Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Yarn along: Christmas Knits

 So these are the Christmas knits revealed!  A Seashore cowl for my mother-in-law, Griselda.  Two Phoebe sweaters and Phoebe dolls for the girls.  I actually forgot to wrap Mirin's cable vest - I still need to dig it out of my cedar chest.  What can I say....Santa had a lot on his mind this year.  He slacked off a little

I just wound up the other skein of Madelintosh "Big Sur," and I'm considering knitting another Seashore Cowl for a friend of mine who is moving away.  She's heading to Maine, so I thought something wooly and warm would be a nice goodbye present.

And then....I'm realizing I only have two sweaters, and the buttonhole on my favorite one wore out this year!  I've been freezing all November and December.  My kids have so many beautiful woolens now - and it's like pulling teeth to get them to even put them on.  It was so easy to knit for them, because they always look so cute in everything.  But I believe it's high time to make myself a nice sweater - maybe even a new cardigan for the new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I've been woken up lately, in the middle of the night.  Fears have visited me in the darkness.  This happened last year, too.  Fears of what the new year might bring.  There are whispers of drought, disease, destruction.  The Karma of decades of Earth-abuse.  Radiation.  Petrochemical spills.  I never knew it would be so hard to be grown up, caring for three tender little beings of innocence, trying to protect them from the horrors of the world we were born into.

It doesn't help to have spent time with extended family....Ethan's cousin who has grown up to be a corporate lawyer.  He takes poor, sick people with unpaid medical bills to court to persecute and prosecute them.  Nice.  Not to mention my cousin who is an engineer for Exxon.  The family is so proud of his salary.  Good Christians, all of them.  "Truly it is difficult for a rich man to gain the kingdom of heaven."  For what has he won, he who gains the world, but loses his own soul?

I've been reading the most depressing book.  That must be it.  It shouldn't be a depressing book.  It's called Tending the Wild, and it's about how the ecosystems of California depended on human beings for how beautiful and fruitful it was.  They managed the landscape as a kind of wild garden.  Wilderness, to them, suggests the land not being fruitful, not in the care of human beings.  To really respect nature, they say, you must depend on it.  We are also part of the ecosystem.  It's beautiful, it brings tears to my eyes.  Especially the descriptions of what the land once looked like.  It reminds me so much of Bartram's descriptions of Florida - clean water, animals everywhere, flowers, food, abundance and beauty.  We don't even know what we've lost, what we've been denied. 

The best I can do with this, I have come to realize, is to think for myself.  What can I do to improve the way I live?  How am I contributing to this unhealthy society?

It's tough.  The tentacles of media brainwashing and materialism are strong.  I found myself, just this winter, struggling with that.  Feeling bad because I only have a few sets of clothes.  Feeling ashamed, as if it were something bad to not have lots and lots.  How much is enough?

If there's anything I've noticed in my lifetime, it's that anything worn with confidence is in style.  Well, I'm deciding that frugality and conservation of resources is in style for me this year.

What New Year's resolutions whisper to you from the darkness?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Four Generations

Christmas day was, as usual, very full.  I think we definitely made the most of the season, even if we never managed to put up a tree or lights or anything.  At least we did the snowflakes.  Not to mention pumpkin pie, the Angel chimes, gingerbread men, caroling in the neighborhood, and a wreath (Mirin just made it one day - I guess that was his favorite tradition).

We always start out Christmas with my family (we used the tree at my mom's house) before driving down to St. Petersburg to visit with Ethan's extended family at his grandmother's house.  It's fun - there are lots of uncles and aunts and grown-up cousins.  Our children are the only children now, so they get doted on by everyone.

Ethan's grandmother turned 96 this year.  It's not often that there are four generations under one roof!  It has been a rough year for her, and we were thankful to spend at least one more Christmas with her again.

Friday, December 26, 2014

In the Garden: Green and Growing

I forgot to do a garden post last week!  But the garden new is good news - everything is green and growing.  No more rabbit damage so far.  I planted a whole row (the one Clothilde is tugging on) of new lettuce starts from Forage.  Melissa Desa gave out starts for many different lettuce varieties for people to try.   I have Crisp Mint, Forellenschluss, Drunken Woman, Red butter head - or something like that, anyway.  I think I got six different ones.  They look happy to be planted.

The turnips seem to have swelled into big turnips.  I pulled a bunch of them and re-planted the row.  They are nice and sweet this year.

I have a few of the Chinese cabbage left.  They are so big and beautiful!  The savoy cabbage and red cabbage that was started at the same time is only just beginning to make heads.  I might just grow this cabbage next year!  It's easy and makes wonderful kraut.

The onions are doing well....and the rabbits left me ONE Brussels sprout plant at least.  It's doing something strange with it's leaves.  I think it's trying to make Brussels sprouts.  I've never been able to grow them to this point.  Either they get frozen or a rabbit eats them usually, so I'm interested in seeing what happens.

The kale is slowly recovering from being nibbled to nubs.  I might even get a little this year, if the rabbit problem continues to be solved.

I saved the most exciting news for last - there are beets -yes, BEETS, growing in my garden!!
I'm sure it's not as exciting to anyone else.  This is the first year I've had a whole row of beets that look this promising.  I guess I must be doing something right.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Feast

We celebrate Christmas three times - the result of having lots of family close by.  Christmas Eve is when we celebrate dinner with my family, tomorrow will be with Ethan's extended family, and probably over the weekend we'll have a smaller, quieter celebration with just Ethan's parents.  Whew!  And somehow I ended up making most of the Christmas Eve dinner.  It was because we found one of our turkeys from last year in the freezer, and I was afraid my mom would do something awful to it.  They are too precious.

And so because of my attachment to our farm-raised bird, I have found myself making stuffing, giblet gravy, a beautiful green salad with like 10 different kinds of greens from the garden, a Buche du Noel, and sweet potato and pumpkin casserole with home-made marshmallows.  There was only a minor crisis last night when we realized we forgot to get the turkey out, but thank goodness the weather is warm - practically hot and sultry - and it defrosted perfectly overnight.

Merry Christmas Eve!  I hope your celebrations are magical and your turkey is moist!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


It's funny how things work out sometimes.  All last week I had planned to make snow flakes with the big kids, but they never showed up for it.  As soon as they woke up I would say, "I have something fun for us to do after breakfast."

They would nod and run away outside, and I wouldn't see them until lunchtime, because they ate breakfast at my mother's table next door.  Ah, well, they've always scorned the usual home-grown omelet with fresh goat cheese and garden herbs.  Then it would be too late and I would be stuck outside chasing Clothilde so she could get some fresh air and exercise (she goes insane without it).

Surely, I thought to myself after this had happened several times in a row, I can pin them down.  WE WILL MAKE SNOWFLAKES!!!  But they are just so good at evading me.  Okay, I finally conceded.  No one wants to make the stupid snowflakes.  I was surprised at how sad and disappointing this realization was.  I had all along imagined us all sitting down and snipping white paper with craft scissors.  Because it was a fantasy, no one was fighting, and Clothilde didn't even cut off most of her hair.

Instead I went outside again with Clo.  Heck, I realized, I didn't even feel like making snowflakes.  I just wanted some peace to write in my journal, so I did.  I covered a whole page complaining about no one wanting to make snowflakes while Clothilde fed me sand pies she was baking in the sand box.  It was such a relief.

Then just that evening, somehow, with some holiday magic, the white paper came out.  The scissors started to snip.  They made snowflakes!  All on their own!  It was beautiful.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Little Tin Soldier

Rose's last ballet performance was yesterday.  It was an intense week with five performances, two on one single day.  She loved it, but it was hard on her, too.  It was wonderful to see how happy she was to be in a real ballet, but a relief now that it's over.  Her poor cheeks are all red and chapped from having to pull the red cheek stickers off five times now.  It's good there wasn't a sixth performance, or she might not have any cheeks left at all.

We had a funny thing happen on Friday when we all went to see the show.  Ethan, Mirin and I dropped Rose off backstage to get ready.  We were walking around to the front of the theater when a tall, thin guy elbowed us aside and rudely marched ahead to a vehicle, slamming the door shut behind him.   Seconds later he was roaring through the parking lot, and we had to dive out of the way to avoid being squished.  He barely tapped his breaks at the stop sign, and ripped away like a NASCAR driver.  We made speculations about why he was in such a hurry that varied from "he really had to go to the bathroom," to "one of the ballerinas needs a sandwich."

Imagine our surprise when we sat down in the theater and an hour later the curtain opened, and there he was on stage!  We were like, "Hey, there's the guy who tried to run us over in the parking lot!"  So maybe he forgot his tights or something.

Apparently this year was a difficult one for the company.  There was a major mix-up with the music at one point, and on Saturday's performance the Mother Goose fell over on stage.  Luckily he (it was a Mother Gander this time, and it happened to be the same guy who tried to run us over in the parking lot - karma?) didn't squish any tumblers, and they managed to carry on while the dance director struggled with the large skirts and the wheeled platform Mother Goose glides around on.

Rose did her part beautifully, and we are all so proud of her.  She was one of the smallest dancers on stage.  She says she can hardly wait for next year.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice Bread

Today was the Solstice - the day the sun stands still.  The shortest day, surrounded by two long nights that nearly swallow the sun - tomorrow we shall see if he is reborn again.
It was a quiet, grey day.  We got the first precious drops of rain for weeks.  This fall has been so cool and dry.  It was also warm today, so we got both the blessing of rain and the blessing of warmth.

We had a very peaceful solstice.  I baked spent barley bread in wheels, like the sun.  Did you know that on the solstice, no wheels are supposed to turn?  To honor the wheel of the sun.  We did move wheels, but it was necessary to go out and do the milking.  Otherwise we stayed in.  I took a nap with Clothilde, and afterwards Ethan and I both started big kitchen projects until it was time to do the chores.

My kitchen is very, very small and crowded.  It isn't messy, usually, but with only three high cupboards and three low cupboards, there isn't much space for pots, pans and dishes.  One short counter is used for drying the dishes, the other counter gets full of knife holders, pens, salt, pepper, spice jars, rising bread, fermenting vegetables, and, inexplicably, pieces of paper with children's drawings, small change, and Ethan's coffee paraphernalia.

This afternoon was this ungraceful ballet of shifting trivets, hot pans, food-filled plates, various sizes of mixing bowls, cutting boards, dough, pieces of fat and beef bones around between the table and the kitchen, knocking elbows and misplacing things along the way.  I think we cook well together if we are working on the same projects.  I had committed myself to baking earlier in the day when I began the solstice bread, and while I was napping Ethan thought it would be a perfect time to start beef broth and rendering back fat.  It worked out, eventually and inconveniently.

I brought a bun out for our animals, and gave each of them a piece, to stay fat and healthy and make rivers of milk.  Even our dog, Belle, had a bite.

At home I lit one of the new tallow and beeswax candles, and it's prism flame lit the whole dark room.  I also lit the candles for the angel chimes.  The children weren't there.  It was just me and Ethan.  They had run next door, Mirin was mad at me.  The chimes haven't been working right this year.  They won't spin.  Tonight I wriggled the chimes a little, and found that it was crooked.  The day we set them up, the children were all fighting.  They pulled it apart and it bent the main stem that holds the chimes.  I tipped it forward a tiny bit, and the angels began spinning.  A little solstice metaphor - a little tweak to balance brings us all happily chiming again.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Unsupervised Pie

This is what happens when a pumpkin pie is unsupervised with a toddler for five minutes....

It had turned out of the oven to be such a nice pumpkin pie.  It had grain-free gingerbread crust and it smelled amazing.  I was just in the other room, lying down for a few minutes and trying to recover from this past week's waking at 3am with intense head congestion that made returning to sleep impossible.  I had my ear out for Clothilde the whole time.  She was so quiet and happy, I should have known, but I forgot I had left the pie cooling there.  All I could hear were little clinkings from her cup and other dishes, and some intense toddler breathing.  She must have downed at least half of it.  All that was left were little scrapings of crust and a couple of inches around the edges.  The little bits that were left were exceptionally good, at least.

We had an intense day yesterday.  Rose LOVED her rehearsal, and returned home as her yapper-type Rosie counterpart.  It was as if they fed her bowls of chocolate-coated expresso beans or something.  I thought she would be tired!

Poor Mirin had a rough night last night.  On the advice of his twenty-something uncle, who complained that he smelled of woodsmoke, he slathered grapefruit essential oil into his hair as a cologne or something.  It was overpowering and awful.  Just being in the room with him made your eyes water, and for me triggered an unusual bout of asthmatic coughing (I am already compromised with this lingering cold).  Several hot showers did not remove the smell, and we found could not stand to spend the night with him.  He huffed off next door and spent the night on the grandparents' couch, instead of our couch, for some reason.  I honestly don't know how he could stand himself that way, but he seems to have slept decently well, although mood-wise he is still grouchy about being treated like a skunk-sprayed dog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Celebrating and Dress Rehearsals

We hand-painted some wooden beads to make ornaments with, and they turned out very pretty.  Mirin painted some elaborate ones with sunflowers and holly.  Rose did some pretty blue and purple beads.  Clothilde made one that looks like a reindeer dropping.  The fine paintbrush was in much demand with everyone, even Clothilde.

Today is Rose's Nutcracker dress rehearsal that she has looked forward to for so long now.  We just sent her off looking strangely grown-up with eyebrow pencil, eye shadow and mascara.  She seemed so confident and excited, the opposite of how I would feel if faced with dancing in front of crowds and crowds.

Ah, but she has loved the Nutcracker since she was three.  Her grandmother took her to an abbreviated school show that year, and she fell in love with it.  Every Christmas she has acted the story out, especially the part with Clara/Marie sleeping.  She knows the story better than I do, and amazes me by being able to recognize the music.  This is her first show that is not just a recital.  Tonight is the last practice, in costume, before the big shows begin.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lighting the Dark

It is a tradition to make candles for the solstices.  In the summer, I like to think of capturing all the glorious summer light, and in the winter about lighting up the wintery days.  I feel that the dark days are a metaphor for the emotional dark days of life.  In the midst of it, you feel as if it will always be dark.  The solstice whispers of light and change and hope.

I used to make candles from pure beeswax for many years.  The melting wax gently warms and scents the house of honey as dozens of long-burning candles are turned out of the mold.  Last year I read about using a combination of tallow and beeswax out of Shannon Hayes's book Long Way On a Little.  This year, our summer solstice candles were long burnt up during story times and bed times, and with an abundance of tallow now on hand, we got out our roll of wick and candle mold and began melting first the old nubs of candles (we save each one, nothing goes to waste), and added several spoonfuls of creamy white tallow.

The candles look creamy and beautiful enough to eat.  They burn with a beautiful light, like a little bit of a sun ray passing through a prism.  It seems like you can see the light of the summer grass and flowers from the bees and the peaceful and fat grazing cattle.

Yesterday was one of those crazy days.  No one had gotten enough sleep the (we stayed up too late reading!), and our plumbing had started backing up into the kitchen sink the night before.  Ethan had to army-crawl under the house with an angle grinder and do some serious plumbing magic.  He also insulated the hot water pipes, which were surprisingly uninsulated (it's only to be expected, really.  It's an old house, but it was the stucco, cookie-cutter version of it's time).

Up above, everyone spent all day fighting and yelling at each other about stupid things.  We were going to sing carols and make snow flakes and read a solstice story, but instead I just spent all day mediating battles.  You should have heard Rose screaming and thrashing when we were trying to sing 'Silent Night.'  It was irony in action.  From under the house, Ethan heard it all and said he felt lucky to be the one in the 18" crawl space for once.

That's why it's so important to be flexible with home schooling!  Yes, we had fun things I spent time planning, but it was obviously time to scrap it all and just go outside.  The outdoors seems to have therapeutic effects for crazy days of that nature.  It didn't really help that much, but at least being outside dilutes the sound, and everyone has more space and air to breathe.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Clo loves CLO

How many other 2-year olds get the fermented cod liver oil out of the fridge and dose themselves with it?  Apparently Clothilde is my most hardcore WAPF baby.  

I'm trying to remember what we even did this weekend - it's slowly coming back to me.  My sore arm and shoulder are reminding me that I threw on the last of the fertilizer on the rye pastures.  On to the pel-lime!  We also rested a lot this weekend.  Ethan and I have some icky head cold again.  It's been unpleasantly cold lately.  Our poorly insulated block house copes with cold about as well as it copes with heat - which is terribly.  So we sat around, coughing and searching for handkerchiefs.

Our freezer is groaning under the weight of all the beef we got back from the butcher last week.  There was some emergency headcheese-making.  We could not believe how much meat we got back.  Boxes and boxes.  A whole big box of steak.  Actually, I think it was two.  Lots of good food.  The butcher even said it looked like some really nice beef when they were cutting it.  It is.  And it's so nice to have beef again after all these years of raising poultry and rabbits and pigs.  It's so nourishing and strengthening.

Inspired by all the steak we now have, we have started reading a book called Steak.  It's a wonderful book.  I've already read it.  It was last year's Christmas present for Ethan, from me.  He hasn't read it yet, but I think it warrants reading now.  I'm reading it out loud for him, so he can't just set it aside and forget about it again.

We also had an unsuccessful trip to the nursery to look for a citrus tree to be our Christmas tree.  I've always liked unconventional Christmas trees, especially fruity kinds.  That way the tree is like another present - and there's just a giant pile of presents in the living room, instead of a pile of presents, wrapped in dead trees, under a dead tree.  And if you get a good one with fruit, it's already pre-decorated.  We used to always get hollies, but I think we have enough holly trees by now.  Once we got a pear tree that didn't really fit our low ceilings, and all the leaves fell off in three days and it looked like a bare stick with lights wrapped around it.  That's why we were going for a citrus this time, but the nursery was all out.  We thought about it, and decided we can't really afford a citrus tree at the moment, anyway, so we'll find some crazy thing to bring home and decorate at the farm.  Mirin's been scoping out weedy little red cedars in the neighbor's planted pines, but we are trying to discourage him.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In the Garden: Pumpkin/Daikon pickles and Dudley Corn

Inspired by my friend Karen, who was giving out samples of AMAZING lacto-fermented brined pumpkin and daikon pickles she was making for the Earthskills fundraiser on Sunday, I made a batch, too.  There were lots of radishes that needed pulled in the garden, and we still have lots of pumpkins.  Some of the Anna Swartz Hubbards were looking a little dire.

And there was even one whole kohlrabi the rabbits spared me - so thoughtful of them.  I love the colors.  There were enough daikons left over to make a batch of Edchi - named after our friend Ed Sherwood (Karen's husband, coincidentally) who died tragically almost three years ago.  He loved making what he called Edchi.  It's just grated, salted and fermented daikon.  It's a really mild and delicious pickle, and I'll always think of Ed when we make it.

I should add that bush hogging the rest of the garden seems to have solved the rabbit problem.  I planted out some new tender starts to tempt them with, but I think it's too dangerous for them in the field without the plant cover.  I need to make a note for us to bush hog much earlier in the year next time. It wasn't only good for the rabbits - I also got our rye cover crop planted at last.

More exciting news - I managed to obtain some seeds from Dudley Farm to boost the genetic variety of the corn I am growing.  I'm worried about that because my corn was taken from only a few cobs, so I've been trying to get as much different seeds from different people keeping in their freezers as possible.  I told them the older, the better, because I wanted to get corn that had not been messed up by them yet.

They told me I could have 25 seeds at the most, so I was pleasantly surprised for them to hand me two bags that were much fuller that 25 seeds.  One batch was from 2004, and the other was from last year.  I was really careful to keep them labled, so I wouldn't mix them up.  When I got home and went to jar them up for the freezer, I realized I shouldn't have bothered.  I also think I know why they can't grow any corn.....

Can you see the difference?  The top picture is corn from 2004.  The bottom picture is the recent corn.  I probably managed to pick about 25 non-moldy kernels out.  But it was hard. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas Delight

We are really sinking in to the holidays this winter. I am keeping the big kids busy, having had a terrible time with them over the summer when I thought a nice, unstructured break would be perfect for them after an intense year of homeschooling. Every weekday we have things planned – singing our favorite Christmas songs, baking and cooking up our favorite treats, special crafts and finding time to really focus on the beautiful fourth grade form drawing we are attempting – all Celtic knots and braids, some so complex I have to stop and chew my pencil before beginning.
(These were really amazing grain-free gingerbread cookies)

 It's nice and relaxed, this little break from the serious academics to focus on crafts, handiwork and other little bits of life that get neglected when we are trying to work on the more demanding parts of education – reading and long division and Mirin not falling off his chair again for the hundredth time while we are doing lessons.

And at least the holiday shopping is out of the way – the part that I find the most stressful.  We never have lots of presents. I like to use the holiday as an excuse to just wrap up some much needed items we would have bought anyway, like socks and clothes.

I really do believe material things weigh us down. In recent years (and I partly blame the mommy blogs I like to read occasionally, with their pretty pictures of children happily lining up rows of beautiful, handmade wooden animals, or deeply engaged in some kind of nature study with an appropriate implement) I have found myself succumbing more to the inclination to buy things for Christmas. Thus we find ourselves burdened with copious amounts of exciting outdoor discovery toys, beautiful handcrafted figures, needle felted seasonal fairies, wooden puzzles and numerous art supplies.

When buying or making presents I like to remember the rhyme, “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” Our gifts stay true to that, with some extras – pretty things that you see in online catalog photos posed so beautifully on a seasonal hand-dyed piece of silk.

This year, as I am again planning for this exuberant, pine-and-cinnamon filled season, I was casting about for something to actually get my children other than clothes they need and a couple of special books they've requested. It occurred to me one day, while I was trying to get the children to help pick up some total living room toy dump mess one day, that we have so much already.

I looked around at the beautiful wooden kitchen they barely ever touch, equipped with the sliceable wooden veggies I always thought would be so cool, and the wooden cookies that looked so cute at Nova Naturals, the stacks of games inherited from me and my brother, the vintage toy car collection passed down from their uncle, the beautiful farm set Ethan made for them, populated by neglected hand painted wooden Ostheimer animal figures, the wooden train set my mom hand painted with little details when I was a kid, the four different varieties of blocks, the bulging dress-up collection....

I realized that my children hardly even play with toys other than to strew them about the floor, and that is mostly the toddler. Since babyhood, Mirin has always preferred to play with sticks and masking tape. He spends most of his time doing this. Rose spends a lot of time scribbling on tiny pieces of paper, changing clothes and messing around with bits of tacky jewelry I played with as a child, when she is not in the sandbox, filling plastic cups with sand, mud, leaves and water.

Then one day recently Rose made me read a Flicka, Ricka, Dicka book set at Christmas. The three girls got one present each – just one. It made me realize (or maybe just imagine) that a long time ago, before it was common for people to spend so much money on having things, childhood toys were few. A special doll, a special bat or ball, a carving knife or small tool set, a collection of nice drawing pencils and paper. Not all at once. One pretty, special and well-thought out gift was enough, and the children were still delighted.

But we have been caught up in the materialism. Pretty toys, even special handmade wooden ones, can be too numerous. One special gift does not seem like enough somehow. In the midst of so much, our children's delight has been diluted. And that is what we as gift-givers really desire in our giving – the children's delight.

What gifts can I give to delight my children? Free, generous gifts?

I can tell them stories, both old and new, learned or inspired. I can share my memories with them. I can fashion and create things for them from things that are offered by nature – I am always amazed by how a braid of a pine needle I carelessly make has such a deep impression on them. Taking them on walks and stopping to notice things with them. I can include them in the work of my daily life, to instruct them and give them a sense of place in the world. I can create a story, a game, from acorns or bits of wood, breathing wonderful, inspiring, imitation-worthy character, emotional depth, and life into the inanimate objects. I see them playing those games again by themselves later, taking my story and making it their own.

These are gifts, freely given, that also delight them.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dumpster Omelet

Rose gave me a crazy hair-style with lots of extra knitting needles while I was sitting and knitting the other evening.  Not the most flattering picture.  She did ask me what kind of style I wanted, and I told her since she was the stylist, she could decide.  It's kind of Queen Amidala/centipede I think.

Monday morning this little exchange happened:

Mirin:  "Mama, what's for breakfast?"

Me:  "Dumpster-dived omelet and cheese."

Mirin:  "Eeeewww!  I'm going next door and having some dumpster-dived yogurt at Grandmas's house."

We're new to this whole free food score thing...and it's not like we don't have plenty to eat already.  But I have to say, the extra bacon in our collard greens tonight, along with a pork hock from the freezer, was really good.  It's not that we couldn't buy this stuff if we wanted to - it's just such a shame to see all that food go to waste.

I admit, I was leery of it at first, but on Sunday we got to talk with an old friend of Ethan's who has a microbiology background and has been eating stuff like that out of dumpsters since the '70's.  It made me feel much better about it.  I should add that all this stuff is being thoroughly over-cooked.

We had a really difficult day yesterday.  It was one of those days where everyone is either whining, destroying something, or fighting abusively with a sibling.  It was just awful.  As soon as Ethan got home I told him I REALLY need time off during the weekend, so I can deal with them during the week.  I had not gotten any time off, and twelve straight days like that just wears me out.  I need a certain block of time carved out to restore my patience.

At the end of the day, I just felt like not seeing any of them for a good long while.  The big kids went to watch a stupid movie with my dad next door, and Clothilde fell asleep (thank goodness!!).  We are all so tired.  It was a big, crazy weekend.  By the time Ethan got home, Mirin and Rose had been strongly encouraged to go rampage outside.  Mirin told Ethan I was "in a really bad mood."  Nothing to do with the way he was throwing blocks at his sister, of course.  Or trying to break Clothilde's doll stroller.  All me.

It's so frustrating, but in a way that's kind of true.  You are the queen of your little house, and you set the tone.  But that takes energy.  Lots of energy.  And today, I just didn't have it.  It was one of those rare days when they didn't have a mama for the afternoon.  Nope, they had the MAMA MONSTER, and they'd better not mess with her.

Monday, December 8, 2014

An Exciting Saturday

We had a great time again volunteering at the Dudley Farm cane boil on Saturday.  Ethan and Mirin helped our friend Willie to hew beams out of logs.  Rose practiced ballet on the finished beam.  Clothilde "helped" by running towards whoever was chopping with the ax.  She did help Willie move the split rails around, too.  It was all we could do that morning to convince her to put on a more Victorian-style toddler dress over the Minnie Mouse dress she has become very attached to.  There was no question of her taking that dress off.  It is practically a part of her now.  I sat in the back and knitted, and everyone asked about the knitting I was demonstrating.  I had to explain I was actually just there to help keep an eye on the children.

The first big triumph of the day was to actually pin down the staff and get a bunch of their corn seeds to add to my stash - but more on that later!

It's different there now - the energy is different, there are very different volunteers.  They used to keep a supply of corn (that they had grown!!) for the chickens, and so they had the children help to shuck and shell it.  Rose would spend an hour over there helping out with that.  Now that they are buying corn, they are very stingy with it.  They only let the children shuck and shell one ear each.  It was funny because the slightly obnoxious volunteer who was helping the children with it said to Rose, "Imagine if this was your chore for the day."  I didn't mention that actually, some times during the year, it is a chore for us.  Rose was very disappointed, so we went to the old hand-pump well where the children enjoy pumping the water.  They had an old volunteer posted as a guard to make sure the children ONLY pumped TWICE.  Did they think it was going to drain the aquifer or something?!

They were also appalled that we all insisted of drinking the water.  It's been a few years now since they hung up a sign that says the water is non-potable.  We find that to be nonsense.  The water is just as potable as it was ten years ago when everyone drank it.  It's not treated with chemicals, so they feel like they have to say that, for liability reasons.

In the late afternoon we helped Willie re-load the logs onto his trailer and went to do the chores.  It was dark when we got home, tired but enthusiastic after a fun day.  We were hoping to be in bed early.  But then my mom called.  Willie had stopped by the natural food store on his way back through town, and noticed their refrigerated section was empty.  On inquiring about it, he was informed it had stopped working the night before, and all the food legally had to be dumped. 

Wille ran out back and started phoning people to come help pick up the food for the Earthskills gathering.  Apparently it is traditional to feed the work/trade people on only dumpster-dived food.  Ethan, with his truck, was drafted in by my mom.  He took the children, because how often do kids get to go dumpster diving with their parents like that?

At the dumpster, things were exciting.  Willie was like a dispatcher, calling more and more people to the scene.  My mom was heard to say, "This is even better than 10% off day!"  Some experienced dumpster divers showed up on the scene, outfitted professionally with rubber gloves, rubber boots and head lamps.

A herd of vegans descended and helped sort out all the gross fake soy foods.  It was like a dead wildebeest had turned up on the Serengeti, and the scavengers peacefully occupied different niches.  They were disappointed there weren't any Tofurkeys or anything, but were cheered by finding vegan sushi.  There was tons of Earthbalance, and the Earthskills crow gladly handed the stuff over to them.  At one point they tried to hand over another stack of it, and the vegans hesitated before replying, "You know, I never thought I'd say this, but I think we have enough Earthbalance."

Everyone was slightly appalled at the food waste, and the fact that the store hadn't called a food bank before chucking it in the garbage.  (Having worked in food service, I've seen the waste of good food firsthand.  That's why I have such a hard time believing the arguments about feeding the world.  We have LOTS of food, and here, lots of it is thrown away).  It was all still cold, too.

My mom and Ethan got lots of fancy cheeses, perfectly good eggs, yogurt, expensive organic hot dogs, and sausages.  Mirin has been in heaven eating little fruit yogurts that we never buy. 

It was by far the most exciting end to a Dudley Farm Cane Boil.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Lately I've been thinking.....about this space and writing here.....

I always thought I would be good at writing on a blog, because I love to write and I've kept a journal since I was ten years old.  But something about the public nature of it makes me cringe.  And it really doesn't help that I've spent the past two years stumbling through my days like a brain-dead robot.
Sometimes when I'm lying down nursing Clothilde I will think of what I want to write here, but by the time I sit down in front of the screen and my Internet connection is actually working the words fly away like crows into the sunset.  If I do remember what seemed so natural and clever to say, it never looks as good written down in print for some reason.

I feel like I haven't ever decided what to write about.  Do my pictures of snakes and bugs drive squeamish people away that would otherwise like to read?

And yet I find the "everything's beautiful and inspiring" blogs boring.  And there's so much to filter out.  And on the other side of that - writing too much about annoying daily life inspires contempt.

Such I mention how "fun" it was last Sunday when Ethan forgot to get gas in the truck and we had to walk a mile to the farm carrying the milking basket and water jars?  Stumbling around in the dark alone, trying not to be trampled by Matilda, hoping, waiting for Ethan to return with our re-fueled vehicle?  How thankful we were to have a gas container in the barn for the rototiller with about 2 gallons in it?  In other words, how much misfortune/ineptitude is okay to admit to?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

In the Garden: A Whole Lotta Rabbits, A Bush Hog, and Mr. McGregor

I wish that I had some beautiful vegetable pictures to show off, but I don't.  Instead I have this hideous photo of the recently bush hogged garden that, as Ethan said, really just shows off how much junk there was under all the weeds.
There's been a run on the garden lately by what must be an army of rabbits, judging by the quantity they have eaten, despite the netting on each row, and not to mention the 2ft high rabbit wire fence that surrounds the entire garden itself.  It's been grim, very grim.  A whole beautiful row of gorgeous cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage starts nibbled to stumps overnight.  The kale, nearly ready for the first tender harvest - stripped to stumps.  The peas - gone.

I have two words:  Onion-sauce!  Onion-sauce!

Ethan has gone through the brush of the summer garden with Mr. McGregor (the .22) and found mostly well-worn rabbit trails. The best thing, we thought, would be to bush hog the whole thing, which is what we wanted to do anyway, before seeding a rye cover crop. The rabbits don't like the open areas because there are too many owls nearby. They were almost exclusively eating the garden on the edges by the wild overgrown remains of the summer garden, with the minor exception of some very tender pakchoy starts, which must have been overwhelmingly tempting.

I was wondering, looking at a bed planted with lettuce and beets, why the seeds on one side of it seemed to be flourishing so well, while the ones on the other side had appeared to not have sprouted at all. They were eaten as soon as they had, of course!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Yarn along: 3rd Wave

I am about half way done with the secret Christmas knit - it is going slowly with the tiny yarn on tiny needles, but I really like this pattern.  It helps that I have knitted it once before.  The yarn is beautiful (it's Madelinetosh) and it's wonderful to see the two colors taking form together with the lace pattern.

Ethan and I are now reading Never Spank a Porcupine, and really enjoying it.  It is full of funny anecdotes of farm life in rural Vermont - cows getting out, annoying neighbors, attack parakeets.  It reminds me of Mama Makes Up Her Mind by Baily White. 

I got close enough to Chestnut's calf yesterday for him to give me a wary sniff.  It was while Chestnut was still eating her milking ration, of course, because she is so protective of him.  It really upset her when the goats came down to be milked and the calf was frolicking and playing among them.  She was mooing and mooing for him to stop running around like an idiot and come have his ears licked clean again, but he completely ignored her.  I'm so glad we put her in the close-by paddock away from the other cows before he was born, because I think she would have completely flipped out if he were ducking under the electric fence to gambol around and she couldn't follow him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Recovering - slightly, after traumatic bead store adventure

I've been thinking since I last wrote about work - I almost considered taking that post down, because it came off as kind of whiny.  I like the farm work.  I like what I do every day, and I wish I had time and energy to do more.  It feels so grounding and healthy to be working purposefully, practically.  I get restless at my house in town.  I think what really drained my energy was the desperation behind it.  I really wanted everything to work out, to be beautiful and fruitful and healthy.  But I'll be honest - this ain't the Shenandoah Valley.  We've got sand.  It's gray sand, but still very sandy.  The natives lived mostly on game and what came out of the creeks and waterways, which are all polluted now.  They weren't farming most of their food.  It's tough here.  And there is a stigma in my family about non-intellectual work.  It's considered pointless drudgery.  I guess I had to work through that.

Well, the calf was frolicking when I was out doing the milking last night.  He would rest awhile, nurse awhile, and then tear across the pasture with his tail up like a little maniac.  So cute!
Poor Chestnut is kind of a helicopter mother.  She ran after him, mooing desperately while he skipped and pranced around.  It's a little ridiculous, because they are in a totally safe and secure pasture with hard fencing.  But I can sympathize....

I used to judge parents that seemed overly concerned that way when my son was a baby.  Now since Clothilde became mobile I know what it is like having to constantly supervise a crazy child who could at any moment scale any piece of furniture and suddenly be doing things like sticking pins into the electrical sockets (after first disposing of the useless childproofing plug), playing with matches, either drinking out of the toilet, clogging it with an entire roll of toilet paper, or flooding the bathroom.  Some kids you just have to keep a really close eye on.  At least Clothilde couldn't walk until she was nine months old.  It would have been even more horrible if she could have done that thirty minutes after birth.

Speaking of which, we went on the most hellish bead-shopping trip ever today.  I had to bring Clothilde.  It was hell, pure hell.  The women in the bead store hated us dearly.  Too bad their system of picking out beads meant you also had to write every bead, price and quantity down on tiny paper.  They were so rude to us.  I think they were hoping we would just leave without buying anything, but I stuck it out.  Clothilde did her best to ravage everything, and even managed to throw her shoe across the store after a 15-minute scream fest because I was restraining her.  Oh well.  I hardly ever go in there, anyway.  Rose would have been perfectly behaved in there when she was a baby.  It's so hard to judge other people's parenting, because so much depends on what kid you get - and you don't get to choose!  I just try not to judge at all any more.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Chestnut's Calf

This weekend was exciting - Chestnut's long-awaited calf was finally born!
She had missed her first "due window" for when she was AI'd, so we figure that this calf is our bull Explorer's.  Explorer is half Devon, half Jersey.  The calf has a Devon face, but certainly the Jersey lanky legs.  He is also much larger than a Devon calf, as they tend to be very small.

 On Thursday we thought Chestnut might be in labor.  She was lying down, chewing her cud and stopping to softly moan a little now and then.  So on Friday, we were disappointed to find she was still pregnant.

There was a lot of crazy drama then, too, because Isla was in one of her "crazy eyes" moods and was running all over the pasture, kicking and being a maniac.  Maybe she was in heat or something?  While we were looking at Chestnut and trying to determine if she was in labor or not, Explorer came over and started poking Chestnut around with his horns.

The way cows fight is to lock horns and push each other.  The winner will often push the smaller, weaker cow to the ground.  It is a show of strength, balance and skill.  And, of course, it was not what we wanted Explorer to do to the expectant mother.  He was pushing her all around through a plum thicket, and it was very worrisome.  The last thing she needed right then was a broken leg or something.  We thought maybe he saw his chance right then to establish dominance, something he has been very eager to do now that Meathead is in the freezer.  He and Meathead were always vying with each other, and Meathead always won.

Ethan was also worried, so he grabbed a sturdy stick and gave Explorer a few good whacks on the flanks to get him to stop.  He didn't of course, but it distracted him enough that Chestnut was able to throw him several feet through the air, into the plum thicket, where he landed on his side and she went over and gored his belly a bunch.  Served him right!

Then we separated the cows from Explorer and brought them down to the milking area.  I was afraid for my life with the way stupid Isla went charging down, horns and all.  We let them calm down, and I milked Matilda before we sorted Chestnut out and led everyone else back - except for Flora and Sampson, because we had had to chase them out of the growing rye pastures, which they were eager to prematurely graze to nothing.  Sampson is actually looking good now that he has been sorted out from the big girls.  I suspect they never let him get enough hay.

So on Friday when we went out, there he was!  Just being licked off, and the afterbirth still was not out.  Chestnut is a wonderful mother.  She licked and licked his thick, soft fur beautifully clean and made soft mama cow mooing noises to him.  Because he was born so close to December, we wanted to name him something for the holidays.  I had wanted to call him Holly, but Ethan didn't like that.  He liked Mountjoy, after a Washington Irving story he was reading.  I thought that was awful.  Finally Rose came up with Nutcracker, and that seemed right for Chestnut's baby.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


When I was younger, I used to feel that holidays were contrived marketing opportunities, seeing all the obnoxious decorations that went up in stores and places of commerce.  But as I've gotten older and tried to be more in tune with nature and our food, I have started to appreciate more and more the old wisdom behind the Holy Days.

Moving into winter and cold, dark days (of which we are mostly spared, being so close to the Equator), I think it is the best of times to reflect upon all the blessings and gifts we have received, and bring the warmth from them with us into the colder times.

There is so much to be thankful for - our home, our children, our families, our things, the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe - life itself.  We can enjoy the generosity of life and the feeling of gratitude, knowing that yes, it will change, and all gifts will eventually be taken away.

These words have found me this Thanksgiving:

"And you receivers - and you are all receivers - assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.....For to be ovemindful of you debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father."

From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran 

Reflections of gratitude, I think, open the heart to receiving even more, because it brings the realization of how much we are all given, everyday. And gifts can also come in surprising ways, in ways that don't seem good at first.

Sometimes I have tried to give good things that were refused because the person I was trying to give something to was too proud to accept the offer -  And I know that I have sometimes also been too proud.  And how many blessings have I unconsciously ignored or taken for granted?

How can we open our minds and hearts, receive things with grace, and enjoy ALL of our blessings? 

That, I think, is the essence of thrift.

In the Garden: Greens, Greens, Turnips, and More Greens

I wish I had more to say about the garden other than I need to get out there and plant  more.  I've only seen it in the dark for the past few days, and I've just been harvesting lately, which is by far the funnest part.  Turnips are coming out, as well as French breakfast radishes and parsley, cilantro, green onions, and dill.  Our greens consumption has gone way down now that the kimchi is ready.  It's so good and it is redundant to cook more greens to eat with it, so I've been donating them to the grandparents.

I have more beds to build for spring, starts that are getting too large and have been ready to plant.  I've been thwarted by the weather and illness for weeks now.  Either I was too sick to move, or it was pouring rain, or freezing.  This weekend I hope to catch up!  I've got cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower starts to plant, and I would really like to seed the salsify.  I've never tried salsify before, but it sounds so good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Yarn Along: Christmas Surprise

I wish I could tell you what I'm working on at the moment, but it is a (shhh!!) Christmas surprise for someone.  I have knitted this pattern before, back when Clothilde was wonderfully immobile and still in that cute stage where they are extra chubby and can't crawl anywhere.  Needless to say, I am finding the lace patterns VERY hard this time.

I've tried only working the difficult rounds with the yarn overs and K2togs and SSK's while Clothilde seems completely immersed in something else - but her toddler radar must beep like crazy when I make a start.  There have been a few times I've messed it up and had to discretely add a stitch in the purely knit rounds.  I refuse to frog it, because just casting on the right number of stitches in the tiny yarn was so painful while being climbed on by Clothilde.  It seems to be turning out "lacy" anyway, so I am happy enough.

As for books, we have been following our family tradition of reading Washington Irving this time of year.  We skipped the usual favorites this time - Wolfort Webber or Golden Dreams, Dolf Heyliger, Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Young Buckthorne, and have been reading bits and pieces out of Wolfert's Roost and Other Stories.

 One of these was a story  called "A Time of Unexampled Prosperity" and goes into a historical account of "The Great Mississippi Bubble."  It is an engaging true story of a Scotsman named John Law, who was responsible for an imaginary period of wealth in France in the early 1700's, which ended up with the country being impoverished.  The parallels that can be drawn between now and then were eye-opening.  It's amazing how history repeats itself. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nature Finds: A Mysterious Stranger

 We discovered this lovely stranger crawling across the pasture the other day.  It had silvery twinkles all over it.  It was a Luna moth.

When I was a child, my dad and I raised a bunch of Luna moths from eggs.  Of course my dad did most of it, but I helped him gather sweet gum leaves to feed them.  They got bigger and less prickly, and finally were glowing green and very fat like our caterpillar above, and ready to pupate.  Every day when I got home from school I would check the cocoons to see if any had hatched.  Some days there were two or three, some days there weren't any.  My dad showed me how the males had fuzzier antennae than the females.  In the evening we would walk to the park to let them go.

 We had to be very careful to wait until the birds were asleep, or they might eat one of our moths.  I would hold the huge moths in my small hands, watching them vibrate their wings to warm them up, before finally kicking off and flying away into the night.  Sometimes they wouldn't make it into the air on the first try, so we would pick them up and give them another chance.

Once (I think this actually happened with Polyphemus moths we'd raised right after the Lunas) the moth took off flying before it was dark enough.  A mocking bird swooped out of the trees and snatched it out of the air!  We ran after it and scared it so that it dropped our moth.  The moth was okay, but had a little notch out of both wings.  We picked him up to keep safe until it was darker.  After we left the spot, the mocking bird came back and was turning over leaves where it knew the moth had dropped, looking for it again.

Monday, November 24, 2014

First Beef

  This weekend we said goodbye to Meathead, and hello to beef.  It was a huge amount of work - far more than we had anticipated and we are all sore and exhausted.  I have pictures from the harvest (slaughter?) day following, just a caution in case you are sensitive...

Meathead was Geranium's baby, born and raised on our farm.  He was a good steer, a little deficient in brains sometimes, like the way it took him two years to figure out how to follow the herd.  Geranium had been supposedly bred to calve in April when we bought her, and after May we had given up hope.  On July 4th Ethan went out to do the chores and discovered that Meathead had been born.  He was named Sebastian at first, until we realized what a brick he was.  Meathead just stuck.  I always affectionately called him Meaty.  We let him grow for three and a half years on grass and hay.  The longer time allows for more marbling, and because we didn't use grain or growth hormones, he took longer to grow.  He had a good, peaceful life.

The day we slaughtered him, we separated him and gave him some nice hay to munch on.  Mirin was very sorry to say goodbye, and ended up scaring him trying to feed him some hay as a parting gift.  He was never extremely friendly or tame.  I kept the kids at a safe distance while Ethan stunned him with the .22.  Then I went to help with catching the blood and stirring it until it cooled.  We made blood pudding from it (really nourishing and tasty).  I always cry when the animals are dying, and I shed some tears as I was thanking him for feeding us.  We've had him for so long, we were all attached to him and were sorry to see him go.  Later the work/food aspect kicked in and I felt mostly grateful and busy.

 Mirin and Ethan started out skinning.  We thought this would be really easy peasy compared to scalding and scraping a hog.  Clothilde was clinging to me while I was still stirring the blood, so I couldn't help at first (she has been very clingy lately - teething?).

As sorry as he was to see Meathead go, Mirin really jumped in and helped a lot this time.  The hide was extremely big and beautiful, and we took a lot of care skinning so we can save it.  The best we can do with what Meathead offered us is to use as much as possible.

After a while the blood cooled enough, so I grabbed my favorite carbon steel knife and also got to work.  It turned out that I was WAY faster at skinning than either of the boys....

I had let Ethan kind of be in charge because he was reading right beforehand about how to do all this, but I am usually the one who does all the cleaning for the pigs.  He struggled mightily with the bulging organs.  It was extra difficult because Meathead had not gone down under the tree we thought he would, so we had to move the block-and-tackle to hoist him up. It was a smaller branch and I kept worrying it was going to break.  Every time we raised or lowered the carcass, the branch creaked ominously.  After watching Ethan struggling with the billowing rumen and cursing, I handed Clothilde off into the dubious care of the big kids and came to help.  It was tough.  In the moment you don't quite realize how intimate you are with the organs of a dead animal.  It occurred to me at one point that my face was practically inside the stomach cavity, and I was shoulder deep trying to get the guts out.  Finally we were almost done!!  There was just quartering the carcass left.  It was almost time for the butcher to close.  

We made desperate, tearful (on my part) attempts to hack down the spine with saws and then an axe.  It was taking too long.  We called the butcher and asked if we could just bring him whole, but they said they wouldn't be able to move the carcass otherwise, so it had to be quartered.  There was an awful moment when we realized we wouldn't make it, and we would have to hang him in a tree overnight (it was very cold, though).  

So after that we made ready to hang it up wrapped in plastic and stuffed with ice.  Mirin and I went about preparing the organs, fat and other bits to take home.  I saved kidneys, heart, liver, head.  Mirin sawed the horns off, and we will retrieve the tongue and brains (to tan the hide) and make a big pot of stock from the head, once the bullets are removed.

The piggies got the rumen.  They LOVED it.  The next morning there were vultures crowded around that spot, which was completely cleared of anything edible by the pigs.

Once at home we packaged everything up for the freezer, saving out the blood for pudding and some caul fat.  The cavity fat is rendering into snowy white tallow.  The organs were HUGE.  The size of his heart amazed me, and while slicing up the enormous liver into useable chunks for many months' supply of liver pate, I realized just how crazy expensive organic beef liver is at the store.

Our darn cat Teasel, seeing how busy we were, decided to drink some blood out of the waiting-to-be-cleaned blood catching bowl and vomited bloody cat kibbles all over the kitchen.  She was escorted outside after that.

 I've been busy processing all these wonderful, nutritious organs into food.  In addition to the blood pudding and tallow, we've also been enjoying oxtail soup.  The next day Ethan quartered the carcass and brought it to the butcher.  It weighed 434 pounds!  He looked so small next to Matilda and Geranium.  No wonder it was so much work!  Each quarter of beef weighed as much as a whole hog dressed out!