Wednesday, September 05, 2007

How I Do It With Kids

I got an email asking me "How do you get so much done with young children? Can you give me some tips?"

Ok, the answer is that your knowledge of me comes from the blog, where when I say "I canned 9 quarts of peach jam and put up 200 ears of corn yesterday" sounds smooth, blithe and relaxing. And even if I tell you otherwise, people mostly think I'm joking.

In fact, the process of putting up 200 ears of corn and making 9 quarts of peach jam looks nothing like it sounds like when I take out the boring parts, like the 200 times I said, "Stop touching that!" while we were picking the corn and the kids wanted to play with the tractor attachments. Or the part where my husband did a very fast, very disgusting diaper-related crisis triage with a handful of corn husks. Trust me, it is better this way.

For those of you without children, or with children now grown who have forgotten the pleasures, I offer you a chance to model doing homestead work in my life. First, strap a 10lb bag of flour to each leg, to approximate working with a toddler attached to each side. Do not bathe for a while, until you feel rather icky. Eat all meals standing up. Then, add a troupe of untrained monkeys who have been swimming in mud to the mix. Carry one around while he yells "up, up, up!" Invite neighboring Huns to sack your living room and kitchen. Put a CD of Yoko Ono screaming horribly on at full volume in the background. Now sing "Do You Know the Muffin Man" 178 times. No, you are not allowed to scream. You must smile and answer questions about why John and Paul stopped writing songs together and why we only play with our penises in private calmly, while still cutting up peaches.

I just don't usually *tell* you about this stuff. So when people ask me "how do I do it?" The only possible answer is - I don't. My life doesn't look like what you are thinking. That is, the reason I put up that food was because yesterday, I blew off the book, 50 unanswered emails and 3 foot weeds in my garden to do food preservation. Today, I'm blowing off the still uncanned raspberry sauce, the weeds, and the book to write this post, and then homeschool the kids. Every time I am doing something, I'm letting something else lapse, usually something that probably shouldn't. Right at the moment, I'm praying that the couple who are renovating our garage into a goat barn won't have to pee at all, so that they don't see my bathroom. The house has been sacked. I have no idea what we are eating for lunch - we have tomatoes, eggplant and beer. I don't think good Mommies feed their children beer for lunch, so I guess we'll be having eggplant ;-).

The reason I can do what I do is that I have a committed (probably ready to be committed) husband who can do much of his work from home, because I'm always more than willing to neglect the housework, and because I work from home. But mostly, because I'm comfortable with chaos - I could look at this day and see only the mess, the failures, the mediocre parenting, the fact that they didn't learn about evaporation the way we'd planned.

Instead, I look at it and think "I got four loads of dishes done. I put up corn for the winter. We talked about how corn is different than other grains. The kids spent a lot of time picking. We took a long family walk. We ate homemade tomato and mozzarella sandwiches and 3 out of four kids wanted seconds. They helped time the canning of the peach jam. The boys picked chard for dinner. The boys got to go play with a neighbor's kids and Eric and I finished clearing the crap out of the garage. I answered two emails. I babysat the neighbor's son. We picked up 300lbs of organic grains and transferred them into buckets. We sang two songs that weren't "Do you know the muffin man" ;-). I read most of _The Logic of Sufficiency_. I set pumpkin leather to dehydrate. Eric played banjo with friends. I got the kitchens made presentable. I made rice pudding. I watered the container plants. I went to bed happy."

The thing is, that is a good day by my lights. If I look at what I didn't do, at the mess, the chaos, the exhaustion, the failures, it doesn't look so hot. So I try not to look, and hope to do better today.

So if I have one bit of advice for parents of young children it is this - do the best you can, trust yourself, and be pleased with what you do. Embrace the chaos. And for G-d's sake, don't hold me up as a model!



Anonymous said...

Hi. I really, really want to move in with you -- not.

MEA whose perfectly behaved children are swimming with a neighbor who kindly rounded up a woman who teacher swimming to handcapped children to lifeguard dd the younger, while, at her completely de-hoarded house the painter is not being attacked by the wasps under the gutter which I did write him a note about, but then too the note to work, leaving him, no doubt perplexed as to why he is being asked to decided if he wants to cutter the time warp trio books on the author or TIM.

Jo said...

LOL-sounds exactly like my life. And I already had "Do you know the muffin man" stuck in my head when I sat down at the computer--one of the kids has been singing it all morning! :)

RedStateGreen said...

It does get better.

Pumpkin leather? Sounds yummy! Care to share the recipe? :D

BoysMom said...

The trick I've found to doing it with kids is to remember what you were doing BEFORE the interuption.
It helps me to have a list of what I'm doing today up on the freezer(no one can take it because everyone's too short) so I can see what I was doing again because after I've wiped a couple bums and started a load of laundry I've forgotten that I was kneading bread before I got called away.
Oh, and don't forget to sing all the verses to 'They Built the Ship Titanic'.

Anonymous said...

After reading Sharon's post, I immediately envisioned my sister-in-law who at one point held down the house with her 2 pre-teen boys, her grown son and his wife, 2 granddaughters and my 3 kids while frequently having neighborhood kids over to play. Her house is a total mess - at times making it difficult simply to walk through the entry hall for all the clutter. The thing is, however chaotic it was, she was only managing a suburban track home - no homesteading-like chores of any sort.

Some people are natural born jugglers even if some of the balls have to rest in the muck periodically.


Anonymous said...

What you describe is very true of family life and stay at home parenting. It is brisk and patchy and always the nagging feeling of not quite meeting your own expectations. Then the night comes and everyone eventually goes to sleep and a quickly a new day dawns and it all begins all over. As a grandmother i would give anything to have those days back again !

Michelle said...

My kids are older, my life
quite calmer. Ahhhhhh.
Still, there's always something
to do outside, and dishes,
dishes, dishes.

Kim said...

Are you my long lost twin???

"DON'T EAT THAT! THAT IS GOAT POOP! NOT RAISINS! Sweety, please do not eat the grain. That is for the milkers. No, you may not poke the turkeys with a stick. No. Not the chickens either. Do not pick up the hens when they are trying to lay. They do not like it. Get your sister out of the chicken house!"

What was the question, again?

Anonymous said...

Wow! How true, but thanks for reminding me how true that is, as we all tend to forget the good parts when we're in the middle of a poop crisis or a broken faucet and a kid stuck in the toilet because as I was trying to fix the faucet another kid slammed the door and that is the door that cannot be slammed...
I only have 3, same age as yours, more or less, live in a city centre but also work from home (I am a translator). But I relate totally

Anonymous said...

Hey, if that's what life is life for stay at home mothers, then why is my life less than perfect? (Or does it get to be even more chaotic?)


emily said...

What is pumpkin leather, and is it edible?

Btw, can you tell me/us how to prepare pumpkin pie filling from an actual pumpkin? I tried to once and the results were abysmal. How can you get it thick and non-stringy?

Anonymous said...

This is what I do with pumkin. I either peel it (which is a longish job (having first removed the seeds)) and slow cook big hunks in the crock pot or I put halves (ditto) in the oven at 350 until soft and them remove the skins and as much of the stringy bits as I can.

Then I chop the bits up, and stew them with as little water as possible. I find the that cheese pumpkins and the white ones have the least string. But I pull out the bits of string as I find them.

After that, it mashes very easily.

Good luck,


Anonymous said...

I've actually met Sharon and "knew" her on some other elist way :) back when she only had two kids. So I already knew she wasn't too organized, but she still does get alot done.

My "kids" were 17 and 13 when we began farming full time so while they weren't much help they didn't hinder either.

While I'd like to go back and visit the toddler days I wouldn't want to stay there. Younger ds just moved back in having not yet found a job (just graduated) and I am glad to have him. I also know its only short term. It's nice being empty nested but I do miss them as well.

Pumpkin from pumpkin: I actually often used butternut squash. If you boil it it is best to let it drain for quite awhile.

Baked squash or pumpkin is drier and therefore thicker. The key to no strings is to either "mix" the ingredients in a food processor or blender or use a hand food mill to puree the pumpkin prior to making the custard.

Beth in Massachusetts

Roberto Iza said...


Bryan said...

As a stay at home father, I will hold up anyone who, come feeding time, can resist the urge to quietly fall into a bottle of beer... Great read; thanks.

Crazy Mumma said...

Once again you've given me a good belly laugh Sharon, but only because as the mum of three under 6 years of age, I completely relate :-) And, once again, you've inspired me - thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great post! Reminds me of when my 3 were smaller (last one now 13) and I worked as a freelance designer from home. Each one managed at some point to grab my exacto knife and wave it around, but never cut themselves, thankfully! If they weren't sampling the cat food, they were "reading" my galleys, (insert ripping)or terrorizing each other.
You are right to focus on the good stuff because even though I don't miss the chaos, the sweetness of my children at that age is what I remember the most!

chile said...

Baking or roasting your pumpkin results in much better flavor than boiling. Then just remove the peel (or not if it's gotten nice and soft), and process in the food processor with as little water as possible. You're looking for the same consistency as what comes in the cans, so that you can easily use your own in standard recipes. If it's much soupier, you can strain out some juice or adjust the liquids in your recipe.

And Sharon, one question. Why aren't the couple working renovating the garage just peeing in the garden?! ;-)

jewishfarmer said...

MEA, the reason that we expect so much of you is that you are British. We lax Americans can slack around, but you folks are supposed to be better at everything than us ;-).

I like my pumpkin roasted, and then run a blender on it. And for pumpkin leather, I just add some lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, a bit of brown sugar and cook it dissolve, and then spread it out on a very fine wire in the solar dehydrator. I make other fruit leathers this way, but I particularly like the pumpkin. You could leave out the lemon, but otherwise it seems a bit sweet to me - of course, you could leave out the sugar. It is a great snack food, and we're always looking for non-junky homemade snacks here. I like it.

Kim, I think we might be twins!

Bryan, I didn't say *I* didn't drink the beer, just that I didn't give it to the children ;-). Actually, I didn't - I'm still nursing the littlest, and have scruples about "sedation through breast milk" although I won't claim I've never wished I could

BoysMom, I definitely think your system makes sense - it is so hard to keep track of what was going on after 43,000 interruptions (approximately).

You know, I do sort of draw the line at requiring people working for me to change their bathroom habits ;-). They already think I'm a weirdo!


Rosa said...

Sharon, thanks for the post!

I actually gave up canning this year because of the 22-lb toddler clinging to my leg. I don't trust myself not to trip and scald us both.

And I'm going to try pumpkin leather. I often dry uncooked pumpkin and cut it up small in a food processor for soup & stuff, but I never thought about it as snack food.

Right now we have wild plum/applesauce fruit leather and it may be the best food I ever tasted.

Stone Fence Farm said...

I know Sharon IRL. Her chaos is charming. Everything she has managed to accomplish on her farm is amazing to me.

I work outside the home, my child goes to a wonderful daycare and the only thing saving my sanity is that I come home to a clean house because there is no one there to mess it up all day. I do have relaxed standards for everything except the kitchen counter/sink area.

Sharon, maybe we can get together sometime in the next six months, no?

Robyn M. said...


What kind of solar dehydrator do you have? Do you use/have you used the "cardboard & tape" models whose instructions for construction are all over the internet, or have you got something better? Suggestions?

jewishfarmer said...

Amy, you are way too nice! And I'm still impressed by your housekeeping. Yes, let's try and get together - I'm not scheduling anything until after book #1 is due in December, so maybe then or early January?

Robyn, I'm not sure what kinds there are - mine is wood and metal and black poly cloth to enhance drying. I found the plan in Sue Robishaw's _Homesteading Adventures_, and it is a variant of an old Home Power magazine design for humid climates. I don't know if there's an online picture.


Rosa said...

do you use a fan in it at all? I haven't liked the flavor of the food that comes out of the (various) solar dehydrators I've tried, and I think it's from the slower drying.

Anonymous said...

You mean I have to be British and miserable? Heck, I'd rather lose the chip on my shoulder.


chaos girl said...

I love this post!
Yeah, I think the key to getting the stuff you want to get done done is to try really hard to forget all the things you think you're supposed to get done because someone or something (ie. television commercials or, as in my case, your mother) with different priorities/values/goals than you said so.

For instance, I bake all of our bread from scratch, because I find value in that, but I almost never make any attempts at cleaning the floors, because I don't find value in that.

I guess it's just all about trade-offs that you can live with:)

denise said...

Laughing hysterically while nodding vehemently. Yep, yep yep!

HopewellMomSchool said...

I haven't laughed this hard in decades. Yoko Ono sent me over the edge!!!! FYI, I think I'm raising one of those Huns that sacked your living room!!!! Add to my mix a budding cellist who only likes to play "hot crossed buns," a cat in heat and dog poop in the living room. Don't ask who's turn it is to clean it up--either!!
Please, please keep writing the truth!!!! It's too great to miss!

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