<< March 2013 :: April 2013 :: May 2013 >>

preternaturally musical

I know blog posts that exist only to brag about one's children are played out, but I can't help but write about Zion's delightful musical talents. Here he is, mostly limiting himself to four- or five-word sentences, and he already can sing (with excuses for pronunciation) all the words of a complicated song like "Row Row Row Your Boat"! He treated us to a delightful rendition in the car the other day; I can't recall precisely, but I'm pretty sure he even put in the correct number of merrilys. A previous highlight, for cuteness if not for strict correctness, was his version of "Apple Pie", a tune sung by the first and second graders at their concert a couple months ago to the tune of "Shoe-fly Pie". I wish we could offer you a recording, but our children are not unlike quantum particles when it comes from the difficulties of observing them without affecting their state; at least a bald text record here of his "appew pie, appew appew pie pie!" will serve to remind us, years later, of how charmingly he presented the tune oh so many times.

Of course, I don't think I can take any credit for his musical talents; not directly, at least. No, the real honors should go to Harvey, who spends a fair amount of time singing himself. His slightly-older pal Nathan is very musical as well, which may have had some influence. And with both of his grandpas being accomplished musicians, it's no wonder the boy is a prodigy! All I have to do is sit back and enjoy the music; that, and brag about him on the blog here, of course!


you know you've waited too long to wean him when...

Zion wakes me at 5:45am. He doesn't open his eyes but tenses all his muscles and whines as plaintively as possible, "Maaamaaa, nuh-nuh?"

"You're a big boy, Zion" I whisper to him while hugging him close. "You don't need nursing in the morning."

Zion turns his face towards the mattress in utter dejection.

"Maaamaaa," he whines anew, "coffee???"

work season

In the Little House on the Prairie series we learn, among many other useful and wonderful things, that kids only used to go to school when there wasn't any work to be done. There's something to that. Right now I figure we could use about a month off to get all the spring gardening work done, especially since it got warm all of a sudden so I feel like I need to be doing all of it, all at once. I'd be happy to go back for a corresponding length of time in July or so to make up for it, since besides weeding there's not so much to do then.

It's interesting how summer became the season of leisure over the last century or so. Even after the school year lengthened beyond a couple weeks here and there in separate fall and winter terms, we've stuck with the agriculturally-derived summer break (even though it now starts much too late to be of much agricultural use). But since nobody has to work outside any more, the free summer hours become hours of idle relaxation—or of frantic struggles to, Phineas and Ferb style, get the most "fun" out of the time off. Winter these days is the time for seriousness and work.

For most of human history it was the other way. Even discounting the farming calendar, absent electric illumination summer days are a lot more productive than those of midwinter. And whatever your task, you'd have all your raw materials to hand, as well as the ability to collect them. Winter, on the other hand, would have seen you stuck at home with not much to do besides, if your planning was satisfactory, eating up your stored food and telling stories. I bet they had some wild Christmas parties back in those days! (even if they were really solstice parties).

Anyways, all that is to say I did some hard work in the garden today after getting home from my job this afternoon. Before dinner (which we ate outside, yay!) and after dinner too. At least April vacation is coming up. Maybe Massachusetts recognizes a little of our lost agricultural heritage after all.


Mipin Mahm

Zion's favorite place in the whole entire universe is Chip-In Farm, a farm stand and petting zoo about a mile down the road from our house. He mentions it at least 50 times a day. If he sees a picture of any farm animal in any book he'll excitedly exclaim, "Goat! Mipin Mahm!" or "Piddy! Mipin Mahm!" or "Reet! Mipin Mahm!" Or sometimes he'll just toddle over to me, stick his face right in my face so he knows I'm hearing him, and whine as plaintively as he can, "Go Mipin Mahm see baby caaaaaaaaalf???"

they have baby goats too!

Zion really loves petting animals, though I'm not sure "love" is the right word. It's more like he has a BURNING PHYSICAL NEED to pet animals, which I notice most acutely when the chickens are out and I have to chase one down and hold it still so Zion can stroke the soft feathers. Then it's like he gets a fix, and he's okay for five minutes or so.

you can pet em if you can reach em

I don't know how much Zion's personality matches mine, if he really shares my preferences or if it just comes from being the baby. But in my heart of hearts I understand his burning need to pet a baby calf. Somedays it's difficult to check off the chicken chores because Zion wants to help so badly (and then it's only difficult to get on his boots and coat... but not for too much longer!) Meanwhile, Harvey only wants to dig in the dirt with Dada, and he's been eyeing some pumplin seeds at the Garden store ever since he found a dollar. Who knows what all this means for the future. For the time being at least, we're spending a lot of time at the farm.

future farmer


happy hens

On a visit to Drumlin Farm the other day we couldn't help but comment on the sorry state of their chickens. Many looked distinctly patchy, and a few were tail-less or sporting big bald patches on their backs. Anticipating visitor concern, signs on the cages announced that the "bald chickens" were molting, which is probably at least partly true: at Drumlin they're using lights to even out egg production over the winter, and hens laying year-round have a harder time regrowing feathers after their molt than relaxed, natural-cycle hens like ours. But as I watched one hen chase another around their run, pecking repeatedly at her pink back, I knew that not all those feathers had fallen off on their own.

As it turns out, the "pecking order" is a real thing among chickens. Hens aren't very nice by human standards, and the high-ranking birds spare no opportunity to show their subordinates whose boss. Our alpha hen reminds me of Harvey sometimes. You're taking a dust bath? Move, it's my turn. Oh, now you want a drink of water? Sorry, my bath is over and I'm thirsty now. You know, (and this I address to both the hen and Harvey) being in charge might be more fun if you used your power to enjoy the things you wanted to, rather than constantly responding to the actions of your fellows. Oh well.

Unlike the Drumlin hens, though, ours manage to keep the social structure in place without resorting to real violence. The boss hen needs only to jerk her head half an inch or so in a vague pecking motion to get the message across and make the others scurry out of the way. This means that all four of our girls are plump, unharried, and fully feathered. Beautiful hens, really. Their relative placidity is probably due the fact that they all hatched on the same day and have been raised together their whole life, so no leadership issues have ever really needed to be negotiated.

Actually, that's not entirely true. A couple months ago I accidentally closed the run door on one hen's foot, pretty much amputating the outside talon on her right side. While the wound was open and for a little while longer until the talon fell off she was firmly at the bottom of the totem pole, because she was so much slower than the other hens (and really preferred not to walk at all if she could avoid it). But—with minimal attention from us—she soon made a complete recovery, and now is back on top of the pecking order, not having any problems enforcing her will with a mere seven talons. (And on the upside, the injury means that I can now tell at least one of the hens apart! Remember when they used to have names? Not so much now.)

Someday we'll add to our flock, and we won't make any promises if the relative peace the hens currently enjoy will prevail. Who knows, maybe our own mellow personalities also play a role! We can hope, certainly, because ick nobody likes looking at naked chicken skin!

two of the chickens grazing on the lawn

tasty new grass


farmy writing

I was going to do a blog post about talking, but I ran out of steam after writing something for my farming site. Since I know nobody looks at it but me (and oh, do I look at it, joy of my heart that it is) I'll link to the piece hear on the off chance that you want to read my thought on volunteer seedlings in the garden.

almost Patriots Day

sousaphones from the Londonderry, NH, high school band

big horns under stormy skies

It's Lexington's 300th birthday this year, and to celebrate they confused everyone by holding the Patriots Day parade a day early. Despite the change of day and some startlingly cold weather, there was a good crowd and parade units from all over. Old favorites, too:

a British grenadier

pleased this year to be in broadcloth

Unlike last year it was not warm, which affected both our level of enthusiasm and the number of photos I took (the amount of food consumed was unchanged, and included all our snacks from home plus hot dogs and kettle corn). Grandma and Grandpa Archibald joined us for the viewing, which was very nice, but they are not pictured here; neither, in fact, is Harvey or most of Leah. But Zion is always photogenic.

Zion in mama's lap, watching the parade

too cold to look enthusiastic

You can be assured that he was holding a flag, even if you can't see it in that picture.

As well as the grandparents we also persuaded the Stevenses to come out for the parade, but traffic and road closings prevented them from making it to our viewing spot so we had to catch up with them later (they provided the kettle corn). As former residents of Philadelphia, they were just the people to explain the most colorful parade unit, a group of mummers from that fine city.

a gaily-dressed banjo-playing Philidelphia mummer

what's that look for?! he's the one playing banjo wearing a giant jester's cap...

A good show all around. Let's do it again next year.


farm stand again

We started up the farm stand again today. No vegetables yet, naturally, but we're well stocked with eggs and perennial plants. In our first couple minutes of operation we moved a daylily, and since it was only going next door we even provided full planting service as well! Harvey carried the shovel, and Zion brought the empty pot back home, so don't anyone say they were just there to look pretty.

Harvey advocated pretty heavily for cookies at the stand; I think there was a little bit of self-interest at play there. He also took seriously his assignment to tell anyone who came by about the eggs, but I think he was relieved that there weren't any potential customers while I was inside. Zion only dropped one egg carton, and none of the eggs broke completely: they should all be fine for family consumption.

We'll add some more things tomorrow. Maybe even some cookies.


a year with dreadlocks

I was going to post this earlier today, but there was kind of a massive terrorist manhunt going on and it didn't feel right to put up pictures of my hair.

But now that everyone can go outside again, I guess it's okay to resume narcissistic blogging. Today marks the one-year anniversary of my dreadlocks. Here is what they looked like a year ago after a nice lady came to my house and back-combed all my hair in one-inch sections.

dreads from the side with a headwrap

looking all demure for having a humongous head

And this is what it looks like now. (I just noticed that I'm not only wearing the same headwrap in this photo, I'm wearing the same sweater. You might thing that my new hippy hairstyle made me lazy about updating my wardrobe over the course of the year, but you're wrong; it's poverty.)

hippy egg hunt!

How do I feel about my dreadlocks after a year? Pretty good. I love not having to comb and style my hair every day. I love the volume on top of my head when I pull them back with a wrap. I love how they look when I pull them into a ponytail, like my hair always used to look before when I pulled it back into a ponytail except without the gel-and-let-it-curl step first.

No one has excluded me from society or even been rude to me in a store. Mostly people are friendly when you smile at them. Whatever your hair looks like.

Here's what my hair looks like without a headwrap. I asked Dan to take a photo of me while I was mucking out the chicken coop.

Leah mucking out the chicken coop

dirty hair for a dirty job

There are individual dreads that I wish hung straigher or more cylindrical, or without a stupid loopy kink somewhere in the middle. Pretty much each dread has something "wrong" with it. But one can either roll dreads all day or pursue a real hippy lifestyle. With the kinks and bumps I can say I have truly hippy hair.

What do I do for maintenance? I wash my hair whenever it starts to feel itchy, which is about once a week. I put rubberbands in the top by the roots when it feels like the flyaways are getting too crazy. That's pretty much it.

I had more I wanted to say when I was thinking up this post, like how I stopped worrying so much about my weight as soon as I got dreads (part of it was the freeing nature of refusing to conform to traditional beauty standards, part of it is that big volume on my head distracts from my stomach) but I am a little bored already. How can I write about my hair on a day when BIG THINGS are going on in our city? Big things require big thoughts, though to me no bigger things happened than mucking out a chicken coop.

Oh well, anniversary marked. Let's see what another year brings us.


Neil Chamberlain - a remembrance for 2013

I had a dream about Neil last night. (Is today the day we are supposed to remember?) I came upon him in an empty restaurant and I begged him, BEGGED him to see the last thing he had written. He nodded his head and gave me something, a manuscript or a video casette or something, but it slipped through my fingers. I wanted to see it so badly but suddenly it was gone, and I was searching through this vast abandoned Italian restaurant and he was gone too.

In my dreams he comes to me not like the neat religious fantasy I have concocted where a cartoon-faced Jesus takes the dead by the hand and leads them to a clean bright holding-pen in the sky. In my dreams Neil comes to me like the real life Jesus after his resurrection. Now appearing, now disappearing. You're always chasing him yet you see only the trace of him. Then you're talking to a stranger and as soon as you realize IT'S HIM! he is gone.

Perhaps the veil between heaven and earth is more wispy and strange than I have imagined. Likely God in his grace is more strange than I have allowed myself to believe. I would like to know the whole piece, to read the manuscript and see for sure, but it slips through my fingers.


cooking omnibus post

All kinds of things lately, including some good food. For example, we celebrated spring a couple days ago with the first asparagus, which I cooked in a little butter and served up with bulgur, lentils, and poached eggs (also because spring). Life can't be too terrible when you can get asparagus and eggs from the backyard and cook them within five minutes of bringing them inside. Not that it's all spring all the time around here; yesterday was cold and raw and Leah's roasted root vegetables were just what we wanted.

A couple weeks ago I wanted something to bring along on our first trip to the Stevenses new house where we were going to help paint, and I made up another muffin recipe. It came out tasty enough that I wanted to write it down here so as not to forget.

Applesauce Muffins

In a large bowl, whisk together:

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

In another bowl, combine:

1 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used some very sour sauce made from Cortland apples)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten well
1/4 cup canola oil or melted butter
2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake for around 20 minutes at 375°F. Makes 12 regular sized muffins (or 30 little ones, as I did it the first batch).

Also on the baking front, I've been enjoying eating oatcakes made with this recipe from Orangette, which I was pointed to by this post on Soulemama. Oatcakes are a thing that, once I'd heard of their existence, I wanted to try, but in my research last year or thereabouts I didn't find a satisfactory recipe. This one is perfectly satisfactory and very tasty with jam (or Leah's chocolate-chip cookie dough dip).

A while ago Jo linked to a tortilla recipe that uses oil instead of shortening (and cooks in a skillet instead of the oven, as in the Joy of Cooking version), which I find delightfully easy and delicious. Homemade tortillas are wonderful and make rice and beans seem like something special. We're also putting immense quantities of cilantro on many things, when we have it around, which is also special.

The cilantro may be a side effect of reading Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace a couple months ago. Other signs we've internalized some of her messages in that inspiring book are our increased consumption of home-made croutons and breadcrumbs and the fact that when I cooked the lentils the other night I saved the water they cooked in—which is now a remarkable broth, how could I have ever thrown it away?!—in a jar in the fridge. A jar that is even labeled. (The poached eggs of the first paragraph are also Adler-related.)

This evening while the boys were being wonderful playing with playdough (Leah makes that—most recently a double batch of blue and yellow) I pulled out a recipe I hadn't made in a while: banana bread made entirely in the food processor (well, except for the part when it's in a pan in the oven). It's good stuff, but I come to doubt the efficiency of using the machine. Yes there are fewer things to clean up then there would have been if I'd used the two bowl "muffin method" (as Alton Brown calls it), but cleaning the Cuisinart is so aggravating that it carries as much mental weight as three or four bowls. Also I'm not sure I trust that spinning blade to mix things up properly. Oh well, every once and a while in the name of variety—and of using up those two brown bananas.

So, we have some food here. Come by if you're feeling hungry!


Some cute things my kids said yesterday

1. Set up: We are reading in the Jesus Storybook Bible the story about Jesus' baptism. Zion starts pointing to the water in the picture and whining.

Zion: Me inna water?
Me: Yeah, soon when it's warm we can go to the pond together and you can go in the water. It'll look just like the water in this book!
Zion: Me inna water DEEDEES?
Me: Oh sweetie, you want to go in the water with Jesus?
Zion: mmmhh. [indicates the affirmative]
Me: Oh baby! I'm so sad our church doesn't offer infant baptism! But when you're older and you want to give your life to Jesus you can get baptized in water like he did.
Harvey (nervous): But I'm not big enough yet.

2. Set up: in the bicycle, passing the neighbor's empty rabbit hutch.

Zion: Bunny? pet?
Me: Sorry Zion, the bunny isn't there anymore. We can't pet him.
Harvey: Derek says the bunny DIED.
Zion: No! Deedees died!
Harvey (laughing): We ALL die.

3. Set up: Apropos of nothing. (And for the record, we are not currently pregnant.)

Harvey: Zion and me are excited to get a new baby.
Me: I'm excited for a new baby too, Harvey, but you know it takes a long time -
Me: Mama and Dada still have to -
Harvey: I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW. You don't have to TELL me.


a piece of lace

My dear friend Oona is getting married this summer. This is the Oona who shlepped all the way across the country for my wedding seven years ago, who followed me around for a week holding my purse, who patiently laced up the back of my corset dress as I sucked in my breath and hissed, "I want it thinner! thiiiiinnnnnneeeer!"

I even LOOK bitchy

This dear Oona is getting married, and I will not be there because I am totally lame. Because I have two young children who I don't want to take on a plane. EVER. Because I have crossed over that line between cool-wedding-goer and just-wants-to-go-to-bed-at-a-decent-hour. Because I now get my kicks by staying home and knitting.

pristine for the wedding day

To assuage my guilt over not flying to Seattle, I knit Oona something special for her wedding, a lace garter which holds the distinction of being the first piece of lace I ever tried. I knit it out of white cotton on size 1 needles. There were 23 rows in the lace sequence, none of which were easily rememberable, and my children rejoiced in stealing the stick-it I was using for a place holder. In other words it was a uphill battle. I don't think I'll do another lace project until my children are grown and/or I have another wedding to decline.

Suffice it to say the difficulty of the project assuaged my guilt over missing the wedding, at least for the moment.

And hey, if Oona doesn't want to wear the garter as her "something new" or "something blue" she can always save it for her future progeny. It doubles as a mean headband.

not old enough to know why this might be weird


my apples are played out

Two years ago I planted a couple of apple trees: a Macintosh and a Northern Spy. The other day I added one more, a Honeycrisp. Imagine my shame this evening when I read an article on the depressing lack of apple variety in today's world and noticed that all three of my trees are in the top 20 of the "most-grown apples" list. Sure, some people might suggest that those varieties are popular because they're good, but since you could make the same argument about, say, Justin Bieber or Ke$ha (who I'm told have something to do with current popular music). What kind of hipster farmer am I if I'm planting the same played-out apples as the major-label orchards?! Your favorite apple sucks.

I'm most disappointed about the Macintosh. I can remember when Macs were the go-to "good" apple at the grocery store, when everything else was Red Delicious, but now that I think about it the only thing Macs really have to recommend themselves now is their earliness: their taste is fine but not spectacular, and they tend to be a little mushy. And then I come to find out they're one of the hardest apples to grow without chemical spraying.

Even worse, the earliness itself is going to be a problem, because the other tree from the initial planting is on the late end of the fruiting period. That means that there's a good chance the two trees will never bloom at the same time and we won't even get any apples—good, bad, or indifferent—from either tree. Realizing that this spring is what prompted me to get the Honeycrisp, which blooms somewhere in the middle of the season. There were lots of other, better varieties that I would have preferred to get instead, but they were all sold out for this season—and I felt like I didn't have any time to waste!

At least Honeycrisps are pretty good apples: sweet and crisp (as their over-obvious modern name suggests), good keepers, and suitable for organic growing. Northern Spy is no slouch either: fine for cooking and eating both, and said to keep for up to three months in the root cellar. And my reasoning for wanting to plant that variety is still sound, at least: they might be the country's 16th most popular apple, but they're impossible to find in the grocery store and tricky even at the farmers market. That their relative rarity might be due to their "poor overall disease resistance" is something I don't want to think about. This farming business is hard, but at least when it's vegetables it doesn't take me three years to find out all the mistakes I've made.

Anyways, at this point my apple knowledge has been expanded and I'm already thinking about the trees I want to plant next year: Black Oxford, Golden Russet, Cox's Orange Pippin... Unless that's what everybody else is doing. Then I'll have to find something else. Blake?


Level Up, Hippies

So, I bought a new bike.

proof that federal tax credits DO stimulate the economy

I was frustrated that I couldn't carry both kids by myself, that trips to Whole Foods were consigned to a two-parent operation, or worse, this B.S.:

unhappy in red

This is from an attempted trip to Whole Foods on 'earth day.' We got less than a quarter mile from our house when Harvey whined that he was tiiiiiired of pedaling, and the wagon rammed into my shin leaving a giant bruise. We aborted that mission and headed to Whole Foods in the car. Here are the little carbon suckers that day, acting like conscious consumption makes their poop not stink.

so much wrong with this picture, environmentally speaking.

Well no more! Omitting the fact that this bike shipped from Utah fully assembled, our trips to Whole Foods are now carbon neutral.

room for 4 kids, or 2 kids plus baby dolls and a lot of snacks.

The bike is made by Madsen cycles, a family operation for good and ill. (Good because the mom on the phone was very pleasant when I called to order my bike; ill because I never really got an order confirmation or a tracking number, and because the bike arrived a week later than they said it would.) It rides very well despite being too heavy to lift AT ALL even without children inside. But with 80lbs of kids in the back, it's still easier to pull than 20lbs of baby in the trailer. Two fewer friction-y wheels, I guess. Of course it's trickier to balance than with a trailer. I don't worry about balance when I'm riding, but when I stop at a light I use my strictest voice to command the children to keep their hands in the vehicle and not to sway AT ALL.

the ride is so sweet that Zion is chilaxin

Although we've only had it for a few days now, we've already ridden to some pretty cool places. Whole Foods (of course) but also Lexington center and Chip in Farm twice, and the second time our bike generated so much attention from the farmer that we got to help feed a calf!

the boys are supposed to be helping but mostly they're watching.

The most frequently asked question over the past few days has been: Did you just stick a big storage crate on the back of a bike? The answer is: wicked expensive No. The big blue crate is a custom-made plastic piece that is bolted onto a bike with a long tail and smaller back wheel. The plastic peaks up in the middle to fit the wheel. It's not like something you'd buy at The Container Store. It's sturdy as heck, with two rows of removable seats and four seat belts. I even took Dan for a ride in there and the thing didn't even creek.

this is what it looks like right before you pass me

The first day we got the bike Harvey didn't want to get out of the bucket, he kept asking me to ride up and down the street. Then when we got Zion in there too and took a spin around the block Harvey kept reaching over to hug him. Super adorable. Zion still throws a tantrum nearly every time we put his helmet on, but he has fun once we're going. And I have to remind myself, we'd have tantrums if we were driving in the car too. Biking is more enjoyable than driving a car.

Not to be outdone, Dan went to Bikes Not Bombs over the weekend and bought himself a new bicycle. Okay, it actually had nothing to do with being outdone, he didn't have a working bike to get him to and from his place of employment anymore. So while he picked out the cheapest model on the lot I watched the kids do some urb-ex and tried to keep them from eating trash bike parts off the ground.

exploring the back lot

You give them a couple days of lovely rides through the wooded countryside, and then all they want to do is play on a fire escape. Typical.

urban catalogue models. Cut it out, kids.


<< March 2013 :: April 2013 :: May 2013 >>