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.