posts tagged with 'hippy'

playing dirty

The first wave of the summer has struck (that one in February didn't count) and we're responding with less clothes and more dirt.

shirtless and dirty Lijah posing holding his staff

a pause to pose

Besides enjoying our sandbox and hose-derived mud, the boys spent an hour or two yesterday evening playing at their friends' house across the street. They just finished up a renovation and still have two good-sized dirt piles just crying out to be climbed. While the bigger kids amused themselves with ball and imaginative games, Lijah just grabbed a hoe to use as an ice-ax and headed up one of the mountains... again and again and again. I made sure he had a nice bath.

Today the baths are already over with, after an even sweatier day hiking in the woods and walking around town, but with the heat fading a little bit in the twilight the kids are all back out in the dirt. Oh well, the bedding will wash. And though they do clean up alright, they're pretty cute dirty as well!

Lijah's dirty face

showing his work

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our kind of mower

the mower in the lawn

effective technology

It's hard to believe, given that it feels like it was just winter the other day, but I thought it necessary to give the lawn its first trim of the season yesterday. Continuing my practice from the end of last year, I brought out the push reel mower. The six-year-old from next door was interested. "That's a weird mower!" she said. "We have... a different one."

We do too; two in fact. The one I bought all those years ago and one I got for free from a friend. Right now they're both broken—I got the second one in hopes of fixing the first. And I will, someday: there are good uses for power mowers. Composting leaves, for example. But for mowing our lawn, which really isn't that big now that we've reclaimed so much of it for garden and muddy play space, so much internal combustion isn't really necessary.

I used to think it was, because for ten years I didn't think the push reel mower worked. It turns out I just needed to use it for a little while and it would sharpen itself. Now it works like a charm, at least on the tender spring grass. And worrying about clippings laying on the lawn? I haven't bagged the clippings for years. So few downsides, and a couple nice advantages—mainly that the sound is a pleasant whir rather than a deafening mechanical whine. With the beautiful spring weather we've had to endure two straight days of mowing and blowing from the neighbors' yards, and it is horrible. Down with gas power! Up with human power! Push reel mowers for all!

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our tiny Patriots Day celebrity

The Bedford parade and pole capping feels like months ago now: we've been through like two seasons since then. But it was really only a couple weeks, so I'm not too late in posting this collection of images that the Bedford Citizen collected. Or only a little bit too late: I had the link open in a tab for a couple days before I managed to actually look at it this evening, mainly to see if the boys and I made it into any photos. Sure enough, there we are on page 8, top right-hand corner. There are lots of very pretty photos to see in that document; ours, sadly, is not one of them. But at least it shows we were there!

As it happens, so were a great many other people, many of them kids. Why did they pick us to single out—with a not-technically-accomplished photograph, no less?! Is it just because we're locally famous for getting around town on a ridiculous bicycle? Was it Lijah's tiger pajamas? Realistically, it was probably Zion's musket that did it; nobody else thought to bring their guns to town this year. On the next page the only kid in attendance wearing ear protection also gets a photo, so it could be they were looking for uniqueness rather than beauty. And there's no denying we're unique! Sometimes even more than I'd like... but mostly I'm just proud. There are worse things than having people pay attention to you as a result of your strange life choices.

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hens, what are they good for?

our red hen eating grass in between patches of snow

little red hen

Eric at Root Simple wrote a post last week wondering whether it made sense for them to be keeping chickens. I was surprised to read it: they wrote a whole book on "the Urban Homestead". And here I am going around saying that everyone should have at least a little flock—not least our friends who will soon be moving out here to the country slightly more spread out suburbs. So why do we keep chickens?

Reason 1: for eggs. We can get great local cage-free eggs at a reasonable price at the farm around the corner, or expensive pastured eggs at Whole Foods, or, seasonally, local super-expensive eggs at the farmers market. All of which are fine, but how much easier is it to be able to pick up hyper-local, free-range, sometimes-organic eggs right in our own backyard every morning? How much do we pay for them? Um, I'm not quite sure. But I don't think we pay much more than $30 in feed a month, and we're getting maybe 120 eggs per month this time of year, so around $3/dozen? We spent some money on the coop too, but not much, and a long time ago.

Reason 2: as pets. While our hens don't have names—well, not names that we know, anyway—we feel like they're not just livestock. Like, when they stop laying we'll be happy to keep feeding them in recognition of their service. And the boys would be more than happy to hold them and pet them, if they would ever let themselves be held and petted (I guess we didn't socialize them super well to people). I still don't like when they get in the house—but they're part of the full prayer-time roster ("...and Rascal, and the chickens").

Reason 3: as lifestyle accessories. Seriously! We can't call ourselves suburban homesteading hippies if we don't have chickens around the place. And they really liven up the property: visiting kids and people walking by on the street alike seem to appreciate them.

our different-colored hens eating spilled scratch

bad photo, pretty hens

Even the work involved in their care is a positive in my book. Sometimes I even wish there were more of it!

Of course, there are downsides. The permitting process in our town is a little annoying (not to mention costly). And this time of year, as the hens' wake-up call inches backwards past 6 am, I sometimes wish I could feel a little less like a farmer. But never for long. One issue I've heard from a lot of people is trouble with predators, but we've been lucky in that regard. I built the coop pretty secure, with multiple latches to the doors... but in all our years of chicken keeping I don't think we've seen any serious attempt to break in (and now Harvey leaves the nesting box lid unlatched almost every day). We have lost two hens to hawks over the years, but that doesn't seem unreasonable. Maybe Rascal keeps away other potential—more persistent—predators.

So while I won't say categorically that you should get chickens... if you've got any sort of yard at all, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't.

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hippy secret ingrediant

Today I made sourdough pancakes and laundry powder. What do those two things have in common? Baking soda!

Ok, so maybe what they actually have in common is that unless you're a crazy hippy you've probably never even thought about making either of them, much less on a Tuesday morning; but the baking soda made me notice that I am a crazy hippy, so I wanted to comment on it.

We've been making our own laundry powder for a long time—or to be more precise, Leah's been making it. But I took over the laundry duties a couple months ago when she started working some out of the house, so when we ran out the other day the responsibility for making more fell on me. We use the recipe from Making It, written by the couple behind the Root Simple blog—it's just one part laundry soap (Leah still makes that, by a process unknown to me), two parts borax, and two parts baking soda. It works fine, it's cheap, and best of all it doesn't stink.

The pancakes are newer; I started with them because once you have a sourdough starter you need to keep making more sourdough starter, and there's only so much bread that one family can eat (especially when 50% of the adults are gluten-free!). But I keep doing it because they come out light and crispy and delicious, even with all whole wheat flour and less sugar and much less fat than my regular pancake recipe. The two younger boys don't like them much; I can't decide if that's a feature or a bug.

I don't really have a recipe for sourdough pancakes besides whisking an egg into a cup of happy starter, fed the night before, along with a tablespoon or two of sugar and a little salt. Then I dissolve some baking soda in water and fold it into the batter. You'll notice it's a fat-free food at this point, but I fix that by cooking each pancake in plenty of butter: I make sure to add more to the griddle for each batch.

I don't know about everybody else, but baking soda doesn't much feature in my more conventional baking. Too unpredictable. Who knows if a particular ingredient has enough acid to activate it and remove that horrible metallic-salt taste? An ingredient other that lactic acid-laden sourdough starter, that is. I really feel a connection to my homesteading forebearers of, oh, the late 1800s when chemical leaveners became widely available.

We do lots of odd things in our household, and not all of them require purchasing baking soda in bulk. But some do. It is a signifier, of a sort.

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hippy picture book suggestion

In a world full of kindergarten stories and princess-dress stories and robot-boy stories, I take note when I come across a picture book that I think shows off good counterculture values. Take mental note, that is... unfortunately, when I don't actually write down any of the titles that particularly catch my attention, I can't remember them later when anyone asks. If anyone were ever to ask. That changes now!

In Building Our House, Jonathan Bean describes, from his older sister's perspective, how his parents and their friends built a timber-frame house for themselves. The watercolor illustrations beautifully portray the passage of the seasons as the work goes slowly forward—though significantly faster in the book than in real life, as an author's note at the end explains! The narration is wonderfully matter-of-fact, just as you'd expect from a child of parents who could ever conceive of such a thing. Wiring and insulating mid-winter "while the drifts pile up"? Sure, isn't that just what you do?

Bean and his family aren't all-out back-to-the-landers: the first step they took towards developing their property was to hook up to municipal electricity, and an electric range is pictured (along with a cookstove at the center of the house). So they aren't as hard-core as some people we know. But they sure aren't taking the typical route to home-ownership!

Harvey and Zion love the book, which we got from the library, and we've already read it six or seven times. It might be worth buying, though I may prefer to save my Jonathan Bean dollar for another book of his that I learned about while searching for an image to include with this post. Called This Is My Home, This Is My School, it features the house whose construction we just lived through serving both those roles.

In the Author's Note that ends Building Our House, Bean closes:

Of course, a homestead would not be complete without a large garden, fruit trees, pets, woodland, and a stream flowing through a mysterious marshland. Add to that the wise love of two parents, the companionship of three sisters, and a practically lived faith, and it's hard for me to think of a better place to have grown up.

Sounds good to me!

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Lijah's flaws

Lijah is a pretty good kid, but in the interest of full disclosure I have to reveal a couple of flaws. One I remarked on again this evening is that he's a total sandbagger when it comes to eating. Most of the time he makes like he doesn't like eating food—like the very notion of taking nutrients in solid form is repellent to him—but then when there's cake in front of him the mask slips.

Lijah with white and blue frosting spotted all over his face

cake coma

To be replaced, I suppose, by a mask made of frosting. (At the community dinner this evening he ate his own whole piece, and I had to fight him off to keep some of mine for myself.)

It's an excellent strategy overall, his apparent disdain; often we're so desperate to get non-nursing calories into him that we'll give in to his outrageous requests for, say, chocolate chips first thing in the morning. Or at least Leah will.

His other big issue is his out-of-control covetousness. It's not that he hoards toys—he can't, he can't think of holding more than two things at a time—it's that he only ever wants things that other people have. Never mind if he has an identical item in his hot little toddler hands, it's the one he can see someone else enjoying that he wants. And he wants it now! He'll never be happy again, ever, unless he can get it!! So powerful is the force of his desire that even our stubborn Zion often gives in, if only to shut him up. And then as soon as he gets... whatever it is, he immediately tosses it aside and moves on to the next thing he can't live without.

That would be annoying enough in a typical American household—there's a lot of yelling involved—but it's even more specifically galling for us avowed anti-capitalists. Here he is enacting the ritualized play of consumerism, repeatedly allowing himself to be swept up by desires whose fulfillment offers no release from the cycle of need. Its a total rejection of all we believe in!! But then, I suppose it is nice for him to get all that out of his system early.

(That he's a terrible sleeper is a flaw too, but it's one that's too raw—much too raw!—for us to talk about here.)

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What happens after you get everything you want?

We have been running a free summer camp at our home this summer. It is lovely. The children are doing great. They are learning new skills, testing their physical limits, and improving their hand-eye-coordination. They are growing in bravery, growing their friendships, and problem solving all sorts of mechanical and social situations. The adults who stay and sit on our lawn drinking while I serve them coffee and try to entertain their babies? They get an informal support group twice a week. They feel immediately understood when they share about just how all-encompasingly difficult this time of life is.

For me this is the closest to "living out a calling" that I've ever experienced. People come to my house, and I find a way to fulfill a deep need that's been eating them up inside. In this case, the need for free childcare that doesn't make them feel like they're betraying their hippy morals. Plus I get to make coffee, lots and lots of coffee, and if someone forgets their lunch my Jewish nature is fulfilled by finding something in the kitchen that I think they might like to eat.

We are living the panacea — giving ourselves to others and seeing positive results.

Also, quite often I'm really miserable.

The moment a child smiles at me because something clicked in her brain and she finally "got" basket weaving? That's followed by a moment in the kitchen handwashing a stack of dishes and cups. And let's be honest, the breakfast dishes and the muffin tin too, especially if some campers showed up an hour early and I didn't have time to bus the morning table. My bathroom? It smells like a camp bathroom. Wet bathing suits leave marks on every conceivable surface in my living room. Sometimes kids cry and I am default mama to them. Sometimes my own kids cry because they are over-extended and they just want everyone to leave their house.

What happens when you find yourself living the life you wanted and it kind of sucks?

I have been thinking about this question for a while, as I see other friends finally "making it" to their callings, not just 'good jobs' but the thing they always imagined they wanted to do with their lives. Smart do-gooder friends finally work for the government. Missionary friends go overseas and find their unwashed masses. Friends who always wanted a baby finally adopt the perfect child God prepared for them from the foster care system.

These people, they tell me that they are sooooo incredibly blessed at this moment. God has come through and given them everything! Everything he put on their hearts to desire! And then they tell me their complaints. The first is how God-awful TIRED they are right now. Oh my goodness, I would LOVE some coffee, yes, I've just switched from two cups a day to three. Also, money is a little bit of a stressor right now. I just had no idea how much I'd need to spend on parking / bribes / advocate services / dinners out. And I cannot even tell you about the paperwork. Reams and reams of paperwork. Just when you think you are finished with one round, there's another email in your inbox / letter in the mail / lawyer at your door with a dozen forms you have to fill out EXACTLY PERFECTLY.

And it's not that God didn't come through. He sure came through fo rus - he gave us what we wanted. He just didn't change the entire world underneath us while he was at it. He gave us our dreams and made them reality. It's just that we now have to live our dreams in the context of reality. And reality tends to be chaotic and frustrating. Other people make difficulties of us. Not to mention the weather.

Also, he didn't magically give us new selves either. I was a little tired and frustrated before, when I was stuck inside a cubicle making money at a job I hated. Now I'm living my calling as someone who's (who'd have guessed it?) a little tired and frustrated. My friends and I, perhaps we thought that living the life we dreamed would magically make us the people we dreamed of being. We saw another missionary and he looked happy, and we thought it was the mud hut and all that time in the sunshine. We didn't think that probably he was the type of person who was happy to begin with.

I am not knocking dreaming. Life takes dreaming. I am just saying some of us put a lot of eggs in a single basket.

So what are my dreams now? Now that life is wonderful and I still remain stubbornly human? I dunno, different ones. Bigger ones. I'll never learn. But I also have small dreams too, now. Sandwich sized-dreams. Literal dreams of sandwiches. To give me practice getting what I want and not taking it so disappointed.

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Elijah's first bike trip as cargo

I took a break from bike transportation for the better part of over a year, in order to raise a third child. There are some stupid rules in our state about babies under one not going on bicycles. This is not a blog post about that, because that would be an angry anarchist rant. Instead, this is a blog post about hope. The first bike trip with me and three kids altogether.

setting off!

From a test drive in our home street yesterday we learned that Elijah likes riding in the blue bike. I thought I'd start with a sort ride up to the bagel store to see if he'd stay buckled in. It's not a 5-point harnas, but he stayed still with the lap belt.

Young biker happily eating a bagel. You can see our bike through the store window, a totally unintentional but beautiful selfie staging.

After fueling up with bagels and milk, the boys decided they could take on a ride further afield, down the bike path towards Billerica.

look at him go!

We went about half a mile to a playground we remembered from two years ago, at the abandoned Coast Guard housing.

grass growing around the play structure is eerie yet kind of nice

The 20 small single family homes have stood empty for years, since the Coast Guard cleared out. It's a colossal waste of infrastructure in a town that desperately needs more affordable housing, but this is not an anarchist rant.

empty neighborhood

On the ride home Elijah had some things to rant about. He was desperate to fall asleep, and couldn't find a comfortable position. Poor thing. The trip was proof of concept that he can stay in the bucket, but not that he can sleep comfortably in it.

Lijah sleeping slumped forward in the blue bike

not the most comfortable sleeping position. The lap belt around his waist is holding him in.

Hopefully this is just the start of a very freeing summer. Here's my happy face selfie. It smiles at the future.

biking selfie. No helmet, i know i know.

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historical reenactment homemaking

You probably know this about me, but I hate and fear many aspects of modern existence. Plastic wrap, for example. Who decided it would be a good idea to cover food with a 12.5 micrometer film of PVC? And yet it now seems indispensable for so many kitchen applications, from wrapping up leftovers to gift-wrapping decorative cookie plates. Me, I used it most in baking: wrapping balls of pie dough or gingerbread, or covering the bread as it rises. And then one day I got to wondering: how did folks handle those needs before the first half of the 20th century, when plastic wrap was invented?

The question led immediately to its answer, which was—I say without any research or actual knowledge, but also without doubt—that they covered things in cloth. Wet cloth, to keep the dough from drying out. So I started doing that instead. It feels so much nicer! I don't know that any chemicals from plastic actually leach out into food, but to me at least plastic wrap is just not pleasant stuff. Plus there's the issue of the energy and raw materials that go into making and transporting it, and then again into disposing of it (how many of you recycle your plastic wrap?). An old cotton napkin from the rag bin doesn't have any of those issues.

I can see why, even hearing my process, some people would totally still be into plastic wrap. Compared to its perceived sterility, a wet rag might seem distressingly permeable to germs, or even somehow dirty in its own right. But keeping our bread dough—or our leftovers—sterility is a pretty modern problem; and with all due respect to modern medicine is not one that should loom particularly large in our consciousness. Under cotton my bread can breathe as it rises, and I'm sure it's better for it. That I'm following the example of countless generations of homemakers before me only improves my appreciation of the method.

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