Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Why oh why are you looking at your computer instead of sharing this special day apart with the people around you?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Internal Exile

Richard Cecil

Although most people I know were condemned
years ago by Judge Necessity
to life in condos near a freeway exit
convenient to their twice-a-day commutes
through traffic jams to jobs that they dislike,
they didn't bury their heads in their hands
and cry, "Oh, no!" when sentence was pronounced:
Forty years accounting in Duluth!
or Tenure at Southwest Missouri State!
   Instead, they mumbled, not bad. It could be worse,
when the bailiff, Fate, led them away
to Personnel to fill out payroll forms
and have their smiling ID photos snapped.
And that's what they still mumble every morning
just before their snooze alarms go off
when Fluffy nuzzles them out of their dreams
of making out with movie stars on beaches.
They rise at five a.m. and feed their cats
and drive to work and work and drive back home
and feed their cats and eat and fall asleep
while watching Evening News's fresh disasters-
blown up bodies littering a desert
fought over for the last three thousand years,
and smashed-to-pieces million dollar houses
built on islands swept by hurricanes.
It's soothing to watch news about the places
where people will literally have to die to live
when you live someplace with no attractions-
mountains, coastline, history- like here,
where none aspire to live, though many do.
"A great place to work with no distractions"
is how my interviewer first described it
nineteen years ago, when he hired me.
And, though he moved the day he retired
to his dream house in the uplands with a vista,
he wasn't lying- working's better here
and easier than trying to have fun.
Is that the way it is where you're stuck, too?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Three Goals

David Budbill

The first goal is to see the thing itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
   No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing
as unified, as one, with all other
ten thousand things.
   In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,
to see the universal and the particular,
  Regarding this one, call me when you get it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2 (untitled)

Emily Dickinson

My river runs to thee –
Blue Sea! Wilt welcome me?
My River waits reply –
Oh Sea – look graciously –
I’ll fetch thee Brooks
From spotted nooks –
Say – Sea – Take Me!

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise- you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


e.e. cummings

love is the every only god

who spoke the earth so glad and big
even a thing all small and sad
man, may his mighty briefness dig
for love beginning means return
seas who could sing so deep and strong

one queerying wave will whitely yearn
from each last shore and home come young

so truly perfectly the skies
by merciful love whispered were,
complete its brightness with your eyes

any illimitable star

Monday, December 20, 2010

To My Children, Fearing for Them

Wendell Berry

Terrors are to come. The earth
Is poisoned with narrow lives.
I think of you. What you will
Live through, or perish by, eats
At my heart. What have I done? I
Need better answers than there are.

To pain of coming to see
What was done in blindness,
Loving what I cannot save. Nor,

Your eyes turning toward me,
Can I wish your lives unmade
Though the pain of them is on me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Week of Advent

I make up own line for this week, but I'm still not satisfied- "The fourth light of Advent is the light of man, learning and striving to be all we can."

The idea of striving is significant in my life. I do not like to talk about perfection, because trying is often enough. I think we can get so lost in focusing on perfect that we lose sight of the situation as it presents itself. My life is far from perfect, and still I love living it. I fail, and still I get up ready to try it again. Now if I could just get a sense of humor...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

No Child Left Behind

I wish I could make this a rant, but I lack the eloquence.

A high school in Rhode Island is firing all the teachers, or maybe only 70% because the school's performance is inadequate. The teachers interviewed talked about how they get involved in their students' lives, being aware of whether they're eating or have a place to live. They talked about the poverty facing the population of their school. The administrator said, "It's fine to take them home for Thanksgiving, but I want to see better test scores."

What do we expect? How can we ask these people to learn math and care a fig for history when they are not sure whether they'll eat today or wonder about the security of their housing?

Those children got left behind a long time ago, and now we want to punish these teachers for a societal ill. I do NOT know the answer for how to help children learn what they need to learn in order to get a leg up, but I know firing a school full of teachers is at best misguided.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Windshield Wiper Fluid

I ran out of this magic liquid two days ago, and I remembered why it's vital this time of year.

Let me start by saying that unless you've driven in winter in some snowy place, you cannot fully appreciate its importance. There are perhaps other conditions when it's just as important, but I don't know them.

Here's what happens- I clean the beautiful white snow off the windshield while the car is heating. Then, I drive down the drive, turn on the unpaved road and then hit the rural "highway". The first time I encounter a car, either going the other direction or driving in front of me, a thin film of snow mixed with road dirt, maybe salt, and a little wet, hits the windshield. It's such a fine mist that I do not even notice it. But it builds. And then the sun hits and the light refracts on all those teeny tiny bits of ice and salt and dirt and my windshield becomes opaque with that gorgeous sunlight bouncing so hard off it. I do mean opaque.

Squirt, squirt- swish swash. I can see again.

Or let's say a truck passes me. Then it's no fine mist but a shower of this road debris, and the blindness ensues.

After stopping mid-trip to buy the blue fluid for our safety, we now carry some in the car the way I used to carry oil for my old leaky Mustang. We jump in the car, check seatbelts, and that we have windshield wiper fluid.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sisters Are Different

I make really good friends, great friends, friends that feel like family. I am blessed with the sort of friends I can fall back on the rest of my life.

Yet, my sister is different. She's the one who greeted me, shoving the welcoming arms of our mother out of her way in order to see "her sister!" She's the one who hit me pretty often and tickled me and threw me for fun and would swing me until I was sick. She's the one who always had the worst (and most fun) ideas. She knows what I look like throwing up and crying and laughing until I pee. She carried me home more than once and helped me igure out ways to not tell mom. She knows what kind of baby I was, and what kind of difficult kid I was. She knows that the road to where I am now as a person was a long one because she was there making her way on her own road.

My sister can sing John Denver songs that we both know all the words to. We can be little duet singing Christmas carols and songs by Ronnie Milsap, Three Dog Night, Anne Murray, Jim Croce, Sting, Pink Floyd, The BeeGees, etc. My sister knows about the big headphones and the eight track player.

My sister knows why I am weird about personal space and that I do not like to play games that involve tight spaces. She knows when I first got alcohol without my parents knowing. She knew well before my mother when my first cycle started.

My sister is not so into local food or raw milk or free range chickens, but she thinks it's all pretty cool. She doesn't want to see our milking routine or gather eggs, but she's glad we're having fun.  She argues with my husband, but she loves him. She adores my children even when they talk her ear off her wake her by fighting. She is not offended when they try to improve her or are ready to throw her in the plague wagon.

We're not alike, at all, and yet, I can barely imagine what my life would be without her just hanging around.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another Post about Opportunity Cost

As I write this post, I am not playing a game with my children. I am not taking a nap. I am not reading or cleaning or tending animals or taking a bath. I am not practicing guitar or finishing a Christmas knitting project.

I am thinking about choices we make and not whether they are bad or good, but whether they are worth all the things we are not doing when we engage in them. I like writing; I like feeling like my friends and family who are so far away have some notion of what’s going on up here in the cold, cold north; I like taking a little time to myself to reflect on some of our craziness.

On the other hand, television robbed too much time to be worth it to us. I cannot imagine which things I would like for the children to give up so that they have time to play educational video games. I like all the things I do in the evenings now that I do not get lost in computer land. I like that Jason is mentally available in the evenings in a way that he has not been since we moved from Austin to Fort Worth back in 1994. So, I’m not giving up the computer or internet entirely, but I’m glad to have reduced their hold in our house.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Questionable Economy

A friend was recently telling me a truly tragic story of her friend’s apparent lung cancer. She told me about how the lady had really turned her life around and how she has young children. Then she cried.

I was full of feeling and fear and sympathy. And I was only able to say, “I’m sorry.”

Then, as we rode in the car, she made a quick call to check on the family. She quickly whispered, “It’s not cancer!” I was driving, she was still on her phone, so I gave a quick thumbs up.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Worth Its Weight

 Jason was telling me a story about a farmer having to move a ton of corn by hand. I had a first flush of, “Wow!” but then I thought of my understanding of a ton in the last year.

Jason moved six tons of second cut hay in late summer. That’s 300 bales at roughly 40 pounds apiece. He moved them from a barn into a hay wagon and the pickup truck, and then together we moved them into the barn. We did that in three days.

We stacked an estimated 7 tons of wood- assuming seven pounds per stick (the wood was wet) and 2000 sticks.

Not to shrug at that farmer’s effort- I really know moving a ton of stuff is a big deal. I also know that bags of corn are denser and/or more regularly shaped that wood or hay. All that real knowledge that I carry in my body, not just in some abstract, is new to me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Third Week of Advent

"The third light of Advent is the light of the beasts; it shines in the greatest and shines in the least."

That part of the poem doesn't quite work for me, but I still like the idea it presents. And we say this poem as we light two Advent candles this week.

It's time for us to think of the animals around us and their special work in the world. We think on the ruminating cow and soaring hawk and busy ant and industrious spider and biting mosquito. We acknowledge what we share with our fellow creatures and that we are indeed supposed to share. We make room for them and hope to find space for ourselves.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Over Their Heads

I just recently realized that now that Ezra’s head comes up to past my chin, it is much more difficult to talk over his head. It is practically impossible to say anything without him tuning in and asking questions. He spells quite well, he has figured out pig Latin, his German improves almost daily, and his ability to decode the eyebrow waggling system we were working on outstrips our inventing pace.

While it’s hard to keep secrets, it’s also really nice that he is suddenly old enough to be included in more of our discussions. Whether we’re discussing music, dinner, or poverty, he has a word to add. I like the person I see emerging into our air space.

It makes me excited to see what the girls bring.

Just Memorize

During our holiday break, Ezra and Phaedra are supposed to be doing a multiplication table up to 12's every day. It's not happening THAT regularly, but I can tell they are each getting a little faster. I cringe sometimes as I watch them doing this very mechanical work, but I have tried many other things.

I tried rhythmic clapping and marching and songs and games. I tried games that meant you had to multiply to get the answer. I let them struggle through many math lessons and pointed out how much easier it might be if they just knew their table.

Then, I decided it was just time- way past time for Ezra. They hated me the first couple of days of filling in the table. But, by the third time they each filled it in, their math lessons were taking less time. And there was much less complaining and begging for help during their work. They both were suddenly more confident.

I never thought I would force them to do these things. I thought their experience would lead them to learning them independently. That did not turn out quite how and thought, and you really should just know that 8 x 7 is 56 and not 54.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Music

I just like it. I like to really hoky songs, like Neil Diamond singing Little Drummer Boy. I like the old ones, like Bing Crosby. The newer ones sometimes do not work for me, but I do like the Carol of the Bells that Metallica did with TransSiberian Orchestra.

We start playing Christmas music on the first day of Advent and we listen to it until we take the tree down on the last day of Christmas.

The songs I always like: That Snoopy and Red Baron Christmas Bells song, So this Is Christmas by John Lennon, I want a Hippopotamus For Christmas by some lady with a really childish voice, Christmas Waltz and Look Out The Window by Gene Autry, Sleigh Ride.

The ones I've removed from our Christmas playlist- Freddy the Little Fir Tree, Poppy the Puppy, and Hardrock and Coco and Joe by Gene Autry and Oh Tannenbaum by Nat King Cole.

May you be blessed with Christmas Music you can tolerate.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Greenhouse Update

Now that we have a couple of inches of snow on the ground, we are ready to skin the greenhouse! It will be difficult, and maybe a little unpleasant to do this in the snow, but we won't be the first people to try this adventure. We just need a couple of volunteers to help us before sunrise on one of the coming cold mornings. Our friend suggested we wait until next week when the temperatures will be back in the thirties.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ice Skating

 The kids started ice skating lessons this week. It’s not something I ever imagined doing, but a friend is teaching the lessons. That means the children get two hours of skating one day a week with friends. It also means I get to skate as long as I am able to. I figure at the end of eight weeks I will have doubled my life time quantity of ice skating.

I remembered ice skating in Texas, and I dressed everyone just a little warmer. But it was COLD in that arena. It was especially difficult my first few times around the ice as I was moving VERY slowly with one hand on the wall. It was my second time to skate since we moved to Vermont, and maybe the second time in ten years, so slow was the only speed available. BY the third time around, I was moving well enough to be having fun and I wasn’t thinking about the cold and I was able to see what the kids were doing.

It was fun to see their different reactions. They have skated one to three times each winter, but it’s new each year. Sylvie and Ezra bombed along, falling here and there. Ezra fell more often; there is something uncoordinated and flailing in his movement. He has gotten much more fluid in the last year, but he still willingly abandons himself to earth. Sylvie is fearless and fluid; if there is a natural athlete among my three children, it’s Sylvie. I could see her grasp of skating improving by the moment. When she fell, she just laughed as she leapt back to her feet.

Phaedra’s caution is a sticking point. She wants so much not to fall that she barely moves. However, by the end of the lesson, she was using both feet.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next couple of months will bring. We all have skates, and we can skate any time we go skiing or once the pond up the road freezes, we can meet friends there. I like to have lots of reasons to get outside in the winter.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Milk Jars

One person we used to get milk from was so persnickety about jars. There were very specific protocols about jar size and shape and cleanliness. She gave instructions on how to clean the jars even. We found this all so tedious, and we were even occasionally blase about all her little rules.

Now, I'm the milk lady. Today for the first time I heard myself being put out that someone wanted milk but did not bring jars. Then, my litany of complaints began playing in my head as I washed the jars that were returned. I just do not think you can fully understand why we milk ladies have all these dumb rules.

For example, if you take milk but do not bring back jars, I am short not the two jars for your gallon of milk, but four jars. We bought two dozen half-gallon jars when we started milking, and we thought we would not require people to pay jars into the pool. But, if we use two to four jars a day for fresh milk, we very quickly run out of jars. When we were the only ones drinking it, the jar juggle was no big deal. We emptied a jar and washed it and filled it the next morning. But our milk customers only see us once a week, so we cannot count on those jars for a week at a time.

Then there is the washing problem. Milk leaves a film of casein on the inside of the jars that is most easily removed with cold water. And when you do this initial cold water rinse, you actually have to be pretty thorough to get all the casein out. It's actually no big deal if people wash their jars by hand, but some people do use dishwashers. The dishwashers are a double whammy. They inevitably cook the casein onto the inside of the jars and they leave a nasty smell in the jars. So, I rewash the jars to get the smell out, and usually have to use baking soda to scrub out the casein film.

Also, our milk people like to do canning and most of them make kim chee. Let me tell you, if you reuse a pickle lid on a jar of milk. the milk will have a dill smell. And if the kim chee jar has not been washed with baking soda, your milk will have a lacto fermented tang.

Perhaps I'm too fussy about smells, but I do not think so. I always noticed when the jars from that other milk lady were not just right. Perhaps you think the little tea stain up near the rim of the jar is insignificant. But imagine yourself standing at the milk refrigerator grabbing the jar of milk. Which one are you going to pick? If you're like me, the pristine jar of sparkling white milk with no smudge in the cream line will be your top pick. And even if you're the person who gave me the tea stained jar, you'll begin to hold my cleanliness in question.

Finally- I have trouble explaining to people why a milk jug is not reusable. The fact is, the container must be a shape that I can convince myself is clean enough that you will not get sick from the milk I put inside it. And, I have an aversion to plastic.

Signed- the Cranky Milk Lady

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Question

Jason and I gave up nonstick pans around the time we married. It seemed that the nonstick coating was not entirely non toxic once it began to wear off.

We discovered the beauty of good stainless steel cookware and cast iron and enameled crockery. The thing is, with very little care, these forms of cookware are nonstick and easier to clean than the other. I can use BonAmi or Baking soda or the occasional scrubbing pad with impunity. The cookware we assembled fifteen years ago still looks perfect, and I figure our children can use it when were gone. The cookware it replaced was less than five years old and pretty worn out.

I like that these things will not need replacing. And my question is- Who benefits from selling cookware that will not last a lifetime? Certainly not the user.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Second Week of Advent

"The second light of Advent is the light of the plants; plants that reach up for the sun and in the breezes dance."

Plants remind us that everything we love about our world depends on the light of the sun. There is nothing we enjoy or need to live without the sun. And the plants' worship of this star is a reminder to us to appreciate that outer light even as we find ourselves in darkness.

Also, we are nothing without plants. Even if all you eat is meat, meat traces it's own survival back to plants.

Plants cleanse our air; they are the lungs of earth.

And, plants are pretty. There's nothing like a swath of parking lot to parch your eyes and your soul. Hans Christian Anderson said green was good for the eyes; I think he was right.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Trouble With Cats

When Ezra turned seven, we got a cat. We had cats in Texas, but the idea of moving a cat across the country was a little scary. Our cat at that time was less than a year old, and the lady across the street really wanted him. It seemed like a good idea.

Ezra asked and asked for a cat from the time we moved, and two years later, we were ready to have one, so along came Sol-leks. And Sol-leks is an odd bird, but a wonderful cat. He never scratches, he loves to be cuddled, he seemed to intuit the purpose of the litter box. But, he IS an odd bird. And this is why- he is petrified of loud noises.

Yes, yes, I know all cats dislike loud noises, but this fear of his goes beyond the pale. In fact, the first time he disappeared, it was because of some house construction going on outside the house.

That was two falls back, and we were very sad, but you know, that kind of happens with cats. It's not that I think they're disposable; it's just that they are independent enough to make a few of their own decisions, and sometimes that means they relocate themselves or escape outside at dark.

So, about a month later, Phaedra announced, apropos of nothing, that she had a hole in her heart where Sol-Leks used to be. Maybe some of you would have comforted her and let it go, but I got her another cat. His name is Cecil.

And two weeks later, Sol-Leks came back.

After that, we did not worry much if Sol-leks disappeared for a day or two. And Phaedra and Cecil were each other's favorites and all has been right with the world. At least until two weeks ago.

That's when Cecil disappeared. And now it seems that hole reopened in Phaedra's heart which we will be filling with another cat.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why Homeopathy

I am not very trustful of medical type people. Maybe it started when I was small and I had to drop my drawers to get a shot. Maybe my mother’s dependence on doctors led me to shun them. Maybe I don’t like to be told what to do. Maybe the research I did about vaccinations and childbirth made me doubt whether they genuinely have our best interests at heart. Whatever the reason, I try to tend our ailments with only minimal outside intervention.
I have found an exception. It seems I trust a homeopathic doctor.
We started experimenting with homeopathy shortly after we moved to Vermont because the remedies you can find in certain grocery stores were readily available. I also really like the idea that the remedies will not hurt anything, and you can tell almost immediately whether they will help. As Jason pointed out, the remedies either work surprisingly well or there is a very strong placebo effect.
After a recent exposure to streptococcal pneumonia, I called the homeopath we had visited with during the summer. I think we are a lucky family that is not terribly prone to getting strep, but I did not want my hubris to be our downfall. I did as she suggested, minus the gargling with grapefruit seed extract, and we are so far still healthy. Maybe we wouldn’t have gotten sick or maybe we will fall ill tomorrow, but I know that what we’ve done in an attempt to prevent the illness has not actually hurt us.
If we did fall ill, I would use antibiotics. Despite the necessity of antibiotics when dealing with bacterial pneumonia, I would not be able to shake the fact that these do harm even as they help. And that’s why I’m willing to at least try homeopathy first.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chicken Management

We had Thanksgiving at a friend’s house last week, and this friend knows many interesting people who have skill sets I could only dream of. One of the guests was quite knowledgeable about chickens, and she explained to me that roosters could peck each others’ heads until one died. She expressed surprise when I told her about our two roosters and told me about her brain damaged rooster she is currently nursing.

So, here’s the rundown on our chicken situation. We have two roosters. One is a lace Wyandotte another friend gave to us because she had too many roosters. He is about one month older than our pullets, but he’s noticeably bigger than the other roosters. He is so beautiful; he is also a good breed to create our own flock of chickens brought up from our own hens. A little genetic variation helps to have a healthier flock, and, as I said, he is so beautiful.

At the time we added him to the layer flock, we had six New Hampshire Red roosters. It’s not that we wanted six or seven roosters. Back in June we ordered a “straight run”; that means we got whichever chickens came along- they were not sexed. We could have ordered all hens or all roosters, and the hatchery would guarantee 80% accuracy. Since the minimum order is 25 chicks, and we did not need 25 hens, we asked for a mix of roosters and hens. We had seven older hens, and the new batch of 26 chicks included eight roosters. The plan had been to kill all the extra roosters. After a couple of accidents- like the fox, cat, neighbor’s dog, and coop attack- we have 17 hens, which easily justifies keeping two roosters.

The top rooster is the Wyandotte and he earned his name the second day he was with the flock. The older hens did not give a fig for him, and the pullets were too young to be of any interest. He is a very flashy black and white with fluffy feathers and a definite strut. He would drop his wings as he moved close to an older hen, then kick a little with one of his feet and do a sashay. I named him Elvis on the spot.

The one I liked best of the six red roosters had this outlandishly big comb. He had earned my favor by keeping Nico away from the free ranging hens and then by seeking Nico out to play with him. He was definitely the top rooster before Elvis came along. His personality drew my attention, and then his comb made him easy to pick out from the rest of the roosters. He is now named Jerry Lee.

Once he joined the flock, Elvis kept the other roosters away from the older hens. He most particularly chased away Jerry Lee. I figured as the red hens matured, Jerry Lee would claim a few of them for himself, and Elvis could just keep the more mature ladies. That’s not how it played out. As the red hens came of age, Elvis added them to his flock. I wondered if it was just too many roosters, and if the animosity would subside if there were fewer roosters.

So, one day the kids and I culled the extra five roosters.

Things did calm way down in the chicken yard, but Jerry Lee seemed to be even more of an outcast. A few of the red hens shunned Elvis, but they shunned Jerry Lee as well. I had to start putting food out in multiple places so Elvis could not keep these hens and Jerry Lee from the food.

If you’ve read this far you might be wondering why I did not just kill Elvis, that big meanie. He’s a very good rooster. He calls the hens in, he lets them know if he’s found a delicious tidbit, he never eats before them, he rounds up stragglers when it’s time to roost, he’s very watchful, he doesn’t let then hens pick at each other, and he’s really beautiful.

And that’s where things stood when I visited with the knowledgeable chicken lady on Thanksgiving Day. As you might imagine, I kept thinking of Jerry Lee’s wondrous comb, and I thought about how I want two coops next year on opposite ends of the property so that the chickens do not get moved around so much. The next morning, Ezra and I segregated Jerry Lee and eight of the hens. We put all four black hens with him, because Elvis did not seem to like the black hens. Then we added the red hens in who seem to fly out of the fence the most often; we figure they must not be too fond of Elvis or they would stay closer to home.

I’m not quite sure how it will work this winter, but I currently plan to alternate which flock gets to roam. That is, I’ll alternate when I feel like the new flock has melded into a flock. For now, everyone is locked up, getting used to this arrangement.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Winter Awoke

There was a day last week when we had balmy 52 degree weather, and I was overcome with a sense of "Hurry!" The very next day, the temperature dropped and we've had little flurries most days. Now, there's about an inch of snow on the ground and the water in the river has changed to it's wintry hue.

No more laundry on the line outside. The snow pants have emerged. No more leaf raking. More knitting and sewing and baking. Tidier indoor space even as we engage in messier indoor work.

Maybe now, we can finish the greenhouse in a rush. Maybe we can build shelves and make a bit of cupboard and counter beside the stove. Maybe we can paint trim and put it up. Maybe we can do the last couple of window repairs. Maybe we'll do a crossword and play a few more games and put together a puzzle.

It won't be long before we ski. We start skating lessons next week. Winter isn't all bad.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Clean Your Room

I have a new insight into this parental struggle. What if we're just wrong about a child's ability to clean a space? I know some children are quite capable of cleaning a space from quite a young age, but I think most of us do not live with such children. And probably most of us were not those sort either.

I have cleaned my children's rooms with them since they were able to crawl, and prior to that, they each rode in a carrier while I cleaned our space. I will admit to my occasional temper tantrums in the face of a recalcitrant child, but mostly, I have modeled just the behavior I wish them to learn. We work as a team, I assigned tasks very specifically according to age and ability, I have made a valiant effort to keep their things to a manageable amount, I have tried to provide a structure that they can use to help them clean, I've played music and games and we've had stories while we tidied. And still, not a one of them can clean a room.

I think even my 10-year-old is unable to apply some internal structure to his space. He does not see the paper on the floor or the heap of stuff on his desk or the sheet wadded up under the blanket on his bed. He will very willingly pick up his laundry or legos; he can arrange books on his shelf. But he still needs a guiding hand to do all the steps to tidy his room, and he just doesn't understand the necessity of dusting (that could be genetic).

My tidiest child thinks that if everything is on a shelf or if the things on the floor are not hers, it is tidy. She does not understand why I want to sweep her floor even when her socks are covered with dirt and wood debris from walking across her floor.

And the littlest is just not sure why I would disturb her play to tidy a space that she can only barely pass through.

I can see they are all learning, but I know I was expected to clean my room by the time I was as old as my littlest. I know many mothers wonder when their children will be able to achieve this task. And I know some will just disagree, but maybe "Clean your room" is not an age appropriate sentence before some time after the age of ten.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Our Rocks

The rocks around us are granite, lots of granite. And throughout Vermont, people struggle with this pushing up into their fields each spring when the frost action heaves new rocks up to the surface.

On our property, we have a unique situation. We have sand- lots and lots of sand. We can dig a twelve post holes and plant twenty trees and only hit a handful of rocks, all smaller than a fist. To put that in perspective- we have friends in many different households who feel lucky to hit only one rock any time they dig any hole.

So, I feel gratitude for our soil. It has it's problems; it dries out fast in the summer (although that's a boon the rest of the year), it is not terribly fertile, it lacks much in the way of humus, it's pretty acidic. Many people with a world more experience than I have say these problems are minor compared to the complications of clay soil that is prevalent in Vermont.

I look around and try to figure out why there is all this sand right in this spot. Our property is sort of a shoulder of a hill. There's a fairly steep drop down to it and then another fairly steep drop away from it. Erosion is a steady concern. But what erodes from above is sand. And the trail that runs down below is sand. I figure Old Dame Nature put the sand on this somewhat flat spot, but I do not quite understand why our hill is sand in the land of clay soils. Maybe that hill was already ground up at some other point and deposited there by moving water?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

For Advent

I am going to try to type a post for every day of Advent. They will get posted oddly, because of my internet situation, but I think it will not matter too much. Forgive me if you get bored, or check back later when Advent is over. Not all theposts will be Advent- related.

I may have mentioned before that I did not mark Advent until I was well into my parenting journey. And when I started setting it aside as something special, I found it very uncomfortable. For starters, I’m not particularly Christian (and I’m not willing to argue over that in this forum). I enjoy Christmas and have always enjoyed Christmas, because my mother made such a big deal of it. Yes, of course, I enjoyed getting presents, but I remember most vividly all the anticipation- for the relatives and the Christmas party and the caroling and the baking and the extra time with my family and the school vacation and the school party and the dreams of snow and the late nights with my siblings and the card games and the trips and the wrapping and the secrets and the mystery and the special meals and, of course, the presents.

So the notion of this time of year being exceptional was an easy enough concept, but I did not know much about Advent, nor did I have a grasp on how to bring it meaningfully into our family. I entered Advent by way of Waldorf, and I feel happy to have found it.

For those of you who do not know, Advent is the time beginning four Sundays before Christmas Eve. I will mention again that I am not completely versed in the traditions of Advent, so you might want to get particulars yourself. What you’ll find here is my understanding and my interpretations and practices based on that understanding.

Advent, for us, is a time for turning inward. Outer light is waning, and we have the shortest days of the year. As the light outside of us decreases, we have more time to acknowledge the light carried inside each of us. I like this idea of honoring our inner light, but I also like to mark the weeks of Advent the way I learned of them through Waldorf.

This is the first week, and we honor the light of the stones- “stones that live in seashells, in crystals, and in bones.” Earth is quite special, as we all know, but life is built on these rocks. They are ground by wind and water into the soil that feeds us and into the minerals that make up life.

I have trouble explaining this week’s focus to the children every year, but I feel awe when I walk in a stream bed and see what the water is making for us (and I do not mean only humans, but all life forms). Even volcanoes, as destructive as they are, bring rock to the surface of the earth in an enriching way.

Tis the Season?

I heard on the radio yesterday that electronics, particularly large, flat screen televisions, were selling very well at a certain mall in Los Angeles. It was part of some story regarding “Black Friday” and the economy.

And now I tread into uncomfortable territory. I offer at the outset that I am far from pure as I sit typing away on a laptop, listening to one of the family IPods on one of the family docs.

I just thought that perhaps we’re being driven to increasingly pacifying our inner selves so that we can toil away in this questionable economy/society/culture. We’re really quite certain that what we have now is so much better than anywhere else in the world, and mostly better than anything we’ve had before. Yet, we sit very still for most of every day, either in our cars or in front of our computers or in front of our televisions. We get fatter and fatter and we cannot quite figure out what’s wrong. We take more and more medications and hope for some even better ones. We buy one thing and another thinking that THIS one will be just the thing, and then we go out again to buy another. And we cling so desperately to this life, thinking that if we cure, prevent, or predict all these diseases that we then won’t be so plagued by worry.

However, if you look, we’re still plagued by worry, maybe moreso. We’re still getting fatter. We’re paying for new medications and new technology and new sport shoes and new cars- never quite satisfied. Our plan just isn’t working out that well for us. It also isn’t working that well for the rest for the world.

We’ve exported our insatiability, and we chafe at other countries taking resources we are used to having all for ourselves. Instead of reflecting, and maybe finding that we can be satisfied, we fight over those resources. This dear earth cannot support everyone in the style middle class Americans are used to.

Then, we do not even consider where all those old cell phones and laptops and televisions and shoes go when we’re done with them. Just take a minute and imagine that only half the people in your town or city got a new phone, television, pair of crocs, computer, or Ipod this year. I'd guess we sent the rest to the dump. Or maybe better, the old ones were sent to be parted up into new ones or at least taken to haz mat to be “properly” disposed of (and what does THAT mean?). I will just point out that I haven’t seen many of these things labeled that they were made exclusively of old components; I do not think that would sell well when shelved by the brand new, everything improved versions.

So, if you’re reading this, you probably have a share in the crime we are committing against our world, and maybe if we can at least admit our guilt, we can all try to upgrade less frequently- or even do without occasionally.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What I'm Not Supposed to Say About Homeschooling

The other day during tap class, I was reading a nice, fat book, and Sylvie was introducing herself to other younger siblings enduring an older child's class. A mother sitting near us began to chat with Sylvie, and asked if Sylvie was in school. Sylvie quickly chimed, "We homeschool!"

The mother looked at me and had a very common reaction. She said, "I wish we could do that." My pat answer is that it's not for everybody, because I do not actually want to convert people. I'm pretty certain most people do not even care why or how we go about the business of school. Heck, she was probably just being friendly, but I wanted to get back to my book, as tap class is one of my few guilt-free opportunities to sit and read for a long stretch of time.

The mother then said, "I just get tired of all the drama," with a gesture to her daughter. "She has such a hard time with some of the girls."

I said, "Oh, we have drama at home. I worry that my daughters might kill me." Then I turned back to my book, choking quietly on my foot.

Here's the thing- homeschool isn't perfect, and we all know each other too well to fall back on simple politeness when one of us is in a foul temper. This post is not about how wonderful homeschool is. You can go to myriad places to hear about the glories of homeschool- including some of my other blog posts.

This post is about how I "never" get a break. Pretty much from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm, I am at-the-ready to solve problems. (I know this can also be true for mothers of children who go to school, but I'm just talking about me right now.) I get really tired of reassuring Phaedra every thirty seconds that she is doing her math right. I get tired of reminding Ezra that we have things to do besides read fantasy novels and discuss the magic of numbers. I cook the meals and wash the dishes with steady interruptions. Even when I've sent my darlings outside, they check in every three to five minutes for a drink, a snack, a discovery, an argument, a question, etc. For our school time, I'm in a very steady giving mode, trying to be completely open to all requests. The children sometimes need to resist me and this can make school a drag.

Today, over a very pleasant breakfast, Phaedra said, "I sometimes wish you were not my mother." She seems to choose the most idyllic moments to share these tidbits with me. Then she said, "You probably wish I wasn't your daughter sometimes, too."

"No," I answered firmly, "that's not how it works. You'll probably think how different I could be for your whole life, but I'll always want you just like you are. It's the joy of motherhood."

This conversation is a shadow to every school day. Our school time is sometimes just a very clear sign of all I'm doing wrong. And even I get tired of messing up that often.

There are also all the things I'd like to do for them that I never get around to. Like clipping fingernails and accompanying their fiddles with a guitar, reading hours and hours to Sylvie, finishing Oliver Twist with Ezra and Book of Fairy Princes with Phaedra, and painting two or three days a week and all that. There are my own projects I cannot get to in the face of homeschooling, like leaf raking and trim painting and hole filling and dog training.

Most of the time, it's all okay. I can see what I'm gaining by giving up on a few things, but sometimes, I can feel that list of things I can't quite get to hurtling behind me like a freight train. Then, homeschooling doesn't feel peaceful or beatific or glamorous. Then, it's my job to put one foot in front of the other and press on.

Now, back to our regular home school booster club.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why Worry

The leaves need raking.

I need leaves for the garden.

I need leaves for the compost.

Violet needs a corner wall in the barn.

The green house needs end walls. And plastic. And probably other things I’m not thinking of.

The chickens still are not laying.

The chickens would lay better with some artificial light.

The chickens are not in a place where we can easily/safely give them light.

There are places that need shingles.

Is the plywood beginning to warp beneath Ezra’s new window?

Nico has dug ten holes in the empty gardens.

The wire to protect the trees is lying in the field, not wrapped around the trees.

Six trees need wire.

The hole in the garden created by the drip from the rain gutter is still a hole.

There is a lot of construction debris around our shabby house making it look shabbier.

Some of the wood is still getting rained on.

Wet wood doesn’t heat that well.

Who can we get log lengths from?

Elmer needs to be brushed.

Sylvie’s nails need trimming. Ezra needs a science lesson. Phaedra needs me to listen to her report on Understood Betsy. Is Jason getting enough time?

And still, I’m glad to be here when I remember to notice where I am.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cow Worship

Our cow is no nicer than she was. She still gives us terrible trouble when the mood strikes. The other morning, for example, she cavorted about, kicking up her heels, brandishing her horns, charging toward us in a scary way. Our best guess is that it was too dark for her to see well, and she did not want to leave the safety of the barn. We altered our schedule slightly, and that behavior has not resurfaced.

So, maybe you’re wondering why I would talk of cow worship. Well, every morning, I humble myself to her. I serve her by carefully wiping the crap from a variety of her surfaces. Even in this challenging, relatively foul task, I speak calm words of praise to her beauty and admire her coat and express respect for her size and horns. I make offerings of affection, like a good rub behind the horns, that she might deign to accept as worthy of her greatness.

Then comes the part that really feels like sacrifice.

I kneel close beside her. I am under and behind the wideness of her belly. I am right beside the power of her feet, pretty much beneath the bulk of her. I am completely in the splatter zone of any of her elimination. It’s hard to remember to breath evenly as I reach under and work my hands along her teats. I feel very aware of how she could step on my bent knee or move quickly enough to knock me over. I press my forehead or cheek to the greatness of her side when she is not sullied. I feel the stiffness of my back and hands as I resist the amount I have to surrender to my task.

And finally, when I surrender, on the majority of mornings when she stands peacefully as I work, I know why people worshipped cows.

I have also been thinking on my years as a vegetarian and vegan. While taking more and more responsibility for my current choices to eat meat and milk and all things animal, I see the logic behind choosing not to. My cow is enslaved. We try to make it pleasant, and I am comfortable with our choices, but we require a hundred little sacrifices from her. She is parted from her calf for many hours of the day. We decide whether she’ll have shelter for a day or not. She is a herd animal isolated in a group two. We wake her most mornings so we can take milk she makes for her calf. (I know she makes an abundance of milk due to breeding, but I assure you she would rather the calf nurse than me milk her.) We chain her. We limit her diet and her ability to roam. And so on.

When I think of these things, as I meditate solemnly beside her, I think she might be due a little worship as well.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What Sylvie Talks About

Sylvie steals every private moment she can to tell me things. And what, you might ask, does Sylvie tell me?

Well, she tells me she will use paper diapers. ("Those are single use, landfill bound plastic diapers, sweetie."  "I know, Mama, but paper diapers sounds nicer.")

She tells me she will buy Barbie when her children are 5, but she'll knit them wool teddy bears when they are one. ("No, I will not buy your children Barbie, but they will be yours." "I know, Mama, but what if I TELL you to buy them Barbies?")

She tells me she will live with me, so I can hold her babies sometimes. She tells me we will have to have a stroller that we can push when we're opening and closing gates in electric fence. ("But, sweetie, if we just put the babies in a carrier, the fence won't be a problem." "I know, Mama, but I like strollers.")

She tells me she doesn't want to be married, so she'll get married, have babies, then divorce. Unless of course, she can figure out how to have babies with one of her friends like Ella or Bea. ("Sweetie, these are big plans; you have lots of time to figure that out." "I know, Mama, but I just don't know any boys I want to marry.")

She tells me I will have to let her use my room, because she will be a mama. She tells me about flip flops and bottles and cribs and plastic, glowing, electronic toys. She tells me that she just has to live with me because she loves me. She tells me endless things about the twins she'll have or maybe triplets. ("You never know what will happen, sweetie." "I know, Mama, but what if I DID have triplets!")

Then, she tells me she doesn't even quite like me. Daddy is really her favorite.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

While Raking Leaves

I was thinking about all the music I like and humming a few tunes, too. A visitor once said we were the "singingest" family, and he wasn't exactly complimenting us. I think he found the incessant humming and bursts of song fragments annoying. I thought it was funny, because I have been deliberately cultivating these music making habits since Ezra was small. I've learned multiple verses of many, many folk songs; I've memorized a slew of Mother Goose rhymes and children's poems and chore songs; I've learned lots and lots of dear Pete Seeger's propaganda songs; and finally, I've learned to whistle. If one of the children starts a song, I join in or listen and express pleasure. Jason is probably the least likely to burst into song, but even he uses quotes from songs on a regular basis.

So, as I was raking, I was humming a couple of Burl Ives tunes that tickle my fancy and then I switched to White Stripes and then Pink Floyd and then the Beatles and Lyle Lovett and so on. And I was thinking how lucky I am to be able to entertain myself in the middle of this pleasant, but mindless and monotonous task.

I thought about how we avoided the children's music drivel that might make one flee from music altogether. I like that Ezra enjoys REM and Cocteau Twins and doesn't like Carolina Chocolate Drops, while Phaedra is particularly fond of Sinead O'Connor and Sylvie likes Woody Guthrie. Everyone likes dear Pete Seeger and the lively (though dead) Burl Ives. I have yet to win anyone over to Dave Brubeck or Miles Davis, but Handel and Fred Astaire are more than tolerated.

It's funny what you might think of while raking leaves.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Experiment updates

Garden- I’m not sure how to put it all to bed. I’ve sheet mulched in between the arms I cleared when I pulled out the black plastic. (I say “I”, but I had many people helping me.) I’m looking at my curved lines and thinking that I’ll try straight rows and beds next summer. So, for now, I’m either sheet mulching three-foot wide beds or turning some compost into three-foot wide beds. Then, I’m using clothing as sheet mulch in the places I intend for rows.

And what about all that sheet mulch? Well, I can really tell where there was mulch and where there was just some compost. The soil where there was sheet mulch is darker and full of worms. Things decomposed very thoroughly; I have found strands of thread attached to pockets. These would be all that’s left of pants and jeans I put in the garden. I guess those cotton pants have polyester thread and pockets. I will also say that I did not have to weed much in sheet mulched areas. I’ve been doing a final weeding as I clean out the beds, and the grass that spreads persistently under anything and everywhere has made an occasional foray into the garden, but it has not been able to establish itself and is easy to remove.

We have decided to have just one big garden next year, and that will be in the space to the north of the house. We’ll focus most of our gardening effort there and see what comes of it.

Even as I type that paragraph, I’m smiling. The thing is we should have a greenhouse ready for planting by the time we get the chickens out of it. And that will certainly be more garden space. And there is also the bed by the front door that did very well this year, and will most certainly be used again next year. I am thinking of making that more of a perennial bed, just as I plan to do in the bed behind the house. I keep thinking about grapes and whether we might be able to trellis them in such a way that they would shade the back of the house throughout the summer but let in light for the winter.

Maybe my perennial efforts should be on trees ad berries next year.

Speaking of berries, I really put the blueberries in a horrible place this year. It was the only place that had lush grass, so I thought they would like it. Well, guess what! Grass likes alkaline soil and blueberries have to have acidic soil. It must be the only alkaline soil on the place. So, come spring, I’ll be moving the surviving blueberries twenty to thirty feet east.

Hair washing and lotion- I think once a week is fine for hair washing if you plan on staying home, but if you want to wear your hair down or go to town, twice is a better choice. The soap is still working just fine. I’m pretty pleased with this experiment. Also, I’m the only one having any hair trouble; even the girls’ hair looks fine with less washing and no shampoo.

The humanure compost pile is not shrinking as fast as my reading suggested it would. That’s the thing about reading versus experience. I am making sure to get more nitrogen into the pile and that seems to be helping, but I’m not seeing how one pile could last a whole year. I’m either still getting the mix wrong or the writer I’ve trusted was overly optimistic. I will say there is no odor, so the mix can’t be too far off.

The pasture- We’ve moved our cow very persistently and we moved the chickens closely after her for most of the summer. Then we got tired and quit moving the chickens as much. We also realized that the chickens really do not like being moved. Our plan for next year is to have two groups of chickens, one behind the house and one up by the barn. The pasture already looks better in some places. In the really bad places, we’re waiting to see what spring brings. We still have the cow on pasture, but she is mostly eating hay. We might be able to move her through the pasture one more time before the snow prohibits it. The thing is that even though she’s not grazing, her poop is going where we need it. So, we distribute grass seed by haying her out in the field, and she deposits the fertilizer. Then, ideally, the chickens spread the fertilizer in their hunt for bug larvae.

Now to button up for winter.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Death Versus Mortality

I remember when I was quite young laying awake for what seemed hours and hours rehearsing what I would do if my mother died. I think this is a pretty common thing for children to fixate on, but my mother's seeming frailty added to my anxiety. I know that even in college I would devote the occasional evening to this little rehearsal. My plans were not dramatic in any way; I was not thinking about other people much. It was more that I practiced how I would feel when my mother died.

Then, when I was 26, she died. And it was awful. And I cried alot. And I was sad. And then I got back to the business of living.

It's not that I quit being sad; I'm still regularly bowled over with grief. It's not that time heals all wounds; my grandmother said time just heightened the ache and I think she was right. It's just that I'm pretty practical and I'm not afraid of death and I had other things to do besides miss my mother.

Someone recently told me that it was probably her death that made me as casual as I am about death, but I have not been afraid of dying for as long as I can remember. I just figure there is only so much room in this world and if we all cling too tenaciously to life, we don't make room for the new life ever burbling forth. I also figure there comes a point when our work is done, and why should I hang around making other people take care of me when I'm finished anyway.

So that's the death part.

The mortality part hit me hard today and it's tied back into my feelings about my mother's death. My mother never saw me pregnant nor told me terror birth stories. She never held my baby or mocked me for attachment parenting. She did not tell me what to do for diaper rash nor did she chastise me for using cloth diapers. I couldn't call her when each child started to walk or when they lost their first teeth. When Ezra had cancer or when Phaedra had tantrums or when Sylvie made me crazy with chatter, I couldn't call her or ask for backup or anything. And those things make me sad sometimes and sometimes- I'm glad she's not around to fight with me.

Today, though, today...

The children were sitting with their other grandmother, the one who can visit and does, the one who listens to endless stories and watches the endless circus show, the one who is everything one might hope for in a grandmother. She brought them metal tea cans to make into time capsules, and they were each very excited by the work of filling them up and they were each debating how long they would wait to peek inside. And I suddenly realized I might not be there when they opened them. I mean, probably I will be, but it's POSSIBLE that I won't. And I asked them if I might tuck a note inside. And I told them each how much I loved them and how special they each are. And I asked their grandmother if she might not also like to put a note in. And I printed some pictures for each of them.

And how I wished that my mother had left something like that for me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Unquestioned

I think I'll start a new stream of posts on this topic. If you have read Ishmael, you have at least considered the idea of "mother culture" before; I like to find places where I've just accepted what I've been socialized to accept. Then, I like to look a little more closely and see what is really behind it.

The current one is about hand lotion and sodium laurel sulfate and shampoo.

When I was about eight and visiting my grandmother, who knew everything about keeping house and tending herself, she said, "Well, Sister, your hands need some lotion. Here- put this on and you should do it every day." I slathered on that lotion that smelled exactly like my perfect grandmother, delighting in the smell and the feeling of being like her. The slimy feeling on my hands was kind of gross, but I was a well-behaved child, and I tried really hard to do as she advised. I have used hand lotion pretty miuch daily ever since.

My first shampoo memory involves a green bottle on the side of the tub and then a clear bottle with a picture of Eve draped in flowers. Again, the smells in these two bottles make an even stronger memory than anything else. I also remember my perfect grandmother once saying nothing cleaned hair "these days" like her mother's homemade soap. She said they would wash their hair once a week, then braid it, and that was it until the next hair washing.

The thing I am questioning is the value of these products and if we have really progressed with all our washing and slathering. Someone suggested to me that we have become addicted to sodium laurel sulfate, and if we give our skin some time, we can just use soap on our hair and oil when our skin needs a little help. I have tried before, but I am trying again, as my question to reduce our plastic intake is never-ending, and it is surprising how much of the "new" plastic in our house is from hygiene products.

I have not used shampoo in two weeks, and there were about three really scary days that involved me actually hiding my hair. Then, I used baking soda paste followed by a cider vinegar rinse, and things look pretty awesome. The baking soda comes in a paper box and the vinegar I can either make myself or buy in a glass bottle. Side benefits are that my hair doesn't seem to tangle anymore and it's easier to put up. I figure the hair oils play into this, but I reiterate, my hair looks great, not nasty.

I'm using a homemade hand salve composed of beeswax and olive oil. Again, it took a few days, but my fingers are not split, and the feet I abuse by going barefooted as much as possible seem to have many fewer cracks. I have tried a million things for my feet and my cracked finger tips, so I am pretty amazed with the difference. What I understand is that the ingredients actually dry out our skin and hair so we soak up this little bit of oil but are ultimately more parched.

I'm not really willing to try to convince you, because I can already here the, "No, but my hair..." comments, and it has to be up to you. I'm just saying if you get really tired of bring all that trash into your house and your hands and hair being a mess, you could at least try this. It's a lot cheaper than any other thing I've heard of.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Standing In The Grocery Store

A friend told me today that she could have bought milk for 78 CENTS a gallon. She was only able to resist the temptation with her mantra, “That’s pus milk. That’s pus milk...”

I feel frustrated when I see valuable food priced in such an outlandish way. I want to first point out that a farmer cannot feed a cow grass for $.78 a gallon, never mind the cost to process, package, transport, and advertise it. I also realize that milk at this price is a loss leader, but I feel certain the farmer will ultimately feel the pinch because of this ludicrous price.

There is also the psychological factor. I believe Americans, and maybe people in other countries as well, underpay for their food. They even balk when something comes close to costing what it actually cost the farmer to produce it. I will say again that most people are so far removed from their food, that they lack any understanding of how it came to be on their table in that particular package.

When milk is used like this, we further undervalue it, and I believe it can have longer term effects. Doesn’t a candy bar cost more than $.78? Do people equate the value of gallon of milk to a candy bar?

And what about my friend’s little chant about pus milk? When a person buys “regular” milk instead of organic, what are they really buying? There has been so much written about what actually arrives in your gallon of conventional milk that I think I’ll skip that part and go straight to the real cost of that milk. When you buy milk from a huge cooperation whose only goal is to make money, you can bet you are not getting the healthiest product. Also, the chemicals that go into feeding the cow more cheaply or more “efficiently” have a cost that it seems like no one talks about. Chemical farming rapes the land; we abuse animals when we subject them to a diet their bodies cannot digest. At some point, someone will have to pay the price of what our society has done to its farm land so that we can buy food cheaply.

We make milk on a very small scale, one cow, one tiny piece of land. We have to buy in hay. We buy organic hay for around $3.50 a bale. The cow eats a bale a day. We get about 1.5 gallons of milk a day. So, if wee calculate the cost of our milk in hay alone- leaving aside our time, the buildings, the fence, the hay hauling, etc. – 1 gallon of milk costs us over $2.30. What is wrong with our society that we deny the producers of our food what they have earned?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Plant Catalogs and Tree Report

I’m thinking there should be a rule that the new catalogs should not arrive before the harvest is fully
in. Today, I got the Fedco tree catalog. It’s full of temptations, and I have
yet to know if round one of the trees will survive.

And how are the trees doing?On

The death role- one sugar maple and one David pear

Disabled list- One plum and the cherry tree look pretty bad. I keep hoping it’s because of fall, and not
because I didn’t water them enough or because the cow got a little too close to
them last time she was grazing that area. 

The mulberry tree got its top nipped off, and I know that’s not good, but the tree looks quite robust. My fingers are crossed.
One of the honey locusts looks peaked. The calf managed to push the tree’s cage over, and the tree just did not look the same after that. 

All of the trees need tending to get them ready for winter. I need to trim back some sucker growth. We need to put up some more cages to deter deer. We need to wrap the bottoms to deter voles. Then there’s the composting. 

For the most part, the trees have been a joy to me. The hickories, apples, and mulberry look awfully
good.  I can see that my plan is not crazy. 

Phaedra sighed longingly the other day; she was wishing we could have a tree lined street to drive up this time of year when the colors are so beautiful. I had not planned on lining both sides of the road, but there are little apples growing on one side. Now that I have this catalog on-hand, perhaps I should line the other side as well. Wouldn’t that be pretty?

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Little Experiment

So, we're trying life without the internet at home. It's been a bit of a challenge, but I would like to explain what the impetus was.

Many long years ago (many long year ago!), Jason and I went tv-free. It was a big deal, but we have been quite happy with the decision. Our first discovery was hat we did not have any time even without the television, and we wondered how we ever had time to watch it anyway. Over the years, we decided we just get more done and we talk more and we do more things together in the evening and we have time to make decisions as a team, etc. Now, for all you tv-watchers, there is no judgment here. These are just what we discovered for ourselves. As they say- your mileage may vary.

Way back in college, we had the internet. Jason used it for something or other, but I did not start using it until we began looking at listserves to learn about boxers and people's experiences with their dogs. Then, about the time Ezra was born, the list serves got "prettier" and more user friendly. We had cable internet and then whatever the fastest connection was wherever we lived.

When a friend gave up the internet briefly this summer, Jason and I realized we had had internet in our lives steadily for at least 15 years. We had discussed how it was just as "bad" a time suck as tv, and we thought about getting rid of it.

Then we did.

We still have email and Facebook, but only in a very limited way. Blogging is a bit of a challenge, but I want to keep doing it.

So, we'll see what happens. The first change I noticed is we go to bed about an hour earlier. And if you get up at 5:30, there is no shame in having the lights out by 9:30. There are frustrations like having used it instead of a phonebook, and now, we don't have all the phonebooks onhand that would be useful.

Maybe it will be a bomb, but you can't know if you don't try.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sylvie Starts Kindergarten

 I am definitely in the better-late-than-early camp of education. The time, however brief, I spent as a Montessori teacher telling parents their six-year-old OUGHT to be able to read left an extra wrinkle between my eyebrows. It wasn’t hard to find the writings of dear John Holt and Rebecca Rupp and Charlotte Mason and Rudolph Steiner and David Elkind who all, to one degree or another, thought it best that children have a bit longer to play and grow and pretend  before being set to learn the alphabet.

When Ezra was kindergarten age, there was a new baby in the house, and it was easy to recite nursery rhymes and sing songs and tend house very purposefully to support his further unfolding. When Phaedra got to be kindergarten age, she wanted nothing to do with our “school” time and went off to play with her toddler sister in the simple land of early childhood. So, I deliberately did “kindergarten” things with Sylvie, like singing seasonal songs and doing simple crafts and taking walks, which Phaedra and Ezra also enjoyed.

Now, Sylvie is five, and she just wants to do whatever we’re doing. She has more friends than her brother and sister did at this age and she’s more socially aware than they were. She wants to do what she knows some of her friends and almost all of her cousins (there were 5 born in 5 months that year) are doing. And the cousins and friends are starting kindergarten and her siblings are back in their school routine. Sylvie wants to do that, too.

The problem is that Sylvie is a bit of a butterfly. It feels wrong to encourage her to sit quietly when I would even prefer she go off to play. Fortunately, I could see all this coming and I’ve devised a plan. We’re only one-and-a-half weeks into this plan, but it’s working so far.

I keep a lesson plan book, because it makes me feel good about myself, and in that book I’ve devoted a line on each page to Sylvie’s school work. If the book says we’re supposed to sing a song and recite a couple of poems and read a chapter out of Peter and Polly, then that’s what we do. Then I say, “You’ve finished your schoolwork! Would you like to dry dishes for me?” And she happily gets on with her day. Some days, like today, she ends up doing a page or two out of a workbook I got last year when I was at sixes and sevens with occupying her during school time. And that’s okay, too.

So, she can count past 100 and identify all her capital letters and copy words to send a brief letter, but she is satisfied with that. She has a day every now and then when she wants to learn to read or add or use the big chef’s knife. I make room in our school time to give her a lesson on these things, but if she wanders away, I let her. Five is really little, and this five-year-old is really airy. I think she and I will both enjoy more focused academics when her feet are a little closer to the ground. I like watching her fly for now.