Monday, March 30, 2015

The Cruel Frost

The night before last I woke up suddenly, long after midnight, with that strange, scratchy, dizzy feeling I get when the first grip of illness comes into my awareness.

So I was not just tired, I was also sick.  We've had so few illnesses this spring compared to last year when Rose was attending pre-school for two days a week.  The exposure level from all those little kids is just incredible.  Last week Clothilde had a runny nose, and I knew, eventually, I would also get sick.  It always happens that way.  Everyone's always crowding into my lap and spilling out, because these little babies of mine have really grown too large to all sit on me.  They cough, sneeze, laugh, breathe, accidentally splutter into my face all the time. 

In the beginning of this week, two things have happened.  The first one is that we only have three pumpkins left from last year's garden.  The second thing is that we planted some tomatoes, peppers, and ground cherries in the garden already, and the cold spell that came through on Friday killed all but the tomatoes.

Last year I was so overprotective of my little starts, I didn't plant them until late May.  The insects and pests were very hard on them, and I thought perhaps if I had started earlier.....We can cold-protect them now, with the metal hoops and the plastic. It didn't get below 40 F, but it still killed them.  It's so hard to see those tender, hopeful little things turn limp and brown

We had such a difficult time the past two weeks.  Mirin still has a few years of pre-teen yet before he is officially into the teen years, but there have already been signs - the criticism, the angry outbursts.  Reading this yesterday morning made me feel better - to see how this is not uncommon, for one thing, and to hear what I felt also expressed by other people.  The shock, the hurt, the heartbreak.  The feeling that I wasted my youth. These feelings were all there, while at the same time I wished they weren't.  I wished I could just not care at all, and not be hurt by it.

And at the same time last week there was a little bit of my own teenage years that came back to me.  My mother discovered some emails I had written when I was 18 and travelling alone in France and Germany and sent them along.  Reading them brought back so many memories.  That year was an intense time for me.  I had left, partly to visit my friends I had made while travelling there the summer before, and partly as a reason to break up with a clingy and abusive boyfriend I had.  Here is a post-script from the end of my trip:

PS You guys don't really miss me, do you?  No one from  my own family hardly sent me any mail.  I bet mom didn't even read my letters.  That's ok, i dont really
miss you guys either.  i am never around anyway.

The absolute aloneness I felt those years just came streaming back when I read them.  The isolation, the feeling that my family was glad I was gone, because I had failed them, without meaning to, in so many ways for all of my short life.  My mother only remembers that I was wayward and unworthy despite all the "tough love."  In my memory she was heartless, self-centred, cruel, and incredibly critical - holding me to some mythical standard I could never hope to achieve, while my little brother watched in comfortable curiosity from his place of Impeccable Child at all the blame and torment I endured. 

Those letters felt like proof of my decision to act with virtue, even though my own worth was not seen by anyone in the world.  I kept writing, even though no one replied.  I refused to be the one that cut them off in bitterness, even if they cut me off in spite.  It was a conscious decision of integrity that brought me into an awareness about good and evil and the strength of spirit.

In some of my other letters, I could see the life I live now at age 30 taking shape in my mind and heart when I was 18. It steadied me a little, reading my own teenage thoughts.  So much of that criticism is because you want to improve, to do things better than your parents did, and I think that is a noble thing. 

I remember that desire to separate and become your own person.  Talking with Mirin last week, he told me, "I just need to get away.  I want to go live at the farm for a year at least, all alone." While he really couldn't manage living a year alone in the wilderness, emotionally he knows that space is what he needs. 

 I feel strengthened somehow, in leaving some space between us for now - just a little to let his transformation breathe while I find again the things that inspired me when I was young and idealistic.  And of course still keeping watch for the killing frost.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sun Time

Our friends who moved gave us a plastic toy ATV.  Clothilde loves it, and Ethan does too - he no longer has to carry her, but ties it to his belt and pulls her around on it while he does the chores.

I woke up tired today.  I always know it's going to be a rough day when I wake up tired like that.  And I'm one of the few people I know of who doesn't use caffeine - at all.  No coffee, no tea (except mint and chamomile, of course), no soda, not even chocolate.  I can't handle it.  It's like cocaine for me, I become manic for days, and then it's ugly.  So when I'm tired, I'm just plain tired.  There's no plan B.

I think part of this is still feeling discombobulated from the time change.  Daylight Savings is one of the things I can really complain about.  I just wish they would stick to one time all year.  It's a pain to wake up an hour earlier, but for us it is even more disruptive, because we rely on Sun Time.

To everyone else who is on Clock Time, this can be difficult to understand.  If you live disconnected from hours of daylight, in jobs that are easily lit up by electricity, it is impossible to understand how Sun Time, and even moon cycles, could affect you.  (The full moon is rising when the sun is setting, making it possible to work later from the light).  I think that even so, this mis-match of Sun Time and Clock Time, messes with us on a deeper level.

A long time ago, people still had time zones.  In Europe, towns everywhere had a clock tower that was set with 12 O'clock when the sun was at the highest point.  This was the origin of time zones, because of course as you travelled, noon would shift a tiny bit as you went along, according to the sun.  With the broad time zones we have now, and Daylight Savings, our 6pm is close to solar 4 pm.  The noon we celebrate is not actually noon.  It's just one more of those things in which we are cut off from reality.

For us, the time change makes the day suddenly very late, and still working within the Sun Time for our chores, as well as Clock Time for everything else, is a challenge.  Our days of easily getting more sleep during the winter are gone.  When everything depends on us working as hard as possible to set up this new year, new season, we are tired again.

The consolation is that it makes an afternoon nap possible - if the 2-year old is willing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

In the Garden: Hello Summer!

My silence here this week is not only because of melancholy and exhaustion, also our computer has not been behaving itself.  There's always something broken around here.  It keeps things interesting.

Ethan and I almost killed ourselves trying to get the summer garden built.  We're mostly better, but I'm still bone-dead exhausted, and Ethan's back still hurts.  Maybe we're just old and decrepit at this point in our lives! There's a rush this year because I want to have everything settled in when we leave for Europe in May.  Every time I look at the calender, I have a panic attack about how soon that is.

This is a transition time for the garden now - the warm weather made all sorts of things bolt and go to seed.  It turns out that a second January planting of Napa cabbage didn't work out.  It bolted before heading.  The cows really enjoyed it, though.

I pulled a few of the second carrots out.  I'm not sure how I feel about these Paris Market carrots.  They are cute and sweet, but I rather like the long carrots.  A rogue turnip, that must have been washed into the middle of the path by rain or hose water, was also ready.

There's nothing like having a garden to press you to eat vegetables. I picked all this kale and made kale chips.  I've never made kale chips, so I looked up some recipes online.  It was amazing the slew of vegan/low-fat/vegetarian websites I had to navigate through.  All of them sang the praises of kale for its nutritiousness, and mentioned that kale chips were a great way to incorporate more of this healthy vegetable into your diet.

We're pretty far from trying to find ways to incorporate this vegetable into our diet.  It's more of an urgent matter with us.  Ten plants, crying out to be picked.  Kale's what we have to eat, if we're not eating kolhrabi or pickled radishes.  This time of year, the vegetables seem to incorporate themselves, whether you like it or not. Luckily, the kale chips turned out delicious.  I ate all that kale myself, because it's not as popular with the under-eleven crowd, and they were just so good.  More tomorrow!

AND -  if you happened to notice the two little orange spots - the calendula is blooming!  I picked them to dry.  There will be more later.

The kohlrabi continues to get larger and more intimidating.    The less you eat, the larger the vegetables become.  All you need for motivation for eating more vegetables is a garden, I think.  If you ignore them, they break down your door and shout at you.

Now that the rest of the garden has bolted, we can focus on these.  Interestingly, I got some white kolhrabi's mixed in with the purple seeds.  It was nice to try them, too.  I almost thought I would get the green kind when I was buying the the seeds, because they are supposed to be able to get larger with out being woody.  But I had trouble imagining them getting too large in my poor garden, so I went with the purple for its pretty color.  I like them both, but the large purple one was certainly a little tougher than the green.

Just as the winter garden has exploded into masses of white, yellow, and purple brassica flowers, the tomatoes have been tucked into their places.  This is the in-between season now - the fading of winter, the coming of summer.  I noticed as I was hauling yet another load of hay and manure towards the unfinished parts of the garden, the smells have changed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


We had a rather fractious week last week, and yesterday I found myself in need of some quiet and solitude.

Every weekend for months now, my dad has taken both older children on some fun adventure - camping trips, river trips, boating trips.  It's been a blast, but last week they got to the end of their rope.  This past weekend he wanted to go to the springs with them.  But they were exhausted.  Grouchy.  Whiny.  Horrible.  I said no.

They spent all week screeching at each other and fighting over stupid things.  For me, it was exhausting.  Mirin had eaten some disgusting muffin that didn't agree with him, and he was back into surly Mr. Hyde mode.   Bad food affects him so strongly.  On Monday he looked at his math homeschool work for five seconds, and then had a huge tantrum about it.  Yes, sometimes there are days like that with homeschooling.  Whenever I go to a social gathering where I meet new people and say that we homeschool, there are always people who look at me guiltily and say they wish they could homeschool, but yatta yatta yatta.

Believe me, I know why more people don't homeschool.  It's hard, often ungrateful work at times.  Other times it is beautiful, wonderful, harmonious.  But not last week.  Last week it was awful.  Mirin yelling at me that he wanted to go to regular school because I was "a horrible, mean teacher" to make him look at math instead of running around outside all day.  I'm depriving him because he doesn't have his own iphone, so he can't text the boy who lives across the street. 

(I quickly pointed out that he wouldn't be able to text him he was in school.....)

It was, in many ways, a heart-breaking week.  Later, he apologized.  "I know I was kind of a jerk this week," he said.  Yes.  Kind of a jerk.  I am trying to forgive.  He is doing better now.  He's been calmer, nicer.  Making an effort, even crawling into my lap and wanting me to hug him again.  I guess that is what the pre-teen years are like.  He's not quite ready to ditch us and not look back.

We didn't do anything for the equinox, because I was too tired.  I felt so strange that day, like I was dizzy and sick.  I felt overwhelmed with heartbreak and old sorrows.  I heard there was a solar eclipse that day.  In ancient Persian tradition (and also European), the equinox is the beginning of the new year.  It's when you leave old darknesses behind and refresh yourself.  It's a time to let go of things, and make room for the new.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Chickens

We got our first batch of chicks this week!

It's been dramatic, because we didn't expect them quite so soon.  We didn't have mulch, or chick starter, or even the water trough we raise them in.

We made do with a smaller container, inferior organic chick crumbles from Tractor Supply, and whatever mulch we could scrap off the bottom of the old mulch pile.

Despite that, they are doing well.  So far we've only lost one, and it was the fancy extra male they like to throw in, so no loss really.  These are a new batch of Barred Rocks.  We made it through last year with only five laying hens, but we did miss the eggs.  And the Barred Rocks are such great chickens.  They are always so smart and good foragers.  Our two in-town backyard pet chickens my parents have are both Americaunas and are like feathered bricks.  There used to be a Barred Rock with them, and she really helped them out.  She also helped them escape the back yard and run amok among the neighbors, so there are advantages to dumb chickens.

This year we decided to not get meat birds or turkeys until after we return from our trip to France in late May.  My mom is going to be farm-sitting for us, and we wanted to make it as easy as possible for her.  It really seems like spring now with all the peeping!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

In the Garden: Welcoming Summer

The winter garden is at the point of maturing and declining.  I could re-plant things, but I am happy to let what we have still be enough.  This way, all our attention is on laying the foundations of our summer garden.

In the very warm weather, the brassicas have burst into bloom, broccoli going to flower before I could pick it, lettuce, turnips and parsley bolting, lacy yellow flowers nodding on the dill.

Still, it will feed us.  The second planting of Brussel sprouts and cauliflower is big and vigorous, the kale is broad and healthy, the collards - unpicked now for many weeks as we caught up on eating other things - are full and ready.  And the kolhrabi.  So much kolhrabi.  I guess I didn't quite realize when I started that whole flat for a second planting.

I pulled the last of the daikons that I planted back in January.  They were starting to go to seed.  I made some quick brined pickles with them late at night - and added a few kolhrabi...just because.

As many things fade, the potatoes are beginning to sprout, the onions are maturing, the beets and carrots are maturing - and the tomatoes and summer vegetables are quietly growing in their pots, waiting for their turn.

It's such an exciting time, this turning of seasons.  I am constantly tired - if I have any energy at all, I work more.  There's so much to be done still, to create the garden I dream of.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Yarn Along: Redneck Doormat

I probably shouldn't even tell anyone about this project....if you were expecting to see pictures of a nearly completed, beautifully knitted Scandinavian-style colorwork sweater (like the one I put up for the last Yarn Along), SORRY.

That project isn't going so well - the colorwork, it turns out, changes the gauge ever so slightly, and makes the fabric not as stretchy.  After the third person I showed it off to thought I was knitting it for Rosie, I stopped and put it on some scrap yarn.  WAY too small!

No, there weren't any tears - only a numb, cold feeling of despair.  I frogged it back to the raglan increases and am only just now beyond the sleeves.  It's like I didn't even work on it at all the past three weeks.

So, to comfort myself from the utter failure of that project, I picked up this one!

What, you might say, even IS that thing?

It all began with my porch that isn't really a porch.  I looks like a porch, it is tucked up nicely under the eves and everything, but it doesn't function like a porch, because it doesn't offer the slightest protection from even the mildest of elemental forces - like falling oak leaves.  In any rain storm, everything gets soaking wet.

I've had a problem with doormats - I've gone through quite a lot over the years.  The rain, dirt, sun, wind, heat and unbelievable humidity have been the fate of many otherwise worthy mats.  My mom tried to help me out by buying me one made of strips of leather, but it lasted for a shorter time than any others, because it gave off the smell of a dead animal when it got wet.

For years now I've picked up baling twine that has somehow gotten all over the farm - we get two big lengths of it with every bale of hay.  It seems to be incredibly durable plastic, and years later can be pulled out of the soil looking dirty, but hardly worse for the wear.  I found it's endurability annoying, until one day it occurred to me that I might find some use for it. Yes, I thought.  It will be the first of my doormats to last forever!

The past several months I've collected the stuff.  Every time I found a length of it, I would tie the ends together and wind it into a ball.  Eventually I had a ball of twine the size of my head, so I began.

I like it.  I'll need a few more months worth of twine to complete the project.  I like the way the various amounts of sun-bleaching give it a variegated appearance.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nature Finds: Spring

 Spring is really here - a little late this year (for Florida).  Many of the plums have finished blooming in town, but the Chickasaw plum in the garden just burst into flower.  Even the shy dogwoods are white in the woods.

 The late-blooming blueberries are now covered in flowers.  The bushes are so tall now - as tall as I am.  If we don't get any more frosts, it looks like we'll have a good blueberry year.  The early-blooming ones seemed to have weathered the last cold spell well, but alas, the Snow Queen doesn't seem to have any peaches this year.  The Florida King peaches all wisely waited to bloom, so perhaps we will have some from them.

In the tender green leaves - a thousand shades of new green - the tent caterpillars are out in droves in the plum trees.  The boys who live down the street have several as "pets."  They will be wonderful pets for them, because they are easily replaceable if one gets squished by accident.

 It looks like daffodils, but it is a lovely slime mold in the garden near the onions.  They love the compost beds!  At least it adds some lovely spring color.  They, too, are flowers, in their own way.

Even Ms. Gophy, the gopher tortoise, has been out and about.  You can see that she has been spring-cleaning her burrow, pushing all the sand back out again that washed in from the rain.  I have been seeing her when I bring the goats down and back again to be milked.  She hisses at us, and scudders down her hole again.  She doesn't approve of us lumbering giants.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Work is Love

Worked slavishly in the garden over the weekend.  Three beds were built on Friday - some in driving rain.  Two and a half on Saturday.  I couldn't move Sunday, just flopped around on a blanket in the shade with Clothilde while Ethan took over and built another three and a half. 

Something about heaving the loaded wheelbarrow over the little bumps in the field is whole-body exhausting.

Also, I realized I use my arms very differently, despite how they are positioned on the handle of the pitchfork.  I still favor my right side, even if I am technically forking with my left.  At the end, I worked on moving differently, more evenly.  It's good to switch sides.

I know it will all be worth it when the melons are ready, when the first ripe tomatoes are hanging on the vines.  This is the hard part, the part where everything is uncertain and unformed.  It's all still just a plan - harder than that, it's a plan being made real.  It's the birth of a garden, the birth of our summer abundance.  Labor.  Hard work.

I like this movement of real life, the pragmatism, the dirt, the smells, the reality.  Who needs a gym membership?  Work is love made visible.

I realized something the other day.  I was lifting an armful of hay from the cow's bale to bring to the goats.  Something about the dry, grassy aroma reminded me of dinner - steak, roast, beef.  Then I realized it was because our beef tastes subtly like that hay.

Friday, March 13, 2015

{this moment}

Feeling lazy today, so I'm joining in with Soulemama~

{this moment} ~ A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

In the Garden: Beets!

 It was such a surprise to pull these beautiful beets out of the garden this week!  Despite my dad's claims that growing beets is "easy" (I have never seen him grow a beet as long as I've been alive), I have not had any luck with them until this year.  They really don't like Florida's acidic, sandy soil.  This year I grew them on one of my compost beds and added Desert Dynamin clay.  It worked!  I love beets and fresh beet greens!  I still have a whole row of them, but this was the first planting.  The rabbits really ate a lot of them, so this is what I have for now.  There should be more, soon!  The second planting looks good, it just hasn't bulbed enough yet.

 The second planting of cabbage looks nicer than the first!  I think it has really liked the cool weather.  It seems like not so long ago I put them in the ground, and they are beginning to head already.

The sudden warm weather has made all the salad greens start to bolt.  All the lettuce is strong-flavored now.  Time to save seeds!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Goat Offal is Awful - Mannish Water

The weather's been so suddenly hot lately, and all of us - people and animals - are struggling to acclimate.

Last week Ethan made a long-awaited traditional Jamaican dish called Mannish Water out of the odd bits of goat offal.  He had been looking forward to this ever since so many of the goat kids last year turned out to be boys.  It consists of the "fifth quarter" of the goat - head, feet, and liver all boiled up into a stew with a scotch bonnet pepper and spices, and some starchy vegetables added like yautia and plantain.  We even grew scotch bonnet peppers in the garden last summer for this.  It's fabled to have manly, life-giving properties, which held a sort of curious fascination for him.  All year he's been playing this song:

So after much anticipation, he finally made it for dinner.  It entailed a special trip to the Latin market around the corner to obtain most of the ingredients.  The meaty bits boiled while we were doing the chores.  It smelled - very strong - when we got back, but often meat stocks will be strong-flavored until other things are added.  He even pulled out the heads and feet and tried to pick bits of meat off of them.  I was out of the room while this was going on, so I can't say what happened until dinner was announced.  The result was a pile of rough-chopped starchy veggies floating in a thick, brown liquid.

The first bite was.....goaty.  Extremely goaty.  We found that the only way we could actually stomach it was by pouring intense amounts of hot pepper vinegar all over it.  Unfortunately I had had a really unpleasant experience while skinning these particular goats.  One of them (Huck Finn) had a grass-seed abscess on his cheek - caused by a grass seed working itself into his salivary gland.  While I was skinning, I was SO CAREFUL to avoid it, because it looked so gross, but I ended up nicking it.  The whole thing exploded and spewed thick, goaty-smelling ick into my face.  I screamed and ran to wash it off with lots of soap and vinegar.  It smelled just like the Mannish Water tasted.

"It's.....okay," I said finally, struggling to hold back my gag reflex, but not wanting to be too critical, because Ethan has a self-esteem problem when it comes to cooking.  He feels like I don't like his cooking.  (This isn't true - except when it comes to things like Mannish Water, or the infamous smoked ham cooked in beer that tasted like a rotten olive).

Somehow we managed to choke some of it down.  The kids were good sports about it.  They couldn't eat the hot pepper vinegar, but they fished out the plantains.

"I'll never make this again," he professed strongly after everyone had dishearteningly pushed their bowls away.

"Never?" I said.  "Maybe we could find a different recipe?"

"I'm still haunted by trying to pick the meat off the heads," he admitted.  The children later told me that it looked like something out of a horror movie in the kitchen while he was doing this.

It could have been worse, though.  It could have turned out to be his favorite
 thing ever, and then we would have been subjected to a big pot of Mannish Water occasionally.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Glamorous Visitor

It was mayhem when we arrived at the farm yesterday afternoon.  All the piglets were out and ravaging the milking area, and a strange peacock was nibbling the rye in the garden.  We only noticed the peacock when he suddenly made a screaming noise.  It sounded like one of the children had gotten tangled in the electric fence.

He was hanging around the chicken coop, and we thought he was interested in our pet turkey, Gorgeous, mistaking her perhaps for a pea hen.  We let out Gorgeous in hope that he would realize she was a turkey and go away, but he stayed and picked around the garden (I don't think he ate any) until it was nearly dark.  Then he very quickly ran off without us noticing and we heard him calling from the tops of the trees in the woodlot to the east.

Funny to have such a strange and distinguished visitor!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Spring Cleaning

Action Shot of "Florida Sledding"

Exhausted today.  This weekend was a blur of constant work.  You probably expect that I built a dozen garden beds, or we finally finished building the pig pen to keep the little piglets from sneaking out and doing bad things, but really all weekend was devoted to cleaning the big kids' room up.  Yesterday my time at the farm mostly consisted of lying on a pile of hay and wishing I could move enough to work in the garden.

I don't usually devote that much time or energy on cleaning up after my children.
 It wasn't so much cleaning as trying to make it so they can live in their room again.

When Ethan first moved in with me, years and years ago now, that room became his room.  It quickly piled up with laundry, papers, books and abandoned projects, and eventually coined the term "crapalanche" (kind of like an avalanche, but with crap).  There was a tiny clear space around the only phone in the house.  A few times I cleaned it up for him - which he really didn't like.  The last time I cleaned it my friend came over and I showed her the incredible result.  Her response:  "Oh wow, you put a desk in!"  (No, the desk had been there for years).

After that I realized that he just couldn't handle that much space, so we decided to make it the children's room.  This was also an attempt to remove the spiky triangle blocks and sharp car toys (like the rhinoceros car - designed by someone who hates parents) from the walkway in the living room.  It was great until, in a fit of redecorating insanity inspired by Soulemama, I repainted the walls a hideous green color (confession:  I really don't like the Yolocolorhouse selection of colors.  I know she loves them and is always showing them off, but I think they are always too tinted or too bright.  Maybe it's a Maine thing.).

Of course I realized my mistake right away, but after all that work and money (you have to mail-order that kind of paint, and the shipping costs a fortune), there was NO WAY I was going to repaint it all.  So we suffered with Thrive .3 (it looked great in the pictures of her library) for a couple of years, until Clothilde was born.  Then I decided I couldn't stand it anymore.  No one wanted to spend time in that room - it was just too awful.

After many coats of primer and paint (Thrive .3 sure did thrive - through many coats), the walls are now a warm white color.  Whew!  But the improvements stopped there.  We tried putting a bed in for Mirin, but he still mostly spent the night in Ethan's bed, sparking lots of mutual complaining about cover-sharing and where Mirin's feet ended up in the morning.

For a long time the project was semi-abandoned.  I worked on it when I could.  I even hired a babysitter, because nothing is really possible to accomplish around a baby/toddler, but all attempts were thwarted by children who, instead of putting their clean, sorted, folded laundry away, dumped it on the floor.  Many occasions were devoted to this particular outcome, and gradually - very gradually - extremely gradually - I sorted through their stuff, putting Lincoln Logs back where they belonged and secretly tucking away the ugly bits of plastic gifted by well-meaning relatives in boxes destined for the thrift store.

This latter sorting led to all kinds of fits and screaming.  It didn't matter that it was a neon-pink plastic bunny in a tutu with a sappy, drooling expression on it's anthropomorphized face that the old lady next door gave them two years ago and they played with for five minutes.  They were attached to it.  So it was impossible to get the toy load down to a manageable level with them there, and for a long time it has just been stacks of boxes filled with stuff waiting to be sorted through.  If you wanted to hide something from them (like the 20 kazoos from our friends' wedding), it was easiest to just close your eyes and toss them somewhere into the room, because no one could find anything in there.  It was much more effective than the usual up-high hiding spots, which they know all about by now.

When my dad announced he was taking them all weekend to a cub scout camping trip, we knew our opportunity had come.  So that's why it was so intense.  We HAD to get it done then.  And done it is.  At last.

Friday, March 6, 2015


I am so proud and pleased that both my girls can milk!  Rose has gotten quite good at it.  I really think she could milk the goats all by herself if she wanted to.

We are planning a trip to France in May.  My great-aunt is getting very old, and I wanted to see her one more time.  Also, my cousin has children I've never met, and I would also love to take my children there to meet all of them, and to experience some of my favorite things about that area.  We have also planned to stay in St. Croix-aux-Mines, a little town very close to St. Marie-aux-Mines, where my great-grandmother was from.  We have arranged to stay with a dairy sheep farm and help out.  The wonderful farmer who will be hosting us also put in a request for me with the archives of St. Marie-aux-Mines to see if I have any family still living there.  The archivist sent me a link to records that have been kept that go way back.  Apparently they have records of my ancestors there that date from the late 1600's.  So I am very curious to experience that part of the world that my family lived in for so long.

My mom will very kindly be taking over the farm for us.  We are planning on making it as easy as possible - all the animals will be penned up with hay, close by.  We have back-up help arranged for her.    But she will need to milk the goats.

She says she is excited to learn, and has come out a couple of times to see how it is done.  I'm glad, because I think the goats need to get used to her, or they will misbehave.  When Ethan tried milking them while I was taking a break after Clothilde was born, they were really bad for him and he ended up drying them off because they wouldn't get in the milking stand or behave or anything (he has never liked them much, and apparently it's mutual). 

The first time was very hard for her.  She couldn't get much milk out, and she was very slow.  But Rose helped the second time, and I think it inspired her.  She did much better.  There's  nothing like watching someone much younger than you doing something to make you think you ought to be able to do it, too.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

In the Garden: Beautiful Veggies

All my focus has lately been on building the summer garden beds.  March snuck up on me this year!  I was supposed to be finished with most of it by now!  Every evening after I finish milking Matilda and the goats I hurry to fork up some of the cow's spilled hay and manure to build the beds with.  It's happening - gradually.  Of course all the carefully drawn out garden plans are being altered as I read more about planting millet and realize the real-life size of my garden - always something hard to estimate with off-hand paper sketches.  Because I want these beds to be permanent, I am making sure they are straight and have space for the wheelbarrow between the rows.

 Although the focus is not so much on the winter garden any more, it is still continuing to provide lovely vegetables that we harvest and eat daily.   Another cauliflower was ready - and some beautiful root vegetables - onions, turnips, carrots.  They all went into a delicious hot pot with home grown chicken stock, and some meatballs made from our grass-fed beef.

The second, and more ambitious, planting of kohlrabi has suddenly exploded, and I am trying to harvest them as much as possible before they get tough and woody.  So it's been kohlrabi, kohlrabi, kohlrabi....(my, that's a difficult word to type).

 I finally pulled the last of the turnips.  They were starting to go to seed.  I had very hastily planted them the second time, so they turned out small and runty.  It really does pay off to space them a foot apart.  The big ones we kept, but the runty ones went to the cows, goats and pigs.

We even got a surprise huge carrot among the Paris Market stubby carrots.  (they are supposed to be small and stubby).  And the second planting of daikons are almost ready!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Getting Easier

Ever since her 2nd birthday last September, Clothilde has been so much easier.  She loves to help, and is so observant of how things are done, often she just does something, to our astonishment, that seems way beyond her capabilities.

I think part of why it was so difficult when she was smaller was that she was extremely mobile and athletic long before her verbal skills caught up and she understood NO and the concept of danger.  Even when she could only sit up, she would pull herself to standing at the edge of the coffee table and get into things.  She was walking at nine months (I still feel traumatized).  Only a little while later she could climb onto the chairs, and then on to the table, and then she could push the chairs around and get to practically anywhere in the house.  Nothing was safe from her.  We had to keep our chairs tied up between meals, and she still managed to rock-climb up them.

She looks so tall to me, but compared to other babies her age, she isn't particularly tall.  I think it's because she was so small walking around at first.  I think, "That chair seat only came up to her chin!" and realize she's doubled in size.

Now that she can understand things, she has suddenly become much less of a hazard and so much help.  She loves helping out with things - often more than the big kids, who are "bored" with it.  She gathers eggs, feeds the goats hay, helps milk (yes, she actually does help milk!).  She was helping me plant seeds the other day, and picks lettuce with me in the garden.

It's so nice that our very difficult days are past, and I am no longer having to hover over her to make sure she isn't drinking out of the toilet, flooding the kitchen, playing with knives, or climbing the shelves.  I feel like I'm beginning to really enjoy her intense personality for the first time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Peace Corps and Soft Colonializm

My friend who moved away also had goats that had to be quickly relocated, so we agreed to take them (perhaps temporarily). 
I never before realized, although I have seen these goats wandering around when we visited her, what an incredibly ugly beast Brown Goat is.  She has a serious Hapsburg lip, which, supposedly being Nubian goat, is not necessarily a congenital defect.  Traditionally Nubians had overshot jaws to help them browse trees and shrubs in their native desert, but since it has no purpose for Nubian goats in the ordinary modern set-up, it is generally selected against for breeding.  Ethan was joking (rather cruelly, I thought) that this was a picture of Mirin's girlfriend.

This one, called Pan, is a kinder (Nubian/African Pygmy cross).  She is the smart, bossy one, and has almost broken our gate trying to fight Nougat through it.  Of course, if Nougat is let in with her, she hides behind Brown Goat, who is a big wuss.  They are both a good deal smaller than our goats, except April and Twilight Sparkle.

Another thing my friend passed along to us was a booklet she had received from a friend in the Peace Corps called Agroforestry Manual by the Peace Corps The Gambia.  I was excited about it because the introduction mentions Fonio, a grain we got from a friend from Mali that we are going to try growing this year.

I had always thought the Peace Corps was a force for good in the undeveloped world, but quite to my surprise, I found some very shocking things about the publication.

I think one of the problems is that the kids in the Peace Corps are all white suburbanites who have never had to really work a day in their lives.  I think they probably are well-meaning.  They only get 11 weeks of training, and are then supposed to teach people who have subsistence farmed their entire life how to farm better - and from the sound of things, not getting anything to grow is fairly common -  like the poor guy who had the school kids tending his trees that he was going to foist on the populace.  He left for an Easter break, and came back, only to discover that no one had watered his plants, and goats had eaten them all.  He was furious because no one had cared for it in his absence, and everyone was laughing at him.

 (Take some responsibility for your project, dude!  It's not like we can pick up and leave the farm for a week-long vacation without some serious compensation for who ever will be taking care of it for us - and certainly not a bunch of first-graders.)

A lot of the manual is complaining about how the local people don't want to take over the responsibility of these tree farms and projects.  I came across was this quote:

"Another thing not in your control is tradition.  One major obstacle to change in any society.  People everywhere are used to the way things are and are very reluctant to change, especially if it requires more work than the traditional way.  Of huge importance is fatalism.  If things don't work out, then it was the will of God.  The American Dream, the idea that if you work hard enough, you will be rewarded, does not prevail in this society.  For a practice to be adopted, the benefits must be obvious and demonstrated in order for people to risk trying it."

Okay, first of all, Americans DO NOT work hard.  They hardly even move themselves around anywhere.  They have to go to special buildings called "Fitness Centers" to burn off all their extra calories they've carelessly consumed.  Any real work is done by oppressed local immigrants and slaves/indentured servants overseas.   Or they have big machines that depend on fossil fuels to do the job - and Americans fight big, expensive, devastating land wars in Asia and pollute the world and are slowly killing everyone to obtain and use them.

Second of all, growing all of your food IS hard work.  Those people already work really hard, taking care of their families, livestock and fields.  Duh!  Of course they want to make sure whatever the wet-behind-the-ears Peace Corps kid is trying to sell them will actually benefit them!

All of this takes another twist when you find out farther into the booklet that the reason they are trying to get people to plant trees NOW is because the colonial powers made all the farmers remove the trees they had traditionally planted, and now the Peace Corps is trying to get them to plant them again.  (It reminds me of what Asterix would say, "These Romans are crazy!")

On a slightly related note, I read an interview with Dr. Christine Jones recently in the March 2015 ACRES USA publication.  She is advocating for earth-saving, simple changes in agriculture that are proven to be incredibly effective and have the potential to reverse global warming.  I thought this was interesting:

"If  the soil is dysfunctional, chances are the wheels will fall off when the fertilizers are pulled.  If there is a failure, the farmers will revert back to what they know...chemical agriculture." (p.62)

"I launched the  ASCAS [Australian Soil Carbon Accreditation Scheme] in 2007 out of frustration that the federal government wasn't doing anything to reward innovation in land management.  I wanted to demonstrate that leading-edge farmers could build carbon in their soils and be financially rewarded for doing so.  But my attempts were blocked at every level, including being subjected to public ridicule." (p. 65)

Sound slightly familiar?  I guess the American Dream just doesn't prevail in Australia.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Moving Away

A very good friend of mine moved away last week - to Maine (yes, in February).

We thought they would have a couple more weeks in town, but it turned out that they had to leave sooner rather than later.

We will all miss them a lot - not only were our children friends, but our husbands were friends.  We spent a lot of time the year before Clothilde and her youngest were born, doing fun things with the children.

We made lacto-fermented perogi dough, honey-sweetened marshmallows, felted crafts for Christmas.  It was so fun, and I always felt like I could talk with her about anything.  They helped us not feel quite so weird here - and that was partly why they moved away.  Because the schools are not very good here, because the culture, if you are not part of it, is hard to live with.  A lot of the culture and social groups here revolve around churches.  It's hard to find other families who breastfeed, care about what they feed themselves or their children, don't scream at/hit their children in public, ect, ect.

When I first became a mother, I felt this amazing connection with so many different women.  I felt like I could connect with any other woman who had experienced motherhood, just through the love we shared of our babies and children. 

Before Rose was born, I was part of a local mom's group.  It was supposed to be an Attachment Parenting group.  I was so pleased to connect with other mothers who believed in breastfeeding, cloth diapering, natural birth, co-sleeping, gentle parenting, non-toxic living, organic food, etc.  It was so disappointing to find that not only did most of the people NOT believe in those things, they also were very defensive about screaming at their kids, disposable diapers, and eating at McDonald's.  I eventually quit the group (after there were vengeful DCF calls after disagreements between the members) and decided I'd rather be isolated than embroiled in that kind of a social dumpster fire.

I thought I would be unhappy being alone, doing my own thing.  I was afraid my kids would be lonely, and it would be all my fault.  Because their mom couldn't fit in anywhere, couldn't keep her mouth shut, couldn't just be normal.  But I realized that being a part of that group was making me hate my children.  At one point, after I screamed at them in the car, I realized I sounded just like my mom (and some of the women in the group) - bitchy and mean and uncaring.

That was when I realized how important it is to feed not only your body with good things, but also your soul and your consciousness.  I realized how far away I had gotten from what kind of a mother I always wanted to be.

Instead of being unhappy, I felt totally free after quitting that group.  I felt like I could be whoever I wanted - I could follow my heart and soul-path to live close to the earth, close to my family and loved ones, and feel good about it.

Over the years, I have slowly healed from that experience, reached out a little to other mothers who, regardless of their parenting or life-style choices, are truly nice or interesting people.  But it has been very hesitant, because I am still afraid.  

For years now I have relied on my friend for so much...and now she will be far, far away (I have tears in my eyes as I write this).  A little nudge from the universe, perhaps, to break out of my shell a little more.