Photograph of small farm on river bend

We’re moving ourselves and the rest of our stuff this weekend. Then we need to unpack, figure out which boiler and water heater to buy and who should install it. Then insulation. Then select the wood stove (any suggestions? the choice on the market is overwhelming, but we don’t want to go pellets).

And that’s it for the big things in the house. Some will unfortunately have to wait till next year: the solar water heater, for instance.

Then, finally, we’ll be turning our attention to the garden. Those.7 acres – isn’t it lovely, that though you don’t have a whole acre really, you still get to say point-seven-acres?

As I look at all that outdoor space, my big vision is looking too, over my shoulder. And I keep telling myself: keep the dream big, but take manageable steps. First things first: get the soil ready for next year.

As for the edible garden. Where and how to clear the stones and the brush and the saplings and the poison ivy for next season’s veggie and fruit garden? Where to get compost and mulch? Should we top it all up with some topsoil? What to fence in? Should we bring down some of the larger, more lovely trees to “make” sunlight?

As for the front yard. Due to the huge new leach field, most of it won’t be used for edible  or deep-rooted plants, so what to grow there then?

And what to grow in the “relaxation” and “entertainment” garden round back?

Dreaming big…

Choo-Chee the fox (c) Galina Kolev, 2008

(Choo-Chee the Fox by Galina Kolev, used with kind permission)

At the new house we’ll be seeing lots of foxes. I’m looking for a good book about them. It could be a fairytale or a picture story or a more scientific book (not too advanced). As long as it doesn’t reinforce the old stereotype of the wily fox who gets outwitted and has to go without food for another day.

Any suggestions?

Amie and I had just read a book about snails when lo and behold! One showed up on our doorstep, literally.

Snail June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

That’s our doorstep.

Amie was enthralled. We talked about how it carries its house on its back, leaves a trail of mucus, can crawl up vertical surfaces and upside down (try explaining “suction” to an almost-three-year-old!). We checked out the movable and fully retractable tentacles: the two long ones on top ending in the eyes, and the two smaller, lower ones being the snail’s nose. Amie found that very funny and told me I was being silly.

We’ve always taught her not to approach or touch wild animals, but I allowed her to gently touch the snail’s shell. “If you want to touch a wild animal, always ask Mama first!” I guess we’ll have to specify that rule at some point.

Amie and snail, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie patting snail, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

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


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:



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.