Thursday, June 27, 2013

More than Season Extension - More than a "just" a Greenhouse

He doesn't call it a "greenhouse", because it's more. He calls it a bioshelter and in this structure, he and his partner are growing food - year round - in Holyoke, Massachusetts ... which probably has a climate very similar to mine, here in Maine.

It's the possibilities that matter to me. Clearly, he doesn't plan to just survive ... Jonathan Bates is thriving.

Watch the video. It's very, very cool!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cutting Back to Cultivate Abundance

Here at the nanofarm, we've been exploring different work/life options. I work at home and have for nearly a decade and a half. My being "at-home" was planned when we had children, because through personal experience and anecdotal evidence, we believed that our children would be better off with one full-time parent. We both have college degrees, but with his in electrical engineering and his starting salary about twice what I, as a teacher, would have made, we decided it would be best for Deus Ex Machina to enter the world of employment, and I would stay home.

But I decided I also wanted to have a bit of income, and so I started a home-based secretarial service, and over the years, while my business has not grown, in the economic sense of it being completely self-supporting and my having lots of employees and clients, it has stayed viable (i.e. the income has always been more than it cost me to operate the business), and I've earned a fairly steady income as a home-based entrepreneur.

To his credit, Deus Ex Machina has always worked very hard, and while some aspects of his job(s) over the years have been incredibly rewarding, sometimes there are conflicts with his work schedule and the things he really wants to be doing here, at home. Or the things that need to be done by him (like splitting wood) to support our chosen lifestyle.

We've talked a lot about choices. We've talked about a complete career change for him and starting our own business, but the unknowns are very hard to plan for, and Deus Ex Machina is wont to consider jumping into the water without testing the temperature and depth - except with his work schedule and the things that need to be done on our nanofarm, testing the waters in an entrepreneurial venture without actually getting wet can't really happen. With his responsibility to his employers (including the occasional spur-of-the-moment business trips), there is just very little extra time to embark on a new career.

The other option is to drop to a four-day workweek and take a pay cut, which is the option we are currently considering. As it turns out, studies and anecdotal evidence show that a four-day workweek, when implemented company-wide, increases work productivity, increases employee work-life satisfaction and reduces sick days and personal days taken by employees.

The challenge, now, is to convince our employers that, in the case of employee productivity, less is actually more.

The reality is that the less is more philosophy applies in just about every aspect of our lives. As suburbanites and well-trained consumers, we're still trying to relearn that lesson.

This morning, I picked up a dozen more chicks. We got a good deal on some dual purpose breeds from a local friend.

We didn't plan to do a comparison between heritage breeds of meat birds and our hybrids (and favored) Cornish X, but it looks like fate has granted us a golden opportunity ... and we're not ones to pass those up.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Life on the Nano-Farm

The espaliered apple tree has dozens of beautiful, tiny apples.

And a pair of black-capped chickadees have moved into the bird house.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Preparing for Winter is a Year-Round Chore

I may not get much corn ... or beans. The chickens are in their yard, but a couple of them fly over the too-low fence - the lighter, smaller ones, like the Easter-egger that gets picked on by the rest of the flock, and Missy, the chicken-that-lived-with-the-turkeys last fall (we thought she'd been taken, but found her three weeks later happily foraging and living down the road in the woods with the turkeys - no lie!). Anyway, they like digging in the beds, and they keep up-rooting the corn.

It's kind of a bummer, too, because this year was a grand experiment of growing different beans from dried beans purchased at the grocery store. I have no idea what kinds of beans (it was a soup mix packet) they are or how they grow (vining or bush-type), but I was excited to find out. Now, I don't even know if I'll get any. Rotten chickens!

Actually, this isn't an unusual event. Any plants that end up in the back yard garden are potential victims of my chickens. I know this, and so I tend to over plant the beds. This year, though, the chickens just seem a little more ... aggressive (?) ... in my garden beds than in the past.

I'll replant some corn and bean seeds - in the flats in the greenhouse, where they'll be protected until they can get big enough that, maybe, the chickens won't completely destroy them.

In the meantime, I keep trying to replant the little plants the chickens haven't completely destroyed, and wait, patiently, until August, when we'll know, for certain, whether our winter table will have corn and beans ... or chicken ;).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Good For You

Two Gingers Napping

Studies have shown that napping is actually a healthy habit. Our pets know it. Kids know it. In fact, if I'm remembering correctly, nap time was part of the school day back in Kindergarten. It just seems odd that once a kid hits first grade, suddenly the napping thing is no longer allowed. I mean, not even just discouraged, but no longer allowed! In fact, older school children and adults, who might really need a nap, get branded lazy or good-for-nothing if caught napping.

It's unfortunate that our culture forbids napping, because current research shows that there is significant benefit to napping. In addition to promoting health, it also increases productivity and creativity.

I like napping, when I get the chance. Fifteen minutes to curl up on the couch is just exactly what I need on those days when my brain just feels foggy, and if I'm given a chance to rest, quietly and undisturbed, I wake completely refreshed and ready to finish out the day. It's not every day that I get to (or even need to), but on those days when I'm feeling sluggish, having that nap helps get me through the day.

All this talk about snoozing is making me ... *yawn* ... I might kick the dog off the couch and join the little ginger. The only thing better than taking a nap, is having a nap buddy to snuggle.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Way We School

Little Fire Faery and I were outside in the backyard the other day. She said, "Look at that bird!" It was obviously a bird of prey of some sort. It was light colored - not the very dark turkey vulture, we which know are in the area - and it was lazily circling above us - just watching.

We watched it circling for a while. I had a very brief moment of concern that it might be trying to gauge whether or not we or the dogs were too big for it to handle. I know, given the chance, it would have taken one of our chickens.

She tried to get a picture.

Later, she told me it was a Cooper's hawk, and then, she told me about how she's seen these same birds on multiple occasions. She had a whole litany of places and times when she'd seen them, and she decided to find out what kind of bird it was. While some resources claim that making the distinction between the Cooper's Hawk and the look-A-like, Sharp-skinned hawk, can be difficult, there was no mistaking the sound. I've heard that monkey call on many occasions. It's definitely a Cooper's Hawk, and she further identified it as being a female, based on size and coloring.

And I'm impressed - awed, actually - that she figured it out.

Last night after dinner, while Deus Ex Machina and I were still sitting at the table chatting, Precious sat next to me with a math workbook we picked up from somewhere. We provide resources for the girls, and they have lots of books, workbooks, games (both board and virtual), educational toys, paint/markers/colored pencils/crayons, paper, journals, sketch books, chalkboards, globes, computers, iPods, educational posters (including one on laser doppler anemometry that we're using in lieu of a curtain or blinds on the French doors in our bedroom ;), and other manipulatives (like dice). But we don't *do* formal lessons with due dates and grades. When the girls decide they are interested in a subject, they pick up (or ask for) a resource and do activities related to that project. Last night, for Precious, it was math, and she worked on some addition, and then, she worked on some multiplication, and we sat with her and helped her when she needed us.

That's the way we do most lessons: it comes up because it's related to something we've seen - like the hawk; or one of the girls gets interested in doing it, and just does.

One of the most oft asked questions of us, especially this time of year, centers around a curiosity of when our school year ends/begins. It's hard to explain that there is no end or beginning, that learning is continuous, that everything is learning, and nothing is. The short answer is: our school year ends after dance recital and the next year begins around July 1. No, we don't take summer vacation, but rather, we space our "time-off" throughout the year so that if we have a day when we don't feel like doing anything, we don't.

Of course, sometimes, on those days when we don't feel like doing anything, we still are, and some of the best "school" days we've ever had were days that no one would recognize as being a "school" day.


2013 Wyvern Academy Highlights

While Deus Ex Machina and I tried (bare-handed) clamming, our girls explored the clam flats and found lots of interesting things.

Katniss doesn't have anything on my girl.

Painting rocks for our Tic-Tac-Toe game in the garden.

Typing class? Story writing? Yes! But to her, it's just play.

Corn art. We grew the corn, we dried the corn, we shucked the corn ... and the girls decided to form it into pictures. who needs a fancy made-in-China etch-a-sketch or doodle pad. We have corn ;).

Drama club at school is not nearly as cool as local theatre! Because Dad can't be in your school play ;).
Precious, Little Fire Faery and Deus Ex Machina were all cast in last winter's production of Honk! Good times, for sure!

It's math. It's origami. It's a toy. It's stress-relief ;). Yes! Learning and playing. Here's how to make your own.

Family game night ... or geography lesson? The truth is that playing Risk with my sisters was how I learned World Geography as a kid - it's also how I learned I'm not destined for world domination, but that's a very different lesson ;).

Agility, grace, stamina, strength, team-building, personal responsibility, community service, and a positive body image ... those are all lessons my girls have and are learning from dance. In addition to performing at competitions, fundraisers throughout the year, and their annual recital, my girls also perform at nursing homes and community building days (like the Old Port Festival).

Animal husbandry and horsemanship are all part of Precious' riding lessons. She even placed in a recent Dressage competition. Of course, her favorite part about the competition - other than being able to ride for one extra day that week - was being given a toy horse and a ribbon :).

She's very proud of her first-ever knit scarf.

Invasive Asian Long-Horn beetle or native Sawyer bug? We found it in the yard, and since we have a lot of maples, which are the Asian Long-Horn beetle's favorite target, we've saved it for identification.


There was more, of course. There are ongoing, year-round music lessons with master teacher, Andy Happel (and this June 2012 TEDxDirigo talk that Little Fire Faery was invited to participate in :). There was the Mother Earth News Fair in September at which Deus Ex Machina and I were speakers. We hosted a NaNoWriMo writing workshop class in November. I taught a formal economics/social studies class called World Without Oil, and Big Little Sister taught a class on set-up and maintenance of a home aquarium in the spring.

And there was the every day, little things that we do that often get no formal recognition, but that are very much a part of our learning experience.

It's been a fun year. I'm excited to see what happens during this next one ;).

Sunday, June 16, 2013

From Scratch

I was chatting with some other moms the other day. We were talking about food - in particular baked goods. I mentioned that I should have had Big Little Sister bring some of the Mexican Wedding cookies she bakes. They're very tasty, and they look quite elegant.

I didn't teach her how to bake. I'm not fond of baking, and when we need contributions for bake sales, I usually depend on the local bakery to supply any confections I donate. If I deserve any credit, it's only in that I have very little fear in the kitchen and tend to be willing to experiment with and alter recipes to fit our needs and what's in our cabinets.

Last year, we needed to bring baked goods for a fancy bake sale (it's a show hosted at the girls' dance school called "The Cabaret of Sweets", and for a small fee, one gets a decadent dessert and entrance into the dance performance. It's a really good deal, and the desserts are always incredible), and so she decided to learn to make something exotic and cool. Her first fancy dessert was baklava.

I guess I didn't realize how much she liked making it ... and some how I missed all of the times she - voluntarily - went into the kitchen to make other things: brownies, cookies, sweet bread.

A few weeks ago, we were at the library, and she discovered a dessert cookbook, where she found the recipe for Mexican Wedding cookies. Immediately upon seeing the recipe, she knew she wanted to try to make them, and so she checked out the book.

I guess I never really thought a lot about it. Then, one of the moms said something about Duncan Hines, and I realized, in that moment, that my daughters are learning to bake, really bake (especially Big Little Sister, and I'm sure the others will follow suit as they get older), but they don't use boxed mixes.

Big Little Sister makes cookies and brownies, from scratch, and to her, it's just the way it's done, because that's the way she's always done it. I haven't bought a boxed mix in a very long time, but we almost always have ingredients for cookies, brownies, cakes ... and pizza crust.

As someone who grew up making homemade pizza using the Chef Boyardee boxed mixes, I think it's pretty incredible that she can cook without being limited to instructions like "pour contents of packet into bowl and add eggs." She even made a chocolate meringue pie not long ago. To me, that's pretty impressive.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

DIY Gowns

Buying dresses would have been easier, certainly. We looked at five different stores (both second-hand and new retail), for what seemed like hours. The problem is that we had to have three dresses for three vastly different-sized girls and all of them needed to be that "poofy", Southern-belle-esque style ... and they had to be the same color.


In the end, we decided to head over to the fabric store, where we bought six yards of a satin fabric (on sale, because it's graduation and prom season ;)) and an equal amount of tulle-type fabrics.

I worked from a skirt pattern - using the same one for all three skirts and made adjustments for their differing sizes.

They're each a little different in style, and the tulle I used is different for each skirt. The youngest has a dress. They aren't professional quality, but they're good enough for a costume the girls will wear on stage for two nights in a waltz with their father.

There are some little things that I would have changed if I had more time or more knowledge, but overall, I'm pretty happy with how they turned out.

My girls are going to be beautiful up on stage, dancing with their daddy. I might even need a box of tissues ;).

The lesson here is to not be afraid. The dresses aren't perfect, but they're at least as good as (better if you consider that they are much closer to what we wanted) anything we found in the stores.

I may not have the opportunity to be up on stage with my family while they're dancing, but I can, at least, be present with them in the dresses I made.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Saving Water for the Future

I read an article about Nestlé's plans/attempts to siphon water from the Arkansas River. I guess I'm a little hypersensitive, because I can still remember when Poland Spring was a Maine-owned and operated company, and I remember when Nestlé started flirting with Poland Spring, who turned over on its back like an attention-starved high-schooler being wooed by the super jock (please excuse the imagery). At the time, I said - out loud - that it was a bad idea to sell out to Nestlé (I thought it was a mistake for Tom's of Maine to sell-out to Colgate, too, but since I don't own any of those companies, I don't have say-so). Those big corporations don't really care about the communities they buy into, and invariably, what's good for their business is bad for the community.

Not too long ago, I saw a video in which the CEO of Nestlé stated, in not so many words, that access to clean water is not a right, but rather a commodity. He sat behind his big desk and said that corporations (like Nestlé's presumably) need to be in control of these resources, like water, so that they can ensure it goes where it needs to go. Hmmm .... I wonder who is the most deserving of this essential-to-life resource. If you believe Nestlé's CEO, it's the person who can afford it ... oh, and those poor starving souls who tug at the heart-strings of the rich and are therefore tossed a few bottles, maybe enough to keep themselves (but probably not their children) from dying of dehydration-related illnesses.

Lest you think I'm talking about some typical third world country, think again. How about this Canadian town where Nestlé has won the "right" to drain the aquifers of as much water as they wish ... even in the midst of a drought when the citizens of that town do not have unlimited access? Really? So, basically, the folks who live there have to pay Nestlé for the bottled water that was taken from the town's own aquifers. Nice. Certainly, it's not as dire as a place where there is no access to clean water at all, but it could escalate to a scenario in which the locals don't have any right to the water that runs right under their homes.

Did anyone see that cartoon movie, Rango? It probably wasn't as fictional as we might want to believe. Pump all of the water into bottles, and then charge for the water. Sounds like a solid business plan.

Reminds me of southeastern Kentucky, where my paternal relatives settled. People could buy land, but the coal companies owned the mineral rights, and if they found a coal seam running under a person's land, they had the right to come in and mine it. I saw it happen. Broke my heart, because coal mining is a dirty and destructive business, and it creates an incredible amount of pollution, and often, when the coal companies get done with their digging, the land is so toxic it's barely even fit to live on.

Thanks to attitudes like that, legislation that gives preference to corporations over individuals, those of us who are concerned about the state-of-the-world and wish to start becoming more self-sufficient, often run up against all sorts of brick walls from restrictions on the height of the plants in our front yards to the inability to set-up a water catchment system. In some states (like Colorado), rain water is not a free resource and collecting it in rain barrels (and preventing it from flowing into the Colorado River where it can be accessed by every one) is illegal.

I wonder, though, if there are legal options that serve the same/similar purpose. Like, are swimming pools illegal in Colorado? Could one use rain gutters on the house (which are commonly used to protect a home's foundation by diverting the rain water and keeping it from eroding away the support structure) and just point them toward the pool? Are swales illegal? They are, after all, a water catchment system, of sorts.

I'm not suggesting that anyone flout the law or blatantly ignore or violate local building/land use codes, but I am suggesting that, perhaps, there are alternatives to doing nothing, and it would serve all of us, living in this country where the government, invariably, passes laws that benefit corporate interests (and, often, those laws are passed under the pretense of making life better for us, or protecting us, or some other BS), to start thinking around the issues.

Rain barrels are illegal? Build a pond or a pool and collect/store/save water that way.

There's always an alternative.

Today's harvest:

56 lbs chicken (in the freezer)
spinach, kale, chives, and fennel to add to the lamb stir-fry.

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Farm

I'm coming to grips with the fact that I am a suburban farmer. It's different, perhaps, from a typical farmer - someone who makes a living selling agricultural products - but the fact is that I do raise food, and while I don't make a living, and I don't make any money, we do use some of our farm products for bartering for goods and services with other suburban farmers. We do have a garden (and I'm struggling to get cabbage to grow, as my chickens keep killing it), and we raise meat animals.

We're not wholly self-sufficient, but most farmers these days aren't either. Those with animals, like me, depend on commercial feeds, and those with gardens (or fields of crops ;) depend on seed. And we work outside jobs, but I know plenty of farmers where one spouse works the farm and the other works a job off the farm. It's the way my grandparents, who had a dairy farm in Ohio back in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s did things. It's the way Deus Ex Machina and I do things (although both of us have paid work, and we both do farm work, too).

My farm is on a much smaller scale, but it is a farm, and it does feed us - at least some portion of our diet. More importantly, though, this farm allows us to dream of some day being truly self-sufficient, living outside the money economy, and being able to produce most of what we need on this quarter acre.

One of these days I'm going to challenge myself and my family to eat for a month (or at least a week) only those foods we produced here on our farm and any foods we can barter - not buy. It would definitely be a challenge and would certainly take some serious thought when it comes to meal times. We'll probably eat a lot of eggs ... and chicken.

Speaking of, the chickens went to see Ken, which is our special euphemism. Ken is our butcher. This time tomorrow, we'll have ten home-grown chickens in the freezer. By September, we will have quadrupled that number. With the pig we'll be purchasing from our 4-H friend and the beef and lamb we still have in the freezer, and the hoped-for deer and/or turkey Deus Ex Machina will bring home this year, and any fish my son-in-law might gift us, we're probably set for meat.

With what we grow this season, and with using our greenhouse for some season extension this fall, we should be set for the plant half of our diet (we're even attempting some rice this year - should be interesting to see if it really produces).

And these guys are being trained to keep it all safe. They look like farm dogs to me.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Some time back, I mused about the merits of recycling versus reusing and I posted a link to a tutorial on making wine bottles into glasses.

We reuse wine bottles and beer bottles, but we also, occasionally buy (locally brewed) soft drinks (from the Maine Root company which is headquartered in a neighboring town and within comfortable biking distance to my house) in glass bottles, which are returned, crushed and turned into something else. All those glass bottles, which must be remade, using so much energy and so many resources. We thought it would be fun to be able to do something different.

And so we are. We'll be making glasses, and in the long run, those glasses we make will be a lot cheaper - both for us and for the environment, than even buying used glasses secondhand at yard sales or Goodwill.

Even better, though, is that making glasses from repurposed wine or soda bottles will give us a stash of dishes for when we have parties - like this past weekend to celebrate a family wedding. We hosted the reception here at Chez Brown. Dinner included home-cooked foods (some of which were grown here and much of the rest of which was locally sourced) served on real plates with cloth napkins. The only waste was composted food, which isn't waste.

At this party, we used canning jars for drinking glasses, but at the next party, those jars will more than likely be filled with something grown or gleaned over our too-short summer. Being able to make glasses will be both fun, and a pretty cool conversation piece.

Now, we're scheming what to do with the tops of the bottles.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Growing in small spaces

We have six of these containers in our yard. They're approximately 2' across and about the same depth. A good friend gave them to us as barrels and we cut them down to use them as container gardens. This year, we've used them, not only to grow some of our food, but also to increase the aesthetics of our front yard - and they do look so pretty with the plantings of annual (edible) flowers and edible greens.

I think this is one of my favorite gardens this summer.

Roller-coaster Weather

Here in Maine, we went through a couple of weeks with no rain. It was nice, because it was sunny and beautiful (if a bit cold), but without rain, it's hard to grow things. I will admit that I got a little worried we might end up in some drought condition, and the lack of rain coincided exactly with our acquisition of three new rain barrels, which was a bit of a bummer, because they weren't getting filled.

Clearly, my fears were completely unwarranted. The last few weeks have been mostly rain, and until the past weekend, chilly. In fact, I was bundled up in my early spring garb until five days ago, when the temperatures went from an average high of 60° to over 100° in a day. It happened so fast, in fact, that when we were discussing the weather with the young lady at the grocery store, she said that she still hadn't unpacked her summer clothes. Usually, there's some gradual change from cold to cool to warm to sweltering, and back. This year, the daily temperatures have been all up and down the thermometer.

As the anti-climate change proponents will attest, depending on daily weather anomalies as proof of global warming is no proof. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule. There are always going to be days that are much hotter or colder than others, and in fact, there are some days that are record-setting in their extreme.

But those who are promoting the idea of climate change aren't looking at isolated daily weather. This past weekend, in Maine, had to have been a record high. In the seventeen years I've lived here, I don't ever remember the end of May as being so very hot. Although today it's cool and rainy, but that's not proof of anything, because sometimes there are crazy happenings, and the advice from old-timers here in Maine is if you don't like the weather, wait an hour. It will change.

We had a wonderful, sunny weekend, and were given the opportunity to make some new acquaintances. It's always interesting to meet new people, because one just never knows what each encounter will bring. It's taken me a long time, but I've learned that meeting new people is often an opportunity for me to grow as a person. In particular, I'm learning to not allow myself to pre-judge based on too limited information.

This weekend, we talked about climate change with people we assumed would be completely oblivious. We thought they were typical, suburban, mall-crawlers, and we learned that even suburban mall-crawlers are sometimes paying attention. They told us that their climate (somewhat south of us here in Maine) had changed. They said they used to get a lot of snow, but that they hardly saw any these days.

In the news this morning is a story about the extreme flooding in eastern Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. It's so bad, according an article in Spiegel, that they've employed military personnel to evacuate residents. In some areas, the power has been shut-off and historic districts (which would be buildings that were erected centuries ago and have stood through all manner of potentially destructive forces - both manmade and naturally occurring) are now being inundated.

I'm always telling Deus Ex Machina that I like older houses, because they've stood the test of time. Here in Maine, where flooding happens, especially in the more densely populated areas along the coast and near rivers, I like the older houses, because, clearly, they were built above the flood waters. I'd assume that those houses in the historic districts in the currently inundated European cities were the same, but it appears that all bets are now off.

What we thought we knew is no longer the fact of life.

In his most recent post, The Maine Outdoorsman, Steve Vost, points out another issue that we are going to have to deal with in the fact of a warming world. Historically, Maine's weather has been inhospitable to harmful creatures. There are no (were no??) poisonous spiders in Maine, and the only poisonous snake (the timber rattler) that was ever encountered in Maine had been extirpated. That's what Deus Ex Machina told me when he brought me here - no poisonous snakes or spiders, and so the warning I had been given as a child to not play near woodpiles (which is a favorite hiding place of several poisonous snakes and spiders) has never been issued to my children. Steve's recent post is about the growing threat of Lyme-carrying ticks, which, thanks to milder winters, have now found a happy home here in Maine. Lyme disease is a serious threat to both humans and animals. Even our dogs can contract Lyme.

Flooding due to abnormally high precipitation is bad. Ticks are bad. What could be even more potentially damaging, however, is that last little blurb in the Spiegel article, which states, This broad swath of muddy soil is causing major problems for the agricultural industry, the DWD reports, making it impossible to drive on 40 percent of fields, use machinery or spray against pests, diseases, molds or weeds. We've already seen crop failures over the last few years from drought conditions in the mid-Western US and from flooding in Australia, Russia and Pakistan.

Crop failures = food shortages = increased food prices = hungry people.

One does not have to believe that the climate change scientists are right to see that something has been changing, and it doesn't matter (at least to me) whether it's because of human use of fossil fuels or not. What matters - to me - is that our global dependence on big-Ag is going to starve a lot of people. It's already destroyed the land, with excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides creating sterile soil and the run-off of these substances into our streams causing dead spots in the oceans.

Wet fields means that big equipment can not be used to farm, and if farmers can not use conventional methods, that is, those practiced and promoted over the past hundred years, they aren't going to be able to grow our food.

The bottom line is that we all need to be doing what we can with what we have where we are. And that will be different for everyone, but everyone needs to be doing something - even if it's just a pot of basil on the windowsill.