Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Why is a flowing cape the very best costume piece if you happen to be almost 5? And where did our children get their crazy sense of style? Why can't I find a picture of Phaedra dressed in a crazy way?

What are we going to do with this wood? Can we still split it? Is it even worth it? Should I save the apple prunings for firewood?

Did I prune these apple trees right? Is there some magic way to find out without waiting until spring? Is there some reason a person would plant apple trees on an exact north/south axis so that one would NEVER get as much sun as the other?

Why do my light-eyed children always get red eyes in snap shots? Can I just snap a picture and not have their eyes look red? Why don't the red eye tools actually work to my satisfaction? Should I make the girls wear brown contact lenses?

How can I trap snow here so this bit of land doesn't get so wasted? Should we cut down these pine trees that keep other things from growing? Can I get some ground cover here without cutting down the pine trees?

Is this where our leech field or septic tank is? Would that make snow melt faster? Where is the septic tank? What did we do with the little map to help us find it? When should we have it emptied? Where can we put an outhouse so the septic tank is less of an issue?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Path to the Three Pound Cleaver

We switched Astryd to a raw diet many years ago. When she was a wee puppy, she ate fairly normal kibble, but she got a rash. Then she ate kind of expensive kibble and the rash improved but didn't go away. Then, her vegan owners cooked dog food for her for two or three years; that was weird. It was this vegetable/beef melange that smelled pretty darn good, even to a vegan. We DID try one time to substitute soy protein for the beef, but the extremely smelly results brought beef right back into her diet. When I got pregnant, we discovered a kibble that had almost no grain in it, and she ate that- rash free- until we moved to Vermont and could no longer afford that really expensive dog food.

What were we to do? Maybe you did not know Astryd, but she was a beautiful, sleek boxer, and bumpy skin was just unacceptable on such a beautiful dog. A new friend in Vermont told us about the raw food diet, and after having cooked for her for some years, it wasn't much of a jump to switch to a vegetable rich diet that consisted primarily of raw chicken carcasses (the part left after they cut off the bits you buy at the store). It was so easy and fairly cheap; I scraped whatever was left from our meals into her bowl, with a few exceptions, and gave her a chicken carcass once a day.  She was very happy and her coat was lovely.

However, on a long enough time line... She still died, despite her excellent diet.

Elmer, our current dog, has eaten the same way since he came to live with us. So far, so good. He is not quite the glutton Astryd was; she would eat anything, salad, fruit, bread crumbs, bits of rice off the floor. Elmer is not that interested in food unless it is meat or something rotting in the compost pile. I gave up deliberately supplementing his meat with any vegetables because he insisted on some nasty foraging. He's healthy; I guess it's working well enough.

Then came the cats.

If you think about the size of a cat's mouth, you can immediately see that most parts of a chicken are going to be a problem. They can very handily eat small rodents, easily up to the size of a chipmunk. But think of the chipmunk's little backbone and then think of the hulking backbone of a chicken and you will see there is a problem. The cats just cannot seem to deal with chicken.

So, we bought a three pound cleaver. It's an awesome tool, frightening in its heft and efficiency. The nightly chore of chopping some part of a chicken carcass into cat food is one Jason and I both avoid. The blood always splatters around which is surprising when you consider how little blood there is in a carcass. There is always the tingle of fear that you won't keep your fingers well out of the way and the certainty that a three pound cleaver could go swiftly through the bone of your index finger. There is the hacking and hacking necessary to reduce the carcass into cat food. It's a loud, messy process, but we find ourselves doing it.

We find we cannot stand to give kibble to the animals when we know how much garbage goes into it. We find we cannot support an evil meat industry even to feed the animals. We find that we just cannot convince ourselves that cats need corn or soy in any form. So, we try to make friends with the cleaver, and then wipe up the mess, and get on with our lives.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Off on My Own

Bright and early, just as the sun was coming up, I was headed east down 15. It was really beautiful this morning; the temperature was below zero and the sky was partly clear. The light looks somehow crisp and fragile on mornings like that. Then, as if hiding from the cold light, little errant wisps of clouds were tucked into the shadows of hills. By the time I was on 2, past Danville, the White Mountains were aglow. I somehow managed to stay on the road and make it to the Vermont Grazers Conference before things got underway.

It was a good day and I learned many new things. The most informative was a presentation by a fellow out of Jericho. He was explaining the benefits of raising beef and poultry on the same pasture, the poultry following the beef. He was clear and seemed very certain of why he was doing what he does. It made buying a cow this year seem a bit less crazy.

There was an ice cream social at the end with local, organic ice cream, but I was too ready to be home to mill around with a bunch of strangers. I had had lunch with the group, and it was a nice lunch, also made primarily of local foods. However, I kept thinking we looked like animals in a confinement operation, so I skipped the ice cream and headed home to tell my little group of people all the things I learned.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Two Interesting Conversations

As we drove home from Burlington a couple of evenings back, we were listening to Rabbit Ears Radio folk tales. Included are stories of Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett,  Rip Van Winkle, and Johnny Appleseed. I was tired from the long day; we had done school, library group, and an afternoon in Burlington (1.5 hours from home) to attend a birthday party. The stories lulled everyone into a peaceful place, and the car was strangely quiet.

Garrison Keillor's somnolent voice was narrating the story of Johnny Appleseed when Phaedra suddenly piped up. She said, "Mama, Johnny Appleseed was a bit like St. Francis and a bit like Siddhartha; he was even nice to rattlesnakes." I agreed with her, but I giggled to myself wondering whether too many people had made this observation before. I also did a bit of halo polishing, because she knows something about all three of these admirable people. Hopefully, their examples are sinking in.

The other interesting conversation also occurred in the car. On the way to Earthwalk this morning, Ezra explained, "If numbers are thoughts, then addition can always have a new idea, but multiplication is limited to only certain ones." He then expounded on how each of the basic operations is better than multiplication, because they each have the ability to see more of the terrain of the thoughts of numbers. There was something about how some operations are less likely to cause strife.  I'll admit that I got lost in his line of reasoning, but it also blew my mind.

There's no halo polishing for the number conversation, because I have no idea where he comes up with these ideas, but I always enjoy hearing them.

Seeds and great resources

My first batch of seeds arrived today (Thursday), which was quite a surprise since Jason and I only placed the order Tuesday night. It's the cover crops, legume inoculant, and biodynamic calendar. Now, I just need to learn what to do with these things. Some of the cover crop will go in the garden in the fall to provide soil building for next year; the others are for trying to improve the places we plan on pasturing. The current thought is to put chickens in this field this year while planting a soil builder (oats, peas, vetch) behind them. Depending on how it goes, we would then let them eat it later. Not sure if that will actually work, but I feel certain the chickens plus the plant diversity will improve things at least a little. Then, we want to put berries here (5 year plan?) with room between the rows to move a chicken tractor.

The back field will be pasture with maybe strawberries on this south facing slope slightly above the wider field. This year, we will experiment a bit with seeing how winter rye grows back here.  Also, we plan on putting a few trees or doing some planting of "alleys" between paddock areas. The middle of this field needs something to help the soil, and if we are certain (at least as certain as we can be) that we will not want this for anything but animals, there are distinct advantages to putting trees back here.

I'm getting very excited.  And adding to that excitement is the upcoming NOFA conference and this weekend's Grazing and Livestock Conference. I feel embarrassed somehow to go to these because I know so little, but that's also the best reason to go.  Maybe I'll learn some things to prevent a some phenomenal errors.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Birds and snakes and airplanes, Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Jason called on one of his overnights in Williston this week to ask just exactly what we'll do if the economy collapses.  He really devotes quite a bit of time to this dilemma. I think some about it, but I'm much more likely to just do something, for better or worse.

I actually am coming to hate this question. However, it's worth some reflection.

I will feel much less distressed by the topic once we have successfully grown food enough to feed ourselves.  I will feel even better when we have a cow, some chickens, a fence, a small barn, and some knowledge of how to better deal with human waste. Our water supply is not dependent on electricity or oil, but I will feel better when we have it better maintained and we have a clearer understanding of how it comes from the hill to the house.

None of these things is a waste of time even if the economy and the rest of the world continue to merrily roll along. All are things I have wanted for a long time, separate from the worries of the day. The sense of urgency is a bit oppressive.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Attitude Adjustment

As we get farther into our second term, I'm thinking it's time to tackle some attitude issues we have in our homeschooling relationships.  Let me just admit that I am in a list making mood.  I got my lesson plan done, then I made a list of all the projects we have to do, and I assembled my seed order which is another list.  This week, I implemented a cleaning schedule (list) like I haven't had in about 5 years.  Life is just rocking along as I check things off my lists.  And I'm thinking it's time for this attitude molding.

The things that I would like to address this term are:
  • Ezra's need for attention and help resulting in a complete meltdown into pathetic helplessness. My current plan is to exude confidence in his ability while being too darn busy to help him just this minute.
  • Phaedra's recent adoption of the "I hate school" mantra.  Current plan is that she has to pay me for every infraction.  This chant is demoralizing to the group and harmful.  Though she is welcome to think it, she is indeed forbidden to say it.  More specific requests and complaints will be considered.
  • Sylvie's yelling every single thing she has to say.  Current plan is to gently remind her to not yell.
Perhaps, as you read this, you do not see attitude problems in at least the last two cases.  However, I assure you that these things negatively impact not just my attitude but that of the group as a whole.  As soon as I banned "I hate school", Phaedra forgot to grimace and snarl her way through her work.  Sylvie's genuine efforts to curb her volume make it much more pleasant to be with her, up close and personal, with no fear of an earful of Sylvie.

We'll see if I can check these off some list, and then add a few more.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'm the one with a plan.

It may be a bad plan or it may completely fall to pieces in the face of reality, but I have a starting point.

I spent six hours yesterday and Saturday assembling a seed order from Fedco.  I kept thinking about the amount of garden we have available and how much is "ready", and I worried I was selecting too many things.  Then I remembered that I'm trying permaculture, so it does not all have to fit in the garden.  Maybe the peppers can go in a bed along the southwest house wall where they will be warmer.  Maybe all the peas and beans can be trellised by the garden shed and woodshed.  The morning glories can definitely go by the garage door (OH! How I love morning glories!) The potatoes and tomatoes do not have ideal homes this year, but we can pick their home for next year and plant it in a soil building cover crop.  The winter squashes (especially the ones for fodder) can be planted down by the chicken field in that especially rich bit of soil by the decrepit barn.  Maybe next year I can try a melon or two.  Surely we have room for the onions I'd like to grow.  The herbs will be tucked just by this door in a bed I've already prepared. I'll let the kids plant most of the flowers. See- it will all work out.

Now, I have to figure out where to start all the things that would benefit from a head start.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lesson Planning

I have spent hours and hours and hours in the past weeks readying my lessons for the next two terms.  We're switching evermore to a Charlotte Mason approach, but I still want to present the Waldorf material.  This has been hard for me to figure out, and I am afraid I will just overwhelm the children with too many things.  The nice thing about a lesson plan is I can see at a glance how much each of them has in a day and then my "lesson" can be sifted around their other work.

The Miquon math has been a wonderful confidence builder for both children.  Ezra already liked math, but it's like the Miquon really helped him step into the unknown.  For Phaedra, she refuses to accept that she might know something until she definitely knows it.  The Miquon presents little bite size lessons that she barely has time to resist before the lesson is over.  So, quite suddenly, she knows how to do something new.

The other math program we're using is more thorough and more challenging.  Ezra will definitely switch to that exclusively next year, but I'm tempted to still do a blended curriculum for Phaedra.  I like seeing how sure she is of the things she's learned with Miquon.  I find it so strange that these very mathematical children get balky around math; I take it as a clear sign that I have not presented it well up to this point.  It's the main reason I am trying these curricula.

I can see a definite uptick in the reading over the next two terms.  It's built into the Charlotte Mason work.  Additionally, since we're have shorter terms, some of the history reading is collapsed, two weeks into one.  Ezra is a fast reader, and I share Phaedra's reading with her whenever she wants me to, so it's not a big deal.   It does mean school might take us a bit longer each day.  We needed to do this so we could go to Texas and still finish with school before we were too far into summer.

I am using some verses written to play with language for some of their copywork this term.  For the next term, I am relying more on the poetry they will already be reading. I also included specific German lessons, handwork, and physical education work on my lesson plan so I will not as easily let these things slide.  For the record, we do many different art lessons as part of the Waldorf curriculum as well as the art included in the Charlotte Mason curriculum.

Things I am looking forward to:
Sharing the Jataka tales with Phaedra.
Ezra's Norse comic strip.
Playing the flute for Sylvie.
Introducing Ezra to calligraphy and Phaedra to cursive.
Learning some new fingerplays with Sylvie.
Working with mixed fractions with Ezra, and using polygons to introduce them.
Seeing Phaedra's reaction to some of the Saints stories.