Saturday, May 13, 2017

Snapshot of Farm Life.

I had visions of lots more blogging in this life, but alas, another blog post with an intro full of excuses about why it’s hard to keep up with this blog.  I guess that’s just the nature of the way I navigate my life.  So I’m going to skip all the excuses and jump right in.


Life here is full throttle.  Non stop.  While disconnecting from our old world and taking a step off the gird has slowed down our life in all the ways I hoped it would, the steep learning curve that comes with a whole new homesteading lifestyle has made us feel up to our necks most days.  Couple that with this great new challenge of homeschooling and you have a mom who is stretched thin again.  But I’m happy for the stretching.  It’s exactly what I had been craving for so long.  Lots of family time, lots of mom time, lots of one on one with kids.  I’m drinking in so much of it that I almost feel like I’m overdosing at times, but then I realized how fleeting it all is.  And I drink it in even deeper. 

Even though this life is hard work and dirty and full of new challenges and covered in kids and needs and logistical mazes, most nights Jeff and I fall into bed tired but happy that we’re here.  This adventure is giving us most of what we hoped for, and lots of great (gross, amazing, stretching, glorious, terrifying) surprises.

IMG_1229IMG_1250We’ve had a LOT of guests.  There were 6 weeks that were pretty much back to back guests.  It was so great to share this place with so many people we love.  Suddenly all family members have an interest in coming to visit (Boston was becoming a bit blasé)!  It has been fun to see different peoples reaction to our life here.  Everyone is blown away by the beauty of where we live, the coast side, the ocean, the cliffs, the green rolling hills, the vastness of the property we get to take care of, the redwoods.  But not everyone is quite as enamored by the dirt, the makeshift décor of our house, the lack of dishwasher and filtered water, the work, the things we have ‘let go’ like brushing hair.  I think lots of people think its a cool thing we’re doing, but most aren’t envious.  IMG_7857

We tried to maintain most of our routine through all these guests, but over the past few weeks with everyone gone things are really starting to gel.  And that feels good, most of the time. IMG_8678

Here’s a little snapshot of our lives right now.  It’s just going to be what comes to the top of my head so I can get something out there. I want to remember this life.  I know that when it’s over I’m going to ache for it, probably forever.  I don’t think I’m going to ache for the dirt or all the work or the dishes, but I’m going to long for these long days, all of us smoshed together by work and play and challenge and seclusion. 

I get up first.  Not at the crack of dawn because we’re on a pretty late schedule here.  But I try to get myself up before 7.  And I do, I wake up, without an alarm.  I’ve decided that I’m going to spend the rest of my life waking up to an alarm, so I don’t use one here.  The lack of imposed schedule is glorious and difficult.  I’m the one who has to make things happen through out the day.  There is no other schedule than the one I make, and if you know me, I’m bad at making schedules.  But I’m getting better.  Learning.  And also trying to let myself enjoy the lack of a ridged structure.  Who’s to say that’s really the best way all the time? IMG_8699

This morning time is glorious. The only time I have alone all day.  The farm waits out the window, still and serene and vivid green as I write my morning pages and study scriptures and plan the day.  (These morning pages – a brain dump -  are part of a program I’m doing called the Artists Way….maybe more on this later).  I then try to make it up to the platform.  A 15 min hike up and up, enough to get my heart pounding and my body alive.  I’ve been trying to do yoga up there most mornings, and it is truly glorious.  I love starting the day up high, with green as far as I can see.  IMG_8946

I intended to bring the “kid of the day” with me up to the ridge in the mornings.  Sometimes this happens, but only if they’re up and asking  So I have a nice balance of time alone up there and one on one time with a little buddy. IMG_9026

I come down to kids playing, waking up with each other, starting their adventures early and sometimes actually being on task getting their farm work done.  They each have different inside and outside chores that they have to complete before we start our morning meeting at 9:15.  These chores have shifted as farm work has shifted.   They feed animals, bring in wood, start up the wood stove, fold laundry, sweep and tidy boots, put goats out to pasture, chickens to free range, water plants, feed bees.   They’re getting pretty good at these jobs.  But we’ve seen the gritty work cycle play itself out over and over again.  Work is fun, work is hard and horrible and then work is gratifying.   IMG_8107

We’ve had lots of very heated, loud, shouting arguments about how these morning chores should shift around as they wax and wane between easy and hard.  I’m still hoping that one day my kids will magically be the hard gritty workers that envisioned farm kids to be.  They’re getting there, but it’s slow and bumpy.

Morning meeting is supposed to start right at 9:15 and I think we’ve hit that maybe 60% of the time.  The other 40% I’m late in getting us started because I’ve gone out to help a child with a chore and gotten caught up in getting other little things done….time ticking on. 

We start morning meeting with some scriptures and a prayer.  Then we go over family business, what is happening that day, family farm projects that need to get done, weekly assignments and points earned (maybe more on this later….this motivation system is constantly evolving).  Some weeks we talk about a composer or a philosopher or artist.  I hoped to do this more often, but man, there are a lot of idyllic things to do.  Can’t always get to all of them.

Then I read aloud.  This has always been one of my very favorite parts of being a mother and I love that it is so firmly built into our days here.  We have a goal to get through 120 books before the end of the summer.  Not all read alouds, this includes any book that anyone reads.  That might have been a bit ambitious because I think we’re only to 45, but we’re working hard on it and we all love it.  Lots of days it’s warmer outside than inside our house so we sit on the front porch, or out on the grass and read until it’s too hot and we have to go back in.    

After reading we head to the school room for writing.  I put on a ten minute classical song and the kids are supposed to write in their journals, quietly at their desks until the song ends.  Just whatever comes to their minds.  Kind of like my morning brain dump.  Mind you, this is what is supposed to happen.  In reality, most of the time people are snickering, fidgeting (especially now that the fidget spinner has appeared in our lives), worrying about what the other is or isn’t writing.  I’m trying to scramble to get the rest of the school day figured out, while also trying to keep them all on task.  It isn’t perfect.  But one of my mantras for this life is that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfect.  We are doing it and everyone is getting at least a few sentences in a journal most days. 

While we’re all at our desks in the school room Peter goofs around or does some handwriting worksheets while I do some dictation exercises with the three bigger kids.  We’ve been using a program called “Brave Writer” which I LOVE.  It has given me so much great direction in helping my kids think about writing in a new way.  What I love about Brave Writer is that it’s not really a curriculum, more of family lifestyle that helps develop the writing side of the brain. I love that one of it’s goals is to just help kids to not hate writing before their 12.  In the early years it focuses a lot on helping kids think in a way that will  help them write well.  Maybe more about this in a homeschool post that I hope to write, but may never get around to.

And this is when our day sort of falls into craziness.   Kids go off on their own to do math and to practice, but there’s usually lots of “breaks” taken in between and lots of mom hounding kids to get back on task.  My brain gets so flustered that sometimes all I can figure out to say to them is, “come on! do the thing! stay on task!” 

Some days work great.  The kids stay on task and get their stuff done by our late lunchtime because they know I'll give them a “jolly rancher” if they report back to me that they are done.  Other days there are too many exciting things waiting for them outside and they don’t get to their practicing or math or their jolly rancher.  I’m trying to roll with it all. Remember that we don’t have to get it right all the time.  IMG_8572

And ‘right’ is really relative.  If you look at things from my kids perspective, days that they don’t get it ‘right’ are usually full of getting lots of other things ‘right.’   A huge chunk of the ‘work’ of childhood is play, and they are sure getting that right here.  There are huge chunks of unstructured time and no screens.  They are alive, fully engaged, coming up with new things to do every day.  New ways to play, new things to build, new places to explore. New ways to be together.  I can see such strong friendships forming amidst the tension and grime.IMG_8639

Afternoons are usually filled with play and work.  Sometimes we all work together on a project, like planting trees or weeding or creating and moving mulch. But most days I’m lucky if I can engage one little helper.  And lots of times one little helper is much more enjoyable than a whole tribe.   Emmeline, surprisingly has been my best little worker.  She craves the one on one attention and has learned that she can get it by sticking by Jeff and I through a farm task.  I’ve loved the talks I’ve had with my kids while working.

We are learning all kinds of things here.  Most of our learning seems propelled by problems.  When problems come up we are trying to engage the kids in helping us find the solution.  We have to enlist them.  There are too many problems for Jeff and I to handle alone.  What is eating our plants? How can we create more mulch? How do we catch the gophers?  How can we get Mochi to stop killing chickens?  How do we help May well again?  When do we wean the goats?  How can we fix our horribly clumpy clay soil?  Of course, our kids don’t always take these problem solving responsibilities and run with them, but sometimes they do, and we’re just aiming for sometimes.  FullSizeRender 2

Our house is dirty.  Not just messy like our house in Malden usually was, but dirty.  There are mice.  And spiders.  And spider webs. And it’s so hard to keep ants out.  And our toilets don’t sit square on the floor so they often stink more than they should.  Sorry if this grosses you out.  We try to keep it clean, but life is just dirtier here.  Our standards have slipped, which I worried about for a little while, and then I realized that in order to get what I want to get out of this life I need to embrace it.  All of it.  Dirt and all. IMG_8698

The goats are getting bigger.  No more bottle feeding.  Now our task with them is to get them to stay in the pasture we made for them.  We built our first fence when uncle Dan was around, but they keep finding ways out.  IMG_7980

The chickens are growing, and should all start laying any day.  We have one Americana who is laying beautiful blue eggs.  It is thrilling still to find her egg each day. IMG_7804

Mochi is getting better at doing his job.  She’s barking a lot at night, I think just keeping the deer away.  But it feels nice to have such a loyal guard.  She’s also taken to killing gophers instead of chickens, so that’s good. IMG_8940

Before embarking on this adventure I hoped to have lots of time to be present with my children. Check. We are together every day, all day.  This has taken a little getting used to, and there are lots of times that I wish I could send them all away for a few hours, or a few days, or maybe a whole month.  But then I remember that they are not going to be little forever.  And this slow, secluded life isn’t going to last forever for us.  In fact, it is likely going to be over before we know it.  And I try to just drink them in.  Drink and drink until I’m saturated and then drink some more.  One of the main things that drove us here to this adventure was this realization that kids grow up.  Fast.  IMG_8749

We’ve tried to get into San Fran as much as possible.  Having guests here has helped with this.  This is a city that I’m falling in love with.  Maybe it’s the fact that I can have green rolling hills in the morning and a city sunset in the evening and drive along the coast the whole way in-between the two.


I’m loving our little field trips into the city.  Especially loving the MOMA. IMG_8782

We’ve had a lot of really great grandparent time.  The Shumways come here to help us with projects and enjoy the peace and beauty of our spot on earth.  And we head to their beautiful home to enjoy the peace and beauty of cleanliness and a dishwasher.  Each kid has had their own special little sleep overs at grandma and grandpas and I can feel such strong, important bonds thickening up.  IMG_7689We are keeping bees here!  No honey yet, but lots of adventures getting the bees into the hive and putting on bee suits.  Only four stings….IMG_8835

The two big kids have learned to drive the ATV and the riding lawnmower and they are always eager to do any kind of work that involves anything with a motor.  We have banned any joy riding on the ATV, it is only for doing farm work.  I am quickly realizing that whenever they are begging to do work it’s because they think that they need to use the ATV to accomplish it.  I’ve gotten good at detecting this and helping them realize that they don’t need an all terrain vehicle to bring shovels back to the barn and such.  I do love it that they are learning to drive these machines.  They’re getting to be pretty good drivers.

Peter and Emmeline are thick as thieves here.  They spent the first few months in separate rooms until one day they BEGGED to share a room again.  Em reads aloud to Peter at night and then they stay up laughing and talking until I yell at them from downstairs to go to bed.  They play and play and play all day and are usually so pleased to do jobs together.

All four of them spend lots of time playing all kinds of things together.  This is a magical little window of time in our lives, when all four of them can engage in imaginative play.  Hazel isn’t too old for these things yet.  She’s just teetering on the edge, but has expressed to me that she knows that this might be the last era in her life when she can really be a real kid, and she’s milking it for all its worth.

The kids have really gotten into “survival” packs and have little bags or backpacks full of what they think they need to survive out there. Peter’s has a few stuffed animals, a water bottle and a sweater. No one really ventures too far to explore because they’re still all a bit nervous about mountain lions.  But there is a lot of afternoon exploring that happens.  And tree climbing and hole digging.  This is the stuff of childhood, no?IMG_8707

We’re trying to keep everyone going on their music.  Everyone is taking skype lessons aside from Peter who is taking from ‘Ms. Tunemaster.’  She looks an awful lot like me, but talks in a little higher voice.  Amazing how he responds so much better to his teacher than he does to his mother.  Skype lessons have been interesting, mostly working, sometimes the delay is a little hard.  But I’m glad that we don’t have to trek an hour away. 

Jeff has been traveling at least a week out of each month.  And boy is everyone thrilled when he returns.  He is a super hero around here.  IMG_8711

When Jeff’s not traveling he is off at the crack of dawn to work so that he can be home with enough daylight to get some farm work done. He works outside with the kids while I throw together some dinner and the sun sinks down.  We eat late on these nights, trying to scrape as much out of the daylight as we can.  I love looking out the window to the orchard, Jeff working on some project.  He is in his element as a farmer.IMG_8880

But, sadly, it turns out we’re not too great at farming.  Peter said to me the other day that we’re not really farming, we’re more like gardening.  I asked him why and he said it’s that we’re not really growing  a lot of one thing.  Good observation.  We are trying lots of things and have been encouraged by our friend who owns the place to fail fast.  So we’re throwing it all out there, experimenting, trying to solve some of the problems.  Some things are working, but some are failing.  We’ve planted things in the green house, in the ground, we’ve mixed our clay soil in with sand to try to make it less clumpy, we’ve worked the ground with tractors and hoes and roto tillers and our bear hands.  We’ve added compost to some places, and manure to others, we’ve tilled in cover crop to improve the nitrogen in the soil.  We’ve put out slug traps and snake traps and gopher traps. We’ve built hoop houses and put up bird netting and deer fencing and cd’s to scare away stuff.  We’ve transplanted so many beautiful plants from the green house that have been eaten up and withered the next day.  I’d say about a third of our hard work is turning into something that we can eat, but 2/3’s is just turning into great experience and knowledge to put in our back pocket.  IMG_8886


I listened to a great talk by Liz Wiseman that talks about the power of not knowing.  How there is a rookie advantage when you really don’t know what you’re doing because you enlist the help of others,  you ask questions, you try different things, and ultimately you can end up at a different place.  I’m hoping that’s us.  IMG_7704This is a lunch I made myself with a farm fresh egg and micro greens from our garden.  It was a little gritty with dirt, but oh so satisfying to eat from the fruit of our labors.  Hoping for more of this. 


Turns out the Shumway Family Farm academy is teaching all kinds of things.  Even gun safely.  Dan has some guns and taught the kids to shoot, which was almost as cool as the ATV.  I’m hoping to get Hazel to write a post about all the strange and memorable things we’re learning here at the academy.

At night we usually have a late dinner, after all the animals are safely in and counted and the chores have wrapped up.  We sit in our slanted dining room (one end of the table is about 6 inches lower than the other end) and we talk.  When Jeff is around the conversation usually consists of him answering all kinds of random questions that the kids have.  That Jeff knows a little bit about everything it seems like.  The conversation gets too geeky for me pretty fast.  And I love it.  I think dinner time might be the most informative part of the Shumway Family Farm Academy. 

We’ve all come a long way cleaning the kitchen together.  Jeff is the task master and keeps everyone going, feeding me dishes to wash by hand.  I really like being the dishwasher.  Something so routine and cathartic about it.

We read together at night.  All snuggled close.  Even on the weekends.  The internet here is too slow to stream movies and we don’t have a big screen anywhere, so instead we pop popcorn on weekends and read our read aloud.  There are lots of times that we all (maybe especially me) really long to just watch a movie together.  But I’m soaking this reading time in.  Like I said, it’s my favorite part of mothering.  The time when I feel for a second like I’m being the mom I thought I'd be.   There are plenty of other times when I feel like a witch I never intended to be.  So I try to stretch these idyllic moments out, lay them carefully over all of our minds, wrapping up our memories in them.

It isn’t perfect here.  It’s farther from the general perception of perfect than I think we’ve ever been.  It’s messy and unstructured and bumbling. But it’s closer to my kind of perfect.  It’s perfectly imperfect.  Full of flaws and real living.  Full of open spaces and time and togetherness.  It’s a rough rocky road at times, but these are the things that are undoubtedly pulling us all together.  I am loving the mark this is making on all of our lives. IMG_8883


  1. I loved reading this and am envious of what you're doing out there. We live in Brooklyn and are lucky to spend summers in upstate New York, so we have some measure of getting away from the city (and lack a dishwasher and filtered water in our place upstate), but not quite the same.
    I wanted to chime in that reading with my kids is also my favorite part of mothering and I'd love to hear what you guys are reading!

  2. you're my idol and i love this post and i love every shumway with all my heart.

    i do feel the need to tell you that if you call san francisco "san fran" in front of any true san franciacan, they will cringe hard. that phrase is reserved for ditzy tourists trying to sound like locals. just fyi ;)

    i am always wishing for more time at the farm. it stinks that i was in a sick-baby daze when i was there. i love watching you fall in love with the bay area. best place on earth.

    love you. keep blogging!

  3. Perfect!! You write so beautifully about the true, interior life of being a mom. Keep it going. You have a real gift to share. I 100% get you when you talk about reading out loud being the best and closest to the ideal mom you envisioned for yourself. me too!

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  5. I love reading about this homesteading adventure. I think it is so amazing that you guys took the leap and are learning and stretching so much. The seclusion and lack of screens sounds wonderful (but I know it would be super hard and I would also be wanting to send my kids away sometimes). I keep wondering what I can take and use from this experience you're sharing on this blog.

    It looks like the kids and Mochi have warmed up to each other. I bet that's a relief. I loved the little bit about the music teacher Ms. Tunemaster - haha!

    p.s. Would you mind sharing some of your favorite read aloud books?

  6. I remember watching the PBS show called Frontier House or Pioneer House. I was struck by the reaction of the three families when the experience was over. While it was happening they were crammed into log cabins and had to milk cows and bale hay, etc. It was hard, hard work but when it was over they all wanted to go back. I think about that often.

    Your post also reminded me of an Andy Bernard quote from The Office, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them." Seems like you are well aware these are the good old days!

    I'm curious about your comment about how reading aloud makes you feel like the mother you imagined yourself to be. What other things did you picture yourself doing that you don't? Or is it more of a feeling of motherhood?

  7. This post is remarkable! Even though I sort of knew a lot of this, it's so grand that see it all in one place. You will treasure, not only this experience but this post forever! It's amazing how soon you forget details as the years pass.

    I am your biggest fan and I think that all our farm-entrenched ancestors are looking down with admiration and wonder! Like it or not, those kids have found their farmer genes from so many generations as far back as we can track and they are coming alive! :) Absolutely love that the reality of what it takes to run a farm and live off the land will now be part of their fiber too! Big hugs!



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