Monday, October 31, 2016

Tired Puppies

We picked up two Great Pyrenees puppies on Saturday.  They are still little roly-poly bundles of fluff, but I could tell that they had grown since we had visited them just two weeks ago.  Everyone was so excited.  Puppies to play with!  We have never had a puppy before, having gotten our previous dog Belle as an adult dog.

We also had a wedding to go to that day, so we didn't get to play with them much when we got them to our house in town.  We made them comfortable in a dog kennel with hay in the bottom, and made sure they had plenty of food and water.

We left the wedding early and let them out to romp and play a little before putting them up for the night.  They are very calm as puppies go.  They mostly sniffed at things and poked around.  They discovered our cat Teasel, who was NOT happy to meet them, and seems to think we have been cheating on her.  There was a bit of yelping as Teasel made everything very clear about her availability as a play-thing, and after that she just sat off to the side and stared aggressively at them.

After an hour or so we tucked the puppies back into the kennel and got them comfortable again, and went to bed.

Around midnight, we were woken by loud whining and yelping.  I ran out to make sure the puppies were okay.  I let them out, and they peed and romped around a little.  They seemed to be lonely.  They have just been weaned from their mother, and I think they are missing her.  I stayed out with them for awhile, listening to a loud game party a few streets down that shrieked with laughter, horrible music, and the stupid things that drunk people shout loudly to each other in the middle of the night.  A surprising number of cars drove by.  After awhile I was tired and the mosquitoes were biting, so I put them back and went to bed again.

It's always hard for me to get back to sleep again after being woken, but I managed to until I was woken out of the middle of an anxious dream by whining and yelping again.  Ethan and I both got up and went to check on the puppies.  We let them out again, and they peed and sniffed around.  We tried putting them back in the kennel after that, but they immediately started whining again.  This time it was the time of night when everything is very, very quiet - except for our puppies.

They clearly didn't want to be in the kennel, and seemed to have boundless energy, so we put them in the back yard and secured the gate, thinking they would be happy to explore.  That lasted about ten minutes back in bed before they were yelping and carrying on again.  At this point, it was somewhere around 5 am, and so Ethan decided to just get up with them.  He sat outside with them and watched the sun rise.  By the time I got up around 8, feeling more sleep-deprived than I remember being with newborn babies, the puppies were exhausted and flopped out on the driveway.  Mirin was up, and tried to play with them, but they moved away from him and went back to sleep.

We took them out to the farm after breakfast, where they napped most of the day.  Just before leaving we tucked them in with the baby goats and drove away, happy with the thought of what a good night's sleep we were going to have without them!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Planning For Abudance


Last week I finally got the first part of my winter garden built and planted.  The surviving starts were settled carefully in, and radishes, turnips, and lettuce were seeded.

This year, above all other years, I am planning for abundance.  We need it.  This lean season has felt leaner than any season before - the cows and goats dried off at the same time, chickens moulting, us without an income.

These days are anxious, full days, and the little green glimmers of the brassica seeds unruffling their tiny heart-shaped leaves gives me hope.  Rows of greens, rows of radishes and roots.  I hope that these things will see us through to better times.

The pigs have been a big help in the garden this season.  The summer garden gets so jungly, with impossibly high woody weeds, like small trees.  You have to fight your way through just to walk across, and clearing it is an impossible task.  In previous years, we rented a bushhog (yes, that's what it takes).  But why rent a bushhog, when we have bush hogs?

The rabbits have already been less of a problem because of the open ground.  A few evenings ago, I was milking the two remaining lactating goats at dusk when a huge, old owl flew down and perched on a pine tree that looks over the East side of the garden.

The pigs are also revealing all the cracked 5-gallon buckets I had used to transport compost to the summer garden.  Gosh, I had no idea I used so many.  I recall many times reaching for another bucket from our stack of retired "compost quality" buckets when the one I had been using had seemed to vanish - probably swallowed by the choking gourd vines or something.  Well, now I know where they ended up.

The bare ground will not be exposed for long.  The pigs will soon be moved elsewhere, and clouds of rye, oat and radish seeds will be sown on top to eventually make way for the summer garden of next year, which I am already looking towards with a scheming and thrifty eye.

Rose's Ninth (And A Nausicaa Dress)

Today is Rose's ninth birthday.  She has the last birthday of the year in our family, and it is always so hard for her be last.  I think that's why she always insists on a little extra celebration - like two birthday cakes, instead of one (they are the same kind of cake, at least, so I just double the recipe and use different fruit in the filling - actually much easier than Mirin's ice cream cookie dough cake.)

She set a precedent this year by making a little treasure hunt with clues for Clothilde's birthday, which Clo loved.  Ethan made a treasure hunt for Mirin's birthday so he wouldn't be disappointed (it was at the farm and David the buck ate one of the clues.  We know it was him because the half that was left had buck-shaped teeth marks in it).  So Ethan made a treasure hunt for Rose, too.

She was worried that she wouldn't get any presents this year, since Ethan lost his job.  Luckily, I spend all year collecting ideas for birthday presents, and buy them ahead and hide them away.  I always go with "Something to wear, something to read, something she wants, something she needs."

Usually there are a couple of extra things that land in the "something she wants" category, but it keeps it simple and narrows it down to presents that will be surely loved and used.  I can't tell you how nice it is to have a birthday without the distraction of having too many presents!  (There really is such a thing). 

A few years ago, Rose saw the film Nausicaa, and was captivated by the strong character of the princess of the Valley of the Wind.  This led to her having an argument with some other little girls about what a princess really was!  (The other girls said a princess has to have a fancy dress and a crown, but Rose said that a princess wasn't just dressed-up, it was someone who was a leader of their people.)

She has been reading the Nausicaa comic books by Hayao Miyazaki, and asked for a Nausicaa dress for her birthday.  I haven't sewn anything since Clothilde was born, for obvious reasons (just the idea of having the iron out around her gives me heart palpitations).  I thought maybe this would be like a Disney Cinderella costume that is easy to find and fairly inexpensive.  But no....a Google search revealed that Nausicaa costumes are over $100!!  And they usually only come in sizes for adult women who are into dressing like Manga characters.

Rose insisted I also look up "home made Nausicaa Costume" online, and we found a couple of blogs of crafty mamas who had put together Nausicaa costumes.  One was just different wardrobe items put together, the other was actually sewn from various patterns, one of which was no longer available.

I was going to say sorry, we'll just have to put one together from what we already have, but Rose was SO disappointed.  So I said if she watched Clothilde while I was sewing, I would try.  Besides, we are studying measurement for homeschool, so it was a perfect real-life learning opportunity.

Although my grandmother was an incredible seamstress (to help support her family in wartime France, she left school after 8th grade and worked for a dress-maker), I never learned from her - one of the biggest regrets of my life.  I have had to teach myself sewing.  I am terrible at following sewing patterns, because I learned sewing by copying clothes I already had and drafting my own patterns.  I have a distrust of other people's hem margins.  Every time I've tried sewing from a pattern, it always comes out funny.

This task was daunting.  The costume has a collar, complicated appliqué, belt loops, and a helmet.  I have never done any of those things!  I warned Rose that this could turn out to be a big disappointment, but she (said she) didn't care.

We carefully picked out the right shade of blue fabric, made sketches based on the comic book drawings, and started measuring her and drafting the pattern.

I honestly don't know how I managed to pull it off (no one in my family realizes how incredibly hard of a task this was....they have not hand-drafted and sewn a pattern for a specific person from a comic book drawing before).  The collar was a challenge, the appliqué gave me a headache, and the helmet was only saved from being too small by a few scraps of cloth I had saved out.  But Rose is just delighted with it, and after all, it did turn out to be recognizably a Nausicaa dress.

I'm afraid this might set the standard for birthday presents a little higher than I'd like it to be, but I am glad to have been able to make something she loves so much.  And it was nice to do some sewing again - it gave me hope that my sewing machine and I could collaborate more in the future.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Piglets and Puppies

Last week we brought all the piglets to their new home at Full Circle Farm.  They were able to duck under the electric fence, and had been becoming more and more of a nuisance.   It was cute having them drift around like a group of little spotty sausages, but they would get into mischief - they knocked over potted plants, got into the garden, and rooted everything up around the sink.  Ethan had to cut one of them out of the electric netting one day, I had to dramatically scare them away from the milking area on a regular basis, as they could easily slip through the gate.  BAD piglets!

They got harder and harder to shoo away because Clothilde has been gradually taming them.  They used to squeak and run away like the Big Bad Wolf was after them if anyone without a bucket got close, but since she started "scaring" them back inside the fence, they quickly learned that it was no big deal and became bold and fearless.

They were fairly easy to catch by putting a dish of food down inside a dog kennel, but then had to be caught and lifted into another cage in the back of the truck.  I worked the cage door, and Ethan did the really hard part of grabbing them and being deafened by their horrible squealing.  They really don't like it when their feet leave the ground.  Our friend PJ was also helping, and recorded it as a ring tone for when her family calls.

I was worried about the squealing upsetting their mama, Star, but she was busy making more piglets right then with the boar, Tresspassers William.  She was DONE with this particular batch, and had been trying to wean them.  She wouldn't lay down for them any more, but they would still stand up and nurse while she was eating and distracted.

After dropping off the piglets, who seemed none the worse after their long journey (perhaps a little dizzy), we looked at some Great Pyrenees puppies.  We are going to be bringing one home in a couple of weeks as a new livestock guardian dog.  And oh my!  I did not expect them to be so incredibly roly-poly cute!  We have never had a puppy before, having gotten our previous dog, Belle, as an adult.  So much fun to look forward to, but I think the challenge will be to still have a livestock guardian dog, and not a pet.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

School and Homeschool

Mirin has so far survived two weeks of his new charter school, and has even gotten to experience a hurricane day.

This charter school has some great things about it:  project based, creative, drama class on Fridays with an old acquaintance of mine, Capoiera instead of PE.  There is a lot of good energy behind this school, and his former homeschooling friend we met at a co-op meeting is also attending.

Mirin was initially very worried about being in school.  His spelling is not good, and he is a slow reader.  He knew we wanted him to have higher standards than he was being held to in homeschool, and more discipline and focus.

He has so far said he really enjoys school.  He has already made friends.  He is delighted that there is actually less discipline and less rigorous academic requirements than in my homeschool.  A lot is done on computers, with games, so he is enjoying this distraction that would not be tolerated at home.  There are copious amounts of junk food he has also been enjoying immensely.

And in homeschool, Rose is now flourishing.  It was always very difficult to try to get Mirin to focus on his studying because he was always provoking the little sisters into fits of rage or tears while I was busy with one or the other.  He would spend all day being a nuisance, would accomplish absolutely nothing except a lot of whining and complaining, I would be completely drained of energy and fed up with him, and the sisters would be fractious and close to hysteria from being pestered so much.  It has been so nice to spend time with my girls.

I also LOVE not being responsible about his education (or actually the lack of) any more.  This was a big issue for me.  We have lots of concerned family in town.  The harder I tried, the less he seemed to care.  I spent hours pouring over books about different education techniques.  I scoured the internet for fun ideas.  I invented stories and games just for him.  Everything was geared to appeal to him as much as possible, to cater to what he wanted, what he liked, and as a result he hated it all and scorned it.

And when he refused to learn, it wasn't his problem - it was my problem.  Everyone came to me - I wasn't trying hard enough, I wasn't qualified.  I wasn't doing enough.  It was my failure, not his.  This was very unhealthy for both of us.  I feel freed from this, and I was glad to hear my dad lecturing him about trying harder in school.

(Another thing I have realized is that my homeschool is actually quite good.  The Math he is learning in school is stuff we were reviewing this year from two years ago.  He claims that what I considered minimal effort for 6th grade level was actually much more rigorous than is expected at public school for writing and thinking.  Maybe instead of Standardized Testing, the schools need concerned relatives breathing down their necks to improve standards.  It gave me such a sense of inadequacy, but it made our homeschool standards sharp.)

On the other hand, he is very, very stressed out.  He comes home snarling and swearing.  He does nothing creative, he only craves the screen and idle distraction.  He has lost his mature homeschooler demeanor for an obnoxious manic blabbering and erratic jumping around that I have observed so often in kids just let out of school.  I was not expecting this change to happen so fast.  I think part of this is because the 6th grade class is notoriously badly behaved, and every day I hear stories of how a teacher just gave up on the class, there was a fight, someone was expelled, a teacher was in tears, he couldn't hear what the teacher was saying because the class was so disrupted.  So while he is not being bullied, like our last school experience, but I am also not happy that he is surrounded by such strong examples of disrespect and disorder.

So we are really not sure about this change.  I am very glad he is so happy and making friends, but it is not providing what we wanted:  more discipline or higher educational expectations.

(I want to clarify that the other grades at this school are reportedly not like the 6th grade at all.  This class is particularly rowdy for some reason, and is giving the staff a big challenge, so please don't form a bad opinion about this school just based on our experience of the 6th grade!  It is a great school, and there are great people working there with wonderful ideas.  I think they will sort it out, but they have only just gotten started as a school.)

Friday, October 7, 2016


I am writing from the blustery aftermath of the dreaded Hurricane Matthews.  Obviously, I have power still, which is far better than the last hurricane that came through, although the media excitement wasn't as built up the last time.

Yesterday my mother called me in a panic, insisting that her students were claiming that Matthew was a massive hurricane that was due to hit right down the middle of the state and wipe us off the map.  I managed to calm her down, and reminded her that her students could hardly understand the rudiments of biology, much less a hyped-up media report. 

We did tie down the chicken coop lids this time, and we stocked up on hay and water for the animals.  Otherwise, I am fairly sceptical of the melodrama about storms hitting this area.  Don't misunderstand me - I know the damage was quite bad in other places.  Here in the middle of the state, we tend to be spared the worst.

Since I slept through the whole of "The Storm of The Century" at age eight, way back in the 1900's (ok, it was only in 1993, but I like the sound of "back in the 1900's"), I just don't get that excited about them.  Of course it sucked to have our electricity go out last hurricane, and when Mirin was a newborn in 2004 we had no power for a week - but that was less a testimony to the powerful winds than it was to how pathetic the transformer is on our line, and how incredibly incapable the utility company is when it comes to hurricane preparedness (why are electrical lines not buried in hurricane areas?  It seems so obvious).

The storm was supposed to hit us around 1:30, so we made plans to go out early to do the milking.  Of course we are late everywhere, so the timing turned out for us to arrive at the farm at 1:30, rather than be inside, safe and dry, at that point.

As we got in the car to head out, Ethan turned on the radio to check on the storm announcements.  The voice on the radio was saying how you should not, under absolutely no circumstances, be out driving on the road, and went on to emphasize that there had been a tornado watch in the next county, and anyone who went out driving today was just asking for it.  We shrugged and turned off the radio as we pulled out of the neighborhood.  Ethan did swerve around the road a little while driving, but it was only because he was trying to drink coffee at the same time, rather then because of high winds.  There was hardly any rain or wind, and most people seemed to have taken the radio announcer's advice, so there wasn't any traffic, and I actually felt fairly safe on the way, except for the aforementioned swerving.

At the farm, in the very teeth of the storm, the cows and goats were placid.  The cows were lounging under the oak trees, ruminating, and the goats were all excited about a pine branch that had fallen in their paddock. 

The chores went well - the baby goats were convincingly pathetic from under their shelter, so I gave them an extra scoop of feed.  The worst part was having my head rained on, because I have misplaced my amazing Chinese cooly hat I always wear, and I hate having my head rained on.  We are just getting over a nasty head cold, and my hair gets all musty.

Even during the most exciting blusters, I gauged the wind to be about a 5-6 on the Beaufort scale, which is only "gale" and at least six degrees south of "hurricane".  I am beginning on my second year of helping with weather journalling for homeschool, so I am fairly adept at it now.  I have been out doing the chores in worse storms that were merely summer thunderstorms, and at least it was cool, the rain was intermittent, and there was no lightening.  I don't mind hurricanes, but thunderstorms are terrifying.