Thursday, December 31, 2009


I think often about whether I am actually present to the people in the room with me, or if I am present in this moment.  This wondering is part of what led us to get rid of the television so many years ago.  I try to remember whom I am neglecting when I am on the phone. I go through spells of no computer time if the children are awake.

There are times when I actively choose to escape this moment or this situation. I found nursing tedious at times, and I spent many hours reading John Adams and Truman and Middlemarch. At times of stress, I definitely enjoy light fiction and Jason and I might catch "The Daily Show" on the computer. I sing through some temper tantrums and I take knitting when I think I might get bored or antsy. I talk on the phone while washing the dishes. But with all these things, I am very cognizant of the choice.

By the same token, when Jason gets home in the evenings or before he leaves in the morning, I do not make phone calls and I turn off the radio or music. I want to be very aware of his energy, and I want to feel the way our family weaves together. I cannot do this as well if there is the buzz of music or if I am staring at a book or computer screen or if I am actually talking to a person who is not even here.

For the record, I do not think anyone can give their attention to a person in the room with them while doing these other activities.

I can always tell when the person on the other end of the phone line has begun to stare at their computer screen. My children's misbehavior is heightened when I am yacking away on the phone or checking my email.  Jason can be SOOO aggravating when I just want to finish my chapter. Truthfully, these things must be done sometimes, but it is good to be aware of what it means to the person sitting beside you.

So, when I read crazy things like "Spending time with my family watching some tv program" posted from someone's cell phone, I always shake my head.  That person is looking at at least two screens and interacting with one while being numbed by the other.  Can we really be "with the family" in that situation? Am I actually present in my life, separate from this space that doesn't really exist?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No one comes first

There is a trick to being a group of five people all wanting different things.  When we sit down for school, all three children would like for me to focus on them the entire time.  Personally, I would like to float around doing my work, like a guardian angel, silently guiding at only just the right moments.  I would also love to finish a thought without someone asking for something.  When we go skiing, we all want to go our own speed and do our own things.  But we cannot at any moment even half hope that we are all getting just what we want right this second.  Contrarily, it is not "right" for any one of us to NEVER get the thing we most want. 

Again, that word- Balance.

Today, as we skied, Ezra desperately wanted to go off on his own.  He wanted to choose his path and go as fast as he could.  Phaedra wanted the group to be together, as she wanted to spend time with the friend who met us there.  Sylvie wanted to not feel left behind.  I want very much for Sylvie to ski instead of being pulled in the pulk.  Each child can be demanding and (dare I say it?) bratty, but Ezra seems to feel the most entitled to determine what every other person should do.  He quite simply wandered off.

For those of you not faced with this, let me explain.  I was on skis.  I had two younger children, so I could only go as fast as they could go.  There was no way I could leave them to chase him.  Fortunately, he wandered back.  I then explained for the 700th time this year that we must think of all the people in our group or family.  I actually did not mind setting a time limit and letting him take off; he doesn't get lost, he does well with responsibility.  However, our friend feels totally different about her child, and he had left with Ezra.

Ezra pulls an attitude when he feels unfairly hemmed in, so it took a bit of a threat (no friend's visit this afternoon) to snap him out of it.  Then, we divided the group by ability, and the children had a good time.  I was working, mostly.  I stayed with Sylvie to give her time to be a little person who falls often, which meant I was not even sort of skiing.  That's a trade off I was willing to make.  She, on the other hand, keeps trying to ski, because that's something our family does. 

No one got to do exactly what they wanted today, but everyone had a nice time.  And, I believe this effort at compromising is perhaps one of the most important things we can learn in our little family group.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


We had such a peaceful Christmas.  Jason was home four straight days.  We attended a tree lighting party with so many of our "neighbors".  We had our own small holiday party on Christmas Eve with just a quiet, peaceful, happy group.

On Christmas morning, the children were delighted by everything.  They LOVED their costumes (this is Ezra's).  They loved their new dolls and books and bionacles and mittens and socks and pajamas.  Everyone was happy.  Then, we spent the day quietly at home.  We had a walk, we had a ski, we knitted, we read, we played the new game Ezra received.

Now, we're still in our Christmas season; until January 6th, we'll mostly stay close to home, stay pretty quiet, and celebrate the light that we share.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Wishes for my children

Okay, so these are not really holiday wishes, but I feel a bit sappy and sentimental right now.

I hope my children do not identify themselves by some single characteristic- homosexual, conservative, dancer, programmer, christian, pro choice, etc.  I wish for them to know the texture life has to offer, that life is more like the dots in a Seurat painting than a single shade of green.

I hope they know many people who say, "There's a bit more to it," when they think they have figured out the "truth" of something.

I hope they cherish metaphor for its ability to get to the heart of something rather than a simple fact.

I hope they will make music, oblivious to detractors.  I hope they whistle, hum, bow, drum, sing, strum their ways through life.

I hope they learn that given a choice, they can still check for other options.

I hope they learn that the solution is always within them.

I hope they go to college only because that is what they want and I hope they go later rather than earlier (if at all).

I'm sure the list could go on forever, but most of all, I hope they find happiness.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


One really neat thing about snow is that you can see who has passed through while you were not looking.  So far, we have only had fox tracks, but that's still pretty exciting.

In Shelburne, we regularly saw deer, rabbit, skunk, turkey, and fox.  We occasionally saw coyote and bobcat.

In Johnson, we saw deer and mice tracks, and occasionally moose.

I haven't seen a bear track, yet, but they probably don't trudge through snow very often.

Our spot seems strangely quiet as far as wildlife is concerned.  I have a few theories as to why, but I am not certain how I'll ever know.  We are close to town and a state highway (for the Texans, this has less traffic than Trail Lake in Fort Worth or Duval in Austin, much less).  We were near an even busier road and denser population in Shelburne, but there was Nature Conservancy land right out our back door.  Also, there was less snow.  We live on the south side of a hill, so I keep thinking we should see more deer tracks.  We have seen other evidence of deer before we had snow, like scat and bedding places.  I haven't seen any sign of rabbits.  Maybe the ATV trail is more disruptive to wildlife than I understand; it does not actually have that much traffic, but it also does not offer much in the way of habitat.  Even the railroad in Shelburne had "wild" space in its easement.  Not sure...

Friday, December 11, 2009

The cold is pretty nice

Cold weather is finally settling in.  We've had about ten inches of snow this week that has not melted.  The children have been sledding every day.  They play and play and play.  They've been skiing around on our property.  There's enough snow for me to ski, but I've been busy with holiday labors.  The fire is burning.  We all do our part to keep it going.  We're having chicken and dumplings for dinner and we've had cocoa three times this week.  I like all these things.

Some wonder how we've adapted to this very different climate.  The truth is simple- we've equipped ourselves.  All of us wear woolies- that's wool long underwear.  It is NOT itchy unless you get too warm.  We all wear wool hats and socks- they are NOT itchy unless you get too warm.  We all have warm slippers.  We all have snow pants and snow coats.  We all have at least three pairs of gloves or mittens.  We all have neck warmers.  We all play outside so we don't get gloomy in the long winter.  Also, we have at least two blankets on all the beds, and the kids each have three.  Sylvie wears wool pajamas.

The cold means it's time to slow down.  You have to drive more slowly in the winter weather.  People are very forgiving when you run late.  You have to have fewer plans because it's darker and the roads are less navigable.  There's lots of being at home and being quiet.  However, this is balanced by having less to do.  There are no big construction projects, no yard work, no gardening, no camping, so what time we have is more easily given to casual socializing.

The cold is pretty nice.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The half pig

We cut up half of a pig last Wednesday, and I finished dealing with the 4.5 gallons of lard today.  At this point, we were removing the leaf lard and shaving some of the fat off the back.  To give some perspective, the counter we worked at is six feet long.

Here's a picture of me cutting the fat off the back.  This pig was pastured and had lots of milk and soaked corn.  Our friends raised six this year; they say they do not want to raise that many again.

This is the hind quarter.  We cut this into two roasts and some steaks.

We haven't cut up enough pigs to know quite what to do with chops this thick.  Maybe we made the wrong choice, but we just cut them and packaged them in pairs for us to treat as a meal for all five of us.  We also made a rib roast from one end of the ribs.

It's pretty amazing to do this work and fill your freezer.  We ground the bits and pieces into roughly 30 pounds of ground pork to use in lasagna, tacos, gravy, and for sausage.

Friday, December 4, 2009

$$$ Rice cereal treats $$$

Ezra asked yesterday if we could make "those cereal things with marshmallows".  I had no idea what he was talking about.  After some questions and his sisters chiming in, I figured out what they wanted.  This is not a regular food item in our house.  We actually eat very little packaged cereal; grain must be extremely processed to become cereal, so even "organic, natural" cereals are questionable in my mind.  Then, a marshmallow cannot really be called food; we eat them more often than cereal, like when we camp, but it's a definite treat.

I mulled all this over as the children began talking about the wonders of these rice cookies (Ah! the trials of being perfect!), and I decided we could make them if we planned on sharing them and if we bought the more natural options for cereal and marshmallows.

We had friends coming this afternoon, so I tried to buy my ingredients yesterday at our tiny little food coop.  Apparently, there is too little shelf space for things like marshmallows, so I went to the larger coop while in the big city today.  I bought a $4.39 box of organic, extruded brown rice cereal (Gluten Free!) and 2 packages of $3.25 natural marshmallows (Fat Free!) that had corn syrup instead of HFCS.  I seriously debated just buying the less "healthy" ingredients, but that would have involved another stop at a different grocery store with a smelly meat department.

I managed to make the treats; they were yummy.  But, they will remain a rare treat at our house- I just cannot afford the mental and monetary anguish necessary.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent- the first light

I did not grow up in a family that marked advent, so when we began Waldorf with all its festivals, advent was another one I had to learn about.  The first couple of years, it just meant a walk along a spiral made of evergreen boughs.  As the children got older and the festival became something I brought to our family without a community, I had to bring some meaning to it.  So, please forgive me if the following post does not fit with any long standing traditions regarding advent.

"The first light of advent is the light of the stones"
That's the beginning of the poem we recite as we light our advent candle this week.  From the stones or dirt come everything.  We chew with them, they support our skeleton, we eat them as minerals, we hold them to our ears to hear the sea.  These things that seem lifeless are part of the light we each carry inside ourselves.

And now, especially this far north, we become very aware of how very dark the world can be.  We feel the lack of sunshine.  It becomes an inward time to focus on our internal light so that we can then carry this special bit into the world.  And this week, we acknowledge that even the stones have some of that light.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Waiting for Winter

It's time for there to be snow.  Some people dread it, but I am anticipating it.

The gardens are done enough; there's always more to do, and if it doesn't snow soon, I'll do more.  However, I would be happy to awake tomorrow morning to a foot of snow and no more leaves to rake.

We have more plans.  I have been reading more about permaculture and talking to more experienced friends.  Balancing what each has to say against my certainty that some mistakes just have to be made for us to learn, I like our current plan.  We're going to plant fruit trees on either side of the drive, and a nut tree or two in the only less sandy place on our property.  We'll put a perimeter fence around the "chicken" field this year (or at least as much as we can afford), and plant two or three fodder trees strategically in this field.  A fodder tree is one that provides things animals can eat.  At this point, I know locust is a local option, but I don't know how well it grows in sandy soil.  I need to do a bit more research.

The idea of putting trees in pastures is to provide hummus building, fodder, shade, and a water detainer.  At first we'll have to protect the trees from the animals, but as they grow, this will become less necessary, except in the case of pigs.

Jason works twelve days in the next two weeks as part of Santa's dungeon staff, but then, we can focus on some of our inside winter tasks.  And hopefully, do a bit of sledding and cross country skiing, assuming it ever snows.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Not at my house"

I really feel so annoyed when people say this.  I've heard how my children would not scream if they were someone else's or how Ezra would have less explosive outbursts and more impulse control and how Phaedra would share and Sylvie would be docile.  I always think, "That just goes to show what you know!"

But, here's the thing- I kind of think it's true.  I think we only tackle what counts as biggies to us, and for survival's sake, we let some things slide that another parent would simply not tolerate.

For me, potty training early was an absolute.  Honestly, it was so easy all three times that I mostly count it to luck.  Whatever it was, in this house, you had to be potty trained when I was done dealing with diapers.  Also, we don't have Barbie and the children DO wear hats just because I say so and everyone has ALWAYS laid back in the tub for hair washing and bedtime after about 2 years of age is a simple affair and we do eat a variety of foods and...  You get the idea.

For me, some screaming isn't that important; I don't actually mind some "backtalk"; no one has to jump every time I say "jump!"  Books can lay around on every horizontal surface for many hours of the day. I don't care if you close the bathroom door, and it looks like flushing the toilet must not bother me either, because I'm always flushing it for somebody.  If one of my kids wishes I would die, I'm not upset.  See what I mean?

I could complain about all those things, but I think I'll stop.  It seems obvious to me that I change the things that really matter to me.  Those other things irritate, but not enough for me to rise to action.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Knitting for Christmas

I have one pair of mittens underway that I am planning to felt.  The mittens I made last year just were not up to our weather, so I hope the felted ones are better.  I am making mittens, because Sylvie's hands seem impossible to find gloves that fit.  She has two pairs of fleece ones that get wet, and she has an array of water proof mittens and gloves that her little hands cannot operate.  So, maybe some felted wool mittens will do the trick.

I am knitting my first pair of socks for Phae.  I prefer to give gifts people need or can use.  The idea of giving someone another thing that they will just throw away turns my stomach.  She needs socks.  Sylvie and Ezra need mittens.  I cannot post what I am doing for Jason because he is able to read this.

I also have some sewing cued up for my family- robes, night gowns, pajamas, curtains.  I just don't know how much I'll finish by Christmas.

Jason and I do not actually give the children toys, usually, because they receive enough from other relatives.  It just seems like overload.  We think we could actually give them nothing, and it would not be noted.  There are always a couple of gifts that stick out for them, but everything else is lost in a haze of packages.  And, it's funny because I know they do not even open as many packages as most of their friends or even as many as I did when I was little.

That's why I like to give things I want them to have or that they need, especially homemade.  These are things they will think of in the months after Christmas as they slip into bed or slip on their boots, and they'll have a bit of my love to carry along.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I think we'll keep doing this

First- we spent Sunday getting the old garden space ready for winter.  Jason and I are both recuperating, and it was slow work, but it finally feels like we have enough of the area sheet mulched to call it good enough for next year.  Next fall, we'll talk about extending it.

As I was working at it, ever so slowly, I thought of how strong my arms are getting.  I rake and rake and rake leaves.  Maybe, to some, raking seems trivial, but if you do it for two or three hours straight, you will definitely feel the "burn".  Then, I shovel.  I shovel the compost into the cart, I push the cart up a gradual incline, and then I spread it one shovelful at a time over the leaves in the garden.  Repeat.  I find this rewarding and worth doing over and over again, because it has a purpose.

I love cycling, but I can only "go for a cycle" about once a week with no purpose besides cycling.  I will happily run, but even running is more fun if I am going somewhere.  Then, I have my own hamster wheel called a rowing machine, and that has been great in winter when I could not leave the children alone in the house.  I could get on there and feel at least a muscular sense of accomplishment; my sense of humor is the only thing that made it mentally possible.  So, I am very happy to have my "exercise" built right into my life.

Second- Ezra chatted with me as we raked leaves this afternoon about Henry VIII, Mary, and Elizabeth, and the reformation, and how these pieces were interrelated.  As he was piecing it together, he threw in the importance of Henry VII making bibles more widely available.  Then, we veered into a discussion of the Industrial Revolution, Blake, Dickens, and the English monarchy.  He thought perhaps Marie Antoinette was queen in France during the Industrial Revolution because of the dates; I think not, but we're going to check into it tomorrow.  He thought she must have been because James Watt lived the same time as she did.

Really, that's what my 9 year old and I discussed while raking leaves- by HIS impetus, and Phaedra listened and chimed in and we sang Peg and Awl.  He understands history better than I did after college.  I think this homeschooling stuff has something going for it; I think we'll keep doing it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I made hot cocoa for snack today.  I served it to Sylvie first, and she complained that it was hot.  I do serve hot things to my children, and I have since they were about 18 months to 2 years old.  They blow, they sip, they wait.

When she burned her tongue, I asked if she would like a little cream to cool down the cocoa, and Ezra went to get it.  Then, I turned to serve another cup of cocoa.

And suddenly, Sylvie was screaming bloody murder.  I turned and she was covered in hot cocoa.

I yanked her up and ripped off her shirt then her pants then her undershirt.  And she screamed and screamed.  I threw her in the tub and poured really cold water over her tummy and thighs.  She screamed and screamed.

Somewhere in there, Phaedra began screaming; I asked if she was burned.  No, she wasn't, but she had cocoa on her favorite tshirt, and she proceeded to wail.  I used a phrase I have used exactly one other time in 9.5 years; I told her to shut up.  I continued to lathe Sylvie with cold water, and Phaedra kept wailing behind me.  At that point, I did something I don't think I've done in all my parenting life; I said, "G** da*****, Phaedra, shut up!"  And Sylvie was still screaming.

I yanked Sylvie out of the tub and tried to asses her injury.  It looked faintly pink, and I was confused.  I said, "Sylvie, are you hurt?"


"Sylvie!  Listen to Mama!  Are you hurt?"


That's the point at which I slapped her.  It was a cold blooded decision, because I had to know what was going on.  Miraculously, she stopped screaming.  I asked again, "Sylvie, are you hurt?"

"No, Mama, but I spilled cocoa on my new pants."

The next few minutes were not my finest, but we made it through.  I reminded them of the boy who cried wolf.  I talked about helping the injured before we worry about clothes.  I talked about how if I think they are injured, I WILL act, and I will get a big boost from my body to do whatever I have to do to help them.  And, that this extra energy can make Mama especially crabby if it was actually unneeded.

Then, we all had cocoa.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This "new" method of home schooling

Until this year, I have relied heavily on Waldorf materials in our home school plans.  I had songs, poems, fingerplays, gross motor games, etc, planned every morning to start our day.  This was followed by a nice long lesson on one particular subject, and we would focus on the same subject for two to three weeks.  After this long lesson, we would have some more music, some handwork, and/or some art.  I did this because I thought it was right, because I felt this was a gentle approach to school that allowed for a dreamier absorption of the information.  I did it for the children.

Here's the problem- they did not take to it.  Ezra would openly rebel in spurts, but last year, Phaedra was almost impossible.  I think in a classroom, she would have been fine.  She would have done the songs and poems and games with a group of kids as long as she did not feel put on the spot.  But, when it's just her, me, and her brother, she felt too observed.  Then the long lessons often became a muddle.  I would say what needed to be said, they would seem to understand it, and we would still have 45 minutes to an hour left to "finish".  Logically, I should have called the lesson over when it was over, but I kept thinking I was missing something, somehow the children were supposed to be doing more so that it took longer.

This year our school morning looks more like a traditional school, and everyone is happier.  By traditional, I mean I am using more prepared materials, and the children spend more time working on their own.  They do handwriting, math, and fiddle every morning.  That is followed by some reading, whether history, culture, science, or literature. After each reading, they present something to show they grasped what they read, to show that they own some portion of it.  They might simply tell me about it or draw a picture or write a few sentences in the Book of Centuries.  We do German three days a week.  We do art.  We do science or nature "lab" once a week.  With all this variety, I should be doing more work, but I am not.  Also, we finish all of this in two hours on a good day and three hours on a rough day.  They ask for more work.  It's wonderful.

I also feel like this curriculum has room in it to share things I like with the children.  For example, we have been reading some of my favorite poets this term- Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and A. A. Milne.  We are entering literature in a way that I feel real enthusiasm for.  Ezra and I are reading Oliver Twist and Last of the Mohicans; Phaedra is listening some, but definitely gets bored.  She is reading fables, Paddle to the Sea, biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Columbus, and so much more.

Maybe I am doing something wrong, but I doubt it.  The best laid home school plans are pointless if no one feels excited by them.  So, this is all more academic than I thought we would be; it lends itself to more "head" than "heart", but we are all much happier.  I can add some "heart" more easily when I am excited by the material.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The curved path to discipline

I always wonder, after the fact, if I'm too harsh.  I think an impartial panel would decide against me.  I square off too often, I'm too quick to punish, I am reactionary, I tend to have a short fuse, I jump to conclusions, etc.  I definitely have a lifetime of work to do in the area of discipline.  Still, I've come a long way, and the path I've been led to has been away from gentle, chummy discipline.

I really believed that talking it through with my 18 month old might work.  If I carefully explained that standing on the back of a chair with a pair of chopsticks was dangerous, "Ow! Baby get hurt!," that Baby would then stay off the back of the chair and quit running with chopsticks.  I also believed that Baby needed a chance to experience the world, so it was wrong to deny Baby every day objects.   Despite the sound of that, I am not an idiot.  After repeating myself a few times, and finding baby with the chopsticks again, I figured I was doing something wrong.  I also began realizing that anger was as futile and non- productive as reasoning with a toddler.

Enter one of my favorite discipline strategies- Don't let stupid things happen.

If Baby is too small to understand chopsticks, then Baby should not have chopsticks.  I do not mean taking them rudely away after misbehavior; I mean keep Baby away from the chopsticks.  Some day, Baby will be bigger and have impulse control, and then we can try the chopsticks again. This applies to helpful 4 year olds and wood stoves, too.

As regards standing on the back of the chair, I learned my next favorite discipline strategy- Let the accident happen.

Ezra only had to ride a chair to the floor twice before he quit standing in them.  For about two weeks, I was as vigilant about debris around the table as I was about trying to keep him from standing in the chairs.  One type of vigilance was productive- he hit only the floor when then chair tipped over each time.

I could go on and on about all the ways I've veered away from what I once believed was ideal.  But the only thing that has worked consistently is to NOT talk, at least not much, and to keep my cool.  My guess is that we will do a lot more talking as they get older, but that my un-checked temper will always mess up moments of discipline.

What about that impartial panel and my tendency to harshness?  Well, first, I'm working on it.  I believe this matters , maybe even more than being perfect.  Second, I like my kids.  Sure, we all have bad days or months or phases, and there are days my children do not like me.  That's life; it's these difficulties that help us learn how to better live together, and, almost ten years into this, I still like my kids.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The List

We're starting to think about all we would like to grow beginning next year with a few new perennials and garden vegetables.  The children helped me make the list, and they were thorough.  Jason added one or two things, but I was amazed at all the children thought of.

I think the list is too long for a blog post; it would be boring, I'm afraid.  However, it did help me think of how much space we need and what variety of spaces.  For example, I've been looking at the little strips of woods we have and wondering whether we'll do anything specific with them at all.  We definitely want some uncultivated space, and some of the woods serve as a visual barrier to the atv/snowmobile trail that runs around one edge of the property.  Some of the woods run up a couple of hillsides that we would not cultivate anyway, and that are shaded because of the hill.

But, looking at the list and these woods, I realize there still could be some deliberate planting.  With some careful planning, we could use the woods to shelter fruit trees.  I would like to plant some sugar maples for some other generations, and these could be integrated into the woods, I think.  There are other maples, but I do not know how well sugar maples would do here.  I like how tamarack trees look, so we could maybe work a couple in where the woods are thin.

Also, the west side of the house has a long, sunny afternoon.  In the winter, this is lovely, but the bedrooms heat up to almost unbearable in the summer.  I am thinking if we could plant a couple of deciduous trees, maybe fruit trees, maybe maples or nut trees, on this side of the house, they would offer shade in the summer without blocking much of the winter sun.  We just need to be sure of where the septic tank is because I would not want to have a tree root there.

One funny thing on the list is hazel, because Ezra wants to grow a hedgerow.  Jason and I have hemmed and hawed about it, but as I look at the spaces and our desires, I realize he could actually give it a try along the atv trail.  I've been trying to think of some non- foodbearing, thorny plant, but as we made the list and hazel was mentioned yet again, I realized Ezra could give his dream a try.

The other thing about the list is it gets my newby gardener brain to figuring out what we can really try this year.  I've started marking on a calendar when we should start different things, and I am beginning to look for seeds.  So much to do!

Friday, November 6, 2009

The second and first garden spots and why I hate black plastic

I've decided to put a second garden back here.  Those are blueberry bushes with the pine needle mulch around the base.  It's hard to tell in this picture, but there is a good bit of grade where the berries are and the garden would be just past them.  This spot gets sun for most of the day, once it slips up from behind those trees back there and until it slips behind those tree over there.  Also, it's plenty far from the septic tank and leach field.

Our plan is to put down a few layers of newspaper this weekend and next, then cover them with compost to break down over the winter and in the early spring.  Then, I think I would try this as my tomato, cucumber, and bean garden.  I've never had gardens of the size I'm planning, not anywhere close, but my insane faith in the miracle of a seed will help me through.

The other garden spot is here.  It looks so sweet to me, all sheltered like it is.  But, as you may have already noted, that sheltered thing can be a problem.  I'm pretty sure there's enough sun, and we'll thin the trees some as we can to give more light.  These pines I was under when I took the picture are definitely going, as they shade the house and the garden.

I'm in the process of a more thorough sheet mulching in this garden.  I've layered cardboard, leaves, and compost on about half of it.  But I've gotten discouraged.  I have now spent about 12 hours removing black plastic mulch from under the turf in this space.  Under an inch or more of soil in rows all over this garden, there lies black plastic mulch.  Last weekend, I spent six hours removing it from one row where there were four layers with dirt between each layer.  I was definitely cursing whoever laid it and whoever invented it.  My sheet mulching may be ugly, but you won't be able to find it by this time next year.  Then, someone sweetly asked about whether the plastic leaches things into the soil. Great...

This will be the everything else garden.  It also seems a touch safer from frost than the open field, but the shorter amounts of sunshine matter more, I think.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Peter Pan, Babar, and Barbie

To my dismay, Ezra is reading some new interpretation of Peter Pan and Phaedra asked why I don't allow Barbies and Sylvie was upset that I would not let her check out a Babar book from the library.  These things that seem fairly harmless raise my hackles, and the children want to know why.

I cannot wrap my head around why the story of Peter Pan is so beloved.  I did not see the movie and I only read the book as an adult.  When I read the book, I was appalled at the portrayal of men.  Mr. Barrie presents men as these permanently childish figures who not only avoid maturing, but are enabled by indulgent females.  I kept wondering why Wendy or her mother did not slap Peter Pan or the father and say, "Oh, grow up! We have more important things to tend here than your little temper tantrum!" Not only that, but Mr. Barrie looks lovingly on the situation, as if it's some sort of idyll. Blech!  That is not the gender roles I want to present to my young children.  As for Ezra and this new book, I just told him why I never read the original to him; maybe, he will reflect on it some time in the next 15 years.

As for Babar, the rampant romanticizing of colonialism disgusts me.  So the good little French lady takes the African elephant and shows him how to dress and behave, then the elephant goes and makes all the other elephants do the same, and they all live happily ever after because now they act and dress like good Europeans.  I say again, "Blech!"  Why isn't it fine for an elephant in Africa to avoid a wool suit coat at all costs?

Barbie is a mixed bag.  I actually played with Barbies growing up, but my mother pretty much forbade me having any of my own.  She's not available for me to ask, so I do not know what her reasons were.  The girl down the street had heaps and heaps of Barbies; it was a blast and I really have a pretty healthy self- esteem.  However, as a mother, I look at these terrifically ugly dolls and all their associated merchandising, and I just can't let them in my home.  I simply can't imagine letting the "wonder of Barbie" take over my girls' lives. Blech!

 So there it is.  That is why these beloved characters of childhood have no home in my home, and like I said, maybe at some point my children will not only forgive my controlling nature, but understand my reasons.

Monday, November 2, 2009

People Kibble and thoughts on food as I raked the leaves

I bagged groceries at a coop in Burlington twice a month for awhile.  One day, as I was putting groceries into the bags, I noticed how much of the food purchased was very similar to packaged pet food.  It made me laugh.  Since then, I have tried to be even more aware of how much people kibble I allow into our lives.  The recent long car trip with it's accompanying "snacks" highlighted again how messed up the stereo-typical American relationship with food is.

For example, we have always made jokes that goldfish crackers actually have opium in them.  Then this bit of info comes along Junk food as heroin .  Suddenly our little joke isn't that funny.  Sure, we switched to organic cheddar crackers, but I guess even organic heroin should be questioned, especially for children.

I wished, as we were driving, that I could easily present a "homemade" meal for us, but even so-called-"homecooking" restaurants are pretty nasty.  Why is salad the only vegetable that even vaguely resembles something I serve at my house?  It's not even that I'm a veggie- fanatic; I'm perfectly willing to serve apple pie for dinner once a week, or twice if it's a bad week.  Heck, if we're having vegetable soup for dinner, I might not bother with any fruit/vegetable option besides applesauce at lunch.

I think it's that extra something in industrial food that I have learned to dislike, that strange chemical tang that is supposed to make the soup or salad dressing "new and improved" or "zesty!"  Why can't people be satisfied with the genuine flavor of cornmeal or buttermilk or apples?  Why does everything need to be flavor- enhanced?

On the car trip, I did take along yogurt and granola (not homemade, because I thought of it too late) and some fresh bread and that peanut butter you grind fresh when you buy it, but that was all gone when we were ready to come home.  I made a foray to Whole Foods in Cincinnati, but this tired mama got lost in all the people kibble.  And I'm honest with myself- I do not actually believe organic sesame sticks are that much better (if any) than a bag of chips.

By the time we got home, I was ready to wash that chemical tang out of my system with some roasted beets and potatoes and some apple pie.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chocolate Cake Success

I made a chocolate cake that is definitely a keeper.  It's extremely moist and flavorful, and the recipe lends itself to cupcakes, a layer cake, or even a bundt or loaf shape.  Jason made it again with a bit of coffee and it enhanced the chocolate flavor to nice effect.  The icing recipe that was suggested was also quite good.  Now, we've found the chocolate cake, so I can focus more fully on the yellow cake.

The recipe is from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather.

1 C unsalted butter
1/2 C dutch process cocoa powder (Yes, the dutch process part matters.)
3/4 C cool coffee
2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 C buttermilk
2 T (yes, tablespoons) Vanilla extract
2 C flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan, gently
  • Whisk in the cocoa, stir until smooth.
  • Whisk in the coffee til smooth
  • Off the heat, mix in the sugar, eggs, and buttermilk and whisk smooth.
  • Whisk in the flour, baking soda, and salt until incorporated, a few lumps are okay.
  • Pour into pans and bake.

1/2 C butter (unsalted)
1/4 C WHOLE milk
1/2 C cocoa powder
2 C sifted confectioners sugar
1 T vanilla
1/4 tsp Salt

  • Over low heat, melt the butter, then whisk in the milk, cocoa, and powdered sugar.
  • Off heat, whisk in the vanilla and salt.
  • Pour over cooled cake, allow to set

More planning

I have had a whole week away, and it's been nice to come home with fresh eyes and look around.  Because of the weather, it's easy to identify microclimates like this one-

This is the area just beside the front door, and it's one of the least appealing views around the house.  I'm not ready to do all the work the house will need to make it look nice from this side, but we can plant things to make it look a bit better.

Interestingly, even though this area gets just a few hours of sun and has some northern exposure, it's one of the only spots that still has green grass.  Almost everywhere else the grass has already been thoroughly frosted.  The asparagus and black raspberries in the bed against the wall of the garage still look quite good.

So, my idea here is to give that one bed completely over to the raspberries and asparagus.  With weeding, asparagus are supposed to be quite happy, and the black raspberries should be willing to grow just about anywhere on this property.  I just want to keep the black ones separate because supposedly if they are interplanted with red, you will get only red raspberries.

The area on the other side of the walk will be some highly tended bed.  I'm so early in my learning curve, I have not quite decided what that will mean.  One common suggestion is to put herb beds close to houses in just this sort of spot, but I do not need huge areas of herbs, and the west facing side seems a better choice for that.  Because I want it to be pretty as well as functional, I might make this a flower and salad bed.  We could add nasturtiums and violets to the calendula and bachelor buttons for edible flowers that look pretty for most of the growing season and then work in our various salad greens, like arugula, spinach, butter lettuce, etc.

By putting these things close to the house, we can have salad easily without going all the way to the garden, and we can be sure it stays weeded.

The work that needs to be done for that to happen, as far as I know is this:
  • I will go ahead and till up the area I want for a bed while trying to plan so that I never till it again.  
  • I will cut the oleander back so it does not dwarf the smaller plantings I want in this spot. 
  • I will try to shape the bed so that feet more easily miss what I've planted.  
  • I will have an eye toward where I want the steps to be eventually, as well.  
  • I will need to figure out what to do to keep the lilacs where I want them instead of them creeping farther and farther into my planned garden area.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Starting to dream

I've read a bit about permaculture.(Wiki article on permaculture)  I done a bit of gardening and a tiny bit of planning gardens.  I've helped others with their gardens and discussed permaculture here and there.  Now, it's my turn to delve into our garden and our own permaculture plans.

One goal is to grow 50% to 80% of our food; the wide range is because I do not know what I am doing.   Another goal is to have a food system that I can maintain mostly by myself; Jason works many, many daylight hours and the children are not a reliable source of steady labor. One more goal is to find ways to have perennial and no-till arrangements whenever possible.  There are certainly other goals, but they are a bit more amorphous and difficult for this neophyte to articulate. I believe I will definitely discover new ones as I go along.

Let me introduce my property and the fantasy places and plantings I am imagining and beginning to plan for.

Here, just as we go out our back (preferred) door, we have this:

This side faces mostly south, a little east, and gets a full dose of sun year round. In the long run, it would be a good place to add a greenhouse, so our plans should not include things that would preclude a greenhouse.  Also, these are bedroom windows we want to enlarge and we must be cognizant of moving water away from the house.  My current thoughts are to build some cold frames and to put our herb bed here by this door.  The herb bed would be pretty and convenient; the cold frames could compromise moving water.  That's an area for research.

Here is the woodshed, which is on the other side of the back door.
We could put a trellis on this end of it to grow vines of cucumbers or morning glories or something.  Again, it gets full sun almost all day, though in summer it might not hit here until late morning.  The wood would be stacked from late spring until it was used in the winter.  The vines would somewhat protect this end of the stacked wood from rain, while the other open side would still allow the wood to dry.

Here is the garden shed, which is a good place to put starts once some of the frost danger is past.  Also, it has that south facing wall that might be good for cold frames or vines.  Some low bush might also be a good choice.  Maybe we could put gooseberries here.

This side of the house is a center of activity.  We prefer this view, and we like the picnic table out here.  There are some problems, like no out door water, but these can be addressed.  When we can address them, we'll have to decide to do with this field.

There are more spots to consider, but I've been warned to keep these short.  :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Phaedra does not willingly share.  It's always been true.  When she started wanting things around 8 or 9 months old, Ezra gave them to her.  He would look a bit befuddled and hand them over.  As Sylvie has gotten older, she has gone out of her way to give Phaedra whatever Phaedra asks for.  If I step in, Ezra and Sylvie get more upset than Phaedra when I insist she share.  Phaedra DOES get upset, but the wisdom of Solomon will not work; she would rather throw the doll in the fire than have to share or return it to the rightful owner.  So what am I to do?

On good days, I quietly acknowledge when there's a problem and leave it to them to work it out.  On bad days, I wade right in and make the situation much worse.  And I rarely miss an opportunity to try to show Phaedra how sharing helps all of us.

So, the other day, I had a new hat, and Sylvie asked to wear it.  I said sure, I would share.  Phaedra then asked, "Why doesn't anyone EVER share hats with me?"  After a few moments to reflect on the absurdity of this statement, I replied, "Phaedra, it's hard to share with you, because once someone agrees to share, you get to decide when and how the shared item will be used.  And, any time the other person wants to use the shared item, it's suddenly your turn."

She didn't like this.  She explained how I made her sad, and I of course said greediness makes everyone sad.  I felt like I had finally made some headway.

Then, many hours later, she came to me and said, "Mama, I know I don't share things, but I share what I do.  I always show people how to do things or help them."

So, her humbled mother offers these photos as proof that my 7-year-old is not greedy with her self, and that is perhaps the greatest thing she has to share.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cake 2 results

The cake is moist with a finer, less crumbly, texture.  I like it, but Jason says it is not chocolate-y enough.  The thing is, we put a fudge icing on it, so it seems like the cake does not need to be so very chocolate- y.  I am debating this one.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Visiting Inlaws and cake number 2

Jason's mother arrives tomorrow.  We're all excited.  The house is extra- clean, and the children have prepared poetry to recite.  Jason is taking a couple of days off work.  We're ready.

And yet, there's this undercurrent that I would not call excitement.  I feel a touch of anxiety, a sense that we need to measure up.

The truth is Jason's mother does not judge us, as far as I can tell.  She is delighted by Jason's every endeavor.  We have had some difficult times with her, but her love for Jason has not wavered, and this constancy has come also to the children.  When she visits, she wants to see what we do; she asks interested questions without offering criticism.  Even when she isn't so sure of our ideas, she manages to communicate this without any sting.

Still- she is my mother-in-law, and I want her to like me.  I want her to be glad Jason married me.  And maybe, she is.  But my need to prove that I was the best choice is unflagging.  Maybe our weirdness with our in-laws is our own baggage, at least some of the time.
Tonight's cake was also a Martha Stewart (Thank you, Jeudevine Library!).  It's devil's food cake.  The batter did not seem all that chocolate- y, but we'll taste it tomorrow.  I did not overbake it this time, and it did not exceed the limits of the recommended pan size.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What am I? Your slave?

The other day as we pulled into the drive, I explained that I wanted help getting all the items from the car into the house.  There were two coolers in the wayback full of 62 pounds of frozen chicken that I needed to take to the basement where the freezers are; there was a plastic grocery bag with the CSA vegetables in it; there was a gallon of milk from our friends' cow; there were jackets and hats and a couple of books deposited in the car by the children.  It was time for me to cook dinner and Jason would not be home to help with the bedtime routine.  I think I can say I not only wanted help, I NEEDED it.
Phaedra announced, "I am tired of you treating us like your slaves!"

I asked her if I am her slave when I prepare the food she eats and wash every single dish and article of fabric she touches.  With a hefty sigh, she helped carry stuff into the house.  And I wondered what other parents do.  I especially wondered what parents who believe children should not be forced to do things would do in this situation.

I liked my response.  I did not get mad, and the situation did not devolve into me actually threatening some lame punishment.  I reinforced my very strong belief in our interdependence.  The other two children were part of the situation, so also heard the message.  We all have to pull together if this mother is going to keep it together.  I actually cannot do it all alone, and my children are old enough to participate in the work of this house.

I also believe they benefit from helping out, from knowing their work is valuable and appreciated.  On the carrying occasion, no one was all that happy, but once we were in the house, they all were ready to help with dinner, chatting and laughing.  This leads me to believe they were not harmed by my manipulation and insistence.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Group Dynamics

First- the cake did not turn out so good.  I let it bake too long, so we have to wait.  The frosting was definitely a dud.  And still, everyone ate the cake.

I keep pondering what it means to live with so many people.  As I drive in Vermont, I am still startled by the way other drivers look out for one another.  So many people swerve back and forth across the yellow line, the one that usually separates you from oncoming traffic, and other people just seem to expect it and stay out of each other's way.  Another example is this- when waiting to turn left from a side street or parking lot or at a busy intersection, someone WILL stop and flash their lights to let you turn in front of them.  I am not kidding- every single time.  My Texan self could not believe this the first time it happened and my sister laughed her head off when it happened with her in the car.

I wonder at this consideration.  I would submit that the fewer people you have to deal with, the easier it is to be nice, to make room for the frailty of others.  It's not that people in more crowded areas are less kind or considerate, it is perhaps that it's just more difficult.  If you stopped on Hulen to let someone turn left in front of you, there will suddenly be 15 cars pulling out in front of you and a line of traffic pissed off behind you.  On Route 14, the two cars behind you (or no cars behind you) can see what's happening; everyone knows it will only take a second; and it works.

I then reflect on my experience as a classroom teacher versus our home "classroom".  One year, I had 12 students, and I have to say, I think that was just about ideal.  There were enough children to get a group momentum, but few enough that everyone was heard on almost any topic.  The other two years, there were over twenty, and I just never felt that I was really meeting more than about a third of their needs at time.  Also, there were "difficult" behaviors that just were not a big deal in a group of 12, but were impossible in a class larger than 20.  I know because I had some of the "difficult" ones all three years with the easy year in the middle.

With homeschooling, I still am rarely meeting everyone's need in the same moment, but no one has to wait long.  Also, I have the mental and emotional space to really address the polite way to wait your turn.  I still have some "difficult" situations and behaviors, but there are so few of us, that we just work around it.  At the same time, there are so few, that I can continually turn my attention to teaching new behaviors.  And yet, there is no group momentum; if Phaedra decides she is NOT going to do something, there is no group to carry her along.  There are no handy playmates, either.  We have to work to have enough people.

There is some balance.  I feel healthiest when we have people in our lives, but I know I cannot be a good friend to very many.  I know I am happier when the people I hold dear have the time to talk and write and recreate with me, but I cannot give them the time they deserve when their are too many others' needs to consider.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Other New Project

Maybe it's obvious, but I like to experiment without much of an audience.  These evenings when Jason is not here and the kids are nestled all snug in their beds and the wind and wet are battering the windows, I feel an overwhelming urge to bake something.

Tomorrow is Sylvie's half- birthday.  We, in our own weird way, celebrate our half- birthdays in a very low key fashion.  Sylvie asked for a cake, and the weather has inspired me to comply.  My usual cake is lemon pound cake- definitely a family favorite.  However, what Sylvie and I both have in mind is a frosted confection.  My dilemma is that I am mostly dissatisfied with cakes outside of the aforementioned pound cake. 

If all cakes were vaguely dry under stiff, jaw- clenchingly sweet frosting, I would be blithely unaware of the regular failures of cakes.  Sadly, this is not the case.  Once in a blue moon, I am awed my moist cakes, of varying densities, flavorfully coiffed with just the right frosting.  The bakers of these treats keep their secrets closely, so it is time for the aforementioned experiement.

I've decided that throughout the cooler months (read: now through April) I will bake 2 to 3 cakes a month, keeping careful notes of successes and failures.  I figure I will enjoy the trials, and everyone else will happily be testers.  My hope is to find recipes for chocolate and yellow cakes that are quite moist, made with ingredients I keep in the kitchen (no corn syrup, no cake flour) that can then become birthday standards.  I will put in a secret plea to the kitchen gods that I find a recipe for cream cheese frosting that even Phaedra will eat once in awhile.

Tonight's recipe is from a Martha Stewart cookbook I checked out from the library.  It already has one obvious problem; it claims to be for two 8" cake pans, but it has escaped the confines of the pans.  I marked Bittman off the list before the current project as experience has shown his cake recipes to be dry as toast.  We should have results by this time tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Coming Fall

It's chilly now.  We have had rain for many, many days.  The beautiful leaves are knocked from the trees, and the robins are congregating in the field.  These robins look like scruffy versions of their spring selves, rusty brown chests, mottled neck feathers, no luster.  

Each morning I watch the clouds draped around the hilltop from the dining room window.  Some days, they never leave.  On the days they blow away, or a weak morning light pushes them off, autumn dazzles.  The colors push against each other in their glittering perfection; there is nothing soft about them.  Even at this distance, I can feel the hardening edges of the dying leaves, but they die in glory.

The pine trees did something this fall that I had not noticed before; they lost about half their needles in a huge in one fell swoop.  The trees are still green, as the other needles remained, but I had never seen them lose needles en masse. Today, I gathered these to mulch around the blueberry bushes.  By next fall, I'll know something new, like whether pine trees do this every year and whether blueberries like pine needle mulch.

We made more applesauce and everyone has enjoyed the four different soups I made this week.  I am excited by beets and hard skinned squashes. It must be fall.


Monday, September 28, 2009

What a weekend!

Our very good friends, Todd and Shawna, are moving to Colorado this week.  It was sudden in some ways, and they have been hurrying to get their stuff squared away.  That "very good friends" part means that we have been helping.

Last Tuesday, Ben went over and killed their pigs, then put them in cool storage for us.  On Friday, I went over to help them dispatch the last of their chickens.  On Saturday, we rounded up some people to help cut and package the pigs.

I'll start by admitting that I do not mind cutting up dead animals.  I do not know why.  I have not had to kill any of them, but I have now cut up over 100 chickens, two deer, a moose, and four pigs.  I find the work oddly satisfying.  Maybe, it's the sense of filling the freezer and putting food by, or the final nature of the act.  I often feel a vague worry that it does not bother me, but it doesn't.

Anyway- the chickens were three-year-old layers.  They were still laying, but our understanding is that they cost more to feed at this point than they produce in eggs.  We do not have a place to house chickens.  Todd and Shawna did not want to take them with the dog and three children on the cross country car trip.  So, the chickens were killed as quickly and humanely as possible.  Well, almost.  We had some help, as we often do, and one of our helpers, a neighbor's son, could not quite bring himself to whack the neck with the force necessary to fully sever the neck.  This is a case where a kind heart might do a greater evil.  Todd ended up using his boot method to finish the job.

We are using the chickens for dog food, so Shawna and I skinned them, I gutted them, and the neighbor parted them and packaged them.  We had many anatomy discussions looking at the egg laden ovaries, the green gall bladder, the tube-filled lungs, and the rough inside of the gizzard.  Also, there were two fryers we killed which turned out to be roosters, so we all got to see one way to sex a chicken, though the chicken has to be dead to see the testicles.

Jason fetched the pigs from Ben and Penny's cool storage before 8:00 Saturday morning, then took the older two children to ballet.  I raced around making a good processing space for the pigs.  These pigs were killed a bit early, so they were each only maybe 80 pounds dressed.  We moved the butcher block up from the barn on Friday afternoon and sanded all the crayon and paint off the surface, then oiled it well.  I moved that in, covered the table, sharpened knives, and set out butcher paper, scissors, and masking tape.

Susie and her family arrived around 11:00, and we got to work.  The first half did not go so well.  The meat is all edible, of course, but the cuts are not any that you would possibly find in a butcher shop.  Part of the problem was that the pigs were much smaller than we had seen the year before, but really, our inexperience was the main hindrance.  We pressed on and had the first pig cut up and packaged (Thanks Mike!) before anyone else got here.  

The second pig went faster, and we were done and cleaned up by 2:00.  We sent our helpers on their way with some fresh pork, and shuttled the rest into the freezer we brought from Todd and Shawna's house.  Then, that evening, a new acquaintance brought over a 1.5 horsepower grinder and ground the meat we had set aside for that.  Two pigs, minus a few gifts, now sit in our freezer ready for winter.

We also rendered the lard and started bone broth from those parts of the pig.  The half pig last year resulted in 1/2 a gallon of lard, but these two together only had a quart of lard between them. The nice thing about doing the lard and broth at the same time is you get all the bad smells over at one time.

Yesterday, we canned applesauce, and we figure we'll do one more batch this week.  Jason picked up drops at Shelburne Orchards one evening last week and he'll do it again this week. We eat applesauce mixed with other canned fruit all through the winter, so we like to have a large supply put up.  The drops make it more affordable.

And finally, it rained and rained and rained last night.  Jason went to see how dry the basement was only to discover a small creek running through the rocks on one side and right on across toward the garage.  I guess it's not so dry.  Apparently, a well- designed basement would have channels dug into the dirt floor to move the water along.  This excess of water is strange territory for this ex- Tex.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's for Dinner?

A friend who is watching the children right around lunch time Sunday asked if there was anything they would not eat.  I stared at her for a minute before I answered slowly, "Ezra says he doesn't eat rice."

Really, at any point of their waking hours, there is definitely something each will not eat.  Sylvie mostly does not eat spicy stuff, but Phaedra and Ezra definitely do.  Phaedra does not seem to eat eggs with any gusto, but she eats enough to make it until lunch.  Ezra has strange grain aversions, like the rice thing.  Phaedra does not like foods to be too sweet.  Sylvie prefers white bread and milk for every meal.  The list goes on and on if I actually try to mention all their food preferences. That is not the way the kitchen works at our house, though.

I am not a harridan about food.  These vague preferences I try to note, and I try to make sure we're not having excessively sweet potatoes and extremely spicy rice for one meal.  On the other hand, I will definitely serve things that one child or another is not fond of if any of the rest of us like it.  And the rule is one taste, no complaining, no yuck faces.  I have been quite pleased with the results of this policy.

Ezra occasionally forgets and eats rice just because he is hungry.  Sylvie will eat greens if it improves her chances for another slice of bread.  Phaedra will eat eggs before ballet to have plenty of energy.  And with all these things, their tastes and preferences change.  Tomorrow or next month or next year, Sylvie may value a bit of spice in her curry and Ezra may eat chocolate cookies again and Phaedra may deny she ever disliked eggs.  If I do not get too locked into identifying these food things as Truths about the children, it leaves them room to change their minds.

Sometimes, the children are even pleasantly surprised by a food they thought they hated.  Phaedra likes to talk about how much she loves greens, because a year ago she would not touch them.  Ezra delightedly ate liver tonight, wondering if his appetite for it meant he was growing up.  Sylvie... well, Sylvie had 3 glasses of milk and some winter squash for dinner.  

Maybe even more importantly, they learn not to burden others with their preferences.  Their mother earnestly hopes they will be able to sit with others and eat or not eat without commentary on the food choices of others.  The art of being companionable at the table is a fine one to learn, and vocal pickiness can be a hindrance to others' digestion. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sewing and other things

One problem with being the at home parent and homeschooling is that it can feel like I never have time to myself. I feel like one of the children can call, "Mama!" at any point in the day or night, and I am duty bound to respond. There are times that I do not, but I am ever alert for whether or not I ought to.

Homeschool means that more hours of my day are devoted very specifically to the children. This is no sleight against mothers whose children go to school; it's just that I have a very loose parenting style. My normal mode of parenting is interaction interspersed with large blocks of, "Go play!" In order to feel like I am actually doing the work of schooling the children, I believe I need spend more time knowing exactly what they are doing.

Also, in the past years, I have written the curriculum by pulling from different sources. On any given day, all of the material presented to the children was chosen by me alone. I felt I was doing something important, that I was "ensouling" the material I presented. I also felt responsible when the children were not interested or even rebelled. I wondered what I did wrong that I failed to even mildly prick their curiosity.

This year, we are doing a heavy dose of Charlotte Mason alongside the Waldorf flavored curriculum. I am using two different prepared math curricula, too. I fretted a bit that the children would not be held in the warmth of my love by using someone else's Cliffs Notes to decide what to bring them. But, that's not what is happening.

The children are delighted. They like all the different material. They like the new math work. They move easily (for the most part) from one task to another without asking me over and over why they have to do this or when school will be over. Even Phaedra, who is adamantly opposed to learning German, was suddenly speaking German today just for fun. They excitedly tell Jason and other people about what they're reading and what new thing they learned in math. Heck, I'm delighted.

What does this have to do with sewing?

Well, on Tuesday, our second day of school, I just took pictures of the children as they worked because I had a few free minutes. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I had time to write a couple of letters. This way of doing school is actually giving me a bit of personal time during school hours. I cannot talk on the phone or absent myself emotionally, but I can do things that permit chatting and stopping and starting.

I spent all of today cutting out about 10 different things to sew. Next week, during school, I can spend some time putting a few of these together. It will bring joy to my life to be able to do this; partly because I love sewing, but also because I will be working alongside the children, not just overseeing their work. And that was what I imagined homeschool would be about.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Opportunity Cost

We love many things about where we live, but we knew we were picking a set of negatives with this set of positives. For example, moving from Texas to Vermont meant leaving our entire family in order to live somewhere we fit in. Trying out cohousing meant losing a few connections we had established in Chittenden County.

Lives are full of these trade-offs, and they are unavoidable. Even really excellent things have drawbacks. We are not blind to these losses, but we actively choose to celebrate the things we gain. As I sit in a slightly chilly house that is currently unheated, I am reflecting on the things we do not often mention.

I am thinking about how fun it was to swim with five months of summer and how easy it was to travel before we had children. The easy walk for either coffee or groceries was a benefit to our place in Shelburne. I really enjoyed the access to the Nature Conservancy land along the La Platte. I miss cycling and quick jaunts into town. When I'm feeling anxious, I even miss being in an apartment with people all around. It was comforting living so close to a fire hydrant. I never knew how great it was to worry about only my illnesses.

The negatives specific to this place include a decrepit (but improving) house, strange neighbors, an ATV/snowmobile trail, very sandy soil, bad plumbing, outdated electrical service, creepy basement, poorly positioned mailbox, tons of trash, and a long commute. Really, that's not too bad of a list. I think I'm ready to focus on the positives again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What About Me

The past two days I have managed to sit in the hammock for more than three minutes in a row. Our hammock is beautiful and comfortable and in a desirable spot. A dear friend made a disparaging remark about how infrequently I would actually sit in it, and I took it as a dare. Therefore, I make a point of sitting there for a minute or two almost daily.

The funny thing is it's no good only spending a couple of minutes in a hammock; it means you're getting out of it before you've even really gotten settled.

But, the past two days, I was in the hammock for at least half an hour before I was ousted or inspired to other things. I could have been weeding, and I will, but the weather is so perfect and I am worn a bit thin with Jason's schedule this past week. I decided to take a break, recharge, and then power on through the day.

One interesting discovery is that most of my tasks still got done even with my lazy ways. I had a sense of humor this afternoon even after I got the "Beth" phone call (you know, from the KISS song), and the children lost their minds when they found out Jason wouldn't be home for dinner. I managed an apology after being snippy with Ezra. I think the hammock could be just the thing to keep me peaceful, and fewer people will cast a sideways glance at my 3:00 hammock appointment than my 3:00 hard cider.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First Day of School

We finally started school today after nearly six months off. I have felt twinges of guilt when others discussed school. I worried about taking so much time off. I wondered how things would go when we tried to get our school schedule started again. I talked to friends who do very little formal school, and they do absolutely nothing until November. I worried then about slipping that way.

With the move and the work related to the move, we just were not ready to start school. Phaedra has learned to read during our lull and Ezra has pondered many math miracles and Sylvie has developed a real yearning to be in school, too. I guess it was not too bad.

Our morning started well with Phaedra explaining that she could not do the math work, would not do the math work, hated the math work, and hated me, too. She does not like anything new, so this was an expression of all the resentment around a new math curriculum. Ezra chatted me up about one thing and another as he wandered around the house looking for a pencil, a sharpener, a book, the cat, etc. Sylvie wanted to start sewing TODAY! I tried to remember that there's no hurry.

By 9:30, we were just about finished. Phaedra had done math, history, spelling, form drawing, and reading. Ezra had finished math, history, spelling, and reading. Sylvie had been in everybody's business trying to get an education. We managed a brief break before going to the homeschool group. Then, we had a late lunch and did handwork and German. Ezra had a bit more work to do that he did with gusto.

Our first day was really quite good. I often feel pulled in ten different ways, but if I remember to never hurry and to have faith that it will all work out, things stay peaceful. 179 days to go.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Jason admitted to me very early in our relationship that he is a bit of a pyromaniac. I thought that strange since I like fire just as much as he does and so do all of my siblings and at least two of my cousins. I figured it must be normal.

When we camp, whatever the weather, we make a fire. We justify this fire by cooking all of our meals over it. Since everyone knows it rains every time we camp, you can get a sense of how much we like a fire.

We are really comfortable with the children around fire, as well. There are occasional sillies that must be squelched, as physical foolishness does not belong around any fire, not even the little burner on the stove. Still, the children really enjoy fires, and for the most part, they are properly respectful of the awesome power of fire.

We have gotten to have many, many fires since we moved. I've made a fire ring. It was really quite easy; I just made a really big fire and then put cement trash around the edge of the burned place. We have burned a variety of construction debris and all the burnable trash from the barn, basement, house and garage. We also burn our paper trash. We have had many very nice bonfires and a few that we kept the children away from for fear of noxious fumes.

Everyone has learned new fire etiquette:
1. Get your own box of matches because Mama and Daddy are using these.
2. Keep a shovel handy as it is the only thing long enough to poke a really hot fire.
3. Get another shovel because Mama and Daddy are using this one.
4. Wear boots if you want to walk inside the fire ring because there are nails.
5. Pretty flames mean avoid the smoke more carefully.
6. Tell the person opposite you before you throw something in.
7. Watch for flying sticks that overshoot the fire.

I figure everyone is getting to indulge an interest in fire, so maybe no one will need to experiment outside of the fire ring. The fire ring is less fragile than the bathroom sink we experimented in as children.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Still Cleaning

The basement is creepy. It's dark, the floor is dirt, the walls are stone, the cobwebs are thick enough to mistake for insulation. In spite of this, we want to use this space, and we must regularly access it for a variety of reasons. The furnace and pressure tank are there. The plumbing and electricity all pass through and are serviced there. The root cellar is there. The garage opens off of it. It is, really, the foundation of our house. And it needs some real cleaning.

First, I have to do it alone. Jason is in the throes of getting the catalog to press, and he just cannot help me. The fellow who delivered the dumpster wants to pick it up in the early part of the coming week. He delivered it ten days later than originally planned, so Jason's ability to help was severely compromised. I got the barn emptied and I can do the basement. If only it had a window.

Second, it is a type of cleaning I strongly dislike. There are all those cobwebs, no natural light, a petrol type smell, strange wiring to work around, and so many dark places. I keep thinking of spider bites, startling mice, and tetanus.

Third, I just have to do it anyway. I get surly just considering it.

I started today. I used the shop vac to clean the spider webs, then I cleaned the plastic jugs, can lids, old paint tins, school papers, vinyl remnants, broken window panes, wet insulation, bits of pipe, parts of coolers, and baskets of decrepit silk flowers. Then I vacuumed more cobwebs, and the cycle moved forward.

I'm finding ways to get some light down there, but the stone walls really soak it right up. I figure I'll have to paint something down there white just to help the light move around. I'll also have to really evaluate what to keep. There is an entire shelf of canning jars. The full ones go immediately to the dumpster; I cannot even guess how to sort good from bad. The wide mouth jars are definitely keepers, but the old rubber ring style jars are outside my realm of knowledge. No one I know uses that type, and no one seems able to tell me how to safely use them.

The rusty metal shelves went to the scrap metal pile for my neighbors to pick up, but the wooden ones seem to be holding their own and worth keeping. We could definitely use some shelves in the root cellar, but that seems to be my job, and I'm a bit overwhelmed at the moment.

That's what I'll be up to this weekend. Maybe in my spare time, I'll build a frame for stacking the wood that's in a huge mountain at the end of the driveway and move the mailbox before our mail carrier reports us.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


That's the magic word when people first hear that we homeschool. Really, it just was not that big of a deal. In Texas, we had neighbors, and we saw cousins once or twice a month, and we had our friends and their children in and out and all around. Socialization just did not seem like much of a concern.

When we first moved to Vermont, the children were 5, 3 and under 1, and I worried a bit about friends for us all. I found a homeschool group and then another, and we met a family through Jason's work. Once everything sifted, we saw some different kids about once a week, and we had other friends. Ezra seemed to be consistently the oldest in everything, and he did not seem to have peers. This just did not seem that important; it was on my radar, but I was not seeing a need to change things.

When we moved in 2008, I suddenly realized Ezra was ready for peers. I really think family should stay central, but there comes a point when you need a friend to talk to, not just your mom or sister. We scrambled a bit last year, but we did not find much community for any of us in Johnson, even with our connections. Ezra did find friends at Earthwalk, but the other participants lived too far away for more casual get-togethers.

Now, we've been in Hardwick for two months. We've been really busy getting the house ready. However, I know that finding friend-opportunities for our little homeschoolers is one of my big responsibilities. It helped that we had a couple of ties here before we moved, and it helps that the librarian is very friendly and a homeschooler. But, really, things have just gone so well. We met many families at swimming lessons who have made us feel welcomed in this community. We met one family with children of very similar ages to ours. There is a homeschooling group that also has a convenient age span. And, there is a lego club. Ezra definitely has a chance for real peers, and it looks like as the girls come to a similar point socially, they will have a similar opportunity.

Part of my job in all this has been to ease up on some issues as the children get older. I still do not want any of them watching tv, but if Ezra watched a movie at a friend's house, it would be okay. I'll still be adamant on Sylvie's behalf. The glass house from which I discipline our children leaves little room for me to comment on the ways of others. I am ready to discuss with a nine-year-old how different families have different priorities, and no one can prioritize everything. On the other hand, I'm not quite ready to try to explain all that to a seven-year-old. I can see that how right I might be is less important than the children's needs for connections as they get older.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Empty of

This to me is a pleasing room:

I like the way the light can touch each surface and I can see every corner so clearly. Spaces like this leave a calm feeling for me; everything is under control and there are no emergencies in this room.

Unfortunately, while the living room looked like this, the kitchen and dining room looked like this:

Because while I was having my overly simplified dream, Life was still going on all around me. Life in our house includes five people who must put on clothes and occasionally be clean and eat quite regularly. It includes some schooling which has its own set of cumbersome stuff. Add to that a few perks, like nice pencils, a computer, and a comfy couch, and room number one just isn't about life.

Of course room number 2 isn't really about life either, as no one could actually function in that room. We ate 4 out of 6 meals out while the kitchen looked like that because we could not function in that space; we would not make it work. No one felt peaceful enough to assemble ingredients; the clutter smothered all the prep space.

Mostly we live somewhere between that empty room and that room overflowing with the detritus of our daily lives. We can feel peaceful in an empty room, but we cannot relax, as that room does not allow us the messiness of life. And we can feel neither peaceful nor relaxed in the cluttered room because the possibilities are hidden under stuff. Now, we have to find that space between.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Into the school year

All the extra-curricular things start this week. With three kids, that means we either do three times as much, or everyone agrees on the activity. Our family works better with the latter arrangement. So, on Thursday, we have one thing, on Friday another plus some socializing, and on Saturday, three hours of ballet. It's a little crazy, but really, it's only fiddle, dance, and one other thing. I bet most people would think that pretty mild, and then throw one or two sports in for good measure.

I do not like all the driving, but I really believe dance and music are good, and the older two are very definitely interested. (Sylvie is interested, too, but we do not do such structured classes for such little people.) The Thursday activity is a prime, fairly unstructured time for Ezra to socialize with kids his age and older. Next year, we want Phaedra to participate in the same program for the same reason. I can teach math and Norse mythology, but I'm not a peer.

Can you feel my tension building? Here's the problem- I do not want to spend every day of the week driving people to different activities. However, I also commit as a homeschooler to making sure the gaps in my curriculum (like playmates and music lessons) are filled some other way. These things are apparently mutually exclusive, and the second one takes precedence.

That's all. I'm just a little bummed that it's time to start driving again, but the children are thrilled. Phaedra has asked every day for two weeks, "How many more days until ballet?"

Monday, September 7, 2009

Moving in and Having Company

Packing is an excellent time to get rid of things. When I look at a room and the stuff in it, I think, "Who would want to pack all that?" Then I don't pack it. However, unpacking is overlooked as another very nice sifting time, and I have been sifting.

I have sifted through the sand in one bay of the barn until my shoes are full. I have sifted a stranger's detritus and put most of it into a dumpster. I have sifted my boxes to figure what comes up to the house, goes to the garage, or stays in the barn. And, I have quietly sifted through some boxes while no one was looking.

Here's the thing- when I was packing, I had three little helpers anxious to get all the bits of string, bottle caps, strips of finger chaining, and pages of artwork into the boxes. They never ask again for any of this; it collects in the corners of their rooms, under tables, and behind shelves the same way spiders multiply at the top of the basement stairs. So, I sweetly packed most of it, and lastnight, we had a nice bonfire full of it.

Also, we moved more furniture into the house. I am actually sitting at a desk to type this. Our beautiful table and our comfy couch glow invitingly in their respective spaces. The beds are all resting on bedframes, and my paint can bookshelves have been disassembled. Very nice...

So, in the midst of all this, I decided to have a party. It was so much fun. One guest asked why we would do this at this point in all our work. The truth is we just love company. It was exciting to race around and see whether we would have a bathroom sink before the guests arrived. It inspired us to get some of the construction debris out of the yard and into the dumpster. Ezra and I mowed a baseball field down by the barn. We even made it so people could actually get in either door.

Then, we tried to play baseball. It did not go the way I thought it would, but the players all had a good time. We ate together sprawled across the grass. Then everyone played a rollicking game of freeze tag; Jason was the most determined, but we all had fun.

I'm glad we're here. I'm glad our friends came to our slightly disheveled house and enjoyed themselves around the mess.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Time Alone

Jason left around 9:00 this morning with the children and they were not home until after 4:00. It was a delicious day.

Jason had deliberately left the other keys, so I could go somewhere, but I knew I would not need them. We had joked that I might spend the day in the hammock. I knew I was going to work and listen to inappropriate music and work and eat a half-ass lunch and work and not answer anyone all day long.

I have little fantasies about days like today. I dream that I start a project and finish it without one interruption. I dream that I am able to do tangential things without the main things getting messed up before I get back to it. I dream about working until I'm shaky, eating a little peanut butter, and going back to it without worrying about anyone else. I dream about being at home without being on duty. Today all these dreams came true.

And what did I do?

I put finish on the rest of the pine floors. I did NOT do dishes. I ate half a piece of bread with peanut butter and a cucumber. I worked in the barn for an hour, then another coat on the floor, another bit of bread, some more work in the barn, another coat, and back into the barn until everyone got home. It was heavenly.

I love taking care of my children; I love the various aspects of my job. Sometimes, though, I just want a break, and not from the physically exhausting tasks, but the emotionally draining ones. When Jason and the children are away together, I know everyone is well cared for, or at least as much so as when I'm alone with the children, and I can just let that part of concern slip for awhile.

Oh- and my music of choice today was Jane's Addiction, Pink Floyd's The Wall, Sublime, and Lyle Lovett.