Have you seen the small CNN documentary video about the Dervaes Urban Homesteaders (of Path to Freedom fame)?

If you’ve followed the Urban Homesteaders, it won’t show you much that is new, except for that toilet/sin (approx. 2/3 into the video)!

Gaiam’s sink/toilet

The lid of the toilet water tank has been converted into a small sink. You wash your hands with new water and it drains into the water tank. It’s perfect!

Theirs seems to be a Gaiam system (picture above), but for the do-it-yourselfers I found a quick hack here. A more elaborate system that stores the drainwater under the usual sink and diverts it to the toilet can be found here and here.

No need to flush perfectly good drinking water down the toilet!

four little robin at homesteadm june 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

The 4 robins have pretty much outgrown their nest, but I haven’t seen them fly out yet.

Little woodpecker at homestead, june 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

There are two little woodpeckers like these. Neither has a red spot on the head, so I think they’re both adult females. They’re so small they are probably Downy (not Hairy) Woodpeckers. But the Hairy Woodpecker is probably around as well: I’ve heard its very rapid, almost smooth rapping sound, like a phone buzzing almost. Very unlike the slow and much louder tok-tok-tok of the big pileated woodpecker.

Bird (?) at Homestead, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This now is a little bully. Can anyone tell me what kind of bird it is? A juvenile Common Grackle? It has that large tail… He chases away the cardinals and even fought the two Downy Woodpeckers to eat at his heart’s content.

Bird in Birdfeeder at RSL, May 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

And lastly this little guy I misidentified earlier. Our neighbor pointed him/her out as a Orchard Oriole, not (as I thought) Yellow-throated Vireo or possibly a Yellow Warbler.

We also spotted a Carolina Wren with a huge green caterpillar in it beak.

I started a bird list in the sidebar. Watch it grow!

I purchased a cheap set of watercolors at the pharmacy a couple of days back and introduced them to Amie. The medium is of course very different to what she’s used to: those thick, goopy acrylics as well as crayons and color pencils, all of which stays more or less where you put it down.

Not so watercolors, and Amie loves it. She likes its unexpected ways, and its “colorly”-ness. She also enjoys the choice of all those colors, right there, for her. She doesn’t need Mama to squeeze paint from the five bottles of acrylic, to mix them up (with mixed results). She just needs jar of water and “presto, we’re all set” (don’t know where she picked that up). And there’s water involved! She religiously washes her brush before she stabs at a new color. She’s been painting people so the pink is already pretty much used up.

The people she draws now have bodies most of the time, and clothes. She’s serious about the skirts, pants and shoes. Often time she paints pants, and then legs, too. O yes, and all must have a bow tie! Everyone she draws – men, women, babies – must have a bow tie.

Amie’s watercolor painting, 9 june 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Of this person she said “his shoes are tied together!” The light pink circle on top is what is visible of the head. The darker pink oval underneath is his bow tie.

Driftwood (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2004

Driftwood

Every year, once a year, I need to return to that long poem by Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud (published in 2000). It is a poem like life, with everything in it, only magnified and condensed. I can’t say much about it, only that it reverberates deeply with me, and comforts me, and puts me in touch with myself, makes me more honest. And then it also creates that distance, the kind of poetic distance that allows me to take a good look, at everything. It’s a good poem that way. An excerpt:

Flare

12.

Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance .

In the glare of your mind, be modest.

And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

This is the dark bread of the poem.

This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem.

Look! This is how it starts:

Welcome to the silly, comforting poem.

An idea is brewing, for a new novel. I’ve sent my first thirteen chapters off to ten readers, and though I still need to write down the last chapter – yes, I deprived them of the ending! – and then edit, and sell it to an agent and a publisher, and all that… I feel I have let it go. And now it’s time for a new story.

Our work-weekend at the new house was cut short by the inclement weather. The humidity reached 91%, which made painting impossible. We decided not to spent another night there and to come “home” (“to our old home,” is how Amie appropriately puts it) to start packing.

While we were there we took stock of our woodpile. Our neighbor had chopped most of the wood and thrown the logs into the yard. It was such a pleasure stacking it and seeing the pile grow… such a pleasure in fact that we couldn’t stop and piled it too high. Now it feels a bit wobbly, so we’ll move some of the top layers to a second pile.

Woodpile 7 June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

The robin’s eggs hatched. The four chicks were probably a day or two old: eyes still closed, and not a chirp, just wide-open mouths on long necks. The robins made a poor real estate choice when they built their nest under our car port roof, because each time we drive up or approach the car, the Mama Robin flees (and sits in the tree, calling out in alarm). So we parked the car further off to give them some peace. Both parents did nothing but hunt for food and feed the babies. Amie would have been at the window and watched them all day long, if it hadn’t been for the fact that we had to hold her up for her to see them.

Robin’s nest in carport, 7 June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Right next door to the Robin’s nest, wasps were busy building a nest. It’s very small (about 3 inches in diameter), as yet. We’ll have to take care of it soon: it’s too close to slamming car doors and loud toddler sounds. Any recommendations?

wasp’s nest, 7 June 2008 (vc) Katrien Vander Straeten

Beginning of our Woodpile, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

To many of you it might seem like not much, but to DH and me it looks like the foundation of paradise!

Some trees (in the background: 1 large white oak, 1 smaller birch and 1 smaller maple) had to be felled to make way for the new septic system. Their remains have been lying around for a while now. A couple of times DH and I stood in front of the ax, maul and chainsaw displays at the local Home Depot… speechless. Neither of us have any experience with firewood. I’ve thrown a log into an open fireplace maybe once in my life. So we were intimidated.

Luckily our neighbor turns out to be a firewood seller and a really nice guy. He came to our rescue with his chainsaw and also showed DH how to use the splitting maul.

Amie was quite impressed. She loved to help, carrying the logs to the pile, “like a big girl!” (sorry, I didn’t catch it on camera). She knows the difference now between “tree” and “wood” (*).

Installing a good wood stove into or near our fireplace is one of the priorities. The downed trees will make for at least two cords of firewood, which might be cured sufficiently by the end of October. There are some stacks of old firewood rotting around the property, and we might be able to save some of that too. I’m thinking we’ll need three cords…

Oh, life is good and nature provides!

(*) one of those fundamental Aristotelian distinction, so easily and naturally applicable to the world, as Aristotle always is!

Drawing of pile of books (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I discovered Chile’s Quit Now Challenge (see the logo to the sidebar: it’s the clearest, most uncluttered, Peak Oil logo I’ve come across). I devoted some deep thinking about what I would give up…

  • Cigarettes? Diet Coke? McDonalds? Never did that / haven’t done that in half a decade.
  • Paper towels? TV? Airco? Plastic bags? Did that, done.
  • Dryer? Junking veggie waste? Will give that up the moment we move to the new place, where hanging clothes and composting are possible.
  • Procrastination? Can’t. I mean, loafing is an integral part of my job (writing). So are coffee and black tea.

Sigh.

Look, it’s not that difficult! Here goes:

I will give up buying toys and books for Amie, and books for myself.

From today (5 July) until 5 July, and after that we’ll see.

The comments and Chile’s later post on the matter discuss whether this means depriving oneself (negative spin) or gaining space and time (positive). In our case, of books and toy we have enough, too much already. Getting more will actually mean having less: less space and less time to discover and rediscover what we already have.

Also, we’re looking at our move, coming up soon (it’s planned in two weeks). I haven’t been able to bring myself to pack yet. It’s the books!

My 1000+ count philosophy library is already in boxes in storage. But since “giving up” philosophy, I’ve gained many more books, mainly children’s books, ecological treatises and all manner of homesteading books. I could never ever think of books as “clutter,” but truly, when you have to move them, they are, factually, weight.

So there. Can I do it? Can I be a Quitter?

Amie now loves two-step artwork. She painted the Deep Blue Sea and was excited about waiting for it to dry before she added Baby Beluga. She sang the song throughout the process.

Amie’s Baby Beluga, 3 June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

After reading a Caillou book about growing carrots (which is the only edible vegetable in her book), she also wanted to make a sign. She drew the carrot paying close attention to a picture of a carrot. Then we stuck it to a stick, so it can mark where she sowed the seeds. No real seeds yet, I’m afraid, so she sows them in the bedcover. Then she also needed a marker for herself, of course!

Amie’s carrot and her name, 4 june 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This is an old one of mine. So much fun, all those lines! But I doubt Amie would let me finish such a detailed drawing… maybe now she will…

Drawing of Darwin’s turtle (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie and the doctor’s glasses (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie started asking “Why?” a couple of weeks ago and hasn’t stopped. Some of her why-s are genuine questions, asked out of curiosity, but many (more, I suspect) are not. It’s fascinating and annoying and often a challenge. I find myself in conversations like these:

  • Amie, please don’t make that mess.
  • Why?
  • Why do you think?
  • (Silence. Reads her book. Obviously wasn’t a genuine question. Let’s pursue:)
  • Hmmmmm? Why do you think? Amie? Why do you think?

Or:

  • Mama, why do you need a spoon?
  • Why do think?
  • I don’t know.
  • Yes, you do. Why do you think I need a spoon?
  • To stir your tea?
  • Yes! See, so you knew why all along. So there was no need for you to ask why at all!

My response depends on my estimation of her reason for asking. These are many, and not readily discernible!

  1. She wants to know: e.g., “Why is it dark?”
  2. She’s curious about the wider topic: “Why is X crying?”
  3. She’s not really interested, she’s just asking for the sake of talking/pronouncing words/uttering sounds, like singing
  4. It’s a game, she’s playing with language and that most intriguing and versatile of words (why yes: “why”)
  5. It’s a reflex, like in the examples above (mostly when she just asks “why?”, without elaborating the full question)
  6. She just wants to get attention and the annoying aspect is unintentional
  7. She wants to get attention by being annoying
  8. She just wants to annoy

Can you think of other reasons? I’m sure there’s many more, just like there are many possible responses:

  1. “Because our part of the earth is slowly turning away from the sun and so the sun can’t shine on our place anymore and it gets dark. Then it’s night. But tomorrow morning our place will be turning back to the sun and so it will become light again. Then it will be day again. Here, wait, lemme me look it up in this en-cy-clow-pee-dia.”
  2. “Why do you think?” as a conversation starter: “Because she banged her knee? Remember that day when I got that booboo?”
  3. “Is that a real why? Do you really want to know?”
  4. “Why do you think?” as a Ha! Gotcha back! But this doesn’t work very long (“No, Mama, what do you think?”)
  5. “Why what?” “I don’t understand your question, please eee-la-bo-raate“. This might make her understand that the why-question must be respected and asked in earnest.
  6. “Why are you asking? Is it because you need a hug? A kiss? A gobble?”
  7. “Because that’s how they made it.” Also not a why?-stopper for long (and rightly so?)”
  8. “Because I said so!” This often deserves a new why in return.
  9. “Because Mama knows best!” This is sometimes legitimate, e.g., to “Why should I hold you hand on the busy street?”
  10. “That’s a really stupid question!”: this in my view is a no-no. She might think she is stupid for asking it! A stupid way to go, really.
  11. “That’s enough questions for now” or “I’m all out of answers”.
  12. “Mama can’t answer anymore, sweetie, I’ve got a headache.” If followed by a genuine “Why?”, answer truthfully. If not, go to next alternative:
  13. Silence (turn up the radio volume)

There must be a lesson in this… I guess it’s live with it, make the best of it, and make sure you don’t discourage the real why questions.

But then there’s also this:

Listen, I’m a philosopher (I alway say: “student of philosophy”) by training, and what really, really bugs me about this incessant why? is that often it is the wrong question. What Amie wants to know is not why?, but how?!

It’s the difference between causes and reasons, people!

  • How does it work? = what causes this to happen? “The lever pushes the wheel. That’s how it turns.” (Domain of science and technology)
  • Why does it work? = what motivates something or someone, what is the purpose? “The turning wheel makes the toy cars go round. That why it turns.” (Domain of morality and psychology)

Now how am I going to explain that one to a two-year-old? I guess I could start with:

“Why? Oh, you mean how come? Well…”