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!”

This hummingbird had visited us a couple of times. Flying right up to the window to take a peek into the living room. Then DH came home with a hummingbird feeder and some “nectar” and we hung it. Within ten minutes the hummingbird came to feed.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2008

I believe it’s a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a female one (the ruby throat is reserved for the adult males). I hope she will bring her friends along! The are a miracle to behold: the smallest bird I’ve ever seen, a little big larger than a big moth, and such a nifty flyer!

I’ve been buying many quarts of blueberries at the Farmer’s Market. Half gets eaten and half gets frozen. I rinse them (they’re organic), dry them, then spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze them through. Then I pick ‘em up with a metal spatula and drop them in a freezer bag. Then I suck out what air I can with a straw and quickly seal it. Like so:

Frozen blueberries (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

My question to you is: how can I make these freezer bags more airtight? I find that after some days when I check them, air has sneaked back in. Should I tape them, or glue them somehow? Any ideas?