So, we made it to NYC, from our place to our friends’ place, in just 3 hours. Also the return trip, the day after, took exactly 3 hours. We have the route, the best times to travel, and the gung-ho attitude down pat. It was unfortunate that we had to take the car, but all three of us had to show up in person – otherwise I’d have jumped on a bus. It was also unfortunate that we didn’t return with the desired visas. They might still be forthcoming, and hopefully on time. We’ll see.

But the good thing is we got to stay with our dear New Yorker friends, A and D and their daughter E. They even fed us a wonderful vegetarian Thanksgiving Dinner. Yum! There was an acorn squash involved, with honey… I’m growing that squash next season! Amie got to play with E, who is seven now, very bright and kind. They’ve known each other since Amie’s birth and are like sisters, giggling, playing and reading together. It is with this family that we want to start an intentional community (I’ve not written about that, have I? Later).

And we got to take home two things that they had been storing for us (in their tiny 500 sq.f. apartment, which is already crammed full with art works):

  • a grain mill
  • a spinning wheel

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The spinning wheel was a surprise. A, the dad, had picked it up off the street, along with a big, heavy suitcase that was locked. He brought these unwieldy things home (on the bus). There he opened the suitcase and found diplomas, certificates, prizes and photographs, many of them pretty old. A stashed these away until late that evening. When D was asleep, he quietly exchanged all their own photographs with these old ones. D woke up to a house full of strangers! But she became upset when she heard the story, because this was obviously someone’s life – so meticulously collected – thrown in the street as trash.  I’ve offered to help them track down family members to see if they want these things back.

The spinning wheel has some broken and possibly missing parts. We’ll figure out how to fix and work it once we get back from India.

~

The grain mill was A’s in college. Apparently, sometime during his adventurous college career, A and a friend baked tens of loaves of bread every day, from scratch. His parents had this mill sitting in their basement in Michigan for over a decade, and so it made its way to NYC, then to us. I don’t know how it works yet. I has a heavy duty engine but I want to find a wheel for it, to make it manual.

~

Do scroll down to see my new pots.

Amie drew her family for school

(DH, Mama, Amie)

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A: Water isn’t heavy. It’s just air that’s blue and wet.

~

I found her hiding behind a tiny notebook.  I asked her if hiding her face makes her entirely invisible. Incredibly, she did seem to believe this. Then she thought about it for a second and grinned at the silliness of it.

~

A: I’m going to marry Ben.

M: Oh? Why?

A: Because he’s the only boy I like. I know other boys but they’re icky. So I have no choice. But, Mama, can a girl and a girl get married?

M: Yes, they can. (Gives an example)

A: But. Look. Here is me. And here is E (her best friend, a girl). If E and I get together and comfort each other, then there will be four children, two from her and two from me. And then they will make even more babies and our house will break and we’ll need to build a new house and, ugh, it’s too much!

It took me a moment to realize how she came to this. First, I guess that’s what happens when your kid watches only Life of Mammals and other nature shows. She also knows that only women can have babies, so two women in a household will make twice as many babies. Simple math. But “comforting”? I have no idea where she gets that one.

~

We are reading a book together – she is loving Frannie K. Stein: she reads a page, I read a page, etc.  I asked what some of the words mean and she had no clue! DH has also observed this, that she is content not to ask what something means, and we’re confused because she seems to understand the stories pretty well. Of course this is how babies and toddlers learn: they don’t actively ask about details but get their meaning from contexts and let the details get filled in by experience.  But now she is five. It had never occurred to us that we would have to give her the tools and the motivation to make the transition into a more active role of questioning and searching. Parenthood is fascinating!

~

Amie was yelling at the trees to stop it!

I asked her what the trees were doing that they should stop.

A: They’re blowing away my leaf pile.

Me: You think the trees make the wind?

A: Yes.

Me: But how?

A: By waving about and making the air move, of course!

Hive inspection by the county inspector

That’s one whole frame full of good honey, both sides. I’ll harvest it when the rain holds up.

~

I apologize for the dearth of posts. Our household has been in such a flux and beset by crises these last few months, it has been hard to sit and write something down. Here is what has happened so far.

June

- my 13-year-old nephew arrives, we get him from JFK and bring him home. Car breaks on way home.

July

1 week of farm camp for Amie and my nephew. Have car problem(s) fixed over several visits to mechanic.

- MIL arrives

- chipmunks harvest tomatoes and eggplants

- letter from our Town giving us 2 weeks to fix an unknown leak in the main water pipe

- lice!

- trip to NYC to drop off nephew, come home and have water pipe fixed – but good news: insurance will pay – deductible

August

- FIL arrives

- leave for 1 week on the Cape. Friends (3) from NYC come to visit for 1st weekend, after which the mom leaves, the dad and 6-year-old and 9-year-old golden retriever stay on

- friend from Belgium comes to visit, sleeps in tent because cottage is so packed. Leaves after 3 days

- bring 7 people home

- find out we need to replace all tires on both cars

- surprise for our birthdays: SIL arrives

- mom from NYC arrives

- big birthday party, 50 people in back yard, main drain gets clogged, basement flooded with reeking water. Friend from NYC devotes the evening to cleaning up the basement!

- NYC friends and dog leave. For hours try to fix clogged pipe ourselves, no use

- lice?

- cave and get plumber: he fixes it in 1/2 hour! Clean basement

future

- SIL will leave this week, FIL the week after that. A second visit from my Belgian friend expected, plus a visit from another friend from Belgium. Kindergarten starts. MIL will leave mid September. My parents come in October.

We’ve been loving it: family, friends and fun. Amie basically had a two-week-long, uninterrupted play date with her friend from NYC. But it is hectic, so I haven’t been able to do much of what I planned to do – work (harder) in the garden, build a shed, read more about herbalism, blog.

~

{UPDATE 24 August}

add to the list, for today:

car with MIL, FIL and SIL breaks down in the middle of their shopping trip

While I’m trying to get tow-truck and mechanic arranged for them,

Amie wakes up from an uncharacteristic nap with a 102 F fever

It doesn’t end…

This is one more long update. Life is so full it’s tough to find a moment to sit and write it all down. But here goes…

Home-grown salads are a common fare nowadays: lettuce mix, beet “greens,” cherry tomatoes, onions, garlic scape dressing. I could throw in bell peppers too, but I’m letting them mature to red – one (from an overwintered plant)  is getting really close. We are also harvesting lots of tomatoes and green beans.

I took down all my favas. I had high hopes because the pods were so fat. But a 4′ by 2′ bed with about 20 plants yielded only 6.1 oz. de-podded and peeled favas: enough for one small appetizer!

I won’t be growing favas anymore, however delicious, and however interesting.  The following photo shows the mycorrhizal nodules on the roots of the plants when I pulled them (there were a few more blossoms, but the leaves and developed pods were developing a black spot).

Most of my brassicas bolted. Neat, a bolted cauliflower:

It’s like a space ship. I’m keeping it to see what happens next.

We’re also eating the scrumptious husk cherries, and we’re comsuming two gallons of mint ice tea (mixed mints) with honey a day. Then there are all the other culinary herbs, of which we use some immediately and dry the bulk. I’ll write about our drying setup soon – it’s our next big project.

I’ve also harvested quite a bit of propolis and wax comb from the hive, which is doing well. The top broodbox is heavy with honey. I put on the first honey super two weeks ago, with a queen excluder. The excluder is a grate through which only the worker bees can pass.  We put these between the broodboxes and the honey supers to keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey harvest. However, after 2 weeks the bees had drawn out no comb whatsoever, confirmation that they might be reluctant to do anything in there because of the lack of queen pheromone. So I removed the excluder for now, and will see what happens.

propolis and wax

As for the house, DH, my nephew and I put down a wooden floor on concrete footings in our previously dirt floor shed. The idea is to put up insulation and drywall and two large doors and it can be an almost-year-round woodworking shop. It’s great to have the table saw and lathe out of the porch. Getting all the stuff that was in there before back in, in an organized way, was my biggest challenge. You know how you end up with boxes and boxes of odds and ends…

And last but not least, we’ve also added one more member to the family: Amie’s grandmother has arrived from Singapore. This means lots of art is being made, about which later. And yummy Indian food!  So we’re five now: three adults, one teenager, one kindergartner. I  do love having a full house!

Amie and I went to visit our new friends of the Freecycle comfrey, L and S, last week. Their raspberry garden was bursting with plump juicy berries. L helped Amie pick, she is so good with young kids. Amie was in seventh heaven, practically yelling with the fun of it. I chatted and picked and in less than 40 minutes we had gathered one pound and seven ounces. Later at Whole Foods I saw 6 ounces of organic raspberries for sale at $6. Wow. So:

raspberries from friends: 2 lbs (from two pickings)

We also picked our first strawberries. There are more ripening, I think in the end we’ll have about 100 berries. Amie again had a blast picking them after we removed the net.

strawberries: 3 oz.

We’re getting a good daily harvest of green beans every day now, from one 4×8 bed of Provider and Maxibel:

green beans: 1 lb 1 oz

I had to pull some pea vines because the chipmunks uprooted them. Still, incredibly – we hit 100 F yesterday – the remaining peas are still producing pods and even flowers.

peas (mix): 1 lb. 8 oz.

At the moment they’re straggling in one at a time, but the first big batch of tomatoes is on the verge of ripening and soon though there will be too many to eat day by day. Better get that solar dehydrator built.

tomatoes: 2.2 oz

cherry tomatoes: 6

Other harvests:

radishes: 4 edible ones (1 really good one)

garlic scapes: 10 (made them into Daphne’s salad dressin: delicious!)

garlic: 8 bulbs for eating, 8 for sowing

cauliflower: 1 tiny one, the rest bolted

carrots: 3 ounces of the baby kind, and a big bunch of green leaves that went into soup.

comfrey: 1 stuffed bucket for compost, though it looks like I should harvest it for skin salves.

The fava beans are in the pipeline, they are huge and kinda grotesque, but I’m waiting for a chance to make some Fool Mudamas to pick them. The onions have all fallen over and they are looking fat and juicy. I’ll be able to pull them soon as well, adding yet another empty bed. Time to plant Fall and Winter crops. Maybe the brassicas will do better in the Fall this year – all my brassicas, but (so far) the Brussels Sprouts, bolted.

~

The borage is in bloom and the bees just love it. At my last inspection I found my queen – I thought she had been superseded. I tall looked well enough for the first  honey super to be added on. If we have some honey I will be happy, because local honey can help Amie’s respiratory trouble which – we think – is due to allergies to pollen. And how local can honey get!

~

My nephew from Belgium arrived last Monday and he will be staying here for a month. He’s a strong and friendly thirteen-year-old who can help a lot around the house and garden, and he and Amie get along so well. He’s a teenager but he can still play. What a boon it is to have him here.

tthcoverdrawing

During the Transition Training we watched a lot of images and videos of Transition Initiatives, and at first I watched them with mixed feelings of joy and anxiousness. My heart sank because I inevitably thought: “I can’t make that happen.”

That sinking feeling stems from the fact that, though I arrived here over 11 years ago, studied, married, bought a house and had a child here, I still don’t feel at home. Why? Not because of the people around me: I have found each and every one of my colleagues, neighbors and friends – Americans or not – to be sincerely welcoming. So it must be me.

I always assumed children have a natural sense of being at home, for I myself, as a child, felt at home, without ever a shadow of a doubt. But was it because of something a child does or is, or was it because of what my parents did and modeled? Or was it because of the place?

The place was Antwerp (Belgium), a city within half an hour’s drive of the city where my grandparents and aunts and uncles all lived. A place where my family can trace and place our ancestry as far back as the 1700s. And a place with a culture in which “migrating” is the exception. You see, Belgians don’t leave Belgium: the emigration rate is less than a percent. And Belgium is a small country, about the size of Maryland, so children “leave” (for college, or to live) to within at most a two hours’ drive away from their parents. In my family I was the third (out of four now) in the span of two generations to move abroad, which makes my family exceptionally migratory.

Let’s put this in context. The United Nations Commission on Population and Development concluded in 2006 that only 3% of the world population is an international migrant (with most migrants moving from developing to developed countries). The kind of mobility within the United States that makes for big moves, in contrast, is high: the Census of 2000 determined that, within 5 years, no less than 8.42% of its respondents had moved to another state and an additional 2.86% to a foreign country. That number has in all probability gone up in the last couple of years.

So let’s just say that my Amie is seeing a home very different from what I saw as a kid. We see family once or twice a year, not every weekend. Mama and Baba have strange accents – and so does she, insisting on “woh-T-er”. Mama and Baba can’t vote and they don’t know how to negotiate certain communal systems. So I am afraid that Amie will not know what “home” is, or that she will call “home” something that I would call but a weak version of my own rich childhood memory of home.

And so I must ask myself: can I, dare I, make this place my home? What if home means not just the core family of the three of us, not just lengthy visits (visits: that says it all) from grandparents and aunts and cousins, not just local traditions with good, good friends that we see often… but also the wider culture of a hometown?

The Training helped me realize that I should make this hometown happen, for myself, for Amie, and that it is possible. That this what a Transition Initiative could mean to me, my family, and the people in my community: not just becoming more resilient in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic crisis, but first and foremost what our trainer called  “becoming indigenous toyour place”: coming home.

{Previously, about Transition: the giving of gifts}

4117946288_4db44014d1

  1. warm and bright out, emptied all the rain barrels, stashed them upside down, and reconnected gutters
  2. raked leaves, emptied pots and containers, stashed them in shed
  3. Amie raked leaves too (cough)
  4. drank two large coffees (more milk than espresso)
  5. baked and pureed 5 sugar pie pumpkins
  6. will reserve puree for pumpkin bread (not for today), will freeze rest
  7. will roast pumpkin seeds later
  8. made leek and potato soup
  9. made veggie stock with the dark greens of the leek and other veggie scraps, will freeze in cubes
  10. boiled sweet potatoes, then fried with caramelized onions and lots of ground pepper
  11. will have sweet potatoes and soup (with raw milk) for dinner with homemade bread and (not as yet homemade) butter
  12. will freeze leftovers
  13. miraculously found room in my fridge for raw milk delivery for friend
  14. started new wheat grass sprouts
  15. Amie is having an early dinner of boiled carrots, humus and a farm fresh (chicken) egg omelet… with ketchup, and she promised she would try the potato leek soup {tried it, did not like it}
  16. which reminds me I have to make a go of the chickpeas next year
  17. looking forward to evening, work on novel again – lots of good ideas!