I woke up at 4:30 am this morning to bake bread. Yes, you read that right. I know. I should probably get a metal or something. Cue the music!
What’s that? People wake up at 4:30am every day to go to work? Psh. Pay no mind to facts such as that.
Truth be told, I get up at 4:30 am to bake bread… but not just to bake bread. I also get up at 4:30 am to sit in peace and quiet while I enjoy my first cup of coffee. Sometimes I’ll wash a few dishes. Sometimes I’ll light a few candles and read. Sometimes I’ll just sit in silence and pick the dirt out from under my nails.
What? I’m a farmer. I can’t help it. Dirt is part of the job.
This week it was necessary to start out with early morning quiet time because I don’t even know what’s happening with my life. All of a sudden, there’s piano recitals and Thanksgiving grocery lists and the threat of snow lingering over the horizon. I won’t pretend like we’re not seriously behind schedule on the farm – we totally are. We always are.
There is hay storage and an additional corral to build before the deep freeze and snowfall arrive. It sounds ridiculous to say it snuck up on us (it does arrive at the same time every year), but it did. I’m shocked it’s already here.
So while I’m inside trying to keep the fires lit and the oven full, Stu will begin the week by driving to the lumber yard and piling up enough timbers to frame in a large new addition to the ‘barn’. Hey kids! Guess what we’re doing for school today? Geometry! Watch Dad build some trusses…
I’m totally not kidding about that. This week we’ll cover building, gardening, baking, butchering, and more. Lucky kids.
I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m just assertively walking from room to room – acting like I know what’s happening. The truth is I’m just drinking a lot of coffee and hot chocolate and folding laundry because it makes me feel like I’ve actually accomplished something.
Today’s the day to sink my heels in and finally get the potager properly put to sleep. That will be my grand contribution to the world. I’ll recruit the children to use the clippers I never allow them to play with – they can certainly help me deadhead flowers long-gone.
I’ll also recruit them to net the dozen rogue chickens that are wandering around the farm and laying their eggs God-knows-where. They’ve started to make dirt baths where I’ve planted bulbs and you know homey-ain’t-playing-that-game.
Rogue chickens? A cow to milk in freezing temperatures? A large garden to mulch and dig? A house to decorate? A kitchen to prep for a feast next week? A child’s birthday sandwiched somewhere in there? A new building? A dozen roosters, a dozen ducks, and four lambs to prepare for the table?
I got this. I totally got this. In fact, I love it.
I’ll assume I’m like a diamond. Shaped by the pressure. Yep, that’s it. A diamond. Duh.
A diamond who has a lot of dishes to wash and a lot of snow clothes to dig out of the basement.
Though it may have seemed quiet on the blog these past few weeks, always remember this: I’m a duck. Even though all may appear smooth on the surface, underneath, I’m always paddling like mad. It’s a gift and a curse. I’m certainly not short of ideas and inspiration to bring them into fruition. It’s part of what makes this life so fun for me – I’m forever its student and the ideas are limitless.
But over the last year, one idea has continued to stick with me while others have come and gone. The idea of community. I enjoy knowing peoples names and learning about them. I enjoy welcoming them intimately into our lives and into our home. I enjoy learning from them and teaching them what I know. I love when you leave comments here in this virtual world and share your heart and dreams with me. Humans do best when we’re there to sharpen and learn from one another and even though this is “life on the internet”, I believe the truth still stands. We need one another.
(Heck, I’ve needed you since Georgia was born. Hence the reason I started this blog almost a decade ago.)
But how can you create community in a digital world? When there are thousands and thousands of people coming to and from on the blog each month, how can we know and be known?
I took this struggle to a few friends in hopes they could shed light on the situation for me. How could I create a tangible community from a digital platform? Physically. How could I be present with people physically?
Show up at your houses randomly? Hardly.
Fly around the country for meetups where I could hug you and tell you how much I value you as a reader? Getting closer.
Send you things that were created and designed for you so that you could know I’m a real person, and I could know that you’re a real person? Bingo, baby.
And thus was planted the seed of The Elliott Homestead: Cooking Community.
Because I love you. And I love cooking. And recipes seem to be what brings so many of you back to our little space here.
This community is not like most in that it’s two-sided. On one side, we will still engage with one another digitally. After all, that’s how we met. But in addition to our online engagement, as part of our Cooking Community, you will also be sent a package of recipes each month in the mail. Yes, the physical snail-mail. Signed, sealed, and delivered by yours truly.
– Monthly videos where I guide you through the recipes and teach techniques
– Monthly Q&A calls with yours truly where I can answer your questions and get to know you better
– A community of homecooks (that are just like you!) via our VIP EXCLUSIVE Facebook Group
– All past recipes and videos via a password protected part of the blog
But why is this necessary? Why even bother? Well, do you remember the pilot we shot for Food Network last year? Even though I went to bat for heirloom grains, natural sweeteners, grass-fed meats, sourdough, ferments, and whole foods, it wasn’t realized. Turns out, the world wasn’t quite ready for eliminating convenience foods and the white sugar and flour we cling to in desperation.
But you are. Because you’re here (you’re here, right?). And because you know that a life full of these goodies is a sweet life indeed.
Preparing whole foods doesn’t have to be complicated. GUESS WHAT? It doesn’t have to be expensive either. These recipes will be full of ingredients that you can get at your local grocery store – yes, even WalMart.
The recipes will be whole-foods based and brand new. Each month you will be sent five new recipes that will be a mix of main dishes, side dishes, soups, salads, condiments, desserts, beverages, and breads. The recipes will include meat, whole grains, and dairy, along with loads of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
More than anything, I’m excited to get to know you all more intimately. I’m excited that a physical piece of me will be with you in your kitchen and that as we all cook through the recipes for the month, we will be able to engage with one another in a more meaningful way.
I want my Cooking Community members to be like family members and have a little piece of me that I’m not able to offer to the entire online world. I can’t be there intimately for everyone on the internet, but I can be there intimately for our community. It is my great pleasure to do that.
We’re back at it this “homeschooling thing”. And dare I say, this may be the first year I actually have any sort of clue what I’m doing?
I probably shouldn’t confess that considering I am my child’s teacher, but heck man, it’s the truth. Years ago I sat wide-eyed, paralyzed in fear, at the idea of having my children at home with me all day, every day. Overcome with dread at the idea of it all, I called a listening ear to vent before she offered some incredibly practical advice for me:
“Focus on raising the type of children you want to be around. The rest will come.”
I’ve given much thought, prayer, and study to the idea of education (what is it? who is for? what should it look like? what’s the point of it all?) these past few years. Coupled with our wonderful Classical Conversations community, and focusing on raising children I enjoy being around, dare I confess how excited I am? And how much fun I’m having?
I’m LOVING THIS.
Part of the joy in our homeschooling is that it’s family specific. What’s valuable to us? What do we want them to learn? What do we want to focus on? How do we want to shape our school time? What freedom there is in that! This is a food, garden, and farming centered blog, but allow me to spill my guts on our homeschooling routine anyway, please?
It’s worth noting, before school each day, I make the kids do chores and tend to the family and the farm. They help feed animals, clear the table, put away clean dishes, do laundry, make beds, clean their bedrooms, brush hair and teeth, and put on clean clothes. Classical music and a diffuser of essential oils certainly help the attitudes.
Our Current Curriculum:
1. We are a part of a Classical Conversations community. This year, we’re working through Cycle 1:
– Ancient Empires. There are three cycles total and that are continually repeated. Our Classical Conversations memory work and activities cover:
– Geography: We memorize geography locations to song and spend time tracing maps, studying about the civilizations that have lived there, molding and painting salt dough maps of the locations, etc.
– Latin: We memorize words and declensions to song each week so they can better understand grammar and language.
– English: We memorize English facts (ie: What is a preposition?) to song.
– History Timeline: We memorize the entire history of the world to song (ie: Creation and the fall, The Flood and the Tower of Babel, Mesopotamia and Sumer, Egyptians…) I’ll be honest – it’s my favorite song to sing. Even the 4 year old knows it.
– Math: Based on the principles of memory work, the kids learn their “skip counting” and math facts to song as well.
– Science: I’m not “big” on science curriculum because we live on a working farm and our environment is like a giant science laboratory, but I do have the kids memorize science facts each week to song (ie: What are the classifications of living things?).
2. We teach our children to read and write using Explode the Code books. It’s worked well for both Georgia and Owen thus far and is simple to implement for the “normal” Mom.
3. Handwriting is practiced by writing a sentence or two each day on a posterboard. The kids present these posterboards at our community day (Friday) in front of their peers which also gives them public-speaking exposure. I allow them to pick a subject (ie: spiders) and then they’ll draw pictures and write full sentences about them. At this point, I write out the sentences and then they copy them to ensure they’re punctuated and spelled correctly. After they can write normal confidently, we “upgrade” to cursive using free worksheets you can download online.
4. Art and History are studied extensively because frankly, I love both subjects. We choose an artist every two weeks and read articles, imitate art, and watch videos to understand them better. Monet is still our favorite (go figure).
5. Math is Eureka Math, which can be printed out and worked through.
6. Second Language: French is without a doubt my favorite subject. We’ve joined up with a fellow homeschooling family and each Wednesday we gather around our kitchen table to speak French together (immersion style). I don’t speak French (though I’m learning!) and have found TalkBox.mom subscription boxes and books to be my very favorite resource.
7. Music: Piano, baby. Sorry kids. I’m willing to be the mean Mom who forces her kids to play piano because music is a language all it’s own and learning to read it is a lifelong gift that I’m forcing them to accept. Once they can read, they’re put into lessons with a local teacher.
I know it sounds like a lot. But at this stage, it’s about ten minutes of “lesson” planning the night before and three hours (give or take) each day. A year ago, the idea of covering this amount would’ve floored me. But as with all things parenting, it’s a progression that starts slow and grows each year. It’s taken me three years to get this far. So be gentle on yourself.
The schoolroom isn’t finished (is anything ever?) as we save up to replace the old window and glass door, but for the first time in our three years of homeschooling, we have a proper space to facilitate the day – which is good timing, considering Georgia and Owen are in need of proper schooling this year. Hear the cry of every homeschooling mom: “I’ve been pregnant or nursing for the last seventeen million years and it always interrupts the school year.” But not this year! No, sir. Time and effort are put into planning the day’s events and all the children participate, according to their skill level. Stuart and I, by God’s great mercy, are able to tag-team teaching – each taking subjects that either interest us or come more naturally than others.
Guess who has two thumbs and doesn’t like teaching math? (*This girl*)
If you feel as if I’ve been quietly absent from the blogosphere, you’d be correct. I simply cannot fight the urge to play outdoors when the weather is this crisp and frankly, spectacular. It’s been in the high sixties here this past week and the air is crisp – the long shadows undeniably speak of the autumn that is but a few days away.
I’ve spent time out in the potager, with many “helpers” at my feet, pulling out chicken-trampled-tomato plants, squash vines that have long been lost to bugs, and flowers that are no longer adding beauty to the gardens. There is still much to be enjoyed from the slowly decaying beds and truth be told, I find the dried echinacea heads, floppy sunflowers, dried corn stalks, and bolted celery plants as equally thrilling as a perfect June rose. Different, most certainly, but uniquely beautiful to be sure.
With a honey latte in hand, I’ve been working my way from bed to bed. Some plants are mulched, others are pruned, and yet others are thrown to the compost pile. A stash of plastic baggies hides in my waist-apron for collecting seeds from the snapdragons, cosmos, hollyhocks, calendula, morning glory, and foxgloves.
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting with a friend who was up vacationing with her husband. It was the first time we’d seen each other in over two years and the fellowship was like a drink of cold water on a hot summer day.
After a long and richly satisfying meal, we walked the gardens together and spent some time dissecting the “rules” that are put on gardeners. She chuckled at the zucchini planted next to the morning glory, the rosemary that had been tucked in amongst the roses and sedum. She’d been taught, as many English gardeners are, to keep herbs, vegetables, and flowers separately. Why? I’ve no idea. Perhaps for the sake of order and organization? Luckily for my gardens, as many others who follow a more French-style of potager gardening, all plants are intermingled. Grapes sit next to foxgloves, tomatoes next to zinnias, and currents amongst the lavender. In the beginning stages of planning her new garden, she was intrigued by the idea that the gardens could all be so casually (yet intentionally) married together.
The main question she had, and many other readers have as well, is consistent: where do you get your inspiration?
Lord knows I can’t inspire myself. I’ve tried. But my coffee tables and bookshelves are weighted by authors and photographers who have impacted Le Chalet with their work. Often, when I feel creatively dry or uncertain about a particular area of the gardens, I head to these resources for help.
I hope they’ll come to give you great confidence in your gardens as well.
In smalls ways, gardening is a bit of a disease. Once contracted, it begins to spread and there simply is no cure other than to dig your fingers deep into the soil and begin to work. In fact, I’m slowly coming to the realization that my “hobby” of gardening may very well be spreading into the realm of obsession. I doubt I will ever tire of studying the Great Artist whilst (is whilst still a word? it should be) pruning roses.
I enjoy each phase of the garden but perhaps mostly this one. The greatest work is behind us now and the gardens have given up what they will. In spite of all their offerings, they still will continue to give us beauty for the remaining frost-free days (and some plants and flowers even a bit after that).
May your last few weeks of gardening be inspired as you enjoy what is left and plan for what is still to come!
(PS: My plans for the near future include a small-scale-Monet-style pond).