I have a favorite habit right now: reading my scriptures in my bed when I first wake up. This is a great habit for several reasons – 1. It starts my day off on a really great note. 2. I am actually getting through the Book of Mormon (I started in March and I plan on finishing it tomorrow!!!) 3. It's a gentle way to wake up, even when I find myself surrounded by kids!
Yes, I was awakened by Elizabeth snuggling into my bed. She was followed by her brother a few minutes later; he didn't want to miss anything! Eventually I shewed them out so I could read in peace. They ran off to dress, clean their rooms, and do assorted chores (Actually only the latter was truly accomplished – Elizabeth managed to wear next to nothing clear until one minute before we walked out the door). After I got up and dressed I went to make breakfast. In the midst of my cooking the phone rang. No surprise, it was William, wondering how I was and what my plans for the day were. This is becoming more and more of a daily occurrence, although I feel badly when I'm not even near heading out the door yet (I probably shouldn't feel that way, he probably doesn't even care, and I certainly don't need to be there super early every day). We chat for a minute, I tell him that I should be there in about an hour. He tells me that he will come out around noon – he has something he wants to show me. That sounds exciting, I put some speed on those eggs.
After breakfast the kids put their school stuff in their bags. We end up doing most of their school work at the farm these days – my hours are long and unpredictable, so they generally have a set amount of work that is their minimum to accomplish daily (an hour or two of reading, a set of Saxon math, sometimes some writing) so that if we don't get more time I will feel like they have still gotten in a good day's work. This week, however, I am trying to change it up a little and make school fun (ask either of them, it usually isn't). I have created a number of cards with certain activities on them (ie: identify 5 trees and tell 3 things about each of them; write a story about a dog, a gumball, the color orange, and being lost; estimate how many plants are in the wide radish row; read a book with a red cover). Each card has a number on the back from 1-5 relating to level of difficulty and work involved. They kids are charged to get 100 points this week, an average of 20 per day. So far they are enjoying it, and aren't even balking at writing the cards they have chosen in their school notebooks. I've seen some good work this week out of them, especially the story David wrote yesterday.
So we head out for our day. It's about 15 minutes to the farm from our house, a distance I both dislike and enjoy simultaneously. I wish we were closer because I often find I would like or need to go home at some point in the day but need to return later and I dislike all the gas money spent on travel. I do enjoy driving, however, and the roads we traverse are very picturesque. Lately we have taken to listening to books on tape while we drive, and right now we are immersed in the third book of the 39 Clues series. The second the car is on the kids are clamoring for the story. It's a good one, and sometimes the trip to the farm is way too short.
On arriving at the farm I park the car along the fence and hop out to get right to work. The kids stay in the car most days while they do their work. After ascertaining where the irrigation is I adjust it for the morning and check on a few rows that are really starting to grow. It is exciting to see all of this growth around me and know that I personally had a large hand in what I see. The array of growth is impressive and I feel really proud of all of my hard work. I settle in to do some daily weeding when a white truck pulls up. It's William much earlier than I was expecting him. He has brought the clamps I requested and we work together to finish the irrigation lines to a few herb rows. Then we wander into the propagation house, where he proudly shows me some herb bowls he created last night. They are very attractive and look like they were fun to create. William shows me how he did them, twice, then asks me to teach him how. This method of learning to do things sometimes feels scary but once I was sure he wouldn't bite my head off, I find that it works very well. William tends to be really patient, whispering instructions while I “teach” if I forget them. Pretty soon I'm a pro, too, and together we create 25 more pots.
Vernie pulls up and with a wave drops off the three youngest children. She is off to deliver milk and needs the kids home in a bit to clean up the yard and kitchen before Ephraim's birthday party tonight. My kids are delighted to see friends, and hop out of the van to play a few minutes later (“I'm done with school, Mom, can I play?” They both come and ask. I'm not 100% sure they really are done most of the time, but they have been working for about 2 hours, so I feel good about it. I let them go and ask to see the work later.) The boys help up carry pots of herbs to the other end of the greenhouse for watering, some of them with whining and others more readily. I like seeing my kids get into work here and I generally encourage them to choose something every day they can do.
Wade Olsen, a man whose family has come here from Utah to live and work with the DeMilles, pulls up, needing some plastic for a project he is doing at their house. The Olsens live in a trailer in the DeMille's back yard and Wade is in charge of most of the animal chores and does lots of construction sort of things. William shows him a few things around the farm that will need attention soon, then William loads up his kids and heads off: he needs to pick up some feed from the feed store, and poor Ephraim is nearly frantic with calls of “My party is at 6! We need to go home and get ready! We can't miss my party!” despite the fact that it is only 2. Wade sticks around for a few more minutes and I show him our giant radishes. Some of them are almost as big as a tennis ball! He picks some to take home and some lettuce to go with it.
After Wade leaves David asks me if I want to hear his story so we sit down and he reads what he has so far. It's pretty good writing, and his penmanship is better than it has been for a long time. I spend so much of my time going back and forth between pushing my kids and backing off to let them initiate their learning. Today has been a success.
Elizabeth pulls out the lunch she has packed for the day. This is one of the tasks she chose today for school. She has packed pretzels, hunks of cheese (she cut them herself), carrot sticks, and an orange. I weed for a while more and then we head home for a while. I have an errand to run before the party (plus I forgot our present at home). Back at home the kids and I spend some time working on the dry erase board doing sentences. It's really cute to hear Elizabeth shouting: “Language Arts! Let' do Language Arts!!” I don't think she really knows what that means but she is excited, so that is all I care about. I have been writing sentences with a number of mistakes on the board and having them identify and fix the problems. Right now our sentences encompass spelling, punctuation, commas between adjective strings, capital letters and homonyms. We do four sentences before we are out of time and the kids are left wishing to do more. If only every activity was that much fun to them!
We head off to the party. The kids have dressed in costumes for this special occasion: David is part Jedi and part ninja and Elizabeth, who was supposed to be dressed in princess attire, is too enamored with the sword David has lent her and has decided to wear jeans instead (so that she can tie the scabbard to her belt buckle). By the time we arrive at the DeMilles' house the party is in full swing. A number of boys are in the dining room creating shields out of cardboard, other kids are helping Vernie decorate the dragon “pinata” with scales. William is stoking up the BBQ with gusto. The kids run off to play and I grab the two buckets of leftovers and spoiled food out of the back of my van and take it to my pigs. I have to walk a fair distance today before I reach their pen; the rotation has them way at the back of the 16-acre property. Climbing under several electric fences, I am followed by no less than five cows, three horses, a large flock of chickens, and honked at by the geese. I am carrying some very tasty morsels and everyone wants some. My pigs see me from far off and start calling out in greeting. It takes me longer than I was planning to get there: I went the wrong way around the chickens and now I have to go clear to the end of their pen and around. The pigs are nearly frantic by the time I get there, shoving each other into the electric fence, trying to get into the spot directly in front of where I will put the food. They are overjoyed at the mess of dried bread, soggy beet leaves, and random old things out of my fridge. I sit on one of the buckets and watch as they fight over who gets what. It is interesting to watch the dynamics of who has the most power in my little herd. My two original pigs, the “white pigs” as we call them (inside joke) are still outsiders from the others. Luckily they have a lot of pluck because they are often being shoved out of the way or knocked into the fence. I admire their tenacity. A few pigs are obviously in charge, and I have my eye on several of them to keep to breed this next year. After a while I decide that I ought to rejoin the humans at the party, so I reluctantly bid my porcine pals adieu and climb back under fences and wade through the cows until I emerge on the other side of the barn.
The party is really going when I get back. Kids are giggling while root beer bubbles out their noses and William wears a satisfied grin as he puts up his BBQ gear. The hamburgers are as well done as the lazy atmosphere. Good times. After they are done eating the kids tumble into the barnyard, where Vernie and Ephraim have cooked up an elaborate treasure hunt, complete with a troll (Daniel) guarding the princesses, who are perched atop the wagon, which is covered with hay. Back from their hunt, the kids line up to slay the dragon (creatively built out of random boxes and construction paper scales, holding a cache of candy in the middle). Some of their swings are spectacular, one little girl gets a whole wing, while others are wild and leave the adults running for cover. Blindfolded, dizzy kids with a hard metal bat: like I said, good times!
The party concludes with cake and ice cream followed by a dizzying array of presents, mainly following two categories: medieval weaponry and zoological adventures, just what this 10 year old ordered.
Party over, visitors gone home, the kids off playing, the grownups congregate in the barn while the evening milking takes place. A good place to talk, conversation runs the gammot from grandiose plans for the future to the herbs necessary to combat bovine mastitis. At some point in the conversation, William gets animated and launches into a lecture on Leslie Householder's stick-man concept. He begins by apologizing to everyone for wasting their time and boring them (puleez!) and quickly changes to full-lecture mode, complete with a visual aid drawn with a ball point pen on the side of a box. The lecture turns into a rousing discussion about attitude, belief, and our connection to past generations as everyone learns and shares. This is why I am here, I declare, because I need to learn what William has to teach. Moments like this are my purpose.
On the way home I reflect on where our paths have gone in the last six months. I never expected to be working hand in hand with nature, caring for animals and producing food, let alone living here in the Pacific Northwest, away from family and all I've known. But for all of the strangeness (I keep saying I feel like Dorothy, and I'm not in Kansas anymore) I know this is where I'm supposed to be and I'm doing what I'm meant to be doing right now. And with that knowledge comes the peace and assurance that all is well and right.
Good times.