Ten Things I Would Like to Learn How to Do

So, now that I’ve written on my blog for five whole days in a row, I suddenly have actual readers. To introduce myself, I thought I’d share a few things I would like to learn how to do. Plus, it almost fits with the challenge’s prompt for today.

1.  How to sew. Pretty much anything. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard, but sewing machines and I just don’t seem to get along. I can’t make it go in a straight line which pretty much makes any project impossible.

2.  How to garden. I’m finally to the point that the garden produces enough to pay for itself, but its biggest product remains weeds. To look at it now, you wouldn’t know there was anything else. I’m over the whole mulching thing. Next year, it’s straight rows with enough space for the tiller to go through. Please no one else send me any links to that Back to Eden guy. Apparently, I’m not him. Mulching my garden results in nothing but grass that I can’t weed because the hoe doesn’t go through the straw, and I only have so much patience for crawling around on my hands and knees through 3000 square feet of garden. The rows in between where the tiller goes are nice and clear, though.

3.  How to make soap. I got as far as ordering everything I needed to start. A general lack of time combined with the fear of dumping an entire pot of lye on myself has kept it all neatly in the box it all came in, however.

4.  Ride the horse. We’ve had him for a year. I’ve been on him twice. Actually, maybe I really just wish I wanted to ride the horse. He scares me. Not because he’s naughty or anything. It’s the way he just stands there, waiting for me to tell him what to do. It’s not like being on a trail horse that goes where it goes and stops when it gets home. The only hard part is getting them to move in the first place. Scout isn’t like that. He stands there, alert and ready to go and I feel all this power and energy under the saddle and I’m pretty sure that I’ll kill us both.

5.  Drive the tractor. It’s sort of silly that I have to wait for my husband to get home to till and plow. Even my daughter knows how to drive the tractor, she just isn’t allowed to till or plow, yet.

6.  How to play an instrument. Maybe that’s why I’m so excited that my daughter was able to learn guitar, that my son is learning saxophone and that my two younger daughters are learning to read music with their recorders. I played trumpet for awhile in school, but I never really liked it. And I don’t even remember how to read music.

7.  How to use my E600 without getting glue all over my fingers. This is like the most popular glue in jewelry making so it has to be me, but I always get more on me than in the little end caps for my bracelets.

8.  How to knit. I have a box full of knitting needles. I have several books of directions with simple patterns. I even tried to make a baby blanket, once. It was not the peaceful, grandmotherly experience I would have liked it to be. It looked less like a contented old woman rocking in her rocking chair while knitting booties for every one she knew and more like a neurotic crazy woman doing battle against harmless cotton yarn with flimsy aluminum spikes. I finished it and it looked OK . . . except for the fact that the end shape was more trapezoidal than rectangular.

9.  How to quilt. Unfortunately, being able to sew is kind of a prerequisite.

10.  How to take pictures. I have a decent enough camera that takes decent enough pictures. I’m not going for anything fancy with SLR lenses or anything. Just clear shots of the few things I try to take pictures of. “They” tell me that blogs are more inviting with nice images. Y’all are pretty much stuck with my word pictures because I write far better than I photopraph.

So, what would you like to learn? Please share! And visit Blogher’s round up of posts for more about their theme, “Know.”

To know a thing

For the first time since Tiggy died, I am actually looking forward to this school year. It was such a long time before I could even look forward to anything that I remember the moment. The time I said, “I’m looking forward to . . . ” and meant it. Even though it was followed by a wave of grief.

The first year, I think, my plans were based on just getting through the day. The next fifteen minutes, even. Then it was on healing. And finally, consistency. That sense of wonder and adventure and curiosity about the world had been lost.

But I have some of my energy back. Some of my vision. And I want some piece of that enthusiasm back in our day to day approach to learning, so I’ve been reflecting on why we homeschool to begin with. What is knowledge? How do children learn? How do you come to know a thing? Especially deeply?

And as is so often the case, I stumbled across the answer while looking for something else. It was even something I wrote about encouraging wonder in my children.

To know a thing, we must first observe it. Patiently, frequently, thoughtfully.

~ Me, Dana Hanley, because who doesn’t want to quote themselves?

It was a bit of a jolt to see that written there. My own words, showing how far we have drifted in these tumultuous seas of grief.

But it’s a new year, and I’m looking forward to getting some of that back.

How do you instill wonder in your own children or students?

(I am participating in BlogHer’s challenge to blog every day in August. It’s not too late to join! If you got here expecting me to talk about being an expert, I wrote about that Saturday. Because I’m a rebel like that. Or directionally challenged.)

The Treasure of Experience

It seems to me, we have packaged up and bubble wrapped the world. I remember hours spent outdoors, playing in a wooded area near our house, splashing in an old creek and playing with the tubifex worms which lived there. Since these can be a sign of extreme pollution, it probably wasn’t a creek we should have been playing in. There are real concerns with turning a child out until the street lights come on, but there is a cost to that measure of safety as well.

I tend to plan experiences for my children which meet my educational objectives and do not always appreciate the time they spend on their own. Last week, we learned about emus. We read about them, listened to a song about them and watched some video of them. We’ve watched the emu at the zoo pace along the fence, occasionally bellowing out her call that is more felt than heard. We know about emus.

fox kitWe don’t know as much about fox kits, however. We haven’t studied them, haven’t seen too many shows about them and there aren’t any at the zoo. But last summer, we watched three kits emerge from a den along the side of the road. They were small, a bit awkward and curious. Having lived all their lives along the side of the road, they were not the least bit concerned about the traffic. The blaring of the train horn did not phase them. Rolling down my window did.

It was only a moment. But my children were captivated. All of their senses were activated, including that one sense that cannot be activated according to plan: the sense of wonder. Every time we drove by, they would strain against their seat belts to try to catch another glimpse. We wondered where the parents were, and whether they ever ambled through our yard. We don’t know much about fox kits, but we know them. They grew up near us.

There is a subtle but important difference between knowing about a thing and knowing a thing. Knowing about it relies on facts and perhaps some objective analysis. It happens in the brain and is distant and removed from the self.

To know a thing, on the other hand, invokes the senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch work together to introduce you to the subject. It is deeply personal.

I cannot create such experiences in my children. They are about as easy to plan as those “teachable moments.” But I can learn to recognize their importance and place appropriate value on them when they occur. While a good homeschool mom might have taken more advantage of our experience with the fox kits to study more about them, I also know that there was value in that moment that cannot be replaced by an encyclopedia of information about foxes.

And I look forward to seeing their impressions of Cinnabar when we get to reading that later in the year.

To Know a Thing
by Eleanore Kosydar

look closely:
what do you see?

green fronds unfolding,
the way they curl? do you hear
the green unfolding? see sun vibrate
in greenness, Van Gogh vibrations unfurl?

We know a thing best by loving it:

Tiny worlds framed in dew drops; sunlight
refracted by rain…tender new ferns
coiling sweetly; echoes of dawn
in shiny droplets of dew.

Look closer.
What do you see?

I am not an expert

At anything.


I decided to do this blog every day in August thing out of the blue after not posting for SIX WHOLE MONTHS and the very first prompt has to be something I have zero connection wtih.

Because I am NOT an expert.

I tried to toy around with some things I’m good at. I like to write. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. But an expert? Hardly. I read books like Click Clack Moo or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The Chronicles of Narnia and I think, “Wow. I wish I wrote that.”

But I didn’t. And I never will. In fact, any attempt to write whimsical barnyard tales for children, sci-fi comedy or fantasy will forever be tainted by the book I can’t write. And those authors’ thoughts and phrases would bleed onto the page until I gave up.

Then I tried to take a bit of a cop out. How about me? I could be an expert in myself. Except, seriously? Whoever thought I’d be here, on some hobby farmstead in Nebraska milking cows, planning sheep breeding, fighting weeds in a massive garden and dreaming up more ways to anchor myself here, to this land. And making sure I can never again leave for more than 12 hours because the horses need fed and the poultry need watered and the cows need milked and someone needs to let the dog out.

I wanted to travel. And write. Have intellectually stimulating conversation about politics and art over coffee and wrestle with just the right words to describe the way the mist rolls over the sheep grazing on the dike on the coast of the North Sea. I wanted to travel and write and teach and explore and bind myself to ideas but not to places.

Back in kindergarten — KINDERGARTEN! — I wanted to marry a farmer and milk the cows and feed the chickens. But what does a KINDERGARTNER know about the kind of commitment and sacrifice that takes? What does a kindergartner know about anything?

Thing is, I’ve never aspired to be an expert in anything. I’m more of a generalist by nature. I know a little about a lot of things. And some things I even know well enough to know my knowledge barely scratches the surface.

Because knowledge is like that. It humbles you.

I mean, I can’t even be an expert at something simple like reading the directions. Or I would have noticed that this topic was actually for Monday because weekends are for free writing. But I’ve done gone ahead and written my very first post in six months and I’m not about to try for two. Especially not at, ahem, 3:30 in the morning.

So here it. My one kernel of wisdom: Knowledge is humbling.

Frozen gifts

So, on New Year’s Eve, the kids and I drove all the way out to Creston, IA to watch Frozen with my husband. It’s about the beautiful princess Elsa who has the weird (and somewhat useless) power to freeze things. Once I got over that, I enjoyed the movie. And the poor princess locked away in her room as her powers grew got me thinking about how we treat giftedness in this country.


Sheer numbers alone force teachers to “teach to the middle.” Students who perform significantly above or below average are difficult to deal with in the classroom environment. Thanks to testing requirements, there are a number of services available to lower performing students. And while gifted and talented programs available at many schools may provide some much needed enrichment, gifted students often have a difficult time fitting in.

Some eventually drop out.

But then, you don’t even need to be gifted to feel locked away in a classroom. I have nothing against the idea of public school. I went to public school. I did well. I went on to become a public school teacher. But it seems that over the years, school has been taking over more and more of our children’s lives. There is increasing pressure to increase instructional time through lengthened school days and more of them. Recess is being taken away. More focus is being put on math and reading in the early grades to the detriment of everything else. And to prepare for the all important testing, more and more homework is being handed out.

And I wonder how much time the average student has to really notice the world around them. To explore. To think. To daydream. To get bored enough to come up with something to do . . . and to start recognizing his own interests and talents.

How many are frozen by the expectations of a single standardized test given to all students as a measure of academic achievement?

And it isn’t just our schools. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I joined a Christian homeschool support forum and made a comment about my daughter’s budding leadership abilities and not being sure how to direct that. A number of women jumped on the thread warning me to “nip that in the bud.” Strong girls, I learned, are a parenting challenge. Not because you have to guide them with any particular skill, but because you have to break that strength. Apparently, submission and strength are mutually exclusive concepts.

And with all the strong women of the Bible . . . and all the strong women leaders of the Bible . . . the discussion mostly left me wondering if we all read the same book.

And it left me concerned for these girls whose God-given gifts and talents were frozen by an ideology that allowed only for a very narrow view of what it meant to be a woman.

Conceal, don’t feel, never let them know . . .

How many of our children can relate to Elsa’s song? And how many will feel driven off into the cold before they can finally let it go?