I started my #HomesteadingwithKids series to not only learn how others juggle the workload of kids, animal husbandry, and gardening but also to break the stereotype that homesteaders are all off-grid Luddites!
In our dreams, yes John and I would love to be off-grid but we are far from it. Some homesteaders are more self-sufficient than others but most of us enjoy modern creature comforts that are taboo to some of the purist homesteaders out there. That’s ok!
I want to encourage anyone interested in becoming more self-reliant or experimenting with growing and making your own food.
Homesteading is more attainable than you think!
I met Katie Saul via her lovely and touching Instagram page @sixacresaul
There she shares snippets of her day homesteading and homeschooling in Bedford County, Virginia.
She has a truly gifted eye for photographing nature and her kids and she shares really personal vignettes and emotional stories that have definitely made me feel more normal about my own struggles and concerns as a homesteading mama. I was thrilled she agreed to talk to me more about her days with her kids, homeschooling, animals, and garden.
HOMESTEADING WITH KIDS: KATIE SAUL
Whitney: Can you tell me about your family and who lives with you?
Katie: It is me and my husband Trey and our daughter Ella who is 5 and Emmett who is 2 and we have chickens and cats and dogs and all of that good stuff.
And pigs -- don’t you have pigs!?
We actually just butchered those so yes we have pigs – they just graduated to the freezer.
Tell me about the homestead! How many acres are you on, where do you garden, and what animals you have now and what you hope to have.
We live on 6 acres that are our own land. Altogether there’s 15 acres in my family. My dad, my sister, and one of my older brothers own the rest. My husband and I have just 6. On our land we have a pond and a creek and then our chickens and then the garden is up at our father’s house because he had a really nice fenced in closed in area and then we also do the pigs up at his house in the woods where it’s nice and shady. And then in the next spring, I hope to get milk goats. We will have those at our house because I don’t know who else wants to drink goat’s milk, but I do!
We love our goat milk! But it is a commitment. Having lactated myself, I swore I was not going to have dairy animals while I was lactating because that’s enough work just breastfeeding but we share our goats with friends. So if anyone in your family is interested in milking even just once a week, that would help a lot.
I hope so! We will see. [They say] “oh it’s not going to taste good.”
Oh it tastes so good! And I used it as a transitional milk from breastmilk to cow’s milk. It’s supposed to be easier on their stomachs so around a year I gave him one bottle of breastmilk mixed with goat’s milk a day to help him transition.
Oh! We didn’t mention the fact that you are pregnant and due in…?
Where are you planning on delivering?
Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke. I’d love to be that mama that was balsy enough to have them at home but I’m not there yet.
I had my first at home and it was awesome but because of insurance reasons we had our second and plant to have our third at the hospital. When and if we have a fourth, I want to save the money to do a home birth. It is so much more comfortable and beautiful and so much more personal than a sterile hospital setting. But to each their own!
I’m really interested in talking to you about homeschooling because you just started homeschooling your eldest this past year. It’s summer now but could you walk me through a typical day that did include homeschooling?
Yes we started preschool last year. Our typical day of preschool at home – I like the Waldorf style of preschool – more nature-based and play-based. So we would wake up and I would try and get up before the kids. We all eat breakfast and then we make our beds, brush our teeth, get dressed, and then we would usually go straight outside. In the fall, we would go for a walk, in the spring/summer we would go up to the garden. Then we would come back home. We would collect things while we were outside – whatever they thought was interesting especially my older daughter - and we would come back inside. We have a little area upstairs in our loft that is where I have all their school stuff. We would practice one letter at a time. I’d let her make the letter out of sticks to glue it on. We used flashcards for ABCs and then do some numbers and then we would just read. She was really good about listening. After that we would have a snack and go back outside. That’s really all we did curriculum-wise. I just made sure she knew her ABCs and her numbers. And then we would read and play and go outside mainly.
So does the whole family contribute and work on the garden or is it primarily your thing?
It’s usually my dad, my kids, and me. My husband will come help me if I have asked him to weedeat something for me. He’s not a huge vegetable eater so…but he’ll be like “a green bean? Yeah, I can eat that!” it’s mainly my kids, my dad, and me. It’s kinda nice because I think it’s something the kids will remember doing with their mama and paw-paw.
It’s really special that you, your brother, and your sister and your dad all live there together? Is this the same property you grew up on?
It is. My dad bought this property in his 20s. He moved up from Virginia Beach and bought it. And then I’m the baby of the family. He was with my sister’s mother when he built the house. They built my dad’s house and then had her and then my mom came along two years later and they had me and I grew up here in this house. And then my brothers are actually older than both my sister and me because they are our stepbrothers. Their mother passed away when I was in elementary school so my father gave them both some land.
How often do you all get together?
I see my sister mostly every day. She has cerebral palsy and her first little boy is one so I try to go up there and help her and keep her boy occupied sometimes. And then my brother – I see him quite a bit too. I see my dad multiple times a day it seems.
Is your mother still around?
Yes, she’s just down the road. Probably 10 minutes. My parents divorced when I was real young.
That’s so nice that she is so close. It’s hard when you have small children.
So with your two year old…how do you keep him from eating dirt and rocks while you’re gardening? Do you have any tricks of the trade?
I don’t. He’s gotten a lot better about not eating dirt and rocks as much now but when he was younger – last summer he was real bad – this summer he was real bad about not eating berries that are not ripe. It’s very confusing. I’m showing him what a blackberry is and that they can’t be eaten when they are red but the raspberries have to be eaten when they are really, really red.
That is confusing!
It is! I was thinking about this last night. I kept telling him “Stop eating the red blackberries! Stop picking the really light red raspberries!” So I don’t usually stop him. I’m not one of those that is too worried about my children getting a little dirty.
See I grew up in the suburbs and my parents were very clean. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of being dirty, but that’s not how I was raised. I try to check myself.
Going back to homeschooling, why did you choose to homeschool?
So I was so excited about preschool. Sending Ella to preschool, me and her daddy went to this school. Last spring (2015) I kinda got into the Instagram world – I don’t homeschool because of Instagram alone – but I started seeing moms [on Instagram] that were homeschooling and I was like “oh man I don’t know if I could do that! Put their whole future in my hands? I’m not intelligent enough” But then I didn’t really worry about preschool last summer and it hit me that I wasn’t ready to send her off to school. And then I started reading more about Waldorf and I was hooked. Just let them be kids at this age. Let them play and learn. Let’s just be outside together. And I started doing research on what they learn at preschool at school and how they are just inside a lot and yeah they play a lot but it just wasn’t what I wanted for her. I didn’t know any homeschooling families around here – all I had were people I had seen on the internet. So I started messaging some homeschooling Instagram moms. So I got to the point of “I’m not going to send her.” But I didn’t know anyone and I felt like I didn’t have any support. My husband said, “you can keep her home for preschool, but we’ll send her for Kindergarten.” I was freaking out so finally I said ok let’s go visit the preschool. We went to meet her teachers but I literally felt sick --like this is not what we want to do. It was me and Ella and her younger brother and we met the kids and [my] kids didn’t leave my side. The kids were all interacting and being crazy and Ella didn’t want to play with them. And the room was so cluttered and small. And the teachers said that the activities and school stuff was to prepare them for kindergarten because then they will have to sit in a desk all day. I was like “why?!” I don’t remember that from kindergarten! So finally I just decided we are not going to do it. I had bought all her supplies and clothes for school and then we just didn’t do it. I’m going to stick to my guns. There wasn’t enough room for her to just be a child. They were just so focused on preparing her for Kindergarten and not enough play. I didn’t feel like she needed to be prepared for Kindergarten to sit in a desk all day. I wanted her to be in the world – the real world – and doing things with her hands. And it’s not for everyone, I don’t judge but this is how I felt.
Do you plan on homeschooling for the long haul or just taking it one year at a time?
Right now I definitely plan on keeping her home for Kindergarten. We have read so much more – my husband and I both – and I’ve met so many more moms. I meet once every two weeks with a bunch of homeschool moms. From what I’ve read, what I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, it’s what I want to keep doing. If my daughter wants to go to school or my son when he gets older, I won’t stop them if that’s what they want to do. But this is what we are going to do. I’ve just seen such goodness come from my children. It’s more than just keeping them home to learn. It’s more of a lifestyle. Like today is our grocery store day. It’s what we have to do. We don’t put up a fight about it. Life is about errands sometimes – not always play. And sometimes you go to your grandma’s house and you’re a good child at your grandma’s house because that’s how you act.
That’s my other question, I’m very protective of my personal time…what little I have and I was wondering how do you get personal time when your kids are around all the time?
I get up an hour or hour and a half before they get up.
Wow, what time is that?
They don’t get up until 7 or 7:30am so I try to get up at 6 or quarter to 6. And I try to be really quiet and do my social networking at that time so I don’t do it too much in front of them. And I drink coffee and go outside. Sometimes I sneak up to the garden for a little bit. We’re up in the woods I’m not too worried about them. At night, I also put them down for bed and then I stay up for an hour by myself and just breathe. Sometimes during the day I do feel like “oh my gosh, I do just need two seconds to myself” and that’s hard because they don’t understand. They don’t need alone time. Sometimes I do tell them, “ok mama needs a timeout. Y'all go do something. Go upstairs and play.”
What time do they go to bed?
It’s hard during the summer! Right now they go to bed at 9 or quarter to 9 o’clock. I just can’t – their daddy goes to bed so early because he gets up so early for work – instead of making them sit in the house being quiet. In the winter we just read books and go to bed but in the summer we go outside until it’s completely dark. I kinda just let them play in their pool and their swingset. Last night they picked berries with their paw paw. I wish they went to bed earlier but it just isn’t happening with this daylight right now.
You’re pregnant! Aren’t you tired?
I am tired! It was a lot worse during the first trimester. I am exhausted though. We will see when the baby gets here. We will just take it one day at a time.
What do you hope your kids remember about this time in their lives?
I hope they remember the simplicity and being happy. That’s my biggest fear – them not being happy. I just want them to remember me being there for them – me always being there – and doing stuff outside with me and their dad always being there for them when he could be when he isn’t working. When I look back on my childhood, both of my parents worked and what I remember is schoolwork and homework. What I want them to remember is being with family and that being a normal thing.
What are your husband’s hours? Are you able to eat dinner together?
Yes. He goes in at 4am and finishes at 3pm. He works 11 hour shifts Monday through Friday. So he gets home around 3:30pm and we eat dinner together around 4. So we eat together and then – he can’t sit still – he has to be working on something in his garage or working in the yard so he goes outside for a while and we all go outside. So he’s usually piddling on something and around 7pm I finally get him to sit down for a bit before bedtime and he goes to sleep around 8pm. Sometimes I’m glad for a routine but man, it’s SUCH a routine. I’m grateful for our weekends when we can just enjoy and don’t have to worry about the clock.
I really value eating meals as a family – especially meals with food from our deep freezer – meat we have procured/raised/killed ourselves or fresh vegetables from our garden. Or berries! We have wineberries, elderberries, and blackberries. Picking berries is fun but the bushes we had with blackberries last year aren’t the ones that have berries this year? They are rotational? I didn’t know that.
Yeah it’s confusing. I learned that when I bought a couple blackberry bushes when I first started staying home [with the kids] and they were like cut the stalk back to bloom this year but they won’t bloom next year.
Nice to know I’m not the only one still learning too!
Thank you Katie for taking the time to share a little bit about your experience #Homesteadingwithkids!
All images care of Katie Saul @sixacresaul.
Are you -- or someone you know -- farming or homesteading with kids? Full OR part time? I'd love to interview you! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org