Here’s what Amie drew today. She is obviously feeling much better, as testified by this springy Tigger. He’s jumping, see, and holding a black balloon, and there’s a tree behind him. She drew this at her little table while no one was watching.

Amie’s Tigger holding a balloon, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Winnie-the-Pooh has become Amie’s favorite. We read a story from the original book every evening. She doesn’t quite understand everything, but loves it nevertheless. She walks around saying “O bother” and pretending all her stuffed and Schleich animals are characters from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Amie Drawing of Christopher Robin, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This is Winnie-the-Pooh on the left, holding a balloon and a branch, with a tree behind him, an Christopher Robin standing in the doorway. Notice the mix still of figures with bodies and those without. I’m really impressed because she used two colors without being asked, and thrilled that she is also adding context spontaneously now.

Someone suggested we buy her a Pooh or Tigger doll, but we don’t see why. It’s great that she can think of her old Sleepy Bear as Pooh, and of her IKEA kangeroo as Roo. Her imagination makes them so, and so much more beloved too because of that investment.

I have been a daily reader of Sharon Astyk’s blog Casaubon’s Book for years now and I am rereading her book, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front, with pencil in hand.  Sharon was the one who made me conscious of the opportunity for a different, more sound kind of lifestyle, like I’ve outlined in What We Do and in this blog. And while persuading me Sharon made me laugh and cry and made my heart race with indignation and swell with hope. But first of all she was and is always thorough in her discussion, brutally honest also about herself, and, most importantly, down-to-earth and practical, feasible. What she was doing, I could do too!

So like many I was holding my breath when Sharon announced on her blog that a visit to her homestead from a reporter and a photographer from the New York Times was imminent. What an opportunity, but would the Times do her – do us, the believers – justice?

The resulting article, “Completley Unplugged, Fully Green,” by Joanne Kaufman (sorry, you may need to subscribe, for “free”), was a grave but not unexpected disappointment. To Sharon first of all, as is noticeable in the title of her blog entry on the subject: I was a Whore for the Mainstream Media (19 October 2008).

The article appeared in the “Fashion and Style” section of the paper. Fashion and Style? Really now. It’s no wonder then that, while presenting a typically short, superficial and selective portrait of Sharon and some of her colleagues, Ms. Kaufman devoted the article’s last page to consulting “some mental health professionals, to whom “the compulsion to live green in the extreme can suggest a kind of disorder” (my italics).

In the extreme.

True, unplugging the fridge, using a composting toilet and heating with a wood stove to an indoor temperature of 52 degrees, cosleeping in some form or other to pool body heat is not something we all do, but compulsive? Are refusing to drive many miles every Saturday to a Little League game,  washing out Ziploc bags, growing one’s own produce, raising chickens and containing one’s spending on consumer goods dysfunctional? Even air-drying  one’s clothes, keeping an eye on one’s trash-output, and taking showers rather than baths (which is “Among the less intuitive” of measures) are made to seem obsessive.

To believe Ms. Kaufman, these are all signs of the “carborexic” “zealotry” of “energy anorexics,” who obsess “over personal carbon emissions to an unhealthy degree, the way crash dieters watch the bathroom scale.” One has to ask: “Is it getting in the way of your ability to do a good job at work? Is it taking precedence over everything else in your relationships?” “If you can’t have something in your house that isn’t green or organic, if you can’t eat at a relative’s house because they don’t serve organic food, if you’re criticizing friends because they’re not living up to your standards of green, that’s a problem.”

That’s right, but really, none of the people presented in the article, least of all Sharon, fit that description. One only has to read the words of the interviewees closely to realize that.

So one might then say that in Ms. Kaufman’s defense I have the wrong impression of what she “suggests”. But this one line gives her away: “Certainly there is no recognized syndrome in mental health related to the compulsion toward living a green life“: at this point in the article, the italicized part is stated as a given.

I resent that.

Wanting to live a more sustainable life, safeguarding a better future for our children, and taking up one’s responsibility as a citizen of the world are not a compulsion. A compulsion is “a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, esp. one that is irrational or contrary to one’s will“. What Sharon stands for is on the contrary a fully conscious and conscientious positions to proven problems.

Sharon deplores that the Riot for Austerity – a community effort of many quite sane people like you and me – was not mentioned. She no doubt also regrets the last line of the article, in which her own words – spoken perhaps, off guard – are co-opted as the inane  conclusion that the whole issue is like a fun game.


It is clear to me that the article philanders to the lowest common denominator by presenting  Sharon and “her ilk” (that’s me, too!) as being just as crazy as the gun-toting survivalists who hole up in the hills. And the constant mentioning of the children (Sharon’s, Colin Beavan’s , the Lavines’) suggesting, as Sharon comments, her “low-level child abuse (cold house, no baseball)” are a clear grab for outrage.

This article reveals more about the writer – and her media outlet, since it chose to publish her article – than about her subject. It’s bad and irresponsible reporting, and it demeans Sharon, her admirers (like myself) and the Times readership. I don’t care if this is how “the Mainstream Media” usually operates. We still need to speak out against it.

We’re all sick.

Amie came down with a cold on Friday. She often has a bit of a runny/sneezy nose in the mornings, and Friday morning was no different, except that she didn’t want to go to school. She loves her preschool, but only gets “fully committed” when she is actually there, or after she has come home. Getting her ready and over there and especially over the threshold – especially when it’s me who’s doing the drop-off – is a less enthusiastic affair.

I asked her: “Are you feeling sick?” She said: “Yes”.  She had no fever, though I caught her shivering a bit – but then this was the first really chilly morning of the season. Was she “faking it”? I doubted she could. Can they, at her age (3.3)? I explained to her about lying, and about how important and fun school is, and how much it costs and Baba needs to work for paying for it, and that Mama also needs to work in the mornings. I explained what “feeling sick” means. Etc.  She still said she was sick.

By that moment in the conversation we had reached the school gate and the teacher  was inviting us in. Amie did the usual thing of clinging to me, but unusually she didn’t let herself be persuaded. I decided to bring her home.

On the way back home I was torn: was she faking it not to have to go to school? Or was she sick? Either way, I realized, I was sunk!

I remember faking it myself. I did that quite often because I didn’t have a happy school life for the most part.  I remember also the despair of my mom on those occasions. She sort of seemed to know, I thought, or at least I persuaded myself so I didn’t have to feel too guilty about it. My woes at school always seemed to legitimize my duplicity to myself, but still there was always my mom’s quiet sadness. Was it because she had work to do at home and I would be in the way, or because she knew the sad reasons for my faking it, or because in the end it meant she had to be unsure now whenever I claimed to be sick, and it made her judgment of the real situation so perilous…

Driving my child back home from school, I finally understood.

In a couple of hours it became clear she was really sick, so though I felt very sad for Amie, I also felt relieved.

It quickly deteriorated into something worse.  Yesterday I thought we might have to run to the ER because her breathing was very shallow and rapid, and the wheezing and rumbling in her chest was alarming. I watched her closely as she slept for most of the day. When awake she was so fully invested into getting enough air into her lungs that she didn’t speak all day, not a singly word except for “tissue”, until after a nap at 5 pm. Then she suddenly perked up with a feverish energy, and she couldn’t stop talking and singing for a while, in a high-pitched, trembling, short-of-breath voice that broke my heart. But she was breathing easier, and today, though she is still sick, and vomited up what little she finally ate, I know she has turned the page on this one.

Not so hubby, who lies moaning in bed. And I also have a runny nose. I’m fighting it, though, by frenetically vacuuming the house, cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry and turning over the compost while Amie is asleep. Which she is now, on the sofa next to me,  rumbling and snoring away while I blog.

How about you? How does it make you feel when you suspect your child is faking it? How do you remember it from your own childhood?

Sorry I’m a bit late posting this, but this article by one of my heroes Michael Pollan appeared in the New York Times a couple of days ago and it put a chunk in my throat that is still stuck there.

It’s a good thing… balance, especially when you’re a pessimist like I am. I got my balance today when I wanted to put some balm on Amie’s poor nose (snotty cold in progress here) and she cried out:

- No, no, only on the tip of my nose, not on my snorkels, not on my noseholes!

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008 (c) Crunchy Chicken

Yes, I’m taking the challenge, probably the most difficult one of all for me, because I’m one of those people who always feels cold. At the bookends of the summer, when other New Englanders are still/already wearing their t-shirts outside, I’ve got my scarf on and a sweater. I am unapologetic about that, but not about turning up the fossil-fuel heat that we are, at the moment, dependent on.

So far we’ve been blessed with mostly good weather (61 degrees and sunny right now), but we had a some cold days a couple of weeks ago and turned on the heat. Having a new boiler installed was one of the first things we did after buying the house, as the old boiler was literally an antique. We wanted to see how and if it works properly. We have forced hot water with cast-iron floorboards and about 1200 square feet to heat (1500 if we also heat the guest zone, but we shut that off). Unfortunately there is no way to turn off any of the radiators, so we can’t close the bedroom doors and just heat our living space.

We had a tough time finding the right settings, but the main problem was me. DH and Amie are “warm” people, walking around in their light sweaters – and even that had to be forced upon Amie. I was dressed for deep winter, had my hands wrapped around a cup of steaming tea most of the time, and I was still shivering. DH set the thermostat to 64 degrees during the day (or almost 18 Celsius, which still makes more sense to me) and I complained, I admit. And though I hated hearing that infernal boiler fire up, I turned it up a couple of times.

But I shouldn’t.

So I pledge 64 during the day and 58 F at night.

(That’s 17.7 and  14.4 C)

 Now I’m going to peruse Crunchy Chicken’s Freeze Yer Buns posts from last year to see how I can make this any easier.

So over the weekend we dug a big pit (8′ x 3′ x 1.5′)  where part of our vegetable garden will be. Tomorrow spells rain, and we didn’t want all that laboriously dug and sifted soil to wash away.

So we decided to immediately apply the “Bomb Proof Mulch” from Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden – a book we heartily recommend, by the way. It’s a recipe for soil-building, but since we already have pretty good soil (except for it being a little clayey) we felt comfortable with adapting it a bit. Hemenway also recommends to leave the existing soil and the vegetation on it be, as it will all decompose and gets better underneath the “mulch”, but as we have so many stones and roots in our soil, we had no choice but to dig and double-dig.

First we drove out to the next town over to get us some straw, with which we proceeded to stuff the car (four bales). I know Amie looks dubious in the picture, but she loved it.

Amie among the straw, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We also got some bags of composted manure – Moo Doo, cheap for $5 a bag (the farmer wanted to get rid of them). It really didn’t smell too bad, but we did get some strange looks from people along the road.

Car with Moo Doo (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then we rolled up our sleeves, double-dug the whole pit (loosened the soil at a depth of more than a foot and took out some more stones) and threw in a bag of Moo Doo:

Bomb Proof mulching stage 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then we stuck most of the sifted soil back in:

Bomb Proof mulching stage 2 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then we  heaped on half a wheelbarrow load of a mixture of our homegrown compost (of which we don’t have much yet), green grass clippings and a lot of browns like fall leaves and partially composted wood chips and watered that. The idea is that this nitrogen rich material attracts worms and beetles other decomposers:

Bomb Proof mulching stage 3 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Next we covered it with a layer of all those cardboard boxes we saved from our move (staples and tape removed) and again soaked that:

Bomb Proof mulching stage 4 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then we put on the other half wheelbarrow of the compost, clippings, leaves, and partially composted wood chips. Here the idea is to entice the decomposers who made it to the layer below to eat through and digest (thus compost) the cardboard:

Bomb Proof mulching stage 5 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then we put our straw to work, laying down two layers of “books” of straw, soaking again. This is really the “mulch” part of this exercise:

Bomb Proof mulching stage 6 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Lastly we put the rest of the sifted soil, partially to weigh down the straw (it can get a bit windy up here on our hill) and partly to cover up this now very conspicuous patch, and partly because we still had a little left over.

Bomb Proof mulching stage 7 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It totally looks like I did nothing, doesn’t it? But I did! Then I had to rush off to Yoga and felt wonderfully invigorated, though I may still have smelt of manure a bit.

Total cost for this patch:

  • 1 bag of Moo Doo = $5
  • 1 straw bale= $8.99
  • about 9 hours of work (two of us, but it included a lot of mucking about with a homemade sieve and some pesky tree roots)

Next weekend we tackle another 8′ x 3′ patch and hopefully as we progress the cost in time  and effort will grow less. Come winter we’ll be able to sit back and dream of all  that mulch working away on our soil.

With regard to the square-foot-gardening, I found a helpful way of planning, recording and keeping track of the crops: check it out here.


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).


  • 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.