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.