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I laid down the first three rows of the brick wall for the earth oven (more on that soon). It didn’t have to be pretty (we’ll cover this with mud in the end), just strong. Though I got in a groove, I decided to wait to open another bag of cement and put down another three layers till this has dried and I can see that it works. {UPDATE} next day: I kicked it and it didn’t budge! Three more rows coming up, today. Then fill it up and add another three rows, and cap it and we’ll have the base.

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With two friends, I sauced and canned a little over a bushel of local, organic and free Freecycle apples. The apples were delicious but very small and therefore a pain to peel, but time flew as we chatted.  We’re getting four bushels of peaches soon and will can those together as well.

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I’m happy, overall, with the buckwheat (all those white flowers) in the Community Garden Plot. In places it grew waist high and smothered most of the weeds. It’ll be a lot of biomass to till in when it’s time to sow the winter rye. Finally some good news from that garden!

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I admire my birthday present – the Gransfors Burks small splitting axe – every day. I swung it a couple of times, but feel I need some mentoring.

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More elderberries (they go into smoothies), tomatoes and pole beans, LOTS of them suddenly. Good, because the bush beans were done too soon this year.

We put the two pullets in with the four hens. There is no mixing as yet, but there was less pecking and fighting today than there was yesterday. In the evening we still had to pick them up and move them into the coop and onto the roost.

In my journal I wrote:

Understanding comes and goes as huge, crashing waves. One recedes and the other comes. It’s hard to catch your breath.

I had just finished reading Stephen Jenkinson’s latest post, “There’s Grief in Coming Home,” when I looked up and I must have had an expression on my face for Amie asked: “What is it, Mama?”

I said: “I just read something by a man with great wisdom, a wise man. You can learn a lot from wise people.”

Amie asked: “Do we know any wise people?”

The question took me unawares. I had to think for a moment.

“We may know wise people, but we don’t know. There used to be a time when people asked for and shared wisdom freely. Now, we wouldn’t know if we were talking to a wise person.”

Amie said: “Just like there are no cobblers any more.”

This went back to her request yesterday morning that I take her to a cobbler so she could learn how to make shoes (she’s reading Little House). I explained there aren’t many cobblers now. She thought this preposterous.

“Who makes our shoes then?”

“Why, machines.”

That didn’t seem so self-evident to her, at all.

“Why?” (as in Why on earth!?)

And we talked, about machines making more, faster, cheaper. About how they do mostly everything, makes shoes, harvest crops.

This had not occurred to her. This didn’t seem right to her.

Why does it seem right to (most of) us?

Through the eyes of your child you look into the dark heart of your culture and your heart skips a beat because the dark heart is your heart, questioning itself, grieving.

Discovered over the last couple of months:

  1. neighbor who can help me identify wild edible mushrooms
  2. neighbor who can help me dispatch a chicken to my freezer once the time comes
  3. neighbor who can darn the holes in my favorite ten-year-old sweater
  4. neighbors with whom to share seeds and gardening schedules
  5. neighbor who can take care of all kinds of wild creatures
  6. neighbor who can identify birds
  7. neighbor who can knit
  8. neighbor who makes her own colloidal silver
  9. neighbor who knows trees and how to drop them

 

The farmer in his field

A while ago we finally took the step and enrolled in a year-long CSA, starting this Spring, at Siena Farms. We visited the farm in Fall and fell in love with the fields and the farmers. I loved especially the fact that the owner, Farmer Chris, puts effort and money into training young people.

I am very happy we did. Last year, as Transition Wayland took off and I struggled with my novel, I lost track of my garden. I didn’t water it enough, let the weeds and the pests have their way, and didn’t even get round to putting doors on our hoop house for Winter and early Spring growing. Even though the season was mild, our harvests were skimpy, a far cry from the dream of eating solely from the garden during Summer at least.

This Spring we are planning to put in an irrigation system, which I would like to be as low-tech as possible, dependent on rain water catchment and gravity. The shortage of acorns last Fall may have taken care, temporarily, of the chipmunks, squirrels and voles, but the tomato horn worms will be back and the deer seem less and less shy. For the latter at least we’re thinking of better fencing, and for the varmints, traps and  “vole hotels” (you check in but you can’t check out!). I’ve also enrolled in a Timebank and may get some gardening help that way, as well as  from visiting grandparents. All of this will be necessary, as we have plans for significantly expanding the food gardens this Spring.

~

What I am talking about here  is cushions, reserves, safeties. These last two months have been another lesson in those for us.

Take the firewood. We have lots of it neatly stacked in the back of the property, but it is not easily accessible for day-to-day use, for which we have a smaller stack on our porch. When we got back from our trip in January, that stack was very low and we soon ran out.

Why? It takes the two of us only two hours to fill it!

Two reasons. Because of circumstances we missed opportunity after opportunity to restock: it rained when we had the time, it was too bitterly cold, we were too busy, one or both of us got sick. But more importantly, we don’t have the mindset for cushioning.  That has been bred out of us by lifetimes of convenience. Heating was always available to us when we grew up (to DH because he grew up in a tropical climate, to me because there was always gas heat and good insulation). We still don’t have a “need” for hauling wood. Lo and behold: the oil furnace automatically picked up the slack (to the detriment of our Riot). It is heating my house as I write.

~

Even with regard to our health we have this attitude. I mentioned sickness keeping us from hauling wood. Both DH and I have been sick too often this Winter (the mildest on record). We’ve been lousy at physical self care (New Year’s resolutions notwithstanding). For the last two weeks I’ve been suffering from sinusitis (not the usual for me). It got to be so bad that my herbal medicines no longer made a difference and I “needed” (pharmaceutical) painkillers and antibiotics. I detest painkillers, and I’ve not used antibiotics for over a decade. They’re all throwing me for a loop, making me too dizzy, for one… to haul wood!

I feel trapped in a spiral of convenience. The garden didn’t produce? Not to worry, there is plenty of food in the supermarket. Didn’t take care of yourself and now your head’s blocked and you can’t think straight? Here’s a spray, it clears you up in two seconds! Yes, you’ll have to wean yourself off. Yes, it makes you dizzy, but at least you can sit at your laptop now and blog…

Ugh.

~

The cushions we need, that we truly need, have to be inbuilt in our systems. We must no longer be so reliant on outside convenience. I’m talking community supported agriculture, irrigation with rain water, simple fencing, help from friends and community, physical health and fitness with the occasional boost of a herbal tonic or medicine grown in my garden, a better stocked food pantry, a better composting/soil building system… And I could go on.

Why? For decency sake. Because of what’s coming. Because it will strengthen what really matters.

What kind of reserves are you building in, taking responsibility for, taking control of, coming home to?

Looking at the new heating season, DH and I were looking at two tasks.

1. Clean the wood stove chimney. It had been two years, so we felt it was time. Instead of hiring a chimney sweep ($150 a visit) we bought a chimney brush with rods ($165). DH climbed up (our house has only one storey), I fed him the brush and the rods, and the job was done in 15 minutes.  We’ll add these tools to the Transition Wayland Tool Pool (chimney sweep not included).

2. All of last year, whenever the furnace would come on, the house would fill with an exhaust smell. Not enough to set off our carbon monoxide alarms, but unpleasant. We diagnosed the problem as a crack in the old chimney flue. We asked for an estimate and it came back at $1200 (materials and labor). But when the woodstove was installed and we had the other flue lined, it didn’t look like rocket science. So we bought the metal liner, the connectors and the chimney top online and the high temperature caulk and silicone ($400 total ), and with the help of two friends installed it in an hour or so.

It was pretty warm out today, 50F, so both chimney flues were unused until around 6 pm. I even opened the windows wide. I emptied the rain barrels for storage, reattached the gutters, put the hoses away. I am eager t0 clear the downed limbs from the garden beds so I can plant my garlic. I’ve got 4 pounds of seed garlic and plan to put some in every bed to “sanitize” the soil. I need to fix the hoop house (only one tear from the fallen branch). And I want to get some horse manure from my neighbor and start spreading it all over. Also, I need to get me 5 bales of straw from  the feed mill…

All that will depend on Amie. Her school is canceled a second day because the building still doesn’t have electricity, but she is ill, anyway, and will probably be home tomorrow as well.

There used to be a time when this was a mommy blog. Then it became a garden blog. Now it’s becoming an activist blog (of sorts). But today we’re paying homage to the blog’s first form, and  we’re going to enjoy some music.

Here is Amie’s first recital, a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

By the way, in case you were wondering, I think playing a musical instrument is one of those crucial skills we all need to learn again. Hand and homemade entertainment is vastly superior to the tinned junk piped in through the cables we’re hooked up to. Also, no ads!

Solar eye

Today we talked to the tree removal people, and the quote they gave us was reasonable. We’re talking a lot of trees, here: six largish-large oaks (some white, some red), one massive beech and one younger one, and three tall pines. Then there will be stump removal (necessary because we want to plant an orchard instead, matching each cut tree with at least one new dwarf one) and splitting and chopping fire wood. We’ll leave the first to the experts, but are planning to do the second and third jobs ourselves. I plan on becoming an expert in chopping and stashing away two more years of firewood while also gaining a kick-ass figure!

So far we’ve received three (ball park) quotes for a 5 kilowatt solar PV system and a solar hot water system. They too, given the incentives, could be within our means. We need to crunch more numbers, but one thing is for sure: it will be nice to open up our canopy for the gardens, but if we decide not to go with the solar array(s), we won’t take down the trees.

Above is the image one of the installers took when on our roof, which at that point still had 2 feet of snow above a good 10 inches of ice on it.  That was excitement enough for me!

Bubbles!

The Ginger Bug is bubbling so I’m moving on to the next stage of brewing a good beer: adding the culture to the base (water, more ginger and sugar/honey) and letting it ferment away some more. I’m making a little less than a gallon,  about 6 wine bottles, I should say.

DH made some wine a many years ago (it was really good), and so we have carboys in several sizes. You could use a milk container but 1) they’re plastic and 2) they’re not clear, which makes keeping an eye on the fermentation difficult. Also, 3) you need to find a way of closing the container, and that flimsy cap won’t do it, it’ll blow right off as the fermentation keeps going. DH’s carboy comes with a stopper with an airlock. Perfect!

A week to two weeks to my first ginger beer!

~

I want to grow ginger root, or rather, ginger rhizome (Zingiber officinale). It seems challenging in a cold climate – it needs about 8-10 months of growing time and is not cold-hardy, so it has to come inside for a large part of the year. And inside I am still struggling with the whiteflies and the aphids - the neem seems to have gotten the majority, but the survivors are recolonizing rapidly. Keeping humidity-loving, pest-prone exotics happy in the extra dry winter indoors is not easy.

Nevertheless I want to give it a try, and while I’m at it I’ll also try to grow ginger’s relative, turmeric (Curcuma longa), another great medicinal and culinary rhizome, if I can find a fresh root somewhere.

~

More snow is coming down. It’ll have added 7 to 8 inches by the time it’s done. I  don’t think that  I’ve ever seen so much accumulated snow in the twelve years that I’ve lived in the Boston area. School is canceled for an unprecedented second day int he history of our town. I will have to go out to dig out the hoop house and the beehive. I’ll have to wade through snow up to my knees. A plus is that it is making me take a closer look at where to put the chicken coop.

If we want to make a snowman we’ll have to do it today. After today we’re looking at a couple of days of excrutiating cold – minus 5 (F) Sunday night!

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

~

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.

Last session I simply made the same thing over and over again, modeled on a small drinking cup I had bought at a pottery studio on Cape Cod. It was good practice, of course, and instructive as well in that I could really see how pots shrink in the kiln. I’m not entirely happy with some of the glazing, but I am never really cut up over something that doesn’t come out like I thought it would.  They’re just practice, experience gained. If once in a while the outcome is just right, I am thankful but it won’t make me expect too much of myself. I really do this for fun, to get out of the house on Monday nights, and for more practical than artistic reasons.