Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A tiny forest, algae and fungus....

A beautiful little forest clinging to a small, dead branch.  It is like a galaxy on to itself; independent, fragile, vulnerable, living out its life on a precarious limb.  

Frog eggs or Newt?

Notophthalmus viridescens - Eastern Newt
We watched their dance, male and female locked in a struggled embrace.

Two were silent.  Quiet, unmoving, still locked in their embrace.  Was the passion too strong?  Did their struggle overwhelm them?  It was sad.  The water did not move while the sun blazed across the surface of the pond.  I stared in silence.  Why this moment?  Another newt glimmered in the corner of my eye and I turned my head to follow him.  

The two dead lovers still haunt me, floating there at the bottom, waiting to complete the circle.....

Erythronium americanum - American Trout Lily or Yellow Adder's Tongue

They stand shoulder to shoulder. 
 Lined up, watching each other.  Small, curious faces reaching up from the forest floor.  It was unnaturally warm here today.  It felt like an intrusion, confusion.  There are no leaves on the trees to shelter us from the burning rays.  I think it was the abnormal humidity, the deep, burning heat that invaded our April...

Kerry's favorite spring wild flower

Two happy faces jump and splash.  It began as a walk on the edge, then off came the shirts, knee deep became head first and then, mud bath.

My long haired boy!
A covered bridge.  New, replacing the old.  The town rebuilt her, nail by nail, the story goes.  A youthful prank burned the old one.  Oxen and men slid this one in place, the old way, in honor of the fallen one.  Every nail, every board, all the effort, the entire town came.  
The ritual still survives; horns blow from the heart of the covered bridge.

Melissa officinalis - Lemon Balm

I have extended my nature journal to include a study of the herbs in my garden.  One by one I am going to draw and describe them in my journal.  I think that by doing the study I will remember the details.

Here is a page from my nature journal.  We laid on the grass in front of the stone wall for hours and talked about lichens until it was too dark to see.  

The little red insects?  Ticks, soft bodied ticks.  I thought they were precious little spiders until I put on my glasses...ticks.  They looked like tiny red skinned potatoes.  I still haven't identified them yet.  Do you know what they are called?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Six hours later...

My son has gotten so excited about his nature journal.  He carries it around with him every where he goes and correlates every bird observation he makes to the evolution of dinosaurs.

So, I had to make him a nature satchel.  I started yesterday afternoon and worked straight through (except for chores and dinner) and by bedtime (my bedtime) I had finished the bag.  I used scraps of fabric I have had since he was a baby and had just enough to piece together a fun bag.  I used some nice weight, choco-brown linen I had on hand and lined it with two layers of washed, stiff duck cloth.

The outside flap has reptiles; one side panel, frogs; the other, turtles; the handle has insects and the back panel has a strip of fish (from the inside lining fabric).  I also added a pocket with a Luna moth under the front flap just in case he finds some rocks.  He has a whistle, a compass, his paint brushes, water colors, a jar covered in wool for water and tonight I am going to make his color pencil pouch.  He showed it to his friends today with pride.  I was so happy that I could create something that he loved so much.
I told him how my mom used to sew things for me and how I always felt so special when ever I would wear them because I knew she made them for me.  I used to feel so safe and comforted falling asleep to the sound of her old Singer sewing machine whirring away at the dinning room table.  I remember just sighing knowing that she was sitting there so close.  He fell asleep to the sound of my machine while I sat in my sewing room creating something special just for him. 

I hope he remembers his bag the way I remember the cool, Burda, lemon-yellow jumper my mom made me in seventh grade, the one with the chrome hooks on the front.  My mom is from Germany and her sister sent her the Burda magazine regularly.  I remember when it came, we would pour over it at the kitchen table and dream about making something different and fashionable.  It was my mom's little glimmer of home.  I remember feeling so lucky that she could sew and that she would be willing to sew something for me!

Here is a picture of the outside in pieces.

The green, tropical fish scene is the inside lining.  I made little pockets out of scraps of fabric I have been hoarding for years.  

He loved the wave pocket, it reminded him of his days surfing with his dad at the Shores in California.  I used duck cloth to make a pocket for his paint brushes and magnifying glass.

I also made a batting lined pouch out of the insect fabric to carry his water colors.  I'll post the pictures of his little jar with wet felted wool and the pencil & paint pouches later.  

I can't wait to show his bag to my mom.  

Saturday, April 18, 2009

May the light of your soul guide you...

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

John O'Donohue

"A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen."  

"Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless. Regardless of how we configure the eternal, the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, that place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of life's journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now."
      from Bless the Space Between Us

I reached into a box of watercolor pads today and put my hands on a thin spiral pad with a plain, unattractive cover.  I thought to myself, "no, not this one" but I lifted it higher and opened it to a page I had, in very neat, very tiny, black words, written the poem "May the light of your soul guide you".  And I thought, "Thank you".  That was the message I needed to remember this very moment and thank you John O'Donohue for your love.

The fruit on the tree....

It is a cool, overcast morning.  It is 60 degress F, the air is moist and the sky is grey.  It feels colder than 60 degrees, brrrrr.  After we finished our chores my son and I quietly walked out into the world. We try to find all of the new growth around us as if we are on an Easter egg hunt.  We bend, stoop, gently move mulch and dead leaves all the while  calling out "look here", "oh my, this wasn't here yesterday" and "wow".  It is like a song we sing to each other every morning.  It is almost comical how we unconsciously use the same exclamations on every outing.

Can you figure out what wonderful plant is unfurling here?

Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum

Narcissus in the herb garden

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, peaking out of the dead leaves. 

The haze in this picture is light reflecting off of the cold frame glass.  We moved this cabbage into the cold frame in early September.  We also planted carrots and lettuce in early September as part of our homeschool work.  We planted late and thought we would just see what would happen.

We made a primitive hoop frame for the cold frames and covered them with plastic that we had found on a roll in the basement.  It was thick and heavy, I don't what its original purpose was but it worked great over the frames.  It was a bit stiff, this year we are going to try double-hinged glass windows over the top of a few of them instead and compare the difference.  Eliot Coleman recommends the plastic tunnel over the cold frame, it makes sense that it completely encapsulates the frame in an envelope of air, but a guy at the Vermont Solar Festival last year got great results with double, opposite hinged panes of glass.  He would open one panel in the day and close them both, overlapping on themselves at night.  We always find and pick up discarded windows at the transfer station (where we take our trash every week - it is like a smorgasbord of great treasures and the perfect place to catch up on all the town news).

The temperature inside of the frames was always about 20 degrees warmer (give or take) than the outside temp.  Snow fell in December and that was the last we saw of our carrots and lettuce.  By January the frames were covered in snow, we couldn't even see them anymore and by late January I stopped scraping the snow off the top of the plastic.

The snow melted away a few weeks ago and we pulled back the plastic tunnel.  There were small, greyish-green carrot tops and very green lettuce.  The picture above was taken about a week after we removed the plastic sometime after the vernal equinox.

Here is a picture of the box about a week ago.  The lettuce gets bigger every day and the carrots in the center of the box that get most of the sunlight are big and green.  I set the frame over a chunk of chives and a few dandelions too.  The chives are up and ready to eat.  Without the plastic the temp stays about 10 degrees warmer than the ambient air around it.  We also found that three of the four cabbage plants I scooped up and stuck in the frame just for the heck of it came back too.  I had heavily mulched that frame because we were nursing our Swiss Chard for as long as we could so the cabbage were nestled in deep straw. I packed straw around the outside of the frame between the wood and the plastic too.  So we may get some early cabbage this year!

We started our nature journal yesterday.  I am using the Ana Botsford Comstock book, Handbook of Nature Study, as my guide.  I have also been inspired by my girlfriend Jenny.  She has turned me on to so many great books, like Edith Holden's journal and Enid Blyton's Nature Lover's Book, and so many more that I could make a list.  I love the beauty of teaching my son from these books.  I love the Burgess books too.  I feel that I yearn for the innocence and magic conveyed by these authors and this time in pedagogical history.  Rudolf Steiner, Beth Sutton - who wrote the Enki curriculum fits that category, Charlotte Mason,  and many, many more.  I studied history, art history and social sciences in college.  I went back to get my teaching credential.  My focus was in special ed when "special ed" was the term they used to describe children with unique learning styles, behavioral issues or learning disabilities.  I had some amazing teachers in my day.  One in particular was Dr. Kent.  I wish I could remember his first name so that I could give him the proper honor he deserves here.  He was an elderly man and started teaching in the public school system way back in the late 1920's.  He had such a different perspective of teaching, more so than any of my other professors at Delaware State College.  His stories were magical.  He had high expectations for us as future teachers and set an amazing example.  He was one of the first African American students to attend his college in Ohio.  His philosophy of being a teacher was very Charlotte Mason/classical ed with a sweetness and compassion for his young students.  He cherished the young mind and believed in play, in music, in art and poetry.  He embraced individuals and honored the quirks and idiosyncrasies of his students.  It has been more than 18 years since I sat in his class and I can say that he was a great teacher.  His style of teaching and the classrooms that he created have all but vanished from the public school landscape and what a shame that is for the millions of students that spend most of their life within those walls.

I read the first section of the Comstock book in preparation for our lesson.  She writes; " Nature study should be so much a part of the child's  thought and interest that it will naturally form a thought core for other subjects quite unconsciously on his part...it is legitimate and excellent training as long as the pupil does not discover that he is correlating...and if later his teacher had asked him to write for her an account of some part of it, because she wished to know what he discovered, the chances are that he would have written his story joyfully and with a certain pride..." (p. 16) and "If questions do not inspire the child to investigate, they are useless.  To grind out answers to questions about any natural object is not nature-study, it is simply 'grind'..." (p.22)  I only quote this because that is exactly what happened in our little room in the middle of the forest yesterday.  We watched the chickens, we looked at the feathers, we talked, I told him about the feathers as if it were my story.  A fire grew in his eyes and he took off.  We had been reading Edith Horton's journal so he had an idea of how he wanted to create his and drew pictures and wrote descriptions and couldn't wait to share his journal with his friends at oration day.  He even said to me, "Look how much I wrote!  I didn't copy it or have to be told and I tried to use all the big words I knew so I would sound like a palaeontologist." 

That is beauty in motion.  That is why I homeschool.  That is the fruit on the tree.  He loves to learn, it is enough, he is doing well, I am a good teacher.  

That is the question I ask myself and agonize over as a homeschool teacher/parent "Am I enough?" and the answer is YES!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The turn of a century....

As I watched the movie Miss Austen Regrets last night I was reminded of how solitary life could be for a woman of the past.  The social constraints were like chains for many until well after we fought for our right to vote.  If a woman wanted to learn, to be independent, to be active outside of the home, she was considered by many to be different, difficult. I thought about the postcard to Veda Maud and how she conveyed in words her loneliness.  It seemed to me that she felt isolated, she missed the women in her life, even the company of a passer-by.  

It wasn't just the big battles that freed us, it was the little, everyday things that women changed by putting their reputations, their family connections, their financial security at risk so that they could live life more fully, defined more by themselves and less by "society".  Thank you to those brave women who walked through the door first and left it open for the rest of us.

Some of the social mores were born out of the need for security and evolved into definitions of how a proper young lady should behave.  Without a man to do her business a woman lived outside of the margins of "society".  That is where most women lived.  There were more poor, working, tenants than handsome, landed mistresses of beautiful Victorian houses.  The old shacks fell down, the beautiful houses were maintained.  Class structure ruled the day.

Work was hard too.  Just think about our water.  A  woman hauled every drop of water that she needed, unless there was a child old enough to help.  It was considered women's work to fetch the water and women spent most of their time indoors using it.  Life was labor intensive.  I read that at a "North Carolina Farmer's Alliance meeting in 1886 they calculated that one woman in attendance walked 6,068 miles from her outdoor pump to the kitchen (60 yards from her door) in the 41 years she lived in her home". *  She walked to the pump anywhere from 6 to 10 times a day.  Women also carried the dirty water back out too.  It wasn't until the mid-1920's that most homes in the U.S. even had indoor plumbing.

                 *from Strasser, Susan. Never done: A history of American housework. NY, Henry Holt & Co. 1982. p.86.

The children.  The lovely, sweet, innocent children.  

Our son is the sun we revolve around, we are drawn to his every word, his very being like an apple to the ground. He is our joy, our light, the heart in our home.

These are the pictures of everyday things and the images of the people who share the journey.

And, the animals.  What a luxury it was and is to have a horse.  Pigs, yes; cows maybe; chickens, definitely; horses, if you were lucky.  I found some amazing pictures of the family horse.  People were proud of their horses, they were a symbol of success.  But, most people walked everywhere they went, horses were expensive to keep.  I imagine how different my life would be if I walked every where.  I would be healthier for the walking I am sure.

The entire economic structure of the U.S. changed around the turn of the century.  Mass production made our tools and food cheaper.  More people could live a better life.  More people left the farm and traded their time for money.  They had a chance to get things that before might have been out of reach.  But oh, the price we pay for unbridled growth and "prosperity".  It seems every nook and cranny of our beautiful planet is polluted by our success. It seems that the things that were offered to us in our journey towards more free time may in fact be killing us or making us sick and sterile.  And what about the animals?  What gives us dominion over them?  How can we ever make amends?  What things can we give up?  How much do we really need?  Can we as a massive population in a hindered, crippled economy find the middle way?  Are we ready to be honest about our consumption?

Peace, namaste.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

For Veda Maud

"Dear W.  I went to Morrisville yesterday to see about a coat at a sale.  Did not get one.  Guess I'll wait now and see yours.  Tell me when it comes please.  We were over to Rufies Gun.  Had a nice visit.  They all seemed so glad to think we come.  Dina dressed up in white. R. played on his violin.  I am piecing for quilts, finished 50 blocks to-day.  Wish you lived near.  Cora & Vesta & baby were over at Wills to day.  I did not know it till they got bye going home.  She always used to stop but never does now.  Comes over quite often  Why she never stops now I dont know.  I would like to seen baby & all.  Sometimes I get some lonesome to see Jericho. If there was snow we would go as R. has got to see to the pump  & some other things down there.  Uncle Henry wrote me his wife is improving in different ways, please tell [H]astie the good news. Come over & write.  Card is for ducklin with a kiss."

A very early embossed card I got for one dollar.  How sweet.   I have been piecing a quilt but I can say that I did not finish 50 blocks today.  I still wish you lived near.  We weren't meant to go it alone, even with our electric machines that save time.  We miss the hands that carry, the hands that help, the hands that hold.  The voices that sing, the voices that whisper, the voices that soothe.  Maybe not every woman back then was blessed with strong, loving and supportive women in their home or in their lives especially when they were so dependent on help.  The world has changed but we still need each other, why not start a quilting bee, a knitting circle, a kaffee klatch?  Why not pop in to a nursing home, a soup kitchen, or just stop by the neighbor's house? We need to stay close to the women in our lives, to lend a hand, to speak from our hearts.  My heart goes out to the lonesome.


My amazing girlfriend Stelladanza researched Winnie M. Lamonda and found that she was born in about 1882 in Canada.  Her husband Hartson P. Lamonda was born about 1875 and they lived together in Hyde Park, Vermont in 1920.  Veda Maud was her 6 year old daughter and yes, Winnie could read and write.  Danke liebschen....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Unconditional Love...

Unconditional Love

"Look forward to your transition.  It's the first time you will experience unconditional love.  There will be all peace and love, and all nightmares and the turmoil you went through in your life will be like nothing.  When you make your transition, you will be asked two things basically: How much love have you been able to give and receive, and how much service have you rendered.  And you will know every consequence of every deed, every thought, and every word you have ever uttered.  And that is symbolically speaking, going through hell when you see the many chances you have missed.  But you also see how a nice act of kindness has touched hundreds of lives that you're totally unaware of.  

So concentrate on love while you're still around, and teach your children early unconditional love.  So remember, concentrate on love and look forward to the transition.  It's the most beautiful experience you can ever imagine.  

Vaya con Dios!"

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD
from a cd entitled Graceful Passages Instrumentals

Happy faces of sunshine, renewed hope, new journeys, 
peaceful hearts, kind wishes.....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The farm

We enjoyed two warm days of sunshine and now we have rain.  April showers bring May flowers, it is all a part of the cycle of life.  So, my pictures capture the overcast skies but, that is the beauty isn't it?  

The chickens are doing well and ready to emerge from the coop my husband and brother built last fall.  The ground is thawing and we are now able to dig the post holes for the permanent yard we want to put up.  

We plan on moving our flock around the pasture this spring and summer behind the grazers but for now we need a yard for them to play in.  We love our little coop, we built it from scavenged wood and windows.  The frame and siding came from a shed we took down on the property and reassembled farther back in the yard.  We did buy the feeders, hinges and chicken wire though.  We built the nesting boxes out of the old bread drawers from this kitchen and used the drawer runners as legs.  The hens didn't lay in them open but, instead went under them.  So, I built a little box to fit on top from left over wood from the barn.  We put the coop at the back of the yard facing south, it is very sunny and perfect for our girls and guy.  So far we get about 8 eggs a day.  Our flock is currently 9 hens and 1 rooster, his name is Rex.  We let the kids name them this summer.  Spotty, Whitey, Cat, Katie, Bander, and Smokey are the original girls.  We adopted three geriatric girls, Petra, Juana and Maria in early November.  Juana and Maria were renamed by my niece, Lauren, at Christmas.  She calls them Katie Kate and Katie Kate Katie.  She also named our Rhode Island Red Katie, and wanted us to call her Katie so I think it is safe to assume she LOVES the name Katie.  We have been getting one giant egg a day, looks like a duck egg with deformities in the shell.  I read that it is a sign of an older layer.  We all change when we age don't we?  The book recommends culling her from the flock, but there won't be any of that here, she is staying.  I just love her for laying her eggs. We had to separate Petra from the flock and put her in the hospital cage.  It is always a good idea to have a back up small coop for the sick birds way ahead of time.  The flock picked on Petra and started to pull out her feathers.  They became so aggressive that she had sores on her wings and was getting roughed up regularly.  That started when I went to the hospital.  I think the protein balance was off, too much scratch.  We give them scrapes from the veggies too and half of a cabbage a day.  I keep Petra's hospital room right next to the coop and they talk back and forth all day.  Once we get the yard fence up I will reintroduce Petra.

Late last night when I couldn't sleep I read through the book "Smale-Scale Livestock Farming" by Carol Ekarius.  We were inspired by Joel Salatin's book a few years ago and now that we actually live on the land we want to be good stewards, there is so much to learn.  It was a quick read and I liked the author's voice.  I liked the formulas for animal units per acreage and the little stories about "real" people on their farms.  The book gives you basic, light information on every thing from the roots of grass farming to marketing , animal husbandry, goal setting and planning, it is definitely worth checking out of the library.  I am kinda nerdy so I like the worksheets, balance sheets and budgets.  There is even a few pages with details about butchering chickens. So now I am going to sink my teeth into "Grass Productivity" by Andre Voisin.  There is a lot of beef in that book.

We have been reading so much about making our own soil for the raised beds we just built.  We used the left over wood from our barn to build them.  It is locally milled, rough sawn pine. We moved in on May 25 last year with our seedlings in tow.  We had an unusually rainy - cool summer and with the hard pan soil, rocks and huge granite shelves we had a lot of water pooling on the surface of the garden.  This year we built 14"h x 12'l x 4' w raised beds.  I have re-read Michael Guerra's book "The Edible Container Garden" to add food in pots and last autumn when I took the class with Dave Jacke I bought "Perennial Vegetables" by Eric Toensmeier.  We have been very busy reading in the evenings, walking the land in the days and talking a lot about our goals and our dreams while doing our chores.  It feels magical.  An Edible Forest with animals all around.  We are doing our homework now for the greenhouse.  I just treated myself to Eliot Coleman's new book "The Winter Harvest Handbook".  Since we have the E-Classic outdoor wood boiler we will have access to heat for the greenhouse too.  Baby steps for sure.

The horse was feeling her oats today too.  She ran up and down the field bucking and snorting.  Her head held high.  She is very spunky for a Belgian.  She ended up having an abscess in her hoof so the vet came to the farm and cut it out.  We think she got it from the sand in the field. Her hoof is packed with Ichthammol and wrapped in duck tape.  Man that stuff really holds.  She weighs around 1,400 lbs in the rain and even in the mud that tape is still there.  

The woodpecker is back.  I think he is a Yellow-Bellied Sap Sucker?, not sure yet, will update later.  He has a small red patch on his throat and head.  I didn't see any yellow on his breast and his wing feathers are speckled with lots of white.   Maybe you would know?  He sits on the old antennae on our roof and taps out his song on the old hollow aluminum post to attract the females .  He was here last year too, we were so excited when we heard him again.  Watching and listening to him I was reminded of our beloved homeschool reading books, "The Burgess Bird Book for Children" and "The Burgess Animal Book for Children".  They are our read aloud book for nature studies.  I love the narrative; Mother Nature talking to the animals, teaching them about each other.  Most of all I love the drawings my son does and the stories he tells about the animals.  He has learned so much about animal identification from those stories.  They have filled his heart and imagination with the knowledge and love of all animals.  And while you are at it, read "Among the Farmyard People" by Clara D. Pierson too (check out the entire series).  www.YesterdaysClassics.com has so many lovely books.   We love our Enki/Charlotte Mason/WTM curriculums, it is such a blend of beauty, wonderment, and great literature.  It is a gift to me to teach it.

Peace, on a rainy day on the farm surrounded by life.....

Friday, April 10, 2009


A time of renewal, rebirth.  April is here again.  The story of Easter was born out of darkness and then light, it begins with a journey to the end.  It is story of love, fear, darkness, pain and at last, rebirth.  It is a story each of us have lived in some form in our own lives.  Accepting the darkness as part of the journey supports us on the path to living a more peaceful life.  Eostre, the Saxon Great Mother Goddess of fertility, spring and dawn, appeared with her basket of colored eggs after the Sun God rode across the sky in his chariot.   It is an ancient celebration of death and life, dark and light, winter and spring, birth and rebirth.  The journey can be hard, painful, terrifying, sad, heart wrenching actually, and then with eyes up, heart open, there is light, there is joy, there is love. Being able to let go of the clutch, release the clinging and breathe, I know there is light.  It is the balance.  

                             (British Solider Lichens, Cladonia cristatella ?)
                                                 tiny, miniature forests

This moment now is the moment.

Spring is like that too.  There is a strong, palatable sense of renewal in April in New England.   The warm sun feels like a tangible entity, a sacred gift, the blessing that unfurls the blades of grass, the buds on the vine, the leaves on the trees.  The awakening life around me is responding to a whispered song that is so deeply familiar, ancient and very sacred.  I can hear its melody.  The forest that surrounds my house is the cathedral, the spring peepers and birds are the choir.  I hear the sermon of the wind and the raging water in the creek.  I have faith in this world, I feel the abandoned love of a child, I am swept away by joy.  I have been given this gift of life, some how, with a guided hand, my tumor was found just in time to save me from neurological demise.  I have been given a gift that I want to cherish, to make the most of, always.  I am aware of the power and the promise and I am deeply grateful.  Every breath, every thought I have is because of this second chance, the door is open and I say yes as I walk through it.  No more closed eyes or silent spirit.  No longer weighted as much by ego or the consciousness of my reality.  I try to become more whole, I am more whole.  There is only life, love, breath, connection to others and passion.  There is a fire burning here on the edge of the forest, on the edge of the hollow, dancing around the golden-red flames singing as the grass blades unfurl and the babies are born and the sun warms the earth.  Life begins again, reborn.  This beautiful blue planet spins and turns around in her own dance as I reach up, arms wide open in a total embrace of life, my life, and your life.