happy equinox

I hear from a reader who prefers to tell me things in person rather than comment that the chrysanthemum post might have been too harsh. I hear that! It's really about my own hangups—I'm glad I'm not in charge of anyone else, so they don't have to worry about my peculiarities. Or read my blog either, for that matter! Even in their pots all the mums will look nice once they bloom, which they'll do any day now... because it's fall!

We celebrated this afternoon with a lesson on the equinox and fall harvest festivals worldwide (our school work was this afternoon, because this morning we celebrated my dad's birthday... Happy Birthday Grandpa!). And this evening we totally ignored the reality of our ever-shorter days by staying up super late hanging out with friends. All very fun, only I'm a little concerned that we won't have the energy needed to for the real fall fun tomorrow, as we take in the Bedford Day festivities. Well, we'll be doing it either way! I'll most likely write about the day's excitement... if nothing else, it's better than complaining about other people's decoration choices.

the seasonality of chrysanthemums

A few days out from the official start of fall, it seems like everyone in our neighborhood—everyone but us—has potted chrysanthemums adorning their front porches. Lot of them! Like they must have been on sale somewhere. Since I'm a contrary old cuss, I have some thoughts.

Now don't get me wrong, mums are lovely. We have a few in our garden, and I love the half-wild ones along the side of the bike path. They're a great sign of early fall; it's so wonderful to see flowers starting to bloom just as most of the others are fading away. The coppery and deep red ones in particular are great fall colors too. But!

Never mind how sad I find it when people buy perennials in pots—daffodils or tulips or easter lillies or mums—and then toss them when their "season" is over. That's their prerogative, and if I don't like it I can just grab the cast-off plants to put in the ground myself (I have, too!). But when you have these plants, forced and trimmed to within an inch of their lives, signifying fall... it just doesn't make sense! They're all greenhouse-grown; they could just have well been forced for any other time of year. And worse, the same way you get mums you could just as well have, oh, I don't know, petunias! That is to say, there's no horticultural reason for people to be buying mums—they're just doing it because that's what one does in the fall.

It's like the plastic pumpkins that have started to move from basements to front lawns over the past couple weeks. Why are pumpkins a sign of fall? Because they don't ripen until well into the fall, when everything else is dying. So it maybe doesn't make so much sense to put them out in early September when the sweet corn and summer squash and tomatoes are still going strong. There's nothing wrong with early pumpkins—either plastic or genuine—but their connection with the season is artificial and so less meaningful and interesting.

And that's true of so many things. We celebrate the turning seasons, but we're completely insulated from any real affects as they change. Our homes are heated and cooled to the same temperature all year round; our jobs are completely season- and weather-independent; we can eat watermelon and peas and raspberries all year round. So I guess it makes sense that we need to resort to artificial means to bring back some sense of seasonality. For sure, I agree that seasons are great! And to appreciate them even more, I suggest some slightly more intensive gardening: toss those potted mums into a hole and water them a little until it freezes, and they'll come back next year—at just the right time to celebrate the fall!

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moments from the week

the kids and friends posing on a train, in front of a sign reading

homeschoolers' field trip

A few moments from the past week.

Harvey and Lijah drinking tea in fuzzy PJs

in the morning chill

Harvey letting a ladybug crawl on his hand

ladybug

Lijah striking a pose, singing into the microphone

rock star

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first field trip of the year

Zion looking through a old-photo cutout

living history

This past Monday we kicked off our social studies curriculum for the fall with a trip to Lowell. In third grade, to quote the standards: "Using local historic sites, historical societies, and museums, third graders... learn the history of their own cities and towns and about famous people and events in Massachusetts’ history." Since our farm-school co-op has third graders from Lowell and Bedford, we have two places to study. Lowell first!

outside the Boott Cotton Mill Museum

in the shadow of the mill buildings

This was an exploratory visit, which mixed a little bit of learning with a lot of playing (we follow the teachings of John Holt even in field trip planning). The visitor center of the National Historical Park was well provided with things to play on, including a replica trolley.

the kids playing on a replica trolley in the museum

all aboard!

After playing with the controls, the kids were interested how they worked on the real thing, so we made inquiries. The wait was only as long as the 15-minute movie, so that was another educational opportunity (in particular, the adults received an education in how well the children can sit still in front of moving pictures). Then we ran to catch the trolley.

the kids riding the real trolley

we made it!

We would have had to pay to get in to the factory museum to see the looms in action; we'll save that for later. But the canals running all over town are free as the air, and we admired several of them. As designed, they look almost placid, so it's hard to get a sense of the power they carry... until you find the right viewing spot!

the boys looking down at the Swamp Locks, part of the Lowell canal complex

waterpower

Up next in our unit, a technology connection as we try and make our own water wheels to harness the power of the hose. Coming Monday!

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that sounds like poetry!

For our poetry unit last year we spent much of the time talking about what makes a poem a poem—which is to say, poetic language. Unlike the year before we didn't actually read that many poems, because what tends to make poems interesting to the boys—rhyme and steady rhythm—isn't worth talking much about at this point. Instead, we read well-written prose, mostly in picture books, and noticed consonance and assonance, natural word rhythms, and figurative language. And it was totally worth it because now, a couple times a week, they point out poetic moments in the books we're reading. "That sounds like poetry!" they'll say.

This evening it was a bit from Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome. "A few of the oaks still carried some of the dried leaves of last year, which made a noise almost like water when the wind stirred them" called out to Harvey—or Zion, I forget which. Either way, somebody liked it and pointed it out. I enjoyed some beautiful language myself in What Forest Knows, which I read to Lijah this morning: "Forest knows fruit— / berries, nuts, cones / to seed new trees / and feed forest folk / through winter." And there's lots more where that comes from.

I think it's nice to notice that there's not a binary distinction between poems and not-poems. What poets do is pay attention to the sound of words and the way they fit together—but so do all good writers. Sound matters, images matter—to me at least. And, I'm delighted to say, to my children.

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