How Much Longer the Ride Can Possibly Last

The older boy wanted to see ZZ Top, and because I am not a fan at first I said “no,” but then I said “if you buy your ticket, I’ll buy mine.” He did, and so we went. The show was at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds. It was Saturday night and the fair was in full swing, the air pungent with a particular American-ized desperation – cigarette smoke and fried dough, the fumigated odor of cheap perfume from the passing women – and for a time, before the music began, we just stood and watched. In the background, beyond the grandstand bleachers, the rides whirled and gyrated; a dozen or so feet to our right, a middle-aged couple made out with unrestrained fervor, tongue-to-tongue, hand-to-ass. Her jeans looked painfully tight; you could feel the flesh of her thighs aching for freedom. Or at least the next size up. Later, I caught a glimpse of his tee shirt: “Camping without beer is just sitting in the woods.”

I was caught off guard by the cheapness and excess of it all. So many lights flashing, so much noise and circumstance. And ZZ Top itself: Such a strange – and strangely compelling – band, Billy and Dusty implacable behind beard and hat, Frank the drummer nearly invisible behind his set. They sing primarily of sunglasses, Cadillac cars, and the female anatomy (oh, and stockings. Let’s not forget those), the lyrics laid over a raunchy and infectious blues shuffle. It is not music that asks much of its listeners. But then, I suppose that is part of the appeal.

It was a short set, and who could blame them? The band has been around for nearly a half-century. They are old and presumably rich and one can only imagine how many of these shows they’ve played, how many adoring crowds they’ve seen, buzzed on over-priced fair beer and mentholated cigarettes. From the stage, they gaze out over those crowds to the stomach-churning tilt-a-whirls beyond. What are they thinking of? Home. The end of the show. Sleep. The ache in their hips.

Or maybe just wondering how much longer the ride can possibly last.






You Never Know

Hanging Garlic

Cool mornings. Shirt sleeve mornings. From the kitchen window, I watch steam rise off the compost pile, wraith-like. On Sunday I found Blood, our rooster, hanging upside down from one his massive spurs; it’d somehow gotten caught in the wire of the coop, and he’d hung there for lord knows how many hours. Too many. From a distance I thought for sure he was dead but he wasn’t, it was just that he’d struggled the struggle right out of himself. So I freed him and set food and water before him. He ate and he drank, and two days later, just when I thought he’d probably make it, he died.

You never know what the future will bring.

I’ll be taking some time away from this space to attend to other matters. I’m sure I’ll be back before too long. In the meantime, thank you. I really appreciate all my readers.



Minus the Fried Pig Tail

Beautiful rain last night, long and steady and soaking, and I slept in that way I always sleep on rainy nights, never fully waking to the falling water, but often aware of it, coming into consciousness just enough to surrender to the pleasure of falling back out of it. It’s like getting drunk a half-dozen times in one night. Except it’s free. And no hangover!

This is another logistical post to announce two upcoming workshops here at Lazy Mill Living Arts. I will be leading both of them, which I mention primarily as encouragement for those of you who might think you don’t have the stuffing for these endeavors. Because if I can do it, lemme tell ya’, you sure as hell can, too.

Oh, wait, one more thing: I have a short piece up at State 14 about our friends Jimmy and Sara Ackermann. Those of you who’ve read my Yankee magazine story will be familiar with them.

Onto the workshops. The first is:

baconcampMost of what you need to know is on the poster. The rest of what you might need to know is that the workshop runs from 9 – 5 on both days. It is BYOB and BYOF (F for food), though we will have simple snacks available (fresh fried pig tail, anyone?). You are welcome to camp on our land, but it will be very primitive… If you’re lucky, we might let you pitch a tent. If you have any other questions, please email me at info@lazymilllivingarts.com.

Ok, up next is…. Building From the Land!buildingfromthelandAll details are pretty much the same as for Bacon Camp, minus the fried pig tail. Again, please email info@lazymilllivingarts.com for more info.

I also want to give a plug for a workshop that’s going to be hosted at my friends Ryan and Susan Hayes’s place in nearby Hyde Park, VT. It’s being led by another friend, Lisa McCrory, who’s partnered to one of my favorite curmudgeon’s, the indomitable Carl Russell. Lisa’s workshop is on the art of agricultural dowsing, and I’d probably go if I weren’t so afraid of being exposed to things I don’t understand. But you are presumably way more open-minded and should DEFINITELY attend. FoMH_DowsingWorkshop_01Arh



Home Grown Education


As I mentioned a while back, Heather and I spent a bunch of time this spring and summer talking (and talking, and talking, and then, for good measure, talking some more) about our respective paths with home education. We had no particular agenda for these conversations, other than to candidly share our experiences in a format that felt comfortable to us both.


This was incredibly refreshing and rewarding for me; for all sorts of reasons, I don’t write much anymore about our family’s educational journey, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to share that journey, especially with someone who understands well the particular joys and challenges of walking this twisting path. Although her family’s path has in many ways been very different than ours, Heather understands; indeed, I found that some of the most interesting conversations centered around the ways in which our journeys have diverged.


The result of all this talking – followed by my fumbling attempts to manage the audio-editing component – is a project we’re calling Home Grown Education. Although there are aspects of this project that would qualify it for “workshop” status, we’ve taken to calling it an “offering.” This reflect its conversational nature, and the simple fact that neither Heather nor I has any intention of telling anyone how to educate their children. Neither of us believes we have this all figured out, and both of us are struck by the degree to which our children’s education has become our education. And we’re still learning. All. The. Freaking. Time.


Anyway. Although this offering is audio-centered, there’s a bunch more to talk about. Here’s what’s going on:

  • Four Episodes – In total, you will find close to 4 hours of audio recordings. In these recordings we talk about Our Respective Homeschooling PathsSocialization and Community, Joys and Challenges, and Looking Toward the Future. (The fourth episode will be released mid-September, all others are available now.)
  • Q&A – Over the winter Heather solicited homeschool related questions and we answered many of those throughout the episodes.
  • Archive of Writings – We have pulled together an archive of our education related writings* so you can have them in one easy to use, beautifully designed, digital resource. Within this near 50 page ebook you will also find a section of printables that Heather has utilized over the years; everything from planning the homeschool week to writing transcripts. She’s also included a full list of her curriculum, representing 7th grade through high school, with her thoughts on each item.
  • Community – We look forward to offering a space where we can interact in a setting that is more private than our regular websites.
  • Support – To me, this might be the most important aspect of this offering, because of course we all need support from time-to-time, and no more so than when we make big decisions about our children’s lives that are seen by some as “alternative,” if not downright questionable. Bring your questions, and we’ll do our best to provide honest and encouraging answers. (Feel free to bring concerns too… we love hashing out a good homeschool related concern.)
  • Join Anytime – This offering and the accompanying website will remain available for six months (until 2/15/17). We will pop into the comments a few times per week throughout this time, to connect and answer your questions.

If this sounds intriguing to you, we’d love to have you join us. This project has been a true labor of love for both of us, and we’re really excited to have it out in the world.


Add to Cart

You will be emailed immediate access to Home Grown Education upon purchase.(Email will be sent to the address associated with your Paypal.)

Thank you!


It’s Not Going to Be Summer Forever

IMG_4189This morning I drove the back roads home from Jimmy and Sara’s dairy, the bed of the truck carrying soured milk for the pigs, the air still heavy with the remnants of yesterday’s storm, the news radio doling out its too-familiar tales: Gold medals and handguns. Burning cars and swimming stars. Politicians I can’t make sense of, though maybe I should try harder. Or perhaps I should try less hard; maybe that’s the trick.

I turned the radio off and listened instead to the sound of truck tires on the wetted gravel road, the splash of water at the puddles, the lowing cows at the farm where a fence runs along the height of a hillside pasture, wires and posts etched against the sky. I always watch that fence when I pass, and I pass it often. And I thought of the young man who drowned three days ago at the pond a mile down the road from my parent’s house, the house I grew up in, 15, maybe 20 miles from here. I learned to swim in that pond, and I recalled this morning how once a friend and I were messing around there; I was in the water and he was on the shore and he lobbed a softball-sized rock in my direction, meaning just to splash me, but his aim was too good, or his arm too strong, or both, and I could see the rock coming for me as if I were calling it in. I was trying to run but too slow because running in  water is always too slow, so at the last second I dove, scared and sure of injury, and indeed the rock fell directly atop my back, but I was deep enough that it hardly hurt. My friend almost cried, he felt so bad, and I told him it was ok. But man: I was pissed.

Back home the pigs get their breakfast, and I stoke the fire for another coffee. Firewood today, I think. It’s not going to be summer forever.



So I Let It

IMG_4130We drove home from the Davy Knowles concert in Northampton late Wednesday night, the stroke of midnight nigh and many miles still to go, the boys crashed out in the rear seat in that folded-over way of sleeping children, my window cracked to admit an invigorating rush of air. I generally don’t mind driving, though my capacity for long, late hauls is waning with age, and as I drove I thought (and not for the first time, good lord no) about my obligations as a parent. Because although we’re all huge fans of Davy and of live music in general, there’s no way I would’ve driven so far to see him of my own behest. (Though we did end up in the front, at a table that was literally pushed against the stage, and we did end up meeting Davy, which for us was akin to meeting someone truly famous, like, I don’t know, one of those people who go on TV and stuff. And the concert kicked ass. So there was all that)

And so as I drove I pondered yet again the fine line between facilitating my children’s interests and flat-out spoiling them, a line I can’t quite seem to nail down, the damn thing seems to be always moving this way and that, depending mostly on my mood and general sense of magnanimity, which is itself an inconsistent beast.

I do believe that in general our society has become overly child-centric; there seems to me too much focus on our children’s development, too much capitulation to their whims and fancies, and, frankly, way too damn much coddling. I think partly this is a response to our very understandable fears about our children’s economic futures, but I think it’s also a response to a largely-unrecognized hole most of us have for a deeper and more meaningful sense of community. In other words, we focus so intently on our kids because we need them to be the community we’re otherwise lacking.

I’m pretty sure this is one of the potential pitfalls of home education; that in our well-intentioned efforts to facilitate our children’s interests, we go overboard, and in the process diminish the very sense of self-reliance so many of us home educators like to crow about. No doubt this happens in a schooled environment, too, but of course my children don’t go to school, so that’s not what I know or spend too much time thinking about.

As many of you know, Heather and I spent a bunch of time in conversation this spring, working an audio-based workshop about our respective journeys with home education; it’s launching real soon. One of my favorite of these conversations was one we had about “averageness,” and how there’s something to be said for honoring averageness, for teaching our children that it’s ok to not be or feel particularly special, and to understand that they’re really just a part of something much, much bigger than themselves. It was a much more nuanced conversation than that, of course, but that was the gist of it.

After we had this conversation, I remember thinking about how many homeschoolers fall into the trap of comparing their children to their school-going peers, eagerly pointing out the ways in which they compare favorably, as if that were some sort of proof of something. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this, too. And really, it’s understandable: I think homeschooling parents often feel on the defensive, as if they have to prove the merits of their approach, in no small part because skeptics so often demand they prove the merits of their approach. And I think homeschool parents feel as if their children are a reflection of themselves. I mean, every parent feels this, but I suspect those of us who’ve chosen to educate our children at home maybe feel this more more acutely. Of course, this is a trap, too, because our children are their own people, and I suspect we’d do well to worry less about what their behavior and choices say about us as parents, because I think that the more we worry about this, the less capable we become of letting them find their own way, in the process learning how to muddle through the occasional shit of life the best they can. Which is a pretty darn valuable skill, when you think about it.

Anyway. I’m not sure where I’m going with all this. Like I said, it was late, and I was driving, and my mind was free to wander. So I let it.

Also, I wanted to let you all know that I’ll be leading an intensive homesteading workshop at the NOFA Summer Conference next Friday. I’ve done versions of this workshop before, and it’s always been a blast, and a great opportunity to dig really deep into whatever folks want to dig deep into. Please come if you can!


He Was a Gentle One

IMG_4118Yesterday’s rain was long and steady, rolling through in waves of varying intensity, rarely relenting in full, and even then only for minutes at a time, as if merely resting. Early in the morning I haltered Otto, our two-year-old steer, and then stood with him by the paddock gate to keep him calm, the rain falling atop us both, my jacket soon soaked through, Otto’s russet coat wetted two shades darker. The boys brought me a plate of eggs to eat while I waited, then retreated quick to the shelter of the house. I balanced the plate atop a fence post and ate with my halterless hand, and soon after I finished eating our neighbor Dave arrived and placed a perfect shot, and the work began.

I liked that boy, Otto. He was a gentle one.

Killing Otto yesterday reminded me of this post, from a couple of years back. It’s one of those rare pieces I wouldn’t do any differently now. Man. I sure wish I could write more of those.


The ever-lovin’ Sheesham & Lotus & Son

Son Volt’s Windfall (thanks, Heather!)