Here’s my pledge:

After the novel is done,

(I still have a couple of months to go before I release it to the Underworld—I mean, the industry… Cheeze!)

I’m going to make something with my hands!

Dig a garden (if we have one by then).

Make a cob structure for Amie (in the garden, if we have one by then).

If we don’t, I’ll remodel the bathroom.

And make a painting (it’s been a while).

A piece of furniture.

Throw a pot (first learn how to do it).

Look at these pictures of Rick Beerhorst’s studio!

Front Page of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Years ago, in 2004, I put together a (literally) small “zine” called The Puffin.

Picture of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It was a zine for family and friends, inspired by Dan Price’s awesome Moonlight Chronicles and Danny Gregory’s Everyday Matters blog (before he became so insanely popular).

I just happened upon the original .jpg version of The Puffin – I no longer have a complete copy for myself, all 50 went out the door – and laughed myself silly!

As a way of illustrating what my life was like before I became a mom (very academic – okay: nerdy!), I thought I might share some of the pages with you.

Teapot from the Puffin no 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Here are the first couple of pages that make the draw-for-your-life pitch and the first page of the rest of the journal, which puts the drawing philosophy in practice. Enjoy (click on thumbnails to see original size)!

1. Page 3 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 2. Page 4 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 3. Page 5 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

4. Page 6 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 5. Page 7 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 6. Page 8 of Puffin 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

More will follow.

Slippers from the Puffin no 1 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Ah, no… I don’t draw in my journal anymore. I still do draw, in Amie’s Map Book, our communal Drawing Book and on the occasion of all our crafting, of course. But no longer in my own journal. Why? Sigh. I can only speculate. The best excuse I’ve come up with is that, once drawing “vivified” (jump-started) my journal again, I quickly fell back into my old journaling habits, which are back to being prolific and energetic, but drawing-less. I do miss it though, not so much when I’m writing, but when I’m rereading my journals.

- I’m drinking Luella’s milk [*], I’m eating Little Red Hen’s bread [**]… And when I eat chicken, do I eat Little Red Hen?

We’ve been talking about the food chain a lot lately, ever since Amie watched the movie Madagascar, which is a wonderful spoof on the food chain, with a tongue-in-cheek ending (“The kittie loves the fishies!”). Amie was enthralled by the fact that the lion would want to eat his friend the zebra (“steak!”). When she set up her zoo, she made sure to put the meat-eating animals separate from the vegetarians – which prompted some research on my part: does a hippo eat meat? [***]

Drumlin Farm under a snowy sky (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We were at Drumlin Farm over the weekend – a lovely day, the sky heavy with snow (photo above, of their barn), only two other families there. On our way in, she told the lady at the gate:

- I don’t want to see the fox because he will eat me!

We explained that that would not happen, first by the following lame explanation:

- You’re much too big to eat!

Like that stops us humans from eating cows, for instance! We quickly asked what foxes do eat, then. There are a lot of foxes in children’s books, of course, so she knew:

- Chickens and eggs!

Fox at Drumlin Farm (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then she asked:

- What eats me?

- Oh, no one, honey. We’re the top of the food chain, no ones going to eat you.

The quip solicited a frown of interest.

When we visited the pig sty, there was only one big hog left.

Hog at Drumlin Farm (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She asked:

- Where did all the piggies go?

Why disguise the fact?

- They were probably eaten.

- Oh. [tone: a surprised why not?] What do sheep eat?

- Grass and hay.

Sheep at Drumlin Farm (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

- We shouldn’t let the lion come on the farm! He will eat the sheep and the chickens!

Upon leaving we bought some of the Farm’s delicious sausages. Amie wanted to eat them right away (she gets those meat-loving genes from her Baba). I decided to ask her:

- You do know what those sausages are made of, right?

She knew right away:

- The piggies!

- Do you still want to eat the sausages?

- Yes!… What were the piggies names? [Note the past tense there!]

- I don’t know, honey.

I remember one evening when my family on my dad’s side (all white-collar people, not a farmer in sight) gathered for dinner. My cousin, then about 7 years old, had just lost her pet rabbit, Nijntje. My grandmother had told everyone to keep quiet about the fact that we were having rabbit stew (a delicacy in Belgium). When my cousin asked, “What is this?”, someone (one of the adults) blurted out what was on the tip of everybody’s tongue: “Nijntje!” The drama and trauma!

Why should that have been? Was it because my cousin wasn’t (yet) aware of the fact that meat = animals? Or was it because this meat was suddenly identified as her pet: Nijntje?

Hopefully we will, one day, have at least some chickens (I’m already lobbying for a goat, but the going is tough!). Then we’ll just have to look the animals right in the face, as we feed it, pet it, kill it.

Amie and Mama at Drumlin Farm, Feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

That’s my girl. While gathering eggs she saw a stack of brochures and cried out:

- I need a book!

And what a coincidence: Rebecca at Irish Sally Gardens has an entry on killing their pigs for meat.

[*] Lovely Luella the magic cow from Kiss the Cow

[**] The little hen who sows the seed and harvests the wheat etc. while the Rat, the Cat and the Dog lazy around

[***] No, they’re herbivores

This just in:

Rock-n-Romp Boston launch (c) Rock-n-Romp

Rock-n-Romp, a kid-friendly rock show series, is coming to Boston. R-n-R founder Debbie Lee is coming up from D.C for the Boston kick off and she is bringing Neal Pollack, the author of Alternadad with her.

They will perform with Boston Music Award nominees the Bon Savants and the psychedelic rockers Wonderful Spells, who promise to play for you, live, the kind of music you listened to BEFORE YOU HAD KIDS. This while also keeping your kids engaged: they can watch the band, experiment with instruments, dance or just run around and hang out in a safe and friendly environment.

And Neal Pollack is going to read from his all-too-close-to-home book Alternadad. There will be more literariness from author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka, who won Child’s Magazine “Best Books of the Year” in ‘05 for his book Punk Farm.

WHEN: Sunday, February 24, 2008 from 3pm-6pmWHERE: Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Avenue, Allston, MA 02134

TICKETS: $8.00* in advance or $10* at the door. *Each ticket admits one adult and one child. NEAT: An adult must accompany child and a child must accompany an adult. Get tickets via Rock-n-Romp Boston or Ticket Web.

See you there, perhaps?

Over the weekend we visited Walden Pond. As I had hoped, it was frozen over. The Ranger told me the ice measured only 4 inches, and that it wasn’t safe to walk on – it being a very deep pond (102 feet). Nonetheless, there were quite a few people on the ice. We just braved the first couple of yards near the beach. Like the Ranger said: nothing had happened yet, but you could be the first to fall through. No thanks!

Frozen Walden Pond, Feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

As we approached we asked Amie where all the water had gone! She knew from reading Stella, Queen of the Snow.

Cover of Stella Queen of the Snow (c) Marie-Louise Gay

- Frozen!

We walked on it, tested the hardness, and made tracks in the snow. Listened to the frogs sleeping underneath the ice. She was all for walking across to the other side, and it took some persuading to get her off again.

Amie on Frozen Walden Pond, Feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We also spotted deer tracks in the snow, and compared their to those of our tracks, explaining the difference by how our feet and shoes are shaped differently.

Lastly we visited the mock-up of Thoreau’s house and shook the bronze statue’s hand (very cold). Amie asked again, as she usually does when we visit Walden Pond:

- But where did Henry go?

- We don’t know. He’s dead. We don’t know where we go when we die.

I think Thoreau might have appreciated that answer.

Amie’s Own Bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

(Amie “asleep” in Her Own Little Bed under her Thamm’s beautiful quilt)

Back in October last year, when we got Her Own Little Bed for Amie, I told myself in my blog entry about it that I should write about co-sleeping, quickly, “now that it’s over”.

I needn’t have worried. Amie did sleep through the night in it a couple of times, but it was more usual for her to wake up around midnight and climb into the Big Bed “right next door”. When she is ill we co-sleep exclusively, as she won’t even consider Her Own Little Bed, and on our recent trip to Singapore and India we co-slept throughout. Also her Thamm (Baba’s mom) got to enjoy a nap with her (can you spot her?)!

Thamm asleep with Amie (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

After weeks of jetlag and yet another cold, we reintroduced Her Own Little Bed, but we haven’t been able to reignite that love-at-first-sight enthusiasm – neither hers nor ours.

We all like sharing the Big Bed. Amie sleeps more and better there. As for us, it’s true, we sleep less, but we sleep better.

We discussed Amie’s sleeping arrangements before she was born. Our space is cramped, especially our bedroom. But putting her in another room was out of the question, especially since I wanted us to nurse. We had a co-sleeper (a crib that attaches, flush, to our bed) all set up, but bed-sharing was still under discussion.

DH was all for it. It was what he was used to: he co-slept with his parents until he was seven, and he has seen all the other Indian families do the same. But in my Belgian culture, co-sleeping isn’t self-evident at all. In fact, it’s considered weird (hippie-weird) and impractical. An aunt exclaimed: “Don’t do that, she’ll be in your bed forever!” My younger sister (whose eldest was 8 already) just laughed.

None of the Europeans I discussed this with were concerned with the baby’s health, which is what seems to be the big worry here in the States. The concern was more with the parents getting enough sleep and issues of privacy for both the parents and the child.

Believe me, those were also on my mind. I am a very, very light sleeper – the kind of sleeper who needs to stuff a ticking wristwatch under a couple of pillows. I was warned (not sufficiently) about the sleep-deprivation of new moms. Sleep was very important to me.

Amie asleep on Baba, 18 August 2005 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then I spent two sleepless nights giving birth to Amie! She came into the Big Bed the day she was born: even in the hospital she refused to sleep in that drafty and bright plastic box. Who wouldn’t! We soon realized our nights would be sleepless anyway, and that keeping her in the bed with us would be the easiest, for all of us.

At first I had to get up every three hours to nurse, and then she was right there – on my most exhausted nights I even dozed off while we nursed. She often slept on top of us: being so close to our heartbeats soothed her. Daytime naps she took in little sleeping nests on the sofa, or – when we had the time to take a nap too – on top of us.

Amie and Mama sleeping in chair (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie and Baba sleeping in sofa (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

(The second pictures was almost made famous when the Belgian Public News wanted to use it as the anchor’s background for a report on “fathers as primary caregivers”! It is so typical: the laptop, the baby!)

When she got bigger, she napped in the Big Bed. We brought that down by putting the mattress straight on the ground, and we put a lot of pillows around her so she wouldn’t roll off.

Amie on bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

After we switched to one nursing a night, and even after she began sleeping through the night (only after her first birthday), she stayed in our bed.

Amie and Mama sleeping in bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I admit there have been nights when I cursed the arrangement – when she kept me awake for hours, content with that half-sleep during which she could continue to nurse, or simply fidgety. All in all we make two attempts to change the situation. We tried one of these contraptions:

Amie cosleeping in separation contaption (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It kept her in the bed between us, but created some “privacy”. But she was already to big for it, and kept waking up whenever she bumped against the wall. We discontinued it after three days.

We also tried to put the co-sleeper in use – up till then it was a glorified changing pad:

Amie in cosleeper (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

But she was waking up twice as much, and after several even more sleepless nights, we packed it up.

She still wakes me up: she rotates, fidgets, snores when she has a cold and kicks me in the face once in a while. I’m still as light a sleeper as I used to be, but now it takes me a second to go back to sleep after rearranging her little body.

And having that little body so close to me at night is very special, for her and me. There is instant comfort after nightmares and in times of physical discomfort. Throughout there is physical closeness that fosters emotional closeness, for the one awake and watching, and, I firmly believe, for the one asleep, warm and cozy in the nest.

Amie and Baba sleeping in bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I can report one drawback: Amie can’t fall asleep by herself, for nap nor night. We need to stay with her – lie next to her, holding her – until her eyelashes are on her cheeks and she takes that one very deep and wet sigh. Then we can slip away to go on with our afternoon or evening. And sometimes it takes her a long time to get to sleep – 1 to 2 hours, especially at night. I suspect that her incapability to fall asleep on her own has to do with the co-sleeping. I doubt however that her taking so long has anything to do with it. We hope that as she becomes more open to rational suggestion and peer-pressure, she will understand that she needs to learn that skill as well.

Amie asleep in bed (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Is co-sleeping good for the parents? It depends on the parents. Is it good for the child? Opinions vary. There seems to be no conclusive evidence of danger to the baby, but there is plenty of unwarranted and misleading propaganda! Potential health-issues aside, it depends on the child. Some children do need that space to themselves. But as for Amie, I think it was and still is good for her.

We are big fans over here of Rosemary Wells. We adore the Mother Goose book she did with Iona Opie, but our absolute favorites are the Voyage to the Bunny Planet books. There are three of them, but we only own The Island Light (about Felix) and Moss Pillows (about Robert). I stumbled upon them at a garage sale. The other one, First Tomatoes, I haven’t been able to find.

Amie was at first fascinated with Felix being held down for a shot and having to drink medicine that tastes of gasoline. Now she is more interested in the bunnies’ real problems: Felix being sick in front of the whole art class and his parents forgetting to kiss him goodnight, bespectacled Robert’s need to be alone in a house full of rowdy cousins, arguing adults and noisy television. She totally understands that they “need a visit to the Bunny Planet”. She has even started speaking of going there herself (“When I was a baby and I was sad, Janet came and took me to the Bunny Planet” – Janet BTW is the Queen of the Bunny Planet).

DH was not so keen on the stories: child bunnies under stress escaping to imaginary worlds that wholly cater to their fantasies! But I like the quirkiness. I even say they actually demonstrate great compassion and understanding. And I love-love-love the illustrations.

Today Amie made a double-sided drawing and dictated a letter to Rosemary Wells requesting that she write more Bunny Planet books. We’re putting it in the mailbox tomorrow.

Amie’s drawing of bunny planet, 6 Feb 2008


Amie’s drawing of bunny planet, 6 Feb 2008

Felix and Janet, the Queen of the Bunny Planet


As you can see, the tadpoles are back again, exclusively. Those bodies were only a blip. And for the most part the mouths are back inside the faces. But look at the ears now!

The first O on the last page is the Bunny Planet. Then it says “Felix” and “Janet” – she is so into “writing” now!

Rosemary has her own website with activities, coloring pages and bunny money.

Over the weekend Amie was presented with a wonderful gift from friends: their daughter’s old doll house. A real, wooden, doesn’t-fall-over-when-you-bump-it doll house! Complete with people and pets and furniture and even a garden for planting.

Amie and eight-year-old S who gave it to her (I plan to return it once Amie too has grown out of it) were setting it up together. Amie of course had a different idea of where things should go. For instance, there are six dolls, but only two beds, so why shouldn’t one sleep in the bath tub? (The old homemade doll house will be the guest quarters). Soon they found a balance and played together for hours.

But after S had gone, Amie changed one thing so that it fits the universe as she knows it:

Cosleeping dolls, January 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I came home from the library’s decommissioned books sale with three books (75 c each):

Cover of Up North at the Cabin by Marsha Wilson Chall Cover of Philippa Root, Kiss the Cow Cover of Raising Yoder’s Barn by Jane Yolen

I know: why should they give these away? And they are in really good shape too. In any case,

“There’s a theme here,” said DH.

Mm, maybe there is.

My favorite is Phyllis Root’s Kiss the Cow (illustrated by Will Hillenbrand). Amie loves it too: we read it at least three times a day. The cow is so lovingly drawn, in words as well as song and in paint and ink. This is, I think, the best book ever. If you’re so inclined, you know.

When we read books we make sure to explore the entire book: author and illustrator, of course, publishing house, whether it was published recently or a long time ago, and dedications and information about the creators.

In Kiss the Cow there is a dedication of Root’s to her aunt and uncle, who had thirteen children. We count all the kids on the pages – sometimes there’s thirteen, sometimes more (especially when they’re hungry and screaming)! On the back flap both author and illustrator confess to wanting to kiss a cow – for research!

Thank you Brookline Library!