My husband is experimenting with letting pigs be free range. It’s a difficult experiment because he doesn’t have a lot of other farms as a model. Most farmers think the pigs need to be confined so they are manageable to the farmer. There are so many pigs and only one farmer, so most of farming is about how to get the pigs grown, and to market, without letting them overrun the farm. Read more

When I moved to the farm with my children, it never occurred to me that I would be raising farm kids. But it happened quickly that my kids did things I would never have dreamed of doing in my own childhood. They spend the day with no shirts. They chop wood with axes. They pee in the yard.

There was a moment, with each of these things, where I put my foot down. “Put on a shirt to sit at the table,” I said. But then sometime in the middle of this summer, I got tired of saying it. It seemed stupid. It seemed like a city rule, because in the city you wear a shirt most of the day anyway. Read more

I have received about ten emails from people who are outraged that the Obama administration is proposing that kids be banned from doing farm work.

People who grew up on farms are posting comments all over the Internet about their farm nostalgia. And I get it. I understand that kids run wild on a farm in a way that city kids could never dream of. But the flip side to that is that kids die too often on farms. From machinery.

A nine-year-old boy in my town just got crushed under an ATV that he was driving himself. And, three days later, a neighbor asked if his four-year-old could drive his ATV on our land so he could go faster.

“The four-year-old???”

“Yeah. He has great body control.”

Seriously. This is the mentality we’re dealing with in rural America where kids are doing farm chores. Read more

I am tortured by my youngest son’s need to be social. We have had a really hard time finding playmates for him. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because parents read my blog and are scared to let their kid hang out at our house. But mostly I think it’s that we live in Darlington, WI, so far away from everyone that we’re not convenient enough. I thought the farm would be a huge draw for kids, but a two-hour drive trumps kid fun for almost everyone.

I tell myself that it’s ok, because he sees kids when he goes to activities like dance class. And sometimes we meet other homeschool families in Madison for boy-time at a local gym. Read more

When I lived in New York City, hoarding was never an issue. I lived in a 500-square-foot apartment with my husband and two kids, and I want to tell you that it was really small, but for an apartment in a coveted school district New York City, it’s not that small. We had a rule that if you bring something into the apartment, you throw something out.

To give you an idea of how wide ranging the impact of lack of space is, when we moved to Wisconsin, my son said one night, “It’s so fun to have a bed. Thank you so much. I love Wisconsin!” Neither kid had a bed in NYC. In fact, if you want to know why so many babies in poor families die it’s probably because they don’t have a bed. My son slept on a pillow on the floor next to me for six months. And one night I woke up and he was gone. He had rolled over twice. Read more

One of the topics I write about most frequently on my other blog is happiness. I am sort an encyclopedia of the research people have done in the past twenty years about what makes us happy.

The most surprising thing is that happiness has to do with outlook. If you are positive and you feel that you are in control of whether or not you get what you want, then you are happier. But you can’t really change your outlook.  We are born with a happiness setpoint, which Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in her book The How of Happiness. We can control for 30% of our happiness setpoint. (Which seems, unfortunately, similar to the situation with our weight.) Read more

We went to visit my brother in New York City when his baby was born. My kids loved holding her. Finally.

There’s been a lot of lead-up to this. For example, the last time we visited, as we were going up to the apartment, in the elevator, my six-year-old said, “If Aunt Kristen is pregnant, does that mean she and Uncle Adam had sex?”

I said, “Yes.”

My son said, “Do you think I could ask Uncle Adam if he liked it?”

The people in the elevator nearly died laughing.

I said, “People like having sex with someone they love. But it would not be good manners to ask Uncle Adam about a specific time. That’s private.” Read more

I’ve been homeschooling for about two months. I remember when my first son was born, and I thought, after five days, “This is crazy. How could I possibly do this for eighteen years?”

Of course it gets easier. And the same is true of homeschooling – the first few weeks I thought I would never make it a month, let alone until they’re 18.

Mostly I have spent this month generating more questions than answers. A boyfriend in college told me that the process of learning is asking sharper and sharper questions rather than finding answers.

He was right. And I am learning a lot.

So I have little that I can tell you that I know. But I can tell you two things:

1. Each fall day when we walk in the pasture, goats trailing us like dogs, I’m thankful that my boys don’t spend the day in school.

2. Each day that I post a photo of my kids I am thankful that I started a blog about homeschooling, because I also started a photo album, which I never had before.

It happened so fast.  I called a consultant to help me teach math, and she was very gung-ho on trying the school. The same day, I met with the school to tell them I’m homeschooling, and I felt scared to lose the only part of the community I have gotten to know during the year I’ve lived in rural America.

Then my six-year-old had a crying fit that he hates living on the farm. Maybe it is because he is sick of me fighting with my husband. My son said we could live in the city and see my husband once a week just like we see my ex husband – my son’s birth dad – once a week. My son painted a city picture of a parade of dads.

He also said he wants to be able to walk to friends’ houses again. Not that he ever did that. We never lived in a house long enough for him to make a friend. He’s moved five times in six years. So of course he thinks it’s time to move.

So I deal with the friends part of the problem and I put him in school. He asked to go. He said he wanted to be with other kids.

I know a hard-core homeschooler would say, “The parent decides.” But I didn’t have the guts. Or the heart. Or the brains. I don’t know what I was missing.

I get a lot of free books in the mail because my not-homeschooling blog is so big. The topic of all the books is “how to have a great career” and I throw almost all of them out.

When I was dating the Farmer, he used to feed the extra books to the pigs. Now that I actually live on the farm with him I see that was sort of a farm trick. Real farmers wouldn’t do that because the books don’t have enough calories. Pigs won’t get fat on books.

This is the story I tell the boys while I force them to play Art Memory from the Chicago Art Institute. They want Sponge Bob memory, but I promise that if they put up with flipping Picasso instead of Patrick, I’ll tell them a funny story.

I wonder, though, what really is the value of tiny paintings turned face down? I fear the nutritional content might be similar to feeding books to pigs.