Long story short

I hid from the blog this summer…on purpose.

When life is plucking along as normal, when I think I know what to expect from one day to the next, when things are sunny & simple & even the worries & troubles are not that worrisome or troublesome…then it is fun to share the pictures & the stories.

Sometimes, life gets heavy.  It happens.  And when I suddenly realized that I did not know what to expect from my days, when I was feeling both emotionally & physically vulnerable…well, then I felt private.

But that time has passed & it’s back to our simple, sunny life!  It’s nice to be back.

~K

EarthyBrowns vs The Sun

I am a ginger.  I burn easily & tan a little & freckle a lot.  As a little freckle-faced kid, I was given false hope from well-meaning adults that my freckles would fade when I grew up.  Liars!!  Today, at nearly thirty-six, I have more freckles than ever & I have given up that hope.  It did not help at all that I spent years working outdoors as a land surveyor…adding wrinkles to my freckles.  Sigh.

My daughters inherited Paul’s skin tone.  They have brown skin & do not burn easily.  Silas, on the other hand, takes after his momma.  His skin is milky white & he burns very easily.  He already has a sprinkle of freckles across his nose & cheeks.  I really want to take care of my babies’ skin.  I want to allow them moderate sun exposure & protect them from burns.  I also want to avoid covering their skin with sunscreens which are full of harmful synthetic ingredients.

So Paul & I have talked about creating an all natural sunscreen.  There are many good recipes out there.  With various combinations of butters & oils, they will all create a safe & natural sunscreen with a low to moderate SPF.  The best ingredient in a natural sunscreen will be coconut oil.  Coconut oil is great for your skin (& your hair too!).  We cannot say enough good things about coconut oil & we sell lots of it!

The thing is, coconut oil alone seems to be as effective as any other natural sunscreen recipe that we have tried.  So we have hesitated to develop a ‘sunscreen’ of our own & package & market it to our customers as such.  It seems a little…gimmicky.  Coconut oil is a wonderful moisturizer while protecting skin from light sun exposure.  Paul doesn’t feel that he can really improve upon coconut oil as a stand-alone sunscreen without adding zinc oxide.  While zinc oxide is not harmful to skin, it certainly is not beneficial, creating a barrier on top of the skin which can clog pores & prevent air flow.

You see, every product that we create & sell is a product that we truly believe is the best.  We believe that our soap is the very best soap that you can buy.  We believe that our lip balm is the very best blend of the very best ingredients.  Commercial versions of these products are using synthetic ingredients to try to imitate the effects that our real ingredients achieve quite naturally.  They use synthetic ingredients to cut costs, not to improve the product.

We will never use synthetic ingredients in our products, never.  Therefore, we can never offer a sunscreen with a high SPF.  In making the choice to use all natural ingredients in our products, we are able to offer soaps, balms, oils & lotions far superior to our commercial counterparts.  But in the sunscreen department, we can not match the results of a synthetic product.

So, allow me to share the safest method of sun protection, the way in which I protect my family’s delicate ginger skin.  I believe that the best sunscreens are clothing & shade.  First, clothing.  I know it’s not glamorous, but it is a fact that light protective clothing is the most effective sunblock (& safest for your skin).  Silas wears a hat in the sun…always always always.  All three of my little kids wear sleeves outside & swim shirts at the pool.  And shade.  Seek out the shade!  I am lucky to have a very shady backyard.  The kids run around out there with no clothes & get a moderate amount of sun as it filters thru the trees.  Perfect.

Now, what about a week at the beach?  Entire days in direct sun.  I use a commercial product with zinc oxide.  Common sense tells me that the risk of burning outweighs the risk of occasional sunscreen use.  Ewg.org is an awesome place to research commercially available sunscreen products.  As is so often the case in life, moderation is key!

In other EarthyBrowns news, we are preparing for a super weekend.  As always, Paul will be at the Douglass Loop Farmers Market on Saturday from 10 til 2.  I will be at the Old Louisville SpringFest all day on Saturday.  And we will also be at the Buy Local First Fair on Sunday from 2 til 6.  Oh my, how busy are we!!  The weather will be lovely so come on out & find us!

~K

A hopeless little farm

I got Si an ant farm for his birthday back in February.  It took me two months to get around to actually ordering the ants.  When the ants arrived, we were all very excited to dump them into their new home & watch them dig their tunnels & go about their fascinating ant business.

This particular ant farm is made of some sort of weird transparent jelly-goo stuff that serves as both their home & their food (Paul said it’s like living inside a giant cheeseburger).  You plug it in & it lights up, providing a great view of the ants.

A few days went by & the ants built an elaborate network of tunnels.  And that’s about it.  For the past couple of weeks, most of the ants simply huddle at the bottom of the box while a few ants desperately work to chew thru the seal at the top of the box.  They want out.  They know that they are doomed.

Because there is no queen, these ants cannot reproduce.  They cannot fulfill their one & only purpose in life!  So now we, meaning both the Browns & the ants, are just waiting for the ants to die.  Every now & then, the kids check in on them to see if they have died yet.  Good lord, but this is depressing!

I guess I should have thought this thru when I ordered the thing.  I honestly never thought that I would be bothered by these sad little ants.  I guess it’s because there is just no point to this project.

Paul will kill our rooster this weekend & that does not bother me.  Because there was a purpose to his life.  Due to be killed when we bought him, he was granted an additional six months of fine living.  Boss lived well, ate well, had lots of chicken sex & made eighteen wonderful little babies.  And tomorrow he will feed our family.  That is a life with purpose!

Anyway, that was our first & last ant farm.  My advice, if you have a gentle heart & do not want to watch animals (even tiny ones) suffer, don’t get an ant farm.  Next year, we do butterflies.  Because butterflies fly away!

~K

The hatch

Babies!

Lots of babies!

The eggs were due to hatch on Saturday.  By Friday evening, we could hear some faint peeping & a few of the eggs were wiggling a bit.  The kids & I were so excited!

Early Saturday morning, Piper woke me with a whisper, “Mom, can we check the eggs?”  We hurried downstairs to see this:

The first pip.  He popped out about an hour later.  And throughout the day, seventeen of his brothers & sister followed.

Some pictures of our hatch:

By the end of the day, four eggs had not hatched.  We removed the chicks to the brooder & left the eggs in the incubator for another night.  But they did not hatch.

The chicks lived in the closet for a week, before being evicted to the shed outside (chicks make dust, so much dust).

Now we have way too many chicks.  I never expected so many to make it, oops!  We only want six hens out of this batch.  We are giving six chicks away soon & keeping twelve until we can sex them.  Hope we don’t end up with a bunch of roosters.  Speaking of roosters, Boss has served us well.  Unfortunately, his work is done & his days are numbered.

We began with twenty-five eggs.  Three appeared to be infertile & never developed at all.  Of the twenty-two fertile eggs, eighteen hatched & lived.  I hereby declare our first attempt at making chickens…a total success!  We will never buy chicks again.

I was disappointed that not even one of our hens would go broody (By the way, almost everyone I know with chickens has a broody hen right now.  Go figure.) but it actually turned out for the better because incubating our eggs was a super fun project for our family.  Watching the hatch was such a delight!

~K

Making babies

For about three years now, we have kept chickens in our backyard.  Right now we have six hens; two Barred Rocks (my favorites), two Rhode Island Reds & two Easter Eggers.  We love those girls.  They are easy to care for & fun to have around.  And the eggs are yum!

Our first chickens came from a local farmer; day old un-sexed chicks who turned out to be a mess of useless roosters.  Next batch, we ordered from a hatchery.  It was nice to get sexed chicks but I never felt good about ordering from a hatchery.  I would rather keep it local.

Sweet as they are, our hens are not pets.  They are more like employees.  We need to replace them every few years to keep a steady egg supply.  I don’t want to order from a hatchery again, so we decided to try to make our own babies.  In December, we bought a young Barred Rock rooster from a farmer friend.  We named him Boss & he is a very nice rooster.

Not long after Boss moved in, I remembered why I hate roosters.  He begins crowing at about 4am.  And he doesn’t stop crowing til the sun goes down.  Actually, he even spouts off in the middle of the night.  Seriously.  This guy is so loud & annoying.  Our neighbors now hate us.  Some passive-aggressive neighbor even anonymously placed a list of Tips for Quieting a Noisy Rooster on my car one day.  I feel like such a jerk.  But we need Boss right now.

Boss has done his job well.  He is pretty much always on top of a hen.  When the weather turned warm, we stopped gathering eggs & hoped that one of the hens would go broody.  We waited.  And waited.  And the eggs piled up.  And nothing.  Those dumb birds just kept laying & walking away.  I suspect that the instinct has been bred right out of these poor hatchery hens.

Okay, on to plan B.  We bought an incubator & studied up on hatching eggs.  We gathered 25 eggs & started them on March 26th.  A week later, we candled the eggs to see if anyone was growing.  Our hope was that half would be good eggs.  Surprisingly, we only had three duds!  Twenty-two good eggs.  At two weeks, we candled again.  We still had twenty-two good eggs; could even see the little beans moving about inside.  How exciting!

Now we are at day eighteen.  We have stopped turning the eggs & raised the humidity a bit.  We hope to see baby peeps in just a few more days.  I wonder how many will hatch??  We are kind of freaking out with anticipation.  Okay, maybe it’s just me that’s freaking out.  We all know how I love babies!

~K

School at home – The worst

Okay, there are some not-so-great things about homeschool.  A few of the negatives:

Number One – The money

Homeschool costs.

The thing is, I could certainly teach my kids at home for very little cost.  There are many free resources.  I choose to purchase a curriculum because I find it much easier to do so.  I do not want to gather, organize & plan the year.  I did that for a bit & found that it consumed too much of my time.  So we purchased our curriculum this year & will continue to do so.

Just google homeschool curriculum & you will see that there are many, many options out there & the costs vary greatly.  We use Sonlight, which is pretty middle-of-the-road as far as price.  I like the approach & materials they offer, & I am willing to pay for someone else to do the legwork.

It will sting this summer when I order next year’s curriculum.  And the costs will not go down, they will go up each year.  But I think it’s worth every penny.

Number Two – The burden

The burden of homeschool does not lie in the actual work of teaching my kids.  As much as I worried over it before we began, the process has not been difficult at all.

The burden of homeschool lies in my own doubts & worries.  Or maybe it actually lies in the stigma that comes with that word…homeschool.  Let’s be brutally honest.  If we run into problems along the way (& we will run into problems because that is how life works), be they behavioral or academic, the first thought to enter everyone’s mind (friends, family & yes, even mine) will be homeschool.  Is homeschool to blame?

My family does march to our own beat & I like that just fine.  We are happy in our little world, but we do not live in a bubble.  Like other parents, I strive to raise educated, happy, well-adjusted people who can function in society.  I wish never to hinder my children socially or academically in the name of making our homeschool work.  I said even before we opted out of public school this year that we are not married to this & we will learn at home until that is not a good fit for us.

Because of the stigma or because our choice is not mainstream, I feel that I am more cognizant of my kids’ academic progress & behavior than I would otherwise be..  I obviously give more thought to what & how they are learning because I am the one & only person making those choices for them.  For better or worse, it’s on me now.  It would be disingenuous to say that this is not a burden.  It is, & it weighs heavy on me at times.

Now, I must add that this burden is so much less now that we are actually up to our elbows in homeschooling.  My worries were much greater & my confidence was much weaker before we started.  As is my way, I spent time over-thinking this whole thing.

Number Three – The burnout

I am with my kids all day every day.  All day every. single. day.  Sometimes, I do not want to be with my kids.  Yea, I said it.

This is such a tricky thing.  I say that I cherish this time & so appreciate that I am able to keep them close & share our days.  And that is true.  On the other hand, it can be difficult to be hands on every day & I do often struggle with patience.  True as well.

How do I reconcile the two?  Well the answer is, I enjoy my kids more often than not.  We have good days, lots of good days.  Occasionally we have bad days.  Because we have more good days than bad, I call it a success.

Is there a mother who enjoys every waking moment with her children, never needs time to herself, whose enthusiasm & patience is never-ending?  I have not met her.  I am not that mother.  And I suspect that most mothers who homeschool their kids are not that mother.

Sometimes I become absolutely desperate for time to myself.  I am so thankful for my extended family who allows me that time.  The occasional time away from my kids does make me a better mother.  How much time a mother needs is really just a very personal thing.  My burnout level is mine & mine alone.

I generally get a day off every couple of weeks & that works for me.  But I must admit that if I do not get that time, it most certainly affects my attitude.  I find myself impatient, bored & even a little resentful.  I suppose everyone needs a day off.

I hope that in sharing some of the best & worst of our own homeschool experience, I can encourage others to simply consider it as an option for their own families.  For those who are not satisfied with their public or private school choices, there is another option.

~K

School at home – The best

Well, I think that homeschool is the bee’s knees around here & I could go on for days about the benefits.  But that could be tedious, so I will share just a few of my favorite things.  A few things that came as pleasant surprises when we began this journey.

Number One – Quick & painless

Without a doubt, my very favorite thing about homeschool is how little time we spend on school.  Approximately one to two hours a day, four days a week.  That’s it.  Seriously.  We cover it all.  Reading, writing, math, history, geography & science.  We learn lots & are left with lots of time for…hiking, camping, swim class, games, movies, chores, crafts, & whatever else should strike our fancy.  Lots of time for living.

I am amazed at how much work we complete in such a small amount of time.  Amazed to the point of doubting myself, thinking Am I doing enough?  Shouldn’t this take longer?  But no, I honestly believe that by removing the distractions of a busy classroom, the whole process becomes quite efficient.  We sit down together, just the four of us, & we do our work.  If anyone gets wiggly, they can leave & finish up later when they are more focused.  Simple.

True, I may have particularly wiggly children.  I think that if I tried to make our school day much longer, it would just be a chore.  At five years old, for how long should they be expected to focus on any one thing?  I mean, it’s just kindergarten!

Compare time spent on our school with sending the kids off to school…getting them to & from, homework, teacher conferences, school functions.  I think it might actually take less time to homeschool them!  And we get to sleep in.  Yes.

Number Two – Big results

Another of my favorite (& totally unexpected) things about homeschool is how much my kids learn.  Its sounds crazy, but I am blown away by how much they have learned by not going to school.  We move at our own pace.  It is our school & we make it fit us perfectly.  If a subject needs extra time & attention, we are free to give that.  If a subject is mastered & everyone gets it, we move on.  Having this freedom has allowed Silas to soar.  He & his sisters will finish up the year well-above grade level.  I would like to say that this is because they are crazy brilliant, or maybe because they have such a fabulous teacher.  But no, they have learned so much because their education has been custom fitted to their interests, abilities & attention spans.  That’s it.

Number Three – Keeping them close

Finally, another favorite thing about homeschool is the closeness it provides our family.  I hesitate to mention this, as it may feed into a negative stereotype of homeschooled kids as sheltered (meaning socially inept ultra-religious types).  Well, my family does not fit that stereotype but I have my own understanding of sheltered.  My children are sheltered to some degree & I think that is just fine.  Silas recently turned six & the girls will be five in a couple of months.  So very young.  At their tender age, I do not believe that it would benefit them to be away from their family for much of each day.  I want the main influences in my kids’ lives to come from our close family & friends.  I want to instill our values & a strong sense of self into these guys before I send them off into our very exciting, confusing, beautiful, dangerous world.  As my oldest son becomes an adult & I prepare to say goodbye to him, I now know so well how fleeting these years are.  And I cherish them.

In fairness, homeschool is not all rainbows & lollipops.  Every silver lining does have a cloud.  Next, the worst of homeschool.

~K

School at home – An option

We are nearing the end of our kindergarten year.  This has been our first official year of homeschool & we all agree that it has been a big success.  I began this school year with a new curriculum, a little self-doubt & lots of excitement.  The curriculum has been a good fit for us (insert sigh of relief).  I no longer doubt my ability to teach my kids &, in hindsight, I realize that those doubts were just silly.  And as for the excitement…well, I am still pretty excited.  Homeschool is fun!

Homeschool is not for everyone.  Of course it isn’t.  No one choice could be right for everyone.  For lots of different reasons, many parents cannot or simply don’t want to teach their kids at home.  In that case, it is good that there are schools to send our children to.  Public & private schools work just fine for many families.  Many kids thrive at school, in a group environment, learning at a pre-determined pace, with little individual instruction.

But I can’t help but wonder about the kids that do not thrive at school.  Kids who learn differently or do not enjoy the environment at school.  They muddle thru, because they must.  And well-meaning parents & teachers push them along, because they must.  But a school (particularly a public school) is designed, necessarily, to be a big box that serves the many.

Schools have programs in place to help kids who do not fit neatly into the box.  Counselors, therapists, tutors, experts, experts & more experts to fix kids & get them into that box.  Many private companies offer services to re-teach kids what they are not learning in school, for extra time & extra money.  And finally, sadly, there are any number of medications to try.  To fix those kids.

Here is what I believe.  Maybe, for some of those kids who do not fit into the box, the problem lies elsewhere.  Maybe the kid does not need to be fixed at all.  Maybe, for those individuals, the problem is the box.  The box does not work for them.  And that is okay.  It is okay, because there is another option.

Most often, when people learn of our choice to homeschool, their reaction is positive.  But at some point in the conversation, most people also comment that they could never do it.  My guess is that the biggest reason that most parents never even consider homeschool as an option is because they believe that they are not qualified.  My own doubts came from that very belief.  But why would an educated adult feel that they are not qualified to teach basic elementary subjects to their own child??  Only because our culture has decided that we should relinquish that duty to the professionals.  We want the best for our kids & we are told that out-sourcing their education is best.  Maybe it is not best for everyone.  Sometimes, for some people, homeschool may be best.

I would love to see this simple idea become completely mainstream…homeschool as an option.  I would like to see homeschool considered a very real & legitimate alternative for kids who struggle with the standardized curriculum, kids who are restless in a classroom, or kids who just don’t enjoy school.  I would like for parents to know that there are countless way of learning & an ocean of resources; that the materials & methods approved by their local board of education are not the best fit for every child.  I would like for parents to trust their instincts & to believe that they are actually the true experts in matters of their children’s education & happiness.

I can share my own experience, mother to a son who is finishing up his public school education this year & three little ones who know only school at home.  I can share the best & the worst of homeschool as it compares to public school, from my perspective.

First, the best.

~K

Happenings

FISH

We made our annual trip up to the Newport Aquarium, got the kids in for free, & had ourselves a day of fishy fun.  Last year I forgot the camera.  Not this year!

CHORES

We have developed a chore chart of sorts.  Small daily jobs for each child.  They each receive a dime a day for a job well done.  Silas, for one, is quite motivated by the cash.  He saves up his dimes & exchanges them with Paul for a coveted two dollar bill.  He has not yet realized that he could actually spend his money; he just enjoys growing his wealth.  The girls don’t care much about the money, but they enjoy their work.  Piper especially enjoys folding laundry, in her own unique way.

GIRLS

Speaking of Piper, my sweet-as-sugar girly girl is becoming more girly every day.  She wants her nails painted, she wants her hair big, she wants to wear makeup, she wants all of her outfits to include sparkles & ruffles.  I have never been a mother to a teenage girl.  I am terrified of what the future holds with this one.

Last fall, our friend Coury did a photo shoot of my little ones at the park.  It was the first time they had been professionally photographed.  He got so many great pictures, so many.  But this is the picture of the century.

Ack!  Love love love!  I die every time I look at this picture.  Yes, I am a bit biased, but good lord they make my heart melt.  Must get this one framed.  Thank you, Coury.  And thank you, Piper & Esther, for being mine.  (Obnoxious brag over.)

USCG

Dustin swore into the Coast Guard.  When I dropped him off, I asked him one last time if he had any doubts about this.  No hesitation, he was ready.  Well, there is no going back now!  I have put to rest my own doubts & I support him completely in this next chapter.  Although, I still cannot talk about him leaving in June without tearing up.  I will miss him.

And those are a few of our happenings.

~K