Winter, winter… you’re still here. How can we miss you when you won’t even leave? It snowed some more, a lot more. See Amie and DH in the previous post, posing in the path, barely ankle deep? We got over two feet after that and were happy that blizzard (Juno, they called it?) did not turn into a historic one.


But the snow was again light and fluffy, so no trees came down and we didn’t lose power, and it wasn’t a big deal to shovel another path down the driveway, at the bottom of which we carved out space for the two cars parked there. A path to the coop and dig out the poor hens, and rake the snow off the porch roof, which isn’t all that strong, and we are all set for the next batch of snow, due Sunday evening.


Another good thing that came out of the blizzard warning was that we got all our bug-out bags restocked, stashed some more drinking water, and recharged all the batteries and emergency radios in the house.

Today we restock our art/media room. Yesterday at the art museum homeschool program Amie had a blast making a Holy Chicken Holding the Cosmic Egg.


May it bring luck and a fortune in eggs to our household!


Ah, nowadays much of the storytelling happens on the home school blog, which is private. You, the three readers of this blog, aren’t missing out on much, though, as my own stories there are mostly about curriculum. I hope one day to share the more philosophical and ethical musings in homeschooling as they pertain to homesteading – most of which haven’t found expression yet anyway. What you are missing, however, are Amie’s stories, like today’s, of her snowball fight with her dad.

So this is what the day looks like:


I just love that tree, all angles, and the big pines further back. The sky is snow-laden, and though there was a short bout of tinkling freezing rain, mostly it has been soundless fluff.

Here’s what transpired:

DSCF4152 DSCF4145 DSCF4153

They were still good buddies after that:


We decided – Amie, DH and I – to homeschool Amie for the coming semester and probably also fifth grade.


We love the school she is going to at present. It’s a smallish (ca. 400 kids) neighborhood K-5 school where kindness really matters, where the teachers are deeply caring and the staff a charm. Amie loves her teacher and her classmates and she is well-liked in return.

But she has been bored and frustrated, as she waits, a lot, Not sitting and waiting, thank goodness, but repeating and repeatedly hearing material she already mastered. Her vocabulary, use of grammar and spelling are at above elementary level and she regularly aces (over-aces, with extra credits) math.

Because everything comes easy to her, her work ethic and work habits aren’t very good. She has no confidence and shuts down when she meets a challenge (something that is only exhibited at home, when she is challenged by cello). She makes a clear and tragic division between (school)work and play.

School has introduced her to topics in science and social studies that interest her a lot, but she was never able to investigate very deeply because so much attention in Fourth Grade goes to Math and Language Arts. She wants to work, but hasn’t had the opportunity to go in-depth on a topic and as a result is losing her intense curiosity.

Now, you might say, why don’t you give her the more stimulating project work after school? Why not enroll her in Kumon Math or what have you? But that won’t work for us or for our kid. She would feel that her time is even more disrespected if we kept her waiting for hours every day (and that kind of waiting is not, by the way, relaxing), then replaced her play time with extra work. On top of that, she’d be even more advanced, more bored in class, which would only exacerbate the problem.

On the topic of having one’s time respected, for a long while we were stumped about her frequent complaint that she doesn’t have enough time in her day. We’ve always guarded against too many extra-curricular activities, so much so that unfortunately sports/physical movement have fallen by the wayside. Still, even though she just has 1 cello lesson and 1 orchestra lesson a week, and even though she doesn’t get a lot of homework, she insists that she never has any time. Where was this coming from? We realized that she means that her time is not valued. This feeling (or rather, fact) of having her time wasted is always present to her and sabotages any attempt at in-depth projects.

At home we can give her individualized attention (something that is difficult in a big classroom) and she can go at her own pace. It is not the intent to accelerate her, but she needs to have more freedom. One of her math curricula, for instance, will be Khan Academy Grade Four. She has already been playing with it and was allowed to pick and chose her modules (addition, multiplication, fractions, etc.), so she is not tied to a linear progression but can skip around.

Also, we’ll free up waiting time for project-based work and for more physical activity to build her physical resilience.

We’re aware that she will be missing out on a certain type of social interaction (working on groups, waiting, taking turns), which at her school was unreservedly positive. We are looking into opportunities to keep her socially engaged – especially crucial because she is, after all, an only child. There are other homeschooling families we’ve already connected with, art classes at the local art museum (especially for homeschoolers), and group sports. Thanks to our wonderful school district, she’ll be able to still go into the school and see her friends at drop-into-art and chorus, and she’ll continue in her school’s strings orchestra.

All this is possible in our home setting (though I do wish we had a school room) and in my own life. As I excitedly tell friends about this amazing development I become more and more aware of the luxuries I enjoy of 1) being qualified and confident and 2) working from home and choosing my work and 3) a relationship with my child that makes this a natural fit. And though she will miss her friends, Amie is also looking forward to it.

We start in January and, as you can see, I’ve already started buying lots of books!

On a warm and sunny day last week,  I let the chickens out in the yard. Amie came home from school just then and she joined the flock. For an hour she herded the hens around, nattering and scolding like a mama hen, with some marvelous life lessons (for chickens). What is the difference between needs and wants? She explained it to them. It is thus: If you need something but you don’t want it, it’s always a mistake. If you want something that you don’t need, it could be a mistake. It depends. Luckily, for chickens the factors aren’t too complex. In the end the chickens ran back into the coop out of their own volition, knowing full well what they needed.

Most of the snow melted.

Yesterday a snowstorm blew in and dumped a lot of wet, thick snow. The land is transformed again. The clouds above are fat and fast.


A friend came to visit us and after eating homemade Belgian waffles I suggested I take her and my family to Pod Meadow, which I had discovered on a walk with Transition earlier in the week. The weather was a balmy 55F and only partially overcast.

Pod Meadow is an amazing conservation area in my town that is a hidden gem, “a sleeper,” the town naturalist calls it. It is 25 acres. You park the car on a busy road – no less than the old Native American Great Trail, which became a major highway in the colonial era and is now Old Connecticut Path, or Route 126. You walk through someone’s yard, and then, suddenly, this:

Amazing, the sudden dip toward the Pond and the lack of tangled shrubs under the stately trees – mostly beeches, oaks and some pines and spruce – which allows you to see right through. It gives the open and clear feel of a maintained forest, much like, I presume, the forests in the time of the Native Americans, who used to set fire to the underbrush to make hunting and travel easier.

In this forest the maintenance is done by the beavers. I don’t have the skinny on the beavers yet, but there seem to be many of them and, some worry, too many. They have dammed the Pond so that now the water reaches higher, inundating old trails and making what used to be a vernal pool (first water body in the picture above) into a part of the “full-time” pond.

The beavers clear the forest by doing this:

Amie couldn’t believe it. Imagine chewing through a whole tree with your teeth! There is more beaver handy toothsome work behind her: the beavers apparently like beeches the most and in this spot most of them were stripped of their bark at beaver height. It is amazing to run your finger over the scrapings. To me it is like touching the wild. Here’s an even bigger tree (an oak) being worked on:

And some more beeches:

We speculated that there must be some system or plan in their activities. Perhaps they are working up to a moment when they will tip one tree and it will take down all the others, like dominoes, in one great bang! Then they’ll have a party, say “our work is done here,” and move on.

For the moment they’re at home. This is their lodge. No sign of the inhabitants.

Seeing all this is so awesome to me, and I am eager to learn more about these animals. I’m also fascinated by the geology of the place, which is, like so much of New England, dominated by the 50,000-year-old glacier that started to retreat 15,000 to 16,000 years ago. I sometimes dream about that glacier.

Today was about Amie. At first she didn’t want to come but the moment we arrived she started running and jumping, suddenly free and wild herself. She had climbed onto this great downed oak before we knew it and DH had to scramble after her.

She also really wanted to walk on water:

She was upset at the end and I didn’t know why. She said she had “wanted to have more adventures and all we did was walk around and chat!” I will take her back after school some day and she can show me what it is that she wants to do. We can also take our journals and draw or write.

We are reading the Finn Family Moomintroll which another friend gave her and perhaps she has that landscape in mind and the adventures of Moomin and his curious friends. I can certainly understand her. When I was a kid I was always pottering around in the overgrown area (now a nature reservation) across from my parents’ house, pretending to be the last kid left on Earth, losing my boots in the bog, coming home with leaves and mud in my hair.

I would have gone on that tree too! I may still.

Last week I splurged on Wildcraft, a cooperative board game for kids (and adults) developed by HerbMentor, one of my favorite places for herbal instruction. The idea of the game is to make it up the mountain to the huckleberry patch, gather huckleberries, and make it back down again to grandma’s house before nightfall. And not to perish.

In the official game there’s not much chance of perishing. When you land on a cross you get a trouble card – a hornet sting, sore muscles, hunger, or stomach ache. But you start out with four remedy cards and gather lots along the way. It’s usually an easy walk. Usually.

Amie loved the game from the very first. She has played it several times, with us or by herself. She’ll skip around the house telling her doll they should find some Plantain for that bee sting, Echinacea for the sniffles. It’s sweet.

Then yesterday she came up with a variation. She set up the board and invited me to play, but wisely kept the rules to herself until I had committed (you spin that wheel, you’re committed). The variation was this: only trouble cards, no remedy cards.

Painful, to say the least! Our conversation ran thus:

– You’re killing me!

– Don’t blame it on me.

– Well, you’re the one who invented this game.

– Blaming isn’t nice. Oops, now you’ve got diarrhea. Too bad!

She weighed  ailments (diarrhea would be the worst one) and inflicted pain (gleefully handing out the cards) all in the playful and safe setting of a game. She also explored endurance and the extent to which the human body can handle pain and discomfort. At the end of the game, when we finally made it back to grandma’s house, Amie gathered she must be near death. Like so:

Notice the tongue sticking out, a sure sign of near death.

The cards near her head, by the way, were her trouble cards. The long line near her feet, those were mine! She invited me to come lie next to her and be really dead.

I declined, stating someone had to take the picture.

Today we came home from Amie’s cello lesson to this:

We could not believe the size of that giant pumpkin! There were also bags of more pumpkins, goopy pumpkin guts, and a couple of gourds. The latter I would have to cut up somehow,  they’re so hard, or maybe I’ll try drying them for bird houses.

The haul filled up the wheelbarrow and much of the compost bin. Once I get the shredder going I’ll fill up the gaps in the bin with shredded leaves.

The neighbors are really into the orphan punkins this year. Maybe I could get a more elaborate system set up, a large three bin system down the hill, near the mailbox, where they could drop off vegetable kitchen scraps? A neighborhood composting facility… And once we get chickens,  we would doubly appreciate the scraps. Mm…

I’m going to ask my tree removal neighbor for all his wood chips from now on to do this in the  veg garden. I could easily fill up those garden paths with wood chips and leaves. These paths erode so badly, especially the ones that run in the direction of the (slight) slope. It would also keep the weeds down, and be a haven for the worms. A permaculture function stack!

What a day today was. 65 F and sunny. The bees took the opportunity to take some cleansing flights and dump out some more dead bees, and we got to go outside too, to rake leaves, and leaves, and leaves, and play…

Today, the day after Halloween, we found our first punkin orphan, dropped off at our mailbox. Amie ran to welcome it. We reminded people of the composting program when we were out trick-or-treating, and many were enthusiastic. And I met one elderly gentleman who was the first to live on this street, and he and I resolved to meet soon so I can take down the history of the neighborhood.


I am back on track with the baking. Because these are busy days I went back to the old recipe which is such a favorite in our house. Daily Bread No.7 was finished in a jiffy and Bread No.8 will be finished at breakfast. I love it too, but am hoping fr a good no-knead whole wheat recipe.


We had our first frost last night. It went down to 21. There’s more frost predicted tonight and tomorrow night, so I decided to bring in all my potted pepper plants. I’ll post a picture of my interesting living room tomorrow. The hoop house is performing well, though unfortunately I don’t have any precise data. But all the plants inside it survived the frost, so far. The eggplants are still going strong. The tomatoes aren’t looking so good, but the tomatoes on the vine are still ripening.


Today I went into Amie’s class (K) to talk about compost. While putting her snack together in the morning I had an idea. I walked in, sat down in front of the kids, and asked them if it was okay for me to eat my snack, I was so hungry. I rummaged around in my bag, complaining that my snack had been in there for a long time and muttering that I hoped it was still good. Then I pulled out a big clear plastic box with wet, gooey, wormy compost! Eek! What happened!

We talked about rot and decay, composing and decomposing, falling apart and being taken apart, it no longer being food for us but still perfectly edible for other organisms, etc. I must say, I used to teach college kids metaphysics, epistemology, logic and ethics, and that was tough. But teaching these five-year-olds is a different thing altogether!  Afterwards the class went out to  plant bulbs and make a scarecrow in their little school garden.

(Note to self: mustn’t forget to take that “snack” out of my bag. I’ll do it tomorrow…)

I did a quick hive inspection today. It was hot – at 10 am – and I had forgotten to tie my long hair back, thinking the hat might keep it back, but no… So I made it quick, and just pulled out the frames to check on the pattern of brood, honey, pollen, and drone cells, and to find the queen. The powdered sugar test for mites will have to wait till next time.

capped brood

these frames were really heavy


(Thanks to DH for the pics!)


I did the bee talk at my daughter’s preschool last week. The kids loved it. I came in all dressed up in veil and suit and gloves. I had brought one deep brood box with the undrawn frames in them, as well as the burr comb I pulled out earlier. My smoker was still smelly from going into the hive right before and stealing a drone, which I put into the old queen cage for them to see. They were so careful with him when they passed him around.

They had so many questions and, of course, stories about being stung, or not being stung. We talked about how to be safe around bees, and about how generous and hardworking they are. Fascinating, how the minds of 3, 4, and 5-year-olds work. Especially the boys were concerned about the fact that a colony is basically a sisterhood. “But then there’s no room for brothers!” said a little guy (a brother). I assured him that in the human world there is lots of room for brothers, but not so much in the bee world. They’re just different.

They, and I, had a great time playing a game that illustrates how bees use pheromones and scent to recognize each other. I had put one of 4 strong-smelling things (banana, garlic, oregano and tiger balm), 5 of each in old yogurt container (20 kids), then strapped a paper napkin over them so they couldn’t see what was inside (note to self: cloth next time!). They had to sniff their own scent and then buzz around to find the other members of their colony.

Lastly there was snack (very important!). Amie had designed a bee for the cookies and had helped cut some out. She was chosen to distribute the snack to the class. She was so proud. Of course she knew the answers to all the question I had for them, but she let the other kids answer first.