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.