Holmgren’s Melliodora

Photograph of small farm on river bend

  • Holmgren’s place

I’m oggling David Holmgren’s Melliodora, or at least what is avaiable of it for free on the net (the whole e-book seems worth it but is still AUS$35). You can check it out yourself here (go to publications, click on the e-book, then scroll down to the free demo).

ebook cover Holmgrens’ Melliodora

The Melliodora project is a model of what I would love to do with a place:

  1. get to know it by all kinds of methods (aerial maps, soil and water samples, photographs and sketches)
  2. in detail (each aspect of its landscape, soils, waterways, flora and fauna, its history too)
  3. approach it pragmatically (how can it best be developed, what plants will grow where best, where can we build structures, where can we harvest energy)
  4. live it by personal experience (actually build the structures and work the land, suffer the losses, celebrate the successes)
  5. treat it ethically (how to use the place sustainably, with respect for all its inhabitants, the firther environment)
  6. and wholistically (how to let it enrich our physical as well as our spiritual being, e.g., how to maximize its educational potential) 
  • A whole dream

Holmgren presents all the elements of the development and maintenance of his own home and demonstration site, Melliodora, as a case-study as scientifically detailed and as personally intense as they come. As a showcase of permaculture, it is a practical and scientific approach to place, food, time and life, based on ethical, educational and spiritual principles. 

I feel so lucky to have found this project. Its spirit (not its size) matches, challenges and fires my dream, the Homestead Plan.

A Revolution

The books I am reading are effecting a revolution in me that I would like to postpone describing for a bit: let me work through it in my journal for a while. Then I hope I will be able to put down in words, for you, what is happening in my thinking and feeling, how revolutionary but also how logical it really is, given the changes in our lives over the last two years, the dreams of the past few months, the reading of the past few days and, simply, the kind of person that I am today and want to be tomorrow…

So I’m sorry to keep you waiting, I hope it will be worthwhile. In the meanwhile,  though, I’ll let you in on the books that are fueling this change.

  • Rick Bass for the mood

I’m reading two of Rick Bass’ books. Winter I have read several times before. I still remember my first reading of it, how powerfully it affected my mood: I am happy that it does the same thing to me each time I reread it. I’m only thirty-something pages into Bass’ Ninemile Wolves, but it has already moved me deeply. I think this is what Bass does best: the steady accumulation of mood…

Cover of Rick Bass: The Ninemile Wolvescover of Rick Bass: Winter

  • Holmgren for thought

But the greatest impression, or rather pressure  at the moment is being exerted by David Holmgren’s Permaculture. Principes and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. I have been reading up on Permaculture gardening (Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden) for The Homestead Plan, but this book, well…

cover of David Holmgren’s Permaculture

If you’ve read this book, let me know what it did for you.

“Amie is all finished”. And a picture (not by me)

This morning, after a rare full night’s sleep (and blissfully no hypnopompic sightings for me!), we cuddled for 15 minutes before getting well and truly up.

Amie was enacting “Baby Amie”: she cuddles and coos and you have to hold and shush her like a baby. Then I asked her: “Do you remember what Baby Amie used to do?” She thought for a couple of seconds and answered:


“Yes, and what else did Baby Amie do?”

“Did Baby Amie have lots of gung-gung?”

(“Gung-gung” was her/our word for nursing.)

Amie thought deeply for three seconds or so, then her face and eyes lit up with remembrance and joy:

“Ye-es,” she said, smiling broadly. Then:

“Where is gung-gung?”

“Oh, sorry sweetie,” I said, “there’s no more gung-gung” (she weaned herself about six months ago). She nodded understandingly, and then very seriously stated:

“Amie is all finished with gung-gung.”

I found a photograph that captures motherhood so perfectly – in a setting that completes the picture for me. It’s by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, from his Storybook Life. I can’t reproduce it because of copyright, but click here and you’ll see.

Wait a Moment

Black and White Photograph of Amie 16 May 2007

There is something about this photograph… The soft pools of light, the ghost of herself, the movement of her arm. The door standing open, fixed and hard. Her downcast gaze, concentration. Just another split second in our front hallway (/front hallaway/): captured, though not quite…

She was fitting grown-up shoes. Not yet, sweetie, not yet…

Article: Review of the Simply in Season Cookbook

I got to know about the Simply in Season Cookbook (Mennonite Herald Press) via a review for Groovy Green by Liz Deane (of Pocket Farm fame). Her review focuses on the ecological and geopolitical background of food and food production. Mine focuses on the cookbook aspect of the book. Go read her review, and mine!

Bon appetit!

Article: What and Who is Self-Sufficient?

This blog has been taking on a rather schizophrenic aspect:

  • here I am, writing blissfully about my daughter’s drawings, about her funny and embarassing first attempts at public speaking, and so forth,
  • while lamenting the destruction of her future and my sometimes rational/sometimes panicked efforts, small and drastic, to make and plan for a better one.

Probably this schizophrenia is par for the course for anyone who has children and has at least some sensitivity to what we are doing to our planet and to what is happening with oil. We live with such hope and such despair: are we the “Torn Generation”? Or do we already have a name? I forget…

Well, in any case, to stop this blog from splitting at the seams, I’m moving some of my reflections about the earth, nature, self-sufficiency and sustainability and the like, to Suite101, where I am a Writer.

And my first article is up:

What and Who is Self-Sufficient? Self-Sufficiency, Reciprocity and Self-Sustainability

  • People

As the title suggests (huh!), it is a basic article introducing the concepts of self-sufficiency, reciprocity and self-sustainability. The article focuses on the people-aspect of the issue: who comes to mind when we hear “self-sufficient”, what do these people do to merit this label, what are their aims, motivations and desires?

  • Community and Reciprocity

I also take care to stress the communityaspect. No one can be 100 self-sufficient, and such a thing might not even be desirable. One is always dependent on a community, and any action toward more self-suficiency inevitably involves that community.

  • Self-sustainability

The discussion of degrees of self-sufficiency naturally leads to another concept, which is often confused or equated with self-sufficiency: self-sustainability. Does more self-sufficiency guarantee more self-sustainability? What is the right balance between self-sufficiency and dependence or reciprocity, so that our lives can be sustained?

Check it out!

Young Children and Television

Photograph of tv dumped in desert, by Pablo Gonzalez Vargas (at Morguefile.com)

(Thanks to a lead from Aaron at Powering Down)

  • 90% of 2-year-olds watch 1.5 hours of television daily

Frederick Zimmerman and colleagues Christakis and Meltzoff did a telephone survey of 1009 parents (in Minnesota and Washington) of children aged 2 to 24 months. And they found some disturbing facts:

By 3 months of age, about 40% of children regularly watched television, DVDs, or videos. By 24 months, this proportion rose to 90%. The median age at which regular media exposure was introduced was 9 months. Among those who watched, the average viewing time per day rose from 1 hour per day for children younger than 12 months to more than 1.5 hours per day by 24 months. Parents watched with their children more than half of the time. Parents gave education, entertainment, and babysitting as major reasons for media exposure in their children younger than 2 years. [“Television and DVD/Video Viewing in Children Younger Than 2 Years,” published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, May 2007]

What’s so disturbing about this?

  • Academic performance?

Scientists as well as the media reporting on their findings are usually interested in the effects of so much television on intellectual (read academic) performance. For instance, in 2005, Zimmerman and Christakis studied children who before age 3 watched an average of 2.2 hours of television per day, and children who at ages 3 to 5 watched a daily average of 3.3 hours. Their conclusion was that

There are modest adverse effects of television viewing before age 3 years on the subsequent cognitive development of children. These results suggest that greater adherence to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines that children younger than 2 years not watch television is warranted. [“Children’s Television Viewing and Cognitive Outcomes. A Longitudinal Analysis of National Data,” published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, July 2005]

Mmmm: “modest averse effects”. That won’t persuade the stressed-out parent who relies on television as a babysitter or a soother.

In an interview with Newsweek, Zimmerman is more forceful and reticent at the same time:

It is not clear-cut, but it is very suggestive, that excessive viewing, more than 30 to 60 minutes a day before 3 years of age, is associated with a lot or problems later on, such as obesity, poor cognitive development, poor attention control and aggressive behavior. Much more research needs to be done in these areas, though, before we have a crystal-clear picture of these effects.

  • Advertising

The reasons for this are simple. Intellectual (read, again, academic) performance is “easily” measured. And the traditional media would rather not put the spotlight on certain other effects of television, effects that are beneficial to them. Advertising, for instance.

As Aaron (father of Keaton) writes:

Before our children have even fully functional use of our language, we are giving them over to others, including advertising agencies and their corporate sponsors, to teach them what those people and companies would like them to know.

Spot on!

  • Mindfulness

I have seen this in Amie. She was never the least bit interested in television. We played Baby Einstein for her when she was 6 months old, and after the third time she had lost interest. I was relieved by that, because whatever “attention” she did pay to the program seemed more enforced than enthusiastic. How could she not look at where that horrendous music (Baby Beethoven) was coming from? So I put “attention” between quotes, because it was less awareness than shielding!

I single out Baby Einstein because we tried it and because I detest the musical renditions. But any program that is not, say, Sixty Minutes, is detrimental to real attention. Attention means awareness, or even better: mindfulness. One isn’t mindfull of Friends, or even Seinfeld, one simply undergoes it. As such, people with attention deficit disorder have no trouble paying “attention” for three hours to a fastpaced movie or computergame. And however much the Baby Einstein Company et. al. would like us to believe it, there has been no proof that watching their products enhance  attention, let alone minds. 

  • Noisy ads 

One exception to Amie’s total disregard to television was one particular ad. She couldn’t care less about the Red Sox game, but when that Pepsi ad with Jimmy Fallon came on, she would turn, stare for a second, and dance. Two minutes later it was back to business as usual. 

We catered to her dancing needs much better by putting on cds, and she continued to ignore the tv, until a month ago. I’ve written that she has become a lot more sensitive to sound, especially as the sign of something threatening (a loud machine, a car honking). She still ignores the programs, but the ads have suddenly become a lot more “interesting”.

I don’t precisely know what “interesting” means here. I would like think she is merely checking out the sudden noise (*) as a potential threat. But then she keeps on staring at it. She is sucked in, becomes passive, mindless.

(*) Ads may not be more “voluminous” than other television content objectively, but they are louder subjectively, thanks to the audio technicians tricks that make the track sound fuller, more dynamic. The same goes for the visual density of an ad: the images are sharper, flashier, more colorful. Sooner or later also that aspect will want to kidnap her.

  • Where does the mind go when the eyes watch tv?

You can’t measure “mindful” and “mindless”: it is too big, too wondeful. A child’s mind is so much more than just IQ or reading ability. It is identity, wholesomeness, confidence, autonomy, spirituality, responsibility, kindness and affection.

Children this young are still laboriously and courageously building these qualities. So they are even more defenseless against the assault of television than us adults (who freely and stupidly give up these wonderful things as we accept human characters being blown and beaten to pieces).  In the face of such auditory, visual, and mindless violence, the small seeds of these qualities retreat. What is left is a vacuum easily occupied by corporations and companies.

I can easily entertain the opinion that the kind of television of the last twenty years has influenced the teens and early twentiers who were raised on it, from infancy, and in particular their ability to cope with aggression and aggressive behavior. If the ubiquitous babysitter habitually beats someone up, right in front of the child and with impunity… And if that babysitter cheats on the spouse, drives an SUV, lives in a McMansion and goes shopping for shoes everything she feels depressed…

Unhappy at Daycare?

It took Amie over four months to find happiness at daycare. Even then it took an experiment to make her feel more at ease.

  • The babysitter

Two weekends ago, Amie’s Baba and I went to a concert. We had gone out only once since Amie was born, at a time long ago before she tumbled into a long and difficult phase of separation anxiety. For a long time we couldn’t think of anyone she would be comfortable with – this was before (we caught on to) the miraculous transformation in her social attitude. That Sunday, however, we felt confident that she would love the babysitter. It was the wonderful assistant at the daycare center she attends three days a week and to whom she is very attached.

We left in the middle of the concert – we were new at this babysitting thing! – not wanting to be away from our daughter any longer, not knowing how her evening was going, and not keen on adding another $13 to the exceptional cost of that evening. When we got home, we could see that Amie had had a wonderful time. The assistant, eager to set my mind at ease about the evening, told us:

“She was so happy! I’ve never seen her so happy at the daycare. I’ve never seen her laugh so much!”

  • Stressed out at daycare 

She said it with the best of intentions, but my reaction of relief was shortlived. Soon I was mulling it over, worrying it to death, fairly plunging into grief and doubt. Amie had just been who she is when she is here, at home. She was obviously very unhappy, “stressed out,” the assistant said, at daycare.

I am all for daycare, and later on preschool and school, if the child is happy there and thrives. And if the setting or institution can provide the education, stimulation and friendship the child needs. And if the home situation complements the “formal education” with whatever is needed for an all-rounded person. But those are other matters.

Daycare makes it possible for me work on my dissertation, novel and writing and reading: all projects that I add up to the kind of role-model I want to be for my daughter. That is, a woman who can balance motherthood, creative work and homemaking. A mother who loves to give all of herself, but who also is herself. I don’t mean to say that one can’t be creative while childrearing, but personally I can’t concentrate on long, complex philosphical arguments while singing Patty Cake.

  • Experiment

Having that particular person babysit was an experiment and a risk. At daycare, she was Amie’s total mommy-surrogate: immediately after I left after drop-off, Amie clung to her (like she clung to me at home); the moment I came in for pick-up, Amie ran to me and ignored her. The hours in between, Amie monopolized her, demanding to be picked up and cuddled by her (I was assured this behavior sprung from her personal emotional need, not from a manipulative or bullyish nature). It was hard on the staff and the other kids. What if our experiment had made he attachment more intense?

It didn’t. The Tuesday following that babysitting Sunday, Amie went into daycare and was happy! She was on Wednesday and Thursday as well. And she no longer laid exclusive claim on the assistant. After more than four months of struggling to adjust, she had turned the corner. The one moment she had cried – woken up from her nap by coughing – the assistant had calmed her down and made her laugh by reminiscing about what they had done that Sunday.

No doubt this change is connected to Amie’s newfound sense of independence and freedom. But I believe the experiment helped substantially. Amie realized that she could be relaxed and feel safe and happy with the assistant, and she carried that attitude over into the daycare situation.

  • Be committed 

When it comes to the crunch (an unhappy child who doesn’t seem to adjust), it pays off to experiment, but you have to be committed to the result.  Amie had been at daycare four  months and was still unhappy: it was an unbearable situation. If the experiment had failed and made things worse, I think I would have taken her out of daycare altogether.

Of course the experiment isn’t over! Last week may have been a fluke. She could revert back to unhappiness any time. She’ll have to adjust all over again to pre-K, to Kindergarten.

I guess that’s what we signed up for when we became parents!

Ecological Diapers Review

gdiaper.jpg   sevgen_diaper.jpg 

Whether you’re a new parent or have just been blessed with a second/third/fourth… baby, diapers are probably of major concern to you.

I’ve written a review article of the “ecological” diaper brands that we have, personally, used:

  1. Seventh Generation
  2. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value
  3. gDiapers

I run through many considerations, such as baby’s comfort, cost, ease of use, contribution to pollution and landfills, and ingredients. Among the latter, the contested safety of SAP (short for sodium acrylate polymer or sodium polyacrylate) is an important concern.

I’m sure I haven’t touched upon all the problems and issues so, as always, your input is very welcome!

Her Growing Independence, and Fear

Amie and I picking flowers at Drumlin Farm

Mama and Amie picking dandelions

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers!

I was hugged and kissed a little more vigorously than usual this morning by Amie and Baba. It’s my second mother’s day, but the first time Amie could verbally congratulate me, and she did very well! It’s quite a mouthful. There was also a drawing by Amie and a blown-up picture of her.

I called up my Mom to wish her “Gelukkige Moederdag”. Yes, in Belgium too they celebrate Mother’s Day: a couple of years ago it had completely slipped my mind and the result was not pretty! And I so understand now!

Today we’re taking it easy: some playtime in the park, a walk to the Corner… But yesterday was the real Mother’s Day for me! 

Drumlin Farm visit

We visited Drumlin Farm, a whole group of us, lots of little kids, one bigger kid, and a gang of adventurous, upbeat grown-ups. The air was fresh, the sky sunny, the animals out and about, very vocal and mobile and many with offspring (kids, lambs, piglets, chicks). 

Sheep and Lamb at Drumlin Farm Rooster and chicken at Drumlin

“Sheeps,” Amie pointed out.

The fields looked deserted (weekend), but soon they will need all the help they can get to keep up with the growing season, and I still want to be a volunteer. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty!

No, distance, and secrets

Amie is celebrating a new-found sense of self and of freedom.

As part of her new attitude, she experiments with “NO”. She loves being contrary, but in a playful, not annoying mood. When you ask her to come to you, she’ll yell “Noh?” and run away. In  record time she puts quite a distance between herself and you, then she looks back, and if you are following her, she continues her escape. This would have been unheard of even a month ago, when we had to be within arm’s reach at all times.

Several times she has even pushed me away, saying “Mama don’t play”. And then there is “Mama go away.” She’s just testing out the idea of it, though, because if I oblige and leave the room, she will cry and run to me.

She also started whispering. When you look at her, trying to understand what she is whispering, she smiles and goes on muttering, relishing the fact that she is keeping the words to herself. There is real secretiveness there!

Luckily for us they are offset by more intense episodes of hugging and hanging-around-the-legs, and this amazing new verbal affection: “Amie loves Mama”, “Mama is nice”, “Baba needs a hug from Amie”. She also likes to observe: “Yes, you are right,” which is nice, but then again, “you” often still means “I”. So I’m not qutie sure what to make of that.

We are very comfortable and encouraging with these experiments of independence. They are a necessary stage in her emotional and cognitive development, and she needs to forge an identity that is separate from ours. I am happy though that she is doing it in a funny and charming way, without being too disruptive, without taking too much distance at once. So far.


But no pain no gain. She also started grappling with a new nervousness, that I am sure is connected to her growing sense of one-ness and thus alone-ness. 

Until a month ago, Amie had been afraid only twice: of a particular glow-wormy doll, and of balloons when you make them squeek. Darkness, animals, noise, heights, the grotesque witch puppet who stands taller than her… none of these elicited anthing but interest or disinterest.

Now, however, when we’re inside the house and an airplane flies over rather noisily, or a car honks in the street or speeds past, or heaven forbids she hears a siren, she runs to me and asks to be picked up. Often she tells me: “Not be scared of the airplane” and hugs me closer.

She is most sensitive to sounds and especially machine-noises. The word “machine” is pronounced with awe. When she asks to go “see the machine,” I think she wants to know where it is, so she can keep an eye on it. Often, to console herself, she will say: “Machine can’t see Amie”. It’s quite heartbreaking.

More sociable

So this new fear only seems to extend to things, especially noisy machines. Her attitude towards people (other than her Baba and me) has undergone an opposite change.

She has had her share of stranger anxiety, and a long and terrible bout of it for months, up until very recently. Today she will shake the hand of a barely-remembered acquaintance without hesitation, say a very cordial “hi!” to a total stranger on the street, and after 5 minutes exchange imaginary flowers with them. After some hours of friendliness, the majority of our visitors is allowed to pick her up, and she’ll give them a hug (when asked).

She has also finally found happiness at daycare, this after several months of grief and back-to-square-one (mal)adjustment. She plays now, and laughs, and says hi to everyone. She lets me go without a whimper at drop-off and delays pick-up. Most relieving is the fact that she is no longer inordinately attached to the assistant, whom she adopted as my surrogate and monopolized for many months.

A Child’s Development

It is fascinating and bewildering to watch them grow and change. Keeping track and making sense of their emotional development is more tricky than tracking their progress with language, art, play, but they are all, of course, intricately related. And new layers are added everyday as they tackle new and old emotions and as, lcognitively, they become more “rational”.

I always say: I am part-mom and part-time observer.