This will be a quiet week – I’ve got my Dad making his annual visit, a talk, a short trip, and then a slew of guests arriving for the weekend for Simon’s 9th birthday party and Simon’s first Torah reading (he’s too young to read in the main synagogue, but he’ll be the youngest kid ever to chant Torah at our shul in Junior Congregation), and there’s a lot of cooking, plus the getting-ready-for-winter stuff is in high gear. So don’t expect too much of me .
The single FAQ about me is “how do you do it all?” The standard answer I have given since the question started to occur is still true – I don’t. I don’t do it all, and one of the things about writing is that it smooths things out and reduces them, and makes everything look like it flows more smoothly than it does. This isn’t a conscious intent of mine, and I do try to be aware of it, but the very fact that no one actually wants to hear about the six interruptions I had getting a piece done to help someone spell this, wipe someone on the potty, get drinks of water and intervene is squabbles makes everything look clean, when it is actually quite messy and sometimes chaotic.
Still, so many people tell me that it is helpful to be able to see how my life actually works that I do feel inclined to do it periodically. My first attempt was around the same time of year in 2006, and appears in _Depletion and Abundance_ – what’s different now is that the kids are 4 years older, and the issues are somewhat different…somewhat. Here’s the story of last Friday. As I write this, Eli is 10 1/2, Simon will be 9 next Saturday, Asher is five and Isaiah will be 7 next month.
The time change is still a huge issue for us – Eli has some mild sleep issues (most kids with autism do, and his aren’t bad) but he simply does not grasp the concept of a time change. Indeed, there’s something about the increasing darkness that sends him to sleep even earlier. Which means that he’s up *even earlier* – we try and shift him by keeping him awake, and end up in this weird position of my kid trying to sneak off to go to sleep at 5:30 in the afternoon. All of which means that after a pleasant summer of sleeping until 6:30 most mornings, we’re often seeing the number 5 – and occasionally even 4 again. But hey, we’re farmers, right, so we don’t mind. Right.
5am – It wasn’t a great night to begin with. The coyotes that den in the big field across the road from us were singing, which I don’t mind at all – it is lovely and eerie and faint through the closed windows, and I was only vaguely aware of them. But about a minute after they began their song, Mac started barking. That’s ok too, since he was on the perimeter of the property, and that’s his job. But Mistress Quickly (our emergency backup dog) felt that she should be doing something too. What she decided to do was sit under our window and sing along with the coyotes. Coyote voices are lovely. MQ’s singing, not so much. She sounds like Scooby-doo trying to do shape notes. After a few minutes, I stagger downstairs and lure her and Mac into the garage, where they will be somewhat muffled and go back to sleep. This was 1amish.
At 4am, we start to hear Eli. The good news is that he’s learned to hang out fairly quietly and play in the kids’ room for a good while if he’s up in the night – some years before we used to have to get up with him, but now he just plays quietly…but you still hear it. We try and ignore that and the muffled sounds of singing.
At 5am, Simon comes out and stands in the doorway asking “is it time to get up yet?” The rule during long light days is that you can’t come out (except to pee) until the sun comes up. The new rule involves the clock, and Simon keeps “forgetting” that he isn’t supposed to come bother us until six…”Oh, I thought you said 5.” Mmmmmmhhhmmmmm. Sure you did kid. Eric mutters some vague threat if he doesn’t go back in his room and BE QUIET.
5:07 – Eli is noticably louder now – Simon is the official leader of child delegations here, and Eli had clearly thought that SImon’s approach to our room meant it was time to get up. The banging goes on for a few minutes. Blah! Fine, we’re up. Sort of.
The kids coming bouncing out of their room excitedly explaining to us about the game they were playing involved firing stuffed animals at each other. We stagger down and grumble, but it is hard to be too grumpy when four small people are just thrilled to see us. Five year old Asher is the brightest and cheerfullest, and hardest to resist.
5:15 – We divide duties. Eric sets to assembling toast (toast and oatmeal are our most common breakfasts) and apple cider (we happen to have some, most mornings the kids drink herb tea) for breakfast, and starting baths (the ground is muddy from lots of rain earlier in the week and we were too lazy to clean them last night), while I light the fire in the cookstove, put on the kettle and release the dogs from the garage and give them breakfast. The dogs alternate between homemade dog food (butchering extras, brown rice, vegetables) and a good quality natural dog food, but they prefer the homemade. I worry about nutritional deficits, through, and don’t quite have the nerve to abandon the commercial stuff altogether. Mac eats inside, MQ is outside, since is food aggressive and gets fat really easily, and Mac needs about 3xs as much food as she does.
The fire lights quickly – it has been warm, 50s during the day, but the nights are cold, so I find that a small fire in the morning really takes the edge off of things. We let it go out by mid-day but usually manage to get lunch heated up on it as well. I put the kettle on over the firebox for my tea – I’ll be more cheerful after tea. It isn’t that I need the caffeine, I don’t, I just need the ritual.
I do dishes while the fire heats up. Eric sterilizes the milking equipment. The kids are eating breakfast in the living room – if it is toast only, I let them eat on the wood floor, since it is no more work to sweep the crumbs there than at the table. Eli listens to music while he eats, Asher and Isaiah are sharing a big armchair and looking at an encyclopedia of dinosaurs, and Simon is drawing cartoons. We do sit-down family meals for all other occasions, but breakfast is very much come as you are.
5:45 – Water is hot and Eric has sourdough toast waiting for me. I pour our tea – mint for him, black for me and we kick Asher off the couch and stick him in the tub so that we can take it over. I look forward to this part of our day every morning – we try and sit for 15 minutes before getting really going.
We discuss our plans for the day. We had a disappointment this morning – our friends Jon and Steph and their three kids, including their 2 month old daughter, who we have not yet met, were supposed to be spending the weekend, but there’s a message on the machine from late last night that their 2 year old has been throwing up and they won’t make it. Damn. We debate whether to try and make plans with other friends for the next day, or to leave the space open. We decide on the latter – too hectic, and often enough we end up hanging out with friends at synagogue until mid-afternoon – while their kids play with ours. We don’t need to rush that.
6:15am – I make Eli’s lunch from yesterday’s leftovers (Eli doesn’t like sandwiches), pack his backpack, and get things ready for school. You have to give the kids this credit – mornings are way less hectic when you have 3+ hours to get ready for school. I’d still rather have the sleep, though.
The kids sing Modeh Ani, brush teeth and rotate through the bath and hair washes. I head upstairs to check email – I’m definitely *not* officially working this morning – I’m really trying to get to the point where I work only three days a week, and ignore my email in the interim. But I’m helping run an event next week, and there are organizational details that can’t wait. I want to stop in and visit a friend on my way back from my travels, and that requires email, and I have a couple of other folks I’ve been neglecting. Sigh.
7:30 – I managed to ignore my blog, my class, all emails not deemed urgent or immediately relevant to something. I’m done – yay! I will check email at least once again today, since I’m waiting for an answer on something, but for me, that’s pretty good.
I feed the stove, do more dishes, and run a couple of loads of laundry while Eric goes out to milk the does. I finish Eli and the younger boys’ hair washes and set Simon to self-bathing. Laundry is hung on drying racks indoors – I’ll hang a load outside once the frost melts and the sun is really up.
I check on the rabbits – I’m debating moving them over to the hay barn for the winter, but figure I’d better check the weather forecast – if it is going to stay nice and warm, we might as well leave them out in the fresh air on the front porch. I have two does expected to kindle in 12 days, though, so I do want to get them moved and settled before they are too close to delivery. After a quick forecast check, I decide it can wait until early next week.
8:15: Eli’s bus comes. Yesterday was Veterans day and no school, so we had two neighbor kids and three friends’ kids visiting us and the kids had a great day racing around. They found a leopard frog (I was surprised that it was still out and about) who, afer a raging debate about which Death Eater from Harry Potter to name it after (I’m still not clear why it *had* to be named after a death eater), was named Dolohov. At the end of what was almost certainly a traumatic day involving too much child attention, Dolohov was returned to his spot on the creek, and the kids have announced their desire to see if they can find him again. Off to the creek!
Eric filters about 2 gallons of milk – I need to make cheese and yogurt ASAP, as it builds up rapidly if I don’t. I put that on the day’s agenda. Eric mixes up a batch of challah, the bread we eat on Friday nights and sets it to rise near the back of the woodstove.
8:30: Today’s agenda is particularly exciting – we’re going to be watching CNN – that’s the “Caprine Nookie Network” – today is the day that Frodo, our senior buck, gets let in with the senior does. We hadn’t planned to do this until early December, but yesterday I found out that the date for my old friend Jesse’s wedding has been set, and I need to move the breeding back so that the babies are all born and life is stable enough for us to go away in early June. I’d been sort of paying attention to the doe’s heat cycles, but not terribly carefully, since I thought I had another month to track them, so I’m not sure where we are in all the cycles. So Frodo gets to just go in with the older girls altogether.
Eric is cleaning out the barn – once the heavy snow sets in, this becomes a much harder job, and we tend to just go the deep bedding route, layering fresh, dry bedding on top of the old. The composting that happens in the lower layers helps keep the barn warm, and with enough carbon, it never smells bad. But depending on the kind of year we have, the job of cleaning out the barn at the end of winter can be intimidating – so we try to have done it as close to the first heavy snow as possible. We do a full clean out about every two weeks now, and we know that each one could be the last now, although I hope to get at least one more in. Last year, with the very late heavy snow we had in early March (four feet!), we didn’t get the barn cleaned out until April 1, and that was a *big* job.
I separate out the baby goats and stick them in the pasture, and go up to the monastary and select Frodo from the bucks and bring him down. Eric is dumping the manure and straw mixture on the garden beds in the side yard – each of the annual beds gets a thick layer, while the perennials get a slightly thinner one.
Frodo is, to sa the least, delighted by his good fortune. The does are a little less excited by his overtures, but Bast seems like she may be coming into receptivity…maybe.
The boys announce no sign of yesterday’s frog (if he’s smart, he got out of Dodge), but that they did see the Great Blue Heron. This is the latest we’ve ever seen our Heron, and we wonder if we’ve been missing him or he’s migrating later this year. It has been very warm, a mild fall for the most part.
While keeping an eye on adventures in the goat department, I plant tulip, muscari, snowdrop and daffodil bulbs, spread the mulch Eric has been layering on, spread leaves we’ve gathered from the streetsides on our trips into town on the woodland beds (we don’t manure these beds, using leaf mulch instead, because we’ve found that some of the woodland plants don’t seem to respond well to even composted manures).
Isaiah is done with the creek and helps me plant. All my kids love to participate on the farm, but Isaiah is a natural gardener, and always wants to be part of planting and harvesting. We talk about his garden plans. in New Haven, I saw a corn variety “bloody butcher” that I’m determine to grow here – it was beautiful and huge, and Isaiah and I talk about how tall it grows and whether we’ll be able to get it to 15 feet like the ones I saw in New Haven? We talk about soil fertility and why corn is a heavy feeder, and what we should feed it with. The folks in question fed theirs with leaf compost and diluted human urine. We suspect we can do that, plus some goat manure.
10am: Eric is done with the poultry areas and one of the goat stalls and calls it done for the morning so he can do some homeschooling with the kids. We’ll do the other half on Sunday afternoon, moving that manure onto the lower main garden. We’ve also got some more composting – finally, we feel like we’ve got enough animal livestock to almost keep up with the farm’s fertility needs – we’re coming into balance.
Eric practices reading with Isaiah and Asher, and sets Simon to correctly punctuating a series of very funny sentences. Isaiah is on the cusp of transitioning into reading becoming fluent, rather than an effort, and he’s excited by the fact that he’s almost there – he just wants to read as well as Simon. Asher can spell and write words, but he doesn’t quite grasp how they go to together yet, but there’s no pressure – he just turned five two weeks ago. The kids have a light snack – Mutsu apples and carrots from our root cellar.
11:am – Early lunch. On Eric’s workdays, we always eat early because he has to be at work at 12:15, but we’re hungry anyway – breakfast was a long, long time ago. I make tomato soup (not from a can, obviously), more slices of sourdough bread and sauteed cabbage with lemon-pepper. We eat a lot of cabbage in the winter, since it is green, fresh and stores so beautifully, and we all really enjoy it, particularly once the cabbage is sweetened by frost. At 11:30 Eric gets ready for work and heads out the door.
Friday is Eric’s short day – most of the week, he leaves late, but often comes home late, particularly on nights when he does astronomical observing sessions, which can get him back as late as midnight. But Fridays he’s back by 4pm. We realize just how lucky we are to have this schedule!
I realize that I had meant to go to Ag-Way this morning, and now that option is gone – our only car has left the building. Fortunately it isn’t that urgent – we’re lower on chicken feed than I’d like, but we still have adequate. I try and make sure I refill the recycled plastic barrels when they get to the 1/2 way mark, and it is somewhat below it now. It saves on trips to the store, and tomorrow we won’t be able to because we don’t engage in commmerce on the Sabbath. But I have plenty of feed yet, so it can wait until Sunday afternoon. I also always keep sunflower seeds around – for feeding the birds, treats for the goats and also to be used as emergency poultry feed, with a little grain. Our chickens are getting a bit more grain now, as there’s little to forage for in November, but still half their calories come from scraps and forage – and we’re hoping it will be more. Eric has been working to start collecting food scraps from the SUNY Albany cafeterias to take back for the chickens as part of the environmental program. We’re hoping we can put food waste from the university to use in our farm.
Noon: The boys go out for half an hour to burn off post-meal energy, while I make a couple of phone calls, first to my sister to talk about plans for our visit in December, then to our hay guy to remind him that we want to get the last of our hay in before it rains again, and finally to a colleague from ASPO about the event going on next week in DC.
One of the big challenges of the last few months has been balancing my new commitment with ASPO with the rest of my life. There’s been a lot of time and energy involved in it, and while it is good and useful time and energy, it also involves a new skill set for me. I have tended to prefer the hands-on, direct action part of most organizations – I resolutely avoid joining budget committees, getting involved in fund raising, etc… Now I realize these things are important, but I’ve always preferred hands-on work, but as a board member for ASPO, I’ve dived straight into the deep end of the end I’ve so long avoided, and the learning curve is tough for me. But the results are promising and I’m excited about it. I agree to make some phone calls on Monday to get people to attend our event.
12:45 – Homeschool. We are working on poetic forms, and we read some poems and the kids compose their own comic odes to animals on our farm. Simon illustrates his with cartoons, while I help Isaiah and Asher write their poems out.
Next, math – everyone has a math book – we use Singapore. Simon is working on long division and for fun, on using different bases – he likes working in base-12. Isaiah is working on two digit multiplication (while language skills don’t come easily to Isaiah, math does) and Asher is working on single digit addition. The boys finish their math pretty quickly – everyone in our household loves math.
Simon practices reading Torah to me – Torah is written on the scrolls with no vowels, so not only does he have to learn and memorize the musical phrases that accompany chanting Torah, but he also has to remember what the vowels are. Most kids learn trope for their bar/bat mitzvah, some learn it before, but it is somewhat unusual for a 9 year old to have mastered it. But Simon is very musical, and has learned from his Dad. Being a convert, I never had a bat mitzvah, and I haven’t mastered it, but at this point, I’ve heard Simon’s enough to be able to correct his mistakes, but there aren’t any.
We read some history – we’re studying the fall of Rome and the tribal structure of Europe, and then we call it enough. We do reading, math and writing every day, and rotate through different sciences, history and ethics on different days of the week – generally, but the rules change as needed. The boys ask to watch “Schoolhouse Rock” as a reward for success, and I agree. They also are allowed two pieces of their remaining Halloween candy. I take one too, called “paying the Mommy tax.”
2:30pm – The stove is out and the sunshine is warm, I go out to check on the does. Woot! Bast and Frodo are making more baby goats for me – yay, I like babies. Plus, I like Frodo and the girls to be happy, and they clearly are. When a doe is in heat, she *loves* that buck.
I do more dishes from the endless pile, more laundry from the other endless pile, sweep, tidy up various odds and ends, and start hauling in firewood. I also do one more email check, resist getting sucked into any discussions on various issues, and unplug the computer. It will stay off until Monday morning, so I make sure I dig out the phone number for my Sunday ASPO board meeting conference call. I braid the challah and put it on to rise again.
3:15 – Video is off, and we’re outside waiting for Eli’s bus – I’m putting plastic up on a miniature hoop-house to keep collards, kale and bok choy coming late into winter. Asher complains “do I have to go outside again?” but I drag him out with us – sunshine is too precious a commodity to be wasted in November in upstate NY.
The boys amuse themselves with chasing the chickens that sneaked through our poultry-permeable fence and into the gate. They have a great idea for a catapult and a game to made out of catching and catapulting unwanted chickens – they spend a lot of time describing how this will work and name the game “Peevish Poultry.” This is an excellent time for an impromptu physics lesson.
The bus pulls up and I chat with the driver and Eli’s aide for a minute. He had a good day, and he comes in and asks for a glass milk and a snack. We eat slices of bread with jam (Isaiah and Asher) or peanut butter (Simon and Eli) or goat cheese (me), and the kids drink milk or herb tea, and I have tea too. It is so warm and sunny that we sit outside and relax. Eli is playing ball, and I read to the other boys – we’re working on The Swiss Family Robinson, although I do edit out some of the effusive verbiage as we go. Asher wants to read about dinosaurs again (no surprise), and painfully but happily sounds out the words “ornithomimus and dromiosaurus.”
4pm: Eric is home and I set to making dinner. Eli plays out front on the swing set, the other three boys are climbing trees in the late afternoon light. I have rebuilt the fire, to bake the challah and dinner. Dinner will be a scalloped potatoes and cauliflower with dried tomatoes, steamed broccoli with garlic dressing, challah and, since it is Shabbos dinner, baked apples. I realize that with Eli’s early crash, I’d better get the food on soon, so we work together.
After a while, the boys troop back in – they are getting whiny – they are tired, and fighting over crayons as they color on the floor in front of the stove. They are under everyone’s feet, but I don’t have the heart to kick them away from the warm spot, although I do have the heart to threaten no dessert if Isaiah and Asher don’t stop bickering.
4:30 – I feed and water the rabbits and set them up for the night, then put the does and bucks in their respective barns. During the summer we leave them out on pasture at night, but in the winter they move into the barns overnight. I lure the poultry out of the barn rafters (where they roost in the late afternoons) with a little grain and shut most of them in their part of the barn. The silkies and Blackberry the rooster go in with the goats. I make sure everyone has hay and water, and that the goats’ mineral blocks are moved back from the pasture to the barn (if I leave them out and it rains they melt and are wasted so we bring them back and forth). We don’t have water in the barn, so while it remains comparatively warm, I can use the hoses, but soon I’ll be back to carrying water from the house. Someday it would be nice to have it, but I don’t really mind that much.
I separate the babies from their Moms – our summer babies are teenagers now, but they still nurse when they can, practically lifting their mothers up in their enthusiasm (as someone who nursed several of her kids to three, I can kind of identify ). We let them have it all day – we don’t do a night milking (babies get that), but we do want the milk in the morning, so the young does and our wether spend their night in the kidding pen.
5pm: Eric has dinner well in hand, and we sit down for the Sabbath. The boys set the table with the good tablecloth, candlesticks, tzedakah (charity) box (we empty our pockets of whatever money we have in them for charity before the sabbath begins), kippot (head coverings), challah platter (my grandmothers good transferware from the 19th century, which is lovely and sturdy was in a box for 40 years, so was deemed kosher enough for us), challah cover (made by my much-classier-than-I-will-ever-be friend Bess and hand-embroidered with a gorgeous sheaf of wheat) and kiddush cups. The kids bicker over who gets which cup (little wooden cups are painted with pictures of pomegranates, olives, grapes, barley, etc… – something for them to argue about).
We make blessings over candles, children, wine and challah, sing Shalom Alecheim, and settle down to eat by candlelight. Eli eats challah, drinks his juice and wanders off – he’s just not that hungry, because he’s so tired. He wraps up in a blanket and snuggles down on the couch to wait for us to put him to bed.
The other boys eat enthusiastically, as do we. I like this recipe with the cauliflower, plus it uses up some milk. Oops, I realize I forgot to make cheese – well, Sunday then. Pretty much everything we eat this time of year is local, except olive oil, salt, sugar and spices. It gets harder in the deep of winter at times, but even then, it is pretty easy to rely on local food for that vast majority of our consumption, and with what we grow, we spend less than average on food, even though we pay higher prices.
We sing a little at dinner – the previous weekend our synagogue had Joshua Nelson visit – he’s an African-American Jew who is famous for his integration of Gospel and Cantatorial (ie, classic Jewish religious music) styles, and his album has caught the kids’ fancy, so we amuse ourselves trying to compose some new gospel-style songs with traditional lyrics. I don’t think we’ll be competing with Nelson as songwriters. The kids talk about the day and week and about their favorite thing that happened. Two of the three younger boys vote for the Leopard frog and the day spent with their friends. Isaiah says the best part was having cocoa and pancakes and garden planning in front of the fire. Eli is not answering, Eric votes for lunch with our friends and I vote for the fac that new babies may have been made today. All good stuff.
6:15pm – Despite our best efforts to keep him upright, Eli is all done. The boys get into their fleece pajamas, brush teeth and head upstairs to bed. I read poetry to Eli, who loves Lewis Carroll, but who is only barely conscious. and decline to read the same dinosaur book again for the third time today with Asher, who reluctantly offers a Magic Treehouse book as a substitute. Eric is reading _Watership Down_ with Simon and Isaiah, who are delighted by it. We sing a series of songs associated long with bedtime in our house, ending with the Shema, and say goodnight. The boys are allowed to stay up as late as they want as long as they stay in their room, but by 7:30 even Simon, usually the last hold-out, is out cold. The mornings are starting too early.
7:30pm – We let the dogs out to guard, feed the six cats, and make a faint and not very effective stab at cleaning up. We’re so tired that we decided to leave the dishes and child-chaos until morning. The fire is almost out. Eric has a beer, which I take an occasional swallow of, along with my cup of tea.
The good thing about having kids who have a fairly early bedtime (although not usually this early) is that Eric and I have evenings together – we can try and get things done, just hang out and sit, talk, or as we often do, just sit around and read. Eric is reading a paper of Gaia Theory and its implications for Climatology. I’m trying and failing to resist the first two seed catalogs of the year, Pinetree and Seeds of Change, both of which arrived in the mail today (and were promptly claimed by Isaiah – I managed to get them back, but when the hatchery catalogs arrive, those will disappear into his hands and never be touched by me again, unless he wants me to buy something for him – he’s poultry obsessed even more than garden obsessed.) I have a book I need to review, and another one that I want to review, but my eyes keep straying back to those catalogs.
We discuss plans for the farm, including fun things like budgets and taxes for a while, but we’re too tired to get serious, and we don’t do actual financial planning or record keeping on Shabbos, which is supposed to be a delight. I don’t mind talking generally about money, but I don’t know that the work of balancing the budget falls in the “delight” category for either of us. We go over the plans for the weekend – when will I get to Ag-Way, when will Eric finish the barn, what will we make for meals, what else needs doing, but we gradually drift back into our books, and sit there, my legs lying across his lap, quietly and companionably.
9pm – We take showers and wash hair and head to bed. The dogs get warned not to sing, the lights are turned off and the doors locked. We sneak into the boys room for one last look at them, snuggled together in a row across two futons pushed together (we have four beds in the room, but for years they’ve preferred to all sleep together). I recover them, and Eric and I go into our room, which badly needs cleaning because it is the place we shove everything when guests come over. We are not going to clean it tonight, however, so we read and head to bed under cozy layers of comforters on a cold night.