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.