Friday, August 28, 2015

Changes in the Air

May got half of a poke bush stuck on her head!

In-town it is still very hot and muggy, with clouds of mosquitoes.  But at the farm there are hints of fall.  It's still hot, and it's still humid, but there's something about the air.  The smells are different, and in the eveinings cool breezes sweep across the pastures.

My kids are desperate for Christmas.  Somehow August always makes me feel that way, too.  More because of longing for changing weather than for presents and holiday madness.  A few days ago they clamored to bake gingerbread cookies (we did), and yesterday Rose brought in a sprig of Azalea as tiny Christmas tree.

Yesterday I was surprised at how cool it was in the evening.  Huge, billowy clouds came over the Eastern horizon - the kind with lumpy faces.  They loomed over the field where I was moving the goat fence like floating lamps, flickering inside and out with lightening.  One of them appeared to overtake the almost-full moon and swallow it up.  Later, when we were driving away and it was dark, the moon escaped again, lighting up the whole edge with silver. 

 There are changes in the air.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Early Morning Sun and South Florida

On Saturday Ethan went out to do the chores very early so we could drive to South Florida to visit Ethan's Grandmother for her birthday (she's 97 this year!).
It's amazing how different it looks out there in the morning.  We are usually there in the evening for the late afternoon/sunset.  The shadows, light, and wildlife are totally different in the morning.  I almost don't recognize the place when we are out there early.

Being around Tampa was interesting.  You drive through a stretch of beautiful, marshy farmland on the way there, which abruptly gives way to the most twisted indulgence of human materialism - the stucco/OSB suburbs.

In a way, it is it's own little hell.  It reminds me of some places in California.  Everyone has either a massive, fancy car or a tiny, expensive fancy car.  I people-watched while we were driving.  It's amazing to see how ugly, mean and aggressive everyone looked.  A beefy, bloated-looking man glaring over the steering wheel of an elegant black SUV.  A hunched, decrepit-looking young man in his 20's slamming the door of a blue Corvette.  A long-nosed, cherry red sports car that you would expect to see being driven by a blond trophy girlfriend with fake breasts actually contained a bitchy-looking old hag with well-developed jowls.  She was probably that trophy girlfriend like 40 years ago.

As soon as you get to the begining of the 'burbs, you can tell business is flagging a little.  It appeared that they had rounded up the few homeless people who were hanging around the highway exit with "Will Work For Food" signs and had them dancing around in funny hats with "NEW HOMES" signs for a Happy Meal.

Ethan couldn't help joking, "Oh yes, we decided to buy this house because there was a scruffy fat man in a funny hat waving a sign in front of it!"

It made me feel sarcastic and bitter to drive past the neighborhoods named after nature.  Pine Woods, was one.  Boot Ranch.  Ooo...that one's kind of country-sounding.  So unique.  Fern Meadows.  Oak Forest, with the word LUXURY written in curly font on the sign.  You look, and all the oaks were cut down.  It's just a CAFO of cheeply-made houses as far as the eye can see, baking in the hot sun, each one a little island of toxic chemistry, paste-board, and climate-control.  There's a fancy-looking fountain and a one-brick-wide brick wall they slapped up along the drive in, to make it look distinguished.  There's a sense of trying to re-create the landed gentry of Europe, except fast and cheap.

Ethan's uncle lives in one such little neighborhood. When you get out of the car, all you can smell is chlorine off-gasing from all the private pools.  It's like the trenches.  The lawns are small and non-functional.  You are supposed to spend all your time inside if you are not driving your fancy car around.  The whole neighborhood exudes self-centeredness, a "look how rich I am" opulence, and an attitude of if-you're-not-this-way-too-you-don't-count-as-a-human.  But it's all fake.  The houses are all stucco and the 1/4 inch wide brick facade on the outside, and chinese drywall and OSB on the inside.  There's no way they'll last even 50 years, and the next really good hurricane down there will either sweep them away into a pile of rubble or humidify the glue in the OSB so much all the houses will melt like an ugly illusion.

It's a relief to drive away from it all, back to the marshy pastures and the countryside.  I couldn't help thinking then about Jean-Paul Sartre's work, No Exit.  The whole place is almost a metaphor for the parting shot:

"Hell is other people."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quote 1

Not much to say today, but I wanted to share a short quote from Louis Bromfield's The Farm, which I think is especially poignant for these times.

(Published in 1932, it is too bad that this is largely a forgotten book.  Incidentally, Ethan picked up this book at a Starbucks while he was travelling for work.  He was amazed to find it there on their book shelf, and asked if he could buy it.  The guy at the counter's reply was, "Yes, the bookshelf does have real books."  He was confused about Ethan wanting to buy it, and told him he could just have it.  There was a feeling of rescuing it from them when he brought it home.)

"Out of the beliefs and teachings of Hamilton had come the decay he had seen slowly paralyzing the government during his lifetime.  He had seen a republic, a democracy, come to be run as a business, an affair of shopkeepers and money-changers, who paid out money upon which they expected returns in laws and tarrifs and land grants.  He had come to see American citizens look upon such bargains calmly and without indignation, protest, or complaint.

For him, the bitterest evidence of defeat - the fact that the citizen, the man in the street, so long as he was prosperous, no longer cherished a sense of duty, of honor, of decency.  What puzzled him most were the men who somehow in the midst of unscrupulousness assumed a cloak of honor, men of character and wit and ability, who found virtue and credit in sharp dealing.  it was not that they were hypocrites, but that, yielding, they came to believe that bargaining and compromise and bad faith were simply a part of the new system and the new political philosophy and must be accepted as such, for the general good, but most of all for the good of business.  

He could not understand that sly admiration which citizens had for men like Judge Wyck, a man known to be corrupt and criminal, because he had been clever enough to make a fortune and escape prison at the same time.  He could not understand placing the holy affair of the government upon the level of business, nor could he understand those men who exalted material success as a God."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


I've been feeling better this week.  The weather is slightly drier and cooler (whew!).  This time of year down here is like February for everyone up north - you don't go out much, and when you do the weather drives you back inside after a little while.  At least I don't also have to shovel snow, I guess, just slap mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

Our friends who are moving just sold their house and are on their way to packing often does another homeschooling family live just around the corner and also have three children about the same ages?  We'll miss them alot.  Mirin and Rose will really miss them.  It's so nice (and unusual these days) to have friends you can walk or bike over to visit, without your mom having to be involved arranging a "play-date".

  Ms. Penny's house next to us is empty and for sale, too.  Her family put it on the market as soon as she was out, but I have heard that she is very happy in her new old person home, so it ended well.  Her family are the sort that calls code enforcement on the neighbors, so I spent all last week razing the yard with clippers and a borrowed mower (not enough elbow-room for scythe).  It's hideous, but legal.  Funny how you can't have overgrown grass, but it's fine if it looks like a wasteland.  We just love wastelands, monocultures, and sterile enviornments devoid of all life.  That's the ideal we are constantly working towards, aren't we?  Perhaps we should stop to consider this....

But this is becoming just as uncheerful as ever!  A funny thing happened with Matilda the other day.  A chicken from the coop circulating the garden got out because the wire is rusting and breaking and needs replaced.  It was extremely wet and bedraggled from having been out in a rainstorm that afternoon.  It happened to run into the milking area when I tried to catch it, and immediately began picking up spilled barley.  It was doing good work, so I left it while I milked the goats and set everything up for Matilda.

Matilda came down, and freaked out about the chicken.  She charged in and tried to trample it.

If I were the chicken, I would take that as a very strong hint to go very far away, but it didn't seem to take it that way at all.  If anything, this seemed to encouraged the stupid thing.  It disappeared briefly into the Spanish needle bushes, but as soon as Matilda was clipped in and I had started milking, it came out and started staggaring around, pecking at grasshoppers and things.

Matilda went hysterical.  She was terrified of the thing.  I was flung back, milking pail in hand, yelling for Ethan, while she stamped and kicked at it.  This flustered the chicken, and it ran back and forth under all her feet, which was probably the worst possible thing it could have done, except maybe fly at her face.  Ethan came over and chased it out again, and got it back into the garden where it promptly began scratching up the new fall garden beds.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Truth

I was just looking through the blog archives for a specific picture, and realized what a crummy job I've been doing writing here.  I'm sorry, for myself and for whoever is even trying to read here.

The truth is, I hate being on the computer.  It wastes my time and leaves me feeling icky.

The truth is, I feel angry and depressed lately.  It's not my personal life.  It's things happening in the larger world that affect my personal life.  I hate the way the world is spiraling into a corporate dictatorship, and the general populace is so pathetically compliant, so easily tricked, so foolish and brainless and impressed with liars in white expert coats.

The truth is, I miss all my friends who have moved/are moving away this year.  Three different families.  Two more are seriously contemplating moving out-of-state.  It's sad and lonely.  I have learned to be picky with who I am friends with - they are hard to replace.

The truth is, I was overwhelmed with planning home school around three children, and the fall/winter garden.  Doing something that requires intense focus, thinking, and organization around a two-year-old is incredibly frustrating.

The truth is, I am having a hard time getting back into my life after being gone....things are feeling stagnant, and at the same time like they must change.  An awful feeling.

The truth is, I haven't really been very present in my family life, or farm life - physically I'm here, but my mind is elsewhere, thinking of other things - things that interest me, things that frighten me, things that make me angry.  I've been unanchored.  My hands have been idle from knitting and creating (my last knitting project feels interminable and discouraging - it was another attempt at tiny yarn, tiny needles, and throw in an uncertain pattern of my own design....disaster.)

I will try to do a little better here - especially when we start home school again in September.

(Oh, and the picture -  it's a reminder to myself.  Things might seem shitty, but that's what makes the garden so lovely and fruitful)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

In the Jungle

This is a picture of the garden.  I know, I can't see it either.  It's a massive jungle of weedy plants, with some yuca poking bravely out.  The roselle is there, too, somewhere.  I've been working on my fall/winter garden now, fighting the jungly chaos with scythe, wheelbarrow, and pitchfork.  I have four of the usual beds - they just look like hay on the ground at the moment.  This weekend I will be starting seeds.

Most of the garden is so hopelessly overgrown, I know that without a bushhog there's just no getting through it.  The problem is that the rabbits hide in the weeds and will eat all my fall garden if it isn't knocked back some.  You would think they would eat the weedy stuff, but no.  They prefer my garden.  If there are no weeds, they can't get across because a big, old owl comes out of the forest and hunts around the garden every night.

I had an idea - that the goats would LOVE to be put in the garden to eat down the weeds.  It's all stuff they like and eat through the fence anyway.  Bidens, tall grasses, a wild sunflower, wild melons.  The only problem was if they got out and ate what was left of the garden.  The roselle is just about to bloom, and I know from experience how they like to strip it to bare sticks.

Now that the weeds are well over my head, I realized I don't care so much about the five roselle plants.  I would like to be able to get to the table where I started my seeds this spring and move it to a more accessable spot, and not have to machete my way to the site of the fall garden.  On Tuesday I moved their electric fence over, setting it up around the most impenetrable part of the garden.  The goats watched me with trepidation from where they were waiting around the milking paddock.  I kept saying to them, "Just wait, I've got a treat for you."  I thought they would explode in when I opened the gate - after all, they are always leaning through the fence to nibble stuff in the garden and get in whenever they get the chance to wreak havoc.

To my surprise, they were not at all sure about the whole being-allowed-in-the-garden thing.  Only May, the bravest and bossiest now that Nougat has found a new home, poked her head in.  She sniffed around while the other goats went around the open gate and nibbled through the fence.  I had to coax and shoo them in.  Once in, they crowded around the gate and looked pleading.  "Go eat!" I told them.  They wandered slowly in and got lost in the greenery.

Next day when I went out, I was greeted by the saddest, most pathetic sounding bleats.  I had obviously cruelly abandoned them in the jungle.  They looked particularly fat, but they were not happy.  It's just not the same when they're allowed.  When I tried to put them back after milking, they took off running as fast as they could towards where they had been stationed before, by way of a strong hint.  I was heartless and made them go back in the garden where they disappeared among the towering weeds again, bleating pathetically.  I guess I still just do not understand goats, even after all these years with them.  Perhaps no one can really understand goats!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rain and Wild Pumpkins

This is one of our wild pumpkins the pigs planted.  They are all different shapes, but this one looks like a pure Seminole pumpkin to me.  Other ones have longer necks, and you can tell they are also something else...trombocino?  Tahitian melon?

It's growing, loving all the rain we're getting.  The past week has been an immersion in different types of rain.  Mostly it has been one kind of rain - biblical rain.  The kind that lasts for forty days and forty nights.  The pastures are thriving.  I'm not sure I've experienced storms this way before at any other time in my life.  There's something very intimate about being stuck outside in the weather - you see the inside of the storm, the guts and bones and filmy membranes.

These storms have been intense.  Intense rain, intense wind, intense lightening and thunder.  I've never been exposed to it so much before.  Yes, it usually rains alot in the summer - and we often get drenched.  These storms seem more ferocious than usual.

When you're out there, the rain, the storm closes everything.  It's just you in a small, small, wild world.  The birds are hiding, the animals are hiding, the butterflies and flies are hiding.  The ants are hiding, and you think, what the hell am I doing out here? But the darkness is closing in all around, every moment the earth tilts farther away from the light, and there are things that must be done, even as the world shines yellow-green in the weird pearly storm-light, you have to keep going.

You have to keep going, swimming ahead through the silver, thrumming curtain of rain, between the trees flickering and flashing, the lightening cracking across the whole sky, searching the earth....looking for you?  The thunder rolls around and around, the dripping leaves tremble on the trees, you tremble, even the sodden, squooshy earth quakes.  It's very dramatic.  You feel alone with the world, fighting your way through, streaming wet.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Little Pumpkins

We hardly got any pumpkins from the neglected garden this year.  The squash vine borers really got them badly while I was away.  After last year's harvest of over 40 pumpkins, I am disappointed.  I like pumpkin - it is wonderful baked, in soups, or sliced up with radishes and pickled.  Even pumpkin on the stove top with garlic, olive oil and tomato sauce is very good.  Everyone else says they are glad there are hardly any pumpkins.  Ethan says he is still sick of pumpkin.

I had to roast these now, as none of them are very good keepers.  One of the Table Queen acorn squashes was incredibly sweet and tasted like some kind of dessert with chestnuts.  It was delicious.  Definitely more of them in my garden next year.  The good news is that some wild Seminole pumpkins seem to be taking over up by the pigs.  From feeding the pigs vegetable scraps, a little garden grew up there.  About five or six big vines, and there was even a cherry tomato.  So far we've got four medium-sized pumpkins from those vines.  They look like Tahitian Melon/Seminole pumpkin crosses.  I'm definitely saving seed from them.  Any pumpkin that can self-sow and bear fruit without any care is a keeper.

I has been very, very wet, and most days end in being soaked to the skin.  Yesterday was cool even, down to 77 F when we were out doing the chores.  We got so much done, even though it was raining lightly.  The fall garden is being built.  I hope it keeps up, because I have plans for it, you know.  Big plans.

 Otherwise I've been doing a lot of reading lately.  It has been awhile since I really read a lot - I was busy with other everyday things.  I've really enjoyed the studying I've been doing for next year's home school.  The cultures and stories are all fantastic (India, Ancient Persia, Babylon, Egypt), but my recent favorite has been Count Like an Egyptian:  A Hands-on Guide to Ancient Math.

It's a great blend of culture, history and easily explained mathematics that offer a totally different perspective on basic arithmetic, fractions, decimals, and number patterns.  It's a text book written in a very nice, easy-to-read style, and even though I am really no good at math, I am able to grasp it, and it has even been helping me fill in the gaps in my math education.  It takes me a long time to study over the ideas.  Someone who was good at math would probably already be done with this book, but I have to mull things over.  The one chapter about place value I had to read about ten times before I understood it - and then I learned something incredible about decimals that I had never realized before and was never explained to me.

 I missed a lot about decimals and fractions.  I moved to a new school in 5th grade, and also tested into the Gifted program the same year.  At my old school, on the poor side of town in the normal program, my class hadn't done anything harder than long division.  Fights and violence often interrupted the classes.  It was normal for there to be a fight once a day either during or after lunch.  The first day at my new school, I wondered who would get in the first daily fight.  To my surprise, there never was a fight, not once all year.  And that wasn't the only thing that was different.

All of a sudden I was in a class that was reviewing multiplying and dividing fractions and working with decimals.  No one stopped to ask if I had ever done this math before.  So I just sat quietly in class and failed (I was extremely shy).  I had no idea what the teachers were talking about, but because they talked about it as a review, I just felt like I ought to know it already.  My parents felt the same way.  They thought that if I was smart I would just somehow catch up with the class and be able to work with math notations that had never been explained to me, and if not I was dumb and deserved to fail.  It turned out I was dumb, and I failed.  I had always thought I was smart until 5th grade. 

So it's really nice to be able to catch up on things now.  I have to, for homeschool.  Once you get into Algebra in middle school, you don't have a chance to go back and catch up on some of the very basic things like that.  I know that sounds very worrisome, since we are home schooling, but Ethan was always good at math, so he can always step in and explain things where I can't.

There's something about the Egyptian gets in your head.  You start seeing things a different way.  I read Ethan some sections to see what he thought about it, and he complained of having dreams of Egyptian math.  That happened to me last night, too.  After a floundering dream that didn't work out the way I hoped it would, I found myself dreaming about multiplying numbers by two-thirds in Egyptian notation.