Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Night Hawk

A week ago we picked up our buck for this year - a 2-month old Nubian - from my friend Denise.  We traded two piglets for him, which worked out great because she's got tons of skimmed milk for pigs, and now the piglet load seems much more manageable (or feedable) at our place.  We had a choice of an Alpine/Saanen cross buck, too, but April and Twilight Sparkle's shrek ears from the LaMancha/Nubian/African Pygmy buck last year made us choose the Nubian.  There's no knowing what kind of mutant goats we might get from adding two more breeds in there.

He came with the name Night Hawk and has quickly worked his way into everyone's heart (except the other goats).  He is so sweet and friendly.  He loves being petted and snuggled, and even snuggles back.  He also gives nibbly goat kisses.  Clothilde is absolutely in love with him.  Yesterday Rose put her hair into pigtails, which she insists on being called "Momo Ears" after our cat Momo who she adores, so when I saw her I exclaimed, "Oh, Clo-Clo, you have Momo ears!" and she said, in typical contrary 2-year old fashion, "No, Night Hawk ears."

The big girls are incredibly, heart-breakingly mean to the little guy, so we let him out as much as possible when we are there.  They are giving him the "Mean Middle School Girl" treatment, where they stand in a group and look antagonistically at him, and shove him if he tries to join in.  Even ugly, bug-eyed little April and Shrek-eared Twilight Sparkle horn him savagely if they can catch him.  He cries pitifully when we put him back in the pasture when we have to leave. 

The first day he was with us, we tried to feed him peanut hay and barley, but he didn't like them.  He had been on regular old sweet feed, so we gave him some cracked corn, which he liked.  He couldn't graze.  We would offer him some grape leaves or tender bahia grass, and he obviously thought it wasn't edible.  After the second day he must have been watching the other goats, because he learned how to graze!  Now he won't eat anything else.  He wanders around us, nibbling at everything.  We think of grazing as an automatic behavior for runimants, but it isn't.  They learn from their mamas.  You can teach cattle to graze and eat plants they normally do not like (but they are not toxic, just not palatable), and they will teach their calves.  My friend Karen told me a funny story once about a family who rescued an abandoned calf and had a really hard time teaching it to drink out of a water trough instead of a bottle.

We had a few friends over on Saturday for home made ice cream, and Night Hawk hung out with us the whole time.  He was like a well-behaved dog for the most part, browsing around the edges of where we were hanging out until he was full, and then he sat under the table and ruminated while we stood around and talked.

Monday, June 29, 2015


We tried going shopping the other day and got side-tracked before we were out of the neighborhood by a junk pile in front of our neighbor's house.  Mirin got excited about a tool chest and an old grill/smoker.  My mom was thrilled with a collection of lawn chairs (hers are all breaking).  Rose and Clothilde made sure we nabbed a plastic slide.  We phoned Ethan from work to come with the truck and help us get it all back.

We were just loading up the grill when our neighbors returned.  They are unfortunately being forced to move.  The house they were renting was sold, and they have to move to a larger city two hours away.  They also dug out a beautiful pink tricycle from their daughter to pass on to Clothilde.  Their daughter has outgrown it, and just got a new bike for her birthday.

We are sad they are moving.  When I grew up in the neighborhood there were hardly any children living there.  One family with two younger boys I didn't like was it.  The other houses on the street were drunk bro-rentals and grouchy old people who gradually died off and sold their houses to more hard-partying students.

A few years ago, a lot of young families moved in.  We suddenly had lots of neighbor friends, and it's been so nice that my children can go over and ask their friends to play just like I did when I was a kid, instead of having a parental play-date arrangement.

They are gradually moving out one by one this year.  The other family we see often has plans of moving out at the end of the summer, unfortunately.  It feels a little like being left behind

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rain/No Rain

Clothilde is trying to make her getaway with a pile of cantaloupes from the garden.

It's funny how Ethan and I are so different in some ways, especially with the sort of people we are friends with.  Ethan's friends from before we were married are all plodding,painfully boring types.  My friends from before we were married all tend to be the drunk/depressed/suicidal/actually insane types.  Between the two of us we manage to strike the middle road and have mutual friends who are eccentric, but stable.

(I am only thinking of this because a friend from high school called me the other day, and I also ran into some of Ethan's friends).

It's funny how you change so much as you grow up - so often when I talk to a friend I have not seen from high school for years I realize just how much we've grown in different ways.  Like my first boyfriend, Ian.....I tried calling him a few years ago because I had had a vivid dream about him and I was curious to know how life had treated him.  I realized, in the middle of our conversation, the obvious reason that we had not stayed in touch - he's incredibly boring!  Still, I had to torture myself with one more conversation about his jeep before I realized that.

This is not always true, of course....there are people I have known for years who I run into again, and immediately there's a spark of friendship and sense of kindred spirit.

Yesterday there was a huge downpour in town, but not a drop fell just 15 miles away at the farm.  The streets were flooding just a few miles away.  My in-town neighbor had problems with his plumbing afterwards, and the poor pastures at the farm are still dry and crispy.  Summer rainstorms are like that.  At least my children were not photographed and printed in the local paper riding their bikes through the sewer water this time (they were about a month ago, when an even worse flood was in the neighborhood).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Creative Pickles

I thought I had gotten a lot done at the farm this weekend, but really I mostly moped around and complained about how hot it was.  It's been REALLY hot - too hot to do very much of anything outside.  It's sunstroke weather.  A little bit of pickling got accomplished, however.  I realized I had not made any relish yet this year.  Motivated by the massive bowl of cucumbers, I cranked some out.

I like relish because it's easy to cram ten cucumbers into a mason jar when you mince them up tiny.  And they don't have to be the little, charming ones, either.  This week I've had a lot of the blimp-like cucumbers suddenly appearing from where they were hiding under the dense cucumber foliage.  Some I am using to save seed (yay!  This year I only have one cucumber variety, so it's easy!), others went into the relish.

The salting is different with relish, because it's more of a shredded pickle than a brined pickle.  With brine, it's easy to add a tablespoon of salt to the jar and know it's enough.  Relish is like saurkraut - I salt it to taste.  I make it just past the point where it's salad-salty, and that seems to work.

My dill got a late start this year (but I started it from seeds I saved from the winter garden!), and looked too weak to harvest from, so I had to come up with alternative pickle ideas this year.  For the first jar I added some onions and peppers from the garden, and a generous sprinkle of mustard seeds.  The second pickle was harder to come up with.  I wanted something kind of unusual.  Inspired by my friend, the pickling goddess Jean who runs Creative Cultures, I made an attempt at a curry flavor.

I promise it didn't involve any lame spice mixes labeled "curry."  Instead I got out my much-loved copy of Curries without Worries by Suda Koul and got some ideas.  Ginger went in, and garlic.  Some cumin, tumeric, whole coriander seeds, hot peppers and even cinnamon.  We'll see how it turns out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Cowboys and Crazy Cows

Mirin riding on Geranium

It's been so hot and dry...and it's only June.  Tropical Storm Bill is sucking up all our rain somewhere in the gulf.  Somehow the grass still managed to grow, and yesterday a storm went so close to us, the thunder seemed right overhead, and I, always lightening-shy since my 5th grade teacher told a gruesome story about a friend of hers who was struck in a parking lot in town, hurried along in my chores.

The cows went out yesterday evening.  They didn't trumpet, or kick and shake their horns around as I'd expected.  Instead they bent their heads quietly, reverently, and ripped at the fresh, green grass as soon as they stepped out.  I have been so sorry they had to eat hay in June, but that was how it worked out this year.

Matilda is always a pain to bring back after being milked.  If they are grazing on the eastern half of the farm, it is easy to move the other cows and she gets desperate and hasty to get there first and eat more than they do.  But she has been the sweet-mannered, obedient one lately (in comparison).  It does take both Ethan and I to get her back, but that's only because she has no respect for me.  I'm mud, and she's too shy of Ethan to let him lead her back.  Therefore I work the gate, he shooes, and it works very well most of the time.

Geranium, on the other hand.....it takes three people to manage Geranium.  I stand by the gate and watch the antics, and Ethan and Mirin take turns encouraging her towards me.  It's quite the circus show.

You can't lead Geranium, or pull her along.  She's built like a cement mixer.  The lower center of gravity leverage you can get on tall Matilda doesn't work with Geranium.  She doesn't budge.  If you try to pull her along, chances are she'll pull you somewhere you really didn't want to go.

Ethan's trick is to lean on her back.  It's like another cow is mounting her, which is a dominance behavior among cows.  So unless she's in standing heat, it makes her run forward a little to get away.

The problem is, she's getting more and more used to this trick.  Now she cleverly evades by either running the wrong way, or just ignoring him completely.  If Mirin is leading her, she just throws him aside and charges where she wants to go, so Ethan has been doing the leading and letting Mirin try leaning on her back.  Mirin actually rode on her for several minutes the other day.  He's always asking for a horse to ride...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

You Know Your Garden is Overgrown When....

you find a wild turkey nest tucked into the zuchini!

  I came across this egg the other day, and picked it up thinking Ethan had accidentally let one of Gorgeous's eggs roll off.  But then I noticed it was in a nest!

(Gorgeous, by the way, was one of the turkeys we had raised for Christmas years ago, but Ethan kind of fell in love with her - she's very pretty and friendly - so she's been a pet.  She lays huge eggs for most of the year, so I guess it might be worth it to keep her around.)

I had seen a turkey hen pop out from over there the other day while I was working on planting the corn....I thought she was just passing through on her way to the pond.  (Correction:  it's really more of a water hole more than a pond.  It's left over from when Danny was trying to build a cob house and just left a big pit in the ground.  It's amazing how much wildlife is attracted to the tiny bit of water.  The mud around it is always covered with tracks.)

It kind of lets my mom off the hook - I had asked her to harvest vegetables while we were gone so they would get eaten instead of just being massive and inedible when we got home.  When I got back, I found a bunch of zucchini and cucumbers the size of Clothilde's legs, and a patty pan squash the size of her head.  I told my mom she did everything wonderfully, except she forgot to eat the vegetables, and she replied that she couldn't find them, which sounded ridiculous.  It's a fairly large garden, but still.  The cucumbers are right in the front, too.

In the two weeks I was absent, the weeds really took over, which is a major reason I haven't put up any pictures of the garden itself.  It looks like an abandoned field.  You have to dig around to find the vegetables.  It will feed us, but it's not a garden to brag about this year.  I've decided to just let it go and focus on some of the more important - and less cosmetic - things that need done.  Anyway, it has apparently become sufficiently weedy to raise a brood of wild turkeys in.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cows in Love

I didn't know cows could fall in love....but Isla and Explorer apparently are.  They are always mooning about each other, licking necks and goring each other playfully with their horns.  Isla is the only cow Explorer will allow to share the water trough with him while he is drinking.  It's very romantic.  I guess she's a very pretty cow with golden hair.  A few days ago I was putting kelp out for the cows, and Isla came over to see if I had any treat for her, so I scratched her forehead for a few seconds.  I swear Explorer got jealous!  He gave me a glare, and I could see his neck stiffen up the way bulls do when they want to be threatening.  It's funny to watch them - you see humans in love acting the same way.  We're not so very different as we like to think.

This weekend Ethan wasn't feeling well at all, so we didn't get all the things we wanted to done.  Instead we got hardly anything done, but I planted 200 more Dudley corn seeds.  Looking at the seeds I was given from Sally, I realized she selected her seeds very carefully.  They were all broad and round and beautiful.  Last year I saved whatever I had (nothing moldy, of course), because I wanted lots of seeds to give away and work with.  I am still learning with this whole seed-saving thing.

I went through my seeds and picked out the large, beautiful kernels, although I don't know what kind of cobs they came off of, at least they were the well-nourished ones.  This next year I hope to select from the best stalks and cobs.

I have about 300 seeds planted now, but I would like to get at least that many planted again - I think I can do it by next weekend.  There are weeds to pull and compost to haul.  In the late afternoons on Sunday and Saturday I was out there, soaked with sweat, weilding a pitchfork while the cows watched me curiously from where they were lying down, ruminating in the cool shade.

My friend who moved away to Maine this spring wrote to say that there are so many people up there who love gardening.  I imagine it's because when the soil is finally not frozen up there, everyone just wants to be outside after the long winter, and what better excuse than to putter around in a garden? 

Down here, with our sandy soil and 95 degrees in the shade, the only serious gardening types tend to be eccentric-on-the-edge-of-sanity.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Protesting Cows and the Playground Nanny-state

While we were in France we let the cows have most of the pasture to graze on, thinking it would be too much for my mom to move fences every day.  They loved it and gorged themselves.  But now that we're back, we have to feed them hay while we wait for the grass to grow.

They are not happy about it at all.  They're pissed.  When we arrive to do the chores, they're all lined up at the top and they moo angrily at us.  It's so loud everyone has to shout to each other over all the noise.  They don't understand why they can't go out and eat everything and turn it into a desert.  The calves are largely ignored now, although they do their fair share of mooing-in-protest.  I felt so bad for Sappho when Matilda ran in to be milked, and she was waiting for her mama by the gate.  Matilda didn't even pause to look at her.  She ran right past into the milking area and started gobbling.  Sappho looked devistated.  Her mom cares more about barley and peanut hay.

When we were in the Copehagen airport, we discovered a great little playground.  It was on a second story, so it was quiet and not busy, and it was child-proof gated in.  The toys were all cute and imaginitive.  There were dolls, and a huge doll house, a train set and wooden kitchen, fooze ball for older children, little tricycles, an indoor slide.  There was even a station to listen to folk and fairytales.  It was so cute and sweet and made the 5-hour layover with three children so nice and peaceful.  It had a little sign that said the toys had to stay in the play area, and that was all.  It seemed to work, too.  All the same toys were there when we came back in two weeks.

There were other children we got to meet, and I started talking with an American couple who had been living in Norway for the past year.  I asked the mother what she prefered - Norway or the US.  She said she really wished she could stay in Norway, because it was so child-friendly.  She said they had really wonderful pre-schools for the children where they took them out in the forest and had them light fires and climb trees.  They encouraged the children to play rough and explore and fall down and jump over the fires.  This idea has kind of taken hold in my mind, and I've been thinking about it a lot.

No one could ever had a pre-school like that here.  Not only would it be shut down by the authorities, the parents would also freak out if their kid scraped a knee while climbing a tree, and everyone is so afraid of snakes and insects and nature.  The idea of kids making a fire strikes fear into most adult Americans's hearts, even in a cubscout setting it is very controlled and the kids don't really get to do much with it.  Outdoor education here is about walking along a nature trail and not touching anything.  All the parks are treated like outdoor museums - there's not much of a chance for children to do anything except look.

I think the children here need Norway-style school more than anything else.  We have a long history in this country of exploiting the natural resources, without having connected to the land.  What better way to connect with nature than to play around in it?  Those are the memories that adults draw on when they remember a favorite tree, or how beautiful a creek was, or the little things they saw.  The children here play erratically, and therefore more dangerously.  Had they been able to fall out of trees when they were small and it was less dangerous, perhaps they would have a better sense of their physical selves and gravity.

I'm in the middle of planning home school for next year.  Last year I stayed home and ignored my children while I did this, but that was a hard summer.  They were so bored and got into all kinds of trouble.  This year I am trying to keep them busy.  Every day we go somewhere different - a new playground, the library, etc.  Perferably somewhere I can sit on a blanket in the shade and plan homeschool while they tire themselves out.

Clothilde is hard, because she is always doing something dangerous.  Usually I have to get up and spot her every few minutes, but now I am training her to play alone.  WIth the Norway schools in mind, I let her hang there for a minute before I go and get her down, just to be inconvenient so she will think twice about it next time.

And because I am just letting my children play (of course still keeping an eye out - if they are doing something really awful, I say something, but otherwise just letting them alone), I have realized that it is not the custom here in the US.

There is a culture of hovering over children in the playground.  Children even older than Clothilde can't just climb up something, their mom has to have a running dialogue about it.  "Alright Addison, let me hold your hand.  Watch out for your foot.  Be careful.  Okay.  Here, hold on there.  Be careful.  Don't go that way.  Okay, now slide down.  I'll catch you."

I'm sticking out from the crowd and being kind of judged on my blanket in the shade because I'm not hovering like you're supposed to.  My crazy 2-year old is climbing up things with no hand-holding or dialogue!  and sliding face-first down the slide.

There have been some interesting situations I've overheard, like the father punishing his son because the kid didn't want to play on the plastic play equiptment, he wanted to run through the trees.  NOT OKAY.  It's amazing how early the training begins here to ignore any natural curiosity or inclination and to mindlessly follow authority.

There was another time when the playground was practically deserted, and my girls were climbing up a slide over and over again and sliding down.  They were having a blast, and it wasn't like there were tons of other kids who wanted to slide down.  After awhile, two little boys wanted to also climb up the slide with them, and got shouted at and even slapped for that.  When the father started to yell at me about it (by yelling at his boys, "I don't know why anyone would go up a slide!  They're just crazy.  You have to wait for them.  Nobody's supposed to climb like that.  No! Come here and hold your leg out!") I packed all my stuff up to go and couldn't help saying something about it.  It made me so angry.

"It's time to go," I said to the girls, loud enough for him to hear.  "You would think children could just play on a playground, but no, someone has to be shouting at them constantly."

When we got back in the car, Mirin told me he hated it when I went on rants at people, which made me laugh.

It's hard living here.  I hate seeing people hit their children in public, and I hate being judged for just letting my children play like children should.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Goodbyes Are Sad

Our plumbing was back to misbehaving again, and even backed up into the laundry room, but hopefully that is all smoothed over.  It always feels like our house is on the verge of some sort of collapse.  It was the 1950's version of the modern stucco-and-particle board cookie cutter house - some things were not very well-thought out or invested in.  I guess I should just be glad it's lasted all these sixty years or so, which is WAY longer than most of the modern cookie-cutter houses will ever be livable.

Our elderly neighbor, Ms. Penny, who has annoyed us so faithfully every Tuesday evening about taking out her trash for her, is moving out.  She didn't want to, but she is having breathing problems, and her daughters are making her.  We are all sorry to see her go - she was not nearly so bothersome once we started to turn the ringer off the phone on Tuesday, and we had really liked her after awhile.

We noticed she was having problems long before her daughters did.  She could hardly make it to the mailbox to check her mail, and would call us 10 times about something because she had forgotten that she had already called.  She brought Ethan two birthday cards, because she forgot she had already given him one.  Lack of oxygen makes it so you can't think or remember.  We always made sure to check on her once a day, because we could see that she was not doing very well.

Her daughters finally noticed, months later, and they stayed around for a couple weeks.    We kept seeing an oxygen van come over every day, and a home-help nurse.  We brought over get-well-soon cards the kids had drawn and asked about how she was doing.  Her daughters were very rude, but said she was okay.  They don't like us one little bit.  I think we have too much junk in our yard, and I don't wear enough perfume or make-up to really look respectable to them.  The lawn is too long.

Now they are having her move way up to Tallahassee into an old person village.  She will be in a small apartment on the third floor, surrounded by other dying and decrepit old people.  She is having to give up most of her old treasures and furniture she collected over her life, and both of her beloved cats.  She called me last week and sounded very, very sad about it.  I tried to reassure her and told her that hopefully she would see her daughter lots, but she said no, her daughter would be working most of the time.  Lots of her other family lives here in town, so she is moving away from them, too.

It makes us sad to see how her feelings were ignored, and the aparent cold-heartedness of her daughters.  She was getting along very well with home help (and we helped her, too), and is happy here. (I can't believe, with all her breathing problems, no one has suggested she stop wearing her over-powering perfume!  The stuff gives me breathing problems, and I'm less than half her age.)  They keep telling her that she can move back if she wants to, but even I could tell that was a nice lie they are telling her to get her to leave more willingly.

It looks cruel to us, but who knows how she treated her daughters when they were small and vulnerable?  I think that she was probably just as cold-hearted, just as unconcious of their experience.  We know her now, when she is old and fairly harmless, and in the beginning she didn't like us, either.  She didn't like our yard, the children's unkempt toys, Mirin's stick collection, or my butterfly garden, and she was not very nice.  We won her over gradually with little baked-goods on the holidays, and cards and pictures from the children.  I feel so sad for her that she will not have children living next door anymore - she loved getting presents from them, and giving them presents, too.  It is too bad for us all that we have to separate everyone - children in one place, old people in another.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


It has taken a week to get used to always being hot and sweaty, but I feel like I have acclimated.  Yesterday it was 78 F, and the wind felt incredibly cool because it was not 90 F.  I have also realized how incredibly beautiful the clouds are in Florida, especially the purple, billowy ones with heat lightening flickering inside like flashes of magic.  You don't see such clouds in other places.

It has been a week and a half since we returned, and it seems like we've gotten so much done.  The plumbing is unblocked.  The garden is nearly ready to recieve the corn.  Ethan went up on the roof and fixed a broken spot.  It wasn't leaking inside yet, but it is contributing to the mold problem in my house.  Lots and lots of rotten wood was pulled away, including a rat's nest and a massive carpenter ant nest.  And I had been wondering where the ants were coming in from.  I think they owe me rent after all that.

 The calves are weaned again, which means we have to shout at each other over the noise at the farm.  The calves are putting up a big fuss, but the mamas seem happy.  They were very glad to come and be milked.  We were thinking we weren't going to milk Geranium this year, in case Ethan has to travel, but she looked so tragic and disappointed when we left her behind, I took pity and milked her after Matilda with Ethan's help.  Nutty is almost as big as the mamas.  Not exactly "robbing the newborn of it's mother's milk," as the popular saying goes.  More like "Giving mama cow a break from huge, half-grown, milk-guzzling baby."

New strictness at mealtimes seems to be working.  I didn't introduce the idea in a mean or bossy way.  Just matter-of-fact.  I think that goes a long way with animals and children.  Heck, other people, too.  We respond to the confidence of matter-of-fact, and you can still be nice.  It always amazes me how people glom onto confidence, no matter how bad of judgement goes along with it.

In any case, everything is much better.  Much less whining and screaming, and I feel happier and more calm.  Clothilde managed to fall off of her high chair while it was not in use.  She was climbing on the side of it, but she caught herself fairly well, and that was the only casualty so far.  It makes so much sense to have everyone set their own place, I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Too Many Blueberries, and New Strictness at Mealtimes

I know yesterday's writing was a bit radical...situations like that just annoy me so much.  It's appalling to me, but I realize I am a minority...things are the way they are because most people want them to be that way, even if they don't realize it.  At this point in my life, I am mostly content to just be different and leave it at that.

There have been so many blueberries lately, and everyone has been eating so many - especially Clothilde, that they have seriously affected her digestion.  I shall spare you the details, but it's been violent and grisly.

There's so much I would like to do at the farm, but it is so hot and humid, I feel like I can't move.

The sense of rest we got from travelling (even though parts of it were not very restful) has stuck with us.  I am feeling reluctant to rush back into my previous life - I enjoyed getting a perspective on things.  I knew something felt wrong in my life, but I couldn't tell what - after all, I am doing exactly what I always wanted to - have a family and a farm.  It felt ungrateful to be unhappy.

Today I realized how obnoxious my children are at mealtimes.  It goes like this:

The beautiful food I have grown, prepared, and now cooked is almost ready.  Children fighting and getting restless.  I suggest they come help set the table, and am completely ignored.  To distract them from beating each other up, I put food on the table.  They come running over, fight over whose plate is whose.  Clothilde takes a bite from everyone's plate.  Whining and yelling ensue.

The demands begin.  Rose needs a fork, and her special spoon, which I can't ever seem to identify correctly, because her favorite changes daily.  She shouts out a confusing description of the one she wants, and calls me stupid.  She also shrieks at me that she needs ice water, with THREE pieces of ice, no more, no less.  Mirin eats something off of Clothilde's plate, and she screams and starts sobbing inconsolably while he grins and laughs at her unhappiness that he caused.  I rush over with more food and Rose's ice water, but have forgotten the spoon.  Rose hits me and yells at me that I just don't care about her at all.  I only care about Mirin and Clo, obviously.

I try to sit down and eat, but Clothilde climbs into my lap and starts dunking bits of food in my water.  I try to push her off, but it's like she's glued to the chair, she's holding on so tightly.  She clambers all over me for the rest of the meal, doing unspeakable things to my plate of food and leaving hers untouched, and I eat as fast as possible until I think I might be full.  Then I get up and clean up the fantastic mess everyone's managed to make in the short time we were sitting down.

Okay, I know it sounds awful, and it is!  I can't believe I lived with that for so long!  Usually by the time I've sat down to eat, I can't even tell if I'm hungry, I feel so stressed out.  The fighting, whining, and bad things happening to my food are so distracting and awful.  And I know that they don't HAVE to act like that - they never acted this way the whole time we were travelling.

I'm not just complaining - I fully intend to make changes.  Now that I've been able to see this pattern, I've thought of things I can do:

-  Everyone sets their own place (having one kid set the table just makes for more fighting, because everyone wants to do the same thing and it never gets done.  Frustrating, but that's how it is.)

- Their place has to be set to be served.  Glass, spoon, fork, napkin, everything.

- Water is on the table.  They can get themselves ice, however many pieces they wish, but I am not getting it - especially not if they call me stupid.

- I am so rescuing the old high-chair from my mom's house and locking Clothilde into it during meal times.  I feel like this change alone will be so relaxing.

- Everyone clears their own dishes, or they don't get washed.

That's what I've thought of so far.  Yes, things have to change.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Settling in

I'm sorry for another boring vegetable picture. The garden is doing so well right now.  There's always something to pick every day.

Still settling in, there's still so much to do.  It was wonderful to go away and get a perspective on my life.  I needed that so much.

It was interesting coming home.  The day after we got back, I ran into a lady I have known for 10 years or so.  I would call her a friend, but since Clothilde was born she always says the rudest things to me. For some reason, two children were ok, but THREE....three are ruining her world.

I said hello and asked her how she was doing.  Her response was, "Are you pregnant AGAIN?"

It's very rude to ask a woman if she's pregnant unless it's very obvious.  It's true, my poor belly has not yet recovered from Clothilde (or Rose - Rose was a big baby), and I was wearing one of my drapey sundresses that billows out in the front.  It's comfortable, you know.  I had just gotten back from a 9 1/2 hour flight.  I never know what to say to something like that.  "No, I'm just fat and out of shape."?

All I said was, "No."  To which she replied, "Good, because I was going to say Stop overpopulating already!!"

This person is NOT my friend anymore.  I am not going to talk to her again.  Before I always made excuses for her.  Well, she had a bad family experience.  Well, she was nice to me before.  But after being away from that and seeing it again, it's ugliness is revealed.  It's best not to even let people like that abuse you.

It was very interesting coming back to this country.  When we went through customs to the EU in Denmark, there was a man behind a counter who looked at our passports, then at us, asked us a few questions, stamped the passports, and let us through.  It was very easy, and took just a few minutes.

When we came back to the US, however, we first of all had to fill out a stupid form on the airplane.  One of those kinds they make you fill out for Medicaid, or anything for Social Security, where the blanks aren't really well-thought out or long enough to write what you are supposed to.  We had been warned about this, becuase my dad had tried to take two sausages back, but they had been wrenched away from him by customs, probably because the US pork industry had a good lobbyist.

We only had cheese to declare, which is allowed.  To get off the plane, they crowded everyone into an over-packed bus, standing room only, with airport employees shouting angrily and still cramming in more people, even though there was an empty bus behind us, waiting.  It was like the bus to Auschwitz, except a shorter ride.

Once in the airport, they had the blue-tape cattle gates set up for us.  More low-paid officials getting off on their sense of authority and barking orders, waving directions with walkie-talkies in hand.  It reminded me strangely of public school.

We were sent to the  most non-intuitive, non-self-explanatory computer machine, where we had to fill out the form all over again - for some reason.  All around the officials were barking orders and yelling at people who they thought looked vulnerable (like in the steriotypical Soviet state).  Then it took pictures of us (I guess to perfect their facial recognition technology for military use) and scanned our passports.

But that wasn't all.  We again had to go through more cattle gates.  They didn't queue us up so much as send us back and forth through the half-full room.  We waited for a real-life woman with the practiced stern lines of authority etched into her forehead, to look at our passports, and stamp the form we had filled out again on the computer.

The luggage claim in France had seats next to it, so you could sit and wait for your bags.  No one was shouting or yelling, but they did have an 18-year-old soldier with a machine gun standing around looking bored.  The luggage claim in the US had more cattle gates, and underpaid officials.  They obviously didn't want to make it easy to get your stuff.  There were too many people to fit in the cattle gates they had open, so people naturally lined up along the entrance.  THIS was NOT acceptable to the little man who thought he was in charge.  He got all shouty, and opened up a longer line, and screamed at us, "ALL OF YOU, GET UP AGAINST THE WALL, YOU HEAR ME?  UP AGAINST THE WALL!"

Like they were going to shoot us or something.  People around us were muttering that they never wanted to come to this country again.  Someone near us said, "It's like the Gestapo!"

But we were not done.  We had to have all our luggage scanned and peered into by strangers (again).  Then we had to have our passports looked at by another person, and the stamped form, too, as if we had faked it or something.  

 It was all designed to humiliate, waste time, de-humanize, but at the same time was so incredibly useless.

There's an encouraged sense of "We are Free" in the US, but when you really see how it works, there is no freedom.  It's kind of like how we can vote - but you can't vote in someone who would actually change anything. It's all about PR. It's about keeping the masses subdued and competing with each other.

Mirin got really upset at having to wait in the long lines with all the shouting.  He was exhausted, and frustrated because it had been so easy in Denmark.

"It doesn't have to be like this!" he kept saying.  "Why are they doing all this stupid stuff?"

The only thing I could say was, "This is how our country works.  It's just like this.  This is the culture we come from."

I was impressed with how well my public school education had prepared me for the experience.  It became clear to me how it was all to create a tolerance to the cattle gates and the orders, and most of all for the sense of shame and obedience.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Home Again


We survived and are home now, and scrambling to pick everything up where we left off.  Everything seems slightly different - the goats are fatter, because my mom was slower at milking and they got twice as much barley as usual.  The cows all benefited from the spring green-up.  It is good to see some meat finally on poor little Sampson's ribs.  He was thin this past winter.

My mom washed all my rugs and extra laundry while I was gone, so everything was so nice and neat for us when we rolled up at 3:30 am after the 9 1/2 hour flight across the ocean, and a 4 hour drive up to North Florida from Fort Lauderdale, not to mention the three hours spent on lay-over in Denmark.  

We are re-adjusting slowly.  The heat and humidity seems unbelievable after springtime in Eastern France.  I can smell the mildew in my house.  I have had a rash on the back of my neck since I was six years old.  One doctor thought it was psoriasis.  Some other doctors didn't know what it was.  For years I washed my hair with toxic coal-tar shampoo, without any good effects.  Strangely, the rash goes away when I am in France.  The dampness and heat are not good for my skin here.  I'm not really supposed to live here.  There is a sense of belonging to the climate in Europe that I never experience on this side of the Atlantic.  I don't feel like I look strange there, because there are so many more very European faces, but here there is certainly a sense of not fitting in.  I couldn't bring my hat on the airplane, but I never got a sunburn, despite many days spent in the sunshine.  I had forgotten how strong the sun is here, so close to the middle of the Earth.

I was so worried about the garden.  In retrospect, it was stupid to plan a big, ambitious garden and a 2-week vacation at the same time.  All the plants were seedlings when I left, and now they are huge.  A lot of things didn't grow well or survive.  I wasn't there to pour the usual love on to them, but I am accepting it.  France was good for me.

At the sheep farm we stayed there was hardly any food.  Some potatoes, bread and lettuce.  While travelling, there were many days we had only bread and water to eat (literally), because it seems like nothing is ever open there.  Either it's the massive lunch break they take in the middle of the day, or they aren't open that day of the week for some reason.  Even Mirin got sick of bread, and Rose was sick of sausage and French fries.  Unheard of.  I harvested nettles and made soup with them just to have something green.  It was so very different from our usual diet of mostly vegetables, milk, eggs and meat.  I don't think I can stand to eat bread again for a while.

When we got home, I noticed my mom had forgotten to pick the vegetables that were ready in the garden.  She said she couldn't find them, it is so big and you can get lost.  So the first day we were back, I found Roma beans crying to be picked, too many cucumbers, squash getting out of control.  We were so vegetable-deprived for those two weeks, I made a huge salad with tomatoes and cucumbers and couldn't stop eating vegetables.  They were so good and fresh.  So I'm glad the garden is not as big as I had wanted it to be.  It will feed us, anyhow.

So now I know why I am fat.  I can't really blame the breast-feeding any more, because I know it's because I eat too much really.  In France I got by very well on about a third of what I usually eat, and was so tired from walking up mountains I never even woke up hungry in the middle of the night.  I blame the garden.  I can't let those fresh cucumbers and squash go to waste.  I won't even tell you how much salsa I made this morning.  I've never seen so many tomatillos on one plant.  Someone has to eat it.

PS:  I am posting on the previous posts of just pictures letters that Ethan wrote  about what we were doing.  Hopefully it will explain things.