Friday, November 27, 2009

the holidays cometh

basket of locally made beeswax candles ready for long winter nights

Miryam was born on the 19th of December 5 years ago. We joked that she was trying to hold out until the solstice but I went on such a beautiful winter walk that day and the moon was in the phase Andy had guessed she would be born in, and we were just so ready for her, that she decided that a couple of days before her plan was just fine. That is sort of her personality too. She makes plans, sometimes very big plans, but she also understands their impermanence.

December 19th is a tricky time to be born if you come from a family that celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah and Solstice. Scheduling issues abound but, even more difficult, it all just blends into one celebration. Which is nice in some ways but often it just feels like a busy two weeks of getting presents and eating food. Not so bad in print but in practice it can lack in relaxation, gratitude and meaning. So this year we have tried to distill what we get (or want to get) out of each holiday and how we plan to celebrate them as a family. Andy and my families of origin are Jewish and Catholic, respectively. We still feel, at least culturally, connected to those traditions in some way and so want to include them in our winter celebrations.

For Christmas we go to my family's house for gift giving, the big tree and a feast. Santa comes to Grandmas house only - this was something we really waffled about when Miryam was smaller but really it came down to the fact that Santa visited Miryam's 4 other cousins and so we weren't sure how to handle him in our family. The man-in-red visiting Grandma's house is our compromise. We honestly try to talk about him as little as possible. We give gifts to my family on this day but the children don't get any from us or vice versa.

During the nights of Hanukkah we light our menorah (note to self: remember to order beeswax candles because every year you forget and no one locally carries them) that was made for us by our dear friends. We talk about the story of Hanukkah and what it represents in our lives. We also give the children a gift each night and eat Latkes at least once during the 8 nights. We always make a big batch using Andy's Bubbie's recipe and we also attempt figure out when our friends are making them and try to get an invite!

Solstice has always been the holiday that feels the most authentic to our lives for Andy and I. Before we had Miryam we had yearly Solstice parties with mulled wine, a big potluck and lots of friends. One year we even made it through the night until we could climb up a local hill that has a panoramic view of our whole Valley. Once Miryam was born that party was supplanted by her birthday celebrations and so Solstice sort of blending into the General Winter Festivities. This year we decided to bring back some of the traditions that were important to Andy and my Solstices together and adapt them into traditions that fit into our lives as they are now. We've decided that I'll knit stockings for each of the children so we can hang them on our mantle filled with small presents both some just fun and others practical (growing up mine always included a new toothbrush). They'll also get a new pair of pajamas to slip into when the sun starts to go down. We'll do the whole of the evening without using electricity (except passively in our refrigerator and well-pump, you know). We'll have some sort of a meal in front of the fireplace, light candles around the house and play with the new toys from the stockings, sing some songs, play some games, read some books. We'll put mattresses down on the floor so we can have a big family bed in front of the fire and snuggle through the longest night.

Now that there is a plan and a vision the season to come seems more exciting than it has in a while. I'm going to hold on to that feeling of glee as long as I can.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Truly, it is the liminal seasons that I like best. Summer is what I wait for, of course, but I the image in my mind might be better than the reality. We have the fleeting moment of late spring, early summer which is just perfect. 70 degrees, sunny, dry and everything is bursting as if reaching out towards July. All the good weather is ahead of us, all the bountiful local food is a few weeks away. Picnics are packed, bicycles are found in the backs of garages and us crazy New Englanders feel as though (if we are standing in the sun, at least) that it might just be warm enough to swim. This is the time of optimism. We pay no mind to the humidity and mosquitos no come. Those are a surprise each year.

Autumn is season of neither-nor, of a time-between, but it comes with none of the innocent optimism of spring. We know, deep in our bones, the cold and snow to come. The first morning we put bare toes down onto cold floorboards we see the months of winter stretching before us and shiver. This creates trouble when attempting to enjoy Autumn, to look forward to it even. There is that day, that bittersweet day when the trees are adorned with color, the sun is bright and still strong but there is the smell of wood stoves in the air. That day is so perfect but there is that feeling of waiting, of knowing what's to come. A bit of worry about how to get through until spring again.

This year, I am determined to look the Snow Queen in the eye and welcome her with a mug of cocoa and a lap blanket. I have new wool socks and I am ready to welcome the sweetness of winter.

Monday, November 9, 2009

halloween bag

The children chose (not that Éamonn had very much imput) to be Thing 1 and Thing 2 this year. I have to say, truth be told, that I have no love for the Cat in the Hat but I'm not wearing the costume so, hey. I am required to sew the costume though and, as usual, I was hand stitching the last bits in the car on the way to my brother's house. We live out there just enough that you might not fill your bag on halloween without trudging a couple of miles. That might be hyperbole, which I am prone to, but I think not. I didn't get any photos but I'll see if Grandma's camera caught any good shots.

I made sure to get a photo of the halloween bag before it went into the basement until next year. I made 4 of these and Miryam gave the others to two of her friends. I had another fabric to make 4 more for other friends but the sewing machine jammed and so the fabric is ready waiting for me to stitch it up next year. Luckily the machine is going into the shop this week - I think it just needs a good cleaning but let's all think some good sewing-machine-repair thoughts, eh? I have my mom's old kenmore which is a workhorse but I really need to make a cover to keep the dust out.

Must respect the Sewing Machine.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


please pardon the poor iphone photo.

On our most recent trip to Maryland we left, as usual, at night so the children would snooze on the way home. Unfortunately Éamonn hit a big wall emotionally at around 11 pm and we decided, with 4 hours of driving ahead of us, that it would be more humane for all of us to get a last minute hotel room and go to sleep in a proper bed. The littles were both so exhausted that they were sleeping within moments of crawling into the bed.

They don't, generally, sleep in the same bed because they might never sleep, so I've never had the opportunity to see them snuggle so much. I love the chubby hand at rest, the sweaty brows, the pouty lips, the rosy cheeks. Miryam has always wished that she and Éamonn were twins, and snuggled in that bed they look as though they might have willingly shared a womb.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

in the orchard

Though I am always seek to creating more rhythm in our family, when I look to the food and farm based activities that we do each year I am pleased to see that we have a clear sense of the agricultural rhythm in our area. We can remember when things happen, or have happened, based what was growing, what we were eating. Miryam knows when her friend will turn a year older because she was born "when the strawberries are ripe". Papa goes back to teaching when the apples are on the trees. The corn doesn't come until we have been swimming for a while. We are not purist about eating only what is in season but there are certain foods - tomatoes, corn on the cob, berries and the like - that we truly only eat when we can get them at the farmer's market or a farm stand. Once you really know tomatoes unless they are in season you can bear to eat them fresh. Corn has to be eaten the very day it was picked. I've heard that some people take a campstove with a cooking pot of water, heat it to a boil and then pick, shuck and cook the corn within moments of harvest. I can relate. Corn that fresh is good raw and really only needs to be steamed for about 2 minutes to make it hot enough for butter to melt on it.

This year, due to unexpected travel and too much rain, we missed strawberry picking. This also means that we missed strawberry jam-making which feels a bit traumatic. Lots of people have complained about what an off summer we had. Very cool and wet and then straight to a short burst of hot and humid - everything was damp. It does feel a bit like summer was snuck by us when we weren't looking, and missing strawberry picking feels a bit like we lost the month of June. Oops! It's a bit disconcerting and now it is a whole year until we can give it another try. I guess we better figure out marmalade.

That is all a long way of saying that because we missed strawberries we needed to make up our seasonal balance by picking an obscene amount of apples. We were tipped of by a friend that our state college has a test orchard a few towns away that has over 100 varieties of apples. The views were stunning and the area we were sent to pick in was filled with a mix of varieties, all but a handful were new to us and some of them, we were told, were so new that they didn't even have names yet just I.D. numbers. We were encouraged to takes bite of whatever we wanted to see how they were. It was really enlightening eating so many apples in such quick succession. Though I was aware that there was a vast variety of flavors and textures across the apple world but I was actually amazes at how stark the differences could be. We were completely paperless that day but next year I'd like to write down some of our favorites. We got a bunch of all of them and mixed them together in a sauce to eat over the winter. I have never succeeded in canning enough apple sauce to get through the year but seeing the rows of jars, I might just make it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

what a crock of pickles

sorry, but I relish the pun. oh dear...

I've wanted to make proper lacto-fermented pickles for a couple of years now but hadn't made the leap until this past week. Partially this is because I am lucky enough to have Real Pickles local and available at my Co-op. Also, though it took me a while to realize this, I was held back by the lack of a proper fermenting crock. Now, I know you can make pickles in a jar or even a food-grade plastic bucket but I have this, some might say endearing, need to have projects look a certain way. Cooking should be done with the right apron, oatmeal should be stirred with the right spoon, picnics should be on the right blanket. It's not a need to buy things - truly the things that are right are often hand-made - it's a need to have the tools that have the right soul to do the job, if that makes any sense. It's as if the children will sleep better if they are under a blanket I knit, the water will taste colder if it is poured from a pitcher I bought from a potter at a local fair, and the pickles will ferment best if in the right crock. I think part of what held me back from trying to make them was the lack of the right vessel. Like it or not, silly or wise, I just could not get excited about a plastic bucket of pickles. The ceramic crocks are expensive and heavy so the shipping is beastly. So I continued to buy pickles.

This last week two wonderful things coincided; my pickling cukes started to flourish in the garden and I was gifted my dream pickling crock. This clay pot belong to a friend who Andy and I used to live with. I always loved it and when she asked if I wanted it because she was trying to clear out the house a bit I was so pleased. I did, however, have a moment of remorse while driving home wondering if I was was taking clutter from someone else's house into my own. Would this just be a "pretty" collecting dust or could I make use of it? I put it on the shelf and then went out to survey the garden.

The pieces clicked mentally into place. It was a crock. A big crock. With a wide mouth and a lid. Hello pickles!

I used the method outlined in Wild Fermentation and they came out so well. I weighed a plate down with a boiled rock (which Miryam loved "um...mama...are you cooking a stone?") to keep the pickles under the surface of the brine and in a week we started eating them. Made my own cukes, with local garlic and dill - they are so tasty and I am so proud. Andy had some friends over to play cards and they ate them along with their beer. I knew that pickle making was simple but I was actually quite amazed at such stellar results from something so dead easy. If you haven't given it a try, get some pickling cucumbers while you can and make some pickles.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

green tomato relish

This is one of those "making lemonade out of lemmons" sort of situations, though specifically we were "making relish out of green tomatoes".

We are a tomato family. At one point in our courtship Andy and I came to the consensus that winter tomatoes were just. not. worth. it. and we never really bought them after that. Canned tomatoes are lovely and in a pinch I can find some cherry tomatoes worth eating in december but, truly, we eat fresh tomatoes locally and in season. The Connecticut River Valley has wonderfully fertile soil and we grow very yummy vegetables (and apparently top of the line tobacco for cigars, but that's another story). Tomatoes, in season, around here are amazing. There are so many heirloom varieties to choose from and one local CSA farm even has a festival in their honor each August with tastings and canning demonstrations.

Really spectacular tomatoes, however, are not cheap. They start out the season at around $5.50 a pound and slowly go down from there. We eat so many that we try to grow a few plants each year to help offset the tomato fund. In the past, other than the year we had a community garden plot, these have been mild successes grown in containers. This year, with plenty of garden space, we planted an ambitious 23 plants. Visions of capri salads, tomato sandwiches and a pantry with row upon row of sauce-filled jars danced in our heads...

Nope. We got tomato blight (think potato blight. think irish famine. same fungus) just like most of the tomato growers around here. It was so sad ripping out all the plants but we were determined to make the most of it so I looked through my files and found this recipe from Farmgirl Fare I had wanted to try. I made it, it was delicious. We thanked the Gods of Abundance that we would have something tomato in the pantry and we canned 10 half pints of it. There was a bit left over which we enjoyed on some burritos. Highly recommended.

It's still a disappointment to look out the kitchen window and see the big whole in the garden landscape. I am proud, however that we were able to make do and make something we might now have made otherwise but really enjoyed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Éamonn had a mild fever this morning and was very clingly so I put him on my back and did house work to keep moving and lull him to sleep. My floors are nicely swept and the laundry is all folded but having a hundred-degree baby sweatily sleeping on your back while you dash around tidying up on a humid August day is hot.

After the nap Miryam joined us for a cool bath and with ice cubes to keep us from completely melting into the woodfloors. It felt like floating in a glass of ice water, thank goodness.

Monday, August 10, 2009


In my mind I have an unofficial list of skills that I consider necessary to being a productive and capable human being. Some of these (canning, sewing on a button, making butter) I can put a big check mark next to but others still elude me. Being able to catch a fish, clean it and cook it is very clearly on the later.

I have, honestly, only been fishing twice. Both were on one of our pre-children cross country trips; once in Yellowstone and once in Oregon. I got the hang of casting but it was Andy that, on the second outing, caught a rainbow trout, cleaned it and cooked it (barely, yum) on the camp stove. That was the freshest fish I have had, clearly, at about 20 minutes post-catch.

Miryam showed some interest in fishing so on a trip back from Maryland Andy brought her a rod and small tackle box that all fits in a carrying bag for her back. She was very proud and very excited to give it a go.

She picked up casting surprisingly quickly and caught a sunfish on her first trip out with papa, but so far nothing for the frying pan. We found a company that sells biodegradable fishing line and other earth-conscious tackle so we can impact the rivers as little as possible while we try to catch our dinner. We've been reading over the Fish section in the River Cottage cookbook and dreaming of meals to come.

Friday, August 7, 2009

five years

Last friday was my five year wedding anniversary. My mom stayed with the children so Andy and I could go out to dinner. It was fun to dress up and be able to linger over our food and talk about our dreams for the future and just chat without interruptions.

In looking back at the wedding pictures I remember, so clearly, what an amazing day it was. It's hard to write about such a memorable day without sounding cliché. It's hard to write about the love of your life without sounding trite. The wedding was outdoors on the grounds of a local college. We were up on a hill surrounded by trees and mountains.

We wanted the wedding to be an expression of our love, but more importantly, a statement to our community of our commitment to each other. I had often wondered if anything would feel different once we made it official. Would I look at Andy differently once he was my husband as well as my partner? Truly, I knew that the wedding was not so much for us to solidify our commitment to each other, but to proclaim it to our loved ones and to ask them for their blessings.

newly married

We were married on a hill beneath a linen chuppah supported by birch poles to symbolize fertility. The chuppah represents the home and marriage and so we had friends hold it above us to show how the community supports our new family. The marriage was officiated by a dear friend, the wine was blessed by another. Poetry was read and our siblings held the broom for us to hop over. We said our vows and then asked for our community, our friends and family, if we could have their blessings. To hear a hundred and fifty people loudly responding with love that they supported our marriage and wished us well was amazing.

Jim, our friend and Justice of the Peace for a day

After the ceremony we walked down the hill and around the corner to have our Yichud. This was traditionally the time to consumate the marriage but modernly it is a time for seclusion before the reception. Our friend had layed out a blanket with pillow and peacock feathers and wine and fruit. We had a few moments to be together and smile and giggle that we are now married!

the bouquets were blue and purple hydrangeas, the tables had wildflowers

The reception was so much fun - great local music, delicious food and for the toast our friends made us a blueberry mead. My dear friend, Laura, make us the most amazing apricot cheesecake decorated with local, organic, flowers.

some folks were worried about putting a very pregnant woman up on the chairs but they were very careful not to drop me

I could not have asked for a more amazing day. And I could not have asked for a more loving and wonderful husband. I am blessed everyday that we are together. My children are so blessed to have them as their father. I could not want for more.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

just a few cherries, thank you

Ah it is cherry time around here. I have to say, however, this colander represents the sum total of all the cherries I am purchasing this year. After last year's cherry-box-panic, where in which I spent two days pitting cherries by hand with a paring knife, this season I decided I would by one pint and eat them fresh that day and that would be that. Maybe I'll get a cherry pitter before next season and my courage will return. If so I should get one early - my friend Hannah asked the only store in driving distance that still had one in stock to hold it for her and they had to turn away 3 or 4 other potential buyers in the hour it took her to pop over. Wow. Apparently the money is in cherry pitters this season - who knew?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

fire pit

While we were digging in the garden bed we kept hitting stones. Big stones. Stones that broke a shovel and two forks in the process of putting in our kitchen garden. It seemed only fitting to find some pleasure in them so Andy took to the task of making a fire pit for us.

So far it's just been used twice for after-supper s'mores but I'm looking forward to trying out some kebabs and stick-bread as well.

In the back of this picture you can see a big pile of stones - that isn't even half of what we dug out. We have to repair our stone wall and I'm hoping to us as many of these as we can. After this, I really understand why New England farms are bordered by stones walls. The joke always that rock is what New England grows best and I'll tell you we had a bumper year!

Friday, July 17, 2009

the cape

Someone very dear to us has recently been diagnosed with cancer. We spent a week, as a family, in Maryland staying with them during surgery, and spent a week at home without papa while he helped them transition home from the hospital. We are very optimistic but it has caused a lot of upset in our routine and rhythm. The next round of treatment should be starting soon so while we had the time we escaped to Cape Cod for a week by the ocean to soothe our souls and take a step outside of the trials of life.

We rented a cottage with my mom, uncle and niece in Truro, our favorite outer-cape town. The beach there is like none other. The dunes are dramatic and protected so there is only an occasional weathered-shingle house up on the hill - the rest is sand and grasses and the sea.

We came home rested and rejuvenated, and happy to sleep in our own beds again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

rhubarb yogurt

rhubarb yogurt, originally uploaded by birchmama.

The drink of early last summer was rhubarb soda with vodka (I added a lot less water and sugar than this recipe though). This summer we decided to try rhubarb bellini. I quite liked them though Andy couldn't get by the texture. I would have taken a photo of it but they looked, to be honest, like glasses of gravy! The batch of rhubarb wasn't very pink so the puree wasn't very colorful - more like apple sauce. Instead, here is my breakfast the day after - left over puree spooned over yogurt. I think this may be my favorite yogurt flavor now. Rhubarb freezes so well that I can make this when it is out of season. I already have a gallon of it chopped and frozen now but I think I'll do some more while I still can.

I'm trying to eat rhubarb and asparagus as often as possible because it is such a fleeting season. Already some of the asparagus fields have gone to seed, but I can feel the abundance of summer coming over the horizon. Soon the farmers' markets and roadside stands will be full and we'll have more choices than we know what to do with. Such bliss.

Monday, June 1, 2009

collected this morning

collected, originally uploaded by birchmama.

We had a lovely sunny day today and so the children and I spent the morning out in the yard. Inspired by this lovely blog we decided to pick what plants we could find in the grass. Truth be told, we don't have much grass in the back of the house - most of it is chickweed and plantain - which I really don't mind. The front yard is all torn up and, because we won't really use it and so I don't want to waste water and mowing energy on a big empty lawn, we are looking into planting it with wild flowers in the style of a Lammas Field that is mowed down in August as fodder for the animals. Mowing once or twice a year is much more my style.

We found, from left to right, chickweed, buttercups, purple fleabane, bluets, bugleweed, white clover. The is also some yarrow in the front yard but it needs a bit longer before the flowers open. I'm having fun sharing some common plant knowledge with Miryam that I learned while apprenticing with an herbalist before she was born. While we were collecting I was reminded of a book that I'll have to dig out and revisit with her called The Herbalist of Yarrow. Scattered throughout the book are sidebars with recipes for the herbal preparations used in the story. We've just finished two readings of the Lauren Child illustrated Pippi so we're starting to move into books with less and less pictures which opens up our bedtime reading choices, thankfully. It will be nice to start having my little one help wildcraft and mix up remedies. This is knowledge that I have worked, and am working, so hard to learn that she will grow up knowing from childhood. Such a gift.

And such a lovely day.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

asparagus soup

The past two days have been rainy and cold. Wet, damp, cold that feels even chillier coming after some 90 degree days last week. We've been eating asparagus almost everyday since it arrived at the roadside stands and this weather seemed the perfect time to try asparagus soup. The recipe is from my current favorite Jamie at Home. I've always liked his books but I like him especially now that he is a papa and grows his own food. The book is laid out seasonally and includes a recipe for Rhubarb Bellini which I have on the menu for the next sunny weekend.

Éamonn went down for a nice long afternoon nap so Miryam and I had some time to work together in the kitchen. I did the onion chopping and she handled the asparagus - weighing out the bunch, snapping off the ends and cutting off the tips to be added later after the soup is blended. They cook perfectly in the soup and are these little surprising nibbles of yummy. I highly recommend the soup. If we get a sunny day we can try it the alternate way - cold with lemon juice - which sounds like a perfect lunch.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


the kitchen garden we have been working on during any spare moments

Parenting creates interesting paradoxes. Being a mama or papa makes you aware of your values, the vision you have for the family you want your child to grow in, who you want to be as a person, how you want to act and model to your children, and the way you want to spend your valuable time. It also takes a lot of work with few breaks which makes it difficult to get the healthy dinner on the table, keep your patience, stop washing the dishes to sing songs, and act with intention.

That last thought has come up for me a lot since Miryam was born - acting with intention. Often when I am feeling down I will scribble on some scrap paper Kerouac style with no punctuation or breaks about my vision. When we were despairing to find a house to buy I would write for a while about what I want in a house, what I would do in it, how it would feel, what things would fill it, who would visit. It helped to purge the disappointment and also to clarify the vision.

Some days I have "low mojo" and just can't get anything going, or I feel like I am just not walking the right path. That I have a vision for the person I would like to be, the life I would like to live, the family culture I would like to create, and that I am falling short. We're close but not quite there. They are hard days especially with the littles underfoot - there's less time to ponder and mother yourself and help regain your footing. The only thing I usually have time for is my scribbles - just to get it out somewhere. I don't journal - I don't save these, it's just a process - when it's done, I'm done.

This past year there have been many of these days. I have more clarity about what I want for my life than I did before becoming a mother and it feels more important to attain my vision now while my children are still young. So I tried to think about what hurdles are standing in the way of the life I envision and the big obstacle that came up again and again was Andy's working. He was lucky enough to have a friend get him started tutoring in the evenings. The pay is wonderful and there is very little prep work needed. Because we needed the extra money to buy the house it was hard to turn the work away but at 70 hours or so a week of work between school and tutoring he was turning clients away. The hours were too much but the per-hour rate for tutoring was so good in comparison to teaching that we kept adding and hour here and an hour there.Link
I've been very inspired by Rhonda's blog Down To Earth. She shares her story without judgement of where her readers are on their path or how they define "simple living" but the most moving thing about her blog, for me, is the very obvious joy and contentment she can created for herself. The sense of giving each activity her attention and commitment, to cultivating the things that are important to her and to being intentional in every choice. When I found it originally I went down the hole and read through the archives and thought and thought about the control I have over my life. That the life that I wanted was a simple life but a simple life takes time - something that was very scarce this past year. That the life I wanted was the one in which I acted with intention. When the family was on a reasonable schedule we ate fantastic home-cooked meals, we read books and played and had friends over for supper. I sewed clothes and mended them. We kept the house clean and relaxed. As soon as things got busy again everything was a reaction. We were hungry so we had to get something to eat - it wasn't already made so we would have burritos downtown. The laundry wasn't done, the dishes were dirty and I was so busy trying to get caught up that I didn't want to play. The children would finally get in bed and Andy and I would crash in front of a DVD and slump until we went to bed. The contrast was so great between our two patterns that it might have been comical if we hadn't been living it. I felt like we were doing all we could do create the life we wanted but something was always getting slighted.

I started thinking about what kind of a change we could make. Something bold and authentic. Something that felt like we were taking back control of our time and embuing it with the value it deserved. I started throwing out the idea of taking some time off from teaching and just tutoring. Good money, less hours, no stress, flexible schedule. Andy thought I was crazy. I kept thinking and trying my best to make the pieces come together. To make the yummy dinner and still have a tidy house, happy children, friend's to visit, time to relax and enough energy at the end of the night to play cards or chat with Andy instead of zoning out. It wasn't happening. I brought my idea up again and Andy thought I was crazy - thats what people do, they go to work and come home at night and we should feel blessed that I get to stay at home with the children. I took a long hard look and my vision. Was it realistic? Was it as likely as me getting a large estate in the English countryside to reside it? No. This was something that, although currently rare, should be completely realistic. Papa's should see their children for more than 2 hours before they go to bed at night. There should be time to rest when the work is done.

During spring break - a week of vacation from school but with the normal amount of tutoring - I kept noting how much smoother things ran when were in less of a rush and had more time to act with intention. We ate well, we played, we worked, we relaxed, we talked. The children were cooperative, we were patient. The rough moments were easier to weather because we were all on the same page.I brought up this contrast after the first week back to school was particularly trying. "Why are we doing this?" I asked. "This life doesn't feel like "us". It feels like we are letting circumstances make our choices for us". And Andy agreed. "Why not" he said. "Why shouldn't we try this?" And so we held our breath, held hands and jumped. Andy went into work the next day and asked for a sabbatical. And they said yes. The commended him for his commitment to his family and asked him to stay on as a department head for 3 days a month. He accepted.

Just knowing that, come July, we'll be able to make our reality that much closer to our vision makes it easier to get through these last busy weeks. I feel so blessed to have a husband who shares my vision and is willing to figure out how to make a good idea work.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Slogging along

some pretty flowers growing on the garden wall

Well last week - which was conspicuously lacking blog posts - was a week to be survived. This last two months of the school year is turning out to be very busy for Andy - 70 hour work weeks are seeming to be the norm through the beginning of June and I am tired. We had some unsettling health news in the extended family and we are waiting for more information that we should get later in the week. Also my camera started making a scary rattling sound and wouldn't show any picture when you looked through the lens. Luckily Andy has a MacGyver streak in him and was able to fix it it, though he says he has no idea how it did it. The relief was amazing - I had such a grumpy feeling that I was going to have to replace the camera ontop of all the other grumpiness going on.

The only thing keeping me on my feet - aside from the sunshine - is the knowledge that this insanity of this schedule we are on has an end point. Knowing that we have a plan to put our lifestyle more inalignment with our values and dreams. The, proverbial, light at the end of the tunnel is the word "sabbatical".

I'll post more about that when I get a few baby-free moment. Éamonn is teething again and so there are lots of snuggles and nursing but not much napping in this house!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

project table

Éamonn only takes one (short) nap each afternoon and as this is my one break until bedtime usually I fall prey to the siren song of either a) reading a book and eating lunch silently while Miryam is playing, or b) cleaning up the mess that was made during the morning (or worse - that was left from the day before). This week I have been trying to spend that time with Miryam so we can have some chatting time but I really need it to be restful and rejuvinating at the same time. To this end we have been having, what Miryam calls, Project Table time. We open up the leaves of the kitchen table so it is big and we each work on our own projects. This allows me to get some quiet and some mama-work done while still spending time with my girl. Paiting has been a no-go when Éamonn is awake so this afternoon she worked on some landscapes while I cut out two more baby boy-sized sailor pants that I am hoping to stitch up this week. You can't see the plate of cookies, milk, and a tall iced cofee in the corner of the table but I will say that they were very helpful elements to getting so much word done on both sides of the table.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

this was the plan

The past few weeks we have been spending every spare non-raining moment to work on the garden for the back yard. We designed a raised bed kitchen garden that is inspired by the french Potager. There are 7 beds made of cedar decking laid out in a symmetrical design. I'll post some pictures of it when the sun starts to shine. We planned the garden and ordered the seeds and then needed to wait until the snow melted and the ground loosed up. We've spent lots of hours digging up the grass that was there and raking out the stones. Boy do we New Englanders know how to grow rocks! We're going to use the stones that we pulled up to make a fire pit in time for the summer solstice.

We had some loam brought in and now are shoveling it in wheel barrows, bringing it around the house and filling up the beds. We got a kid sized wheel barrow and shovel for Miryam and she was quite helpful this weekend though pushing the wheelbarrow still needs a bit of help when it is full - they are tippy! Andy and I were working hard and sweating and the kids were playing in the dirt mountain and getting soil in every crack and crevis. The bath water that evening was like oversteaped tea. Miryam kept her mama and papa gigling all day long:

"boy am I tired - I'm gonna sleep good in this nightime"

"wow! gardening is hard work - but it sure is good for you"

"I keep thinking about the sweet carrots I'll eat when I am done with all this digging digging digging"

Watching Éamonn toddle around and poke things with sticks and Miryam creating her own stories on her mountain Andy and I just kept looking at each other and saying this was the plan. When we planned to move out of town and into the hills on a little piece of land, the plan was a big garden and dirty kids who could be outside on their own doing what kids are designed to do.

I'm watching the plan unfold before my eyes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

my boy is one!

It's amazing to me how quickly this year has gone by - it was so full every moment that there were few moments to stop and notice time's passing. We were so much living each day that to look now and notice all that has happened since my belly was big like the moon is to be awed at all we've experienced. I remember my mom saying that children do grow up so quickly but she has no regrets and worries that she missed it because she really savored every moment and drank in all the memories so she would know that she really lived as much of it as she could. I've tried to do the same but the difference between the first years of my children is surprising to me. With Miryam is went by slowly - a lot of time it was me and her and the puttering speed of our day. I often sat and rocked her and read books while she napped. Each day the sun took it's time from rising to setting. It was lazy and abundant and full of dozy afternoons, kisses, and that sweet milk breath. That first year was lovely and we felt keenly that the earth had gone completely around the sun.

Éamonn's first year has been equally lovely though the days have been so much more full that it seems the sun follows it's track acrosss our sky in moments. The lazy afternoons are a bit fewer and farther between but the joyous chaos that has entered my day is just as sweet. It's been wonderful to see sibling love in it's truest and most unconditional form. The bond that is between these children is an inspiration to me each day. Miryam is a helpful and loving older sister. So compassionate and thoughtful about Éamonn's needs. And her helpfulness allows me to get a shower each day which is a gift in itself.

Last night Éamonn wasn't quite feeling sleepy when he and I crawled into bed last night. He had one of those dangerous dinner-time naps and has the same "second wind" silliness that his sister had at that age when they miss the window for bedtime. So for about a half an hour we played in bed and I laughed untill tears were pouring down my face and my belly hurt. He was trying to bite my nose and making silly faces, we were repeating nonesense sounds to each other and tickling. It was wonderful to have some time together with such mama and baby. It made me think how Miryam was always so silly that she made everyone laugh, but Éamonn is so silly that we all laugh and he laughs along the loudest. As we finally giggled ourselves into a sleepy nursing session I thought about how similar and how different my two littles loves are and how blessed I am to be their mama.

Friday, May 1, 2009

it's always feast or famine here

Completely unrelated photo of a lovely truck parked outside our favorite breakfast place.
I can very clearly see myself in a gingham shirt with braided pigtails driving this
around town with many children
sitting in the back (disregarding the law)
dirty and barefoot eating ice cream. Can't you?

I just can't seem to find the blog-vibe recently. Either it feels like nothing is going on to share or so much is happening that I create mental blog posts in my head but that is as far as they get. We are sitting squarely in the latter category currently. So much has been happening and the weather has been so lovely that the computer is far from my thoughts. I do like the intention that blogging creates in my life - the time to sit and ponder for a moment how to phrase the little bits of my day. So I am making it a goal, rather than a promise, to post everyday in May (though the weekends are off unless I feel inspired to share). We'll see how I do. Up first is trying to get a wiggly 1-year-old to allow me to get some photos of him in the Oliver + s sailboat pants he's been sporting every single day they are clean. We've been putting in our gardens, planting seeds, planning sabbaticals, eating fiddleheads...really there is so much to show when I can create the moment to sit quietly.

To be continued tomorrow...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

last snowy photo of the season

I am very much in spring mode now and so it feels a bit strange to share these photos now because the very last thing that I want to look at again is snow. I was doing some bleary-eyed late night iphoto tidying and realized that I didn't share the greatest thing of winter 2008 - Miryam's kick sled.

I should say here that I do love winter. I love it in the cozy way one loves winter. I make really yummy soup, I like quilts and down comforters, and reading in front of a fire is absolutely wonderful. Before I had Miryam I often would say to myself "I want to be the kind of mama who..." and one of the goals was being able to make hot cocoa from scratch without a recipe. Well I have perfected it. I do winter really well - indoors. I like watching snow fall and have in the past pulled a big chair out on the porch with tea and many blankets to here the silence, but that's as close as I usually get. There's the occasional snowman and sledding mixed in but I am not the most enthusiastic "let's play in the snow" friend.

So this year in an effort to find more things to love about winter that happen out of doors I stumbled upon the idea of kicksleds. They sort of look like mini dog sleds, and apparently you can attach one dog for training (this is very much in Miryam's plans for next year). There are ice blades for use on hard snow or icy roads and ponds and also snap-on snow blades for the more powdery stuff. Miryam loved it, although it was very delayed in getting to us so there were only a few more weeks of the good snow before it found a place in the garden shed till next year. She was fearless going down our little hill off the garden and went back and forth dozens of times kicking and gliding. I was so worried when she had friends over because they would take turns riding on the seat but thankfully no one was run over! I wish we had it when we were living near downtown - it would have been great to use on those snowy days to get to town and back. I can't find a good link to show but in sweden, where these are from, they have plough attachments to clear off skating rinks, cradle-looking attachements for infants, and buckles for older babies. Andy and I are thinking of each getting one so for next year so we can put the kids on the seats and check out some of the cross country skiing trails.

With lots of hot cocoa in a thermos of course.

Friday, April 10, 2009

happy special day

Ignore the dreary lighting and gaze, if you will, on the stickly glaze on this cake. yum.

We needed a cheer-me-up during all these April Showers and turned to an old favorite - Orange Poppyseed Cake from Cottage Living. It is so yummy and if you keep it in something airtight it keeps for a week. Maybe more but we always eat it before then, it's especially nice toasted for breakfast with a cup of tea. We used buttermilk from our most recent batch of butter but I still have so much buttermilk in the freezer I am going to have to find more recipes that include it beyond pancakes!

Miryam wanted to use some candles that were in the drawer so we lit them when Andy arrived home and sang (at Miryam's direction) "Happy Special Day" to the tune of Happy Birthday. That is just what I need when the sun hasn't been seen in days.

Friday, March 13, 2009

camp skills

I was unpacking one of the myriad boxes marked, very specifically, "BOOKS" and found one I had forgotten and knew I had to share. This book belonged to my father as a child and was a favorite of mine when I was young. I used to look at the pages and think about making a "temporary refrigerator" by submerging a bucket in a stream with my jug of milk in it and building a lean-to with sticks and branches.

Check out that " Daddy's Chair" - fantastic. And the washbasin? That's my kind of camping.

I think this book might be what lead me to join the Girl Scouts. I understand that the troops activities vary greatly depending on the leaders' interests but I must say that I was sorely disappointed in the lack of "Scouting" in my troop. I think the most scout-ish activity was the one time we were allowed to have a turn opening and closing a pocket knife. Sheesh!

I sometimes wonder, in that nature-vs-nurture way, about some of these fascinations in childhood. Was I drawn to this book because of who I was, or am I who I am because this book was tucked into our bookshelves. It makes me curious to see who my children become as they mix their own selves with the community with which we have surrounded them. What might this book inspire in them?