Archive for February, 2008

Buttons in Winter

Is there anything more lovely that buttons in winter?

Enough said.

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Books are the new coffee.

We were completely out of coffee today. Completely. Not even the back-up espresso was there. In fact, today is the second day in a row without my liquid ambition. Andrew and I have developed an unabashed dependence over the years. When I was mulling it over in my very sluggish head, I found I could count on one hand the days without coffee in, say, the past 5 years. Probably longer. Which would explain my lethargy yesterday, my pounding headache, and my complete unwillingness to do much of anything productive, like go get some more coffee. Kind of a vicious circle, right?

So I was taking a nap of my own while Isadora was also napping, and heard a THUD on the front porch. We have a steel roof, so it’s not uncommon for big heaps of snow to slide off and land with a similar sound. But a soft, persistent word popped into my pretty-much-sleeping subconscious. books. books. booooooooks.

And sure enough. There, on the porch, was a box of books I’d recently ordered. As I tore open the box with the closest box-opening tool on hand (a pencil, which broke) I had an instant flashback to those shining days in grade school when our book orders would come in. You may remember the Scholastic book catalogs that would be sent home every week or in a sort of guerrilla sales tactic to prey upon their captive audience. Well, my Mom sure didn’t fall for that – we can get all the books we want at the library. (she was always the savvy consumer) So each week went by sadly watching all the other sorry suckers open up their boxes and pull out the stacks of books they got swindled into buying. Except that one time. That one time, I too was among them, and gleefully collected my 1 book: 50 Simple Things Kids Can do to Save the Earth. Guess I had it in me back then too.

Back to now, though. The first book is by of my favorite bloggers, maybe even a mentor of sorts: Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol. Her blog is called “angry chicken“. I read it compulsively. I already know how to sew, thanks to my wonderful Grandma, but I had heard so much about the book and thought I could still pick up some great tips. Just wait till you see what I make….

The other books are mostly an answer to my “what do we do all day together?” questions. I’m only recently a full-time stay at home mom. And I’ve still got a bit of the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome going on. Just what should we be doing?? We’re watching WAAAAY too much Elmo. And Pete’s Dragon. And how do I get anything done?? So I turned where I always do when faced with uncharted territory: books. Found some great recommendations on Waldorf-type learning and Un-schooling and other “alternative” types of teaching/learning philosophies from SouleMama, another blogger I read compulsively.  I’m interested in learning just what un-schooling is.  Sounds right up my alley.

And then there’s a beautiful picture book called Mother Earth and Her Children: A Quilted Fairytale.  Mother Earth and sewing all in one book?  How could I resist?  We try to remember to thank Mother Earth for the delicious food at each meal, so this seemed like a good way to illustrate who this Mother Earth woman was.

Somehow, in all this excitement from opening my books, I completely forgot about the coffee.

And then I quickly packed up Isadora and headed into town for a shopping-cart full, with a vow to never, ever run out again.

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Today is our 1st Four-Egg Day!

I’ve already mentioned that we inherited 15 laying hens with the purchase of our house here. And that it was the icing on my cake. Well, we soon learned that the “all-about-chickens” learning curve was a steep one, indeed. Neither of us knew a fig about chickens – how often they layed, what roosting was, how the eggs got fertilized, etc. (sad that we made it through our levels of higher education without picking up any of this now-crucial info)

But we inherited a turn-key setup, which helped immensely. The coop was there, in operation, with nesting boxes, roosts, and everything else you need, so we were able to squeak by for awhile without knowing everything you need to know about chickens. And, (the best part) there is a motorized door that opens to their run (outside play yard) that’s on a timer. It promptly opens at dawn and closes at dusk, keeping all the predators with a chicken dinner on the brain safely out. And there’s also a light on a timer, too, which makes sure they have at least 13 hours of daylight and tricks them into laying year round.

For the first two weeks, all we had to do was take the egg basket out, collect the eggs, and top off the food and water. During this time, however, we had an additional 7 hens, which the previous owners were going to take with them, so the egg output was pretty high. Like 6-10 per day! Soon we had an entire refrigerator shelf full of egg cartons bursting at the seams and were starting to accumulate names of potential egg customers. And then the 7 boarded hens went off to their new home in Minnesota and our remaining 15 ladies went into a tailspin. We found ourselves lucky to see 3 eggs per day. Then 2 eggs. Then none.

Panic! What’s going on??? I RAN to my all-about-chicken book for help, then RAN to the computer for help. Found Mad City Chickens, (what a fantastic logo they have!) joined the Madison Chicken Chat. (giggle) Long story short, it seems they were molting – regenerating some feathers and taking a little R&R. I tried reasoning with them: “NOT the best time to be without your feathers – it’s frickin’ COLD!” “Really. A record-long cold spell right now.” and “Pleeeeaasssee. If this keeps up, we’ll have to buy eggs at the store…”

And it was a sad day when the uniformly-brown eggs rolled by on the conveyor belt and landed in my canvas grocery bag. Sad indeed. For a month this went on. Then….

1 egg! Then….2!

And it was only 2 weeks ago that we experienced our first 3 EGG DAY! (which was a little like winning the lottery)

And now, here we are at 4 today. If this keeps up, I’m going to have to dust off the egg basket again.

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Lingering dialogue with the Goddess of Fire

This is where the Goddess of Fire lives. At least in our house. When she’s happy, she lights up all blue and vibrant and positively radiates heat. Which heats up the water in the pipes, which then travels to wherever we have summoned it: shower, kitchen sink, washing machine. And when she’s displeased, oh, there’s no glow, no radiating anything at all. And the water coming out of the tap is as frigid as when it left the depths of the earth, drawn upward through our pipes.

I’ve been gone from the blog for a few days, negotiating with this Goddess of Fire. All in one day, we found ourselves out of firewood, hot water, and had no oven. Well, we got more firewood, finally replaced our defunct oven, but the struggle continued with the hot water heater. I thought I had “fixed” it that first day. (i jiggled something and it magically lit)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You see, when we first saw this house, we were THRILLED to see it had a tankless water heater. Pretty ‘green’ and efficient. And the previous owner spoke highly of the company who manufactured it some 15 years ago, a French company. Another plus – a good company, in Europe. (because tankless water heaters are the status quo there)

Normally, a problem like this would fall into the Husband category of our informal division of labor. But here I am home all day, with much more time and access to information. Theoretically, at least. And this project clearly presented the need for more info. A quick call to a local plumber confirmed our suspicions that this unit was rather obscure and would be costly (time consuming) for a plumber to fix. And we had the manual, a handy trouble-shooting guide, and some spare parts, so I decided to take the challenge. (I was also in the middle of booking a tropical vacation for us and was not going to let the unexpected expense of replacing a water heater get between me and my Piña Colada.)

So the aforementioned success with “jiggling” was short-lived. Next, I actually read the manual, did some rudimentary troubleshooting, and was able to replace an orifice, which was among the spare parts we inherited. That success lasted about 4 days. At that point, I decided to get out the big guns, and overnighted some obscure, shiny new parts to replace every component involved with lighting the pilot and (most importantly) keeping it lit. When they arrived, I not-so-patiently waited for naptime to arrive, so that I could try to do this without the “help” of Isadora.

Finally. With .pdf instruction sheets in hand, I formed my strategy and swiftly replaced each of the components. Not too shabby. Now, to light it… Oh! Some extra flames coming out of a joint that’s not supposed to be on fire! Turn gas off, disassemble, tighten joint. Except I seemed to, at that precise moment, experience a surprise surge of adrenaline (giving me super-human strength,) and inadvertently SNAPPED THE MISERABLE thing in two.

Perhaps, at 4:12 pm on February 22, you heard a SHRIEK followed by some brief sobbing, then swearing and wondered “what is that noise”? That was me. Right before I heard the telltale voice of a 2 year old that said she wasn’t napping, after all. And right before I made a shrieking phone call to the Husband to “COME HOME NOW. She’s AWAKE! And I just broke the *&%$#@^%$#@! and need to fix it and (here the shrieking intensifies) I’m greasy and disgusting and NEED A HOT SHOWER!

Luckily, I was able to salvage part of the non-shiny, old component to replace the one I had wrenched in two.

And by the time the Husband got home, we were fresh out of the shower, all sweet-smelling once again. I triumphantly took my super-hero cape and threw it in the wash (hot water!) so that it would be nice and clean for next time.

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Ladies and Gentleman, we have a Mobile!

About a month ago, I decided to participate in a mobile swap. The jist: I make a mobile, send it off to some lucky recipient, and then go wait by my mailbox for mine to arrive. A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me. I’ve seen lots of swaps out there in the crafty underground, but this is the first one that reeled me in. My friend Meg, at Elsie Marley organized it and set up a Flickr group for everyone to post their results.

True to myself, I waited till the very last minute to finish it. And start it. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying – I was really fired up to start it after getting my swap-ee’s name but then crazy, crazy life got in the way. And that sinus infection. So here I am, on the very last day that these are to be mailed.

I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.

My swap-ee is in London, so I had to narrow down all my ideas to ones that would be light and not cost a fortune to ship. I had this beautiful lacy paper left over from our wedding invitations. (Which I made, painstakingly, each and every one, by hand. A pretty good sign that you’re marrying the right man: when he helps, doesn’t complain, and seems to understand that it’s absolutely required that we make them ourselves)

A little papier mache here, some hand sewing there, a walk outside for some grapevine, and a mobile is born. Beautiful.

Adding it all up, I think the photographing, blogging, and packing up part will take longer than the actual construction of it. Which took me about 2 episodes of Sesame Street. Give or take an Elmo’s World.

I’m really amused by how my daily thought process has changed with the advent of this blog. I find myself planning out my activities in snapshot format, wondering how they might play out online and then chide myself for being so contrived. And then I rebut my criticism: it’s DOCUMENTATION, not performance. Yeah, right.

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A Brief Reflection on Winter

This Idyllic Winter

Wow. What an idyllic winter it has been. From a postcard perspective, not from a shoveling or snowblowing perspective. I know that the weather has been making epic displays all over the country, but from our vantage point there seems to be some correlation between living in the country and buckets of snow almost every day. It’s irrational, I know – there are buckets of snow falling almost every day in the very city yard we just moved from. Even so, this winter, being our first here, is setting the standard for all winters to come. It’s setting some sort of rule by which we are slowly getting to know this land: HERE there is lots and lots of snow. And it’s beautiful – as it falls, as it clings to the branches of the trees we can see from every window, as it sparkles like diamonds in the sunlight.

It’s a rather rose-colored approach to this seemingly endless parade of snow storms, I know. But in my not-so-distant memory are all of the winters in the past several years with record high temperatures. Last year there were golf courses open in December because of the lack of snow and spring-like temps. And a few years earlier, a friend’s bachelorette party skiing trip was canceled in Dec. for lack of snow. And a few years before that, we were turned away from the local ice skating rink on Valentine’s Day because all of the ice had melted to slush.

I have to say that this is the first winter in a LONG time that hasn’t made me feel depressed about global warming. Finally we have a winter that’s reminiscent of my childhood winters – chest-high snow drifts that are big enough to tunnel through and regular snow falls and a healthy blanket of snow that lingers all winter long.

Here in Wisconsin, this is what winter is supposed to look like. I take a lot of comfort from that, and feel like maybe things aren’t too far gone…

Blah, blah, blah. I’m still feeling just like everyone else I talk to, though. I’m sick of all of the snow too. Dreaming of warm, sunny beaches with umbrella drinks and all the clichés that go with it. And when, in the very same day, we have no hot water, oven, tv reception, or wood left, I’m at the end of my ropes. Enough already.

But at least that’s how we’re supposed to feel in February.

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Introducing…Work In Progress

Symphony in Red

Ah, yes. Work in Progress. If you make anything at all, chances are good that you too, have your own WIP collection. If you’re anything like me or most other crafty folks I know (that includes YOU, Mom) you have an almost menacing WIP Mountain bursting from random drawers, closets, nooks and crannies like forlorn orphans with little hope of ever being finished. Why is it that we are SO excited to start something new and rarely as driven to finish it?

Whatever the answer, I’m pretty motivated to finish this one. It’s a rag rug I’m making for our bathroom. This bathroom is lovingly tiled in black, white, and teal tiles. Yep – our good ol’ friend Teal who graced us with her presence in the early ’90s and then was exiled from the fashion and home decor world for good. Exiled to this bathroom, apparently. Since we’re not keen on removing perfectly good tile and replacing it with our some of our choosing, I’ve concocted a strategy to tone the teal down a bit. A big part of that strategy: covering up large parts of the tile floor with big, beautiful rugs in colors so saturated you don’t even notice the teal anymore. I’m not a big fan of most of the ready-made rugs out there and we also don’t have big piles of cash laying around, so it seemed inevitable that I would make our own rugs. And doesn’t the definition of “Farmhouse” include a requirement for rag rugs? Made by hand? From leftover, reused scraps of fabric? Mine does. This one’s made from thrift shop clothing that I cut into 1″ strips and crocheted together. I call it “Symphony in Reds”. Not so creative a name, but I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turning out. What do you think?

I really, really love that all of the fabrics are from second hand sources. Not only is it incredibly satisfying to turn this:

Raw Stock

into this:

but there’s a very real sense of connection to all of the women throughout time who have taken the materials they hand on hand to make something functional and beautiful for their family. Before our world became disposable, that is.

For those of you who see this and think I’m something of a genius, I must disclose that many, many people have made, are making, and will in the future be making rugs using this same process. I got my instructions here and adapted them to a rectangular shape. And our first rag rugs were made by Emily, who makes them and sells them on her Etsy site. Ours have been washed a million times now and look just as good as when we bought them. Totally durable.

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Keeping it Real


Just in case that first post seemed a bit High-and-Mighty, here’s what was going down while I was writing it. While I was too immersed in the blogging world, there was an incident with a stick of butter. Two-year old Isadora has been know to get into the butter on occasion. The evidence is still being collected and analyzed, but I’m guessing the missing parts ended up here:

I’ve clearly got some work to do in the multi-tasking arena.

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Welcome to Five Green Acres!

Home Again Home Again, Jiggety Jig

Hello and welcome to our little slice of The Good Life!

In the hopes that you don’t ALREADY have enough blogs to read compulsively, I’ve decided to chronicle our journey here, in this virtual green space. I’d love for you to join us vicariously, as we begin to forge this new life.

What new life, you say? Oh yes, of course…

Three months ago, we set out on a journey. Leaving our city-sized starter home and our city-sized yard and our city-sized neighborhood behind, we packed up and moved to the country. Yep. These City Mice decided that it was time to put on our Country Mouse hats and blaze a new trail for ourselves. We decided, rather suddenly in fact, that we needed SPACE. To grow our family, to grow food, to grow our minds. Our New Home Search derailed very abruptly from the “biggest-city-yard-we-could-afford” to a very different track entirely, one called “The Farmette”.

And somehow, the home of our dreams found us: a spacious, well-loved Victorian home nestled in five acres of rolling hills. Oh, and there’s also a pristine trout stream in our back yard which pretty much sealed the deal for my husband. The Chickens sealed the deal for me – 15 beautiful laying hens that were the icing on this delicious cake. All this, and we’re still within spitting distance from our beloved city.

The Lovely Ladies

So here we are, beginning our transformation. From here, we will grow our own food (that’s veggies, herbs, and some meat too,) produce our own energy, make by hand as much as we can, and hopefully instill in our growing family the skills, values, and little nuggets of wisdom that we’re able to pick up along the way.

To be fair, we acknowledge that we’re certainly not the first to undertake such a journey. Scores of folks before us have made this pilgrimage “back to the land” and undoubtedly scores after us will do the same. Regardless, this journey is our own and we bring to it our unique perspectives. We’re a young family: Andrew and I are both under 30 (though not for long!) and Isadora is almost 2 1/2. I was trained as a fine artist and have transformed these skills into making functional art for ourselves and our home. Most recently, I’ve begun my training as an herbalist, which is a journey unto itself. Andrew is also a rather skilled Handyman, and brings what is perhaps the most valuable to the table: Patience. He acts as the grounding rod which helps our visions take root. And we’ve not strayed too far from our roots: both Andrew and I grew up in the country, with a strong foundation of family, hard work, and home-cooked meals. Speaking of food, we’ve developed a bit of a Foodie status during our time in the city. Honestly, with access to such great, diverse food, who wouldn’t? You can expect lots of talk to come of what we’ve grown, prepared, and enjoyed on our plates.

Have I hooked you yet? Join us – the journey promises to be honest, colorful, delicious, and no doubt humorous as we forge this new path.

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