Wins And Losses

Despite a certain need for pruning, the fruit trees in our front yard have been outdoing themselves this year — the apple and plum trees in particular are loaded down with fruit, so much so that many of the more slender apple branches are pointing at the ground. It’s always wonderful to watch a heavy crop of fruit growing and know that in a month or two it will be sweet and tasty.

Anything Mica doesn’t get before then, anyway. She’s pretty excited about the picking-fruit-off-trees concept, and, like all young children, sees no real reason to wait for some distant and possibly mythical stage called “ripe.”




Our vegetable beds in the back have not fared quite so well this year. I had a brilliant idea this spring, an idea that seemed so perfect that in retrospect it could only be flawed. I decided to put in a row of flowers between the tomatoes, in the very back of my beds, and the greens and bush beans in the front. In itself this didn’t need to be a problem, if I’d carefully chosen compact flowering plants that would stay only a foot high. Instead I ordered packets of bee and hummingbird attracting flowers from Territorial.



They have grown with vigor and loveliness, and some of them (notably the delphinium and oriental poppies) I have really been enjoying. I may even try to transplant a few to other parts of the garden. But what haven’t grown this year are my tomatoes, which were overshadowed early on and have been fighting a losing battle for light.


AERO, Belatedly

Given the amount of time I’ve spent thinking about and planning for and anticipating the upcoming AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) conference, I’m chagrined that I never posted about it here. Just in case anyone is interested, follow the link to check it out. The conference runs from August 3rd through the 7th, at a hotel near the Portland airport; both Village Free School and Schools of Conscience will have presences there, among many, many other alternative education organizations, and homeschoolers are welcome as well. It will be my first conference since my one and only biochemistry experience back in my college days, and I’m really looking forward to it.


Is two the official age of “not a baby anymore”? I remember when Nathan turned two, he seemed so big and capable — but then, we’d just had Ryan a few weeks earlier. Mica at two is also big and capable (for example, she can unlock and open the back door, which makes keeping her inside difficult), but with her brothers around she still feels like the baby.


To celebrate her second birthday, which may or may not make her not a baby, we tried to do very Mica-centric things. In the morning I unobtrusively left out a box that had arrived from her grandmother, and let Mica discover and delve into the gifts it contained. Her favorite one was quickly dubbed Little Lamb and has been a major contender for Mica’s affections ever since. We headed out for the park next — the park with the water fountains, which Mica adores. Unlike the bathroom sink, there she’s actually encouraged to play in the water.


And I gave in to pressure (applied just as much by the boys as by Mica, a pattern that our family has seen before) and made a small cake for dessert. An actual layered cake holds a lot of glamour for the kids. Poor Mica had a few bad moments when I tried to convince her that she needed to wait until after dinner for cake to be served, but she is still small enough that I eventually just put it on top of the fridge. (That won’t work for the boys anymore. Thank goodness they’ve developed some capacity for delayed gratification.) When the cake finally made an appearance, it was much appreciated.



“Clearing” features large in my childhood memories. We helped Dad clear deadfalls even when we were fairly young, dragging branches away from the tree as he cut them — the smell of sawdust and exhaust from the chainsaw, the unwieldy way long branches would tip as we raised them so they’d sail deep enough into the woods to be out of our way. As we grew older and stronger, we learned to buck small trees so he could cut them into logs, pushing the log forward by a chainsaw-length and then steadying it between hands and knees so he could cut.

Then there was the task of clearing blackberries around the property. I still have vivid memories of hot sun, of the weight of the corn knife in my hand, the satisfying song as it sliced through smaller stems; then the less satisfying task of crawling in with loppers to cut the canes at their base, and wriggling out through thorns; and then hauling the canes out to the burn pile, the tangled, dragging mass that had somehow to be wrestled up onto the pile.

And that doesn’t even touch on the couple of summers where I was assigned a major clearing job: the year Kevin and I were tasked with taking back the upper corner of the vineyard from scotch broom; the year Peter and I cleared the woods’ path of encroaching alders, and I learned how to set the choke so he could drag them out with the tractor.

I’m sure I grumbled at the time, but I came to somewhat enjoy clearing work — especially deadfalls. It was hard, gritty, sometimes thorny work, but also satisfying.

So when Dave recently trimmed the tree branches encroaching on the back of our property (we don’t own the trees, but they fail to respect that), I felt a certain sense of nostalgia. He had the boys out hauling branches for him, just as my Dad used to do with me; and although they grumbled a bit, they’re old enough now that they can do some solid work. It felt like a continuation.


I’m not sure they saw it that way. “You know, I used to sort of like clearing branches,” I told them at one point, and received twin stares of incomprehension.

Just A Picture


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On Cookbooks

Recently we ran out of pancake and waffle mix. (Yes, I cheat.) This would have been an unremarkable event except that Ryan, who really wanted waffles one morning, was willing to entertain the idea of making them from scratch. “Ok, let’s find the recipe,” I told him, and then, as he headed toward my laptop, “No, we don’t need to look it up online. I have it in a book.”

Pretty soon he and Nathan were poring over one of my cookbooks. I do have them, but it isn’t too surprising the kids think that recipes come from the computer; most of my new recipes are from there. I occasionally look up something obscure in Joy of Cooking, or remind myself of how to make apple jelly in my preservation book, but otherwise I hardly ever pull them out.


Yet the boys were fascinated by this cookbook concept. They spent some time flipping through the pages of the cookie section, reading out recipe titles they wanted to try. Watching them, I realized that this format was far more accessible to them than an online search or even my recipe card box. (The latter is true mainly because I get very finicky about my organization being messed up, and the kids are trained young not to pull the cards out.)

Within a few hours they worked together to made a recipe from it — chocolate chip cookies, which is hardly new, but it was still interesting to me that he wanted to make the one in the book. And within a week Nathan looked up and made a chocolate cake. Despite the fact that he entirely ignored the “directions” section and just went off the ingredients (another effect of my cards, which rarely have directions written), the cake turned out very well.


This policy of letting them have treats as long as they make them themselves is proving pretty effective at getting Nathan to bake. Which is not surprising; that’s exactly what my parents did with us, too. I wonder what he’ll make next…

And A Swing

The main hurdle to getting this swing up was simply admitting that it would need to go right here, in the entryway to our patio. To be fair, it doesn’t block the entire entry, only half of it. But I resisted for a long time anyway, thinking that I ought to actually sink posts and put it out in the yard.

Once I finally admitted that wouldn’t happen, installing it was quick and easy. And in those first heady days Mica asked to swing probably forty-seven times.