Monday, April 29, 2013

Speaking Spaces Part 1: The Family Bed

This series of posts is opportunity to share fun and lively stories about our children and childhood featuring three centers of kid activity: the family bed, the family table and the family room. Please join the party and share your stories too! You can link in the comment section and I'll share them here.

What draws a child to their parents' bed? Perhaps it is an invisible string that pulls them back towards the place where their existence began. Perhaps it is the comfort of their parents' scent, or just because it is a large, soft nesting place, a place to catch them, whether they need a nap or a play surface to bounce off of. In any case, it is more than a practical piece of furniture. To a child, it plays an important role in the creation of an atmosphere of well being and safety. Which is why, even if you don't practice co-sleeping, the parents' bed is always the family bed.

Let's start with a typical day. Before the sun rises, I am usually up, and the youngest, who almost always wakes up for a feeding in the middle of the night, is usually still snoozing in it. When he wakes, he comes to find me so he can be fed and changed. The other children pop up, one by one, and the circus begins. Breakfast to be fixed (boxes and bags to open, bowls to get down, milk to pour, eggs to scramble, stuck toast to remove), and the order of computer turns to be decided, and lots of things they all thought about to tell mama in the morning. Pretend plays and arguments, and my mind is swirling while I juggle the flood of input and try to make a mental list of what needs to be done that day. Sometimes I never think about the bed again, until I crash into it at the end of the day. But a lot more goes on that I rarely take the time to notice. Yet today, a bit of reflection brings light to the dark corners of my memory, and I can look a little deeper.

If I go into the bedroom to use the attached bathroom to brush my teeth, change a diaper or whatever, one or more of the kids usually follows. Naturally, there is a narrative going on and a romp begins. The room is no longer a bedroom, but the scene of a battle. And Samurai rangers are fighting the bad guys. Ha! Ho! Ya! Ha! Miriam kicks the air, swinging her body around. Reuben and Seth tumble to the floor, rolling up the bed (or so it seems) and now the warriors have a soft landing. But now they are dinosaurs crawling into their caves under the blanket. But the T-rex fight is interrupted by the Samurai warrior princess and the scene morphs again. All this is going on behind my back while I change the baby, thinking about the next thing that needs doing. To me, it is only in the background. If they get too rough, they get rebuked, but usually everything dissolves when I walk out of the room. Only the detached spread and piled pillows are evidence of the battle that was there, the one that saved the world once again from the threat of evil.

The day wears on, and the energy begins to dwindle. An argument ensues, one does not get his way, and so he slinks off to the bedroom, thumb in mouth, for a break. There he settles himself under the blanket, curls up, and lets out long sighs. Mama's pillow smells so safe, the scent that bonded them together since his birth. It remains imprinted, though gradually fades from awareness as he grows up. Today, at 6, he is just aware that the scent means comfort. The hormones released into the breast milk each time he nursed as an infant, formed a memory trigger of comfort to be always associated with that smell. After growing up, and visiting home, Mama's neck hug will greet him, and a fleeting wave that crosses the mental barriers of adolescent tensions and the breaking away that comes with growing up, unconsciously will bring out that sigh again. It is a bond that the years cannot sever.

Later in the afternoon, her pride offended after a spat with her sister, another stomps off to the bed. Lying there, straight as a board, she stares, frowning at the ceiling. Baby brother wanders in and wants up. He is still for a moment, letting her uncurl his soft hand and touch his fingertips. But only for a moment, then with a giggle and his toothy grin that is his very own, he is up. Sister's hairy head shnuzzles his belly and soon they are laughing and shouting. Next thing you know, they come out hand in hand. Sister's new pretend has begun in which she drives her baby to the store on the chairs lined up in the living room, with an invisible steering wheel and motor sounds that baby brother helps with. Armed with shopping bags, she showers him with gifts  of toys and treats from all parts of the department store that the whole house turned into. It even has a little restaurant that feeds babies cereal and raisins and cups of water and lets them color with crayons while they are waiting for their food. And the food comes with a toy prize, of course.

Papa comes home, and takes five on the bed before heading outside to his projects, surfs the net on his phone, while the eldest daughter cuddles and talks and asks incessantly about everything she has thought about and everything that pops into her head, the rate of which increases like popcorn in the popper as she gets warmed up. She takes a breath and sighs happily. It is so good to have Papa home.

Finally, it is bedtime. A circus of brushing teeth and repeated rounds of hugs, sweet dreams, kisses, goodnights, more sweet dreams and see you in the morning. One after the other goes down, then it is quiet for a moment, then one needs a drink of water he forgot, an extra hug, and the eldest thought of one more important thing. More sweet dream, goodnights, hugs, kisses and see you in the morning.

One day, it will be quiet. Very quiet. We will lie down in bed, wrinkled and frail at the end of the day, and then the echoes will rise from the mattress. Samurai battles, dinosaur roars, sighs, and endless last-minute goodnights. And we'll smile.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Herp Hunting with the Hardings

Virginia has quite a knack when it comes to finding natural treasures outdoors. The other day she saw two tiny spring peepers mating in the vernal pool at the edge of the field. She went back and took a picture of the eggs. I have tried several times, and failed, to even see one of these tiny frogs. I sure do hear them, but they fall silent before I quite find where they are hiding.

Then today, she begged to show me more eggs she had found in another pool further up the gully that cuts through the woods along the edge of our pasture. They certainly looked to be amphibious in nature, so we searched the web for more information. We are pretty sure they belong to the spotted salamander. 

Here is a video we took of our little expedition.

And here are two excellent videos about spotted salamanders and vernal pools.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Final Design Part 2

In my last post on my Permaculture Design Certification course, I had taken three soil samples from three different points on my site. I performed a simple jar test to assess the soil's physical structure, and also used a ph tester. Here are the results.

Sample 1: Nearly equal layers of sand, loam and clay. This was taken from an area where the soil was undisturbed, and the grass mowed occasionally (okay, seldom). It is in the lower part of the garden, and I suspect from the amount of sand, that it is a flood deposit area from times past. It is, after all, along a flood path from Thicketty Mountain to Thicketty Creek. This was demonstrated about seven years ago when we had a heck of a gullly washer. The garden I had tilled and sown with mustard was completely washed out. That is why we have been focused on raised beds using the square foot method. However, just as permaculture has lots of tricks for making water stay in the landscape, these same methods can be used to make the landscape resistant to flood damage. More about this later. The ph was about 6.8, if the cheap, crappy tester was correct, that is.

Soil Sample 2: This is taken from one of the raised beds. There was initially a lot of duff floating on the top, and it is no wonder because this bed gets annual applications of compost containing well rotted chicken manure. The ph was also 6.8. I do not know why algae grew on this one and not the others. It is probably more fertile. There is only a thin layer of clay and the rest is loam.

Soil Sample 3: Here we have mostly clay and the ph test showed higher acidity at 6.6. This sample was taken from a more recently prepared garden bed. But after using cover crops and grazing chickens, this was my most productive bed this past summer. I grew flour corn, pole beans and pumpkins. After enjoying several batches of corn bread, eating beans till we were sick of them and after many pumpkin pies, I still have some large ones to cook. I also have plenty of seed saved for an even bigger crop next year. I grew local and Native American heirlooms so they were well adapted to the climate. I plan to continue the practice of rotating the beds with grazing pigs, then chickens, then cover crops, then food crops to help the soil build even more fertility. I am also adding small amounts of crushed charcoal, a byproduct of our wood burning stove, and compost. The charcoal will raise the ph slightly and provide surface area for fertility creating microbial life. It also prevents leaching of nitrogen and other nutrients, so the soil holds it's fertility longer (as in centuries). Oh, and a tiller never touched it. I only used a spading fork to loosen weeds. And pig schnozes. And now I have a beautiful new broadfork to work it with from Gulland Forge, a Christmas gift from hubby.