Over the holidays Amie got to stay for several days over at her friend, E’s, place in NY. E is four and a half and bright as a button and she loves playing with Amie. They are well matched for verbal communication – they both love to talk – and they are both interested in making art, like drawing and making paper flowers. So there were plenty of opportunities for seeing the two of them create together.

There was a great moment when E asked Amie if she wanted to learn how to draw a butterfly. Amie was keen and she followed E’s instructions carefully.

This is E’s drawing:


This is Amie’s:


It was fascinating to witness their exchange. For instance:

E says: This is how you draw the body. [E draws the long oval shape of the butterfly pointing away from her]

Amie carefully copied the shape. They were sitting at a 90 degree angle to one another, and Amie drew hers in the same direction as E’s.  E saw this and it didn’t look right to her, so she turned Amie’s page so her butterfly body would also point away from her.

Then E drew the antennae. And gave her butterfly an ear. BTW, much earlier on I speculated that some theories might be right: that children’s draw animals more “realistically” earlier on than human figures (namely tadpoles), because they are “freer” (not caught up in the animal body) to see its shapes correctly. Amie back then (at 24 months) seemed to have a better idea of the shape of a dog than a human. But ever since she has left the tapole figure behind, all her animals have looked like human! This eared butterfluy is an example.

E had no such illusions (but she has probably drawn a lot more animals, in particular insects, than Amie).

E says: No, that’s not right.


DH explains: Amie, those aren’t ears, but antennae. Draw it like you draw arms and legs.

Amie did so, so her butterfly has one ear and two antennae. (We don’t erase.)

Then they went on to the ladybug. unfortunately all of us adults were distracted so none of us witnessed that. Going by the evidence, Amie seems to have made an attempt which was not right, and moved on to another ladybug. E’s drawing also has sky and grass, Amie’s doesn’t – I don’t know what that green square represents.

It was pretty neat to observe them. Amie obviously paid a lot of attention to E’s instructions. There’s more drawing with E to come!


Bad weather and illness delayed our second Outdoor Hour challenge – we did Challenge #1 over a month ago and it’s supposed to be a weekly challenge!


But yesterday we were – and we still are (knock on wood) – healthy, and the temperature deigned to rise above freezing (though only barely), and the sun shone so brightly on the fields of snow. We were sitting at Amie’s desk, looking out her big window and practicing writing, when I couldn’t resist the urge to go for a walk. Amie is always up for a walk in the snow, so we went out for about half an hour, until our fingers grew numb inside our gloves from the cold wind and the chunks of snow we were carrying…

I love the (apparent) paradox of the second challenge: it is about keeping quiet in nature but also about “using your words”. The idea is to be quiet while out there, and to use the words once you’re back inside for discussion.

Now, keeping quiet is hard to do with Amie, indoors or out. Ever since she could, she has talked nonstop. She can whisper, and does so with a lot of theatricality, but she can’t keep it up for long. Also, part of our walk, around the block, is via a street that gets busy with cars and buses around that time, when school ends.

I decided not to initiate talk but to let her talk if she wanted to, and then to guide the conversation toward words (adjectives and verbs) for what we were seeing and hearing and feeling.

Snow was, of course, the main attraction. It was everywhere!

  • The snow looked white and clean or dirty and brown/gray.
  • It sounded and felt either crunchy and icy or slushy and wet.


  • It looked and felt either frozen and slippery, or melted or something in between. We discussed what made the snow melt and how one thing (water) can  look and feel so different! We studied tiny rivulets underneath thin ice sheets. I mentioned – totally off the cuff ;) – that dark things get warmer in the sun, absorbing more heat, than white things, which reflect the sun rays.
  • We deplored that the snow wasn’t fluffy like before and that all the snow has hardened into rock solidity. This made for interesting track-making: you could stand on top of it, making hardly a dent, or crash through the frozen surface taking whole chunks down with you.


  • Also, we discussed how throwing a snowball made from this kind of ice-snow would hurt if you threw it at someone, because it was as hard as stone.
  • And that brought us to what kind of snow you need to make a good snowman (unfortunately not a snow Amie has experienced yet: a couple of weeks ago it was too light, now it is too hard). We talked about “dense” and “condense”.


  • We brought two “snowballs” home, though they were more chunks than balls and more ice than snow. Amie declared one a boy and the other a girl, adding that “it’s nice to be a girl” and that she would ask Baba if it’s at all nice being a boy.  Keeping in mind the melting  danger, she hurried me up as I transferred them from outside to the freezer.


We immediately indulged in some hot chocolate and some “honey cake” that my parents brought from Belgium (I need to find a good recipe for it, it’s always gone so fast).


Then we sat down to draw and Amie drew herself picking up snowballs (lo-ong arms) and holding hands with Lumpy (the Heffalump from Pooh). Nothing to do with the snow, that one, but she got the trunk right. She also gave herself some “earmoths”. “You mean earmuffs?” “No, ear-moths, Mama!”


Barbara, who started and runs the Outdoor Hour Challenge, just added another challenge specifically for winter, called Winter Wednesday, using the book Explore Nature in Winter by Elisabeth P. Lawlor as a guide. I’m thinking of joining that too, for obvious reasons.

Riot 4 Austerity fist with thermometer

We finished our second month of the Riot while not at home, so my meter readings are a couple of days off. These numbers are for the period from 1 December 2008 to 4 January 2009.

1. Gasoline: OUCH!

We did so well last month: 7.939 gallons of oil/person or 19% of the US National Average. But for the New Year we visited friends in NY City and Washington DC. For the three of us it was much cheaper to drive than fly. I do love road trips, I admit it. I love singing along with the 70s and 80s music we always play when on the road, and looking outside, concocting stories about the places I glimpse, through the trees, and getting a feel for the vastness of this country… But the memory of all that doesn’t lessen the pain:

22.6 gallons per person = 55 % of the US national average.

I’m enjoying winter, but I’m looking forward to when I can bike Amie to school. That will save us 32 miles a week, or 128 miles a month.

2. Electricity: up a little

We spent a little more on electricity than in month 1: 345 KWH (up from 300).

That’s 38% of the national average.

The rise probably has to do with the fact that we recently started heating the bathroom with a small space heater.

3. Heating Oil (and hot water): DOUBLE OUCH!!

We burned an incredible 93 gallons of oil in little over a month, 10 days of which we weren’t even at home (the thermostat was set to the minimum, and no water was heated). That’s almost double what we burned last month (52.7 gallons), and

151% of the US national average

(which ranges over a year and the entire country, not to forget).

Evidently it was terribly cold here in neck of the woods. For instance, on the day of our trip back up North (1 January), the temperature in DC was 36 F, 19 F in NY and 6 F in Mass. – we were happy to stop in NY for a couple more days. And it continues to be freezing cold.

We’ve insulated the house as tightly as can be, we Freeze our Buns, and as long as our budget doesn’t allow more measures to be taken (like a woodstove, and a home-built solar thermal collector), this is how it will have to be. I hope it averages out at the end of our Riot year…

4. Garbage: made it

This is unchanged from month 1. We produced 3 lbs. of garbage on average, so at 0.15 lbs a person a day we made the goal of

10% (.45 lbs) easily.

5. Water: very close

We consumed 324 gallons per person, which is

11% of the US national average.

I ascribe the drop (it’s down from 459 gallons in month 1) to the fact that we weren’t home for part of the month.

6. Consumer goods: Christmas fling

We spent $326 on consumer goods last month – not bad considering it was the holidays. We did a Handmade Christmas, but we also got a globe and a small computer mouse for Amie and some books and crockery for ourselves.

It amounts to 40% of the US national average.

It’s an aberration and we’re back on our thrifty track.

7. Food: Huh?

I am no longer going to calculate this category.  The more I think about how to, the less possible it becomes. Can anyone tell me how they do it? By weight, by bulk, by cost?


When she unpacked the glove: “It’s the Earth! It’s the Earth!”

We’re back from our trip and I am finding it difficult to get back into things with the blogging. But here’s what you can expect soon:

  1. I’m preparing an update on our second Riot month (December 2008), so that might get me started. DONE.
  2. We’ve been doing more drawing, so of course I’ll report on that. DONE.
  3. I’ll also put up some pictures of our adventures in NY City and Washington DC: they involve lots of drawing, dinosaurs and a fearful run-in with the Big Bang.
  4. Thanks to a reader of this blog, I will be able update my “green diaper” product reviews with new information on Nature Baby Care.
  5. And I owe you pictures of our Homemade Christmas, which turned out smaller than we had planned but was a success anyway and a good way to get a tradition started.
  6. We’ve almost completed the construction of our haybox cooker. I  want to try it out before I report back on that.
  7. We’re wooing a friend to come stay with us as a semi-permanent house guest. I’m so excited about our co-housing experiment!
  8. In the meantime I’m still waiting for news about the novel from the agent. What a drag to have to wait so long… I feel at a loss about my future and this totally squashes my inspiration to work on it or on its sequel. I have some short stories brewing, though, and maybe even a poem or two. I just need a couple of hours without having to clean or dig out the gutters…
  9. The seeds should be arriving soon and if Skippy’s Vegetable Garden planting schedule is any indication, we’d better start working on that, so expect some reports on the installation of a seed growing bank in our basement. DONE
  10. I have some thoughts/feelings about how to deal with Climate Change/Peak Oil/Economic Depression despair and conversations with “unconverted” friends. That will make a more philosophical discussion: one that I often indulge in these days, before the flurry of practical action has to set in.

That’s quite a list…

Is it normal to go crazy when ordering seeds for the first time?

This is my order – with Fedco Seeds only (choosing just from them was difficult enough: I didn’t dare add the selection from any other gorgeous catalog).

  • Provider Bush Green Bean OG (A=2oz)
    Maxibel Bush Haricots Verts OG (B=2oz)
    Cannellini Bean (A=2oz)
    Red Kidney Bean (A=2oz)
    Mayfair Shell Pea ECO (A=2oz)
    Blizzard Snow Pea OG (A=2oz)
    Boothbys Blonde Slicing Cucumber OG (A=0.5g)
    Costata Romanesca Zucchini OG (A=1/8oz)
    Early Summer Yellow Crookneck Summer Squash OG (A=1/8oz)
    Uncle Davids Dakota Dessert Winter Squash OG (A=1/4oz)
    Scarlet Nantes Carrot (A=1/8oz)
    King Sieg Leek OG (A=1/16oz)
    Evergreen Hardy White Scallion (A=1/16oz)
    Clear Dawn Onion OG (A=1/16oz)
    Long Standing Bloomsdale Spinach OG (A=1/4oz)
    Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce OG (A=2g)
    Cracoviensis Lettuce OG (A=1g)
    Summer Lettuce Mix (A=1g)
    Winter Lettuce Mix (A=1g)
    Bright Lights Chard (A=1/16oz)
    Gigante dItalia Parsley (A=1/16oz)
    Golden Purslane OG (A=0.5g)
    Broccoli Blend (A=0.5g)
    White Russian Kale OG (A=2g)
    Redventure Celery OG (A=0.2g)
    Applegreen Eggplant OG (A=0.2g)
    Peacework Sweet Pepper OG (A=0.2g)
    Glacier Tomato OG (A=0.2g)
    Ida Gold Tomato OG (A=0.2g)
    WOW! Tomato ECO (A=0.1g)
    Sun Gold Cherry Tomato (A=0.1g)
    Arnica Chamissonis OG (A=0.02g)
    Sweet Basil OG (A=4g)
    Genovese Basil (A=2g)
    Borage OG (A=0.5g)
    Catnip (A=1g)
    Caribe Cilantro OG (A=1g)
    Bouquet Dill OG (A=2g)
    Purple Coneflower or Echinacea OG (A=1g)
    Elecampane OG (B=0.3g)
    Garlic Chives (A=0.5g)
    Ladys Mantle (B=0.2g)
    Lemon Balm (B=3g)
    Sweet Marjoram (A=1g)
    Common Mint (A=0.1g)
    Stinging Nettle OG (A=0.2g)
    Greek Oregano (A=0.2g)
    Pennyroyal (A=0.1g)
    -Rosemary (A=0.1g)
    Rue (A=0.5g)
    Broadleaf Sage (A=1g)
    Stevia (A=0.01g)
    German Thyme (A=0.2g)
    Sweet Woodruff (A=0.2g)
    White Yarrow (A=0.1g)
    Kablouna Calendula Mix OG (A=1g)
    Calliopsis Mix (B=0.9g)

You can tell me, honestly: did I go crazy? I will probably need 3 acres to plant all of these, but then I figured most of these seeds can be kept for 2-3 years, so there is no rush to plant all of them in one season. I shouldn’t in any case, since some of these cross-pollinate, and we want to save seeds but have not enough land or any way of isolating the plants.

We’re still travelling. We’re in DC now and in the New Year we’ll head back home via NY City. Next task: making and purchasing growing-from-seed supplies. Almost forgot: got to ask all our friends and relations to save their gallon milk and juice  bottles for us.


I’ve been quiet about Amie’s reading and writing here because it’s tough to know where she stands. One day she reads and writes enthusiastically, the other day she won’t even write her own name properly (and that she has been able to do since she turned two).

She has been reading simple words, slowly stringing the sounds together and in some cases sight-reading them (“the”, for instance). Yesterday we made a quick visit to the mall (I know! It was horrendous. I got a splitting head ache. But we had to pick up our new glasses) and as we drove by she read: “S-Eh-Ah-Ruh-S” but couldn’t make sense of the word. She listened carefully to our explanation that “E and A in this case sounds like Eee, but sometimes it sounds like Eh, as in BEAR”. Wow, it must be so confusing to her! But she takes it all in stride.

She can also do the process in reverse, spelling out the words. She can isolate the sounds pretty well and then write them down as she hears them. She can write all the letters, even the S, sometimes mirroring them.

Some days ago  sat with her as she drew the picture above. It’s of Santa and a snowman (for some reason she drew these upside down, getting the smiles right) and Mama (“with sweet fluffy ears”). I helped her practice her S and spell “Santa Clos”. Later on, when we were not around, she wrote on top, in a combination of pen and sticky letters:


When I asked her what it means, she said:

– Oatmeal.

She hadn’t quite remembered how to spell the EE sound, so she had invented her own sign for it.

So is she writing now? She’s playing at writing, that’s for sure. We should all still be playing at writing. I am, for the most part. Are you?


Dark-Eyed junco and American Goldfinches

Who knew birdwatching in winter would be more fun than in summer!

We’re experiencing our third snowstorm in five days – or is it the second one come round again? The scene outside is magical, but to me there is also an aspect of danger. I see the trees laden with snow and think: oh, so beautiful! Then the wind blanks out the view and I think: electricity outage!

Amie has been nothing but ecstatic. She has made angels, climbed the snowbanks, eaten the snow (making the funniest faces), threw snowballs (it’s not sticking much, though, so no good for snowmen) and sledded down our front yard hill. Pulling the sled and the child back up was Mama or Bab’s job, as was shoveling and maneuvering the car back up the steep and long and slippery driveway.


The birds at our feeders are just as ecstatic. Except for the Juncos, the Mourning Doves, the Northern Cardinals and once in a while a Downy Woodpecker, many were not to be seen… until the snow came!


Mourning Dove (click on image for larger)


Black-Capped Chickadee


Tufted Titmouse


Red-Bellied Woodpecker


Northern Cardinal

Suddenly there they were again: the Black-Capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, the Carolina Wren and the Blue Jay, the American Goldfinches, the White-Breasted Nutchatches and even the Red-Bellied Woodpecker (who is supposed to live in Florida). The Dark-Eyed Juncos are out in droves, playing in the snow, chittering at one another, performing great feats of on-the-spot flying (we call that “bidden” in Dutch: praying).  No wonder they’re called snowbirds: they love the snow!

It makes for a big hullabaloo at the feeders as they all vie for prime feeding spots. I deny the compost bins our old bread and rotten apples, putting it out for the birds instead. I stand by the bedroom window, watching the woefully overgrown juniper and Rhododendron bushes where they take shelter. I could stand there all day…

It’s supposed to snow more today and this evening, and then there will be a couple of clear and windy days and a deep freeze. I’m sorry we won’t be around for that: I wanted to experience walking on the ice on top of the snow. We’ll be off tomorrow to NY City and then Washington DC until a couple of days after New Year’s. I might be able to post, I’ll do my best!




Finally we got some snow: about an inch, I should say. Amie ran out to play before school. For once it wasn’t difficult to get her into her clothes! Sadly the snow was too hard for snowmen, snow angels, and snowballs, but she had a lot of fun just scraping it off our car and pelting her snow-shoveling Mama with it! It is going to rain later on in the day, so I let her play and be just a little bit late for school. We packed away a snowball in the freezer.


Inside the house, I finally began selecting seeds. I was very intimidated by the process. I’ve been intimidated by this garden all along! I can never do something simply, but want to know and plan everything first, and then get daunted  by the complexity of the scheme. First I fretted about  the location and layout and how much and where to plant and how to prepare our crummy soil. Then I got flustered with how to start the seeds, and when, and should I buy peat pots or plugs or make my own? Then – oh no – where to buy seeds, and which?!

Then I read on Sharon’s blog that some seeds are already sold out and that only augmented my paralysis. But yesterday I saw that both risa of Stony Run Farm and Kathy of Skippy’s Vegetable Garden have ordered their seeds. That got me going: apparently I needed a positive message. A “you can do it too – let’s get started” message.

So I chose one catalog: Fedco’s, which is suited to my climate and has so much useful information. I spent the entire evening with the downloaded version, jotting down what appeals to me. Most of my chosen seeds are organic, from small growers, and not patented. I’ll publish the list as soon as I’ve made my order!

In the meantime: my neighbor’s snowy pine (?), from our living room window. I love that majestic tree!



It’s warm! 50 F in the shade at 9 am and now, at 11:30: 60 F! This weather is unbelievable… But I believed it and immediately went out to set up that compost bin I talked about earlier.

The only problem with the plan was that it was impossible to get the 4 stakes that are supposed to hold it open and support it into the ground. The soil is dense forest soil, shot through with tree roots. I tried for about 15 minutes, but it would have involved digging a trench, which was overkill for a portable bin made of chicken wire! So I cut 2 sturdy sticks to the size of the diameter and simply made a cross inside at the bottom of the bin. It does the job. Sorry, forgot to take a picture.

Cost: $7.94 for the chicken wire (36″ high, 10 feet long).

Then I moved over the content of our second Earth Machine, the one with the coffee grounds/orphan pumpkins/leaves and straw. That heap had cooked initially, but then had gone cold as the bin filled up with waterlogged grounds and everything got very compacted and possibly even frozen through (because it was so wet) when we had our hard frost. So moving it to a rather airy location (we are planning on making a wind break around it) and adding many layers of straw was, I hope, a good idea. It has enough critical mass, air and moisture to start cooking now.

Let’s see if the critters move in. I didn’t make a bottom or a lid, as you can see, as I ran out of wire. We didn’t buy much because we were afraid that the 1 inch openings would let too much fall through, but some clever positioning of the straw and that was not an issue.

Took me 2 hours to make the bin and move the heap. It was great, being out there, in the perfect temperature for hard physical work. Even the gusty wind felt warm, and it whipped up the leaves and shook the trees overhead…