Sunday, March 31, 2013

The First Sunday After the First Full Moon Following the Spring Equinox

It's quite possible that Deus Ex Machina and I pay too much attention to the seasons and not quite enough to the calendar.

We have five bunnies that need to be harvested, and we've been putting it off. We should have done it last weekend, but got too busy with other stuff, and so today is the day.

I hadn't even considered the irony. Big Little Sister pointed it out to me that we're harvesting the rabbits ... on Easter.

In celebration of Spring, we are also planting - peas, carrots and radishes in the garden, and broccoli, artichoke (the globe variety - not sunchokes, aka Jerusalem artichoke, which we have already planted and should be harvesting soon), and some herbs in the greenhouse.

And that's why the rabbits have to be harvested today ... because they've been living in the greenhouse, but can't if we're going to use it to grow plants.

Irony or not. Offensive to our friends and neighbors or not. It has to be done, and today's the day. Such is life on the farm.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

REuse versus REcycle

I always glean some little bit of insight when I talk with my parents. I don't know if they are even aware of that fact.

Like today, I was talking to my dad, and he said that the community where he lives has just started a recycling program - you know, the blue bins that go out by the road filled with paper, plastic and/or glass that someone picks up and then recycles. He likes the fact that they can recycle now, but it amuses him a bit, I think, because, as he was saying, when he was a kid, they didn't recycle, per se.

They didn't throw things away, either. The fact is that they were poor ... everyone was poor ... and things didn't get recycled in the sense that we recycle them today. Things were used until they simply could not be used anymore ... like the story, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Joseph's coat was too worn to wear as a coat, and so he turned it into a vest, and when the vest had a hole, he turned it into a scarf, and when the scarf was getting ragged, he made a tie, and when he could no longer wear the tie, he made his coat into a button.

I love that story, more for the attitude that things just shouldn't be thrown away, just tossed out because they no longer served the exact purpose for which they were orginally made, but rather, even some things, like an overcoat, that's a bit worn, has some value. I like the idea that things don't have to be thrown away.

And I like recycling, but it just feels better to reuse the thing, whatever it is, even if it can be recycled.

When we first started brewing, Deus Ex Machina and I purchased many dollars worth of those fancy-smancy Flip Top Bottles for storing our beer. At some point, we realized a couple of things: first, when one brews beer from a kit (like this one), it comes with bottle caps; second, a bottle capper is a one-time, fairly inexpensive purchase; third, the rubber gasket on the flip-top caps have to be replaced; and fourth, while it's true that one can get cash back for returning beer bottles (five cents per bottle), reusing them is both cheaper than buying new bottles, and a healthier environmental alternative.

I know. Someone has just scoffed, but it's true. REusing is better than recycling and even better than returning for cash. Anyone who has ever returned a beer bottle knows that the bottle is broken. The glass is crushed and melted to make new glass. The fact is that it takes a lot of energy to make the new glass, which means that it would be better to find a way to reuse the bottle as a bottle than to return it for the five cents.

I recently found this tutorial for making wine bottles into drinking glasses. I could use some drinking glasses because I have, maybe, two, and so, of course, I'm very intrigued by the process. One of the people who commented suggested that, instead of wasting energy to make the drinking glass, one should consider, instead, returning the bottle, taking the money, and buying glasses at the thrift store.

I think my dad, and Joseph, would both agree that making drinking glasses out of wine bottles makes more sense and is a lot more thrifty than taking the fifteen cents and buying a glass at the thrift store.

Deus Ex Machina and I reuse bottles for our home brew, but I could see me making some glasses out of the extras. We need some drinking glasses anyway ... my guests are getting tired of using canning jars.

Monday, March 18, 2013

One More Day


I started out this morning writing a post on my thoughts about our society's fixation with zombie apocalypses and TEOTWAWKI fantasies - specifically, about why we seem to be so fascinated by (and hopeful for...?) the idea that our world will end in one big bang that will destroy 90% of the population and leave the remaining few (and we are all pretty sure that we'll be one of the survivors) struggling just to stay alive.

It didn't flow the way I wanted it to, and so I guess that means I need to think on it some more, but it does strike me as rather funny that, as a society, we seem almost, hopeful, that the end of the world will come ... and soon, because our lives are so wrong-feeling and because we don't why it's wrong or how to make it right, that the only solution to the wrongness is to just wipe the slate clean.

In spite of what we doomers warn and predict, there is not going to be an all-of-a-sudden catastrophic event that happens. Unless there's a war (which there could be), none of us will ever need that fully-stocked bunker, and even if there is a war, most of us still won't need it (although, if you live on the West Coast, you might want to start digging). Our society is not going to cease to exist overnight.

Which means that, if our lives suck, hoping for some change won't make it better, except in our heads. A better solution would be to make changes, but most of us can't/won't do that, because then, we'd be forced to address what's really wrong - our society is flawed, and the only way to change it, really change it, is for everyone to just step away from the machine.

It is a gorgeous, blue-skied day here in Maine. The forecast is predicting snow. I don't mind the snow. In fact, I've been hoping all winter for a huge, mid-week snowstorm that shuts everything down for a couple of days - essentially, giving us all a snow day. It's not happened, and given the fact that I live in Maine, where dealing with lots of snow is just part of living in Maine, it's not likely to happen. Even the snowstorm that dumped three feet of snow on us did little more than slow things down for a half of a day (meaning we drove slower than normal).

I woke up this morning, though, and I looked outside at the beautiful day, and I walked outside to get some wood for my stove to heat up my house, and I felt the cold nibble a little on my bare skin, and heard the birds cheeping and twittering in the trees, and saw the irises poking up from the dirt, and I thought, how thankful I am for this day. This one day.

I think our society is pretty screwed up, and I'm just as guilty as the next person of fantasizing about the TEOTWAWKI reset, but more and more I think I probably shouldn't waste so much energy planning for that kind of what-if. Maybe, instead of worrying so much about how to survive some fictitious possibility, I should remember to just be thankful for the one more day.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Farm Bounty

The next three days will fall below freezing at night and be above freezing during the day.

The sap will be flowing.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Handmaking my Home

I was gifted a copy of Amanda Soule's Handmade Home . It's been on my wishlist for a long time. Not only is Amanda a friend of mine, but she also is exactly how she seems in her books - very down-to-earth and gentle, soft-spoken, and incredibly talented and creative. The first time I flipped through her book, I knew it was something I would, eventually, own.

It's chockful of brilliant ideas for using those things that are just a part of every home. Some of my favorite creations are the things she makes out of her children's art work, and with so many little ones about (like me), she undoubtedly has a lot of it. I had not ever considered making a table runner or placemats with my girls' artwork. I'm super excited about making a quilt of their art - one for each girl.

Of all of the ideas in the book, I decided to start (really) small, and the one thing that I've been super excited about and motivated to make was the bath mats. I know, it sounds silly that of all of the things in her book, I decide to make bath mats, but the fact is that buying them can be expensive. In fact, we did buy one this past December. It was not right for our space, which is what often happens to me. I find that the best option is to custom make what I need, because things in my house never quite fit the norm.

The other reason I love her book is that she strongly promotes both simplicity AND reusing/repurposing, which is exactly what I did with my bathmats. Using one old, dingy bath towel and some material scraps (one was the leftovers from a pair of flannel pants I made for my daughter a few years ago), I made two bath mats - one for each bathroom, and I'm just thrilled with the results. I deviated (as I often do) from the pattern a bit, but Amanda actually encourages her readers to do that. She says that her designs should be used for inspiration, but she does not consider herself the expert on all things handmade for the home. She recognizes that a handmade home is going to be personal and individual to each family.

For years, my decorating was limited to finding new places for shelves to neatly display my ever-increasing library. I have very little style, but, like Amanda, my home is the center of my life. As a work-at-home, homeschooling, homesteading Mom, I spend a lot of time within these walls and cultivating our quarter acre. My house is filled with the tools I need for that lifestyle, and too often, instead of speaking to the coveted simple life, it looks cluttered and disorganized - like this thing was put there because there was no where else to put it.

I'm slowly changing that fact in our home - letting go of those things that are simply clutter to allow room for the things that really do mean something, rearranging the spaces in our home so that they make more sense and work better for our growing family, and repurposing those things we wish to keep, but that no longer serve their original purpose - like the towels that weren't very good for towels anymore ... but that make fine bath mats ... and look a good deal nicer paired with a piece of scrap material than as a towel, haphazardly thrown on the floor.

It didn't take much time at all to cut and sew the fabric, and the result is just something that looks incredibly nice, and purposeful. In fact, it took me longer to get-around-to-doing-it, than it did to actually do it.

And I'm so happy that I did.

With much thanks to, Amanda for the inspiration ;). I'm looking forward to pulling some other projects from the book - like the above-mentioned quilt project. Now, just to find time to scan all of that artwork ;).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Save the World With a Song

We walked into music lessons last week, and almost as soon as we were in the door, Andy Happel, my girls' music teacher, handed me an article to read while I waited. I was so moved by what I read that I actually cried a little.

The article was written by Karl Paulnack as his Welcome Address to the Boston Conservatory, and what he says, in a nutshell, is that music is the spark of life, and while we, as a society, tend to undervalue it and its purveyors, music is what can (and will and does) heal the world.

That's what made me cry, because he is so right, and I came home and found Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen while he was a POW in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, and I played it. At one point, the music was so intensely moving that my dog started to howl, a long mournful sound, and I cried, again.

It's no secret that music and dance are and have always been a very big part of our daughters' educational experiences. I, personally, value both very highly - perhaps more because I don't do either of them very well. Formal education, in my opinion, should teach skills, rather than knowledge. We gain knowledge by living and experiencing the world. We gain skill by having someone teach us, and then through practice and repetition. Music and dance are, for me, skills rather than just knowledge, but there is the additional fact that research has shown a direct correlation to music education and higher scores on achievement tests, which seems to indicate that those who also engage in the arts excel in other areas.

Does music education make one smarter? Maybe. There is, afterall, the stereotypical band geek.

But, maybe, it's not that making music makes us smarter, but rather, as Paulnack observes, that music shows us how things fit together in the world, that music makes us more observant of what's out there, more aware, more ... intuitive to the inner workings of ourselves and the unseen.

Whatever the reason, music is, and will remain, an integral part of my girls' education, even if only to draw us closer together as a family, playing tunes in our living room for the simple pleasure of it.

Please click on the link Welcome Address and read what Paulnack has to say. Its simple truth will move you, too.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Music Alone Shall Live

I just finished reading Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon. Written in the 1950s, it's a post-apocalyptic tale of a small Florida town after a nuclear war.

It's a good story, and for those interested in post-apocalyptic fiction, I do recommend reading it. Frank doesn't really offer any creative solutions for surviving TEOTWAWKI. In fact, the people were woefully ill-prepared, even in things that one would expect people who live in Florida to be prepared for. But the story was written in the 1950s, at the height of America's cheap energy orgy, and so to read the description of the family that sold everything they owned and had an energy-sucking (and dependent) home built to replace the one they'd sold up north, was not really a surprise.

What was interesting was when the main character bought three cart loads full of groceries, including a boat-load of meat, for less than $400. I'm thinking, Wow! We spend that much for a paltry week's supply of stuff we buy from the grocery, which never includes meat and only a very limited selection of produce (mostly potatoes and apples from local farms). Times sure have changed.

There were some things that bothered me, but they really were directly related to the fact that the novel was written from a male perspective by a man who lived in a male-dominated society at a time when women were still expected to be June Cleaver. One can not fault an author for being true to the time and place where he lives.

What struck me, though, is the one thing that always surprises me about these post-apocalyptic novels. It seems a common thread running throughout the whole genre that in the end, the one thing most people will really miss, because it's something we take for granted that someone else will do for us is music. In Frank's novel, in S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire, and in Jean Hegland's Into the Forest, when the power went down, they had no music. It was particularly problematic for the characters in Hegland's book, because for one of the girls, as a dancer, not having music was devastating (which, actually, made me think of the time my daughters were given the opportunity to take a ballet class in a really old fashioned dance studio where the music for the class was actually a live pianist - what an incredible experience to dance to LIVE music!).

That the loss of music is a continuing theme throughout these post-apocalyptic novels surprises me - every time, in fact - because music is such a huge part of my life. In fact, at this moment that I'm writing this, Deus Ex Machina, Big Little Sister, Little Fire Faery, and Precious are in the other room practicing with each other. There's an electric bass, an acoustic guitar, a violin, a piano, and a ukulele (Precious plays the last two, not at the same time, though ;) ).

It's music, and it's beautiful.

When my daughters first started taking music lessons, I used to tell them, half-jokingly, that if they could play an instrument with some degree of proficiency, they would never starve.

After reading so many of these stories, I realize how rich we are. Their lessons, the money invested in purchasing instruments or the time spent fixing found instruments, all of it is completely worth every penny we've spent, but I realize that it's not about the money, but about giving them this gift of music that - no matter what - they will always have.

When I was a Girl Scout many, many years ago we sang the song All things shall perish from under the sky. Music alone shall live. For my girls, come what may, we've made sure that the music will continue to live, through them.