Archive for March, 2010

On Friday we sold our TV.

This is no real revelation; we’ve been without tv reception since January 2009.   Now that it’s official, that we actually do not own a television, I thought I’d check in with a report on how the year has gone.

We haven’t missed it in the least.  The time and space formerly occupied by tv was swiftly filled with music.  Listening to music, making music.  Though it’s not the piano music I envisioned in the Trimming the Fat post, we are now 6 guitars and 1 harmonica richer than a year ago.

And radio – there’s been lots and lots of radio.  I had wondered if it would be too quiet around here without a tv.   Not so in the least; public radio and local radio have provided the soundtrack to most days.  5:00 on Sunday nights has become a weekly ritual for us, marking the start of WPR’s Simply Folk program.  We drop whatever we’re doing, congregate in the kitchen and inevitably end up dancing in front of the wood stove, whirling around and around at the request of the fiddle or accordion.

I had wondered if I’d feel out of touch with news or current events without a tv.  What I’ve learned is that anything I deem to be newsworthy is covered by NPR news or our local newspaper.  Almost all of the crap is filtered out – the celebrity nonsense, the gratuitous crime news.  I can’t even begin to say how refreshing that is.

We still watch our favorite tv show online, usually from our bed.  We still pop a dvd into the laptop from time to time or stream something from Netflix, but always on our own terms, when we want.

Mostly though, without a tv, we have just been.  Taking control of the time we might have spent unsatisfied in front of the tv has afforded us more time to just be.  Talking, thinking, sharing, playing, laughing.

Forging our own reality.

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We don our work gloves for the weekend.

All kinds of works-in-progress dot our horizon.

Get a load of this plumage, Ladies!

Looming largest is the chick brooding house we shall build.  Just in time for the arrival of our 8o day-old chicks, the brooding house will keep them and their chicken dustiness contained for the 4-6 weeks it will take to grow their feathers. At that point, fully feathered, they head out to pasture to grow big and delicious.

So we’ll build that tomorrow, and finish it in time to head out for a nice dinner with friends.  Gramma and Grampa are secured as accomplices; they’re generously taking the kids for the weekend.  We’ve got no construction plans for the brooder, but Andrew has some know-how and experience building small, shack-like structures.  Hey – while we’re at it, I said, why don’t we make it a greenhouse/brooder house combo?  I’ve scored a bunch of free windows; we’ll simply add more windows to the 3 sides and one slope of the roof.  And then I can start some seedlings, saving us a boatload of money on garden plants.  Easy, right?  Cool – let’s do it.  Even from this rose-colored vantage point, brimming with optimism and a clear-ish vision, I recognize words like ‘simply’ and ‘easy’ as famous last words. Perhaps we’ll not finish it before dinner on Saturday after all.  Maybe by lunch on Sunday?  Stay tuned.

Already done is our second of 3 gardens.  This one Andrew planted with white clover seed, with the intention of grazing our broiler chickens on it intermittently.  Clover-finished chicken is, we hear, a delicacy unto itself.

Then there’s the seed garden, the third of 3 gardens, where I shall start my outdoor flower and herb seeds.  Maybe some fruit trees or bushes shall sashay in there as well; has provided me with some gregarious raspberry and blackberry bushes.  Perhaps we won’t get to this garden this weekend.

And finally, a project I predict we won’t even think about this weekend:  the sandbox.  Inspired by this dreamy play-scape, which I discovered through the genius of SewLiberated, it manifested a mere day or two after declaring to Daddio that The Boy requests a bigger sandbox, one sized for two children.  The declaration was made, accepted by Daddio, then promptly followed by a listing on Freecycle which offered these log rounds.  Daddio was quickly called off the case, opening up his project bandwidth to accommodate a brooder/greenhouse.  Handy, no?  We just need to cut a few more rounds, from smaller logs, secure them in the ground by burying the bottoms partially, then sand the tops a bit for a chubby-little-finger-friendly smooth surface.  I’ve also considered using some of the beeswax I have to lightly seal the tops.   But that’s a project for another day or weekend.

The Inspector and her assistant test the perimeter for structural integrity.

The Lovely Ladies and Gentlemen eagerly await the completion of what they hear will be a 5-star dust-bath spa.  We think otherwise and will no doubt be challenged in enforcing a strict No Chickens Allowed policy.

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Do you know the Burdock Boy?

Teething is hard, hard work.  It seems to be a perpetual cycle of good days full of non-stop smiles, interspersed with rough days of sore gums, drooling, and extreme tenderness.  It was on one of these tender days when we fell into a soothing solution entirely out of necessity.

We had been out on our weekly pilgrimage of errand-running, a marathon event that attempts to choreograph all of our in-town errands into a single morning or afternoon or entire day, depending on the size of the To Get list.  The grocery-buying part of that list usually falls towards the end of the trip, making it a sometimes dicey proposition for two children who’ve missed their naps.  Enter teething into the mix and it’s the making of a disaster.  But it’s a 35 minute drive from home to the food coop, in a gas-guzzling minivan, no less, so we can’t hardly turn around and go home empty-handed.  And trying to fulfill the shopping list at the local grocery store would only gain us blank, puzzled looks and head shakes of the ‘no, I don’t think we carry that’ variety.  Goat’s milk, miso, celeriac, tamari, seaweed, collards, burdock…not exactly the normal grocery fare.

So there we were, about to enter a firestorm of screaming and crying and maybe going without food that week.  The Boy arched his back, trying to fight the strapping-into-the-shopping-cart ritual, The Girl pleaded her case for using a child-size cart that she could push, (no way!) and we hadn’t even made it into the store yet.  I flipped into my Momma Survival mode, condensing the list to must-haves, the shortest possible route, and braced myself.  Maybe I can buy some time? Quick – what can he chew on to soothe those gums?  Scanning, scanning, scanning.  Burdock!

I handed The Boy a piece of burdock root out of sheer desperation, and he took to it like a fish out of water.  He gummed it, shredded the end with his existing teeth, and took the whole shopping trip to do it.  It happened to be the same week that horseradish root was available, and I got quite a few puzzled looks and questions from other shoppers mistaking the root he was chewing for horseradish or ginger.  Of course not, I replied, that would be mean.  (haven’t you ever seen a boy gum a burdock root before?)

This has gone on for some time now; it’s almost a grocery shopping ritual.  He’s been received with much fanfare and I suspect he may be getting a reputation as ‘that cool baby who loves burdock.’  It is, after all, a natural foods coop, where a baby chewing on something so earthy and pure would obviously be lauded with much approval and admiration.

If you’ve never yourself chewed on a stick of burdock root, you’ll not know of the unique metallic taste it has.  I like chopping it up into tiny pieces and sauteing it with the garlic, onions, celery (celeriac), and carrots that I’m throwing into a soup or baked dish.  I know that some eat it sauteed on its own (like in Japanese cuisine), but my palate is not a fan of the flavor, so I must sneak it in quietly, where it can blend with other flavors.  The fact that Errol seems to really like the flavor makes us shake our heads in wonderment.  Rock on, little guy!  I try to cook with it as much as I can because it’s just loaded with great nutrients and mildly medicinal properties.

The burdock root offered in our food coop is grown locally by a large CSA farm.  If you think it’s silly to buy a root that grows in abundance in your back yard, like I did at first, I recommend you step outside and try harvesting your own, without using a backhoe.  Report back to us and tell us how it went.  The root Errol is chewing in the above photos cost me $1.50 or less; it’s our version of ‘fast food,’ I guess, buying it ready-picked.

To really do this story justice, however, I’d need to have brought a camera with me to the Coop, to give you an honest-to-goodness visual of The Boy in the cart chewing on burdock, making other shoppers stop in their tracks.  Their approval stops just short of applause.  I suck it all up like a burst of sunshine, feeling like an awfully good mother on that particular day, quite proud of my boy who digs the burdock.  Little do they know it could have just as easily been a carrot, had it been shelved closer to the entrance of the store.

But how boring that story would be?

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Jackie’s Petting Workshop

Meet Jackie.

She is a sweetheart of a chicken, a petite Araucana with a heart of gold and a fierce knack for survival.  She was named for her somewhat “jacked” or malformed beak.  Had we known her better before bestowing the tongue-in-cheek name, we most likely would have given her something more regal, but as that wasn’t the case, Jackie she remains, though with much affection.  It’s because of this disability, however, that she’s had to overcome the innate skittishness born into nearly every chicken.  This girl has demonstrated remarkable pluck in not just sustaining herself, but in thriving, laying beautiful  moss green eggs.  As you might imagine, the simple act of eating takes on a new challenge with a malformed beak, requiring much more time and effort to get enough food into her mouth.  Because competition at the feeder can be intense during high-traffic times, like when the feeder is filled with fresh, crumbly grains, Jackie has to get creative to get her fair share.  So she hops up inside the feeder.  Or she hops right into the tub of feed as it’s being portioned out into the hanging feeder.  This fearlessness has given us a lot of interaction with her, making her the friendliest chicken of the flock.

No doubt her methods are considered uncouth by the other Ladies, who maintain a strict decorum at all times.  But Jackie’s thrown Proper Ladylike Behavior to the wind, doing what she must to eat.  She’s a classic Underdog; of course she’s one of my favorites.

This past week found another opportunity to put all of her pluck to good use.

For weeks now we’ve been fighting to keep this vagrant from marching right through the chicken door of the coop and helping himself to an all-you-can-eat corn-based buffet.  Like cows and other ruminants, the canine stomach is (I’d guess) not able to handle all that corn.  Just for a moment, imagine the daily, this-is-almost-becoming-a-habit messes of the disgusting variety that gave my washing machine a steady stream of crap for over 5 days straight.  Literally. We grasped at a solution, meditating on the steady ’round and ’round and ’round slosh of pug bedding in the wash.  How do we keep a chicken-size dog out of the coop without keeping the chickens in?  We tried selling the pug.  No luck.

Just as we were ready to load the dog into the car and drop him off in the middle of a field miles away, we worked out a possible solution.  A fence around the feeder would definitely keep him out, half-blind as he is, but should allow the chickens to hop over it and eat in peace.  So far, so good on the dog front, but of the chickens, only Jackie has had the wherewithal (or balls)  to make the leap and get at the food.  Doris, on the other hand, has made a great show of circling the fence and complaining loudly to me.  What a whiner.  I’m hoping that the Ladies either figure it out quickly or at least hang in there a bit longer while Svejk (the pug) unlearns his behavior, allowing me to remove the fence altogether.

But Jackie – you make me proud, girl!  The underdog triumphs!

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Time for a stroll in the pram

Drink this up while I regroup and gather together all kinds of goodness for the upcoming weeks.  Blogging goodness that is – tutorials, farm progress reports, show and tell….

Enjoy your stroll!

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We drink up the sun through our toes.

Photo by Isadora. (unauthorized use of the camera, but pretty good, no?)

Chuck Norris (the rooster) has spoken.  As ceremonial figure-head of the Acres, he has officially ushered in the season with no less pomp than a ribbon cutting celebration.  After carefully donning his ceremonial sash reserved for such occasions, he marched out to the yard, sidled up to an unsuspecting hen and proceeded to mount her, the medals and badges from his sash gleaming in the sunlight.  Moments later, for good measure, he mounted another.  Spring has sprung.

Also by Isadora. Also unauthorized.

The temps have been soaring and we’ve discarded our flannels, our boots, and greeted the just-warmed earth with our toes.  We’re drinking it up like someone parched, filling our days with as much as possible, for we know weather like this is fleeting in March. It’s a welcome grace period, a sort of Fall do-over, when I can finally plant the garlic, can finally rake the leaves and add them to the compost pile.  I’m hoping that garlic will be so sleepy that it will soon wake up in the garden bed thinking it was there all along.

This weather is an oasis, restoring our spirits after braving the winter.  But it’s not the destination; it’s a mere stop on the journey.  There will be more snow before winter turns and retreats.  Maybe even next week.  And that’s fine with me, for now.  I’m taking the opportunity to sneak in some spring prep work before the Actual Event arrives, because when it does, the race is on.  It is a grand tug-of-war, this struggle to domesticate the earth, to prune and cultivate and contain and claim that space for our own.  If any progress is to be made at all, it must be done before the grand orgy of plant life takes hold and swallows up the garden or asparagus patch.  This year we will reclaim some territory annexed by Sister Nettle.  This year we will reclaim the garden, annexed by Every Other Weed.  This year I will free the newly-discovered lilac saplings from their overgrown neighborhood.  To do any of this though, I must be poised, at the ready, lest these rebels take too much of a stronghold.

So I welcome this sunshine and warmth, drink it up with my toes, as I work feverishly to fortify my position.

And Errol works feverishly to CATCH THOSE CHICKENS.  Look out Ladies – he may soon resort to walking.

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You wouldn’t know it, but we have a barn.

I joined a health club on Sunday.

The brochure said they’ve got a great outdoor program, featuring a nice combination of cardio and strength training.  The facility consists of an overgrown pasture, choking in grapevines and buckthorn, and the foundation of a turn-of-the-century barn.  They cited some upcoming improvements that sounded pretty promising – there was a rehabilitation project in the early planning stages and they were also looking to bring in some sheep and day-old chicks to instruct a few classes.  Looks like there’s a really popular Fence Building class coming up and also the Build a Chick Brooder seminar, which is all the rage these days at neighboring health clubs.  Intriguing, I thought, and the price was right.  So I joined.  The prerequisites for membership were a tad strange, requiring a tetanus shot, steel toe boots, and leather work gloves.  I understood the tetanus part the moment I stepped on a rusty old nail in my very first workout.

I’ve been attending the Barn Cleanup Class, which is conveniently timed during Errol’s morning nap.  In the class, I’ve been working all manner of muscle groups, lifting barn board weights, balancing on the intermittently-placed patches of ice, filling and pushing a wheelbarrow.  I was pleased to learn that they play some kind of exotic, nature-based satellite radio station out there – lots of crane calls, (they’re BACK!) rooster crows and other miscellaneous bird chatter, and a persistent drip-drop of snow melting from above, setting the pace like a metronome.  The ventilation is great – plenty of fresh air, even some sunshine as weather permits.

Even Andrew stopped by to try out the new Chainsaw Cardio class, where he set about clearing out all of the brush strangling the barn entrances.  He seemed pleased with the workout.  I think he may officially join this weekend.

Overall, I’ve been entirely pleased with my membership with one minor exception.  If you’re also thinking of joining, I’d recommend you start slow.  You’d also do well to avoid the blonde trainer they have.  I forget her name, but she’s the one with the crazy look in her eye and no regard for limitations of time and power.  She instructed me on a Trailer Loading and Hauling exercise and I’m embarrassed to say that it was a total debacle.  Oh, it sounded so great as we began – I could tell Andrew later that I had single-handedly loaded and hauled away an entire trailer load of barn junk.  Indeed, the loading part was easy.  But the lane proved too muddy and slick, the trailer too heavy for the conditions, and the van too tired make it happen.  I laid down ashes for traction, placed grapevines and other detritus under the wheels to try to make it up the hill, but nothing could keep those tires from spinning.  Meanwhile, from the safe and cozy confines of the carseats, Isadora led an ongoing refrain of “We’re stuck! We’ll never make it!” while Errol wailed.  I grew worried about getting the van itself stuck in the mess, rendering me homebound until help arrived, so I unhitched the trailer and slowly wiggled the van up the gentle incline.  At some point of this back-and-forth, easy-does-it process, I managed to run over the trailer hitch.  Instead of the “Hey! Guess what I did today!” phone call I had hoped to make, boasting of my exploits, I instead had to make a “Hey.  Had a little adventure today…” humbling phone call.

I’m seriously thinking about reporting that trainer to management.

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Easing into another year

Birthday time is upon us this week, visiting me this time, and bringing with it an inevitable pause for reflection.  It’s much like the feeling at New Years – the chance to assess what worked in the previous year, what didn’t, the opportunity for a fresh start.  As I mull this all over, I have to ask myself when the mood of my birthday shifted from exuberant to somber.  Anyone that knew me before also knows that everyone in my zip code was given a month’s notice of my impending birthday and weekly, then daily, countdown reminders.  There was no serious “how is this life of yours shaping up” conversations with myself; my birthday was simply an all-out celebration of life – my life.  What happened to that sentiment, I have to ask myself?  And it’s not even a simple matter of getting older.  I don’t feel old (who does, really?) and I don’t think 32 is an age to be self-conscious of.  It’s in fact right about the age or the stage in life I’ve always wanted to be in.  Even as a child I yearned to be older, to be grown up and in control of the wheel; I think I’m finally here now, finally Grown Up.

So while age doesn’t seem to be causing this bleak outlook on The Birthday, I do think that Time might have something to do with it.  Time seems to be a commodity that gets increasingly scarce as the years go by, as if the world begins to spin faster and faster with each click of the odometer.  This year, in particular,  I find myself wanting to put the brakes on Spring.  (I’m wincing right now, as I imagine all of the outrage and rotten tomatoes directed at me for even thinking such a ridiculous thing)  Here, I’ve learned, Spring means a shifting of focus from inside the home to outside.  This house’s insides are so chaotic and unfinished that I can’t even fathom shifting my focus to the outside just yet – to the garden, to the arrival of 80-odd day-old chicks in a month that will have to live somewhere-that’s-not-in-the-house-or-garage until they get put out to pasture, and to the very-wished-for potential arrival of a few sheep.  A sort of reverse Spring Fever, I’ve found myself in a bit of a panic.  Every square inch of this place needs attention, it seems.  There’s painting to be done, lead to remediate (in the Boy’s room, no less), much purging to do, organizing…the list goes on and on.

After a half day of wallowing in this, on my birthday no less, I mustered the resolve to turn the ship around.  I made my own Manifestation Board.  I’ve found myself to be pretty good at manifesting things in general; imagine the extra-special-double-strength power one can have in setting lofty intentions on a Birthday!  I prioritized the goals I’m working towards, narrowing the focus from A Bazillion things to do to only a Handful.  I wrote down 4 simple things I could start with.  Maybe my head will stop spinning for a while.

To that end, I started making these burlap bins to line the above pictured shelves and help bring some order to my studio.  Because that studio seems to be the lifeblood of me, my Mental Health Headquarters.  If it’s completely trashed, (as it is now) finding any peace or calm is inevitably an uphill battle.

So here I stand, a year older, on the verge of Something Big, ready to tie up the loose ends.  I still believe this year has all the makings for a fantastic, transformative year. I resolve to make it so.

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The rate of literacy is slowly climbing.

Valentine’s Day brought with it the opportunity for Isadora to practice writing the names of her 21 classmates on each of the 21 handmade valentines she made in a two week period.  All of that writing and gluing and tape has blown the lid off of that girl’s creativity; nothing is safe from being transformed by her into art.  All paper becomes fodder for the pencil or scissors.  Anything at all could potentially be glued on to that paper.  Just yesterday I had to try to explain why the blocks (Errol’s) that she had glued to a picture she was working on were not fair game.   Simultaneously exasperated and impressed,  I sent her to wash them off while carefully concealing my Momma-pride.  That’s my girl, all right.

She’s turned into quite the little Mother Hen since donning the hat of Big Sister.  Putting her new creative skills to work, she stealthily moved her chair to the corner cabinet, took out a strip of paper and some tape, and wrote this little sign.  I found it taped above the rack of firewood in the kitchen.  Placed carefully at Errol-height, it was aimed directly at her brother and, I’m told, says “Off Limits.”

Gosh that’s good stuff.  We were sufficiently impressed, reacting with much encouragement and adoration, so she went back to her desk to pen the following note, written and sounded out entirely by herself.

She deftly taped this one above the dogs’ water dish; again it’s aimed at her little brother.  He’s taken a fancy to the newly-discovered watering hole and can traverse the entire room in 1 second flat to sneak past the guards and splash about.  And while her spelling had made significant progress, the sign has unfortunately fallen upon illiterate eyes.

But damn cute ones, if I may say so.

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