Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No Calf Yet

Or what my cow likes

I have probably made it pretty clear that I am a little afraid of Violet, and it's hard to really love something you're afraid of. I think yesterday, I kind of fell in love with Violet.

(For those of you who don't like lots of hokum about communicating with animals, you might want to stop reading.)

On Sunday, I was busy burning brush close to one part of the pasture that Violet has steady access to at the moment. She spent much of her time pretty close to the fence where I was burning brush. I always chat with any animals who choose to keep me company, so I greeted her and asked her rhetorical questions and went about my business.

Then, I suddenly "knew" she wanted fresh grass. Yes, yes, she's a cow and cows eat grass and all that. Naturally, if there was grass available, a cow would want it, but this at least felt different. Maybe all that pine smoke was getting to me. Anyway, I opened a gate that let her onto another section of pasture and she left.

She was at the fence again around chore time. This was my cue to feed her apples or a pumpkin and to throw her some fresh hay. That's our routine; I did what she expected. I was still tending my fire, so I just stood and watched her while she was eating. And again, I just "knew" she wanted me to pet her, so I went into the fence and petted her. She obviously enjoyed the contact and gave me an appreciative lick, which is much different from the thorough salt-seeking lick I often get from her. After a couple of minutes, she seemed done with petting and I left to finish the other evening chores.

Yesterday, I was gathering leaves from around the edge of the pasture. Little enough light gets to those areas, that it hurts nothing for me to steal those leaves for the garden. Also, we've placed long pieces of pine along the slope of one hill. I wanted to stack leaves against these to help create a mound that will slow down the water in that part of the pasture. The plan is to put waste bedding on top of the leaves and see what happens. We hope we see a change in the grass just below these mounds.

Anyway, I had the garden cart to haul leaves to the garden, and as I pushed it through the gate, I wondered where my cow was. She poked her head out of the barn and followed me. When she saw me going through to that new patch of pasture, she picked up the pace. I think she hoped I had apples in the garden cart, but I do not like for a cow to run after me. So I stopped, held my rake up in front of me and waited to see what she was doing. She sniffed around the garden cart, and then sniffed the rake, and then began to graze about five feet away from me.

Maybe you're not at all afraid of huge animals like docile cows. If so, then you're not like me. Her grazing that close made it very difficult for me to focus on raking. Then, when I got ready to move the garden cart, she did her rodeo routine. Have you ever seen a very pregnant cow bouncing around on the tips of her hooves? It's a sight.

I stopped everything and waited for her to calm down. Then I talked softly to her as I moved the garden cart a few feet, giving her a very wide berth. And I kept raking, and she kept very close to where I raked.

It was soon obvious that my cow was just spending time with me, though not me in the specific, probably. She just liked having company in the pasture. I raked leaves for two hours and for the first 90 minutes, she stayed within ten feet of me, grazing. Then, she slowly grazed her way back to the barn. And I felt such warm affection for my cow who is so slowly teaching me what it is cows like.

Yes to petting
Yes to company
Yes to soft voices
Yes to apples, pumpkins, and hay
Yes to brushes
No to wheels
No to loud noises
No to dogs
No to sudden movements

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Violet is so round and ripe looking. She's a little irritable, but still quite cow-like in her ponderous way. She has her winter coat and is all shiny and sleek and soft. The barn needs some prep work, but I feel much better prepared a week before this birth than I did a week before the last calf was born. I am a little concerned about having a calf this time of year, but the real cold won't hit for a couple of months. I know other people have calves this time of year, but it isn't ideal.

What I need to figure out is when to breed Violet back. I really liked not having to mess with milking while Jason has been so busy with catalog stuff. It has also been very nice having end of summer trips and things. Maybe we could plan for a September calf next time. Best laid plans..

I think one perk of farming is that there are often new babies.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fragmented TIme

I'll admit that I cannot stand to be interrupted when I'm involved in a task. It's part of the reason I find parenting babies so frustrating; babies really will need you just as you get 5 minutes into any project or book.  I figure it's part of what makes new mothers lose IQ points. Fortunately, we get them back or at least we think we do, but we're so far gone we cannot actually tell.

So back to this fragmented time thing.

I was recently staying with a friend who I think is actually less busy that the average mother of three, and what I noticed is how rarely she has a solid chunk (2 hours or more) of time to follow a project. It could have been because my tongue is attached in the middle when I'm with her, but it did not look like it was ALL my fault. And it made me realize how our culture really deters this kind of long, reflective time.

As I watched her, I thought of how I actually work more like a sci fi ray gun- you know the kind where the ball of energy coalesces and only when some critical mass of swirling color is reached can the gun actually fire. Well, that's how I get things done, and I'm not exaggerating when I say I can storm through some things when I get to focus that way.

On the other hand, the past few weeks I haven't gotten anything done- what with starting school and Jason working on the catalog and the trip to New York and visitors and another car trip and making applesauce and getting into our extra-curricular activity routine. My energy is diffuse. There is so much to do and so few blocks of time to do it, that I'm not actually accomplishing anything. The garden is not tucked up, no leaves are raked and resting on my garden beds, my pile of compost is still in the completely wrong place, none of our house projects are finished, the cow shed is not ready for the new calf, the chickens don't have roosts.

And I'm someone who DOES have at least a few chunks of time.

I send this thought: Be kind to yourself. Try to find a piece of time that society has not already allocated and guard it; it is your life.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ruminating in Week 3 of School

Today we were doing a thing I hate to do (school in the car). Ezra was reading School of the Woods, and suddenly said in his kind of strident, fixated tone, "When was this book published?" He checked- 1902. Then he read another minute and in a more strident tone asked, "Where did this supposedly happen?" I said I had felt like it could have been France. And so on.

The point is, in reading this chapter, his puzzle mind turned on and he began drawing in what he knows from a variety of places, and before too much longer, he was certain the author must have lived in New England or Canada. When we got home, we checked, and he lived in Maine and Nova Scotia. And that is one of the ways Ezra is very smart.

As an observer, I then reflected on the girls' special kinds of smart. Ezra's happens to wow me pretty easily because it is not the way I am smart, but I am aware of the gifts of all three children. And the third week of school is a good time to notice the ones that have an academic use.

Phaedra has a will force that can devastate. This certainly presents a few difficulties, but it means that once she has committed to do something- multiplying fractions or punching her brother- she will see it through. Add to this her clever hands and you have a seamstress and a designer. Phaedra can also use these skills to transfer her many well-formed opinions to paper.

Sylvie's academic side is only a bud, just barely opening. Still, I can see that in the same way she leaps from one physical challenge to the next, she is undaunted by any new territory in math or reading or drawing or music. She only wants to know if she has reached the highest peak.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Outdoor Hours 2 and 3

Last week, we looked at trees. Part of what we were doing was our art lesson, but I enjoyed hearing what my children had to say about trees. Each of them has a favorite- Ezra likes the big maple, Phaedra likes a birch grove, and Sylvie likes a particular beech tree near the back pasture. Each detested the assignment to draw their favorite tree. Another outdoor hour bites the dust.

Today, we just took a walk, I had another art assignment in mind, but I'm a little sick and more flexible for it. So, as we walked, we found deer tracks close to the orchard. They were easy to see in the open dirt left by the excavator that was here last week working on our new spring line. I started checking trees for the signs of deer browsing. I went immediately from lover of nature to neophyte orchardist pissed at Bambi.

The good news is the deer have thus far only been eating the crabapple trees. One must wonder how long that will last. Maybe I'll put up pretend electric fence.

Anyway, back to lover of nature: We found places in the golden rod and asters and fleabane where the deer had bedded down. And we looked at the places they had nibbled. Then, we came back inside and read a little about deer. The girls drew pictures, and Ezra just listened. Round three did go better.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Outdoor Hour 1

I have tried repeatedly to include a regular nature study in our homeschool curriculum. One thing I confront is my belief that the best way to learn abut nature is to have free time outside. The other recurrent problem is that we are often DONE with school before I feel like I have time to do a nature walk. Now, I'm trying this outdoor hour challenge to see if I can follow someone else into the great outdoors for a more deliberate look at nature.

Our walk today took us into the pasture. We have had lots of rain recently, and what the children immediately noticed was that we have lots of mushrooms and lots of different types. We talked about why there are so many and then we talked about how careful one must be with mushrooms. Then, we gathered as many different kinds as we could find.

We brought them into the house and laid out the ones we thought might make a mushroom print. We pulled out our mushroom field guide and tried to identify a couple of them. We washed our hands, as at least one of them looked like a poisonous variety.  Lastly, we took out Handbook of Nature Study and read just a little about mushrooms.

I felt some disappointment that the children were completely done by this point. I feel this each time I try this, because I keep thinking i must be doing something wrong. Other times, I've forced the issue a bit. This time, I want to be more "go with the flow", because even little short lessons like this are better than nothing. And nothing is what we get when I push too hard.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Just a funny Story

I was washing dishes the other day when Sylvie joined me. She told me about the adoption of her Chinese baby (doll). She told me how the baby's mother had four babies, but only liked one of them, so she gave the rest away (cringe!). She was going on and on when Ezra walked in and said, "Why didn't the mother quit having babies if she didn't want them?"

Sylvie said, "You can't just not have babies!"

I tried to quell the argument, because there are things my 11 year old knows that I'm not ready for my 6 year old to know. Ezra toned down what he was saying, but continued to insist that the mother could NOT have had a baby if she chose. I washed dishes with ears alert.

Then Sylvie shouted, "I know ONE way for a lady to not have babies!" My entire body tensed as thoughts raced through my head like, who taught my six year old about abstinence!

Then she said, "You just have to marry another woman!"

I relaxed. That's a good enough answer for now; I'll explain better to her later.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Last Saturday, I went out to putter about in the garden. I haven't been able to spend the kind of time out there that makes it look tended, and I was finally able to give a couple of hours to all those little tasks that do not HAVE to be done, but the garden is happier for it. I started at the beans, which just do not get eaten at our house. Phaedra was picking cucumbers, and said, "That tomato has blight."

I cannot remember if I wrote about blight last year, but it's a big deal. You pick tomatoes one day from healthy plant, and the next day they look like they have black mold on their stems and the fruit is rotting on the vine. To top it off, it effects potatoes, too. (Remember that Irish potato famine?)

I sent Phaedra in to get Jason, and we started pulling all the tomatoes out of the garden and putting them in the compost. We picked the fruit that was not too green and not spotty. We checked the potatoes and they looked fine. And then it was time for our dinner company to arrive.

The next day, a hurricane blew through our neck of the woods. It was the sort of rain that kept a body inside, so I did nothing about the potatoes.

Monday dawned clear and cool and clean. I spent the day dreading the task of digging potatoes. I placed calls to a couple of people who might be able to tell me whether there was any point. By late afternoon, I called the girls and we began digging potatoes.

It turned out to be really great. We cleared the potato patch and put maybe 100 pounds of potatoes in the basement. The potatoes all looked fine, but it was better to be safe, because the blight will rot the potatoes in the ground if there is a living plant still above the ground.

Today, I discovered blight in the greenhouse. The good news is that we are done with tomatoes. We have 80 quarts put up for winter. We gave one friend 15 pounds the other day, and another friend came to do the final picking today. She took home maybe 40 pounds of tomatoes that all looked pretty good. There was only a plant or two showing the first marks of blight, and all the fruit still looked good. Her plan was to process tomatoes today, so that should work.

I just have to clear put the greenhouse and find out what to do about the blight in there next year. I know it can stay in the soil. I'll have all winter to ponder that. It's time to turn our attention to tidying things and mulching to carry them through winter. Also, we have no applesauce in the larder. The list keeps going, but at least we know what's on it this year.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Camping pictures

Phaedra would paddle til her arm fell of if it meant she didn't have to sit in the bottom of the wet canoe.

Nico liked the canoe

Sylvie likes her kayak
Nico preferred sleeping in someone's sleeping bag.

View from the hammock
A hammock is just the place to be.

Filtering water from the lake might teach you to not pee in the water.

Off for a swim!

Sylvie made many discoveries.

Campsite number 2


Long, long ago, when I was in grade school, my family, as in the extended, loud, teeminging bunch of us, went camping. My memories from that first camping adventure involve my brother's fish my aunt cooked up for him, my mother's INCREDIBLE sunburn, my complete unwillingness to eliminate in anything that wasn't porcelain, and riding on the running board of my aunt's VW Bug.

Then, I went to church camp twice, and that was kind of fun, except that the girls in my church really did not like me, or were afraid of me, or something. No one actually talked to me for the two separate weeks I spent at camp. And still, I remember having fun. There was lots of swimming and singing and chiggers and, since it was church camp, PANTS in Texas in June. Who thought that was a good idea!!!

The camping trip from hell did not happen until college. That trip taught me to never go camping unless you have enough time to actually do it. One night of camping is like... well, I'm short on metaphors, but it's alot of work to camp, but pretty much the same amount of work whether you camp one night or five. I also learned on that trip to do whatever it takes to sleep warm; no one is pleasant if they have to sleep cold.

There were a couple of planned, and one kind of successful, camping trips with my extended family, as in all the breeding cousins. That's when it became obvious that I have a rain jinx. If there is a drought, all I have to do is plan a camping trip. It will rain even if there is no rain in the forecast. It might rain so much that three tents completely full of wet, crying children and wet, sleepless adults might show up at my aunt's house wondering if she has breakfast or at least a dry match.

Jason and I were determined that we actually like to camp, despite many disasters, wet, cold and otherwise. We were certain that we are just camping people. And finally in Vermont, we found out we were right.

Our first summer here, we spent fifteen nights outside. We cooked over a fire and dealt with a crying baby in a campground. We spent three nights on an island in Lake Champlain, we canoed in Lake Elmore, we made our poor boxer sleep in a tent, we let our children run around naked. We got rained on. Then, we did all again the next summer and the next.

The past two summers, we did not camp. One summer we were busy settling into a new house and the next, we were learning about our cow. This summer, the cow is dry because she's expecting a calf in October, so I took all three kids camping.

Sylvie can really swim.

Ezra also swims, but contemplates, too.

Nico came; he was a great camper.


Rocks to jump off of.

Of course, it was all beautiful with loons, and morning mists.

Then there was the desperate search for someone to hekp me make the stove work so I could have coffee.
The day there was no coffee.

Thinking about coffee.

 Then there was just general camping stuff- uncomfortable tent, canoeing, kids playing, in the water, out of the water, canoeing some more, switching campsites, etc. Those pictures will go in the next post!
Coffee is coming!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Some More Canning

Late yesterday afternoon, Phaedra wandered through the kitchen and muttered behind my back, "I hate canning!" I laughed and explained the difference between being tired of something and hating something. I'll tell you, by late afternoon, I was tired of canning, too.

I finally got the first batch of tomatoes canned. I made them into marinara, and there was a three-day-long journey to completing that. Those twenty-some-odd pounds of tomatoes that I shuffled around for three days made only six quarts of marinara. And then, due to user error, two of the jars did not seal. I did use the Tattler lids, but I did not give them the extra tightening the instructions mention. Otherwise, those lids have worked just fine.

I canned 20 more pounds of peaches. The children helped me. If you can peaches, do blanch them to peel them. I did one batch without blanching, because blanching just seemed like too much of a bother. The next time, Jason was helping, so we blanched them. It was worlds easier. So, yesterday, I also blanched them. A side benefit is that the skin sloughs off so easily, even Sylvie can help peel peaches without worrying about damaging fruit. I did this batch in slices, mostly in pint jars. I figure these will be snack sized jars for the kids to share.

The sad thing was, I broke two jars of peaches in the canner. Also user error.

I canned some rhubarb jam. It's kind of unattractive, because I use the whole stalk, not just the red part. But it tastes fantastic.

I canned some salsa verde. It was very tasty and a little zippy fresh. I've found that the salsas tend to be milder after canning, so this one might just be a bright flavor and not so spicy. It still tastes good. I like it especially because so many of the ingredients came from our garden. I planted more herbs this year, and the salsa and marinara reflect my growing repertoire.

And lastly, I have a product to warn people against. Ball has something called  dissolvable labels, which I bought so I could tell the difference between salsa verde, pickle relish, and rhubarb jam. Sadly, the sticky part of the label did not stay with the paper part. When I peeled the label from the backing, the paper came away and the sticky part remained on the backing. Very irritating.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chappy's Dead

There are no pictures.

So, the fellow came and we were gathering the materials, and I went to put the dogs in the house to keep them out of the way. And there was a shot. Just one.

When I made it to the house, Sylvie was standing by the front door; she asked, "Is Chappy dead?" After I said yes, she asked, "Aren't you excited?"

And I guess I am a little excited that our freezer will be full of meat that we raised right here. I do like having cuts of meat that I would never buy. I like feeling like we have an endless supply of one of my favorite instant foods- ground beef.

I'm also a little sad. But that wasn't going to get the job done today.

I saw how big a heifer's stomach is relative to her body. In my head, roughly half of my torso has intestines curled back and forth filling the cavity. In a chicken, I know there is a surprising amount of intestine in such a little body. Now, imagine if you will a cow, big squarish torso. Now fill at least half of that enormous cavity with stomach. It was amazing.

Also, a cow's liver is an unbelievable size; it must weigh between 15 and 20 pounds.

I got to watch how to dress a cow before taking it to be hung. The meat will hang for about 2 weeks in a refrigerated locker, then it will be cut up and ready for our freezer.

Finally, I will say that Violet is very disturbed. Maybe I am projecting, but I don't think so. She's sad. Her face is covered in tears. And I'm sorry for my part in the food chain, but not sorry enough to quit eating meat. I do not feel any remorse for killing Chappy; it was quickly done after a very pleasant, uneventful life. I do wish there was a way to make it easier on Violet.

Flowers for Memory

I planted two varieties of flowers this summer to honor two ladies I miss dearly.

Here are the gladiolas I planted, so the children will know what my mother's favorite flowers looked like.

And I planted four o'clocks, because my friend Janet once told me how much she liked them.
I find it funny, because the contrast of the flowers also reminds that I loved different things about each lady.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Canning and Beautiful Things

I'm very practical and not overly interested in "decoration". However, when I have to interact with something steadily, I do enjoy it being a pleasure to look at and deal with. I prefer wooden knitting needles, for example, because they are pretty and functional; I do not mind that they are a bit slower to knit with. On the other hand, I do not have decorative knitting needles because in my experience, the decorations interfere with the function.

I recently went searching for pretty canning lids. There is a stretch of time in the summer when my canning supplies take a prominent position in my days. Then, all winter, I get to bask in the pleasing beauty of our garden in glittering canning jars. So, I thought to increase the pleasure of this endeavor by having nice canning lids.

I did not find canning lids like I had in mind, but I did discover that the regular Ball or Kerr canning lids have a plastic coating that contains BPA. I guess I should have realized this before, but I did not. In the discussion of this, I discovered Weck jars. They are really beautiful, but prohibitively expensive, especially if you already have an adequate stash of canning jars. Jason and I decided that we would just buy a few a year, as we always buy a few jars to replace ones that have gotten damaged or been given as gifts.

And what better thing to try out these jars on than peaches- one of the prettiest things we can.
Here we have half and quarter liter Weck jars beside half-pint and pint Ball jars. That gives you an idea of size. And that's peach butter, blueberry jam (syrup), strawberry jam, and ginger peach jam. Yum!

And finally, a word about this book:

It's a good book with good recipes. It isn't as paranoid as many canning books; the author's goal is not to scare you away from canning. And maybe you don't agree with me, but I think many, many books and extension agency pamphlets want to convince you that you WILL die from botulism if you foolishly decide to put your own food by.

The problem with this book is that a few recipes just fail. And nothing is as frustrating as eight quarts of blueberry jam that just won't gel. Yep, that's right, the jam I cooked for HOURS did not set. On further investigation, I think her recipe is FAR short (at least half the amount) of the amount of sugar required to do no-added-pectin jam. If you have never had jam not set, just trust me when I say it will make me sad all winter even as we enjoy the blueberry syrup that was supposed to be jam.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Maybe you don't know, but berry picking pretty much defines summer in Vermont. You know real summer is here when you're kneeling between rows of strawberries. The flies and mosquitos will hover around you, and the sun will beat down on you, because that's how it goes in late June. Of course, a storm might also chase you right out of the wide open berry patch. The strawberry patches I've been to seem to nestle down in flat places close to water.

After you pick strawberries, you've got to do something with them. They spoil pretty quickly, and in my experience, are best canned or frozen the same day they're picked. In our house, no one likes frozen strawberries, so we make ours into jam. And there's really nothing quite so tasty as homemade strawberry jam- unless it's raspberry.

After strawberries come the raspberries. You can pick the black ones first, but can also wait and pick black and red together, and then pick more black when the red have almost gone by. If you're a fan of black raspberries (me! me!), you have to be prepared to pick them over the course of days if you want very many. They seem to ripen bit by bit instead of in a big wave. The red raspberries are perhaps the favorite jamberry in our house. Their seeds are smaller and they are a very nice contrast to the sugar in jam. And they definitely must be processed the same day you pick them. I've seen raspberries mold in under twelve hours. (doesn't that make you wonder what they do to the ones in the grocery store?)

Before you've quite recovered from raspberry canning, it's time for blueberries. And blueberries are definitely worth freezing. We also like them canned in syrup. We use them all winter and spring, so it never seems we have quite enough. We use them for pies, cobblers, waffles, muffins, and as a hot compote for pound cake. I serve them in March when we all are needing some sunshine. I mix them into the 30th jar of applesauce to make it seem more interesting. What we don't do with blueberries is make jam. The skins are just too aggressive. Also, an interesting tidbit- blueberries taste better if you pick them and wait to put them away until the next day. They sweeten a bit more without spoiling.

Finally, there are the blackberries. Just like black raspberries, you have to content yourself with multiple pickings, and of course, the thorns will get you. These are my favorite berry of all time, and I do not mind the thorns or the seeds. We have yet to pick enough to do anything more than eat them fresh. I thought this year we would have plenty, but the birds have already cleaned the green berries out of one patch, leaving the small patch by the house for us. I guess I'll groom that patch and let it spread until all my berry dreams can be fulfilled.

Today was blueberry day. The children and I picked 21 pounds. We should probably go and pick that much again. So, there are berries sitting on the table that I'll tuck into the freezer tomorrow.

And we have gooseberries and currants that I only planted last year. Our hope is to grow all the berries we want, but we're a long way from that. The blueberry bushes  and strawberries each made about a pound of berries this year, the raspberries were similar, and the currants and gooseberries did almost nothing. So, we'll treat them kindly, and see what next summer brings.

Monday, July 25, 2011


I love swimming.

When I was little, the story goes, my mother was trying to get my brother in his floaty, and I disappeared. They found me (quickly, it seems) sitting on the bottom of the pool, grinning. When I was even smaller, I marched into a duck pond with my expensive Easter shoes on. I was swimming proficiently before I can remember; I really only remember the blue silence of swimming under water.

In Austin, I discovered swimming heaven at Barton Springs. The water was cold, there was no chlorine, it was vast, so you didn't have to compete for space, and it was deep enough to swim way down into the silence. I didn't actually learn to dive until I was swimming there- anything to get into the water faster.

Now I live in the land of pretty much no swimming pools, no chlorine. There are lakes and ponds and rivers seemingly everywhere. All three children are strong swimmers and never balk at cold water. Becoming a mother apparently meant I never have to swim alone, and boy, do we swim. The only trying part has been that lakes and rivers and most ponds do not offer a good place to jump in. Even that we've overcome. There's a beautiful swimming hole with a huge rock; it's a long-ish drive, but worth it to jump in. And, we found a place just a few minutes from us that has a dam that's safe to dive off.

There is another place that has a sand beach, and if you want to see people you know, that's the place to go. I heard someone joke that it's the only time they get to visit with their neighbors, because this is the place for resting in the sun while the children frolic. It's the place to launch yourself into the water as soon as you have waded in far enough. You might take a jacket except on the warmest days, because betweeen the cold water and the ever-present wind, it can get nippy if you're wet.

And that's the place where Ladies of the Lake came into being.

Last year, four Ladies of the Lake swam all the way across this small lake. We were in the water just over an hour. It was cold, it was invigorating; we decided to do it again.

Today, two Ladies of the Lake swam across and along Lake Eligo. It's a narrow, long lake, with two public spots. We swam from one beach down the lake to the boat dock and then back again. It took maybe 1.5 hours of steady, slow breast stroke. The breast stroke is important, because that way you can chat and swim. Also, if you're doing the breast stroke, you suck in less water when you scream your head off because a water plant attacked you. If you're the person laughing, I recommend a nice back float.

Who knows where we'll swim next year, but it will be fun picking a place. I think I'm going to suggest a couple of preparatory swims; it will build our confidence and help us try out a few area lakes.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Adventures in the Home Garden

Sometimes, you might find a caterpillar or four in your broccoli dish. And sometimes, you might have finished your serving before the caterpillars were noticed. And then, maybe, just maybe, you might be turned off your lunch, and you might promise to check the broccoli more carefully before you cook it next time.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In a Gear

I have felt a bit at sixes and sevens recently. Fortunately, the garden is in a good waiting phase, so I haven't let anything go by or get overrun with weeds while I've been spinning my wheels. The problem is that we have had swimming lessons every day for the last two weeks, and when I know I have to leave in a couple of hours, I have trouble starting a project. Then, the other day, I thought to make a little list for just the next two hours.

The good news is I have gotten a few things done. The strange thing is the way I feel about the whole thing.

Do you remember those doll houses that had little pressure things throughout? You could set the figures (maybe Weeble Wobbles?) on one of the spots, and it triggered a reaction. Like, I think it was supposed to be a haunted house, and eerie noises would emanate or pictures would change. Then, there are the model railways that "react" when the train passes over a particular portion of the track.

Well, I feel a little bit like I might not know what to do with myself until someone (hopefully me) sets me in front of a task. This morning, I went into the greenhouse, and then I was in "greenhouse mode". I worked steadily for two hours. Yesterday, I sat at my desk to do lesson planning, and I sat in the same place for two hours. If I place the figure of me in the garden, then BOOM! two hours gone in the garden.

It's not a nice sensation. It kind of makes me feel like Perseus in Clash of the Titans, just somebody's plaything to maneuver about. I would like to find the part of me that drives this organism and dope slap it into action. I prefer to feel I'm making choices, not just hammering away at something like a mechanical doll.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Curriculum Planning

We're in a bit of a lull in the garden, or maybe I'm just taking a little break, so I have time to start looking at the coming school year.

Here's the thing for those of you who have never done it, it completely fries your brain. It's sort of like braiding, except what I'm trying to combine into something beautiful is concepts and schedules and needs and extras. I really would like the children to do a poem every day, but I've realized my follow through on this is good maybe once or twice a week. Instead, I'm going to just share a poem I like daily and then assign them their own to work with once a week. I have now written out twelve each for Ezra and Phaedra. Sylvie will not be writing out whole poems, and I want to model writing, so I'll write things for her to copy each day.

Ezra wants to study Latin and Phaedra wants to study French. I feel pretty comfortable presenting Latin, as not too many people will notice how poorly Ezra pronounces things. The French is daunting. I might just mention here that I am pretty fluent in German and we're making some progress in that department, but Phaedra feels adamant about French. Now, I have to figure out how to cover three foreign languages and find a language program for one I cannot parse. I'm thinking we'll do German the first term, Latin all the way through, and French the second term. What we figured out last year is that the third term is the wrong time to do foreign language; we all just don't care by then.

I also still like to work a few Waldorf lessons into each term, so I want Ezra to do physics and Phaedra to do Norse myths and Sylvie to do form drawing. These are lessons that require my soul energy to be interesting and that gets pretty intense when I want the three kids to have at least one good, deep lesson along these lines each week. I get antsy trying to imagine what it will look like.

Then, there's all the reading they do for the Charlotte Mason thread that winds its way through our school day. That part is great for all of us, but I feel like I let follow through slide too often. I see pretty clearly with Ezra when he has grasped a topic, but Phaedra is more like I was and just reads to check it off her list. She really does not bother trying to understand unless I ask a few questions that engage her; she is all about finishing. For Sylvie, I'll have to do all the reading for her, as well as present her other lessons.

Let's not forget math. We use a program that I feel very good about, but sometimes, a page might require a great deal of help and guidance. I feel certain I'll figure something out, but my skin itches as I imagine all three kids standing at my elbows demanding help RIGHT NOW with their math. Probably the first order of business will be to work on taking turns and not interrupting.

I've decided to do twelve weeks the first term, and ten weeks each of the other two terms. This works pretty well with the weather and garden and vacations and a nice long break at the end the first term. The year is stretching before me, and I'm not yet chomping at the bit. Still, despite my anxieties, I feel that thrill of the school year unfolding.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I get really sick of the sound of chicks peeping.

I think I might scream if one more no-see-um bites my laboring arms during milking.

I want to lie down in the pasture and never get up again.

I really doubt the use in trying to get food out of the ground.

I want the cow to just eat what there is and be happy about it.

I don't want to read another book to anyone.

I want the dishes to wash themselves.

I want the grass to quit growing- at least around the house.

But, mostly, I live a most wonderful, awesome life. I never could have dreamed that most days are so full of beauty. Mostly, I'm getting better at remembering to have fun, playing catch, watching the children's gymnastics stunts, staying in the pasture and watching the clouds until the urge to move pushes me from the ground and back to the task at hand.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Execution Date Is Set

August 5. That's when the man will come and kill Chappy so we can put her in our freezer.

I am very pleased about the meat, but I'm a little sad to kill our rotten, fat calf. It seems I'm confronted on all sides with the killing I do in order to grow my own food. (And for all you people who do not eat meat, just free yourself from the delusion that no killing was done to bring your food to the table.)

I kill potato bugs by the hundreds. I kill their larva, I crush their eggs. I kill them daily. I squash them and have their guts on my pants and glasses. I know how potato bug blood smells.

I kill cucumber beetles, stalking them in the early morning when they're sluggish and easy to catch. I kill cabbage moth caterpillars. I kill Japanese beetles and the little tan beetles that are not Japanese beetles.

I kill the spiders that build webs in my house, I encourage the cats to kill mice, I celebrate the dog's mole-killing endeavors.

And now, we're discussing which chickens to cull and when to kill the meat birds.

Really, I'm going to keep eating meat and I'm not going to let the potato beetles eat the potatoes to the ground. The Japanese beetles and tan beetles may not eat all the rose buds before they open or all the leaves from the plum trees. The cucumber beetles may not make lace of every leaf on the squash and melon plants. So, I guess I'll get back to the business of murder.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

How should we manage the chickens? We strongly believe that they are healthier on fresh grass, moved as often as possible. Right now, that means every other day. I also like to have two roosters, but that means two cops that have to be moved. Each coop is in its own stretch of electric fence and each fence is hooked to the energizer we have for the chicken fence. This fence is separate from the energizer for the cow fence because poultry net is a major drain on an energizer; there is just so much of it to ground out.

The problems with this system are myriad. It is hard to move the chickens that often. It is a bother to move that much fence. The chickens really can destroy/enhance a bit of pasture in under a day, and our pasture has a slow recuperation time. If I seed behind the chickens, one inevitably gets out and eats the pasture seed- very expensive chicken food. A trailer based chicken coop would make the whole thin easier in some regards, but then we would need the tractor to move it, and we do not use the tractor often enough to make that seem "easy".

Another way to manage the chickens while still providing them some fresh grass would be to have a permanent coop, or even semi-permanent. We could situate it so that  different doors could be opened on different yards, meaning each yard could regenerate between times the chickens were on it. That sounds pretty good until I remember that our grass takes a long time to regenerate. Also, that would mean devoting a fairly large area just to chickens. I'm not sure I want to do that.

We could have a permanent coop with a smallish yard that we managed like a straw yard; we would keep the bare dirt that would quickly form covered with bedding. To provide some ranging time, we would let them out very late in the day so that they would not range far and could not do too much damage. That also sounds pretty good, but the cost of bedding adds up, and at some point, we'll have to spread that bedding as compost. It seems a bit silly to not "spread" it the way we already do, by having the chickens deposit their manure right where we want it- on the pasture.

As for genuinely free range chickens, they are amazingly destructive. They scratched blueberries last summer right out of the ground in their attempt to dig through the mulch. They eat an inordinate amount of broccoli leaves; they like to taste tomatoes. No one likes to have chicken poop on their front step, and the chickens like people; they will most definitely decide to hang around the house at least some of the time. And a free ranging chicken may lay her egg anywhere and roost most anywhere.

I'm not sure what we'll do, but those are the options. There's a good chance we'll stick to our current system until our backs give out and we're forced into some other method of managing them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Was Thinking of You

I find it funny, and a sign of my age, that so many daily tasks are accompanied by a memory of a person I have little or no contact with; sometimes they're dead and sometimes they're just lost to time. Still, it's funny.

For example, I spend MANY hours mowing; I use a tractor, a lawn tractor and a push mower. I am mowing my yard and I am mowing behind the cow and I am mowing to control seed heads in the pasture. As I mow- every single time- I think of the grouchy neighbor who lived across the street when I was growing up and I think of the boy I liked in junior high. They both said that if my family would just mow the yard, it would get denser and we would have a lawn. No one had the emotional space to do that when I was young, but now, I keep hoping they were right. I keep hoping that if I mow that pasture, it will get denser.

I have thought of these two people so many times since I started trying to be a grass farmer that I keep thinking, "I should write about that." Then, yesterday, another ghost of memory haunted me.

I was spraying diluted milk on the back pasture. I did it in May when the grass was just coming on; that's supposed to be the best time, but I don't figure it'll do any harm now and we're awash in milk. It's a slow process, but kind of pleasant. I have a borrowed pump style sprayer. So I put the diluted milk in the sprayer, then I pump it, then I spray and walk a little, then I pump it, then I spray and walk. It's quiet, it's nice to focus so much attention on the pasture to see what's actually happening, it's nice to be outside. And, it looks like it has indeed increased the density, but I'm sure it hasn't hurt anything.

There I was, lugging that two gallon sprayer, moving slowly down the hill, and I paused at the fruit trees. I thought, "What the hell- TK said his grandmother put milk on the leaves of her plants," and I sprayed the trees. Then, I could see Mrs. Bullard, my 9th grade English teacher, with her stillness and her bustle and her metal sign she shook for the thunder in MacBeth. I could see her frustration with TK, who always had something to add and whose essays were always too long. The happy memory accompanied me for the rest of my work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life With Tractor

The thing about the tractor is that we always are looking for ways to use it. The farm is small enough that the tractor is in a marginal area of usefulness. Usually what happens is I say, "We need to do this job," and Jason says, "Let's use the tractor!"

So, the other day we were taking the bedded pack material from Chappy's stall. Throughout the winter and even most of last fall, we did not clean out her stall; we just added bedding on top of it leaving it to compost in place. In case you are not getting a clear notion here, that means heaps of packed straw and hay.

Jason thought the tractor was the best way to move it, and he had a good point. The bedding is heavy and if you could lift it out with the bucket, you might be saving your shoulder for another year or two. By hand, the bedding had to be thrown into the back of the truck then gotten out of the back of the truck and into the pile. The bucket meant you could lift and dump.

The problem is that you cannot really get the tractor into the barn, much less into Chappy's 7x10 stall.

Plan B was to move the bedding by hand (manure fork) from the stall to the bucket and then drive the tractor with the filled bucket to the dump spot. However, it took two of us a solid half hour to fill the back of the pickup with manure forks. It took me about five minutes to fill the tractor bucket all by myself. I hope that gives you some sense of the different volumes involved.

Now imagine our very sandy soil and a piece of big equipment, either a truck or a tractor, driving back and forth however many times it takes to empty the stall. Obviously, the truck is much more efficient when you consider the number of trips necessary.

And while we were working all this out, we detached the rough cut mower from the tractor; if you haven't done this, then you have no notion of what kind of exercise in frustration it is. We are not sure if we're just incompetent or if tractor implements are deliberately exasperating so that your sense of accomplishment is met before you even turn the tractor on. We wonder if either of us knew diddlysquat about tractors or grew up using one whether we would know the magic trick to getting the mower off and on the PTO attachment and hitch. We have learned that there is no finesse and a sledgehammer comes in handy.

Sadly, when Jason was moving the tractor so that the detached mower would not look abandoned in the middle of the field, he ran the bucket into the barn wall. He did not even manage to poke the hole into the part of the wall that would have made cleaning Chappy's stall easier.

Once the wall was fixed and the mower detached, we abandoned the idea of using the tractor and were able to use the pickup truck to remove all the bedding with time left to bathe before we went on our date.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not So Sentimental

No, really, I'm not. Occasionally, though, something will just hit me.

Jason and I went on a date the other day. We had had a few lovely hours of finishing sentences and quiet interludes. We were headed home and driving through a resort town.

In Vermont, not only do pedestrians have the right of way, but there are signs everywhere reminding you of this fact. Add to that that Vermont drivers mostly seem more polite than other driver stereotypes I'm familiar with, so they notice a person waiting to cross, and they stop. All of this is to say that on this idyllic, late spring evening in a town bursting with out-of-state vacationers, traffic was moving very slowly.

There was a family of four waiting to cross. The children were probably 14 and 17. A cluster of people just in front of them crossed, but they hesitated. So, we stopped completely and maybe even waved them across. They stepped quickly from the verge and the mother swept her hand back and down- you know the gesture. But no one took her hand. Then, she glanced down at her hand in confusion as if she wasn't quite sure what she was doing, and they crossed the street.

My own hands suddenly felt so empty.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Flowers and such


Blackberries blooming

Volunteer cucurbit on the manure pile

Bleeding heart in a weird place

Ezra's pansies

Yellow flag

Volunteer cosmos?

Bad, bad bindweed looks like morning glory

Little white flowers just transplanted, forgot name

Can't remember, but they smell good

Newly transplanted purple irises

and white

red and white clover, so happy!

Black eyed susan

Morning glory, not bindweed

I think these might be my very favorite

Forget me Not
Don't know, but we have alot in two colors


The lovely Johnny Jump Up

Roses that showed up last year after the pine trees were gone.

Are there buttercups in Texas?

Roses planted last year have blossoms

Found this rose last year; it's flourishing here. Does it need a trellis?

The girls each have a geranium