Wonder Farm is ten years old today! I hope you’ll indulge me in some reminiscing. And then maybe you’ll wish a happy birthday in the comments–I’m giving away books to bribe you!
I first hit publish on July 18, 2008. Like everyone, I want to be Soule Mama. I dabble in craft posts–a knitting project here, a cookie post there–but am not very good at it. My photos are ill-framed and blurry, taken with my daughter’s point-and-shoot. I write a couple of posts a week and feel it isn’t enough. My oldest goes to high school in the fall–the first time we aren’t all homeschooling. I record questions my youngest asks at six, like, “Is being an ice cream man a good job?” And, “Do ants have pupils?” And, “How did John McCain fight big tobacco?” A reader named Carrie googles the words waldorf and guilt and finds her way right here. (And will go on to leave over 100 comments over the years and will, nine years later, become my daily writing accountability buddy.) I share how an essay I’d written about a family trip to Spain has been rejected four times, having no idea that ten years later I will still be rewriting that essay. Upon hearing Obama’s election speech I write, “But the fact that we’ll have a president who can speak with eloquence thrills my mind. I’m delighted that we’ve elected a president who seems so, well, presidential,” once again having no idea what is to come. I set out on a Year of Excellent Essayists, studying the craft, recording favorite lines, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking becoming a favorite book, even though it isn’t a collection of essays. I write a few posts about writing with my kids and discover that people are interested in what I have to say. I think I might write a book about it.
I put our homeschooling style into words that seem to resonate. My photos get better. Through the blog I meet Molly, who becomes a friend in real life. I am proclaimed a Master of Spunkiness. Since these are the days when search terms are not yet hidden from reports, I record some favorite searches that lead people to my blog, like wow she stunning and I don’t like Sandra Dodd and Where is Bon Jovi’s house and Pokemon satin evil little children. My favorite book of essays that fall is Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. I write about my boys making a film together, and it seems so long ago now that it feels like a fairy tale. I begin to glimpse what an infomaniac my youngest is, and how destined I am to feel clueless around him. I write about my oldest turning eighteen and coming into his own as a filmmaker.
We leave leave that oldest kid at college in New York City, 3,000 miles from home. Meanwhile, kid #2 goes to high school. To distract myself, I start writing about taking dictation from kids. I write about more search engine terms that lead people to me, including troll mothering and pokemon ate patricia and do goblins attack fairy dishes? I have a dear-to-my-heart essay published about my girl and her dreams of singing, in a magazine now defunct, by a lovely mother-editor who has since passed away. I rant about the five-paragraph essay. Which leads me to spend months researching and writing a feature article about how writing education has become more and more formulaic in the the past fifteen years, only to have the article get roundly rejected. We take our youngest to China and I blog about it, though the post is so photo-heavy it doesn’t seem to load. I suck down Mary Karr’s Lit. I answer the question why homeschool? I write about hosting a history fair and the post manages, in the years since, to get pinned over 3,000 times. I’m still posting, for the most part, once a week.
I write about prefrontal cortexes, the fourth grade slump and writing in a post that still claims one of the weirdest titles despite being a personal favorite. The third kid at home, still homeschooling with me, digs into California history and we live like cooks and militia during the time of Russian settlement on the north coast, and like miners during the gold rush. I begin writing an awful lot about kids and writing–too many posts to link though you can find them here–and find that as I go deep into content, I post less often. I enjoy the book The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnik. I write another post that morphs into an article called How Do Kids REALLY Learn to Write that is eventually viewed here a mind-boggling 25,612 times. The comments and dialogue on that post over the years make me very happy. I try to tell Seth Godin why he and other school reformers shouldn’t dismiss homeschooling and while he doesn’t pay attention, other people show up in the comments and we talk. Mr. T draws an infographic about Avengers characters and their interestingness and manages to attract the attention of the Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times, who makes his own stunning Avengers visualizations and gives inspiration credit to my kid.
Readers and I try a little experiment and manage to get my blog to show up on page one of a Google search for “homeschool writing.” (I’ve long since been demoted.) A favorite book is Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences about Writing with its assertion that “most of what you think you know about writing is useless.” I take a chapter from the writing book for parents I’m working on, expand it, and self-publish a book on facilitating writer’s workshops. I’ve only sold a few hundred copies over the years, but have heard back from many enthusiastic workshop facilitators and that’s enough for me. I take my youngest to New York to act in the student film of my oldest and thrill, like in the old days, at watching two of my kids get creative together. I write a series on becoming a writing mentor to your child that takes a lot of time and continues on for months, even as my heart begins shifting away from writing a book on helping parents with kids’ writing. One fine Wednesday in April, a homeschooling co-op links to my How Do Kids REALLY Learn to Write post and Wonder Farm gets a whopping 1,888 views in a single day. Not that those visitors seem to stick around, but it’s fun while it lasts. My kid finally finishes his epic periodic table of Marvel characters. On Wonder Farm’s fifth anniversary I gush about my uncommonly wonderful readers and beg you to wish the blog a happy birthday. Sixty-four of you show up and make my day.
I begin to wonder what I’m doing with this blog, what I should offer. I go over a month without blogging. I let myself play with the idea of writing personal essays again, which has always been my first love. I watch my girl turn 18 and offer 18 things that I love about her. My youngest makes infographics about the video game League of Legends and I have no idea that he’ll still be a maniac for the game four years later. My girl lets me help her brainstorm her college essays, which honors me, but later panics me, when I realize her Common App essay–In Which She Bashes Traditional Schooling–is a little risky, but then it goes on to win a scholarship essay contest, with no small help from Wonder Farm readers who upvote it into the final round. Getting back to my essayist roots, I publish an essay on my family’s love for Lemony Snicket and then fully commit to getting back to essay-writing. I write my first–essayistic–quarterly column for home/school/life magazine. A favorite book that summer is Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton.
We drop our second kid at college in New York City, and I write about how coming home to her empty bedroom is the hardest part. I barely eke out a post a month here. I do manage to write about how loud my family is. I’m beginning to think about writing a memoir of our homeschooling lives and want my kids’ blessing. They agree, so long as I agree to title it Family of Geniuses, à la Etheline’s book in The Royal Tenenbaums. I scarf down the anthology The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family and How We Learned to Eat. I turn fifty and dance and dance and dance. I go to a writing conference where Cheryl Strayed starts my heart spinning and I find my posts here becoming farther between and more like short essays.
My youngest and I begin our last year homeschooling and its start is bittersweet. We celebrate that last year of freedom by taking an RV trip to Utah with his dad and older brother in the fall. Finally ready to dig into my memoir, I take an online class–in that same RV post, I note how much time I’m spending in our earliest homeschooling days. I wonder what kind of blogger I even am anymore and manage a December post with actual craft photos and recipe links, like I’d tried so hard to do in my early blogging days. I write about homeschooling my MFA and how I color-code essays I admire late into the night. I get interviewed on a podcast. I admit that my youngest says he doesn’t like reading, debate his reasoning, worry and wonder over it. I get nostalgic hosting our final history fair, the tenth of ten, and my kid goes meta and displays a history of history fairs. I go back to the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference and write about how much I love presenter Ana Maria Spagna’s essay collection, Potluck. I only write eight posts over the course of the my eighth blogging year and the annual comments comprise about the same number as I’d received on my fifth birthday post alone. Still, the commenters who show up are loyal and chatty and make me want to keep going.
My youngest goes to high school and for the first time in twenty years, I’m no longer a homeschooler. I announce that I’m reinventing myself and many of you kindly drop by to encourage me. I fall hard for Jenny Offill’s collaged novel (that reads like a memoir) Dept. of Speculation. I admit–in my own collaged way– that a year into trying to write my memoir, I’m still figuring out how to do it. I feel a little lost, not quite sure what I’m doing, write about change–learning to write differently, to build muscle, to leave behind my magazine column, to march in a pussy hat. Then I go and lose my beloved coffee cup and we all lose Amy Krouse Rosenthal and I worry about making the most of my time here. I can’t figure out if I should be writing about homeschooling since I hope to someday have a memoir on the topic, or about writing, which is what fills my days. Readers respond to my posts, but often in my links on Facebook and Instagram, rather than here. Still, a reader is a reader, and I’m grateful. I go off-course and write a post about menopause. Another collaged one, a form I’m coming to love. Another year; another mere eight posts.
I keep writing about writing–about my love for the lyric essay and the writing conference I attend with my daughter. Megan Stielstra’s collection The Wrong Way to Save Your Life shows me what lyric essays can be. I’ve put my memoir aside to try to get some essays published but am not having much luck with that. I think of 2017 as my year of rejection but try not to get discouraged. I’m coming to understand that I wasn’t ready to write my memoir two years ago. I’m learning; I’m getting closer. I keep rewriting that essay about the trip to Spain I mentioned in my very first year of blogging–somehow my homeschooled MFA thesis seems to have taken the form of a single essay. I worry that I’m not offering much here for homeschoolers and try out a little series on Instagram for a month–and really do mean to get back to it. But revisiting ten years of posts helps me see that I do have plenty to offer homeschoolers: I have ten years of writing and it’s all still here. People say blogging is dead. And maybe I’m acting as if I believe that–counting this post, I’ve written a grand total of four times this year. Compare that with 75 posts in year one. Still, this isn’t Facebook, it isn’t Instagram; it’s my own little space, cobbled together ten years ago with a very minimal understanding of code and some hope. I write whatever I want and publish without a gatekeeper to reject me. And then, delight of delights, what’s always been best about this space: readers respond. I’ve kept this thing going for ten years because of you. You taught me that I had something to say; you inspired me to say it better. You opened your hearts and told me your fears. You let me encourage you and you encouraged me right back.
Believe me when I say, I still get the same ping of glee I got ten years ago when an email shows up in my inbox with a subject line that reads: comment for you at [wonderfarm]
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So once more on my blog’s birthday, would you consider leaving a comment and saying hello? I know I don’t have as many readers as I once did–and I never had a big audience to begin with–but my stats tell me you’re dropping by and I’d love to know who you are and to thank you.
To encourage you: I’m giving away books for this birthday! They’re always the best presents, after all. Leave a comment here before August 18, when I’ll randomly choose two commenters. I’ve mentioned ten beloved books above; if you’re a winner I’ll contact you and ask you to choose one of them. And then I’ll mail it your way. With love. xo.