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My first attempt at making a costume or even a piece of clothing. Amie chose the fabrics for the cape and the skirt and patiently tried it on at several stages. I sewed it together on my machine, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, but mostly laughing. If there was a prize for the crookedest hem… But it all held together through much dancing, crawling and getting up and sitting down again.

The hat was going to be the trickiest part, as all our fabric was so flimsy. A friend, hearing of my predicament, gave us this hat (with hair attached) as a backup, in case the one I made failed to pass muster. DH however showed it  to Amie before I could even attempt it, and that was that.

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I figure I’ll be fine with my one-stitch machine and improvisation skills as long as Amie wants to be a witch or (even easier) a ghost.  Anything beyond that, I’ll have to get some sewing lessons.

I also baked about 30 big cookies in the shape of pumpkins for the kids at Amie’s school to decorate. And Amie and DH carved the first of the big pumpkins, and we roasted the seeds.

Can you believe it’s that time of year again?

UPDATE: It’s over. I stayed home and some kids did brave our long and winding and dark driveway for our treats. Amie and DH went out together into the balmy and windy night, under the full moon playing hide and seek behind the clouds.  They were gone for abut two hours. Amie came home expressing her disappointment that she hadn’t managed to scare anyone. She has about 20 pieces of candy – she took one at each house – and she is so excited about them, but I know half of them won’t even get eaten. DH is putting her to bed at the moment. I can hear her constant chatter. It’ll be a long night.

Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

We finished our 12th month, we made it around the year! I’ll list this month’s consumption first and then I’ll discuss the yearly average.

Gasoline.

7.4 gallons pp =18 % of the US National Average

Yearly average: 24.8%

I just saw that I never calculated DH’s miles on public transportation (shuttle). I’ll start adding those in the next year.

Electricity. The only change we made this month was the firing up of the small chest freezer, and it doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent in our electricity consumption.

313 KWH (all wind) = 9% of the US National Average

Yearly average: 18.2%

Our present consumption is so much lower from the yearly average because we switched from conventional to wind in the fourth month of our Riot, which practically cut our percentage in half.

Heating Oil and Warm Water.

13.6 gallons = 22% of the US National Average

Most of this was for hot water this month, but it did fire up several times to heat the house, either at night or when I wasn’t on top of the thermostat (which is set at 59 F during the day and 55 F at night). This is good news, because it’s the same as our usage in September. That means the extra insulation and the wrapping of the hot water tank helped.

As for our wood usage, we haven’t used the kind of amount that would allow us to calculate how many cords we’re going through, yet. Once we reach one cord I’ll enter it all in that month.

But wow, the weather has been taking us for a ride this month! Today for instance started off coldish, around 57 F inside the house, so I was preparing to light the fire when I noticed on the outside thermometer that it was 60. I opened all the windows instead and within an hour it was over 70 outside and a nice 62 inside (our house seems to be well insulated, then). The same thing happened over a week ago, when all the windows of the house started steaming up, on the outside. We’ll have an almost tropical Halloween (with rain, though), then the temperatures will plummet again.

Yearly average: 77%

What can I say: it gets cold here in the winter months. We’re Freezing Our Buns as it is and the house is as insulated as it can get. We did make several improvements to that insulation, and we got a wood stove installed (renewable energy used responsibly), so let’s see what next winter brings.

Trash. Our weigh-in of our trash for the 3 of us for 1 month:

6lbs = 1% of the US National Average

Yearly average: 7.3% OR 31.5%

The second percentage refers to our construction/capital improvement waste, which according to the powers that be at the Riot count for half their weight.  So with that we still didn’t do too bad, and we’ll do better because I don’t see any major waste producing capital improvements coming up in the next year. Without that we did even better than the 7.3% suggests, because I usually eyeball the trash and this month’s actual weigh-in suggests that I’ve been overestimating. Our trash is mostly soft plastic and foil food wrappers and the occasional hard plastic casing of some electronic device, toy or pencil. Everything else goes in the compost or the recycling.

Water. The new grass is established, and there’s not so much canning anymore, so we’re back to normal at:

429 gallons of water pp = 14% of the US National Average

This will probably go up a bit as we put the rain barrels out of commission (they’ll burst if we let the water in them freeze) and need to start flushing tap water again.

Yearly average: 16.5%

I’m at a loss here as to how to get it down more. We already take less and short showers, don’t run the taps when brushing or washing, and use rain water to flush our toilets. Honestly I don’t understand how we’re still at 16.5% of the US national average…

Consumer Goods. Yesterday Amie and I went to Pearl, the huge arts and crafts store in Cambridge, and we went wild: we got new pencils, new drawing pads, a watercoloring set, sharpeners (one in the shape of a globe: Amie’s favorite) and an ellipse template, which keeps her happy for an hour. I also bought two books of poem by Jim Harrison and The Peterson Guide to Animal Tracks for Amie. And DH bought a battery charger. All that makes for

$112 = 14% of the US National Average

Yearly average: 27.2%

Food. Our food consumption is slowly shifting from local to bulk, but I’m succeeding more and more in keeping the “wet” foods, like dairy and meats, in the local category.

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It’s finally here, the book!

At the beginning of 2008 I got an email from Marjorie Wilson. She and her husband, Brent, are the authors of the seminal Teaching Children to Draw, published in 1982. Marjorie wrote that they were putting together the second edition. She was doing research on the net when she found the YouTube video of Amie drawing the three-headed person (here). From there on she made it to this blog, where she found “Drawing as it Develops,” my record of Amie’s drawing progress. She wondered if we would let her use Amie’s example in her new Introduction.

Of course!

We emailed, I sent her scans of Amie’s drawings, and we had a wonderful phone interview. Amie picture was chosen for the front cover, and her drawing of Tigger (this one) is printed, in color, on the back flap. The new Introduction tells the story of her drawing from age 1.5 to about 3 and how a lot of what she and we did corresponds with their findings and recommendations in the book. There are stills from the video and photographs of the resulting three-headed person, of Amie’s first scribbles, of DH carrying her in the backpack, and of this collaborative drawing in my journal.

Amie doesn’t quite understand – her first reaction looking at the still of the video was: “That’s not how you hold a pencil!” But she knows how happy and proud we all are.

And for me there could be no greater confirmation of the value of this blog. All those entries on Amie’s drawing are not only a record (that I would have failed to keep so orderly and punctually in my journal), but they are also of actual use to others, for their viewing pleasure as well as for information on how children draw.

So the book is finally out – Amazon says it will only be released in February 2010 but that seems to be a mistake. If you’re interested in childrens drawings, this is the book to get: full of insightful observations, great practical advice and lots and lots of fun examples. Brain food and eye candy. And our Amie, of course.

Now can you believe that I have been keeping this under my hat for over a year?!

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Plant. Nothing: our winter beds are full. We did improve the bedding.

Harvest. I didn’t plant any Fall vegetables, so I have few plants left in the garden: kale, chard, parsley. The peas and the beans are giving up in the seesaw of warm/cold, but I managed to harvest the last few. Harvested the three small green peppers from the plants I brought inside. Also oregano, thyme, and mint. Sprouting fenugreek, mung beans and wheat berries.

Preserve. At the grocery store bought 20 lbs of organic local potatoes on sale, stuck them in my new “root cellar” – a plastic garbage bin, a bucket of water at the bottom, some sticks on top of that as a frame, then the potatoes; it sits in the coldest part of our basement. Strung apples and hung them to dry above the wood stove (an experiment). Dried thyme and oregano. Froze vegetarian pasta sauce.

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Waste not. A friend gave us a humongous bag of acorns (thanks G!). Amie and I had a great time sorting them – though at time I understood what the ballot counters in the 2001 elections in Florida went though – and we were left with 13 lbs of acorns (in shell), for cracking, grinding, leaching and cooking with later. They’re stored in a dry part of the basement.

Want not. Following Sharon’s lastest food quickies, I bought a large box of yeast and 10 lbs of (unpopped) popcorn, all of which went into the freezer, and 5 lbs of salt.

Build community food systems. Nope.

Eat the food. At grocery store bought locally grown sugar pie pumpkins and made four loaves of pumpkin bread – a first. Brought the mint plant inside and am slowly defoliating it as I drink mint tea. We’re in soup, stew and chili mode now, and I take care to make leftovers for freezing. Love that winter food!

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Nothing much of anything happened this week: I’m a bit out of whack with DH gone, and I’ve also started working on the novel again (again!), while it snows. We had our first frost and our first snow, and the garden is in full Winter mode now.

Plant. Planted pak choi. That will be it for this year’s garden, I’m afraid. Started a few more sprout jars: I’ve got three going now.

Harvest. Last four carrots and three tiny eggplants, Swiss chard, kale, parsley from the garden. Fenugreek and wheat sprouts. I’m eying those four tiny green peppers on the plants I brought inside: they’re not growing anymore…

Preserve. Canned 4 pints of blueberry-basil vinegar I’ve had brewing for two months, then brought my big pressure canner downstairs, as no more produce flows in from the Farmers Market. I got the tiny chest freezer downstairs going and packed it with pounds of flour, rice, lentils, split peas, and seeds for sprouting. I am on the lookout for things like sugar pie pumpkins and potatoes on sale, for storing, but I guess I’d have to drive quite a bit further West or North to find good local deals. There are such big gaps in my food storage, it makes me quite despondent…

Waste not. The average temperature in the house is now 58F and I’m happy to say that, unlike last year, (when we averaged 63F), I’m having no problem with it. When it gets colder than that we start a fire. Amie is herself like a stove, she loves it colder, same as DH.

Want not. Aside from the freezer foods I also stocked up on elderberry syrup from Honey Gardens: there was a major sale on it at a local health food store, and I pounced. Amie gets two teaspoons of the stuff a day, and so far so good. I also got bought a cup of dried elderberries ($30/lb!), from which I want to make my own elixir or syrup.

Build Community Food Systems. None of this. I so wanted to go to the Massachusetts Relocalization Conference, but childcare fell through.

Eat the Food. We’re eating everything from the garden as it’s too little to preserve. Also started eating home-canned green beans and applesauce.

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It’s been several weeks now that I have tended the fire.

From my studies and my research for my historical novel I know that for the Romans, the Greeks and all the cultures around and before them, the fire in the hearth was the heart of the home, of the city, of life. The fire was where God lived, and so every house was a temple. Or, I should say, it was where the Goddess lived, because the fire was a very female affair. For instance, it was the eldest daughter’s duty to keep it going. Consider also the Vestals, in charge of the Sacred Fire of that ancient goddess, Vesta or Hestia, burning perpetually at the center of Rome and Greece. And in the prehistoric, older-than-old religions the Goddess was present in the trees, the flame and the ashes…

Fascinating!

Our house is small at just one floor with 1500 sq.f., of which we shut off about 300 sq.f. during winter. I make it even smaller by closing the bedroom doors and, when I want the living room to warm up fast, I also close the doors to the small dining room and kitchen. Then warm life contracts to about 300 sq.f., filled with happy people, books, music, two comfy sofas, lots of art materials and toys. Around the fire, roaring in the stove.

I feel empowered having re-taken control of an essential aspect of our home and our family life. I also feel privileged to be the one who starts and keeps the fire going, to have a house with a wood stove, the wood to burn, and the family to warm.

I am very fortunate to have handmade items in my home. Many of them are Amie’s, of course, most of which I’ve already shown here. There are also  those made by strangers and mostly presented to us as gifts, a lot from India. The ones I want to show you here are two quilts made by my Mom and my mother-in-law (MIL). Both are fantastic crafters with needle and thread.

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My Mom made this quilt a long time ago. I always covered Amie with it, in the stroller, when we went out on a chilly day. I dug it out a week ago, sewed back the plain strips on the three sides (for tucking in), and hung it in our bedroom.

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This quilt was a collaboration between my MIL and her MIL, Amie’s great-grandmother, who lives in Kolkatta, India. It was made from my husband’s baby clothes and blankets that my MIL had saved. The border on the other side has “Hit Tima Tim Tim,” a Bengali nursery rhyme embroidered on it, in Bengali script and transliterated in Latin script.

Together they add cheer and warmth to our small bedroom .

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Some day I hope I will have the peace and quiet – in my life as well as my spirit – to sit down and make a quilt, or an embroidery. Though I have never had the patience for any kind of needlework, and in my youth was known to look down upon it, it appeals to me now, especially if the picture in my head also has Amie in it, sitting next to me, working on her own thing. Maybe in winter we’ll attempt it.

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It’s coming down hard: thick globs of melting snow. The wood stove is giving off enough heat to dispel any gloom: it’s merely cozy, as long as I don’t need to go out there.

Which I did have to, earlier on. One of the rain barrels was overflowing, and not through the overflow tube. In this weather I would have left it but the excess water was undermining the cinder blocks the heavy barrel is sitting on, slowly eroding away the soft soil. I didn’t relish the thought of it coming down right by the side of the house and the bed with the chard.

So out I went, and shook the overflow pipe, but nothing came out but a dreadful stink. O-ow, dead animal alert! I opened the barrel’s lid and saw the hind part of a chipmunk sticking out of the overflow pipe. It must have crawled up the pipe in drier weather, landed in the water, then made it back to the pipe only to get stuck.

It had that ghostly look of a thing dead in water. That half looked well preserved in the cold water, and I only considered for a second what the other half looked like. When I tried to dislodge it with a stick its skin just came off. I un-threaded the pipe and as the excess water suddenly rushed out all over me I shook the poor dead beast out in the bushes.

I usually take a picture of any dead animal I see (here and here and here) but this one, well, it was just too gruesome.

We’re spending the rest of the day inside, drawing animal tracks in snow. Squirrels, deer, chipmunks…

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Leigh form 5 Acres and a Dream awarded me the Honest  Scrap Award. It’s my first award ever. These are the rules:

  1. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs to give this award to that you feel to be brilliant in content and design. That’s the toughest part.
  2. Show the 7 winner’s links on your blog and leave them a comment informing them that they have been given the “Honest Scrap.” That’s the easiest part.
  3. List 10 honest things about yourself that people may not know.

So here goes:

  1. I was born in Congo (it was called Zaire back then), where my parents were doing missionary work – my dad taught math at a country high school. We left when I was one, so I don’t recall that adventure. I grew up in (Dutch-speaking) Antwerp, Belgium, the oldest of two. I moved to Boston in 1998. The idea was to stay for a year to do my Masters (in Philosophy) but I never, or at least haven’t, left. I haven’t been back to Belgium in over three years! We’re trying to make it work this winter.
  2. I like being alone. DH will call it like it is and say I’m antisocial. True, if you let me I’ll just potter around here on my hill and be totally happy. But I do love the company of good friends and good friends-to-be and am never more thrilled than when they stay over for a meal or a sleep-over. Then I will molly-coddle them to make them come back more often.
  3. If I didn’t have my wonderful family, I’d be a drifter. I’d live out of my car, on a dime, and travel this great continent seeking out nature. I discovered this about myself when I moved here. I traded my beloved medieval Europe for the adventure of America’s wide-open spaces, dense forests and mountain peaks…
  4. I am obsessed with nuclear threat but am careful not to indulge myself too often. It goes back to when I saw The Day After on television as a young teen: it sent me into a tailspin of depression for months. Now I sometimes consciously seek it out, because in some ways it makes me feel more alive. But I’m careful. I know my limits.
  5. I’m addicted to the written word. I must read and I must write, every day, or I go crazy. The most gruesome moment in Cormack McCarthy’s The Road was not the nuclear disaster or the cannibals or the dying world or the physical and emotional deterioration, etc. etc., but the scene where the protagonist looks at a sodden book and can’t remember what once attracted him so to reading and learning. Chilling.
  6. I despair a lot, yet I go through life smiling and my smile is sincere. How do I do it? I don’t know, I just don’t see how a gloomy face could help… Same with my blog: it’s mostly chipper and the gloom only comes through once in a while. Whenever I write an entry about how scared and sad I am I over-write it and then it doesn’t feel right, so I nix it.
  7. The stuff we do here (like the Riot and Freeze Yer Buns etc.) gives me a lot of personal satisfaction, as in it’s fun and makes for a healthier lifestyle, both physically and spiritually. But I don’t think any of it will help to make the future better, unless we start something like Transition in our towns.
  8. I’m lousy at most homesteading things – you should see my needlework (cough) – but I don’t care. I’ll get better with practice.
  9. I walk away from arguments. I’m the most non-confrontational person I know. If I stick with an argument I soon get upset to the point of tears and often feel physically sick. I think that’s why I walked away from an academic career: even arguing metaphysics was just not in me.
  10. I’m a procrastinator but I have some ways of overcoming that. I’m big on making TO DO lists and will always include something I’ve already done, then will tick that off and that gets me going. And sometimes I will post something on the blog as having been accomplished, while it hasn’t yet, and then I’ll feel so guilty, I just have to do it!

Well, I wanted to make an upbeat list, but I guess many of these points seem rather negative and gloomy. What can I say: it’s honest scrap.

I nominate, in alphabetical order:

  1. Faith Acre Farm
  2. Handbook of Nature Study
  3. Humble Garden
  4. Living and Learning
  5. Pile of Omelays
  6. Stony Run Farm
  7. Throwback at Trapper Creek

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We had our first frost last night and this morning the forecast changed from rain to sleet to snow.

There is no plastic on our hoop house yet.

I harvested our last beans and carrots of the season, and tiny eggplants, then pulled all the plants.

I rushed to transplant more seedlings and covered their bed with hoops and row cover, which I hope will not cave in under the snow (see appropriately gloomy picture, taken from bedroom window, which also shows part of the door setup). I transplanted the broccoli, kales and parsleys from other parts of the garden into another hoop house bed and tucked them in with straw. I also put straw over the garlic and rhubarb and onions, all of which are not in the hoop house.

I moved all the herbs into the porch and covered them with row cover – and was bitten by a huge spider guarding a fat egg sack. Eventually I want to move them into our “Annex”, which we keep at 40F in winter and has a large south facing window.

I ran out of light and Amie ran out of patience. It’ll have to do for now.