Friday, April 30, 2010

An Homage to the Teachers I Fondly Remember

I have many memories of teachers I did not do so well with, but it's the ones that made an impact that bubble into my everyday even 30 years later.

A quick thanks to Mrs. Moore for just being kind as she seemed to know things were not quite right at our house.

A nod to Mrs. Babcock for being so pretty with her soft hair and pregnant belly. Thanks to Mrs. Swadley that year for mentioning to my parents I might be bored.

Here's a hooray for Mrs. Gambell for taking me and Erica Koenck and giving us a job since we were both too nerdy to be tolerated in homeroom.

Thanks Mrs. Glasgow for being so very cool as you slipped out for a cig.

Mrs. Meyer was so demanding and acerbically funny. I think of the medula oblongata almost daily.

To the blinking Mrs. Thornton for handling grief in an honest way.

To that recordkeeping teacher who took me home when I had the flu; these kindnesses matter.

Mrs. Bullard and Mr. Wallace still make me laugh as I stare out the window. The rumble of thunder or a loud sneeze can make me giggle.

I can still see Coach Smith blushing as he quickly covered human reproduction. Oh, and the frog dissection with all the eggs and that question about when a chicken's egg is actually fertilized.

The lovely Ms. Davis, sure of herself in her experience, lent a bit of her certainty to me.

Mrs. Goolsby believed everyone could write.

Mr. Disney introduced the idea of sensitive periods and the suggestion that juniors in high school might not have reached the window for physics.

That's who I think of and why as I deal with my three. May their lives have such characters.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I think Americans might be addicted to shopping for everything. I think we're always comparing the thing we have against the newest version or against the thing we could have.

I see at least one positive side to this- it probably pushes toward innovation (I'm not sure if that is even a positive).

The down side is pretty insurmountable in my opinion. First, all the advertising to lure us to keep shopping leaves us feeling steadily dissatisfied. Would you be looking for new shoes if the ones you have are good enough?

Second, it leads us to consume and consume and consume. Did you know there are more cars in the United States than there are people? Just think how many cell phones there must be as people constantly upgrade for a new color or gizmo.

Third, it encourages us to shop for things that maybe should be seen as permanent. This older model husband no longer dances after the dishes are washed and the children are in bed; perhaps it's time for a new one.

Fourth, it leaves us feeling the answer to our happiness is out "there" if we could only buy our way to it.

Fifth, all that buying leaves us spiritually as well as financially in the red. No amount of shopping can feed your soul, and being in debt in this desperate pursuit will not make happiness any easier to find.

So what are we to do? I don't know, but I'm going to plant a few more trees and stay out of the mall.

In Praise of the Clothesline

I have been able to hang clothes outside since late March. It is a wonderful thing. The clothes seem cleaner and smell better after they dry on the line. The time I spend outside hanging the clothes, even if I have to wear gloves, is quiet and my own. I love the weather awareness the laundry line gives me; I know, for example, our prevailing wind is different from the "norm" around here. I think there's something about being tucked close to Buffalo Mountain the must give the wind a quick twist. We DO get northern breezes, but our wind is primarily out of the south and southwest. I know how humid it is by how many loads I can dry in a day- my record on this line is 4.

Also, the laundry on the line means winter is mostly over or hasn't quite settled in.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Orchard

I'm lame with the pictures when I'm this tired, but I did plant 20 trees this weekend- 10 apples, 7 pears, 2 plums, and a cherry. The apples and pears are in the east field just one side of the elderberries, highbush cranberries, Juneberries, and nanny berries. As I was planting, I was thinking about how that field will look in 5 or 10 years, with taller trees arched gently towrd one another and the taller berry bushes behind them. The picture in my mind is pretty idyllic, unless I start wondering which trees will die.

The plums and cherry are in the back field, closer to the house than the chestnuts, but far enough out that they should not shade the strawberries or blueberries. Jason requested they be where he could see them blossoming from the dining room table- assuming they don't die.

I guess it's obvious what I'm worrying about.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Husband and Cars

I really like my husband, I mean really, really. And he just quit commuting. So I'm thinking about my dear, delightful man and the automobile.

When we moved to Fort Worth, Jason's job was driving; he drove to Weatherford and north Dallas and all sorts of places. He drove and he drove and he drove. When we moved to Vermont, he was suddenly able to walk to work, and we noticed immediately how very nice it was that he did not have to drive so much. Then, there were a couple more moves and much longer commutes, and that seemed to work pretty well too. Now, his drive to work could be by bicycle or about a ten minute drive. He is so very happy.

Suddenly, he is giving some sort of cooking lesson almost daily to one child or another; he built a chicken tractor in under two weeks; he makes jokes at dinner and at breakfast. We both really think it's related to not driving so far to work. It also helps that he is home so many more hours of the day, partly because of the shorter commute and also because of the nature of the job.

His change in attitude makes me wonder about my own parents and their very long commutes when we were little. Then there are all the people who spend untold amounts of time in the car not just going back and forth to work, but also to go to the shopping complex or entertainment land. I wonder how our lives are impacted by the hours we spend in the car.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Bucket Has a Hole

When I laid out our sheet mulch last fall, I got tired, I got cold, and I cut corners. For example, I did not do the nitrogen layer that would make the decomposition go faster and there are places where I just mulched without a weed-suppressing underlayer. Now, it is time to plant in the garden, and I'm wondering what the results of my compromises will be. Whatever happens, last fall is completely gone and I'm well on my way to learning whether lazy/compromised sheet mulching will work in the garden.

This leads me to look at the ground in the stalled hoophouse. A more experienced person explained to me that we should not plan to plant in it until fall, and I was easy to convince. She also said if we want to plant in it in the fall, we should go ahead and sheet mulch to suppress the grass, because you just don't want grass in a hoophouse. Here comes the circle- I do not want Jason to have to work around the sheet mulching while he's building the hoophouse, so I want to wait until the frame is assembled. I do want a nitrogen layer in there before I put down the sheet mulch; that would be easily accomplished by having chickens "prepare" the ground a bit before I start to layer in other stuff. We can't have chickens until we have a chicken coop. The coop must be assembled, so work on the hoophouse has stalled out, so I cannot put down sheet mulch. It's not really a circle, but it feels just as addled.

And the watering has begun. This morning, it took just over an hour to water all the new plants and we go tomorrow to talk to the nice man about fruit trees. Maybe I'm growing cowardly, but as I was carrying my sixth or seventh 30 pound bucket of water this morning, I wondered if we aren't perhaps a little crazy to add 20 fruit trees to this watering regimen. I did establish yesterday that I can carry 60 pounds of water a quarter mile; however, I decided to find a gentler, slower method of moving water. Today, I hooked three water hoses together so that the blueberries and currants and gooseberries and the gardens can get their water straight from the tap. That only leaves 9 trees and 14 berry bushes to actually carry the water to- oh, and the 20 fruit trees.

Monday, April 19, 2010


My first day as a bookshop employee found me staring at a huge wall of books that I was supposed to alphabetize. I naively asked, "All of them? You want me to touch EVERY book to be sure it's in the right order?" The answer was a definite yes.

The thing that stands out most for me from that day 16 years ago is that some things are just tedious but must be gotten through. It was a turning point in my attitudes about work. There have been many points along the way, but that one was significant.

Every day has its own list of things to do, as well as the old standbys (tooth brushing, dressing, bed making, cooking, cleaning, etc.). When my waking thought is dread about having to get dressed, then I am probably on a course for a rough day. These minutiae are work; many are habit and we forget the work necessary to make the habit. If I'm dreading the minutiae before I even sit up in bed, then how am I going to enjoy the bigger projects. Let's face it- those bigger projects are also work.

My lesson I brought from that day in the bookstore is that I can surrender to the task at hand and enjoy it. The quiet monotony of slipping a book over one space or up one shelf is very similar to pulling weeds from the lettuce bed or washing dishes or brushing Phaedra's hair. I can do it roughly with a scowl, I can do it half- heartedly with resignation, or I can do it with quiet satisfaction. I choose feeling satisfied over irritated or resigned, and since I get to choose how I feel, I just don't mind work. I even enjoy it.

What I did this weekend-
I planted (with a little help) 12 raspberries in a bed I cleared of ground cover, 3 rose bushes, 2 sugar maples, 1 mulberry tree, 8 elderberries, 2 high bush cranberries, 2 Juneberries, 2 nanny berries, 4 currant bushes, 4 gooseberries, 2 chestnut trees, 2 shagbark hickories, 2 honey locust trees, 20 blueberries, and a row of carrots.  It snowed on me a couple of hours Saturday and rained on me the whole rest of the time, but I'm mighty handy with a shovel these days!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Grinding the Gears

Let's say you finally are embracing a long time dream and let's just say that dream is homesteading. And let's say it's coming on spring in the first year of your little endeavor. And just for the heck of it, let's just say one of the two main partners has a major life change, like a new job, just as things are getting underway in that first spring in the long awaited dream of your homesteading life.

The gears might grind a bit, but you make it right on down the road just the same.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What is Normal?

At this point in my parenting, I think sometimes it's hard (maybe impossible) to see the trajectory of a child's. Nevertheless, occasionally, my desire for control has me trying to pin down all the things that can happen so as to know what WILL happen. That might work for the next two minutes if I'm alone, with only my own actions to consider, but add a few variables, like people or more minutes, and that grasp for control becomes futile.

Lately, I've been thinking about this need to predict the future and what I perceive to be society's increasingly harsh view of children. I have my own reasons for considering this issue, but I see other families struggling with it as well.

It starts with baby milestones and "when to worry".  If a child isn't walking or talking close to the same time as his agemates, what does that mean? There are the more immediate things like frustration or social struggles and the question is whether this is indicative of bigger, longer-term problems. When we look at that individual child though, we observe in 5 years that he still has challenges, but 15 years in, likely no one will know how old he was when he finally started stringing words together. Then again, they could prove to be problems for the rest of his life. I think our society assumes more and more that missing a milestone justifies relegating a child to a life of special ed, medication or therapy.

I'm just not sure that's working so well for those involved--children and their caregivers. Is it possible that by labeling these children earlier and earlier that we're trying to control their trajectory? Is it really possible to give a boost to a child by assigning him to backwaters in our educational system? Are we wanting everyone to be equal at the expense of individuality? Just because you don't read until you're 9 or 13 doesn't mean you'll never be a reader; being told there is something wrong with you because you cannot read at 6 or 7 could be a self-fulfilling judgment, ensuring you never develop a zeal for reading.

Jason just recently pointed out that being clumsy in math or spelling is viewed in a completely different way from being clumsy with a paintbrush or a flute. There is a cultural literacy, of course, that "requires" us to read and do some math, but why can we accept a poor sketch because this person "just isn't an artist", but really expect everyone to be able to do arithmetic and reading on the same level?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sylvie Sunshine is FIVE

I call her Sylvie Sunshine because she is almost always happy. Even her storms are passing phenomena.

She is a very helpful lass, and she wants to do whatever I am doing if Phaedra is not available.

For her fifth birthday, she learned to climb this tree.

And she lost her first tooth. This meant a tooth pillow and lots of dancing- as photographed by her sister.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dogs and Children

What if the big secret to having dogs and children you enjoy is simply to spend enough time with them that you each develop habits that work well together? What if that's also the secret of a good marriage or lasting friendship?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Kitchen

The kitchen does not come first if there's daylight and enough dishes to make it through this meal.

That's the new rule at our house in honor of the warm weather. It's kind of amazing to be as uptight as I am about cleaning, and how it just has not happened in the past couple of days. I do what has to be done to get outside or that is time sensitive. For example, I have been washing laundry very deliberately while the weather has been so nice so that everyone has a fresh, sun dried bed and the rugs are clean and the towels are all fresh- smelling. Also, while I had my five hours to myself this morning, I cleaned the floors; that job is SO much easier when I am the only one home.

Besides the floors, I met with the man who delivered our hoop house. It's laying in pieces in the chicken field just begging for us to put it together. We sorted through the mobile storage unit, taking pictures of everything that was too damaged by the fire that we would like our home owners policy to cover. And, we took the children to a friend's house for an Easter egg hunt. And then it was dark.

As I type this, I wonder why the dishes did not get done earlier, but they really did not. There just was not time to do that inside task on this beautiful, strangely warm spring day.