amie_cello_forFMMusic is such a large part of our lives. Amie is playing classical pieces that truly ask the best of her. It is a marvel to see her small fingers dance on the fretless fingerboard, touching each note. Her playing folk with some of the kind folks of the 12 Georgia is a lot of fun. So far, the guitar sings Twinkle Twinkle and House of the Rising Sun. I love it when she practices. When I bring her with me to visit our friend Rebecca, we bring her cello and she plays. Rebecca, who can no longer speak, studies her intently, like she is trying to engrave her, or her song, in her memory – I like to think so she will remember them on the other side of life.

As for myself, I never had any musical education and can’t even read music, but I do have a good singing voice. Never very confident, I’ve always kept silent, but now I am changing my mind about that. I may never play the cello, but I can honor the world with my song and tell story and make beauty that way. So I picked up my courage and sang, full-breasted,  “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” for Rebecca. Apart from my closest family, she was my first audience and she liked it very much, I could tell.

Because it is for the world I want to sing, I want to sing songs from all over the world, songs that go way back or way deep too. Right now I’m learning Gaelic “Song of Amergin,” which according to some sources means “Birth of Song”. It is an ancient wizard riddle that may go back to the 4th or 5th century. The language is wicked hard to pronounce and then to memorize, and so are the subtle pitch changes, the unexpected melodies, and the tremelos. I take it line by line and it becomes an invocation. My guide on this song too is Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance (she sings it here, but I wish it didn’t have the ever louder background music).

With song comes wine. We measured the specific gravity of the crushed grape juice (1.04 for the Malbec, 1.08 for the Cabernet), then put the yeast to it. We need to feed it in a months time.

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Bearding

I just went into my two hives. One of them at least has overcrowded and hot – indicated by the massive bearding that begins in the late afternoon and continues through the night until the foragers go out again in the morning. They don’t abandon this way of keeping the hive cool inside even when it rains: scores of bees drown then. No swarming, though. Knock on wood! But if these hives survive the winter, I’d better be ready come spring!

I harvested 90 pounds of honey at the end of July. Considering these were first-year packages (on fully drawn-out frames, however), that was a gift. For the harvest  I used a bee escape built and lent to me by a friend. It was the first time I used it and it worked  great, on both hives (24 hours each). No more brushing angry bees off the individual frames, what a relief!

Today’s quick inspection when the hives were in the shade was pretty mellow. I just took a peek in the supers. There’s some honey in there, not much, and nothing capped. This was expected as the nectar flow has been bad, what with the drought. I had one and a half supers still dripping with honey from the harvest, so stuck one on top of each hive to let the bees clean out the frames. I’ll take them off again in a few days, before they start putting new honey in there or putting burr comb all over them.

Hopefully there will be another honey harvest after the fall nectar flow. We’ve had a week of good, mostly gentle rains, so hopefully the flowers will get going and flowing again.

I’ve become a much more hands-off beekeeper over the years. In my first year I used to go in every two weeks. Now, every time I prepare (lighting the smoker, getting into my gear in the backyard) and walk over to the apiary, I need to take a bit of a breath to calm my heart. Over the years I’ve come to realize that these are massive organisms I am messing with, often 50,000 bees busily doing their complex and enigmatic thing, who knows in what kind of mood, under what stress. That I am bigger may mean nothing to them: they’re 50,000, I’m just one. I often imagine what it would be like to accidentally drop a full frame or box, to go in at the very wrong moment, smelling of the wrong thing. Yes, there’s some fear there, but not the paralyzing kind, so I am not hands-off because of it. If anything, it makes my experience when I go in so much more intense and pleasurable. No longer thinking I am in control, but more there, with them, more respectful and awed (I for them, if they respect me, I wouldn’t know or presume), and more myself, too. So, if we realize Neighborwoods –  a bit more land – I think that I’ll build a much bigger apiary. Twenty, even fifty, hives, with room for queen and bee rearing,  now that would be life!

Today the doorbell rang and the box the mailman handed to me was heavier than I expected. It was:

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I hope it will get my creative juices flowing again, for this blog, among other places. I certainly am fully convinced that any art I make or text I write needs to be made and written “as if the world mattered.” It doesn’t need to matter to the world, as in, it doesn’t need to change the world.  But it needs to be in the service of the world. As for the “as if,” I take that in the sense of: I make it so, I make it the story. I take that in the same vein as the subtitle of the blog: Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. It is not (only) about how things are (however that is) but about my strong intention of offering beauty and story.

I’d been struggling to reconcile two insights: One,  that whatever I do I would do not to change the world, but to change myself. And Two, that I would choose not what I want to do, but what the world needs doing. Those two seem to me very admirable plans, but it wasn’t until I added something to the first that they became compatible: Act not to change the world but to change yourself in the world. Ah, there’s the connection, the hand shake, the hug that gets the blood flowing!

Dear reader,

It has been a while, hasn’t it? A lot has happened and all of it soon overwhelmed my ability to write about any of it at all. Thus I was already struggling in April, when I wrote my last blog post. On the one hand, I seemed to be writing about the same things as I did last year, and the year before. On the other, the big things that were going on were either too big or too new, or as yet too unclear, or all of those, to capture into words. When one writes something down prematurely, it becomes too much of a definite thing, too much of a promise, than it really is. I’d like to write about these now, though. This post could be a stopgap, a Bung Puller (in the meaning of Ursula K. Le Guin), and an apologia (in the Greek sense), or at the very least a chronological list of what happened, for my own reference, later, when I hopefully get to do all of it justice.

In April Amie and I were still homeschooling and having a blast with it, addressing all the issues we had had with her public schooling, and more. One of my best friends, locally, Rebecca and I had successfully launched the All Things Mortal program under the umbrella of our group, Transition Wayland. We had organized a “Reclaiming the Care of Our Dead” workshop on home funerals and a Death Cafe (which we dubbed “Cake and Grave Matters” since no one in our town would rent us a room if we stuck to the original title). We were planning a Death Film Festival, a talk on Green Burial, and more. Another big one were our efforts for a screening of Griefwalker, the film about Stephen Jenkinson, with Stephen there for a Q&A and a book signing of his new book, Die Wise, in August. Rebecca and I also attended Stephen’s Orphan Wisdom School for five days in April. Last but not least, we (Rebecca, Amie, DH and myself) were thinking, out loud by now, about a project we called “Neighborwoods,” which involved selling our houses and moving together to one (larger) house on an 8-acre plot, here in Wayland, the beginning of an intentional community or, as we liked to call it, a village.

Homeschool, All Things Mortal, Orphan Wisdom, Die Wise, Neighborwoods, all this was happily fermenting that Spring in the vat of daily life, with concerts, new bees, seedlings springing up in the basement… Then one day in mid May Rebecca was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a Stage Four inoperable brain tumor. In the next few days while she still had clarity, she expressed and advocated for her wish for non-intervention, for good dying at home, for a home funeral, and for a green burial. Suddenly all the theory and talk about dying and death came home, hard, and had to be put into practice. And not just dying and death, but elderhood too, and village-making.

I visited every day – and have done so, mostly, since then – taking care of lots and helping all of Rebecca’s local friends to help in the Work. There is so much to write about those acts of friendship: all of us making rhubarb jam in Rebecca’s kitchen/living room when she had already gone a good way away from us but could still celebrate our presence, building her coffin to her specifications (plain white pine, local, and no metal), weeding her garden together, innumerable grocery shopping trips and immeasurable conversations, with her, and among each other. Our joy and grief in this work were (and still are) a true lesson, a treasure.

So much of our work “before” had been about death and dying, so it comes as no surprise that much of it continued, though in its changed form. The only things we (and by that I mean I, since Rebecca soon lost the ability to make decisions) effectively canceled was the Die Wise event, as it was a Big One and I couldn’t conceive of doing all the promotion by myself while also giving so much of my time to Rebecca’s care. As for All Things Mortal, I shelved the Film Festival and the next Death Cafe, but of course the public work of changing the culture with respect to dying and death continued as we planned the first home funeral in our town, which necessitated coordinating with curious and (fortunately) open-minded town officials (police, Board of Health, Town Clerk, and cemetery directors).

Rebecca had also made me promise to continue doing our very best on the Neighborwoods project. She had loved it so, the prospect of growing old (she is 69) and dying and maybe even being buried in such a village! In her later confusion she often told people she was moving there soon, as if it was already a reality, as if it was not too late for her, and we rejoiced with her. This too is part of our Orphan Wisdom, now put to the test and into practice.

I return for the fourth and last session of my Orphan Wisdom class in September. It will be without Rebecca.

Meanwhile the vat of daily life in which all this bubbles away does not yield much. Homeschool concluded a little unconventionally as I brought Amie (and her math books) along to the ER and various hospitals. Music has been a mainstay. Amie played some beautiful classical concerts and also picked up some Irish Jigs and Reels which got her introduced, via our Farmers Market, to a group of older gentlemen who play Civil War time music: she is now their cellist. She also had her first guitar lesson. Best of all is that she played one of my favorite pieces, the Prelude of Bach’s first cello suite, for my birthday. The new bees arrived, were hived, and thrived so that we had a lot of honey in July. Amie got two “Fancy” mice for pets – one died of fright during a massive hail storm: here we were having so much fun and excitement with that storm, and look! It was very sad. The garden received all the seedlings that had grown up in the basement, but nothing much else, and the drought – broken only by hail and thunder storms – does not help, so I also won’t have much of a Fall Garden. Our house has been full up with my parents-in-law and soon my parents will join the mix. In a little over a week the new school year starts: we’ve enrolled Amie in an online public school which looks promising: a flexible curriculum, a lot of parental input. I’ve struggled off and on, in the wee hours after researching condominium schemes and cluster housing, with my new novel, a dystopian science fiction affair already too massive and unruly for its own (or my) good.

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Dear readers (all three of you),

I’ve been an admirer of Ken Rose and his radio program *What Now* for years now. It was through Ken’s first interview with Stephen Jenkinson that eventually I came to be in the Orphan Wisdom School. Stephen could not have talked in such a way as to touch my life so deeply without Ken being on the other end of the line and, of course, sharing the interview. You can hear that first interview here, and I encourage you to explore the other interviews with Stephen and with countless others.

Ken suffered a stroke in February, and he needs our help. I donated to his fund (you can do that through Paypal here) but there are other ways you can help, just by spreading the word about his program so that he knows people need him to return to it, by leaving a comment for him, etc.

Ken Rose needs us because we need him. It comes around, and around again.

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On Monday I picked up my new bees – two packages. Before that I built quite a few extra deep frames for them. It was easy to do, as I had blogged the process before and just had to refer to that old post.

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Amie helped put the puzzles together:

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The reason I made new frames was that I had pulled quite a few moldy frames out of the dead hives. I had planned to throw them all out, even the ones with just that blue/green/white sheen on them. But then – after I made the new ones – I read that a bit of mold doesn’t hurt the bees. It may even inhibit other micro-organisms that aren’t good for them. So I rescued the least affected frames and set them to dry in a warm spot with a fan on them.

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The two new hives now have all drawn-out comb in their bottom deeps, and two frames of drawn-out frames in the middle of the top deeps, surrounded by empty frames. It’s always a good thing to exchange 1/4 or 1/3 of the comb every year, as comb accumulates pollutants. With the dried out box and the rest of the new frames, I’ll be ready for a third hive. Hopefully these two are strong enough and I can make a split soon!

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The hens were ecstatic, escaping the confines of their run. I open the run door every day now, but I do chase them back in when we are going out and there will be no one hear to keep an ear out. My friend Kath had quite a misadventure with a hawk, so I’m cautious.

All nine hens are healthy. One day I had nine eggs, which is the best way to tell.

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Don’t try to eat something on the patio when the chickens are around! They’ll want some of what you’re having.

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We set up the temporary fence/gate between the chicken yard and the patio/backyard. Now only Oreo, the most adventurous and acrobatic, can get in. As long as she stays out of the veg garden, I don’t mind one chicken underfoot.

A commenter asked if things are growing. Are they ever! Winter ended quite suddenly, with feet of snow melting away in a matter of days. So it was time to get growing.

Here are the seedlings in the basement:

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If necessary (I’m also growing seedlings for friends and school gardens), I can add an extra shelf below.

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Some are hardening off on the porch:

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In the garden, the sorrel was the second to look all alive and ready to go:

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First were the onions, overwintered. They looked so dreary and slimy emerging from the snow, but then:

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I’ve got gardening nails again:

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A friend found a dead sparrow and brought it to us for our home school. It resided in our freezer for a couple of weeks until today we remembered it.
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We unwrapped it and studied it for a bit, which wasn’t easy as it was frozen stiff. Then Amie suggested a funeral. We brought it outside to the compost bin. I put it in there, and Amie said some words. She had no connection with this individual bird, so it was a different, exploring kind of speech. She tried “Have fun in heaven” and “You flew so high”. Then she remarked that we all have to die, “like Gilgamesh learned”. (I had told her the story of Gilgamesh yesterday evening.) That was fitting. She poured some “happy sand” (yellow sand) on the little corpse. Then we turned the compost over it so it can feed new life.
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After that we visited the chickens, which were yelling for us. They are such complainers, but they’re very generous: in the nest boxes we found eight eggs.
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Our last stop outside was also with a bird. This was a chicken Amie made in summer out of clay. This is what it looks like after a winter on the porch:
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Amie knew exactly what had happened. It had been wet and then frozen, so it exploded from the inside.

OVER FIVE YEARS OF RIOT!

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Well. It’s been a while, but the meters keep rolling, the numbers keep coming in, and comparisons keep being made. This is the Riot for Abundance for the months of November and December 2104 and January, February and March 2015, for the three of us (two adults, one nine-year-old). Edson fixed the calculator: all go tither to crunch those numbers! And here’s another fun website for the mathematically inclined: Do the Math.

Gasoline.  Calculated per person. This is usually our weakest point in the Riot, but it became a little less weak in January, when we exchanged one old Volvo V70 for a new, much more efficient WV Jetta. (We plan to exchange the other one sometime this year.) We didn’t drive much, didn’t do many long trip, so we did well:

10.92 gallons pp. per month

26.6% of the US National Average

Electricity. This is reckoned per household, not per person. We cook on an electric stove and because we keep the house on the cold side, we occasionally turn on the electrical heater in the bathroom. A week ago we also turned on the grow lights and the heat mat in the basement. That’s the debit side. On the credit side, we are FINALLY making our own electricity again, after the snowbank that sat on our panels for months, slid off in one huge avalanche that bent our copper gutters.
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Lastly, in January we made the switch, via Mothers Our Front, to the Mass. Energy Consumers Alliance (“Mass Energy” for short) New England GreenStart, which ensures all our electricity comes from a mix of local green sources (it costs 2.4 cents per kWh we use in addition to our regular monthly electricity charges). This keeps us even more on our toes when switching on lights in the house. So, the numbers then. According to our solar meter, we produced 17246 kWh since the system was turned on in August 2011 and 823 kWh between Nov 1 and March 29 (the period in the image above- you can follow our solar harvest live here). We obviously underproduced over these last five months, so had to buy 1642 kWh from Nstar (328.4 kWh per month). So we consumed 1642 + 823 kWh and that comes to

493 kWh per month

27.3% of the US National Average

Heating Oil and Warm Water. This too is calculated for the entire household. It has been a harsh winter, as any New Englander will tell you. Our solar hot water system (installed in February last year) did not take care of a lot of water heating, as it too, along with the PV panels, was encased in ice and snow for months. All this shows in our oil consumption

 51 gallons of oil / month

82.7% of the US National Average

Water.

530 gallons pp.

17.7% of the US national average

Trash. After recycling and composting this usually comes down to mainly food wrappers.

6 lbs. pp per month

4.4 % of the US National Average