Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fetching wood

I left the cabin for the first time since arriving on Sunday. Yup, I made it all the way to the shed to fetch wood. Aaron got home a little early from work today, so it wasn't dark yet. I handed Walker over; threw on boots, hat, gloves, and coat; and pranced outside. The door which leads to the shed has a ramp instead of stairs, we were told it was so the previous owners could wheelbarrow loads of wood right into the house. We also were told, all that wood wasn't enough to get the place warm. I think the most recent owner did some weatherizing, because we don't need wheelbarrows of wood, even though it was windy and down to 9 degrees the other night. And it's a good thing, too, since we don't have a wheelbarrow. I'm hauling wood with a canvas strip affixed with two leather handles.

The snow, powdery and wind blown, looks like sand:

As the light first started fading, it seemed the snow had absorbed it, everything else was receding while the snow glowed bone white. The upper sky was dark blue, with a few large stars, but down below, behind the black branches of the trees, the sky was a pink so delicate it was just shy of white. As the darkness settled in, the snow turned silver, except where the yellow light from our propane lanterns turned it gold. I went back and forth from the shed to the house thinking of my grandfather who died three-and-a-half years ago. Although both my grandparents and my parents heated with wood stoves, it is my grandfather I think of hauling wood. In part this is because I spent more time helping him with wood chores than I did my father. But also, because, micromanager that he was, he was there with me most of the time.

In particular, I remember his hands, in their worn, but stiff, gray work gloves, handling the wood in his fumbley, careful way. The older he got, the fumblier, but never clumsy. We would load his red wheelbarrow and transfer wood from where we had just been sawing it up to the wood pile or from the wood pile to the iron storage hoop on the front porch. And I think of him as I am learning the care and feeding of our stove. The white gravel that surrounded my grandparents stove would crunch when he went down on one knee to tend to the fire. After opening the stove door, he would pause to survey the scene before picking a piece of wood. And then pause again before poking around with the andiron and finally putting the wood in. Despite all this deliberation, he was a ham, not a serious sort.  His humor was whimsical, at times, cornball, and always kind. His wheelbarrow is waiting for me in Vermont. As soon as we can figure out transport, we will bring it here to join his saws, wrenches, and screwdrivers. I'm so glad I have these things, even though they make me miss him even more.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Digging out

As the top half of the Eastern Seaboard digs out from the recent blizzard, I started digging out from our recent move. The boxes have collected in drifts along the walls, on furniture, under the stairs.  Since we are planning to work on the cabin this summer, the goal is to unpack as little as possible. My hope is that after consigning a lot of stuff to deep storage, I'll be able to let go of it once and for all next Fall. It's a pretty thought, anyway. We have so much stuff it's making the cabin feel smaller than it did this summer.

Today was my first day solo in the cabin with the kids and without a car. It went pretty well for all of us. Forest was excited about his new paints and about being reunited with his playdough, so he never even mentioned going outside. Walker got a huge kick out of my fly killing sprees. (Sad to say, we have a fly problem.

) And with all the unpacking, it's just as well we couldn't get to the grocery store. No ingredients means no cooking, which is a real time-saver.

I am new to heating with wood, but it seems we are going through wood awfully fast. It is tough to burn less when the thermometer in the kitchen reads 58 and the one in the bathroom reads 42.  Thank goodness the kids don't seem to be bothered by the cold, and I only notice it when I sit for any length of time, i.e., mealtimes. Of course I'm sitting now when everyone is asleep and I have a moment to write, but, happily, the desk is right by the stove, so I am quite warm. I know from the thermometer next to me that it is 65 degrees over here and with the way I am dressed (two sweaters, leg warmers) that feels downright balmy. I just hope I'm not downright balmy for moving here.

Monday, December 27, 2010


So, after considering all manner of second car options, Aaron and I decided to go with Plan A: buy a used Subaru Outback or Forester.  Both have very high clearance and four-wheel drive.  After finally making a decision, we learned 'tisn't the season to buy a used car. But after reuniting for Christmas--we were apart more than four weeks--we decided not to part again, second car be damned.  After an easy drive yesterday, we arrived before the snow, as the sun was setting.  It was 25 degrees in the cabin.  When we went to bed 2-and-a-half hours later, it was in the 40s.  Changing Forest for bed, I was startled to see his bottom steaming.  He is too young for me to make jokes about him having smoking buns, but that is what it looked like, literally.  Brrr!

If we'd stayed in New York, we would have woken to twice as much snow as we did here.  But if we'd stayed in New York, I wouldn't have enjoyed this sight:
This is Aaron with the David Bradley walk behind tractor plowing our driveway.

Walker's crying.  More soon.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Living in limbo

As feared, our stay here at my parents is turning out to be the extended re-mix 12" version, not the 45. The hold up is needing a second vehicle. If I go to Maine without one, the kids and I will be pretty much stuck at the cabin whenever Aaron goes to work, i.e., for 10 hours a day, five days a week. Yes, we can take walks in the woods. Yes, we have two neighbors we could visit. But that would be it. No food shopping, no library, no errands. As much as I miss Aaron, that scenario that puts me in mind of The Shining. Meanwhile, a car (or truck?) purchase is not something to rush into. There are many variables to examine and ponder--and that bump up against each other. Forest's vote is for a purple car.  Aaron and I are flexible on color.  We just want something that can handle our road and that is reliable, oh yeah, and that we can afford.  Thoughts?  Advice?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reanimator baby

Nap time is a horror show these days. Walker has a cold, broke his first tooth on Tues with a second about to break through, and hasn't pooped since Monday. Despite these trying conditions he remains fairly cheerful. He just can't sleep very well. It takes ages to get him to sleep, and, like every proper monster, he reanimates only when you have fully let your guard down, convinced the battle is won. Then there is the alien afterbirth goo that is constantly flowing from his nose. When I see how much comes out of his nose after some of his sneezes, I am glad they have determined that brain size doesn't correlate with brain capability. Nasal cavities that large, can't allow enough room for a normal sized brain. But really beyond the goo and the reanimation, the monster analogy breaks down. Monsters in movies are never appeased with cooing and a few cuddles. Nor are they irresistibly cute, waving every time they hear the word "bye" with a big grin and a full arm wave so gleeful and enthusiastic the whole torso is in on the act. But, nevertheless, please let this cold be brief.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Shout out for fossil fuels

Happy Thanksgiving! Any holiday that centers around food and giving thanks is tops with me. I am, of course, very thankful for all the usual hackneyed stuff that we all are, and that if I think about for any amount of time gets me watery-eyed. There is that. Thank you.

Then there is the stuff I don't traditionally ponder on Turkey Day, because I'm not usually on the verge of moving off-the-grid. It paradoxical, but logical, that as my carbon footprint is about to shrink, I am ever more grateful for fossil fuels. Despite myself. It is so much more comfortable to decry the profligate use of oil and coal here in the United States. The oil spill this summer and the decapitation of mountains, to name two obvious examples, are so upsetting to me, I avoid relevant news stories. But, man oh man, life is good with all that extra help.

Today, I am grateful for the coal that is burning so I can have electricity to power the baby monitor that allows me to write without freezing at each stray noise, the sound machine that allows my toddler to frolic without waking his younger brother, and the dishwasher that makes cleaning while under the influence of tryptophan ever so much quicker and easier. And I am grateful for the oil that is burning to keep my parents house comfortably warm, that afforded me a hot shower this morning, and, most especially, that was processed into the gasoline that enabled Aaron to come from Maine to be with us and enabled some dear friends to zip over from the next town for a visit earlier today. It almost feels silly to write about these things, they are so mundane and so easy to take for granted. But what a different Thanksgiving this would be without all this and if we had to make dinner in a wood cook stove, heat with wood, eat without electric lights, and clean up afterward in the semi-dark, heating our water along the way. (And just to be clear, I am not giving up all of these things in our cabin. So, thank you also for propane!)

Does anything stand out for you this particular Thanksgiving?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New York really is a helluva town

The morning of my departure from NYC, I had a rare and unexpected chance to listen to my ipod. (Child-free for a few hours!) As per usual, I listened to a podcast of Fresh Air. Terry Gross was interviewing Jay-Z, an artist I've heard of, but barely heard. The show ended with "Empire State of Mind." And that was that. I spent the rest of the day swimming in nostalgia. It had slipped my mind for the past decade or so, what a cultural center I live in. New York City is not chopped liver. For months, I've been mourning leaving my friends. But I thought I'd leave New York itself with no more than a big sigh of relief to have blown that ginormous popcorn stand. Not so. (And, really, I have to ask, what are the odds? Jay-Z on Fresh Air?)

Then, to top it all off, it was a knock-out of a day. The buildings of Manhattan, in vista, can evoke magnificent cliffs: solid, immovable, majestic, static. All the action is buried down at the bottom of the canyons along endless miles of streets and avenues. But given the right weather conditions, The City itself comes alive and is so beautiful any crust of jade you may have grown cracks right off. The sky was crowded with iron-blue bottomed clouds, almost overcast. But there was enough cheerful blue showing here and there to reveal the white fluff tops of the clouds and let the sun in. The clouds were moving fast across the sky, and that wind was hitting us down below, also, freeing Fall leaves from their restless branches.

The heart of the drama, however, was the light. Sun and shadow flowing over us all, as if the gods were saying, "You put on all your little plays, film your little films and tv shows, you want to see lighting? We'll show you lighting." A divine spotlight: Look here, now here, and now check this out. The Williamsburg Savings Bank glowing creamy, yellow-white against a matte background of variegated ominous blue clouds, not a speck of sky blue peeking through to mar the effect. Then the Willie B Savings Bank fades into shadow, blending in with all the other cliffs. And a flock of pigeons, flying their spirals, white patches flashing, gray feathers gleaming, is all there is to look at. Already the spotlight has moved on and a tree glows bright against the flat underbellies of the clouds, the golden yellow a perfect compliment to the stormy blue.

I ended up so mushy about it all, I posted an uncharacteristically emotional status up-date on Facebook, which triggered further weeping. "Good bye, New York. I love you." No jade, just a heartfelt farewell. Then we drove to get Forest at school and got on the BQE an exit earlier than usual, which brought us past the Statue of Liberty and an excellent view of the southern tip of Manhattan. I sat squeezed between two car seats veritably steeping in nostalgia until we hit stop-and-go traffic over Williamsburg. Doing the creep-crawl out of The City, yet again, had me cheering in short order. We're finally blowing this popcorn stand. Hot diggity dog!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Culling the herd.

This summer, after weeks of packing for Maine; clearing drawers, closets, and shelves for the subleters; and rearranging the cabin a few times, Aaron said he felt like a shepherd herding flocks of boxes. (Of course, the average shepherd doesn't have to carry each sheep, one by one, from point A to point B.) Well, now it is time to cull the herd. We must decide what to bring and what to post on Craig's List and Park Slope Parents. As we research the energy usage on different appliances, it starts to feel more like pitching items off a ship than herd management. Bye-bye A/C's, so long TV, I'll miss you toaster oven, but we just can't stay afloat with all of you along for the ride.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

So much for our plan to winter on-the-grid in Brooklyn

It's official, we are moving to Maine at the end of November.

Aaron gave notice because he got a job in Maine. In the balance, this is excellent, but I'm just not ready to leave Brooklyn on such short notice. On the upside, we'll know what really needs to be done on the cabin to make winter more pleasant going forward. And Aaron put a deposit on a David Bradley walk-behind tractor with a plow attachment. Although it is from the 1940's, it does have a new motor. So we just have to seal up under the house with some straw bales, hook up the flue for the stove, and we're good to go. Oh, and pack up our entire Brooklyn life and say goodbye.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How my high ideals were mown down this summer

By the time we arrived in Maine this Spring, our yard was already over-grown, the grass tall enough to hide rhubarb plants. Initially, we deemed mowing a low priority and happily waded through our lawn. We noticed how closely cropped Mid-coast Maine lawns are and joked about our hippy homestead. Yes, it was all fun games until we started realizing the extent of our tick problem and were reminded that tall grasses are to ticks what the Ramble in Central Park once was (still is?) to certain men, a great place to lurk while you wait for a tasty tidbit to walk by. So we bought a push lawn mower and basked complacently in the glow of shared ideals. We were here to escape noise, not make noise. We're homesteaders, not gas guzzlers. Besides, people-powered mowers are so much safer and we have small children to think of.

Luckily, Aaron and I also share a willingness to re-visit the ideals-vs.-certain-realities equation and adjust as needed. The first problem was that the mower wasn't able to cut one type of tall stalk, and since the ticks were not abating, we worried these stalks were acting as safe harbor. The second problem was that to keep up with all of our lawn, which includes a small network of former ATV trails, mowing became Aaron's primary outdoor activity. By the time the last corners were done, the first corners needed to be mown again. And the tick siege continued. We reassessed. It's so quiet around here, what's a little noise every once in a while? We are homesteaders, not landscapers. Besides, Lyme Disease is no joke and we have small children to think of. And just like that, we turned to the Lawn Chief, a ride-on mower that the former owner left for us to fix or dispose of. It was sitting in our shed, an object of much fascination for Forest. Happily, with nothing more than a new battery and some air in its tires, the Lawn Chief was ready to roar (loudly enough to make Forest sob when he finally got to ride on it). And, voila, mowing shrinks to a once a week chore.

And there you have the siren call of the Industrial Revolution: get more done in less time. (The siren call of the Post-Industrial Age seems to be about spending all that saved time: movies, shopping, tv, video games, Facebook.) Although part of our homesteading dream is about greater self-reliance and smaller carbon footprints, how do we resist the lures of the heavy machinery when our to-do list looms long and guzzling a little gas enables us to check new items off rather than check the same item off over and over?

Sleep-gods willing, I'll post soon on other adjustments we confronted this past summer when our ideals bumped up against reality.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The best laid schemes of mice and mothers

I can't comment on the planning skills of mice or other mothers, but this mom's blog plans certainly went awry. For starters, it turns out my dana by AlphaSmart is disappointingly dumb. If the batteries run out (as they do with mysterious speed even if you don't turn on the device), all saved files are lost. So much for the blog posts I had saved on there. Sigh.

Meanwhile, my children are waging a double-pronged attack to see how sleep deprived their mother can get.  Walker, who once upon a time slept through the night or maybe woke up for one ten minute snack, is now up more at night than he was as a newborn, literally. But in the months since those newborn days, Forest has lost his nap, so this time around I have no chance to catch up on my sleep or write, for that matter. I am amazed, all over again, at just how utterly sleep loss correlates with brain power loss. Sad to say, for the time being, I'm an idjit. By default, the blog is on hold. Yes, the children are winning.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's good to be home

Although I spent my last week of packing up feeling very sad about leaving Maine, I sure am happy to be back in Brooklyn, hot as it is. It is great seeing friends and family. I'm enjoying The Grid. 24/7 online access is glorious, even if I only have five minutes here and there to check my email. And I've already been to the Food Coop twice with plans to return again today. (Nearby shopping with no car means frequent trips, unlike in Maine where we drove to the grocery store once a week.) On the other hand, I'm glad to be leaving Brooklyn this Sunday to stay at my parents in Cambridge for six days.

On first arrival, I was amazed to see how small our apartment had gotten. Three days back and it already feels back to normal, but with the cabin fresh in the spatial portion of my brain, walking in the door was a shock. “Hey, this place is a cubbyhole.” We are still adjusting to the heat and weaning down from the a/c. Yesterday, we air conditioned the whole apartment; today, half; tomorrow, none. And now I must get back to unpacking. The wall of stuff in Forest's room is almost back to the actual wall, by tomorrow I hope to start bringing stuff up from the basement.

Going forward I thought I'd put up some posts from this summer that I wasn't able to get off of the dana, by alphasmart, and write a few posts I had planned but never had the time to write. Then?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Park Slope Food Coop, here I come...

As we are getting ready to return to Brooklyn, I have been having a strange backwards reaction to leaving Maine. The past few days we've had some lovely social time and after each event, I find myself feeling flat and sad. The first time it happened, I was more than a little confused because I left excited at the prospect of new friends in my new neighborhood. But then, after it happened again, I realized it's because making new friends means saying goodbye to old ones. I can't even write that without tearing up. I know, I know, I'll stay in touch and visit, but it isn't the same. So as I get ready to leave Maine, I'm all weepy about leaving Brooklyn. Go figure.
And, for the most part, my friends are the main thing I'm sad about leaving behind in New York. Apart from people, I'll miss being able to walk and take public transportation to get where I want to go. And, even more, I'll miss the Park Slope Food Coop, a lot, from September through June. (I might be wrong, growing season may keep up through September.) July and August, the eating is delicious around here thanks to all the gardens and farms. The rest of year I'll be dreaming of that produce aisle on Union St.
The local supermarket certainly is trying:
And thanks to Ginny's comment, I know all about gobo root's Clark Kent alias: burdock root. Other Hannaford's bags mention “tabouleh” and fiddlehead ferns. But their produce section is still a supermarket produce section. End of story. (Trust me if you've never been to the Food Coop, the produce section has an unbeatable trifecta of selection, quality, and prices that can't be matched in the Northeast, maybe even on the East Coast.) On the other hand, I am cognizant that if we were living in The Interior, as Aaron tried to convince me to do thanks to property prices, the supermarket selection might not include things like tabbouleh and organic almond butter.

But right now, the eating is fantastic here on the Gold Coast of Maine. Here are some items from this week:
The bananas, cantaloupe, and sea salt are there to represent Hannaford's; the potatoes are from the Belfast farmer's market; and the cukes and zukes come from our neighbor's gorgeous, over-flowing garden. Here is our weekly bread pre-baking:
I just learned the way to slash bread is with a razor, and what a difference that makes. (Slashing prevents an air bubble from forming just under the crust.)

Caulkamamie schemes – redux

I am posting this again because something went wrong with the links the first time around.

One reason it is silly to spend too much time worrying and anticipating future challenges is the high likelihood you will be wasting your cortisol on the wrong topic. All that anxiety we had over the wood stove delivery, and, just like that, in less time than it took me to get Forest to sleep that day, the stove came up the driveway and was in the house. Meanwhile, a throw-away item on our to do list: spray house with weatherizing stain, has muscled a bunch of other Must-Do's! off our list and is eating up impressive (or is that depressive?) amounts of time and money.

We just spent the past week pulling, chipping, scraping, hammering, plier-ing, and otherwise wrestling dried, cracked caulk out from between our exterior logs. Early in the week, we realized there was no way we were going to get the whole cabin done. “Spray the cabin” was down-sized to “spray the bottom three logs of the cabin” which was further revised to treating up as high as five logs (gasp), but only touching the two weather-beaten sides. Whatever we de-caulk, must be washed, stained, and re-caulked before we leave. We are almost done with the acid wash. You can see how high Aaron could reach on this log:

We can only hope Forest doesn't talk about this project too much when we get back to Brooklyn. Child-services might get called in. Some oft heard phrases of late:
“Mommy, are you getting the caulk off?”
“Are we getting new caulk?”
“I want to get the caulk off!” This one gets repeated insistently.
“Mommy and Daddy are getting the caulk off.”
“Where's the caulk?”
And more recently:
“Mommy's putting the caulk on.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Caulkamamie schemes

One reason it is silly to spend too much time worrying and anticipating future challenges is the high likelihood you will be wasting your cortisol on the wrong topic. All that anxiety we had over the wood stove delivery, and, just like that, in less time than it took me to get Jasper to sleep that day, the stove came up the driveway and was in the house. Meanwhile, a throw-away item on our to do list: spray house with weatherizing stain, has muscled a bunch of other Must-Do's! off our list and is eating up impressive (or is that depressive?) amounts of time and money.

We just spent the past week pulling, chipping, scraping, hammering, plier-ing, and otherwise wrestling dried, cracked caulk out from between our exterior logs. Early in the week, we realized there was no way we were going to get the whole cabin done. “Spray the cabin” was down-sized to “spray the bottom three logs of the cabin” which was further revised to treating up as high as five logs (gasp), but only touching the two weather-beaten sides. Whatever we de-caulk, must be washed, stained, and re-caulked before we leave. We are almost done with the acid wash. You can see how high Lee could reach on this log:

We can only hope Jasper doesn't talk about this project too much when we get back to Brooklyn. Child-services might get called in. Some oft heard phrases of late:

“Mommy, are you getting the caulk off?”

“Are we getting new caulk?”

“I want to get the caulk off!” This one gets repeated insistently.

“Mommy and Daddy are getting the caulk off.”

“Where's the caulk?”

And more recently:

“Mommy's putting the caulk on.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

T-minus two weeks

It is difficult to believe we will be back in Brooklyn in two weeks. Park Slope feels somewhat abstract from here. No more popping out in my underwear to grab the pair of pants I want off the clothesline. Sure, there is a guy I see on my walk to the Park Slope Food Coop who hangs out on his stoop in a fuzzy, electric blue bathrobe, weather permitting, but I'm pretty sure he qualifies for certain social services. If it were my thing, I could get in a lot of underwear time in our yard. Living on a dead-end, dirt road affords us lots of privacy. Besides, mores are different around here. There is a guy we see every so often on our drive into town, along a well-traveled road, who gardens in boxers and unlaced leather boots. In this case, I'm pretty sure he doesn't have mental health issues, but just doesn't care what the neighbors think. Not that I would be that guy. I wouldn't want people idly glancing out their car windows every time they drive by to see if Captain Underpants is out and about. But even though I don't garden in my skivvies, I do love the quiet and the privacy.

Last week, I heard a plane going overhead at night. We don't hear jets here, they are too high up, only little propeller planes. I lay in bed and wondered what kind of crazy shenanigans they were up to flying around at 10pm!

We don't even have peeper frogs around our cabin. Apart from occasional yip, yowling from coyotes or the crunch, crunching of the porcupine (who has been back only twice since I posted about it), it is silent unless we hear the leaves sliding against each other on breezy nights.

Night before last, I looked out the screen door at around 2 am on my way back to bed from the bathroom and felt a wrench as a little bit of air was sucked out of me. Actual awe hurts a bit. The stars were bright and myriad, the milky way a thick glow across the sky. And I felt as small as we humans should. (On a semi-regular basis for proper perspective and mental health.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Country living: small time crook vs. the neighbor

All summer, Aaron and I have been hemming and hawing about buying a very expensive wood burning stove. It would make more sense to wait until next year, when we know our economic situation, but the $600 tax credit for buying a fuel efficient stove probably won't be available then. And $600 off is some serious savings. We bought the stove on sale in the Spring and the order has been on hold. For $100 the company trucks the stove from New Hampshire to any New England location that has a fork-lift available for getting it off the truck. The crate weighs over 500 pounds. Soon after we arrived in May, Aaron found a business nearby that not only agreed to accept the delivery, but also rents trailers so we could get the behemoth home. Hurray! How convenient.

This week, we finally decided to go for it. I called the stove company on Monday, and they said it would arrive this week. We hadn't expected it would be so quick, but no matter. We put in a call to the local drop-off spot and got an answering machine. Tues, no call back, Wed, no call back, but we did get a heads up from the stove company delivery was set for Thursday. Aaron drove over to the drop-off spot yesterday, but found them closed. Despite yet another rather urgent message, still no call back this morning. Uh-oh. A stove arriving from New Hampshire today, and no means to get it off the truck. Yikes.

I called the same neighbor who fixed our hot water pipe to see if he had any suggestions of another business with a fork-lift who might be willing to accept delivery on such short notice. “Well, I have a fork-lift attachment for my tractor.” I was hesitant to take even more of his time, but he insisted it would be no trouble. Not only did he get the stove off the truck, but drove it up our road and helped Aaron get it in the door. (I was upstairs trying to get the boys to nap.) Our neighbor also recommended we don't deal with the MIA business owner. “I thought he was suppose to be in jail by now” for 85 counts of attempted theft by deception. He had a contract to service equipment for a town project and padded the bill with 85 services never actually rendered. Another towns person says he also was selling people's credit card information. Maybe he is in jail by now, that would account for his still not getting back to us.

How do we pay our neighbor back? Aaron is giving him some logs plugged with shiitake mycelium and I have invited the whole family over for pancake brunch, but that doesn't seem quite sufficient.

Here are Aaron and Forest sawing the logs for plugging.

Here are some plugged logs.

The red wax is to keep other mycelium from getting into the log. After being left out in the rain for eight months, when you want some mushrooms, you soak a log or two for 24-hours and they should fruit within a week giving you a shiitake covered log. Lets just hope they actually fruit, unlike the mushroom logs Aaron gave my sister and parents for Christmas one year. Aaron thinks the problem was that they were indoors, not getting wet often enough. We'll see come March.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The generations come full circle in a beautiful cycle of life or dysfunctional psychodrama, you decide

Yesterday, I picked raspberries for about an hour, forcing my way through their thorny canes over heaped deadwood, hoping I wouldn't twist my ankle, sweat tickling down my belly, and thoroughly enjoying myself. On Thursday, me and the boys are going, by invitation, to pick blueberries in a neighbors untended blueberry field and, on Sunday, we have been invited mushrooming. Berry picking and mushrooming are quintessential summer activities in Finland, where my mother grew up. And Maine is closer in appearance to Finland than any other New England state. Meanwhile, Aaron grew up in a wood-heated log cabin on a dirt road in the woods. I'm baking dense whole-grain bread like my father used to do and recently instituted Sunday as pancake day, a years-long, on-going tradition for him. Aaron is keen to build a stone hearth for our stove, as his father did. My dad, his siblings, and cousins—all gardeners. Aaron and I both eagerly look forward to the day we have the time and resources to build a sauna and both have Karelian ancestry. (Karelia used to be part of Finland before it was taken over by the Russians in WWII.)
And we didn't set out to live in Maine or in a log cabin for that matter. We simply wanted to get out of the city to somewhere we could have enough land to produce food in some capacity or another. We looked in upstate New York, around Albany and around Ithaca. We looked in Vermont and contemplated many, many other possibilities. But here we are, in the first property we looked at in Maine, breathing the piney scent of our cabin, as white birches shimmy their leaves just outside our windows, wondering was it fate or random chance?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nincompoop dreams of burdock root

When I was studying Finnish in college, very early on I started having dreams in fluent Finnish. I don't know what language those dreams really took place in since, when awake, I could barely stumble through a conversation about the weather in Finnish. Last night I had my first gardening dream. I was going to water and weed a small garden plot (that has yet to exist in waking life) and found two rather large, leafy burdock roots growing next to my seedlings. That's all I remember of the dream. And that's practically all I know of gardening: water the plants, pull out the weeds. That I can even dream of burdock root is new.

Last month, Aaron discovered three rhubarb plants lurking in the tall grass. They had both stalks ending in a leaf and tall, seedy stalks. I had to call my dad to ask him how to proceed. How many stalks could I harvest without harming the plant? And what about the seedy stalks? Could we eat those? Should I be watering the plants? How often? How much? And what about that similarly sized plant next to one of the plants with almost identical leaves, but totally different stalks? All my years in New York are showing. I am mortifyingly ignorant when it comes to gardening. Oh, um, and cars and driving and cabin maintenance and transfer stations (the dump) and 4-wheelers (I had to check with Aaron after the happy hour, “Are 4-wheelers ATVs?” Yes, they are. ATV's being All Terrain Vehicles.) and solar systems and bush hogging and chickens and vehicle identification (people recognize each other's cars and trucks. I don't go beyond size and color.) and flooring and insulation and mowing and tree identification and so on and so on and so on. There is so little I do have competency it may account for how consistently I gravitate towards the kitchen, away from that endless list of areas in which I am a plumb, dumb bunny. I have quite a learning curve ahead of me.

See how bad it is.

This is one of the rhubarb plants after I got done with it. I read, and was told, remove the stalks with seeds. That poor plant was all seed stalks. However, when I asked my neighbor who works on a farm to identify the rhubarb-like plant, she said I should have just left the seed stalks. It is time in the Maine season to leave the rhubarb alone, apart from keeping it hydrated. Although she said rhubarb is very hard to kill, and that it should be fine, I'm skeptical. The plant next to it was burdock root, a weed to be removed.

Lets just hope my success with Finnish, or rather lack of success, is not a harbinger of my success at country life. And now, enough writing, the boys are sleeping and I have raspberries to pick. I am inspired after picking these at the conclusion of my morning run.

This time I'm going with a container.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Yet another remarkably nice neighbor

One of our beginning of the road, i.e. on the grid, neighbors brought these by. The scapes came off of the wee garlics—he called them “weed garlic”—and will be going into a stir-fry.

The wee garlics themselves, we will be drying for on-going use. I doubt the large bulb will last a week with the soups and chili I have planned. Bringing this garden bounty to us qualifies as nice, even very nice, but what bumps our neighbor up to “remarkably nice” status is that he offered to plant a bed of garlic for us this Fall. All we have to do is prepare the bed, leave some hay by it, and when garlic planting time rolls around and we are in Brooklyn he'll put pop a bunch of bulbs into the ground. Wow. Otherwise, we wouldn't have our own garlic until July 2012. I am thrilled and grateful.

And we are happy to say, “So long, Walmart. Hello Reny's” Reny's is Maine-based department store. After a visit there this morning we now own a garden hose and a second fan. We're really coming up in the world.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Update, correction, and apologies to the chicks

Just a quick follow-up on a few things I've mentioned. We have happy tummies all around thanks to the Brita filter. Within a day of our Walmart expedition, both Forest and my stomachaches were gone. What a refreshingly easy fix.
The happy hour at which we met neighbors was remarkable. I really don't think everyone could have been more welcoming or more friendly. We are looking forward to another happy hour tomorrow evening. Forest can't wait since he got to eat handful after handful of goldfish crackers at the last one.
Speaking of Forest, I know I've mentioned that he is a lot happier here now, but can't resist a further update. The other night he said, “I love this cabin. Thank you, Mommy, Daddy, for making Maine better.” Really? If I heard a kid say that in a movie I'd think, “Oh please, kids don't talk like that.” But I'm quoting him directly, and how sweet it was to hear.

Here is the door Aaron built.

Even though the plan was that we would build it together, the kids couldn't get it together to look after themselves, and I defaulted to childcare duty while Aaron defaulted to building the door. I am impressed with the results, made entirely from wood found in our “shed”. And you can see next to our lovely door, part of why hanging drywall is so tricky around here. Note the angle across the top, note the round pine beams, and take my word for it that not a 90 degree angle exists in that framing. (The blue stuff is insulation made out of old blue jeans.)

The correction relates to yesterday's post. We were relieved to learn it wasn't in the high 80s on Tues, it hit 93. Which explains why our cabin got as hot as it did. And explains why we were as wilty as we were. And which (just now) reminds me of what I noted to myself at 1:40 this morning to include in a post. We timed it. To have a fan going for much of the night (until 3) we had to run the generator for close to an hour before bed and then for fifteen minutes at around 1:30 this morning. I'm looking forward to the day Walker doesn't need night feedings anymore, but, apparently, our “third child” will continue to need night feedings ad nauseum. Certainly all winter long, thanks to grey weather and short days. I'm considering a new tattoo as I learn more and more of what it means to live in an under-insulated off-the-grid cabin on an off-the-grid road: “This is what we could afford.” I must remember that so I don't feel like quite such an ignorant nincompoop.

And finally, an update and apology. The chicks have been doing an excellent job. We can frolic and work in our yard without collecting any ticks along the way. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Little chickies. And I'm so sorry for not giving credit where credit is due sooner. Aaron still brings home a tick here and there when he has been far afield, but nothing like before.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

And then there were four

Our remaining chicks are doing well. I'm not sure I can even call them chicks anymore, they are getting so big. But we did lose one to a hawk. The others have been keeping to the tall grass more and hanging out under the house, either they learned from the hawk incident or they are trying to beat the heat. We are not beating the heat very effectively in our cabin. Thanks to the tin roof, the lack of insulation, all the windows, and having only one fan, it hit 90 in here yesterday, even though it was only in the high 80's outside. Regardless, I am very grateful not to be in Brooklyn at the moment and feel terrible for those who are, most especially those without adequate ac.

It would be nice to have another fan, but we didn't even run the one we have all night because neither of us was willing to get up and run the generator. So we were fanless between between 3 and 5, when I turned it back on because the sun was up and charging up our system.


That's what the Maine license plates say and we just got a lovely sampling the beauty and fun in our neck of the woods. (If a neck long enough to accommodate a 40 minute drive counts as “ours.”) My parents, my Finnish cousin and her family came for a lovely four-day visit. Activities included the beach and a ferry ride to Vinalhaven for a quick picnic. The last evening of the visit we ate seafood on the bay in Belfast. Pretty blissful.

Now it is back to work. Aaron is in the yard building a door for the wall in the upstairs bedroom so we can store stuff in our eaves—when you have no basement and only two closest for a family of four, you need every scrap of available storage space. Once the door is done, we can get back to hanging sheet rock.

My goal for the rest of our stay is to get this place ready for a one-year-old. I'd hate to arrive with all our stuff next year and have to spend all my time, hawk-like, monitoring Walker to make sure he doesn't crawl into the eaves or start chewing on wiring or grabbing exposed hot water pipes or touching the wood stove, to mention a few of the tasks ahead of us in the next four weeks.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A day's work: Two panels of drywall hung and a family outing to Walmart

Normally, from what I'm told, hanging drywall is pretty straightforward. Normally, you are dealing with 90 degree angles. Not so in this fun-house of a cabin. One panel we put up measured, 27-3/4” x 86” x 29-1/16” x 86-3/16”. Not a 90 degree angle in sight. The other panel was no better. Once I finally understood we just had to treat some of the angles as square, since we had no angle measuring capabilities, we were able to make progress, slow though it was. One panel already has some scribbles on it, thanks to Forest “writing numbers” on it. Aaron put up a child-safety gate in the doorway and now our utility room is ready for the16-month-old from Finland who is arriving, along with her parents (one of whom is my cousin) and my parents, on Friday. The utility room holds our ac/dc inverter and the bank of batteries charged by our solar panels or generator. The eight batteries each weigh over 150 pounds and are filled with sulfuric acid along with a medley of heavy metals. No place for a tot to toddle.

Above is one panel of drywall,(the door you see leads to our side yard via a ramp, which is for greater ease of wheelbarrowing in lots and lots of wood for the stove) the other panel is behind the door, and you can see the wood/plexiglass encasing for the battery bank on the floor with the inverter on the wall.

And, yes, we made our third family trip to Walmart. Not something I'm proud of, given their shoddy treatment of their employees, but I do have a nice long list of justifications including not knowing where else to go, efficiency, and better intentions for the future. Our most urgent purchase was a Brita water filter. I had a chronic stomachache by the time we left for my parents. It went away in Cambridge, but now it is back and Forest is also complaining about his stomach, as he was when we left for Cambridge. Aaron's stomach is fine, but he can buy food from street carts in Guatemala without any ensuing digestive tract woes. We got our water tested at the beginning of the summer, so we know it isn't coliform or ecol i and that we have lots of iron in our water. Does anyone know if iron rich water can cause chronic stomachache?

Tomorrow, we staple down the edges of the linoleum and take down the fly-mottled fly-paper left hanging from the two skylights by the previous owner. Gotta class up the joint before my parents get here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The other voice of doom, I mean neighbor, from last week

The second discouraging encounter I had doesn't fit so tidily into a stock movie script. I spoke to the woman who lived in our cabin one owner ago. She and her husband now live in town with their three children, and I had called her to try to set up a playdate for Forest. Although perfectly friendly, as one who “didn't last” she did not have anything more positive to say about our place than, “it's a beautiful spot.”

On the flip side, she was more voluble: “Yeah, it was after the seven weeks we couldn't drive the road, and I was hiking in and out with a one-year-old on my back along with gas for the generator, that I told my husband, 'We're moving to town.'” Fair enough.

When I asked her if the cabin was very cold she said they had burned 14 cords of wood one particularly hard winter, “and we were never quite warm.”

I asked, sorely hoping the answer would be “no,” “Did you have under the house sealed off?”

“Of course.”

'Doomed,' I thought to myself, 'doomed.'

Aaron has partially convinced me it is different now. Lots of time and money have gone into the road and by all reports it is improved. Additionally, the most recent owner of this cabin sprayed insulating foam wherever she felt a breeze coming in. Okay. Both good. But I can't believe filling in the cracks is enough to make this cabin comfortable in the winter. And according to our across-the-way neighbor, this road did inspire an entire town to move. Yup, our town center, now located more than five miles away, used to be on this road, but after enough washouts the post office and everything else were relocated to a more sensible spot. At this point, the town will no longer even maintain the road and much of the $6,000 worth of gravel that was put down five years ago has already washed away. Our house is off-the-grid, and so is our road. All plowing and washouts are our responsibility, along with the nice young couple across the way and Mr. Bread Truck.

I am so curious how long we'll last.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Speaking of the movie version of this move (see my last post) and meeting the neighbors...

So, Forest, Walker, and I went for a playdate at the pipe fixing neighbors' and, as Forest kept saying while we walked back to their house from meeting their pigs and sheep, “This is a really fun day. This is a really fun day.” In addition to the sheep and the pigs, they have three kids under the age of six, chickens, cattle, a garden, a nascent orchard, grape vines, and, perhaps most importantly, a sandbox. Quite probably, there is more I don't know about. As far as I can tell, they are doing exactly what we want to be doing—sustainable, small-scale food production. And from what they said, it sounds like there are other people in the area doing the same thing. Community! What a concept.

Our whole homesteading enterprise feels more feasible knowing we are not going to be doing this entirely alone. How I'm feeling today stands in stark contrast to how I felt after meeting neighbors last week.

Our road has five residences on it, two are at the beginning of the road and are on-the-grid, three are about half-a-mile down and don't have utilities. Our across-the-road neighbors are a friendly, helpful young couple, but we hadn't met the other person. We had, however, been warned that he is fickle and runs cranky. Some days he'll say hi, some days he won't. Last week we saw him driving up the road as we were about to pull onto the road. (If we'd met him on the road, one party would have to back up to one of the few pull-off spots, perhaps all the way to a driveway, because the road is narrow and shoulder-less.) He was bouncing along in a beat up panel truck that says “Country Kitchen” over the cab in faded red letters and didn't pull to a stop until he saw that we were smiling and waving. We got out and went to say hi.

In the movie version, you'd be able to understand him much better despite the missing teeth and the accent. In the real life version, I can only give you the gist of what he was saying. But what he was saying holds for both movie and life, the grizzled old-timer to the eager, fresh scrubbed couple from the Big City: You're doomed. His kept coming back to two phrases: “They didn't last.” and “Good luck to you.” He left the “You're going to need it” unsaid. Listening to him talk reminds me of listening to people talk Finnish, I can pick up enough to understand the topic of conversation, but not enough to know what is being said about that topic. So I don't know what he said about all the other people who didn't last in this cabin, even though he said a lot. But his overall message was clearly communicated: Doom for all who have gone before. Doom for you.

Be he right?

We have hot water!

Our to do list is so long, we had decided to forgo fixing the hot water pipe until next summer, especially since we may bust another one this winter anyway. But when I met the neighbors who live across the road from our road, I forgot we'd decided that and asked them for the name of a plumber. When the husband heard why we need a one, he was quizzical, “You don't call a plumber to fix a pipe.” I explained that there was one spot Aaron hadn't been able to solder because the pipe was too close to the pine log wall and the output on his flame thrower, excuse me, blow torch isn't adjustable. “So why not throw on some Pex with some Shark Bite?” Hmmm, yes, why not? Our learning curve in so very many areas is so very steep. Then this neighbor that I had literally just met said he'd come and fix the pipe.

Sure enough, the next afternoon, he came with yet another neighbor and they fixed our pipe. Now we have hot water, which is one of the more lovely modern conveniences. But more important than the hot water is the psychological aspect of getting that help. To have two people—one a virtual stranger, the other a literal stranger—come and help us has bolstered our spirits enormously. 'Oh, right,' we've been reminded, 'we are off-the-grid, but not alone in the wilds somewhere.' And not only are we not alone in the wilds, it turns out we have fantastically nice neighbors. We might even, hope, oh, hope, become part of a strong community.

They invited us to come meet the neighbors at a happy hour hosted at someone's home. They also all get together for supper regularly, potluck at a different house each month. And we're invited there also. Really? And here is where the Brooklyn in me comes to the fore, a mosquito-sized buzz of a voice says, “These people are too nice.” So helpful, so friendly, surely it is only a matter of time before they start trying to get us to drink the Kool-Aid. And, indeed, in the movie version, they would turn out to pod people or members of a cannibalistic cult. But I'm not actually too worried because they aren't exhibiting any of the dead-give-away signs: they don't smile just a little bit too broadly or hold those smiles for just a little bit too long and their eyes aren't just that hair too wide open when they smile. In all seriousness, they really just seem remarkably nice.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We invite some chicks for a ticknic*

I guess it isn't really much of an invitation when you take someone home in a box, but our self-serving intentions are friendly enough. “Come, live in our yard and feast on the all-day tick buffet.” They won't get to laying age by the time we have to head back to Brooklyn, so either we will give them away or eat them a la Cornish game hens. We would have preferred chickens, or even pullets, but there were chicks for sale on route to the Hannaford's grocery store in Belfast, so it's 2-week-olds we've got.

It turns out they are pretty endearing. I can hear them peeping away in their current home, a blue plastic storage bin with hay and coconut fiber bedding that we move around our house as temperature dictates. In two weeks, they'll be hearty enough to live outside. For now, we can put them out on warm days. After several feeding dishes that they tipped over or shook the corn out of, Aaron hit upon the perfect solution—a simple construction of upside down duplex blocks (large legos). Their water bottle, taped into a corner for stability, is a 7.7 oz Poland Springs water bottle with a hole cut out of the side.

We have a fever pitch of peeping at the moment, I just threw two ants into their box. Although the biggest of the five always gets there first, the others give chase as soon as they notice what's going on. They also love spiders, mosquitoes, and, yes, ticks. I still hate finding ticks, but having a hungry horde to toss them to certainly eases the creepy crawlies. Lets hear it for the chicks!

*Thank you to my uncle for the word “ticknic.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Back in Maine

The new wall has made a big difference. As has removing the spiral staircase to nowhere that was looming in our living room. The wall of tyvek that divided out house is almost all gone, revealing the 1x3 framing and the (straight) staircase. Before we get the sheetrock up, we could stage the “Romeo, oh, Romeo” scene from R'nJ in our living room, utilizing the landing at the top of our stairs as the balcony. And, at the rate we're going, we probably would have the lead time to put up a play before the wall goes up. But what really matters is that it feels much better around here and, praise be, is more functional. Aaron and his brother really did themselves proud.
Other good news is the abatement of the ticks. Of course, it is all relative. Today alone, I found one on Forest's potty, one on my arm, one on the floor, and picked one off my back. As my dad pointed out, just because ticks can live 200 days without feeding, doesn't mean most of them do, and who knows how early they hatched. There is hope they are starting to die off.
But best of all, to this mama, is that Forest is much happier than he was last time we were here. His fear of flies and mosquitoes seems to have evaporated while we were in Cambridge, and he hasn't once said he wants to go home. Whew!
I'm writing this by the light of a propane lantern on my “dana” by Alphasmart. Here is what the lantern looks like by day:
The “dana,” meant for schoolchildren, is a plastic keyboard with a small screen and some basic text editing software. It requires very little power, what with the no whistles and bells. While I don't need much, an option to illuminate the screen would be helpful. Instead, I have to stand at the kitchen counter to have enough light. The lantern over our only table is broken. We'll have to be sure to get that fixed before Forest is at the homework stage.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The kids' bedroom has four walls!

Thanks to Aaron and his brother, we now have a proper bedroom for the kids. Hurray! This is more for our sake than for theirs--it was absurd trying to get stuff done in total silence whenever they were sleeping.

Now we are all at my parents, Aaron and his brother arrived yesterday. It has been lovely staying here, and I wish I were more excited about returning to Maine. At best, I'm curious to see if it will all feel better going forward. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

When you smell the gas burning, you make more modest energy choices.

At least, I do. And how quickly it fades as I stay here, on-the-grid, at my parents.

Of course I know that when I turn on my computer or blender or whatever in a utility paying home, either coal has been mined and burned or nuclear waste has been produced to power that modern convenience. And I know that there are appalling costs associated with both means of producing electricity. For instance, fishing permits in Maine come with warnings because the fish are so contaminated. Coal is burned, the smokes goes up and rains down far, far away. These aren't even coal plants located in Maine. As a result of all this, I try to limit my energy use, but only up to a point, a point that is pretty convenient for me.

Turns out, it feels like a brand new equation when I have to flip the switch myself, hear the generator growling, smell the gasoline burning, and decide just how charged up I want those batteries, anyway. My choices changed immediately. I wouldn't even open the fridge without thinking first to avoid letting the cold out more frequently than necessary, and I swept rather than vacuumed. The flip side is that when the sun shines I could be profligate with my energy use completely guilt-free.

But even with the cost of energy use concretized so recently, now that I don't have to flip the switch myself and I don't even know where the coal and/or nuclear power plants are that power this home, I've slipped back into opening the fridge door without so much as a first thought.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A pox upon false advertising

So much for at home web surfing this summer. V***'s "monthly access" plan, which was presented to us as a pay-by-the-month,-cancel-at-any-time option, has a $179 charge if you cancel in under a year. Obviously, this won't work for us since we only want service for three months. I still intend to maintain this blog (thanks to wi fi access at the local library), but it will be more sporadic than I had planned, especially since the library is only open four days a week for four hours a pop. Pesky.

So, starting this Sunday, I'll be online only once or twice a week. Makes for a more "authentic" homesteading experience, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Division of Labor

It is remarkable and a bit shocking how instantly and completely Aaron and my labor divided as soon as we got to the country. Aaron works outside and on the infrastructure; I cook, do the dishes, and tend to the kids. In part, this is because I'm nursing and, to be perfectly honest, because I've been avoiding the ticks. But it also turns out to be easier. When we are in Brooklyn, both working outside of the home and both working to maintain our household, we regularly have to consult, negotiate and divvy up tasks. Even so, there things that fall through the cracks because each of us thinks the other will take care of it and conflict results. In Maine, with nary a boo about it, we fell into perfectly gendered roles and, wadda ya know, it all went smooth as Weleda Calendula Diaper Cream.

This won't last in such an extreme form. Just before we left for my parents, I started tucking my socks into my pant legs and marching out the door for planting (herbs), tending the nascent compost pile, and so on. Aaron got a turn watching the kids. Still, I don't think country living will be as fuzzy on the gender roles as big city living, especially not while Walker is still nursing. Look at our current situation. I'm here at my parents' diapering (the kids not the grandparents), playground hopping, and reading "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train" several times a day. Meanwhile, Aaron's up in Maine with no hot water, shooting at squirrels, hardware store hopping, and on Friday he hauled 3400 pounds of drywall into the house. And the fact of the matter is, I don't want to learn how to use a chainsaw and am on the fence about learning how to shoot, to mention two examples out of many. On the other hand, I'm happy to chop and saw wood and anticipate lots and lots of digging. (Man, do we have a lot of digging to do.) In short, I find I can't predict how stereotypical our roles will be once we have settled in a bit more.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Things that go munch in the night.

The first few nights we were in Maine, I was woken up by a munch-y, crunchy, chewing noise. It sounded like something gnawing on hard plastic under the house. The third night, since it was going on longer than usual and since it seemed possible the creature might cause damage, I grabbed my flashlight and got out of bed. (The up-side of limited electricity: your flashlight is right there when you need it.) I walked across the bedroom to the front door, stepped down a few steps and leaned over to shine my flashlight under the house at the piping. Nobody there. Our stairs have open risers, with blocks to hold up the treads. Without knowing why, perhaps I heard or saw something, I shined my light down at my feet, and there looking up at me from under the stairs was a large porcupine. It is my good fortune that porcupines like wood, not toes. This one was so close it could have chomped mine if so inclined. But I wasn't the least bit nervous, it's brown eyes looked very mild. I gave it a friendly "hello" and asked it not to chew on our house anymore. As it lumbered away it turned back to look at me several times. Cuteness! I'm not sure if it heeded my request or if I simply can't hear it now that we moved our bed to the second floor, but I'm pretty sure it's been leaving our house alone.

Now, instead, I hear the squirrels that live in our roof. I don't know if they are munching in the night, but they are scrabbling. And in the day, they do some serious romping. I haven't bothered to ask them to vacate the premises because I know it will take stronger, um, persuasion to get them out.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #7 Procreation

One kid will do, but two are better, and three or more would be best. For the sleep deprivation and attendant non-functionality alone, children are invaluable, but they also facilitate Habits #1, 2, 4, and 6. Just be sure to breastfeed and, if you are really going for the gold, use cloth diapers.

It is just what I expected, but, wow!, it is difficult to get anything done with an infant and a toddler in tow.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ticks, mosquitoes, and wasps. Oh my!

After we pulled up the long sweep of dirt driveway and parked that first night in Maine, Forest ran off with the unbounded glee of a two-year-old released from hours in a car seat. I smiled broadly. This was a sight I had been waiting to see: the freedom of a child in the country. It lasted all of 30 seconds, then he was rooted to the spot, hunched forward, and shrieking. I ran to him and found four mosquitoes latched onto his face. That night Forest sang the blues for the first time. He loves to strum his little guitar and make up songs. Until then they had all been devoid of emotional content with titles like "The Train," "The Backhoe," "The Firetruck," and so on. His new song included the following lyrics: "I felt a little bit sad in the car. Keetoes go away." "Keetoes" being two-year-old for mosquitoes.

Although he has gotten much calmer about the mosquitoes, we are all having a hard time adjusting to the ticks. Apparently, it is an especially bad year for them, but still. The end of our first full day there, I stopped counting after we had picked ten ticks off of Aaron and Forest (only two had attached). It's a bit better since we ran out and got a lawn mower, but despite full tick checks twice a day and quick clothes check anytime anyone comes in from the yard, I still am routinely finding ticks around the house, on the trash can, on the compost pail by the sink, on an egg, in Forest's hair as I'm reading him his bedtime story. One day at breakfast, as Forest was telling me why he hates Maine (mosquitoes, ticks, and dragon flies), I looked down and saw two ticks, one on top of the other, on the leg of the table. Ticks mating? On the plus side, we are very grateful they all have been dog ticks since Lyme's is in the area.

And we have a wasp's nest somewhere in our eves. If it weren't for the kids, I wouldn't mind that so much, but whenever there is a wasp buzzing around in our house, I can't relax for fear one of them might get stung.

So Forest isn't the only one who is down on Maine thanks to the bugs. I thought I'd be fine since I don't really mind mosquitoes or black flies and am fine with all the spider prowling our premises. But here I am like Dorothy and her friends going faster and faster through the dark woods. I spook at the sight of a lint ball, feel things crawling on me that aren't there, and resent all the time spent on tick checks. Basically, I'm more of a city gal than I thought I was.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We are off the beaten trail in more ways than one.

Our new home is certainly off the beaten trail, but so are our computers. Rather than use Windows on our PCs, we use a Linux based operating system called Ubuntu. I really like how fast and reliable it is, but there can be bumps along the way. For instance, although Verizon claims their air card is Windows, Mac, and Linux compatible, they provide no support for the latter, and the only way to figure out how to get online is to do a whole bunch of online research. Consequently, we were stuck without access to the information super-highway until we got to my parents this weekend (as planned for a party to celebrate my sister's marriage). It took hours, but Aaron got us up and running with interweb connectivity. Hurray!

However, as I write this, contrary to the original plan, I'm still at my parents as Aaron speeds off towards Maine with a ladder strapped to the top of the car. We need some walls! Despite the stories we'd heard of people doing all manner of renovations and building with small children, we learned that it wasn't going to work for us, at least not initially. So, for starters, Aaron is going to build a wall to the boy's bedroom with the help of his brother who is coming for a visit starting Sat. That way we don't have to creep around whenever they are asleep, unable even to do dishes because otherwise Forest wakes up. Given all that has to get done, it felt pretty ridiculous and frustrating.

The highlight of my stay up in Maine so far was my (almost) daily walk along our road to fetch the mail. Our cabin is on a dirt road that is not town maintained. It stretches half-a-mile through delicious smelling woods to the main road, also dirt, and our mailbox. Sun-dappled, essentially car-free, with only two houses just before the main road, it feels like a walk in a state park or nature preserve. The smells, always delicious, vary with the temperature and humidity; sometimes the smell of ferns predominate, sometimes it's the pines, other times, I'm not sure who is responsible, but the smell is woodsy and sweet and leaves me breathing deep, walking slower the better to enjoy it. I'm glad it is enjoyable in the summer, because from what we hear, it washes out at least once each spring and we are told we will come to hate it. The ups and downs of being off the beaten trail.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leaving for Maine today

We are loading up the car and leaving for Maine in an hour or two. I don't know when we'll have our internet access up and running, but will post as soon as we do.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Our off-the-grid set up

We completed the first leg of our trip yesterday and now are at my parents for the next two days. It is lovely to have no packing or un-packing to do. We are getting some much needed rest before our off the grid adventures begin.

And just what is this off the grid business? It simply means no public utilities or services connect to your property, no electricity, no water, no natural gas, no sewage. How this translates to any given living situation differs drastically. In our case, it does not mean we will be reading by the light of a kerosene lantern, cooking on a wood-burning stove, fetching the milk from a root cellar filled with ice blocks packed in sawdust, and pumping water out of a well. We have solar panels with a back-up gasoline generator, a drilled well, and a propane tank which fuels a cook stove, a hot-water tank, and a rinnai space heater. We also have a wood-burning stove in the living room, which will be our primary heat-source. And for sewage there is the typical non-urban set up: a flush toilet, a septic tank, and a leach field. However, as mentioned, until we fix the leach field we'll be using the outhouse. But as long as the sun shines, or we have gas, we have hot and cold running water.

And, yes, we have a refrigerator and will be getting a washing machine, the two main amenities I get asked about. I have no interest in feeding two kids without proper refrigeration or in spending the majority of my time hand-washing clothes. On the other hand, we do want to minimize generator use, so we are already making plans to build a root cellar, have purchased a few kerosene lanterns, and are hoping to get the old spring well going, that way we could have the option of pumping water. I also am keen on getting a wood-burning cook stove someday, but have yet to convince Aaron that it makes sense. I argue that we have the propane stove for the summer or quick cook jobs, but in the winter we can add heat to the house and make breakfast or bread or whatever off the same logs of wood. If anyone has experience with cooking on a wood-burning stove, I'd love to know if you would vote for or against getting one and why.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What awaits us in Maine

I lingered a little in the shower this morning, despite all we have to do. Showers feel really good and this was my second to last one before 12 weeks of bucket baths. Packing and getting the apartment ready have been so consuming, I barely notice the blueberry plants and haven't been thinking about where we are going and what we'll be doing. So, yes, bucket baths. Even though we do have hot running water up in Maine, we also have a failed leach field and broken faucets in the bathtub. Thank goodness there is already an outhouse on the property. With all we need to get done, I doubt we'll get to fixing the leach field this summer.

Here is the cabin:

It is a 1,000 sq ft log cabin built in the mid-1970's on 14 acres of land. It looks much worse now. The cabin is on piers and we had to pull out the insulative straw bales from around the base (covered in white Tyvek in this picture) to dry out under the house. Several floor joists were already pretty moldy and now need to be replaced. So that is one item on our to do list: jack up the house, switch out the eaten away floor joists, pray no one gets squished.

Tomorrow I'll talk about what it means to be off-the-grid.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #6 Discuss, Discuss, Dispute

Take time to discuss the need for a plan, but don't actually make one. Then, when you are behind schedule, over-tired, and over-anxious, you can take time to dispute whose fault this all was.

No need to go into the details on this, but it is remarkable (and embarrassing) how much time Aaron and I have spent talking, happily and unhappily, without doing.

Tomorrow, I'll be taking a break from the 7 Habits to talk about what awaits us in Maine.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #5 Be Perfect

If you can't do something just right, don't do it at all.

A recent example from my life: Our downstairs neighbors hosted a farewell-for-the-summer/Mother's Day brunch, this past Sunday. The food was extensive and delicious, the company delightful. I wanted to be sure they understood how much I enjoyed the whole affair and appreciated all their efforts, so I decided a thank you email wouldn't be enough, it had to be a hand-written thank you card. But, of course, our cards are packed away somewhere, and the days have been passing without my taking the time to find them or remembering to buy a card. In the meanwhile, I got an email from one of these lovely neighbors with the recipe I requested. But how can I answer it? It would look like I couldn't be bothered to say thank you for the brunch until I had to email for other reasons. So now, that email sits unacknowledged, and I look unresponsive in addition to ungrateful, a whole new color of Highly Ineffective.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #4 Be a Pit Bull

Once a possession comes into your life, clamp on like a pit bull. Whatever you do, don't let go. Austerity, clean lines, and uncluttered surfaces belong in a monastic cell, not your home. Streamlining is for monks and nuns, for the rest of us there is The Container Store. (Happily, they have a reputation for treating their employees well; so I can feel all warm and fuzzy about loving them as much as I do.)

It felt very good packing up those foot creams I never use and that wee rubber gasket in a small sealed plastic bag, to mention two little drops in our big packing bucket. They've been sitting untouched for untold months, but if I don't keep them, I won't have to spend the time to unpack them when we get back from Maine and puzzle over where they should go. Besides, what if I suddenly change my ways and start moisturizing my feet? Or find the product that may or may not reside in my house and may or may not function better with a wee rubber gasket?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #3 Honor the Past

What has gone before, even it doesn't work, is for the best.

Allow me to illustrate. As it became clear we were falling behind in our preparations for this move, I kept a focus on keeping most of our meals home-cooked, either cooking them myself or encouraging Aaron to cook. Between shopping for ingredients (at the beautifully inefficient Park Slope Food Coop), doing the cooking, and washing up after (it helps not having a dish washer), I used up a lot of time that could have been spent of packing.

I also continued to keep disposable diaper use to a minimum. Two kids in cloth diapers generate not only a load of laundry each day, but also a minimum of fifteen changes. Factor in the toilet rinse for each poopy diaper, all that hand washing, sorting the dry laundry (including folding the cloth wipes), and you've eaten up an admirable chunk of the day on diapering alone.

Alas, my ineffectiveness has dropped as we use up food from the freezer and cupboards. I suppose I should stop making large batches of food and freezing a portion for later meals. It's really rather effective.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #2: Be In The Moment

Habit #2 is all about focusing on whatever is in front of you and is most urgent. Don't worry about the big picture, don't follow a plan, just respond to the moment.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #1: Be a Pinball

All week, as I clean cupboards and shuffle stuff from room to room, I've been muttering to myself that I should write a book called "7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People". With all the work of homesteading ahead of us, efficiency is crucial, and it behooves us to understand where we go wrong with that one.

Habit #1: Be a Pinball
Never do just one task and see it through to completion. Always have multiple worksites going and keep adding them as needed. Bounce from project to project and be sure to maximize clutter everywhere you go.

A little unclear on how this works? Take clearing my two drawers in our dresser today. One of the drawers has pants, shorts, and sleeping togs. Seems straighforward enough. How could this lead to other projects? Well, I quickly realized that before I could put clothes in storage, I would have to know which clothes I was bringing with me. Beautiful! I already have two projects, and all I've done is open a drawer. But wait, before I can pack for Maine, I need all of my clothes available to me. I promptly start filling my laundry bag out of the basket. One load for the washer, and, lo, what is this at the bottom of the basket? Another project: hand wash. Leaving the washer load on the couch since I know Aaron has a load in the machine already, I put the first batch of hand wash to soak, and notice the shelf in the bathroom has items that are supposed to live in my dresser. As I sort these, I figure I may as well clear some of the other clutter that has accumulated up there. Before I'm done sorting the shelf, I notice the pile of clothes on the couch next to the laundry bag and get back to packing. Here, I have to confess, I go on an uninterrupted run, complete the clothes sorting, bag the storage clothes, and box the Maine clothes.

Then, after a quick stop in the bathroom to advance the handwash, I go back to the dresser. The remaining drawer is divided (in my mind, if not in practice) in two. One side is for underwear, while the other side is a catchall get-it-out-of-sight spot. As you can imagine the catchall side was so rich with project potential it isn't empty yet. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow, you're only a day away!

(It really isn't fair to say "we" on this habit. My ADD, pinball ways drive Aaron nuts. He goes project by project. Okay, time to find a spot for that last bit of hand wash to dry.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oh, what a beautiful morning

I did a little work in Manhattan this morning. Walker was along for the ride in the Bjorn and slept like a champ through almost the entire trip. (I woke him up for a snack about half-way through.)

I'm getting nostalgic for NY even though I haven't left yet. Normally, I don't think I would have gotten quite such a kick out of the conductor's announcement at the West 4th St station: "There's something obstructing a door in the front cars. Check ya bag, ya elbow, ya head." His accent was pure New Yawk, as was his bored, let's-get-this-show-on-the-road tone.

Then, after I was done with work, walking down 8th Avenue from 57th St to 34th St to run an errand, I didn't need caffeine to get my pace brisk. The City at morning rush hour is plenty adrenalized.
I wrote the above yesterday, but didn't get a chance to finish thanks to a migraine. And, after my subway ride this morning, I'm less inclined towards fond observations of NYC life. Suffice to say a 40 minute commute (with good trains), took over an hour-and-a-half.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hard to believe

If it were only a matter of packing our stuff, or only a matter of getting the apartment ready for subletters, or if we didn't have a 10-week old and a 2-year-old, it would merely feel like a challenge. As things stand, it is very hard to believe we'll get everything done by next Sat.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nifty McThrifty

Case in point, I got all excited when I found this: DIY washing machine and homemade laundry soap. It is better for my family, both because whoever does the laundry is being physically active and because homemade soap may well be better chemical exposure-wise; it certainly is better for the environment by using less water and less electricity; and finally it is so cheap it verges on free. I told Aaron we should make one. Leave it to Aaron to already know about this way of washing clothes. But, although he is enthusiastic about the idea, he thinks we should get a plunger made specifically for hand-washing since it is designed to move water around, whereas a toilet plunger is designed to create a suction. An excellent point, but I'm pretty sure if we are going to succeed in this endeavor, we have to start changing our attitude about what it means to spend $17 dollars.

Full disclosure, we have no intention of relying solely on hand-plunging our clothes clean. I came across the bucket option as I was researching energy efficient washing machines, the kind that plug in and cost oh-so-much-more than $17.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Closet Hippies

When Aaron and I contemplated naming our son River, we joked that we would finally be coming out of the closet and waving our hippie flag high. But really, we are more bumpkin than hippie. (To wit: we don't like the Grateful Dead or Phish, groom and bathe regularly, aren't vegetarian, and neither of us waves our arms about when we dance.) We do, however, live a fairly rustic life in the midst of all this concrete and bustle.

Our preferred date night is an evening at home watching a dvd as Aaron sharpens knives and I knit. We both prefer frugality over fashion, function over form. Although I don't see muumuus in my Maine future, who knows what direction the desire for comfort and sun protection will take me. Meanwhile, our kids are diapered in cloth (much of the time) and our older son (having teeth) eats oat groats for breakfast. Things like oat groats give me deep satisfaction on a daily basis. Anything that is economical, healthy, and better for the planet--as oat groats are on all three fronts when compared with boxed cereal--gives me a boost day after day after day. It never gets old for me. Aren't these pleasures more country than city, more bumpkin than Brooklyn?

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I love Brooklyn! I've lived here for 15 years and remain a fan. I love Prospect Park, the majestic main branch of the Brooklyn Library, the Park Slope Food Coop, the people, and the food. I love being able to walk most places I need to go. I even love the subway. (Look, Ma, no car!) This burg suits me.

Aaron and I are edgy, man, very Brooklyn. He's pierced, I'm tattooed. And he would be tattooed if he wasn't worried that after just one it would only be a matter of time before he was awash in ink from the neck down. Meanwhile, I would be pierced if all my interesting piercings (lip, tongue, nose, and upper ear) didn't repeatedly get infected, leading me to give up on all but traditional earrings. We listen to NPR, have a Maclaren stroller, used to own a Volvo, and used to drink Gorilla Coffee. Um, okay, maybe not so edgy and maybe more specifically Park Slope than Brooklyn.

Whatever the case, I just wanted you to know the "Brooklyn" in Brooklyn Bumpkin is for reals: this has been my happy home for a long time.

Next post: The Bumpkin

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Nearings

Credited as the "great-grandparents" of the back-to-the-land movement, the Nearings left NYC in 1932 for rural Vermont with "three objectives in mind: The first was economic" They didn't want to participate in "the commodity and labor markets". "[Their] second aim was hygienic." i.e. healthy living. "[Their] third objective was social and ethical. [They] desired to liberate ourselves and dissociate [them]selves, as much as possible, from the cruder forms of exploitation: the plunder of the planet; the slavery of man and beast; the slaughter of men in war, and of animals for food."

Reading their book "The Good Life" I feel so 21st century. Even as I'm amused by some of their dated language and ardent idealism, I yearn for a nobler, less cynical time. I certainly hope we find a nobler, less cynical life up in Maine. But maybe we'll just find we've signed on for too much discomfort, too much work, and too much uncertainty. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blueberry plants

Getting ready for 12 weeks in Maine with a 2-year-old and an 9-week-old has been going about as slowly as expected. With only two weeks left before we leave, it is getting down to the wire for preparations. (The only time I have to write this is while I nurse.) We have to clear the apartment for our subletters and pack the essentials for life in a virtually empty log cabin.

The blueberry plants on our kitchen window sill are proving very helpful. My husband and older son planted them from cuttings sent from Washington state. Unlike several batches of seedlings, the blueberry plants are flourishing. Some are even blooming. But it remains hard to imagine them in soil, let alone bush-sized. In fact, most of this future life is hard for me to imagine. I've lived in New York City since I came here to go to college in 1987. Before that I lived in Cambridge, MA. Apart from two months spent au pairing in Vermont back in 1989, I've never lived in the country. Thank god we are starting with an initial 12-week stint and coming back to Brooklyn before our final move next summer. Otherwise, I think my brain would be melting right now. And when I'm in my ADD pinball-style mode of sorting and packing, four or more projects going at once, I look at the blueberry plants and get excited all over again about our move.