Monday, November 28, 2011

That attitude of gratitude

I enjoyed John Tierney's article on the importance of gratitude. I've long thought gratitude akin to flossing, but good for my mental, not dental, health. Still, despite my best intentions to focus on the full half of the glass, I often end up wondering if organized religion would help. It isn't that I don't feel gratitude on a frequent, regular, and heart-felt-basis, but rather that I one-eighty out of it so fast there isn't even any danger of whiplash, it's quantum. I'll be awash in warm-fuzzies when, like an “I Dream of Jeannie” special-effect, I'm facing the exact opposite way in the space of one frame, wondering why it was, exactly, that I thought having kids was a good idea, or bemoaning no closets, or pining for a dishwasher.

The fact of the matter is I have oodles to be grateful for this holiday season. Two shining examples are the drainpipe on our washing machine and our propane refrigerator. Prior to the drainpipe installation, each load of laundry meant carrying three carboys full of water from the utility room across the house to the kitchen sink for dumping. I didn't feel sorry for myself, but did spend a fair amount of time thinking, “this is ridiculous.” In October, Aaron hooked up a drainpipe and hot water to the washing machine (which involved running pipe from the utility room, under the house, across the house, to the kitchen sink drain). Now, it is a joy to put in a load and forget about it as I corral, cajole, and care-take the kidlets, hanging the laundry up to dry after they have gone to bed. And switching from an electric to a propane fridge has meant we run our generator about 75% less than we did and can go away for the weekend without getting rid of all of the food in the fridge and freezer. (Talk about an ultra-ridiculous situation.)  Enjoy your refrigeration, it is energy intensive, but think how differently you'd be eating without it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I just had my one-year anniversary of moving out of Brooklyn. In the weeks before we left, Aaron kept asking me if I thought I was going to be happy living in the country. “I don't know,” was all I could answer, “would I be happy living on the moon?” To me, Maine, the country, not-New York, all felt as alien as a cold ball of rock and metal far, far away. (With much better potential, of course.) But the thing about moving to the moon—apart from the isolation—would be the crazy learning curve of adjusting to life on a space station, with all the maintenance, the repairs, the new weather conditions, the limited laundry, the connectivity issues (although internet access may well be faster up there, than it is here in our cabin), and learning to relax into all the other new-normals that are not yet the least bit normal. To go from the call-the-landlord-maintenance you get when renting an apartment to living on a non-town maintained road, in an ailing off-the-grid cabin has, in retrospect, meant a bit more chewing than we were ready for. The up side: we certainly have learned a lot. The down side: we have oh, so very much more to learn.
I wish I'd had the time and the wherewithal to keep this blog up over the past year, but my time (my life) has been swallowed up by these starlets:

I look forward to having more time for writing, someday...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Full circle

This morning I looked down and saw a tick meandering across the jeans Forest left lying on the bathroom floor.  And so, we are back where we started.  I put the tick in the toilet and the jeans in the hamper.  Then, a few moments later, I felt a tickle on the bottom of my foot.  I pulled off my sock and found exactly what I expected to, nothing.  The creepy-crawlies of tick season feel more real than the actual ticks.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


No more than a quick throat clearing with this re-entry into blogging.  Certain third world conditions around here currently have the upper hand over me.  Which is to say, our water is not what it should be and, consequently, nor are my guts.

My apologies for the abrupt, unexplained hiatus from blogging.  I blame winter, my children, and inertia.  The long winter started to get me a little down by the absurdly protracted end of it. (Over a foot of snow on April 1!?!)  My children don't let me sleep anywhere near enough for normal brain function.  And inertia can be powerful.  Once I stopped posting, staying stopped was comfy and easy.  I'll do my best to get inertia working in the opposite direction.

Today, I transplanted the beet and rutabaga seedlings Aaron started in our house.  Aaron also put in collards and swiss chard.  We started at the top of our field and have many more trays of seedlings to go.

More soon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

So much to learn. (Vegetarian discretion advised)

We were offered two aggressive roosters by vegetarian friends who keep chickens and don't like being attacked when entering the coop. As earlier mentioned, I feel that, as a meat eater, the responsible thing is to face the death behind at least a few of the meat-based meals I eat. But my feet started getting cold the night before the roosters were due to arrive. I was very glad somebody had to stay with the kids, leaving me no choice but to sit out yet another slaughter. Turns out, proximity to death matters. At one point, I went out to check on Aaron and make sure the attack roosters hadn't gotten the upper hand.  I found him skinning the first bird, bright blood drippings on the dirty snow and milk carton he'd set under the now half naked rooster. Later, when Aaron came in, his cheek was dripping with blood. Happily, he'd been sprayed, not slashed.

After skinning both birds, Aaron finished the processing in our kitchen sink. 

Forest was eager to eat the birds after getting over his initial disappointment that we weren't keeping them as pets.  The blood, guts, and blue-grey feet didn't bother him in the least.  I also watched the proceedings, impressed by Aaron's skill.   Decapitating, skinning, eviscerating without any apparent hesitation or mistakes, Aaron turned two roosters crowing in their cat carriers into supper ingredients.  The advantage of growing up hunting.

As happy as we were to have the meat, it made us both very sad. Aaron said the second bird almost got a last minute reprieve. “They were such beautiful birds. And it always makes me sad to kill.” I was also somber and, truth be told, a bit grossed out by the smell of fresh flesh. Then I started getting tired. Stupefyingly tired. My limbs felt melty, my mind went fuzzy, and I kept tripping. Aaron sent me to bed for a bit, while he bathed the kids. I felt guilty, but I was in such a torpor, I couldn't say no to rest. Was this a reaction to the death of these birds? As the evening wore on, my throat got sore and I had joint aches all over. I became convinced I was getting sick, but then I was perfectly health the next morning. We'll see what happens the next time we kill.

And, it turns out, there is a learning curve with cooking year-old roosters. Aaron wanted to roast one, despite my skepticism, we did. (Really, we steamed it since it was covered with tinfoil.) The result: delicious chicken-shoe, which is to say, excellent taste, awful texture. I wanted to stew one and picked a recipe intended for old roosters, coq au vin. I'm not all that experienced at cooking meat and totally flubbed the dish. (I guess the bacon and the brandy flambe step were more crucial than I thought.) The ingredients didn't come together and transform into a whole greater than the parts, instead the wine sauce tasted like greasy wine and the now purple chicken pieces tasted like greasy wine-flavored chicken. The texture, although better than the chicken-shoe, wasn't all that impressive either. Forest said, “It tastes funky,” and ate bread for dinner. I'm hoping (but not hopeful) that, as promised in the cookbook, the flavors will meld and improve with sitting overnight. Of course it is all the same to those roosters whether we enjoy eating them—in fact, probably nicer for them if we suffer a bit—, but to me it seems they deserved better for the lives we took from them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I'm cooking as fast as I can

Forest had his first day of preschool today.  He obviously had a marvelous time, and I was planning to blog tonight, figuring I'd coast on that wave of one-kid-only productivity right into the evening.   Then, as I was getting Walker to sleep, I started thinking about the next task on tap: preparing Forest's lunch for school tomorrow.  With the cupboards as bare of prepared food as they are  that meant starting from scratch.  So, this evening I baked bread, hard-boiled eggs, made egg salad, and then, exhaustion be damned, blogged.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Way, way too much stuff

Although Spring is in sniffing distance today, we are still deep in snow around here.  And, sad to say, still deep in boxes.  Yup, when you are prepping for Armageddon and future craft projects the stuff really piles up.  Aaron and I usually agree on how we want to live our lives, but not, alas, on what should be saved and what should be thrown away.  So, we save it all.

I'm probably the worst of the worst, an ex-crafter who wants to craft again.  I know what's needed, but I don't actually use any of it.  The other day, I had trouble parting with a piece of cardboard.  It was the perfect weight to use as backing for, well, something that I might someday make with Forest (or, since the time flies so fast, with Walker).  Meanwhile, Aaron can't part with the smallest scrap of cordage.  (There is no string in this cabin, only cordage.)  Apparently, you can never have enough of the stuff.  And, since I'm obsessed with knitting, I have more boxes filled with yarn than I care to disclose.  In fact, if Christo decided to wrap our cabin he wouldn't need to apply for any grants, we could probably make up to the roof with the yarn and cordage we have on hand.  But, boy, if things really fall apart, we'll be sitting pretty with our freeze-dried butter powder and tubes of glitter glue.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Speaking of food

As I mentioned, a big reason we are here is our interest in food production.  Cooking our own food and eating family meals is also a priority.  (Especially after reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food.)  Now, while icicles are the only thing growing around our place, is a great time for using the oven, so I've been baking all our bread.
Meanwhile, after my creme fraiche success, I was eager to make more cheese.  Here is some cream cheese I made, spread on homemade bread. 

The jar with white stuff in it is the rest of the cream cheese, the yellow-green jar of liquid is the whey that drained off from the cream cheese.  (I have since used the whey instead of water in a magically delicious loaf of bread.)  The little hand is Forest's.  He loves cream cheese and was very eager for this snack.  Well, days later, that jar of cream cheese is still in the fridge.  Although Forest ate the snack, he announced afterward that he didn't like this cream cheese, and I had to agree.  It isn't bad, it just doesn't have that cream cheese tang and is plain old boring.  My next dairy experiment will be yogurt. 

Mr. Pollan notwithstanding, I go back and forth between feeling like all this food prep is a valid and important use of so very much of my time and feeling like I'm a nitwit for cooking my life away.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sunny day.

Forest loves all forms of snow removal.

Our driveway.

Looking down the road from our driveway.

The front steps.

Garden gate.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Formal invitation

(This blog is intended for a general audience.  This post, however, is written for my friends.  Of course, all are welcome to read it.)

Aaron, Forest, and Walker all have February birthdays.  So we are planning to have a triple-decker celebration President's Day weekend at my parents.  We are hoping some New York people will make the trip. We figure Sunday, the 20th, makes most sense so people can travel on Sat and Mon.

Here are the invitations Forest wrote.  This one says: "Everybody come."
This ones says: "Everybody came to the celebration"

 This one says:  "Come to Mummo and Grandpa's"
I'll spare you the rest of the invitations Forest wrote.  We hope you can make it.  (Let me know if you are thinking of coming.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I dance with Mr. Bradley

Another week, another dump of snow.  All previous snows, Aaron has done the plowing with our David Bradley walk-behind tractor and ended the day an over-cooked noodle of exhaustion.  I figured Aaron needed a break from plowing, and I knew I needed a break from child care, so I insisted this time it was my turn to plow, his turn to bathe the kids.  As I left the house, he predicted I'd soon wish I was doing bath time.

Aaron had started the engine for me (a procedure requiring many pulls on the starter cord), so Mr. Bradley was growling in the driveway, clutch disengaged, waiting for me.  I sighed, pulled down the clutch, and grabbed the handles to steer.  The metal felt mighty cold through wet wool gloves.  But in moments, I was gripping has hard as I could despite the mild pain.  The throttle doesn't work, so there is only one speed, zombie speed: slow, steady, inexorable.  I knew Aaron had said it was hard work plowing, and I believed him, but from the window, it doesn't look that hard, walking along at such a stately pace. However, I was finding steering so difficult, I didn't see the advantage over shoveling. Within 15 feet of my starting point, I was drifting out of the line cut by Aaron on the right side of the driveway, over to the left side of the driveway.  I kept having to disengage the clutch to keep from going into the ditch.  Despite my best repeated efforts, I could not get Mr. Bradley back to the right side of the driveway, he persisted in side-sliding towards the left-hand ditch no matter how hard I wrestled him.

I could see Aaron watching from the window.  After some hand flapping, head shaking, and arm waving, we got out our cell phones.  He was surprised to hear I couldn't control the plow.  "It looked like you were doing fine."  When I explained what was going on, he said he'd do the plowing.  He did not want to have to get Mr. Bradley out of a ditch.  Since I am stubborn, and since I really did need a break from the kids, I told him I'd try once more.  This time, I didn't try to get back to the right side of the driveway, but rather stayed in the line Aaron cut on the left side.  Things started going better.  I figured out I shouldn't fight Mr. Bradely's zombie-ness, but work with it.  If Mr. Bradley starts going sideways, he is simply doing what zombies do, if they can't push through, they go around, slowly, steadily, inexorably.  Instead of trying to wrestle him back on track, it is simply a matter of pressing down on the handles, so the plow blade lifts up a bit and less snow needs pushing.  With the resistance gone, David "Zombie" Bradley continues on his course.  I was relieved to know that Aaron hadn't been working that hard all those hours.  It also is a blessing that Mr. Bradley doesn't sound like a zombie, it would get tedious listening to droning about brains while plowing.  Instead, he evokes memories of fishing with his put-puttering sounding like an outboard motor.  Back at the top of the driveway, I ran inside for dry gloves and was comfortable thereafter.

After two hours of plowing, it seemed to me the only way to make more progress would be with a shovel.  So much snow has already fallen, there is nowhere to push the new snow.  The banks were as packed as Mr. Bradley could pack them, and I felt great.  Maybe I could do some farm work after all.  Plowing was arduous, but I got absorbed in the challenge of getting the path wide enough and smooth enough, and then, when I was done, I felt downright proud.  Back in the cabin, I found the children bathed and playing with bath toys in the living room.  I got Walker down for his nap and made dinner while Aaron shoveled back the left snow bank almost to the end of the drive, which took two hours.  He went to bed a while ago, an over-cooked noodle of exhaustion.  As satisfying a day as it was, I can't help but think of the White Queen.  We're having to run awfully hard just to stay in place.  And now, this already achy noodle is off to bed.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What am I doing here?

Just how did I end up in a chilly cabin on stilts in the middle of the woods?  Pure backlash against 20 plus year of ultra-urban living?  Time will tell if I overestimated my need for quiet and privacy, but a primary reason we ended up here is food production.

For years, Aaron's dream was to have a farm.  I always said living on a farm sounded pleasant, so long as I didn't have to do any farming.  But I wasn't willing to run off to the country with Aaron.  We had a kid, and nothing changed in my thinking until we went to visit my friends' beautiful farm.  We had enjoyed visits there before, but being there in the dirt, the green, the calm, and catching a glimpse of the natural rhythms of farm life while I was still flush with the hormones and emotions of new motherhood changed everything.  In that state I was able to listen to my heart (something I'm not always so good at), and it told me "this is how I want to raise my child."  So I told Aaron, "Ok.  Let's do it." 

Then I went and read Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilema" and got all fired up reading about the elegantly engineered ecosystem that is "grass farming".  And here we are.  (Not that we have the land needed for cattle, and, at this point, we'd be happy just to produce some eggs and root vegetables for our family.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Kill, Daddy, kill!

The other day, Forest announced he would like to go and see some "real live aminals."  I assumed this was inspired by the Barney DVD called "Lets Go To The Farm" that keeps him company while I put Walker to sleep.  Barney and his cheery cohorts collect eggs, make ice cream, and thank sheep for their wool.

"Oh, like on your DVD?"

"I want to see real live aminals so we can eat them."

"Really, what animal do you want to eat?"

"A pig,"  and here he got quite excited, "Maybe if we see a pig in the driveway, Daddy can shoot it, and then we can eat it."  The driveway business is because whenever we see wild turkeys out the window Aaron and I talk about how tasty one would be.  So I guess Forest is on board with the family gun.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The family gun

While I was away this weekend with the kids, Aaron went out and bought another gun.  This one is a .22, and when I asked why he needed it, Aaron replied, "Don't think of it as my gun, think of it as the family gun."  Who ever would have thunk I'd end up in a household that has, among other guns, a family gun.  Apparently, it is perfect for learning to shoot with.  Aaron would like me to get adept with it and is hoping, eventually, I will hunt with it.  He also plans to teach the kids when they are old enough.  (He owed his first .22 when he was eight and shot his first deer at ten.)  For Aaron, hunting is all about procuring food.  For me, well, color me ambivalent.  I believe I should be willing to take responsibility for my actions, which, as a meat eater, means being willing to kill animals for food.  But I really don't know if I can.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday afternoon

Pinprick-sized snow flakes are falling.  Forest just asked for scissors to trim his painting.
Walker is sleeping, and it is so quiet I can hear the beans bubbling on the stove.  The day is gray, but my mood is not.  Despite the clutter on every available surface (including the floor), it feels cozy in the cabin.  I should be cooking, cleaning, unpacking (boxes), packing (for a weekend in Cambridge), but as I was about to tackle the dishes I paused to look out the window.  The snow, the trees, and the quiet stopped me.  It is peaceful here.  Brooklyn feels like another dimension.

Walker woke up.  Time to tackle the dishes et al.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Care and feeding

Our off-the-grid set up requires lots of care and feeding.  Here I am watering our batteries. We have eight batteries with three cells a piece. Each cell has a plate that should never be exposed to air. We have to monitor the water levels and pour in distilled water as needed. The safety goggles are so that if pressure has built up in one of the batteries and it spews sulfuric acid when I unscrew the cap, I won't lose my vision. It all takes longer than you'd think. Note, too, the red fleece pants, pink piping and all. Never wore them much in Brooklyn, too red, too warm. Now they are in heavy rotation.

Speaking of care and feeding, I think the cold and the long nights are scrambling my brain. Here is what I cooked today: millet for breakfast, crème fraiche (my first foray into making cheese), whole wheat bread (two loaves), corn griddle cakes for lunch, pain au chou (aka cabbage loaf), and, for dinner, crepes to have with the butternut squash gratin I made yesterday. Here is a loaf of the bread and the “yogotherm” in which the crème fraiche is setting. 

Aaron spent the day winterizing--putting plastic on windows and sealing up spots where daylight (and cold breezes) come into our cabin.  It's suppose to get down to -1 tonight.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Silver and gold

When I was a kid this song worried me: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.” What if your old friends were crummy friends? What if the new friend was gold, not silver? But even as I questioned the song, I heeded it as important wisdom. Well, a new pot has come into my life, just days after the handle of my go-to pot broke. If you know me, odds are, you know my pressure cooker. I sing its praises loudly and often. Then, an amazing good-bye gift arrived yesterday in the mail: a 7.6 quart dutch oven. (Thank you, A!) I took it out of the box and started mulling possible inaugural dishes. What could be special enough? This evening when I had way too many butternut squash cubes stuffed into my handle-less pressure cooker for any sautéing to happen, I hustled the new pot onto a burner and transferred some of the squash into it. So much for pomp and ceremony when the right pot comes into your life.

Once the squash was done, I figured I might as well use this already oiled pot for braising the kale and beet greens:

Don't get me wrong, I still love my pressure cooker and will probably still use it on a daily basis, but, it is no longer the only pot in my heart.

Meanwhile, a phenomenon from this summer is recurring. After spending lovely time with local friendlies, I'm left with an over-sized, dense mass in the center of my chest pulling me and the corners of my mouth down. Forest got nervous at how little I was smiling at dinner. When I explained to him that I was missing people in Brooklyn, I couldn't hold back the tears. The lump is a bit lighter now, but still with me.  What I couldn't figure out as a kid is that the song is missing a syllable (in deference to the melody).  It is a song about new and old friendships, not about the friends themselves.  Of course people can't be automatically more valuable because you met them first, but friendships are a different matter.  The time you spend together and the span of time over which you know each other are precious beyond high-priced metals.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I haven't written because of the shooting last week.  I have nothing insightful to say about it, but haven't wanted to chirp away as if nothing has happened.

I'm sad for the victims and their families.  Sad about the state of mental health services in this country.  Sad about the state of political discourse in the country.  And sad that such violence is nothing new.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I have my own car for the first time in my life.  Aaron and I owned two cars together, a Volvo for one year back in '05 and then the Subaru Outback we bought to come up here last summer.  The Outback has been Aaron's commuting car, and now, as of yesterday afternoon, I have my very own silver Subaru Forester.  Tomorrow I'm registering the car, getting plates, and then Midcoast Maine is my oyster.  The laundromat, Hannafords, our village store, there'll be no stopping me.  Yes, that is the up side of being here for two weeks here with no car: pure joy at the prospect of buying groceries at will.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Milk, long time drinker, first time pasteurizer.

Raw milk is legal in Maine.  We were happily buying it at the village store for the whole family until we heard a story on the radio about raw milk that made us rethink giving it to Forest.  (Walker hasn't gotten to cow's milk, yet.)  We still buy raw milk for the grown ups because it is seriously delicious and I can tolerate its lactose.  Today, we ran out of kiddie milk.  So, being car-less, I went online for instructions and pasteurized the NC17 milk.

You simply have to heat the milk to 142 degrees for 30 minutes or 162 degrees for 15 seconds, and then cool it down as fast as possible.  I'm sure the 142 degree route is better, but with the kids waiting for breakfast, I went for speed.  Once it was pasteurized, the magic was gone.  It tasted just like regular, supermarket milk.

My "quick-cool" method:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

!Danger !Warning !Caution

Despite the teasing it has earned me, I always read manuals.  How else would I know not to blow dry my hair while sleeping?  But now I'm way behind.  The manuals that come with this cabin are epic and, as it turns out, frightening. Our generator's manual comes with 3-tiers of "safety message alerts."

"!Danger:  You WILL be KILLED or SERIOUSLY HURT if you don't follow instructions.
!Warning:  You CAN be KILLED or SERIOUSLY HURT if you don't follow instructions
!Caution:  You CAN be HURT if you don't follow instructions."

And here is a sample warning:
"! Warning: !
The engine exhaust from this product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm."

It's all fun and games until somebody blows up or gets terminally ill.

Monday, January 3, 2011

So far so good

Yesterday marked my one week anniversary as a Mainer.  I arrived a bit worried, not about liking Maine in general, but about how the cabin would feel in the dead of winter.  The propane lanterns seemed awfully dim to me this past summer, and I find poor lighting depressing.  I also hate to be cold.  (One might ask why I opted to move to an off-the-grid cabin in Maine.  I certainly have.)  Much to my surprise, the cabin feels cozy, not oppressive, claustrophobic, and bleak.  What a happy relief.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Unlike the undifferentiated muddle of so many other years, much of 2010 will stay with me. What with having a baby in February, 
 in May packing up our apartment for subletters and moving our household to Maine for twelve weeks, 
then unpacking our apartment and settling back into Brooklyn in August, and Aaron getting a job in October that started in Maine in November, there a lot to set 2010 apart. I guess I might not remember September.  September was pretty chill.

Last night, as we were sitting on the sofa watching the fire and glancing every so often at the clock while waiting for midnight, Aaron and I reviewed the marathon that was 2010 and committed to taking it easy this year—apart from the care of two small children; learning how to garden, make cheese, make bread, can, pickle, and smoke food; getting a cat, a dog, a goat, and some chickens; putting a foundation under our house; building a mudroom, a shed, and a chicken coop; putting up walls in our cabin; weatherizing the cabin; and, as per our New Year's resolution, meditating regularly.

Happy New Year!!! What's your New Year's resolution?