reasons to homeschool

Of garbage and dreams

Sitting on the edge of my bed to put on my shoes, I grumble a bit in my spirit. I’m about to load the trunk of the minivan with a week’s worth of garbage. Smelly garbage because the mice have made a sudden, unwelcome return and there are a few mixed in with packaging and dirty diapers and junk mail. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when we moved to the country, but we never thought to even inquire about trash service.

Who in the city really thinks about things like that? It never occurred to me that there might be places where the trash wasn’t picked up. The do-it-yourself country attitude already set our land on fire. Now it is filling my mini-van with garbage. For just $18.50 a month, we get to haul our own garbage into town to dump in the garbage man’s dumpsters.

What a deal. I never even knew how much I wanted a pick-up until now.

So I’m sitting on my bed, in no particular hurry to get my shoes on. It occurs to me that perhaps I should show a little more patience to the children in their dallying, for here I am. Dilly dallying. They’re all outside waiting on me.

I look out my window. At the green grass, the blue sky, the old barns and the farmland beyond. I smile. The view always does that for me. My husband and I are in agreement that someday, someday, when all the bills are paid, the improvements made, the projects finished, someday we’ll knock out this wall and make an enormous picture window.

And then, there’s my son. Just running. Running through knee deep grass, the wind in his face, joy beaming from his every move. Running, and jumping over stands of weeds. Running back to try it again. Running and prancing and shaking his head. Biting at an imaginary bit, he turns and runs and this time clears the weeds and trots around in a large, victorious circle.

It reminds me of when we first bought this property, but were still living at our old house.

“Mom, when we finally move, we probably aren’t going to be so interested in TV, anymore. There’s just too much to do.”

Indeed there is.

Funny how such small things can change your perspective and remind you of why you are where you are. I load the car with the garbage, make a face at the girls in the back seat as I ask if they want their windows open and call my young stallion to the car.

I leave feeling contentment and joy, even at the reality of driving my garbage in to town. It is such a small price to pay for a landscape on which to build our dreams.

reasons to homeschool

Building memories down by the crick

While cutting potatoes for dinner, Mouse popped her head in through the kitchen door.

“Mom, we’re going down to the crick.”

“Have fun,” I replied with a smile.

For nothing says “country” quite like a crick. As Fine Fishing notes in How to fish a crick,

First of all a creek has none of the raucous, vulgar, freewheeling character of a crick. If they were people, creeks would wear tuxedos and amuse themselves with the ballet, opera, and witty conversation; cricks would go around in their undershirts and amuse themselves with the Saturday night fights, taverns, and humorous belching. Creeks would perspire and cricks, sweat. Creeks would smoke pipes; cricks, chew and spit.

Cricks speak to me of swimming holes and fishing holes, tractor tires and sunken cars. They’re home to snappers and leeches and the odd catfish dragged ashore by an eight year old boy with a homemade fishing pole, standing ankle deep in the mud. They bring to mind memories of a childhood not my own, but experienced vicariously through my dad’s many stories growing up on a farm in northern Indiana.

For me, cricks are the stuff of childhood memories. And I’m not even sure my dad has ever used the word. I was raised speaking Standard English, though my linguistic heritage is riddled with words like “warsh” and “youse” that peg my family as northerners. I was always aware of cricks, but I’m not sure when or where I first heard the word actually used.

It is a backwoods sort of word, rural and “wrong.” As is often the case with those who use the vernacular, it’s adherents are stereotyped as uneducated, unrefined and uncouth. As the type that would enjoy a Saturday night fight and chewing tobacco. The educated rural folk are well aware of this. Thus they guard their language and are perfectly capable of saying “creek” when outsiders are about.

Unless they’ve invited your daughter down to the crick. But by then you are perhaps beginning to lose your outsider status.

A couple hours later, Hunter barked and I looked up to see a pickup driving slowly up the hill. I walked up the road to see my daughter and her new friend sitting on the tailgate, laughing and swinging their legs. They were covered in mud from head to toe. Mouse, we soon discovered, even had her first leech.

My daughter, I think, will have plenty of stories to tell.

reasons to homeschool

A dirty little secret about rural life

The first weekend after we moved, we had fourteen people here helping us move and helping us with some necessary remodeling projects. Fourteen people, one toilet and a bucket to flush with so you know we were having loads of fun.

As you might imagine, fourteen people can go through a lot of garbage, even without remodeling and moving. We filled up two dumpsters and a bin that were left in the garage by the previous owners. “No matter,” I thought. I mean, all we needed to do was call and get the trash service started and it would all be taken away.

Except those early days were pretty full and I didn’t really know who to call to make it all be taken away. I kept forgetting to try to figure out who to call. Then I discovered how few businesses bother with any sort of online presence in this county. Then our phone book finally came and I made a few calls.

And found out that the guy who does the trash service for this area doesn’t actually service this area.

This was a new thing for us. So new, we hadn’t even considered that there might not actually be trash service. I mean, who ever heard of that? My whole life, the garbage was something you bagged up, kept in the garage and took to the curb once a week. Sure, if you ever forgot to take it out one week, it got to be a bit of an inconvenience, but it was rarely something we thought much about.

But now, suddenly, we were going on nearly a month and inconvenient was hardly the word I’d use to describe the problem that was developing. In case you even want to imagine what I was beginning to feel like, Shel Silverstein actually put it rather well in verse.

…And so it piled up to the ceiling:
Coffee grounds, potato peelings,
Brown bananas and rotten peas,
Chunks of sour cottage cheese.
It filled the can, it covered the floor,
It cracked the windows and blocked the door… (Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, by Shel Silverstein)

Fortunately, it was all occurring in our dumpster on the back porch, but that wasn’t going to last forever. I began thinking about trash in a whole new way. Buy a pizza and you are left with a box, a cardboard circle and a piece of plastic. Buy apples and you are left with a plastic bag and plastic tie. Buy milk and you are left with a plastic jug. Eventually, the trash was going to find the rim of the dumpsters, even the new ones my husband added on, the lids weren’t going to snap closed and we were going to have a bit of a problem, one you don’t want to have when you are already on unsteady terms with the local wildlife.

The neighbor lady who buried her trash in the backyard where we used to live was starting to seem not quite so odd. It was, after all, becoming rather tempting.

To be continued….

Oh yes, stay tuned for the next exciting installment, In Which My Husband Tries to Burn Down the County.

And thankfully, that image is NOT from my backyard. It is a landfill in Australia, courtesy of Wikipedia.

reasons to homeschool

In which I beat off a coyote with a box of Rice Chex

It’s late at night and my husband calls to me from the front door.

They’re here.

Whose here?

The coyotes. Just on the other side of the garage.

I’m busy with the children and not that interested in hearing the coyotes yip and howl. I’ve heard it enough. I have my doubts about their proximity, knowing that they can sound an awful lot closer than they really are. But I am finally coaxed out the door.

Standing in the silence, I ask if he tried to scare the coyotes or just let them be.

Yeah, I banged on the garage and then one howled.

A chill ran up my spine. Because that sounded like a challenge. The yipping that is starting up on the other side of the tree line is one thing. The pack is assembling, quarreling, getting ready to hunt. The howling, however, is reserved for the alpha male asserting his ownership of the territory. The question is, who was the howl directed at? My husband? Our dogs? Or the pack?

One thing is for sure. They are close, and banging on the garage wasn’t doing much to scare them off. We retreat into the safety of the house until morning. An outing with the dog reveals just how close the coyote my husband heard came. A single coyote trotted up along the hedge that marks the edge of our property.

At the road, it turned. It trotted up our drive. It walked in a circle near the garage. It started to head around the back of the garage before turning back toward the road and disappearing in the ditch on the other side.

A little too close for comfort. It isn’t our first encounter with this pack, but they gave us a month of peace. A month of not letting us know they were here, anyway. Now what did they want? Were they just passing through, or were they back, prepared for a fight? They are known to actively lure dogs away, back to the pack where they are disposed of. And the coyotes and I both know my dogs will give chase.

So again I’m uneasy. That we share this land with wild creatures does not scare me. That wild things lurk in the dark and watch me even while I am unaware of their presence makes me only a little nervous. But that we have a wild predator that seems so willing to allow itself to be seen, seems to challenge us even, that I find unnerving.

But you want to hear the part where I attack, don’t you? Trust me, that all is important to the story. The story just isn’t the same without the events leading up to it.

Because you see, this all happened on a Wednesday and Wednesday is AWANAs. On this particular Wednesday, we got home late because I had stopped at WalMart for some groceries. So we get home, I let Hunter out of the chicken coop, lock it up and get the kids and groceries in the house. Teeth brushed, pajamas on, children in bed. Catch up on some email, write a post, Twitter. By now, it’s getting very late, but I spy a bag of groceries on the kitchen floor.

Aye, that too yet. I begin to put them away, but it sure seems like less than it was in the store. Did I really spend so much on so few items? It’s one in the morning and I realize I never got the bags out of the back seat of the car.

I step out on the porch and the coyote chorus begins immediately. I hesitate. Not only are they close, but they started the moment I opened the door. I know they weren’t calling when I was in the house. They’re too close. Too loud. I would have heard it. Coincidence? Or were they “talking” to me? Or about me? Was I again flanked like my husband the night before?

Twenty steps to the car. I stop to look around. I’m surrounded mostly by open ground, but the other side of the car is in a dark shadow. I’m acutely aware of that fact as I open the car door and reach in to turn on the light. And in that moment, as I reach across the seat with my back turned to the darkness, I feel vulnerable. I can’t turn around fast enough.

But nothing is there. With the lights on, it is so much easier to tell myself I’m imagining things. That I imagined the rustle. That I’m imagining danger in the sudden silence of the coyote pack, so vociferous only moments before.

I reach back into the car, over the seat to get the bags. Again, I feel vulnerable. With my back to the darkness, the light does not help. Another shiver runs up my spine and I turn around.

But nothing is there. I grab the bags, close the door and turn toward the house.

A rustle. I. Did. Not. Imagine. That. My grip tightens on my bags as another rustle is accompanied by a tug at the bag in my right hand. My heart and time seem to stand still as I spin around, becoming suddenly aware that the only thing in the bag I’m about to swing is a box of Rice Chex.

Fortunately for me, that was enough. It only took one wallop with the cereal for that bush to think better of messing with me and release my groceries. But I ran in the house anyway, having had enough of the wild things for one night, bushes included.

reasons to homeschool

Adjusting to a new life rhythm

One of the most thought-provoking things I have read in a long time comes from young Sam Gribley of My Side of the Mountain.  Surviving in the Catskill Mountains by hunting and gathering, he muses about how you don’t really notice the weather until you live in it.  Even then, long before this move, before our chickens, before my first real garden, I began thinking how irrelevant the weather has become in modern life.

Some of it is because of technology.  The light bulb has decreased our dependence on the sun, heat and air conditioning has allowed us to regulate our immediate environment despite what nature has in store for us, and the local news has relieved us of the need for learning to read the wind and the clouds.

Some of it is because of our changing economy.  My grandfather was a farmer and to the day he died he stayed up to watch the weather and then went to bed.  An agricultural society depends on the sun and the rain for its daily survival.  We notice droughts when the city imposes water restrictions and we are no longer allowed to water the lawn or wash our cars.  We notice floods when neighborhoods are evacuated.  But for the most part, awareness of the year’s rainfall remains on the periphery of our knowledge, something stored away for small talk in the checkout aisle but rarely personal or meaningful.

The sun itself has lost its significance, for we now schedule our days by the ticking of a clock rather than the rising and setting of the sun.  Surrounded by technology telling us the time, we no longer need to look at the sky to see that it is getting late.

When we moved out here, I knew we were in for many changes.  That the very rhythm of our lives would be altered.  Our work would no longer fall neatly into a planned schedule, looking much the same from day to day, week to week, month to month.  Instead, spring would bring planting and (hopefully) kidding.  Summer would bring weeding and fertilizing and fresh pasture for the animals.  Fall would bring the harvest.  And winter would bring some rest and time for all that we just couldn’t get to earlier in the year.

Now, however, I am aware of the approaching dusk.  I watch the sky as the sun sinks lower on the horizon.  The afternoon turns to early evening, the shadows lengthen and it does not matter what I am doing, it is time to prepare for the coming of night.  Dishes will be left, dinner held, games paused because we are now in a race with the sun.  Before the light changes, before the color of the sky deepens and before the sky is painted with fire, I must catch the cat, bring in the dogs and lock up the chickens.  The coming of night brings not only the close of day, but danger as well.

Coyotes are foremost on my mind, for ours seem bold.  They are a threat to the chickens, the dogs, the cat and even the children.  But we also have bobcats, cougars, foxes and a seemingly endless list of animals that would love to prey on our chickens.  And almost all of them are called out of their sleep by the setting of the sun.

Driving home from Lincoln, I realize I misjudged how long the various errands would take.  I pull into the drive with an odd sense of urgency as I give instructions to get the children and shopping in as quickly as possible.  The last rays of the sun disappear behind the trees as I scoop up the cat on the way back from the chicken coop.  Hunter turns and strains against the leash, looking back across the cornfield toward the treeline that marks the river.  A low growl catches in his throat and I turn to look.  The trees look ominous.  Like a dark hole cut out of a blackening sky.

I quicken my step toward the house.  Hunter comes along, but his ears are erect, his tail held high.  He is on full alert, staring into the enveloping darkness.  I don’t know what he perceives, but I trust his senses and appreciate his presence.

Inside, I turn the lock, release the dog and smile at the children.  We’re home.  We’re safe.  We’re in for the night.