Phew.

This weekend we finally got our asses in gear (that’s the expression, right?) and started to clear more of the to-be-vegetable patch to the side of the house.  Yesterday we cut down whatever overgrown chrismas trees needed removing, mostly using a bowsaw (I really enjoy using a bowsaw; a friend lent us an electric chainsaw and, really, it’s just not the same).

Today we started digging out a 8′x3′x1′  hole and sifting the soil. It took us five hours, the two of us, with some help (and counter help) from Amie. She was very cute with her yellow plastic shovel, filling up a bucket, complaining like we are wont to complain (a bit) and then concluding “You can fill the bucket, Baba!”We now are left with the hole, a big pile of sifted and somewhat clayey soil, and a smaller pile of pebbles, stones, rocks, boulders, and tree roots.

Next up: double dig (stick in a fork and wiggle it around a bit), add the soil amendments (mainly compost, proably our own but I doubt we’ll have any left after this small patch) and fill it back up. Then tackle the next 800 square feet!

I’ll take pictures tomorrow. It’ll be good to have some before-meanwhile-after pictures. I always enjoy those same-angle pictures that gardeners put up on their blogs.

Mel Bartholomew’s new Square Foot Gardening (c) Bartholomew

We’re planning on following Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening method – the old  one, since we have pretty good soil, but I’m going to check out the new book as well (*). I had such fun last week trying to figure out how much land to set aside for potatoes (our main local starch around here).

THE BIG POTATO  RECKONING

  • Carla Emory wrote to plant at least 50 lbs per family.
  • 1 lb of potato “seeds” planted yields 10 lbs of harvest.
  • The best seeds or tubers weigh about 2-3 ounces
  • If in the traditional method we assign 3 rows 40′ long and 3′ apart, we’d plant 78 plants at intervals of 18″, which would come to 10-12 lbs of seed, and would yield a harvest  of 100-120 lbs.
  • Using Mel’s method of planting a main crop of 1 seed a square foot, the same area  of 10 X 40 feet would take 400 plants (so 800 ounces or 50 lbs) and yield 500 lbs!

500 lbs. is too much, even for me, for whom potato is the ultimate comfort food. But if on our first try we hit it somewhere in the middle of the traditional yield and “Mel’s yield”  we should be covered.

(*) In his new system Mel “grows up”: he fills his square-foot boxes with “Mel’s Mix” of1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost and 1/3 peat moss – so it doesn’t matter what soil you have, or if you have any at all, really.

Amie in the meantime is becoming a good helper around the house as well. She is really good at folding towels and handkerchiefs (yes, we use those: no paper tissues in our house). I can’t wait to show you the drawings she’s been making…

Amie’s pile of folded laundry (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie picking raspberries at Drumlin (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This Saturday we returned to Drumlin Farm for the Harvest Festival and we had a blast. We danced to the Old Mariners’ Dixieland Jazz – they were in their sixties and seventies and pretty hardcore, apologizing for playing a song so recent as from the thirties! We took a hayride into the fields I remember with such fondness and picked the last of the raspberries.  I was wishing we had that much sunlight in our garden. I would love to have a berry patch like that, for the berries, for sure, but also for the picking, which is just such a mind-clearing and calming activity. We also got some gourds (now curing in our porch) and large as well as small pumpkins, of which Amie painted one.

Amie painting pumpkin at Drumlin, october 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

On Sunday we drove “into the city” (it’s still funny to say it like that) and in between two parties we visited the MIT Museum.

Amie and Kismet, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

There Amie got acquainted with the”emotional robot” Kismet (above), the kinetic sculptures of Arthur Ganson, and the ongoing and ever changing exhibition of holograms. Amie was most charmed by Ganson’s Machine with Wishbone and the tiny armchair jumping and bouncing over the cat. But she was most mesmerized by his self-oiling machine, of course, how could she not? All that sleek oil dripping down… Maybe that’s what caused her proclamation, as we headed back out again: “I want to go to a coffee shop!”

(Two entries in one day, for a change!)

Today dawned gray but then the skies cleared up again by noon and by 2 Amie and I and our drawing materials were on our way to Drumlin Farm. In the car we discussed how we love Fall – though Amie avows she loves all the seasons – because of these bright blue blustery skies, the colors in the waving trees, the whirl of falling leaves, and the fresh air.

At the Farm we spent our usual 15 minutes on the observation platform along the Bee Line Trail, waiting for the deer to show themselves. Amie is pretty good at keeping quiet, as long as she has a snack.  Then we saw the first deer, whom we call “Bambi’s mother”, lying in the grass, munching. I drew her in my journal while Amie finished her snack.

Bambi at Drumlin, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie was very intrigued by that, so when we spotted “Bambi” (a younger deer, probably also female but never mind), it was her turn to draw from life.

Amie’s drawing of Bambi, Drumlin Farm, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

- “Bambi has an extra leg on his back, so he can run, like this” (does funny rolling run).

The addition of grass was her own idea, based on the grass in my drawing. It’s more or less the first time she adds context to a drawing. When I asked her a couple of days ago where Amie was,in the drawing, she said: “Here!” and slapped the page. Where else! Later she reconsidered and said that Amie was in the [living] room but you can’t see the toys because they’re in their boxes.

Speaking of context… Later we sat down at the picnic benches and Amie decided to draw the two boulders and – after standing on them – Amie standing on them. 

Amie’s drawing of two stones with Amie, Drumlin Farm (c) Katrien Vander Straeten


The two dots on Amie’s body are buttons (they started out as eyes but were quickly renamed buttons when she saw that was the body). There are the two boulders (I helped a little with coloring them in), a tree with green, brown and yellow leaves, and the sky. She had some trouble deciding where to draw the sky. Here the context was drawn first and the human figure was added last.

I have a new resolution. Well, it’s not exactly new, but.. uhm… REnew-ed. Yes, that’s it: an old one newly made. In any case, it is to draw something every day, and what better to draw than my little girl who finally will sit still for two minutes at least while she is  drawing something herself. She is always very curious about what I’m doing and what the drawing looks like, so she’ll frequently interrupt what she is doing – and thus what I am doing – to come and sneak a peak. Needless to say I am so rusty that she will be the only one I will allow such a peak, so far!

So invariably she’ll hear me sigh and complain of my drawing, to which she will either respond: “No, Mama, it does look like Amie!” or (more often) “I can do it better! Here, let me do it!” Then the collaborative effect will take place like the amazing drawing I posted yesterday, and this one, today:

Amie and Mama’s drawings of Amie on chair, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

That’s Amie’s copy of my drawing: Amie sitting on a chair (which hides her legs, obviously), “doing homework” at Mama’s desk.

I haven’t been blogging much lately. Summer at our burgeoning homestead has meant more time spent outside and in physical activities, like transplanting and planting.

Mama and Amie planting August 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten Amie transplanting, August 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

There hasn’t been as much of planting as I would have wanted: just some herbs in pots and a an edible border by the side of the house (thyme). Mainly we’ve pulled out plants and weeds, moved and sifted through rotten woodpiles, dug up stones and cut down some trees (small ones, with bow saw).

We have mostly cleared the area that will be our vegetable patch next year. I’m afraid I didn’t take the earliest possible “BEFORE” picture of the jungle that was there. I really like the idea of taking pictures of the garden as it changes…

We decided to follow Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” method. I very much like his engineer’s approach, and a high-yield small-space garden like that also allows us to make optimal use of what little sunlight our shaded garden allows in without having to cut down the beautiful trees. We hope to make the vegetable beds and to start building up that soil at least before the weather deteriorates even more.

What else has happened? We’ve had both sets of grandparents visiting as well as Aunts and other friends. It was real summertime, so much more treasured because we now live in this wel-lit house with this great yard and in this beautiful neighborhood. Those who visited who could make the comparison with our small, dark basement in Brookline were stunned by the difference. Even being sick – yes, of course, the second week of school, and I got it too – is more enjoyable when you can sit on the sofa with the sleeping child on your lap and look out at the trees and the birds…

Now it’s just the three of us again. It’s strange, for me at least, because our first guest arrived a week after we moved in, and we’ve head a constant stream since then. It feels now like I have to make myself “at home” all over again…

We also started the new school year, and of course there has been a lot of drawing, writing, and crafting, but about which in another post!

Laundry on the line, wood and compost, September 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

My mom is reliving her childhood sifting through the many woodpiles of predominantly rotted wood that the previous owner left. She’s moving the logs that still hold good BTUs to our good woodpile. We’re fast approaching three cords of wood: enough for a winter, only we don’t have a wood stove as yet, as this year’s budget can’t accommodate it. Neither do we have the money to get some sort of lawn/meadow started in that area. Next year: we’ve got time.

We’re drying laundry on the line and composting happily. In fact, we’ve got two of those Earth Machines and they’re nearly full, so my dad is making a larger compost area in a far corner of the property, made from the chain link fence we pulled out a while ago. Unfortunately I checked out the “compost” the landfill put aside for us and it’s full of trash! We’ll have to screen it ourselves and we’re not equipped for that, yet.

We also found the first dead animal on our property: a squirrel that was (very recently) bitten by what looks like a fox – the bite is too small for a dog, too large for a cat. Any other predators out there?

Dead squirrel (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie is going to preschool soon. She has been home with us for several months, ever since we moved, so it will be a big change for her (and me). I can’t say she is particularly enthusiastic, but neither is she apprehensive about it, I think. Part of the problem is that she has no clear concept of time: “in six days” means very little to the little girl who will whine “I haven’t seen Nemo all this year!”

So I decided to make a countdown calender.

Amie’s countdown calendar, September 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I made it out of a scrap cardboard frame, glued it to a sheet of card stock, then drew in the squares: a visit to the landfill (I know!), riding the bike, reading Library Lion (the new favorite book), and her favorite characters Nemo and Caillou, and of course her Oma and Opa’s arrival at the airport on the third, and her first day of school on the eighth, with friends and learning after that.

The initial idea was to let her open one door every evening and the picture would show the next day’s activity or event. It would teach time as well as bring a surprise every evening. But the moment I revealed it to her she wanted to open all the windows and got upset when I wouldn’t let her. So now I let her open any door she wants, and every evening we discuss the picture of the next day.

Amie’s countdown calendar, August/Sept 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We also discuss the day that has passed, and on the back of the door I write whatever has happened that isn’t in the picture. This way, if we can keep these calendars going, we will have a record of our days.

Amie, Laura and i blow out candles, 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This was Amie’s birthday, on the 18th. Amie was my own birthday present three years ago, so those were my candles as well. And one of our best friends, Tia Tata (which is what Amie calls her), was also born on the 18th, in the same year as me. Tia Tata was our roommate for a while before we moved out of town – unfortunately she couldn’t join us. So we all joined forces. For weeks Amie had practiced blowing out candles and looking very important while the birthday song was being sung, and this was the great moment. She enjoyed it thoroughly. In the evening she said: “All my big friends were here, and my little friends also came!”

Amie has always been interested in recognizing letters, and she has been able to write her name for many months, but it was more an exercise in memory than real writing. She can analyze the first and the last sounds in a word, but not the ones in between yet, unless it is an easy word like “Mama”. Yesterday we were drawing with chalk on our driveway when, she spontaneously wrote out “Mama”.

Amie writes “Mama”, August 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then she asked to learn more letters. I taught her the easier ones: from E she can make L and F, for instance. The most difficult one was B,which she wanted because she wanted to write “Boo” (her favorite character from “Monsters, Inc.”). She turned B into a stick with two circles. Then I asked her to write “Moo” too, and she did:

Amie writes “Moo”, August 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She also wanted to write “Pig”. P was easy after B, but the G was too difficult, so I shower her the small g. This was her first attempt:

Amie writes “B”, August 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then the next attempt:

Amie writes “Pig”, August 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I know I’m not being consistent with the large and small case letters, and that really one should start children off on the small case ones. But that’s how writing develops in the organic (chaotic) context of our home. But she’ll be starting preschool on the eighth. She’ll be going to a Montessori school, so I’m relieved there will be some professional help with her new enthusiasm.

She also drew this:

Amie’s dead bunny rabbit, august 08 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Yes, it really is  a “dead bunny rabbit [oops, my misspelling], not a real one!”