Archive for July, 2010

Have I Completely Lost My Mind?

Sharon July 27th, 2010

It might have been Serendipity – we happened to be driving by, just Eric and I on our brief solo trip. Or it might have been the survey ribbons that went up across the road a few weeks ago – the suggestion that our neighbors who have been building a 5000 square foot house with a special dog-washing bathroom (no, I’m not kidding) are going to help finance that by selling off the plot of open land right across the street. Or it might have been the fact that our property tax assessment went up by nearly 2000 dollars this year – to almost 6K! Or it could be the fact that despite the face we’re peripheral to a flood plain that hasn’t flooded in 100 years, when our bank sold our mortgage last time, they forced us to up our flood coverage by another thousand bucks. But me, Miss “Someone has to stay and make right the places that aren’t perfect” is having thoughts about moving.

I don’t move because I do think you actually have to stay in place, and because I love my home, but I also don’t move because Eric would rather chew his own arm off, frankly. But this time, Eric is actually making the call to the realtor to go see the place. I’m not sure whether the increasing bills for house expenses or those survey ribbons drove him over the edge, but something did.

We were meandering through a small town not to far from us – we have friends nearby that we’d stopped to visit. Because we visit friends there regularly, we’ve been watching the local economy in this town evolve for some years – New York has a growing Amish community, and this town now has about 60 Amish families and is still growing. We’ve always driven throught he town and loved it and talked about how much fun it would be to live there. And across from a beautiful farm, was a for sale sign on an old house, one that looks not totally unlike ours, with 11 acres. Unlike our place, though, it has an enormous old dairy barn and the land is flat and fairly fertile.

We stopped, just for a laugh. It wasn’t serious, but we got out and walked around (the house is empty) and looked in the windows and the barn. And we laughed and drove away. And then we came home and a few days later looked again at the survey ribbons and received the flood insurance bill, and we started talking about it.

Today we drove up with the three younger kids to walk around – Simon had overheard us talking about moving, and it was upsetting him to think of a change. We figured that he’d be less upset if he could see the property and imagine what we are talking about, if he knew how far it was from synagogue (actually about the same distance) and most of our friends. And it did – he’s calmed right down. Isaiah and Asher were ready to move in the minute they saw the hayloft of the barn and the climbable maple tree in the front yard. It is Eric and I who are freaking out. It turns out that I like to look at houses, and to speculate with no intention of actually doing things. I don’t, so much, like the actual work of doing all this, of figuring out what the best thing is.

I don’t want to move. I really, really don’t want to move. I don’t want to do the enormous work of sorting out and moving our stuff. I don’t want to give up the fruit trees that are finally producing and the garden beds that we’ve spent all summer building. I don’t want to give up this place we know and the neighbors and community here. I don’t want to spend time on offers and counteroffers, estimates and budgets, insulation and moving vans – I’ve done all that. I bought a house. I built an addition. I did that stuff, and I’m done now.

But – and there’s always a but – I’m also thinking about it seriously. There are those 6K in property taxes – and our worries about New York’s budget and the possibilities of furlough or job loss. That’s a lot of money in taxes every year, and it is likely to get worse as our district struggles to cover things. There’s the flood insurance – we’d be out of the flood plain on this property, even though there is a creek. The cost of living here would be substantively lower.

Then there’s the neighborhood – slowly, gradually, the tight ties our neighborhood had when all the younger mothers in the community were home with their kids have decayed a bit as parents went back to work full time. Our long history of bartering and sharing with our neighbors has fallen apart – not because we don’t want to offer, but because they feel they can’t pay us back anymore. We are still friends, still share things – but we’ve started to feel more scattered, less integrated into each other’s lives – once we might not have been able to leave, now I think we could.

There’s the land across the road – in the nine years we’ve been here, three more houses have gone up on our road, and many more in the development across. They are nice people, but the rural character of our town is changing into something more suburban. We can live with more neighbors – but the privacy that we’ve had here is more a part of what we long for than I knew. That can happen anywhere, of course, but it is happening where we are, and agricultural neighbors, the kind that are building up our neighborhood, are rather different than suburban McMansions with dog-washing bathrooms. Or maybe they aren’t – people are people. But it seems that way sometimes.

The house we own is too big – even with one housemate, it is simply too large for six people, two of whom don’t want to spend any more time cleaning than they have to. It was right when Eric’s grandparents were living with us, but they are gone. We could take in more housemates, but it is difficult enough to live happily with friends – we could do it with strangers, but we’re a little reluctant – we worry about the dynamics in our happy home. Phil has been a delight and a blessing – but it took us nearly two years to find him.

The place isn’t perfect – it would need work – and so does our house if we are going to sell it. I shudder at the thought. All of a sudden, my whole life would be selling and packing and moving and making things pretty – I don’t want to do that, I have other things to do And how can I leave my garden, the trees just starting to fruit, the pets buried in the front yard, the memories of Eric’s grandparents? How can my kids who have known no other place move? The very thought is depressing.

But the thing that draws us most is the fact that because of the large Amish community, there’s an emerging walkability and bikeability that my area lacks – by necessity, the community is being rebuilt to a horse scale. I chatted with a neighbor, out mowing his lawn across the road. He greeted me with a broad smile. I asked about the house – he told me he’d been born there, and that his father had lived there until his death. He told me about sliding down the banister, and about the inside, which we haven’t seen except through windows.

I asked about the community – was it friendly? Oh, yes, he said, and listed off activities and things they did. Were there children? Yes indeed. How are the neighbors – excellent, and his new Amish ones, he said, were the best and kindest neighbors he’d ever had. Everyone knows each other, and they all lend a hand when someone gets sick, as his neighbor down the road did. As I headed back to the car, he waved and said he hoped he’d be seeing me again.

The house is old and underinsulated. The barn needs work, and setting it up for the goats and making it safe for the kids to roam will take more than a little time and money. The place isn’t perfect. And it comes with the painful necessity of moving. But the mortgage would be even smaller than this one, and the property taxes and insurance halved. It is less land but more fertile land, flatter. Less wooded, but older woods, with more hardwood.

I do not want to move. Part of me wants to cry at the thought of devoting so much of my time and energy to that project, and even more of me wants to cry at the thought of leaving our creek, our land, our soil, my lovingly tended gardens – even if there is new soil and gardens and a creek where we go. This has been home, and that place is strange. And yet, there’s a tipping point, a point when new possibilities start to seem possible.

I’ve got shelves now in my kitchen for my jams and jellies and bulk foods – it took six years to get them. I’ve got shelves in my dining room for my enormous collection of gardening and cookbooks – they were a birthday present when I turned 35. I’ve got my garden beds – and they are fertile. We’ve got a fence around the yard so that Eli can run. We have a cistern and a well pump. We have our pastures and our barns. We even have a sign. The sign could go with us, and so could the pump, but it feels like losing ground – we are just, finally making this what we wanted. The only problem is that things we can’t build or repair or mend or improve seem not to be working around us. We’ve got our fingers on everything in our control – but what’s out of it has an increasingly large say. But maybe that’s how it always is, maybe that’s how it would become if we were to move.

Most of all, I want to be home. And I wonder – how much do I believe in staying if I allow the cost of living here and the limitations of a neighborhood I did choose to drive me away? Is this a moment for courage of convictions or to make a change? Is our home, our farm this place, its land and its building or can our home, our farm move with us, and our sense of comfort come too? How do we tell? I have, frankly, no clue.

I really don’t. We’re seeing the inside of the house on Thursday afternoon, and in the meantime, Eric and I have been snapping at each other. We’re both in a panic – because we’re sort of serious. And we both have no idea what that means.

Here’s a picture of the house we’re going to look at, btw – you can’t see the enormous dairy barn:

the house.jpg

Further updates as events warrant.

Sharon

Independence Days: Finding Space

Sharon July 22nd, 2010

The problem is that all the new garden beds are not yet built.   This makes it very hard to fit in my fall crops, as planned.  Why are they not yet built?  Well, because I was building a buck pen, so that Frodo and Cadfael, our slightly smelly gentlemen could have their own spot.  Why didn’t I build the buck pen earlier, so I could have the garden beds ready?  Well, because I was building a second kidding pen to accomodate the very close due dates of our goats.  Why didn’t I build the kidding pen earlier?  Well, because I was building the herb production beds.  Why didn’t I do those earlier?  Well, I was away visiting my family.  So there’s definitely a way to blame it on my Mom ;-) .

The late cukes are where the peas were.  The mesclun mix, instead of bolting, has actually gone on producing beautifully, so I can’t take that out.  The herb beds are already crammed tight – half of what’s in them is going to come out again and be moved into other beds, also not yet built.  I had another herb bed, but it turned out the dogs really liked to lie on it, and dogs are not good mulch, just in case you didn’t know.  Everything there had to come out  – I may still be able to make it work, but now I have to raise the beds up.

The green beans I hoped would be ready to come out aren’t yet, so I don’t have their space, and I have already cut down on zucchini plants – one needs extras in July, but by August, they aren’t worth it.  The sweet corn will be out soonish, but not yet.  So what’s a girl to do, but dig, dig, dig.

I’ve also got to set up another rabbit cage – the little doe that came out of Rosemary’s last kindling needs to be moved out before Rosemary has her second batch of babies.  I’m planning to buy another doe and buck this year – maybe from she of the bunnies if she’s got stock (hi Michelle), but I want to check out the fair first in a couple of weeks.

We’re harvesting all the good stuff  – the one advantage of a hot, dry summer is all the stuff I usually struggle with is doing really well.  My first eggplant is ready.  I’m getting enough tomatoes for salads, if not yet for canning.  The basil is exploding, and it is time for pesto making.  The hot peppers are booming – yay – speaking as a serious pepper-head, this is a real novelty and a joy. Hot sauce and salsa, here I come!

The rain hasn’t been ample, but it has mostly been enough to get along, and we’ve got more coming.  I hear an inch tomorrow – woohoo!  I’m trying to keep up with the herbs, and while they don’t dry quite as fast as I’d like in the drying room (previously known as the mudroom) the quality is great – green, fragrant, perfect.   

The boys are excited about naming all the baby goats.  We’ve decided that this year’s theme will be herbs and flowers.  We’re keeping the best of Frodo’s boys as a buckling, since Frodo is getting on in goat years and we’re a bit paranoid about losing his brilliant genetics.  The boys quite innocently suggested that we could name a buck “Goldenrod” or “Mandrake” and I admit, Eric and I had a good laugh on that. 

It is time to order my garlic and fall bulbs – I always get ornamental bulbs as part of my birthday present (in a couple of weeks) and this year we’re planning on radically expanding our garlic production.  The rest of the garlic is just about ready to harvest, and that’s tomorrow’s job.  The major challenge here is keeping the garlic out of Eli’s hands – he loves the long stems to play with.

I’m going to set up a segment of this blog to show farm products for sale and goat genetics and things, if I can pull it off, and ideally lots of pictures!  All of this is coming just as soon as I actually get time for it – but that will have to be soon, because there’s a nagging feeling in the back of my brain that I have a book contract to deal with at some point ;-) .  Best get things done soon.

Plant something: Echinacea, eclipta, mesclun, turnips, beets, kale, broccoli, peas, scallions, lettuce, arugula, daikon, kohlrabi.

Harvest something: Tomatoes, eggplant, basil, mesclun, zucchini, summers quash, green beans, carrots, daikon, new potatoes, bok choy, lettuce, meadowsweet, yarrow, mongolian yarrow, holy basil, mint, curry plant, sage, plums, raspberries, blueberries, eggs.

Preserve something: Dried many herbs, made blueberry-honey, blueberry jam and blueberry crisp filling.  Dried blueberries.  Made rhubarb sauce.  Dried peaches.  Made red currant jelly.  Saved pea seed.  Froze eggs.

Waste Not: Cleaned out the old stable for its transition to buck and winter poultry housing, and put the remaining old bedding in the garden.  Otherwise, the usual composting, mending, etc…

Want Not: Nothing new

Build Community Food Systems: Spoke at a hearing on a local community garden proposal – I think they’re going to get one.  Began pestering folk at my shul about setting up a community garden onsite.

Eat the Food: Making a lot of potato salads – I don ‘t like mayo, so they tend to be with a mustardy vinagrette instead – I really like the one with capers, garlic and last year’s dried tomatoes.

How about you?

Sharon

Don’t Know Nuthin’ About Birthin’ No (Goat) Babies

Sharon July 20th, 2010

Tomorrow we begin the obstetric countdown to goat birthing.  This is only our second time ’round with this, and while I’m less nervous than last time (way more nervous than the actual goats, though), I’m still a little worried.  Mostly about Selene, who after her bout with meningeal parasite last year has some residual weakness in her back legs.  Although she gets along great, can still jump on the stanchion, etc… and is a fine milker, I’m worried she’ll have trouble delivering. 

Still, we’re spending the week getting our ducks in a row.  The barn has to be cleaned and the kidding pen prepared.  We need to move the two bucks (Cadfael, our new little buckling arrived on Thursday) up the hill into the old stable and their new pen, so that no one gets pregnant again right off.

We have our supplies altogether, but I really need some storage space in the barn better than the cardboard box on a high but open shelf where the birthing supplies live.  Got the dental floss, for tying off umbilical cords, the antiseptic lube, the towels (birth is a gooey process, as I vaguely remember from when I did it myself).

 I’ve found this website incredibly useful when preparing for birth – I don’t do everything just the way they do, but the pictures are incomparable, so for anyone who wants goats or already has them and is scared to have babies, this is great stuff! 

There really isn’t a week’s worth of stuff to do, and I know I’m just making myself nuts, but that’s what getting ready for babies, human or goat is like.  First there’s the endless-seeming waiting, and then there’s the sleep deprivation, the constant “is that normal” worries, and finally, with all good fortune, you have a barn full of babies (or an armfull) and the good stuff begins.  Me, I can’t wait til the good stuff starts.

Sharon

Trending Towards Home

Sharon July 19th, 2010

We were away for 28 hours, and it was enough.  I feel strange writing this because one of the things Eric and I used to love best was travelling – for years our favorite thing to do was to plot where we might go next, and, ideally, go there.  We’ve visited 7 other countries together, and had long dreams of other ones, of somedays, of the day we would be free to join the Peace Corps together, or go and live far away from our current place. 

But having children changes things, at least for us.  When I was first pregnant we were absolute that this would not stop us from travelling (this was before energy awareness fully hit me) – that we’d either take the baby with us across time zones, or as soon as he was old enough (we assumed 2ish), we’d leave him with grandparents and go away for stretches – not more than a week or so.

How funny that seems to me now.  What I didn’t know about parenthood was that I wouldn’t want to leave my two year old for a week – indeed, I’d feel vaguely panicked about leaving him overnight, although eventually we did that, and eventually, the panicky feeling would go away.  I also failed to realize how my newfound consciousness of the future that I was bringing Eli into would affect my feeling about casual plane trips just to see other countries. 

And by the time Eli was two we had Simon, newborn and nursing – I was tandem nursing both of them, actually.  I had assumed, before I was a mother, that the ties that drew parents and children together were burdensome, that one put a good face on it, but basically was chomping at the bit to get away.  Instead, I found that I had changed more radically than I’d ever expected - it wasn’t them keeping me, although that was part of it, it was me wanting them. 

And then we acquired a farm.  The thing about a farm is that a good one is like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree – it needs us.  When we begged my mother for pets as children, my mother used to roll her eyes and say “I don’t need any more needy things, I’ve got children.”  My husband and I filled our farm with needy creatures, and the farm itself was filled with need – it blossomed under our love and showed quite clearly when and where we neglected it.  It got harder to go away, although due to the kindness of good friends and good neighbors, we were able to continue with family visits, and even the occasional escape.

Eric and I took one of those escapes this year (thank you Mom and Grandma Nancy!!!!!) - it had been two years since we’d been away without the children, and while we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to visit several local farmers and their farms, and our night in a B and B near Cooperstown, one of the things that was the strangest was that almost everything we wanted to do could have been accomplished as a day trip.  We made a circle, up through friends in Montgomery, Herkimer and Otsego counties, and ended up less than 45 minutes from our house in the late afternoon sunshine.  We laughed when we realized that we could technically have snuck back into our house late, spent the night for free, and snuck out again without anyone knowing, rather than paid for a room.

Over the years we’ve revisited the shared city of our grad school days, travelled to Maine to meet a friend and a new dog, taught in the Catskills, tasted wine in the wine regions.  We’ve had five of these trips all told, since Eli was born.  But what we’ve found as the children get older and it becomes more viable for them to go away, is that we don’t long for it anymore.  We enjoyed our trip, enjoy an occasional day of solitude, but we found ourselves, early in the morning on the day we were to return home, thinking and talking of the kids and the farm. and pushing ourselves to stay away (since the Grandmothers had told us they wouldn’t be back until 2 or so anyway).  We missed the boys – and the animals, and the garden.

That seems strange to me too – I’d only been gone for a day, remember.  It seems odd to miss something so present in your life.  And everything was being cared for gloriously – the children were far less likely to be suffering from our absence than wishing that we stay away longer, so that they could be further indulged by adoring Grandmothers.  Our farm was being cared for by Phil, who does the chores conscientiously and thoroughly – more than we do some days.

But it is only me who knows precisely when the container plants need water, only Eric who watches the does carefully enough to tell whether that tiny hesitation in Mina’s step is a sign her hoofs need further trimming, a natural consequence of her vast pregnancy, or the sign of an emerging limp.  When the rain came through in Herkimer County on the first afternoon of our trip, I found myself wondering if it was raining yet at home, and how much – we need it so badly.  I was enjoying myself, but something in that rain began the process of turning me internally towards home.

And we turned physically as well – we thought we might go further west than Little Falls, but instead we went south and then east again, without fully admitting we were circling back,  not feeling any need to burn gas or travel further just to see.  We’d learned what we wanted – visited people raising fiber goats that interest us, stopped to visit a small community near us with a rapidly growing Amish population, to wach the emergence of the localized, horse-scale economy in a town that previously had been scaled to the car.  We had a lovely dinner, playing the parlor game of guessing the stories of everyone else in the restaurant, stopped at the farmer’s market, and we were ready for home.

Eric asked me if I thought it was lame that he didn’t mind not going away, that he didn’t passionately feel any need to get away from the children and the farm.  Before we had kids, we would have looked with mute incomprehension at anyone who told us we wouldn’t want to leave.  And we would have thought it was strange.  And maybe it is. 

But the things to know about home seem almost infinite to me.  I’ve been trying to establish blackberries here for several years now – and haven’t been able to find a variety that can handle our heavy winters.  And then Phil, who went wandering in the woods with his girlfriend, came back announcing that there were blackberries in our woods.  How did I miss them?  I still can’t find them – he’ll have to show me.  But if I could miss the blackberries, all these years, all this time wandering in our woods, there are other things I could miss, plenty of deep and hidden things to discover and learn in just this one small place.   

This was the first year we had tree swallows – or was it the first year I saw them?  Even though I attend, even though I watch, I still miss things.  I planted motherwort and blue vervain here in my herb garden and as part of native plant restorations in the latter case.  In the last few months I have realized that I have a stand of each growing wild, that I simply did not see before.  After nine years of looking, I’m still making new discoveries.  The children, of course, are full of these discoveries – and we see new things seen through them as well.

It isn’t that I don’t like to travel – I do.  But what always interested me most about travelling was the time spent getting to know people’s everyday lives, and that takes time and distance, and as a parent and a farmer, right now, time and distance aren’t possible for me.  So I concentrate on knowing my place – and every year ?I find new things to know.  It isn’t obvious to me that deep knowledge of one place is in any way inferior to wide knowledge of many places – and since the realities of energy depletion mean most of us may not have the option of travelling as often or as freely or at all, I think there’s something to the idea of the vacation taken at home, making new discoveries.

We got home before the boys and the grandmothers, and despite the heat, wen straight to the garden, Eric with his scythe, me to the weeding.  It felt right to get back into the rhythym of the place.  And when the peace of his barely-audible scythe swishes and my silent pulling were broken by shreiks of enthusiasm, from boys anxious to tell us all that had occurred while we were gone, we knew we were all the way home and content to stay.

Sharon

Independence Days Update:Almost All the Way Home

Sharon July 12th, 2010

We are rarely away from home as much as we have been these last few weeks.  I was gone for three days at the end of June, beginning of July, and then for the last four days.  We have one more very short trip (Eric and I are, wonder of wonders, going away for 24 hours sans kids – thanks to generous Grandmothers!!!!  We’re going to go on a busman’s honeymoon and  visit a couple of other farms ;-) )

We spent the last few days enjoying ourselves with family in the Boston area – end ended with a wonderful family bash to celebrate my Great Aunt Sally’s 90th birthday.  When I was a kid I took such family occasions, and the pictures they always made us take for granted – but now I keep thinking “how many 90th birthday parties will I get to go to?”  The elders of my own childhood are mostly gone now, and every remaining member of my grandparents’ generation is someone my kids will remember only through the lens of childhood .

We stopped as we often do, at Old Sturbridge Village on our way there, a living history museum that reproduces life in the 1830s.  Because Sturbridge is just about halfway between my parent’s house and our house, it is a place we can all meet in the middle (which we do a couple of times a year), and also a great stopping point on a long car trip - it comes just about at the point the words “he’s touching me” start coming from the backseat.

My kids love Sturbridge and so do I.  When I was a child, it was also almost exactly between my home and my Grandmothers’ home in Waterbury, CT, so many of my childhood memories focus on Sturbridge.  My sons particularly love the Parsonage – one of the houses with a lovely garden and a traditional attic room with two beds.  The first time we went through the interpreter said “how many kids do you think would sleep here?  Probably four.”  She clearly expected the kids to be shocked at the idea of everyone not having their own beds, but my boys just laughed and said that was just how they sleep.  So since then the kids like to pretend they live at the Parsonage.

The days before we went were busy, trying to keep up and get ahead and deal with the extreme heat.   Now that we’re back and the kids are going to camp and other summer programs (half day for the three younger ones), Eric and I are looking forward to three hours every single morning to devote to the farm and farm work. 

We must build a buck pen.  We must build another kidding pen.  We must clean out the back area of the barn, which until recently had a wood cookstove in it (which has now found a new home – yay!) so we can move the winter milking back there and also set up beds for the dogs.  We are having friends over to install our new manual well pump on Thursday.  The sheep are arriving tomorrow, along with Xote the guard donkey, and there is fence work to do in the meantime.  There are garden beds to build and fall seeds to start.  There’s plenty for us.

The cherries are done for the season, the peaches and apricots are nearly ripe.  The black currants are ripe as well, despite heavy depredations by the goats (they will be moved ASAP, but until this year they’d been ignored).  Tomatoes are starting to come ripe, zucchini are in full swing and the beans are in progress.  We’ve also been eating the best mesclun mix I’ve ever had – called “the kitchen sink” by Pinetree seeds, it has a strong emphasis on my favorite, spicy parts – arugula, mustard, etc… plus pea shoots, asian greens and even a little lettuce ;-) .

Summer is settled in to stay.  The babies are coming.  Life is good.  And although the trips have been fun (and the last one should be too) we’re almost home for the rest of it.  I’m glad to be here.

Onwards:

Plant something – I didn’t plant much of anything due to the heat.  Started some broccoli and asian greens indoors.

Harvest something: Tomatoes, yarrow, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, the last of the snap peas, onions, green garlic, motherwort, mongolian yarrow, lemon balm, lemon verbena, sour cherries, raspberries.

Preserve something; Dried herbs, made cherry pie filling.

Waste Not: Nothing unusual.

Want Not: Made our usual Boston-area run of the awesome local Savers.  Found pjs for the kids, pants without giant holes for the husband, tshirts for Eli, pants for children with no behinds to hold them up for the other boys ;-) .

Eat the Food: Ate my Moms’ delicious food, including fish from their seafood CSA.  Can I just say how jealous I am?  Also ate what we call salsa salad a *lot* (we call it that because it started out as a salsa, but we eventually decided we just liked it plain) – chopped tomatoes, beans (black, pinto or whatever you like) and sweet onion (we use a variety called “candy”) mixed with lime juice, salt, a little sugar and chipotles.    We usually eat this with corn on the cob and salad.

Build community food systems:  Nada, although I got to see the results of my step-mother’s hard work on her community garden expansion – that was awesome!

So how about you?

Sharon

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