May 7, 2012

Long Time Gone

I’ve been away too long. Here are a few of the reasons why.

But mostly that last one.

February 5, 2012

Vesper Irene’s Birth Story

Vesper Irene

By my best estimation the baby was “due” around December 25th or 26th, but I assumed that the stress of the holidays would bring her closer to the 24th. I also was convinced that she was a boy, so that just goes to show how much I know.

The day before

I’m not a big fan of the due date concept and am more than happy to let a baby cook until done. While it was nice to spend our first Christmas in the new house as a family of three by the 28th I was so uncomfortable with that big, big belly and worn out from weeks of not-labor every evening that my attitude was in serious decline. That evening, around the time that my contractions would usually start, I took one dose of blue cohosh. Half an hour later, a dose of black.

I don’t know if that was just some really potent stuff or, more likely, that by that action my brain told my body that I was ready to accept labor. Either way as Cora and I lay down for stories before bed at around 8:30 my water broke in a small trickle, gushing more over the next hour as the baby moved around. I didn’t have my water break with Cora and I was so thankful that this novel experience took place at home rather than, say, at the grocery store. Evan and Cora were both so excited! Evan went into hyper-clean mode, breaking out the vacuum, washing clothes and even cleaning out the car! We knew there was no way that Cora was going back to bed after this, so we put on a movie for her.

After my water broke we did a round of heads up phone calls; The midwife, Liz, my mom, Evan’s mom and texted my good friends Erika (who was planning to come for the birth) and Roshontia. I even told a small group of friends on facebook, who kept me company digitally. Though my water broke we knew that didn’t necessarily mean that labor was imminent. I went to lay down and get some rest, but was too excited to even really sit still. Sure enough, an hour after my water broke the contractions started. Another round of phone calls and facebook messages and texts. Ah, technology.

When the contractions started to get uncomfortable I slipped into my beautiful, deep soaking tub. The one extravagant thing that I asked for in our new house was a tub deep enough to labor in. I knew it would help me stay relaxed and it was far cheaper than a trip to the hospital for “failure to progress.” Evan helped me keep track of the contractions. When we were both too distracted to do the math we found a free iPhone app contraction timer. This worked great until things started to get intense and we found out that the free version only held info for 10 contractions!  We quickly download the full version which at $0.99 seemed a bargain! About this time my mom and little sister Anam showed up. A quick hello and Anam went to be with Cora. Once the contractions were about 3 minutes apart we gave Liz the go ahead to come over. Erika arrived shortly there after and then Shanna, Liz’s apprentice. Party in my bathroom!

Evan stayed by my side supporting me over the side of the tub through every contraction. I could never do this without him. At about 2 AM Cora had enough. Overwhelmed by the hour, the excitement and the company she went across the street to Grandma Amy’s house for the rest of the night. Shortly thereafter I felt I was done in the tub and between contractions every minute or so apart made my way to our bedroom and my birth sling. Time had long since lost it’s meaning so I don’t know how long I hung in the sling, but soon it was too intense and I wanted to be as close to the floor as possible on my hands and knees. It was helpful to have so many people surrounding me and supporting me emotionally and physically. Everyone already know each other (Liz has been a friend of my mom for years) and their banter kept me entertained between contractions. Mostly though I wanted to be quiet and focused during each contraction, and found myself doing a lot of sushing. I didn’t want to make noise or move much. Pretty soon both the baby and I were ready to be done. Pushing was so much more productive than with my first birth and the baby moved down quickly. With Cora I was so tired and inside my own head that I don’t remember much pain during pushing. Or much of anything during pushing. Rest assured that I felt this baby just fine!

When the baby crowned I thought we were done. I kept pushing but nothing much seemed to be happening. I heard someone mutter “oh, shit”. When I asked “did someone say shit” there was a long pause and then a fairly unbelievable “uh, no.” Then Shanna asked me to get up on one knee. Then Shanna PUT me up on one knee. Oh shit, indeed. It was obvious there was some kind of problem and my mind went straight to a shoulder dystocia since one way to help the baby unstick is to get on one knee, and I babbled something to that effect. Liz made some adjustments to the baby, but I didn’t know what and then the baby was out. I collapsed across Evan’s lap plum exhausted. I caught my breath for a second and then realized that there was no crying. I heard Liz, Shanna and my mom asking the baby to please breathe now. Then passed a couple of years, or maybe seconds. Neither Evan nor I could bring ourselves to look. I couldn’t bear to ask how the baby was since the silence spoke for itself but I needed someone to talk to me so I asked about the baby’s gender. No one knew. Liz gave the baby a few breaths. Erika held my hand. Then a cry. And a baby girl.

Turns out that the cord was wrapped around her neck. Usually it’s the work of a moment to slip the cord over the baby’s head but apparently this cord was fairly short and crossed over itself so it didn’t have enough slack for slipping. The harder pulled the tighter it got. It was tight enough, I think, that the baby wasn’t progressing any more. By raising one knee my hips opened enough for Liz to untangle the cord a bit.

After the cord was done pulsing they clamped and cut and gave her a more extensive check out. Her throat seemed to be pretty irritated and she made small grunting noises for the first 8 hours or so. But she nursed easily, didn’t seem to be having trouble breathing and her heart and lungs sounded just fine. It wasn’t an emergency that had required any kind of medical intervention but thank Sweet Mary Liz was there with her skilled hands to make sure the situation didn’t become one.

9lbs 8oz

In all the excitement no one had looked at the clock. After consulting several iPhone pictures 3:20 AM was agreed upon as the most likely time of birth. She weighed 9lbs 8 oz and measured 21 1/4 inches long; the same size as her big sister but exactly one pound heavier. I blame Christmas.

Doing well

The placenta came without a problem and was wrapped up to be sent out to Antonette for encapsulation.

I had a few shallow tears, but we agreed that no stitches were necessary. I had some pretty bad tears the first time around and would almost have rather given birth again than have needles jabbed in some very tender places for an hour. I remember the topical pain killer having very little effect. After pains suck, though. A lot.

Hello little one

It had been 7 and 1/2 hours from water breaking to placenta; a far cry from my first almost 40 hour labor. Evan joked that if the length of my labors decreased by the same ratio then the next kid would come in an hour and a half! This was a much more empowering birth for me. I felt like I was participating rather than just along for the wild ride. Since I’d done this birth thing before I felt I had some idea what I was doing. I’ve also been learning more and more about birth since becoming a postpartum doula. Being surrounded by loved ones (both physically and digitally) helped my attitude tremendously. We didn’t know anyone with children when Cora was born, let alone know so many fabulous families who respect birth and genuinely love family building.

Seeing that all was well everyone decamped and headed home to grab a few hours of sleep before starting their days. Erika and Anam stayed for a few days to help out. Roshontia brought us dinner.

Like with Cora we wanted to get to know this baby before naming her (HER?!?). It’s an important decision after all. We had a go-to boy’s name, but we weren’t expecting a girl. So after some length of time and careful consideration Evan and I decided on Vesper Irene. Cora was still voting for Eli right to the end.

Vesper is Latin for “Evening Star” and in the Liturgy of the Hours it is the evening prayer. Irene is the Greek name for the Roman goddess of peace, Pax. Interesting fact: Cora is the Greek name of Persephone. So they match! Sort of… Adjusting to life with spirited Cora was difficult and this mild mannered, charming little girl truly did seem to be the answer to our prayers for peace.

Cora meets Vesper

Cora is simply head over heals for Vesper and proud to be a big sister. I melts my heart to hear her talking to her little ‘Besber’ when she thinks no one is watching, giving her small kisses and telling her how much she loves her. I was terrified of having another baby. It has been a wonder to me that Vesper seemed just what we needed; not a hassle, but a blessing. She makes us all better just by being alive.

Milo & Vesper

November 4, 2011

The Report from Days 295 – 315: Hard Wood

On day 295 we began to lay down our beautiful rustic maple hard wood flooring. We picked maple because of the light color and the excellent durability — this stuff’s hard as rock! Maple’s expensive (as is most hard wood) but we found a great price on some rustic maple (read: full of mineral streaking and knots – which we actually like!) in 2 3/4 inch wide boards. It’s Canadian! The company milled our order specially just for us and sent it our way. The whole operation was fairly straight forward except for a goofy move where the trucking company had the wood stored in Manassas and they put it on the truck 11 times to deliver it but never made it to the house. Chris eventually had to go pick it up with the flat bed truck.

Just the begining

The boxes of wood were stacked in the house for a few weeks to help the wood acclimatize to our weather and relative humidity so that it wouldn’t warp after we nailed it to the floor. Then they got unpackaged, laid out and nailed down!

The Belle builds stairs in the middle of the living room

While the process was simple enough it was still hard work. Luckily, Ev found a pneumatic flooring nailer on CraigsList being sold by a guy a few towns over. It was expensive, but a worthy investment as it cut way down on how hard Ev had to hit the nail gun. At roughly 11,000 nails Ev only had to hit the gun once or twice for each one, instead of repeatedly.

Since this was a job that Ev, Chris and I could do ourselves we mostly plugged away on it in the evenings, after Chris and Ev had already spent a whole day working. We’re cheap labor, if slow, and any time we don’t have to pay the whole crew to work is money saved.

Ev and Chris work at night in the living room/dining room

Living/dining room finished -- it's so shiny!

The Belle enjoyed some dinner and TV time while we worked

One thing that frustrated us about the floor was how unevenly the wood was boxed. The first 10 boxes or so were mostly short pieces, all under two feet long. Since you don’t want any rows next to each other to have joints that line up it was a slow going patchwork puzzle to make them all fit right. This is right up my alley and I thought it was great fun. So I would rack and Ev would nail. We weren’t speedy, but we made a good team. Eventually the crew took over so we could get finished faster, but mostly it was me, Ev and The Belle.

Stacks of wood in the library, ready and waiting

Lots of short pieces also meant that many, many boxes had to be opened at once and the boards sorted by length so that we don’t accidentally end up with rows and rows of all one size board. Eventually we began to find longer pieces, most of which ended up in the last room to be finished, our bedroom. Lots of knotty pieces mean that some aren’t fit for high traffic areas. Those pieces get sorted for use in closets and along the baseboards.

From the bedroom door, across the hall and into the kids' rooms

The view from our bedroom door, across the hall and into the kids' bedrooms

Ev nails floor in our bedroom

... While I rack

Ev uses the handheld nail gun for the last bit of hard wood in the house

It was a lot of hard work, and we spent many evenings for weeks crouched on the floor, but the result is beautiful and should last forever!

Finished dining room in all it's maple glory

Daddy and The Belle enjoy a fnished and empty living room

November 3, 2011

The Report from Days 303 – 315: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor…

I may have mentioned before the need for finished flooring in the kitchen and bathrooms before the plumber can hook us up. As running water is one of my requirements for move in, this really needed to be finished as soon as possible to allow the plumber time to schedule us in.

Since real stone, though beautiful, is costly, cold and hard we picked out a decent stick-down vinyl floor tile for the kitchen/mudroom/downstairs bath. Basically these are 18 inch tile stickers. Super easy to install. We just had to collect the amount we needed. It took several trips to multiple stores to gather enough.

It only took about three hours on day 303 to install almost the whole floor, saving some of the more fiddly trim pieces for a day when the crew wasn’t so flu-ridden.

The installation was indeed so easy that even The Belle and I could lend a hand.

In fact, we didn’t even expect the floor to last all that long; 7 years maybe. All it needed to do was stick. But the next morning we found this:

We tried walking, jumping and leaving heavy objects in strategic places. We even rented a weighted roller and tried that.

No luck. About 50 tiles just didn’t stick all that well, a problem that would only get worse as dirt collects under the edges. These tiles are not perfectly square so there wasn’t a good chance that we could replace just the no-stick-um ones. We would have to rip up the whole floor and try again. When Ev called the store to discuss a refund both the store and tile company were more than willing to give us our money back. According to the lady Ev talked to all we had to do was bring in the receipts. Well, as of yet we still haven’t figured out who Ev talked to on the phone that day, and despite two trips to the store so far no one has been able to get us our refund. Grrr.

Regardless of refund we needed a new floor, and quick. We thought it a poor idea to buy the same brand but nothing else much appealed to us. After three whole days of trips to all the home improvement stores in three states we finally settled on a similar looking and priced tile from a bigger, more well known company. This new tile is made in the USA, which is a nice bonus.

On the third day we even managed to find a store with enough boxes for our project. So Saturday evening, the day of our freak pre-Halloween snow storm, we pile box after box of tile into the car and make our way home in the cold, dark, slippery night. On route 15, just north of Lucketts, we hit a pothole and blow out a tire. Ev was not going to unload hundreds of pounds of cargo into the rainy night on the side of a crazy road so we kept driving and some how made it home.

On Sunday we spend most of the day trying to buy a new set of tires, but no one has what we need in stock. That evening we heat up the house and gather our courage to begin pulling up the original flooring.

We open the first box of the new tiles. There are two tile patterns, which we dub A and B. We open the second box; A and B. Ok, we’ll have to twist and mix these tiles so they don’t look quite so obvious. We begin the tedious task of heating each old tile with a heat-gun and using an increasingly sticky chisel and fingers to pry it up, then replace it with a new tile. One. At. A. Time.

After many hours work and most of the kitchen floor except a one-tile-wide-band around the outside we are ready to open a third box of tiles. Expecting A and B we are shocked to find brand new patterns; C, D and even C/D tiles. These ones have different colors! And shapes! And even though it isn’t glaringly obvious, when laid side by side it will be if there is no blue in the kitchen except for a stripe around the outside.

Ev and I are exhausted by four days of the whole flooring saga and a bit high from the fumes of slightly melted vinyl floor tiles. We have a small cry and then begin the painful task of ripping up the half of the floor we have just spent hours laying down to incorporate the C and D tiles.

At 10:30 that night, with the kitchen almost finished (again) we call it quits and go to bed. The next morning the crew arrives and helps Ev lay the rest of the tiles in the mudroom and bath.

Today I can’t even say that we are finished with the whole thing as there are two damaged tiles in the kitchen that need to be replaced, but at least they aren’t anywhere the plumber needs to work so it isn’t a big deal. Good enough.

All ranting aside I would like to note that The Belle was a perfect angel the whole time. She spent a whole weekend of bedtimes in various home improvement stores with nary a peep.

Good girl!

October 22, 2011

The Report from Days 62 – 295: Moving Date

About a week ago I was given the move in date November 10, 2011; almost one month shy of a year since we broke ground. That’s day 325 for those of you playing at home. There have been lots (and lots!) of “we-can-probably-move-in-around-_______” dates, but never one with actual numbers! In celebration here are some stories and pictures that didn’t make it to posts of their own.

The Septic Field

Day 172

Not terribly exciting, and this is a foggy picture, but impressive to note that it took these guys only two or three days to dig, install and bury the whole deal. That really is a lot of dirt to move. Also, I refuse to live in a house with no indoor plumbing. I’m picky like that.

The Thief

In June we had what are called the “home run” wires, the wires that run from the house to the power company’s box, ripped out. The wires were cut and sold as scrap copper, earning the thief roughly $35-$50 bucks in cash. The cost to us was significantly more than that to buy replacement wire and pay the electrician to rewire the whole downstairs.

Day 212

Ev was mad, mad, mad. At this time we had not heard of any similar crimes in the area so we couldn’t rule out some kind of personal vendetta against us, our electrician, or new construction in general, especially since the huge roll of copper upstairs and all the tools were left untouched. Scary. Even though we weren’t living in the house at the time it was still a kind of violation that you don’t really want experience. Ev bought a motion detector and set it up outside in a pile of cinder blocks so we could have record should it happen again. There wasn’t much else we could do to protect the wires. If we locked the basement door there was a good chance that the glass would simply be smashed and we would have to replace a door or window as well as the wires. I figured once was enough and we didn’t have to worry any more.

I was wrong.

Just after the masons started working we were hit again on July 20, day 212. Ironically it was only that morning that the masons had moved the pile of cinder blocks and the camera without replacing it, so we had no visual proof. Now Ev was furious. The police hadn’t been very helpful the first time, but at least the second time they could tell us that wire stripping had been reported in empty and under-construction houses all over the area. So at least this wasn’t personal.Whew.

Sadly, even if the thief was caught we could get no recompense for his damage since all together he has stolen less than $100 in raw material. The time and money that went into replacing it would not be accounted for. So we bought more wire and the electrician rewired the downstairs for a second time.

As far as I know we are still waiting to see if the builder’s insurance will cover any of the costs.

The Earthquake

August 23, 2011, day 246, a rare magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook NOVA and most of the east coast. It was freaky to be sure, but so little damage resulted that we laughed the whole thing off. A few weeks later Ev found this:

Day 263

It’s hard to see so I’ll just tell you. It’s a crack that runs through our brand new brick from the door all the way to the roof line smack dab in the middle of the front of our house. Looks like we laughed a bit too loud. All brick houses will crack at some point as they settle, we just expected this in about 20 years, not 20 days. Sigh.

We’ve Got the Power

Day 270 brought us power. We waited more than a month for the power company to finish an installation that was supposed to take two days in August. To be fair, I’m sure that there was a lot of work in the middle as they cleaned up from the hurricanes that ravaged the coast, and we would be fine without power in an empty house when others would be hard pressed to cook or fight the late-summer heat. September 16th brought us glorious electricity. Until then we had a generator for the tools, but it wasn’t enough to power tools and the lights needed to work after dark. Now we could really make a dent in all the little jobs after hours.

A few days later I pulled up to see lights on in the house after dark for the first time. It was really starting to look like a home:

Day 274

More Chicken Goodness

Day 62

Way back in Feburary Ev designed and built this, our chicken coop. This coop is designed with a gang plank in the middle to reach the upstairs that can be lifted shut at night. It has a nifty sliding door for checking the two nest boxes. One whole side of the roof hinges for easy cleaning. The chickens use it for sleeping and most of their egg laying, but mostly they prefer to be out and about in the yard during the day. Should we need them to stay in one place we can shut the downstairs door.

Day 195

In early July we moved the chickens over to the new house. Above is a shot of the finished coop, and our handy coop-mover (AKA Granddad’s cart). She slides along the grass without much effort.

Day 284

More chickens in the attic. They really did love being in the house. Now that the floor is more maple hardwood than plywood they are banned! Silly chickens. But we sure do love these:

Day 276

The Garden Again

It really is important to us that we make our house and land work for us. Producing our own food is probably the single biggest step towards sustainability and self-reliance we can make. In fact, as I type I’m enjoying a fritatta made from our own green beans, potatoes and eggs. Next year we plan to expand the garden and possibly incorporate bees and turkeys to our little farmette. We also have water from our well, fuel for the wood stove from the trees, and income from the apartment.

Things are pretty quiet in the garden now while we wait for the fall and winter crops to grow, so here’s a recap.

Just getting started:

Day 105

The Belle enjoys her own special garden box:

Day 135

At midsummer:

Day 198

The very last of my tomatoes for the year:

Day 294

Helping

I’m sure everyone knows how impatient I am to move in (it’s an amazing house and I have a baby due – wouldn’t you be?). But there is very little I can do to help with NoelBaby tagging along; No painting. No roofing. No heavy lifting. Lately though I’ve been puttying nail holes in the trim, helping Ev lay the hardwood by racking (choosing what goes where while he nails), laying the stick-down tiles in the kitchen and mudroom, installing switch plate and electrical outlet covers, and other odds and ends like that. It feels good to be doing at least a small part, and every little bit I do makes the house feel more like my home.

Day 262

Day 304

The Belle helps, too:

Day 304

Hopefully I’m all caught up now on the little bits and pieces that I wanted to share. This has been quite the experience and it’s hard to believe that we’re really in the homestretch now! A funny note, I just realized that NoelBaby is due one year almost to the day that we broke ground. Wouldn’t it be funny if that’s how it works out?

October 10, 2011

P333: The final 31

I took a few extra days to finalize my choices for the fall season of Project 333. We had a cold a rainy bit last week, which was a lovely switch from the lingering heat of summer. It gave me a chance to test out my sweaters and see what fits this time around the maternity tree. I found a few gaps, mostly warm sweaters and jackets and bottoms that aren’t denim. The one sweater I have is super cozy cream colored chenille; like wearing a cloud, but not super practical since the wind blows right through. With that in mind I left a little breathing room in my 33 should I stumble across a good sweater or a black skirt. Without further ado, my 31:

  1.  Dress – 3/4 sleeve wool wrap, black
  2.  Dress – Boat neck sweater, gray*
  3.  Dress – drape neck, brown
  4.  Short T – teal
  5.  Short T – bright pink
  6.  Short T – mustard yellow w/ trim
  7. Long T – purple
  8. Long T – 3/4 sleeve, gray
  9.  Cardi – leopard print *
  10.  Cardi – crocheted sleeveless vest, tan *
  11.  Cardi -  jersey cascade, gray *
  12.  Thin Sweater – turtle neck, bright navy
  13.  Thin Sweater – cowl neck tunic, brown (borowed!)
  14.  Thin Sweater – teal and gray stripe
  15.  Thick Sweater – chenille turtle neck, cream
  16. Pants – demi-panel skinny jeans, dark
  17. Pants – demi-panel boot cut jeans, dark (these I will switch out for a full panel pair should I get a huge as I did last time. The full panel pair are too short, so I don’t like wearing them until comfort of the belly wins over comfort of the ankles.)
  18. Skirt – full panel denim a-line
  19. Leggings – black*
  20. Heels – suede wedges, black
  21. Flats – lepoard print
  22. Flats – tennies, gray and pink (I love these, but they aren’t very sturdy. I don’t think they will last the season)
  23. Boots – leather and felt, brown
  24. Boots – suede, black
  25. Necklace – long w/ turquoise
  26. Necklace – short, silver with white shell
  27. Scarf – pashmina, teal
  28. Hat – knit, purple
  29. Hat – wool pageboy, tan
  30. Jacket – full zip fleece, black * (I usually LIVE in this jacket  three seasons of the year but I can hardly zip it these days, so I’ll switch out for my red wool maternity coat shortly)
  31. Bag – yellow/tan stripes

* Not a “maternity” item. I hate buying maternity clothes that only fit when belly is present, so I’m always super excited when I can get extra lovin’ out of my regular wardrobe!

Not Included: 1 paint stained top, 1 pair jeans for working in the garden or on the new house; Hiking boots; Jammies, slippers, underwear, bras, socks, 2 camis; my Halloween costume; eye glasses and wedding ring.

Wow – when photographed it seems like a whole lot more.

While the picking part was kind of hard I’m really enjoying this project. It’s easy to find an outfit since nearly everything matches (but I shouldn’t wear my leopard flats and my leopard cardi at the same time as I’m much too young for that kind of animal print action). And everything fits – for now anyway. I find that I’m wearing my good clothes more often instead of saving them up for “a special day”. Those “special days” are limited to the next three months or so if an item is exclusively maternity and/or un-nursable, so I might as well wear them while I can. And except for the fact that I share a washing machine with two other households and I missed my laundry day last week, I don’t find that I run out of clothes as quickly as I thought.

After the last weekend consignment sale of the season I went through the kidlet’s clothes, too. I ended up with a box of maternity and baby stuff for the consignment shop, a bag for a friend and a bag for Goodwill! The Belle has a whole (small) wardrobe of cute fall/winter clothes but all she will wear is her ballerina style — complete with tutu — bathing suit from the summer. I know few other kids who get this much wear out of their bathing suit in October. Hooray for fewer things to move!

October 1, 2011

Our Feathered Friends


I thought it might be time to introduce our Chickens.

In April we started with 28 chicks. We’d ordered a straight run (both male and female, but we didn’t know how many of each) of 25 Dominique chicks and the hatchery sent us two extra in case we lost a few during transit (one died shortly after) and threw in one free rare breed chick, what we later determined was a Golden Polish cock. We chose the Dominiques because they are a heritage breed, one the settlers took west because they are calm, cagey, compact, cold resistant, good layers and decent meat. Our plan was to raise the chicks until they were old enough for butchering and keep our two favorite roosters and between 6 – 10 hens for laying and put the rest up for the winter. The only catch was that we needed to be in the new house to have access to the freezer space needed to store our dinners. So we put it off.

Then we lost two hens to a visitor’s dog. We lost 10 when we moved the coop away from the garden in an attempt to get them to leave my squash alone. and they didn’t get the memo. We lost two more roosters (including our Polish cock, Frazz) one night when we didn’t pull the gang plank up until late at night and a fox or cyote tried to get in. They died bravely protecting their girls, but we were still sad. Most recently we lost one hen of unknown causes.

Because there were so many, and because we didn’t plan on having most of them around for long we only named a few. All the hens became Sheila. The top two roosters became Butch (who I wanted to name Cassidy, but he was so obviously “Butch”) and Sundance. Then there was Frazz, our goofy, bottom of the pecking order, got his ‘fro tonsured during the dog attack, Frazz. I don’t think we have any pictures of Frazz, which breaks my heart a little. One hen, one of the smallest, has become Shelia Rae, from one of my favorite childhood books, because she was always the most out going and adventurous. Lately, Sheila Rae has taken to spending much of her time in the house keeping Evan company while he works and laying her eggs in the sawdust under the table saw.

The other day she brought Butch and Sundance in with her. While this is adorable, I am putting my foot down when the hardwood goes in: No chickens in the house!

For now we still have 9 hens and two roosters, a few more than the coop Evan designed and built was intended to hold. During the day, however, the are always out side eating up their feed and tasty tidbits around the yard including bugs (most especially those Lyme carrying ticks!!) and the occasional frog. They do a good job on the stink bugs, too. They are just starting to lay regularly. We’ve been getting 5 or 6 small brown eggs a day, just enough for us and a extra dozen to share every week.

Things are going well, but we’re still novices. Any one have any chicken tips?

September 28, 2011

Project 333 and Cooking in the Closet

The Great Clothing Purge of 2011

I’ve been toying with the idea of taking on Project 333 for a while now. Since my maternity wardrobe is already limited and I’d like to pack away as much as I can for the pending move, this may be the perfect timing. The concept of 333 is simple; for three months (a season) you wear only 33 wardrobe pieces including shoes, outerwear and accessories. Not included are underwear, jammies and work out clothes. Everything else gets stored away for the duration. A challenge for sure.

As our move date gets closer and there is so little I can do to actually help (no painting or heavy lifting with NoelBaby tagging along), I spend a lot of time planing life in the new house in my head. How should the kitchen flow? Will we have a TV? How will our daily routines change when we have more space?

One question I keep grappling with is “where will all our stored stuff go?” Now I realize that we are moving into a three bedroom house from our two-room flat, but hear me out. We have between us 50 odd years of general accumulated stuff. Add to that multiple hobbies, not even three years of baby stuff (why does someone so small have so much?), loads of hand me down housewares from generous family members and our joint weakness, books. Lots of books. Most of these things have been in storage while we’ve lived the last 5 years in tiny, tiny one or two-room apartments.

Now, with a tiny house comes a tiny kitchen and tiny cabinets. I used to rail against our current tiny kitchen. There isn’t room for two people to work together (true). There isn’t enough counter space (true). I can’t fit a full sized cookie sheet into the oven (sigh, true). There isn’t room for all our stuff (false). There would be room if we had less stuff. I fit what I could into the space. Then I took some out; whatever wasn’t getting used. Turns out, I only use the same 6 pots and pans for all my cooking. I didn’t have space for any others, but I didn’t need them. Should I find that I could use another pot I simply shifted my cooking plans until it worked out. I can’t imagine that when we move, even though the space will be larger, that our habits will be come larger, too. Will we need twice as many pots and pans even though we’ve managed just fine with 6? I don’t think so.

But clothes are different somehow. In the last five years I have gone from art student living in a hippy college town, to newly wed, to young professional designer, for about all of two weeks because I was soon to be… pregnant, to stay-at-home-mommy, to doula. Each change demanding a new set of clothes to portray my new identity. Also, my shape has changed so much and so often that it’s hard to keep up with what fits, if I can nurse in it and what is no longer appropriate. So I have a little bit of everything on hand, all those “just in case” pieces which turned into A LOT altogether. Too much.

This spring I went though much of the stored clothes and got serious about what I was comfortable in and what I was likely to wear again. There was no use keeping it if I wasn’t going to wear because it was too tight across the chest, pinched under the arms or didn’t cover my belly button. It is a challenge, to know what to keep and what to pass along. Even with my aggressive purging there’s still so much left. But every time I go through my clothes I find something that fits which I put away a year or two ago, confusing the whole process. I don’t want to be wasteful, but I also don’t want storage boxes filling up my new house and clothes that never get worn spilling from my new closets.

I’m not as brave as Kristy Powell at One Dress Protest  who is wearing the same dress all year long to protest the over-consumerism and under-sustainability of the fashion industry. I feel like no one will make wild overarching judgments about my lifestyle because my pots and pans don’t match (they don’t, so no judging), so why do I feel that way about my clothes? I fear being labeled the wrong thing, but shouldn’t I fear being labeled at all? This is a bit existential, I know, but I’ve had a lot of time to think about it lately. I’ve never considered going out to buy another pot for one fancy meal, because it simply wasn’t worth storing it. Why are clothes so different?

I guess that if we plan on having more kiddlets in the future with my maternity, postpartum and nursing bodies to consider, that my stored collection will be larger than I’d like. This is OK, but I need to learn how to make better choices about what to keep and what to buy.

The next season for P333 starts October 1. I’ll post pictures of my 33 piece wardrobe once I get it pinned down, both for your viewing pleasure and for some extra accountability. I’m hoping that by tackling this project it can help me see just how much my closet is like our kitchen and that I really only need 6 pots and pans to do all my cooking.

 

 

September 22, 2011

How Does your Garden Grow?

I had planned on a weekly update of our garden this summer, but it just never happened. Now that the weather is decidedly Autumn-esque and we’ve started prepping our fall garden I thought I’d give a recap of our summer work:

For most of the summer we had to fill trash cans with water and haul them down the street to the garden. We had a lovely deep well, but no way to get to the water until almost the end of July when we finally found a pump we could afford. Needless to say, our garden didn’t get watered as often as it should.

The view from the top

We planted greens, snap and shell peas, carrots, onions, red and yellow potatoes, a few varieties of tomato, pole beans, bush beans, beets, turnips, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbages and a three-sisters planting of corn, more pole beans and various squash and pumpkins, sunflowers and zinnias.

Lettuce greens are one of my favorite things to grow because they come so early and are almost fuss-free. It got hot so fast that they did bolt pretty quickly, which was a shame. But we have a cold frame of sorts that we’ll try with winter lettuce this year.

The peas were planted too late for much success. Ah well.

The onions, all three hundred sets, perished in the heat.

The carrots did ok, but they aren’t very happy in our Virginia clay. More sand in those boxes for the fall.

The potatoes are fine, not as sweet as last year’s, but decent. Ironically, I think next year we’ll plant a bag of sprouted store bought potatoes like last year, rather than the super expensive, not as tasty organic seed potatoes we bought this year.

The tomatoes did just fine until the day the chickens realized how tasty they are and ate all they could reach. We are just now getting red tomatoes again.

The beans did gang-busters and we had so many we had to stop harvesting. Didn’t care for pole beans as they are extra squeaky to the teeth and not as sweet as bush beans, so no pole beans next year.

The beets and turnips were HUGE, but woody and bitter from the heat and lack of water. We’ll replant for the fall.

The cucumbers were fine, if not terribly prolific. But they were planted as an afterthought and in such random locations that it was hard to find them.

The cabbages suffered the same fate as the broccoli. At harvest I pulled off the chewed laves only to discover that there were no unchewed leaves and the buggies had taken up residence in the very center of each head. A total loss.

The broccoli did really well when the chickens were around to peck them clean. Eventually they did more harm than good to the other veggies and they were banned from the garden so the broccoli suffered. The heat didn’t help either. We’ll try again.

The three-sisters seemed such a good idea, but alas I think we’ll try something different next year. It may have worked better if someone small and thumbed (a raccoon?) had not pulled down all the corn, and thus all the pole beans climbing the corn. We got not one single ear of corn this year *weep*. The beans either rotted on the ground without support or, surprisingly, grew really well anyway, covering the squash and making it hard to find them at harvest time. We couldn’t find most of the zucchini until it was almost too late. The butternut squash did amazingly well until the day (while we were on vacation) the chickens discovered how tasty they are and ate all the ripe ones and pecked festering holes in the not-ripe ones, just to check. I cried. Lots. And called the chickens every unflattering name I could imagine. We did save a few, as well as several acorns and sugar pumpkins. But my bumper crop of butternuts is decidedly no more.

The flowers did beautifully and graced our table and window sills all summer long. I am so glad because all my zinnias froze in a freak cold snap last year and I saw nary a one. This year I couldn’t possibly pick them all.

Harvest, Aug 2

Harvest, Aug 5

Harvest, Aug 29

Snap Peas; they got planted too late again this year and we didn't get many

As much trouble as we had in the garden we still managed to preserve a few jars of pickles, a bag or two of frozen sliced carrots, two jars of freezer tomato sauce and about a zillion bags of frozen green beans. We still have potatoes in the ground and tomatoes on the vine. We managed to incorporate something from the garden in almost every dinner this summer (generally a side of steamed green beans or brocc). Not too shabby! Here’s to hoping that the fall garden is at least as successful.

September 14, 2011

The Report from Days 230-267: Walls!

As of day 267 we have have insulated, sheetrocked and primed walls and ceilings. For the first time we have closed rooms. You can no longer walk through the walls. I was a bit worried that, despite a copious amount of windows, the house would feel dark. Not a problem! Even with dirty plywood floors (which are much less reflective than the finished Maple floor we have chosen) and the protective film still on the window panes, the rooms seem airy and bright! I am so pleased.

Insulated stairs

The attic with an insulated ceiling

In the last few days the boys have been installing the trim. It’s amazing how something that you pay little attention to in daily life is what really turns on a room’s cozy, finished feeling. We picked a simple style that I think suits the house well. Now that the trim and doors are installed we can paint, which means we can then install the floors, which means we can then start moving things in! Sort of. Things like the cabinets and large appliances, anyway. Sorry the pictures are so dark – it’s been rainy the last few weeks (as I’m sure you well know!)

Evan and Chris cut trim to size

Trial and Error: the menfolk hold trim while I decide what I like best

The French doors to the quietroom/library

Living room wndows with trim

And speaking of paint: In an effort to save some money and stress we picked just one color for the whole house. Well, two if you count the trim color. The walls are a pale gray with a smidgen of blue and the trim is just off white. I design with grays a lot because of  how they make other colors seem more vibrant and go with everything. I hope it will be a good neutral without looking dirty. The swatches we painted were by turns luminous and complex, so I’m excited. We also managed to snag a Labor Day special, almost by accident, on most of our paint — which is good because we have a lot of walls to cover.

Though we liked most of these colors (loved the blue on the bottom left) our final choice is the big swatch on the top left; "Fragile Blue," which is kind of poetic.

Next up, flooring. Here’s a sneak peek:

Decisions, decisions...

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