Sunday, September 28, 2008

Farmhouse Foolishness

I find it funny how people love the quaintness of farmhouses. Today, I drove past a local house that has been fixed up in the 14 years I have been on the roads around here. It certainly had been a run-down place at times. It had even been a farm. Surrounded by nice, rich, river-bottom soils, and a flat valley, it is definitely quite picturesque.

But now the electro-mesh and fiberglass poles surround a play area filled with plastic Little Tykes climbers and toys. And the house has been painted in fancy colors. It's true, it finally looks well kept. But while the building is attractive, and the name adorable... even including the word "farm" in the title, the fields are fallow and bare.

True, earth should rest. Any amateur agriculturalist worth half their weight in salt knows that.

But a farmhouse should be on a farm.

As "flatlanders" (myself included) invade this agrarian landscape, farm after farm turns to yuppy playhouse, and some turn to developments to feed the need for housing in a rapidly growing region. Many here are retirees as well. People not interested in getting their knees dirty, smelling like deisel fuel, or chasing critters around a pen.

That is not to say there aren't a lot of people who are willing to farm. Vermont is full of them. The Harwick area where we used to live is bursting with renewed agricultural systems from farms, to dairy processing, to soy, to restaurants feeding local foods. There is even a composting company. The systems there have increasingly become more local, more sustainable, and more agrarian.

When we moved here, we knew there would be a lot more people. We knew we would benefit in many ways from the conveniences set up to serve so many people. But in the midst of so many people sometimes one sees why Vermont culture is disappearing in the same way small, localized cultures have disappeared all over the United States. Beyond becoming a "Walmart Nation", we are becoming a nation that longs for an idyllic nature that never existed.

The idyllic, post-card nature of that farm this morning is a case-in-point. It idealizes the work of the farm. We use the term "farm" without seeing the hard work, the deep monetary commitment, the difficulty of balancing between sustainable and affordable.

But farmland is working land. As a t-shirt at the Plainfield farmer's market proclaims: FOOD NOT LAWNS. What if that were true? What if rather than chasing the perfect sod, we tilled it in? Let it grow to house the critters who need to live there, and upon whom we invisably rely? What if we treated our soil like our very blood, rather than the dirt between our toes?

Such foolishness it seems, farmhouses without farms.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Notes to self...

* Do not allow Colin to have coffee at desert time

* Children find cheap, gaudy dollar store underwear funny and will put it on their heads. Colin will laugh.

* Maybe the leaves are all red here because of limited variety or temperature or soil or light exposure. Orange exists in Barre and Williamstown. And its pretty.

* Don't rush a hen. Standing there watching her lay tends to make her nervous.

* Obama and Palin shouldn't be topics of conversation with evangelical friends, no matter how much you have in commmon.

* Don't scare the grandmas with blogs about choking babies.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Evening walk

No one picked up the mail today. As of 7 pm the mailbox was still and quiet at the bottom of the hill, and no one knew if there even was any mail. Nadia had choked on olives at dinner. She greedily stuffed seven or more of them into her mouth at once, and promptly turned blue. I waited a moment to see if a little gagging was going to bring them up, but when one popped out of her mouth like a round black cork, and she still wasn't breathing, I jumped. Colin jumped. I got there first, and, yanking her from her chair, flipped her upside down and whacked. I must've been a sight because Aidan and Sage giggled and sucked air at the same time... half horror, half glee at how funny I looked and how loud the whacks were. They teach you in CPR about using the heel of your hand, and how it will sound, and that you'll just know to use it. But when it is your own child... instinct doesn't seem nearly adequate enough.

But the olives came up. Complete with mostly digested cheddar and a little bit of burrito. Maybe even a taste of kale. It smelled sour and sweet, like babies who drink formula. And there were chunks of olive all over the floor. She looked pale, and her eyes watered, and her forehead had splotches of red from the exertion and upsidedown-ness. I held her close to me, sat on the toy box a bit away from the table, and nursed her in the early evening light.

So now, with dinner done, and clearing and dishes taking place, I needed air. Space. Time. When life goes whizzing by at twice the speed of light, sometimes there is benefit to taking a deep breath without anyone next to you to hear. So I said I was going to get the mail. Sage jumped up and said, “ME too!” and normally I would think about how hard it is to give them all enough attention and if Sagey wanted to be with me right now, that would be OK.

But not tonight.

I just needed to walk. Alone.

The air had begun to feel thick the way it does around here in the evening. I walked slowly, but not in wander, past the new swingset. This suddenly there play area was surrounded by the water bin and buckets, toddler chairs and the little red wagon. It looked idyllic, yet the clich├ęd toys felt right in the pink light of dusk. Passing the barn, I could hear the hens cooing to themselves in the coop, and one clucked and fluttered. I imagined it shoving and pushing like an angry mom having to be first in line at the toy store at Christmas.

Beyond the barn, the woods close in around the driveway. The scent is complicated here, with the deep decay of leaf litter, the homey scent of pine and fir, and the sweet smell of crisp sugar and red maple leaves. As the road dips deeply and winds to my left, I was suddenly taken aback by the autumn colors. The view is open here, and in the distance hills roll away to the south and east, covered in the dusky red that seems to be the signature of this fall. Orange and yellow are missing so far, and we may have to wait for the last gasp of autumn for the blaze of the tamaracks to give us a taste of different color.

Between the hills, where the ancient onion river winds, the fog has blanketed the landscape. Like a scarf draped on delicate shoulders it smooths the depths and accentuates the tree covered mounds. For a moment there is no traffic on either of the busy roads that meet in the village. I am caught in the moment after the sigh but before the breath as the world falls asleep.

This is what I came for.

I walk home, calmer now, as the sky deepens to dark blue around me. Suddenly the everyday-ness of chores and work feel good again, and I pick up some paper someone dropped by the side of the road. A few rocks called to me from where the water forms a rivulet in a storm. I thought they seemed the right size and shape for paperweights or some such silly chachka for the holidays. Maybe I could even sell them at the craft fairs. Ideas for painting present themselves in the mowed pasture that Mark finished just today, and the shadows of the pines settle over me. I dump the water bin that Nadia and I played in for hours today, and organize the toys underneath the climber.

Then the warm light of the dining room draws me in, calling to me to be present for my family. Their chores are making them laugh, and everyone sounds busy and content. I walk toward them, looking forward to the game of UNO we'll play, and the pride of checking their homework. And Nadia will play and laugh and take all the wrapping off every single roll of toilet paper in storage.

And it will be like I never saw my littlest one balancing on the edge of life at the dinner table.

Welcome to the Glog

First things first. Happy Birthday, Mommy! (I get to wish I could've given my mommy a birthday hug, right?) And sorry I haven't mailed the birthday card. To summarize something my former advisor Kati recently said to me, things get shaky when it comes to licking the envelope glue and sticking on the stamp. But I can hit the send button! So this "Glog" is dedicated to you! May you have many more to wonder where my birthday card is! And many more to have me call you on the cell phone in the parking lot.

Second, WELCOME to the first edition of the official GLOG! (Grandparent's Log... Thanks, Chris!)

It is only 8:59 in the morning and the sun is pushing through the fog, creating inrows of sunbeams from directions we rarely see in this foggy river valley. At the trailer we rarely saw the fog wind its whispy little fingers across route 14, and when it did, it settled down in the creekbed that meandered across the cow pasture. It is funny to me that each morning here is so new and different, and makes the image of life outside our old windows so very vivid. In the newness of here I feel the foundation of yesterday.

We have yet to have had a killing frost "down" here (all things are relative, and we are Southerners compared to those in Craftsbury) and it seems downright tropical. No frost by the first full day of Autumn? And the second?? WOW.

The apples have begun to drop from the trees and Colin and I spent Sunday morning picking and sorting apples. We've made apple butter, apple sauce, apple crisp, and dehydrated apples. And we left some for the turkeys. When we still had roosters (they're in the freezer now) they would wander under the trees, grab apples and head for our deck. We're hoping our new hens are far more skiddish than that! They seem to be. We have 2 Amerecaunas, 3 Buff Orpingtons, and 4 weird looking buggers with feathered legs. Plus one Welsummer and one beetled black hen. We kept Naked Chicken, who almost has tail feather now that he is 6 months old, and the 2 Aracauna roosters. And everyday, we have two green eggs! I have learned, however, that a straight run really doesn't save you money. So next spring I hope to order 25 Aracauna/Amerecauna hens. I want those funny colored eggs! (Organic eggs are selling at farmer's markets for over $4/dozen!)

We decided against the goat for the time being. Colin was really afraid the cost of feed wouldn't balance out the amount of milk we'd get. I am hoping to rent or borrow some of Sue's goats instead. She has one that will be freshened for the first time this fall, and another that has milked quite a bit, who we might be able to borrow in the Spring. I am hoping to do this. Maybe it helps them and us. And I am looking forward to making cream cheese and traditional lemon juice soft white cheese. Maybe if I get good enough at it, I can experiment with some hard cheeses. Colin and I have some friend (Princess and Marissa) who have their own cheese company now. Next time ya'll are up, we'll get some. They are called Ploughgate Creamery and they have the best blue cheese called Blue Aster. Nummy yummy. They age their cheese up at Jasper Hill... I'd imagine you could google Jasper Hill Greensboro VT and find out about it. It is the only cheese aging cave of its kind. It's HUGE. And we know lots of people who are working there.

I went to the school's open house last night. I have to say, that despite my frustrations with Craftsbury, I miss the "small town" aspect. Open House used to mean the whole town came out, and the kids were all playing on the playground in the dark, and we got to see their stuff. They dragged us in, pulling out arms out of the socket, to proudly show us their work and rooms. Here, the kids weren't allowed. We had to go to the auditorium and sit and listen to the principal. (Look Mommy... the prince is my PAL.. I can spell it!!) Then the bell rang (for real) and we had to go to the "first class". I listened to the 4 grade 2/3 teachers talk. AS boring as it was, I have to say, it does sound like they will be doing some cool stuff this year. In November they will be doing a huge 6 week project on Native Americans (never mind the fact that most nations ask you not "DO Indians" for Thanksgiving... someday we'll all get there). the unit will end with a potlach supper (a traditional party of the NW American tribes on the coast... the Tlingit, et al).The kids will work in small groups with kids from all 3 classes, and not necessarily with their teacher, doing a piece of the project that could be a writing piece, an art piece, music, storytelling, etc. I am hoping to volunteer, because my Northern Studies degree at least preps me for this stuff! In the Spring the kids will study slavery and African American history (thank god!!), countries around the world (a two or three week whole school intensive), and some science units. They will go to the Montshire Museum in June, and to see the play Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters in April at the Flynn theater in Burlington.

Aidan's teacher spent most of the time explaining their folders, which I have already been through with him time and again. And the rest of the parents in that group were from 6th grade, so they were all talking about the new 6th grade math program. Apparently, the teacher and parents are distressed about the new way the district (woah... they make district wide decisions here) is doing math for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. (Which means Aidan will get it here next year, then when he goes to middle school up at the huge high school U-32). They are grouping the kids all together in one class regardless of skill level to teach concepts, and then individual work is given depending on the child's skill level. Mrs. Barrett seems concerned that children who need to be challenged will find it boring and children who need extra help might not get enough support. I think if the kids work together, kids with more skills could teach kids with less skills, cementing the concepts in both their minds. But what do I know? I'm just a preschool teacher with a degree in an ecological region that will cease to exist in the next 50 years. Hmmmm. Whoops.

I did see a mom from Sage's class... but she was in the 2nd 2/3 session and I was in the first. Her name is Julie, and they just moved here from outside London. Her husband hasn't moved yet, and she is living with her in-laws. She has a daughter a few weeks older than Sage (Another July birthday! YEay!), and a little boy who is 4 and in the preschool. I like her, and it is nice to have someone else who is new in town to talk to. Last night I told her I felt like a lost sheep. She agreed!

Nadia is doing well with the potty, although some days are better than others. If anyone can find and wants to pick up size 2T training undies, please do. I realize that most children train later these days, and that most kids are huge compared to mine. But really, should it be that hard to find undies for a little girl?? I did get some vinyl pants to go over them. And we bought regular undies in size 2T, but I am having to wash them in boiling water to shrink them. The early childhood professional in me has this to say: we should create an economy that values parenting and children's developmental processes, and encourages a parent to be home. Oh I know all the reasons not to... many parents feel isolated and alone, schools can do a better job of prepping kids for kindergarten, blah blah blah. But if little kids were back in cloth diapers and at home where someone is paying attention to whether or not they need to go potty, I think we'd find the toilet training age dip again. I read recently that the age for potty training has gone from 2 to nearly 4 in the past few decades (I am summing up.... don't quote me). That is sad. Sure, night time can take forever. But day time shouldn't be that big a deal.

Well, enough ranting, although I guess that is what a blog is for.

Nadia and I have been taking breaks throughout this to read, go potty, and dance to the music on the radio. Right now she is putting her little babies (one pale, one brown) in the doll swing. She pushes them, and then screeches "WHEEEeeeeEEEeee!" Yesterday she got a cup and spoon out of the tea set and fed them while they were swinging. This week's object of choice, however, hasn't been babies. She has been really, really, really into cars. "VROOM VROOOM!" she yells when she sees or hears any kind of vehicle. We got out the cars and trucks puzzle, Sage's metal cars, Nadia's wooden cars, some of the wooden trains and cars, and a PJ that used to be Aidan's (and hangs to Nani's knees). We have to say "Vroooooooooooooom," for each one. She is doing incredibly well on the puzzle for how little she is.

Outside, life has been much more exciting for the kids since the arrival of the swing set. The big ones didn't even come inside after school, just ran straight to swing. Then Sage decided Nadia should come out too, and ran in to get her. They have 2 kid swings, a baby swing, rings, and a slide. It took them about 2 minutes after the slide was up to start doing what Luke and I used to do: someone sits perched precariously on the edge of the top the slide; the other kid picks up the bottom of the slide as high as s/he can. Then they drop it quickly, and the child on the slide goes screamingly fast down the slide. Now, this is how I squashed Luke's finger so hard his fingernail eventually fell off. (The coolest thing ever was watching him make our babysitter sick by pulling on his nail, sliding it out of the nail bed little by little. She literally turned green). However, that was when slides were metal and had an accordion-shaped ridge at the top. On the plastic slide, there is no where to get the thumb stuck. Also, despite their best efforts, it doesn't really make you go all that fast on a plastic slide. I don't know if I am relieved or sad for them. Funny how one glance out the window at your children can make you feel 6 years old inside. Nadia loves the swings, and begs to be on it almost all day. And boy, are we reminded she's a toddler when we take her out of the swing. Remember how Sage had no fear? Well Nadia seems to be my thrill-seeker... she giggles and grins and reaches around behind herself to pat her back and says, "again!" asking for you to push her higher and faster. I am hoping to find the post-hole digger today, so we can put up the basketball hoop. Sage said last night, "I will never come home and watch tv again in the afternoon, unless the swings and basketball hoop are gone!" And Aidan keeps saying, "Now we don't have to go to the park!" I guess my next "Gongloff Doolittle Park" object will be some sort of goal to kick the soccer ball in. And this winter, I hope to make a little ice rink near the orchard. There's a hose there, and we certainly have enough mulch hay bales.

Well, I have wasted enough of your time, and mine. Oh who am I kidding? I will probably make this look pretty before I post it. I promise in future to KISS (Keep it simple stupid). And to add pictures. But right now Nadi and I are gonna go dance to cheesy 80s tunes, and hang out the laundry.

We love you all and miss you!