Next year I want would like:

  1. a second colony, in a homemade top bar hive.
  2. chickens, 3 of them.
  3. the beginning of a dwarf fruit tree orchard.
  4. a guild around the cherry tree.
  5. an earth oven in a straw bale shelter, a strawbale low wall with welcoming arch up front, and  some strawbale benches, shelters and altars all over the property.
  6. a small pond system that takes rain water runoff and – if we can swing it – some gray water, with frogs and other wildlife.
  7. a front garden for Bees and People. I will want to host a lot of events – community gardening, lectures, skillshares, poetry reading (and writing), concerts – in that front garden!
  8. a pottery wheel.

Is that a lot to ask? And is that a silly question to ask because I ask it of myself?


Oh,  but life is good.

When told that a friend had gone into the hospital to give birth, Amie asked: “And was it a baby?”

And this is DH’s desk:

Amie drew her family for school

(DH, Mama, Amie)


A: Water isn’t heavy. It’s just air that’s blue and wet.


I found her hiding behind a tiny notebook.  I asked her if hiding her face makes her entirely invisible. Incredibly, she did seem to believe this. Then she thought about it for a second and grinned at the silliness of it.


A: I’m going to marry Ben.

M: Oh? Why?

A: Because he’s the only boy I like. I know other boys but they’re icky. So I have no choice. But, Mama, can a girl and a girl get married?

M: Yes, they can. (Gives an example)

A: But. Look. Here is me. And here is E (her best friend, a girl). If E and I get together and comfort each other, then there will be four children, two from her and two from me. And then they will make even more babies and our house will break and we’ll need to build a new house and, ugh, it’s too much!

It took me a moment to realize how she came to this. First, I guess that’s what happens when your kid watches only Life of Mammals and other nature shows. She also knows that only women can have babies, so two women in a household will make twice as many babies. Simple math. But “comforting”? I have no idea where she gets that one.


We are reading a book together – she is loving Frannie K. Stein: she reads a page, I read a page, etc.  I asked what some of the words mean and she had no clue! DH has also observed this, that she is content not to ask what something means, and we’re confused because she seems to understand the stories pretty well. Of course this is how babies and toddlers learn: they don’t actively ask about details but get their meaning from contexts and let the details get filled in by experience.  But now she is five. It had never occurred to us that we would have to give her the tools and the motivation to make the transition into a more active role of questioning and searching. Parenthood is fascinating!


Amie was yelling at the trees to stop it!

I asked her what the trees were doing that they should stop.

A: They’re blowing away my leaf pile.

Me: You think the trees make the wind?

A: Yes.

Me: But how?

A: By waving about and making the air move, of course!


This time of year I get that lump in my throat. I see my seedlings come up in the basement. I do the rounds of blogs – mostly gardeners, homesteaders – and see their seedlings come up as well. It touches me deeply. It is a reawakening of a childlike feeling of wonder, that, with only the addition of water and light, life comes out of such a tiny seed.

But hold on. Maybe children, I assume, have that feeling of wonder and it comes naturally to them. It fits them. I see that in Amie sometimes. ‘Wo-ow!’ she says, and moves on. For me it is less wonder than awe. There is something menacing in it, something too big. Hence the lump in my throat and sometimes – I admit it – a tear in my eye, at the sight of a seedling. Has my soul shrunk, in adulthood, so it can no longer hold that great capacity of wonder?

If so, I am flexing its boundaries!

I am so lucky to have the opportunity to live here, where I can grow food from the miraculous seed, and watch the awesome wildlife, and feel the great mycorrhizal colony underneath my feet, and untie- undo – my soul.


During the Transition Training we watched a lot of images and videos of Transition Initiatives, and at first I watched them with mixed feelings of joy and anxiousness. My heart sank because I inevitably thought: “I can’t make that happen.”

That sinking feeling stems from the fact that, though I arrived here over 11 years ago, studied, married, bought a house and had a child here, I still don’t feel at home. Why? Not because of the people around me: I have found each and every one of my colleagues, neighbors and friends – Americans or not – to be sincerely welcoming. So it must be me.

I always assumed children have a natural sense of being at home, for I myself, as a child, felt at home, without ever a shadow of a doubt. But was it because of something a child does or is, or was it because of what my parents did and modeled? Or was it because of the place?

The place was Antwerp (Belgium), a city within half an hour’s drive of the city where my grandparents and aunts and uncles all lived. A place where my family can trace and place our ancestry as far back as the 1700s. And a place with a culture in which “migrating” is the exception. You see, Belgians don’t leave Belgium: the emigration rate is less than a percent. And Belgium is a small country, about the size of Maryland, so children “leave” (for college, or to live) to within at most a two hours’ drive away from their parents. In my family I was the third (out of four now) in the span of two generations to move abroad, which makes my family exceptionally migratory.

Let’s put this in context. The United Nations Commission on Population and Development concluded in 2006 that only 3% of the world population is an international migrant (with most migrants moving from developing to developed countries). The kind of mobility within the United States that makes for big moves, in contrast, is high: the Census of 2000 determined that, within 5 years, no less than 8.42% of its respondents had moved to another state and an additional 2.86% to a foreign country. That number has in all probability gone up in the last couple of years.

So let’s just say that my Amie is seeing a home very different from what I saw as a kid. We see family once or twice a year, not every weekend. Mama and Baba have strange accents – and so does she, insisting on “woh-T-er”. Mama and Baba can’t vote and they don’t know how to negotiate certain communal systems. So I am afraid that Amie will not know what “home” is, or that she will call “home” something that I would call but a weak version of my own rich childhood memory of home.

And so I must ask myself: can I, dare I, make this place my home? What if home means not just the core family of the three of us, not just lengthy visits (visits: that says it all) from grandparents and aunts and cousins, not just local traditions with good, good friends that we see often… but also the wider culture of a hometown?

The Training helped me realize that I should make this hometown happen, for myself, for Amie, and that it is possible. That this what a Transition Initiative could mean to me, my family, and the people in my community: not just becoming more resilient in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic crisis, but first and foremost what our trainer called  “becoming indigenous toyour place”: coming home.

{Previously, about Transition: the giving of gifts}

A couple of days ago Amie and I were having some milk and coffee (respectively) in a coffee shop when she spotted the large lump on the back of the head of the man sitting right behind her. I had seen it long before she did and was hoping she wouldn’t turn around because I dreaded what I knew would follow:

– Mama! Look at that man’s head!

The poor man was sitting not two feet away, but he was chatting with someone else, and if he heard her he didn’t show it. My own reaction (freeze!) must not have been satisfactory for Amie because she was about to repeat it, but then I put my finger to my lips and she stopped.

Then I took her out of the cafe and sat her down somewhere and explained:

– Mieke, when you see someone who looks a strange, just different than you and me, someone with a strange face, or a different kind of body, you shouldn’t say anything about it, okay? It might hurt their feelings if you remark on it, or if you stare.

She thought on it a bit and agreed, and we decided to make that a rule, the Grumble Rule, or Bumble Rule, I forgot precisely its name, and it changes anyway.

Today at the Farmer’s Market we had a test run. A lady came hobbling by, very slowly, resting on a cane. Amie stared at her, then said:

– I guess she must be really old.

Oh, well. Sigh. At least she said it quietly, to herself. I immediately said:

– Grumble Rule!

And she understood, and nodded, and held her finger to her lips.

Of course this can’t be the end of her lesson on how to deal with differentness, what is different, and what is normal, and what that means. But it’s a start.

dead bird (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

(It’s that dead bird again)

Well, at bedtime Amie again asked to talk about the dead baby penguin. Again she wanted to know why there was no blood. Was it really dead? I explained that it died because it was too cold. Probably its heart stopped working. I explained that our blood needs to circulate – go round and round – in our bodies and that the heart is a big pump that does that, and we listened to each other’s heartbeat (it will be a new game; she also loves to put her ear to my jaw when I eat crunchy things, which makes her laugh out loud). Then we slowly came to the heart of the matter, for her, on this evening.:

– If you’re a human, do you have to be a grown-up to die?

– Well, sometimes children die too, but not so often. They’d have to be really sick, or in an accident.

– But if S [friend at school] died, I could no longer play with her. I could still play with C and E, though [more friends at school]. But not with S anymore.

– Well, mostly, in this country, children grow up to be adults.

– But I was really sick, and I didn’t get dead.

– That wasn’t sick enough. Much sicker.

– If we die together, like in an accident, we could hold hands and still love each other. If you die first, I will still love you. But I will still have Baba and S and C and E at school to play with. That will be ficient [sufficient]. But I will still love you even though you’re dead. And I could still hug you, if you die with your arms open a bit [demonstrates]. Not if you close your arms [narrows her arms], then I wouldn’t fit. We could hold hands then.

– Usually, though, when someone dies, they take away the body, because it gets all smelly and rotten, because the blood no longer circulates through it and so no longer keeps it fresh. So they bury it in the ground or burn it up in a big, bright flame.

– I will still love you then, even though you’re not here.

Then the conversation turned to whether all her friends, E and C and some others (note: not S anymore) could come and live with us, and where would be put them to sleep and where would their Mamas and Babas sleep.

None of this – and nothing in our earlier conversations – was said morosely or sadly. It was simply matter-of-fact talk. She is trying out the concept of death, lingering mostly at its fringes: the poses we die in, would there be blood. Sometimes she gets at the heart of it, like today, when she considered what it would be like if her friend or I died, what she would do, if it would still be sufficient for her. But even then it is a trying-out of the thought of it, not the feeling. That’s why I am not worried: it is safe. And being so open about it, answering all her question without flinching, safeguards that safety and her trust in me.

dead bird (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

In the evening Amie watched March of the Penguins. We had shown it to her about half a year ago but she wasn’t interested then. This time she was, going “oh so cute!” and so forth, but really paying attention when the little chick dies of exposure and the mother mourns over it.

– what happened to it?

– it died because it was too cold.

– but no, it didn’t get dead. Look, it’s moving, like this. [makes sad little movements with her head]

– no, sweetie, it’s dead.

– what is the mother trying to do now?

– the mother is so sad she is trying to steal a chick from another mother.

– stealing isn’t nice.

– see, the pack doesn’t allow it and the chick is back with its mother.

When we went to bed she wanted to sit in the pile of blankets to keep her egg warm. Then she wanted to talk about the penguins.

– I especially want to talk about when the chick got dead. I liked that.

– you liked it? Do you mean it made you happy?

– no.

– so you mean you are interested in it.

– yes. It’s interesting.

I had to explain again why the chick had died.

– but I didn’t see any blood.

– it wasn’t wounded, it was just too cold.

– can I have a baby penguin? It’s not too cold here.

– it’s too warm here. Penguins like it cold, but not too cold.

Seconds later:

– promise me we will die next to one another? [this while holding my head, her nose nearly touching mine, her eyes locked to mine]

– I can’t promise that, sweetie. We don’t know when we’ll die. It’s mostly not in our control.

– we could die in an accident.

– yes, or when we grow old and it’s time.

– but we don’t die on the cross. Only Jesus died on the cross. What is Jesus’ Mama’s name?

– Mary – not the Mary we know. A different Mary.

– What’s her last name?

– I don’t know.

– Jesus died and then Mary died too. They went far away. As far as… Auntie R. That was a long drive.

A little later:

– Mama, can we have another baby? But I want it to be a girl. We can call it Amie.

– but you are Amie. So we couldn’t call her Amie!

– but what if I die? And I still want to pinch your arm? [arm pinching is a leftover from nursing: she does it when tired or sad and when falling asleep]

I was dumbfounded. A weird thing, that statement: “Amie” (II) would still be pinching my arm, and that seemed to make her feel better about dying. Such a strange concept of identity, such fearless exploration of what death is and what it means to her! She soon fell asleep.

I’ve written about how I want to communicate to my daughter about death here.

What with all the gardening around here it’s been a while since I wrote about Amie’s non-gardening doings and goings. Here are some newer developments.

We’re working on her letters. She recognizes all the upper and lower case and can sound out and read three-letter words:

But writing them is something else altogether, especially those pesky rounded lower cases. Numbers too are a challenge. So this spring break we’re working on all those.

These days Amie sees us writing a lot of checks (unfortunately) and she was curious what that was about. I explained it to her and even found an old checkbook from a defunct account for her to play with. She wanted to write out her first check to me!

– How much do I owe you, Mama? she asked

– Oh, I said, by the time we’re done, mm… about a million

No problem. She asked our co-houser to help her fill it in, and when he – we call him Rabbit, so I’m going to start referring to him as Rabbit as of now – started writing in the amount, she changed her mind. When he had formed “10” she said:

– I want to pay Mama ten million dollars!

When he had added another 0, she said:

– Yes, a hundred million dollars!

She is so very generous!

She has been doing some multiplication with single digit numbers and division by 2. She needs her fingers and concrete things to do it: “If we have 6 ice cream sandwiches and there’s 2 of us, how many do we each get?” works, but “What is 6 divided by 2 make?” doesn’t.

Her Baba also taught her to add up a big and a small number. For instance, 76 + 4. This is how she explains it: You put the big number in your head: 76 (pinches thumb and index fingers together and touches her forehead, turning them and making a creaking sound, as if turning a key in a lock). Then you put the smaller number on your fingers (arranges her hand so 4 fingers are out). Then you count: 76, (takes away one finger) 77, (takes away another finger) 78, (takes away another finger) 79, (takes away last finger) 80!

She is not only a mathematician, like her Baba, but also a metaphysician, like her Mama (used to be). The other day she was acting all grumpy and DH observed that she was becoming a two-year-old again.

– No-o, she said, I can’t go back; I can only go forward.


Amie and Pooh Bear

It was our co-houser’s birthday so Amie and I baked some cookies and sang Happy Birthday while he blew out a candle. Then we sat down to eat, and we each had a glass of milk. Amie repeated that she had made the cookies for him and Rabbit (Amie picked the nickname) responded:

Rabbit: That used to be one of my favorite things: to bake cookies with my mom.

Amie: What happened to your mom?

Rabbit: (confused) She lives in Vermont. And I live in other places.

Amie: (confused) But what happened to her?

Me to Rabbit: You said “used to”. What happened that you don’t bake cookies with her anymore?

Amie: Yes. Why?

Rabbit: (confused again) That’s a good question! Ha! Why?

Amie (after some seconds): You grew up, Rabbit. That’s why you don’t live with your Mama anymore.

She said that last thing a bit sadly, very seriously: “You grew up”. She showed such insight, showing us, the “grown-ups,” so simply and with genuine sympathy, what we have lost.

Just like earlier today she said: “Mama, I wish we lived in the hundred-acre wood, where all the Pooh creatures live.” Sometimes she seems to realize that Pooh and co. are made up: “They’re only pretend, right?” But other times she writes letters to Pooh and asks “where on the Earth does he live?” and then for lack of words I point to the UK, on her globe.

It makes me melancholy, like the third of her three obsessions nowadays. They are:

  1. It’s not fair!
  2. I win!
  3. Forever (as in “I love you forever,” “we’ll forever be together,” “I love this book so much, I’ll read it for ever!”)

The first two are intriguing, her struggle with fairness and limits, rewards and disappointments (“You win, Mama. That’s okay. Well done, Mama”). The third is like Pooh, a fairytale. What does forever mean to her? It does mean “forever and ever” in that all-out childlike way. Oh, sometimes she is so convinced, and the prospect of her losing the belief is so sad, that she makes me believe it!

I had three very strange conversations with Amie today.

  • Part one

Out of the blue (we were washing hands) she said:

– Pooh Bear is very fluffy so he will never die again.

– So you think if you’re fluffy you can’t die?

– Yes. But I am not fluffy, so I am going to die. Some day. And you are not fluffy, so you are going to die too. We’ll lie down together and lie next to each other and our crosses will be next to each other. And the body goes away, right? And only our bones are left over.

  • Part two

Later I asked:

– Which crosses were you talking about?

– Like Jesus’ cross.

– But we don’t usually die on the cross like Jesus. We die when we’re very sick or very old, or in an accident. It could be we go to sleep and just don’t wake up.

– When we lie down? We can die when we lie down, or when we’re holding something, or even when we talking?

– Yes.

– They say you can come back after you die.

– Oh, like Jesus you mean? Usually though when we die we don’t come back. Jesus was an exception.

– No, all of us.

– O yes, some people believe that. I don’t know, though.

  • Part three

Ten minutes later I asked if we should put some music on. She asked:

– Do we have any Jesus music?

– How do you mean?

– Music with Jesus?

– We don’t have a recording of Jesus, but there is music about Jesus. You want that?

– Yes, Jesus music please.


Later I was on the phone with DH, who was working late, and mentioned this strange conversation.

– Ah, he said, I think I know why.

Turns out that yesterday, when I was at my pottery class, Amie had said that her Pooh Bear (her stuffed bear) was dead.

– He died, she had said.

DH had explained that Pooh Bear couldn’t die, because he was just a toy bear, and not alive to begin with. He had said:

– He’s just made of fluff. He doesn’t even have any blood.

– Do we have blood?

And that had lead to a conversation about the body.

Aha. “Made of fluff” and “fluffy”… It’s the mind of the three-and-a-half-year-old!