they record.

The one thing I still need to add to this is the weather graph. There will be a graph underneath where they will record whether it is sunny, partly cloudy, cloudy, raining or snowing each day. They will just have cards to add to a Velcro strip in order to make a pictograph. At the end of each month, we’ll talk about the graph and turn the information into different types of graphs.

And if you like my nifty little card, I’ll save you like five whole minutes of figuring out how to design it with this totally free printable: Download Weather Card

Next up, printables and instructions for the date section of the calendar!

Kindergarten and moving forward through grief

Micah starts kindergarten in the fall.

Around here, that’s a Big Deal. I’m planning, browsing amazon, ordering . . .  stuff. Stuff that, to a five year old, looks an awful lot like toys. And we’ll even plan a little party for the first official day of school. (Did you know that in Germany, the home of kindergarten, they celebrate the first day of school, not the last? It’s a Big Deal there, too, with cones full of goodies, pictures and all sorts of excitement.)

It also represents a change. Little Micah is growing up. We don’t do preschool here. He plays while the others are doing their lessons. And yes, he has a binder and he has lapbooks for astronomy and history. Some days he chooses to color in them and sometimes he chooses to see how high he can build a block tower. I have a strong respect for the power and importance of play in a child’s life.

But now that Micah is Five Years Old, his world can open up a little more. He can have a box of sand in the house. He isn’t limited to the watercolors when he wants to paint. He can use real tools to explore and manipulate his world.

And the first thing I did was set up his calendar. I don’t know how many of you do calendar time in your home, but it is an engaging way to practice basic math, science and literacy skills daily. I sat down with Micah and went through several websites, looking at the different calendar centers and trying to remember all I did with mine the last time I set this up.

We finally decided on a basic design and I got started modifying and printing and finally dropping it all off at the print shop to be laminated. And as I sat trimming pieces and arranging them on the poster board, I was struck with a strange sort of grief.

I didn’t do any of this for Tiggy. But I didn’t do it for Nisa or Elianna, either. For a very long time, I was just getting through the day. And it’s not that we didn’t do anything. Other than spelling, they’re all on track with where they should be. I just wasn’t in a place where I could take on a project that took daily maintenance. Even the thought of something like that was overwhelming.

The children noticed, too.

Calendar time

“Mom, why didn’t you do anything like this for us?”

“Sweetie, when I would have put this together for you was right after Tiggy died.”

“Oh, yeah.”

I paused. There didn’t seem to be anything else, to say, really. It’s hard, sometimes, to wonder just what toll my grief has taken on their lives. But then again, they were allowed to grieve, too. And they didn’t have to return to school as if nothing had happened and sit through lessons while their mind was occupied with deeper issues. And other than in spelling, I can’t really say they’re behind.

“But you can do it now.”


“Yes. Especially when we start recording the weather and I set up the graphs and the clock, there will be plenty here for you as well. The teacher who taught me how to do this was a fourth grade teacher. It isn’t just for kindergarteners.”

And they seemed satisfied. Especially since the finished product was “way better than anything in the stores.” At least according to them.

If you are interested in a closer look at the different parts of our calendar time, here they are with links or associated printables you would need to complete them (as I post them):

The Weather Station

The date


Road trips with boys

So, over the weekend our 4H group went out to Kearney, Nebraska to see the sandhill crane migration.

sandhill cranes

Somehow, I ended up with all the boys. ALL the boys.

Just let that sink in for a moment. One hundred sixty miles one way with ALL the boys from our 4H group.

Somewhere along the way, they decided to have a story telling competition. The goal was to tell the funniest story that made everyone laugh but everyone would just vote for their own stories. The only solution, it seemed, was to let Micah — my five year old — judge.

Thus it began. And they quickly discovered that any story involving poop or pee made him laugh. You can imagine what happened to the story telling from there. It went straight into the toilet.


After awhile, Asa, my two year old, decided he wanted to join in the fun. And, having gotten the main point of Every. Single. Story. for the last fifty miles, he began shouting.

Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee!

Given the sudden laughter that ensued, I say he won. Hands down.

A lullaby for the soul

Sitting in the rocking chair, holding little Asa. I trace the outline of his sleeping face, stroke his cheek and unwind from the day. A pang of sorrow for the pregnancy so recently lost and overwhelming thankfulness for the warmth of his cheek against my chest.

It is good to have a few moments to reflect. To cherish what is and miss what isn’t so it doesn’t get buried too deep.

Micah walks in and I’m annoyed. I don’t want to be disturbed from this moment. From this moment of bittersweet melancholy mixed with joy that seems to make up motherhood whenever I slow down enough to notice. And he’s supposed to be in bed.

“What do you need, sweetheart,” I try not to sound too annoyed.

“Me made up a song. Me want you to sing it.”

I just want to tell him to go back to bed. I don’t know what game this is that he’s playing with his bedtime, now, but I’m not in the mood. Still, there’s that twinkle in his eye like a child on Christmas morning so I try my best to set aside my irritation.

“How can I sing a song you made up in your head? I don’t even know the words?”

“Ok, me sing it.”

And he begins singing his lullaby in his sweet little voice to the tune of Jesus Loves Me.

Rock your baby back and forth,
If him falls then pick him up,
Nurse him nurse him ’til him full,
Love him love him, and kiss him cheek.

I smile. “I like that song,” I tell him. “That’s a very special lullaby and a very special gift.”

And I love how his eyes get that same twinkle every time he hears me sing his lullaby to little Asa. His gift to my soul.

I had a miscarriage

A week before Christmas, we got quite the surprise. We found out we were pregnant again. It wasn’t planned. I was pretty sure little Asaroo was our last. But every life is a gift and I cherished the thought of the little surprise growing within me.

We talked about our little surprise, our little secret. And the kids just thought we were teasing them about their Christmas presents. But Christmas is a busy time of year and I really didn’t have time to think about it that much. A little tinge of nausea would remind me. I would smile and would it would pass.

For one whole week, I harbored a special little secret. And then it was gone.

When the bleeding first started, I was only a little concerned. It was just a little spotting, really. The second day there was nothing. I was actually told I was having a miscarriage in the ER with my first child in London based on the amount of blood and she’s 17 now. I know that a little blood doesn’t always mean the worst.

But as I waited for my appointment with the nurse, the spotting turned to bleeding, turned to heavy bleeding with clotting. And in the middle of the night, I started to wonder at exactly what point I should go to the ER. I was past the recommendations of the nurse, but it was the middle of the night. I didn’t want to wake the children up and scare them.

So I decided to wait and see if it got worse or better or if anything changed at all. And all the while there was no pain. No cramping. No aches of any kind. At first, I was thankful for that. And then it didn’t seem quite right that a life could pass from this world so quietly and with so little struggle.

In the morning, I was told what I already expected to hear. My hcg levels were actually where they were expected to be, but my progesterone was at 1.3. “Early miscarriage. Come back in two days.”

Now, she wasn’t as callous as that. She was actually quite a nice nurse. But that’s what my soul heard as I hung up the phone.

The waves of nausea started getting worse. What was just a tinge here and there before Christmas was beginning to take over the day. I got a package of snack sticks from the hog we recently had slaughtered because eating helped calm it. I felt more pregnant than I did before the miscarriage.

The return visit to the nurse wasn’t a whole lot of help. My numbers actually came up. “It can take awhile for your body to catch up with what is happening in your uterus. The morning sickness can last several days until the hormone levels start dropping.”

I knew that. In my head, anyway. The rest of me still felt pregnant. First the nausea and now I had to use the restroom. For the second time since arriving at the office.

Thirteen days after the first spot of blood, the bleeding finally stopped. But the nausea remained. No longer a reminder of life, however, it now seems like a cruel joke, dragging this on until I find out whether or not a D&C is needed or if the miscarriage completed on its own.

And as short as its little life was, my baby decided not to pass quite so quietly after all.

My New Year’s Resolution Type Thing

Well, I wouldn’t call it a resolution, exactly. I’ve never been very good at those. It’s like an annual Set-Yourself-Up-For-Failure tradition that I just can’t get into. I could choose a word or a theme or whatever the trend is now, but as cool as they all sound, they all just boil down to one thing: me trying really hard not to be me until I slip into enough of my old habits to just be me again.

So this year, I’m choosing a focus. The last several years, my focus has been chosen for me by the unpredictable and demanding nature of grief. It went from just getting through the day, to just “the next thing,” to improving our animal husbandry in between everything else that goes along with homeschooling six children while running a small hobby farm.

My focus this year is going to be on the garden.

It has limped along since we first moved here, suffering from lack of weeding and lack of fertilizing and lack of any effective means of fighting the annual plague of the squash bug. Each year we make headway. We get a little more produce, but continue to be frustrated with how much more we could get if we had more time and resources to build the soil, tend the crops and keep up with the weeding.

And so far, my Don’t-Call-It-A-Resolution-But-A-Focus thing is going really well. I circled all the seeds I wanted in a seed catalog, made a plan for the garden and put in an order. I even made a colorful little garden map on the computer because then it is really official.

OK, so “up” is actually west on this little map, but it doesn’t really matter. The squares on the bottom represent the 4′ X 4′ raised beds we’re going to make this winter and fill with spent hay, straw, compost, manure and topsoil. I actually have enough room for nine if I leave two feet in between them, but nine didn’t look so tidy on my diagram and diagrams are all about the looks. The kids are each going to grow the salad veggies they like best in their boxes and I’m going to grow peppers in the rest.

In June, we’re supposed to be getting 40 broilers. Now, I don’t really have a good place to put 40 broilers. That’s a lot of chickens and they do a fair amount of damage to pasture if they can’t roam. They do a fair amount of damage to pasture if they can roam because they’re so big and lazy, they don’t generally roam even when they can. But that, combined with this lady, gave me the idea to just put their pen in one section of the garden. They can eat and drink and scratch and poo to their hearts’ content, occasionally catching a bug and devouring every green thing that dares pop up in the pen for the nine weeks we have them. They’ll leave it lightly tilled and heavily fertilized when they move to the freezer and I can follow them with a cover crop.

The next year, everything will move up (west) one section so the squash (the heaviest feeder) will always follow the chickens. In seven years, the entire garden will have benefited from having the fertilizing devotion of chickens for an entire growing season. And without even setting out to do so, that little section will get the seventh year rest mentioned in Leviticus.

OK, so I think that actually says to leave your entire land to rest, but we’re not exactly Torah observant here at Roscommon Acres.

The rest of the garden shall continue to receive the benefit of being cleaned up by the livestock at the end of the season and being covered with a layer of straw to be tilled in each spring. But I’m hoping to see measurable improvements to the soil fertility with the addition of chickens to our crop rotation.

The other part of my plan is the hard part. Weeding. Other than just simply to do it, my big plan this year is to space the garden sections so the tiller can pass between the rows. This may seem like a no-brainer, but . . . well . . . you may be dealing with people who aren’t exactly brainless, but do lack significant experience.

  • We tried a no-till method that the weeds really loved. They’ve been begging to go back to that.
  • We had it spaced for a tiller, but it broke down and the newer, hardier one that would actually sort of break through our hard clay in the summer was too wide for the rows we set.
  • Then we planned to make chicken runs in between the rows so they’d do a lot of the weeding except that we never made the runs and the space we left was too narrow for the tiller.

So this year, I’m just going to till. Till, till and more till. Also, I’m getting all bush varieties of plants so the dumb things stay in their sections and don’t overtake the paths. Because in theory, a big ol’ pumpkin plant can spread out every which way, shading out the weeds and taking care of itself. But in reality, it spreads out every which way, making it impossible to pass through and allowing all manner of weeds to spring up within the protection of its prickly fortress.

As far as the squash bugs . . . ahem. I really don’t know. Last year, my solution was to skip all things curcubit, but I miss them. I’m hoping that lessened their numbers, but I think my solution may include the judicial use of sevin dust. I’ve read that you can start a squash plant indoors and set it out in a pot and wait for them to attack. Then you smother it with sevin dust, wait and do it again. Then you can destroy the bait and plant your crop. It doesn’t sound that promising, but I might give it a try. Who knows? Without the pumpkin leaf forest, maybe picking off the eggs won’t be such an impossible task since I’ll only have bush varieties anyway.

So there we go. I drew up a plan and put it in writing. That makes me like ten times more likely to succeed, right?