We slipped away (all four of us!) for five days at the cabin on the river we so love.
There was time for books and knitting, foraging and medicine making, board games and boat rides. What a glorious week! Like so many of you, we’ve had a few heartbreaking cancellations this past season, from a long-awaited Boundary Waters trip to a return visit we were just imagining to the coast of Maine when COVID crashed our last-summer-of-homeschooling-two party.
And Lupine bore the biggest hit of all, with a postponed international trip with a group of teens to visit a mutual friend oversees.
And so we pivot. We pull ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and take stock. And we make other plans.
We packed the cooler, gassed up our rusty old pick up truck, and headed to the Northwoods, to a place we know so well. My family’s cabin and the river that we love.
To reset and regroup in the forest.
There were plunges into racing waters and wild medicine to forage; mushrooms to delight in discovering and remedies to craft.
And, of course, long and much needed sleeps to savor.
In short: it was just the thing this 4 months-and-counting quarantined family needed.
On the way home, we took a detour past an organic blueberry farm I stumbled upon last year, masked up, and picked our fill before heading back to the welcoming arms of these hills.
No, life doesn’t look like it did last summer, and yes, there have been losses. But how grateful I am for the small pockets of normalcy, magic, and joy that we may still savor during these trying days.
So many families are facing the decision of whether they will send their kids back to school in the fall or choose to homeschool instead. Others are not even afforded the luxury of making this choice, due to finances, work, family, or legislation.
As a long-time homeschooler, you might think I’m over here waving the “everyone should homeschool” flag, but I’m not.
Because homeschooling (like homesteading, yoga, or, say, facial tattoos) is delightful to some, but not a match for all. There are many kids and adults who simply don’t/wouldn’t thrive in a homeschooling environment. (Note that I said kids and adults. Because your needs also matter.)
And there’s no shame if it’s not your jam. That doesn’t make you less. It makes you honest.
So if you’re facing two equally awful choices (crisis homeschool or send your kids to school during COVID), please: cut yourself some slack. To be forced to choose between two things that you don’t actually want (for you, your child, or both) is really no choice at all.
And what you are contemplating is not homeschooling. It’s damage control.
And I’m sorry it’s a crossroads you’re forced to stand at.
For those with the luxury of making this decision at all, I wish you comfort in whatever you choose. And if you DO choose to keep your child home this year, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Please. There are a thousand ways to learn, and the vast majority of them look nothing like a classroom.
And the truth is, one year of hanging out and learning how to bake bread, ID bugs in the garden, go geocaching, or build epic worlds in Minecraft won’t break your kid. They’ll gain some and lose some and in the end (just like they do every year they spend in or out of school) will still be a spectacular, unique human being. I promise.
In my opinion, we put way too much pressure on the value of academics. There are other measures of growth, worth, and strength to be found– things like kindness, creativity, perseverance, compassion, generosity, curiosity, and more. My eldest turns 18 in a month, and he’s never taken a test or sat at a desk in his life. And he’s fine (and way smarter than me, I might add). His sister is only a few years behind him, heading down a similar path.
So maybe they spend the year researching WWII airplanes or cool and weird amphibians. Maybe they go down the rabbit hole of French bakery, Norse mythology, Russian history, or historical blacksmithing. (These are all examples from actual homeschoolers I know.) Or maybe they don’t. Either way, they will grow, learn, shift, and bend.
And so will you.
Hang in there, folks. This has already been a bumpy ride, and we’re not yet in sight of the station.
Find my homeschooling/unschooling/interest-led learning archives here.
Have I ever mentioned that spring is my favorite time of year?
It is. And I have. Indeed, my very first blog post (posted nearly *12 years ago now) mentions it, and it’s a theme in my life and writing that surfaces again and again.
*12 years of blogging here?! How? What? Whoa.
And here we are, in the midst of the most curious of springs.
“Curious”: that’s midwestern nice for, “Holy heck this is not what I was planning for this season.”
And day after day, week after week, I keep wishing my book had been printed last season so you would all have it in your hands already: a treasure trove of simple, accessible, no-shopping-necessary projects and recipes and activities.
Resources and ideas to help you connect you with one another, with nature right in your neighborhood, and with the seasons–simply and joyfully.
Yet here we are.
So, I decided: let’s work with what we’ve got! My publisher and I pulled a few more projects from the book to share with you, just in time for this, ahem, most curious of springs.
And today? We’re heading to the kitchen to make a wild and tame pesto and then craft some delicious sandwiches on a miniature scale.
I’m hoping that these free offerings will brighten this shadowy spring, and bring you some cheer and light during these dark and trying days.
Below you’ll find your free, downloadable recipe.
Make the pesto and sandwiches with your kids, your live-in quarantine pal, or your partner, or make them all on your own. Then, if the weather permits, head outside for a picnic in the sunshine.
But before we dive in, may I ask a small favor of you?
If you have the means and the interest, would you consider pre-ordering a copy of my book?
Pre-ordering The Unplugged Family Activity Booktoday would be the very finest thing you could do if you’d like to support me and my work. Then spread the word to your family and friends!
Book successes these days hinge on pre-orders, and because of current events, it’s no surprise that we’re falling behind a bit from where we’d like to be right now. You can pre-order by calling your local, independent book shop, who could certainly use the business right at the moment.
If you don’t have a local bookshop to call upon, you can order your copy directly from me. I’ll be signing all copies before they ship out in June! You can find my book pre-order page here.
Thank you, friends. It means so much.
And with that, let’s get on with that recipe! Find your downloadable PDF recipe below. If you make a batch and share any photos online, be sure to tag me with #unpluggedfamilyactivitybook so I can see your delicious creations!
Lupine reflected on her love of making art and doing simple crafts and realized that she could bring that gift to young children who are home right now. Kids who are feeling bored, restless, anxious, or a little stir crazy, and looking for a simple outlet and a bit of creative fun.
So she put together a YouTube channel, The Happy Dumpling, just for kids. Her plan is to post approximately one how-to video each week. Her target audience is 7-10-year-olds, but she would be delighted if kids (and grownups) of all ages joined in the fun!
She posted her first video, sharing how to transform an empty toilet paper tube into a sweet little bunny. Just in time for spring!
Be sure to subscribe to her channel, so you know when the next episode is live (I hear old-fashioned soup can telephones may be in the works).
You can watch her video here, then leave a comment below letting Lupine know what other projects you’d like her to share with you. As for me, I also have something special in the works for parents and kids.
Subscribe through the green link below and you’ll be the first to know when it’s ready!
Need more inspiration? Check my blog archives. They’re loaded with more than a decade of simple, accessible projects and ideas for parents and kids.
Hey, parents + caregivers. How are you holding up? Goodness, what a week. Life is upside down, and fear and anxiety have shown up in spades. Fear for our health and our finances, our family and friends, our present and future.
What a heavy load that is to carry.
And kids suddenly home, on top of it all! I know that some of you are in your bliss having your people together. Maybe you have the financial freedom to be present in a different way right now, or maybe you’ve always longed to bring your kids home. For others, though, I know it’s not so easy.
And for those who are struggling right now, I thought that you might need to hear these words tonight, as one messy day draws to a close, and you look ahead to another. And that is simply this:
You’re doing it right, right now. In all of your imperfection and flaws, you’re doing it right.
In your messy, worried, overwhelmed, impatient way, you’re doing it, day by day. Whatever you have to give–it’s enough right now.
And if you aren’t intentional homeschoolers, having your kids home from school doesn’t mean that this transition will be a graceful one. Expect tears and chaos, frustration and boredom, attitude and overwhelm. Expect messy tables and messier floors and even messier feelings (from everyone).
Because what you’ve just been thrown into is nothing like what many of us have chosen to do. Homeschooling, at its best, is a choice. Homeschooling, at its best, takes place with the freedom for kids and parents connecting with people and resources and the beautiful world. And homeschooling, at its best, isn’t something you are thrown into with little warning and less preparation.
What so many of you are waking up to is not homeschooling. It’s more like stress and chaos and hardship.
This is disaster mitigation, not an education model. So cut yourself (and your kids) all the slack and grace you can muster. Please.
Because you aren’t behind if you choose to simply be. To hang out for the next day or week or month, while you throw everything you’ve got into keeping people fed and your head above water.
That might look like a family read-aloud and it may look like kids watching movies. It may be teaching your kids how to cook or mend or forage, or it may look like video games. But know this: wherever you are right now? It’s the best you can do, all things considered. And right now that is more than enough.
If you’ve been around here a while, you know my passion for putting down my laptop and phone, pulling on my boots, and getting out there with my kids–no matter the season.
Since they were small, we’ve taken any excuse we could find to toss the to-do list aside and dive headlong into seasonal projects, recipes, and celebrations (both when we lived in town and here on the farm).
To immerse ourselves in nature and the magic that exists when we unplug and connect with each other and the seasons, all through the year. From boisterous summer adventures to quiet winter celebrations, nature–and time together enjoying it–offers us so much.
Because this is where the memories happen.
So when Herbal Adventures was finally out in the world and my editor came to me to ask if I was willing to write a second book, I jumped at the chance.
And I knew exactly the book that I wanted to share.
In my heart for more than a decade had been a book that was begging to be written: a book of joyful, creative, seasonal activities for kids and their families to enjoy together, no matter where they call home.
With projects that are simple, accessible, sustainable, and fun (and best of all, almost always made with supplies you already have on hand). Projects that are as fun in the city as they are in the country; when done alone, as a family, or with a gaggle of friends.
A book that helps you find meaningful ways to celebrate of seasons, no matter what else your family holds dear.
Because there is such fun to be discovered when we put away our devices for an hour, a day, or even longer. And wherever you are is the just right place to start.
Within these pages, I invite you and your loved ones to connect, create, and play all year long. There’s no right or wrong way to unplug–all we have to do is begin. And with simple projects, delicious recipes, and joyful celebrations, you’ll find that more fun awaits than you ever imagined–all through the year.
With more than 50 projects, crafts, and recipes, plus ideas for gatherings to share with family and friends, there are adventures to be had in every season.
Host a springtime tea party, where you’ll nibble shortbread cookies and craft a mossy fairy garden in a teacup.
Or gather with friends for a summer potluck party. Blow giant bubbles, race leaf-and-bark boats, or camp out in your own backyard.
In the fall, enjoy a harvest party with your friends. Create a fall leaf rainbow, sip mulled cider, and bake bread over a campfire.
When winter comes, celebrate the longest night of the year with twinkling ice lanterns. Try your hand at candle dipping, make your own play dough, and pen your wishes for the coming year.
In The Unplugged Family Activity Bookyou’ll fall in love with every season–wherever you call home. So grab your family and friends, and get ready for an unplugged adventure that will last all through the year.
Best of all, The Unplugged Family Activity Book is already available for pre-order! (Release date scheduled for the Summer Solstice, June 2020.) For those looking for independent booksellers who will be offering my book, look no further than the links below, or request that your favorite indie book shop carries it come June.
Friends in the UK, Canada, and Australia, you find links to retailers in your region here.
Or add your name to the email sign-up form below, then I’ll be sure to drop you a note when my new book is released.
And finally, A huge thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to keep writing by reading my words here, purchasing copies of Herbal Adventures, and dropping sweet notes in my inbox through the years.
I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for your unflagging encouragement and enthusiasm. I mean that with my everything.
P.S. In other news, Herbal Adventures has been translated to French, and is coming out later this month! You can find the French translation here and a link to both (all three?) of my books here. The fun never ends!
Leave a comment below telling me what you think about this upcoming book. Are you on a mission to unplug with your family just a little more? Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear about your journey.
The world lost one of its finest yesterday. And my, will he be missed.
Our friend Al (whom I’ve introduced you to time and again here on the blog, plus countless more on Instagram), ended his battle with cancer yesterday, after a fast and fierce run.
And my, will we miss him.
Al lived more in one season than most of us do in a lifetime. He lived with passion and authenticity and humor, and shaped the world for the better during his too-brief time among us. What an inspiration he has been for my kids, for Pete, and for myself. He made us laugh, he worked hard by our sides, and he taught us so much.
I can’t help but hope that an eternity of quirky inventions, bad puns, and off-grid magic awaits him somewhere on the other side. Complete with epic prairie burns, well-equipped workshops, and endless gardens in which to tinker away forever. (With no garlic mustard or honeysuckle to distract from other pursuits.)
Travel well, dear friend. This valley won’t be the same without you.
The kids and I slipped away for a little “Camp Hygge” time beside the river this week. We embarked last Friday for one week away: our small car piled high with too many books, too much food, and more knitting projects than we could complete in a year. And, of course, three sets of snowshoes and cross-country skis.
We brought board games and sourdough starter; art supplies and wool socks; read-aloud books and bags of yarn. Everything we’d need for a hyggely week away from home, snuggled down in the northwoods at my parent’s cabin.
While it has been a snowy winter, we honestly had no idea how much snow would greet us upon our arrival. I can’t recall the last time we’ve had so much snow! Thigh deep! (And I’m nearly 6′ tall.) So much show, like all of my childhood winter dreams come true.
Needless to say, we’ve spent much of each day outside–snowshoeing, skiing, making ‘camp’ in the woods, and building a quinzhee (our favorite sort of snow fort).
Then back inside we would go, for hot tea, comfort food, and time thawing out by the fire.
Each night, our sleep was long, well-earned, and deep.
On one favorite day, we packed up a can of baked beans, some cold sausages, and a few oatmeal cookies. We added matches, a hand saw, and pocket knives, then strapped into our old woven snowshoes and headed into my family’s woods.
We walked atop of the knee- to thigh-deep snow for some time, then, finding a sunny clearing in the balsams and hemlocks, we set to work clearing snow, gathering firewood, and making camp.
It was only a day camp, but cozy and homey nonetheless.
After a spell, our fire crackled, and our lunch sizzled.
We spent the day in our makeshift camp before extinguishing our fire, packing up, and returning home. We rolled back inside cold and damp, but well fed and contentedly tired, then warmed ourselves with tea and a fire in the fireplace.
After a full, delicious week away, we stumbled back home to the Driftless last night. So happy to reunite with Pete (this is a trip that just the kids and I take each year), Moose and Grandpa (the dogs), the barn cats, and this quiet valley we call home.
We returned much changed.
We are more sore and more fit; more fed and relaxed. We are simultaneously more tired and more rested than we’ve been in a very long while.
And all of it felt just right.
Back home, unpacking our cooler and our car, another adventure is behind and within us; another hyggely winter week enjoyed.
The scent of woodsmoke lingers in our hair, a memento from our magical time away.
Despite all that I shared about Thanksgiving’s roots and deeper meaning last week, it is still a day my family has long treasured and spent together, focused on gratitude. With this in mind, we slipped away last week for a brief but lovely visit with my parents back at my childhood home.
I’m so grateful to live close enough that a two day trip isn’t a ridiculous prospect, and that we are fortunate enough to have my family to call on–during the holidays and every season.
We read aloud a couple of the books from the Decolonizing Thanksgiving book list, then dove in being helpful as best we could with dinner preparations. Lupine harvested some of my mom’s herbs, then bundled and labeled them and hung them up to dry. So sweet.
During the weekend, my mom pulled a worn gold ring out of a jewelry box, and despite not having seen it for nearly 25 years, I recognized it instantly. It was my grandmother’s wedding ring, and I slipped it onto my finger, awash with memories.
Later that night, knitting beside the fire, her ring was in context once more. Juxtaposed against my yarn and needles, the sight of ring and wool together transported me back in time. My grandma was the only knitter I knew as a child, and she (like me today) was rarely far from her yarn.
I suppose she’s at the heart of why I make.
Seeing that ring alongside my yarn took me back to a seat on the floor beside her chair as she patiently talked me through my first clumsy stitches. I watched as she expertly maneuvered the work in her hands. Like magic, those fluid stitches flowed off her needles.
Such a gift to remember her in this way.
And then… another gift happened.
On our return trip from Thanksgiving, we detoured past a farm that we visited on our arrival trip as well. A farm with a single, sweet-faced puppy for sale.
We were smitten the first time we met him, so–logically–we brought him home.
This puppy pick-up wasn’t half so spontaneous as it sounds. It was a year-and-a-half in the making.
A short time after my sweet Charlie died, Lupine began asking in earnest for another house dog. We delayed while my heart healed, but the requests never slowed. A year passed, then more.
She asked weekly, sometimes nearly every day.
Finally, Pete and I decided that we were ready (all of us).
And so, for her 12th birthday, we gave her a book on dog training – this favorite – (afflink) and tucked a coupon inside for a dog or puppy of her choice. Upon reading it she shrieked with joy, disbelief and tears in her eyes. That night as she drifted off to sleep she whispered, “I can’t believe you gave me a puppy. This is the best gift in the history of every gift that has ever been given to me. In. My. Life.”
A girl of my heart, she was set on a golden, but when we saw this goldendoodle (half golden retriever, half standard poodle) she was sold. We’re not poodle fans per se, but loved the idea of a golden’s personality crossed with another breed to provide some hybrid strength after losing Charlie so young to kidney failure. The fact that they’re touted as hypoallergenic and non-shedding didn’t hurt his case either.
This little newcomer’s name has changed a few times since coming home… first Moose, then Fredland, and now O’donoghue, after our favorite pub in Ireland.
I think this last name is going to stick.
And this little face? Yeah, I think we’re all pretty smitten. Welcome to the family little guy. I hope you love it here.
I’m over on my other blog, Happy Healthy Family, today sharing our family’s 10 favorite read aloud books. It’s possibly the longest standing request I’ve gotten here at CLEAN: “What books does your family love?” At long last I’ve compiled a list.
If you love this list please tell me! I can share more book lists as well: for parenting, homeschooling, homesteading, coming-of-age/puberty, and more. Just say the word and I’m happy to share more of our favorite resources.
But for now, let’s start with family favorite chapter books. Pop on over to see what we’re reading now, and what our favorites are that we’d love to share with you.