Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Playing with Fire

Playing with fire is always a fun time in our home, not just because we're latent pyromaniacs, but because fire is all about experimentation. It's always changing, powerful, interesting. Here we are creating a vacuum with a candle—watch the rising water level as the candle uses all the oxygen in the jar.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pumpkin Picking

Although we grew our own pumpkins this year, there's still nothing more fun than going to a big pick-your-own pumpkin patch, and Summer's Farm is one of the best. My in-laws were down for a visit this weekend, and pumpkin picking seemed like a great way to spend the afternoon. Thankfully, after four straight days of rain, the weather cooperated, and we had a gorgeous afternoon in the sunshine. We enjoyed the giant corn maze, jumping on the huge air pillow, watching pig races, eating apple cider donuts, doing well-pump duck races, sliding down hay slides, and shooting off the corn cannon—arguably the most fun of all! And of course, we ended the day with a hay ride out to the pumpkin patch to pick our own pumpkins. The kids found some really cool orange ones for carving and some pretty small white ones, and I found some lovely decorative gourds for my Thanksgiving centerpiece, so I was pleased as well. My absolute favorite was a green apple gourd that I'm definitely going to grow here next year. I also got some fun ideas for our Halloween Harvest Farm party next week.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Creamery visit

As part of our commitment to eating local, we've been searching for a new creamery. The one we were using—though mostly we just bought from the grocery store—recently lost its two biggest contracts to Organic Valley, taking its 25 mile radius all the way out to Lancaster. We'd known of a local on-site creamery for a while, but had heard mixed reviews, so we decided to head down and check it out for ourselves.

The kids were immediately enamored with the place, though they were surprised by the machine milking. I guess they'd pictured cows being milked by hand in the same way I'd been milking our goat every morning, and why not? Machine milking isn't exactly intuitive. But then, when one considers how many cows need to be milked twice a day at even a small dairy, machine milking becomes far more obvious a necessity!

We hung out for quite a while so we'd be able to help with the calf milking, which was hugely fun. We played on a giant straw playground they call "Hay Mountain," ate fresh ice cream, and talked briefly with several folks who live and work there. By the end of the day, the kids were begging to let this "please be our creamery!" Talk about buy-in! So, we've found a new creamery that the kids love to visit, making the 50 mile round-trip far more doable, and what's even better is that we can set up delivery for the cold, wet, dark winter and visit only when we want, as I imagine the creamery will lose a bit of its appeal in the coming months. But, then we'll be able to head down again in the spring for calving season, and what fun that will be!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Just one of those typical day kind of posts, recapping a bit what life looks like here on the farm. We welcome the kids' help with the farm and CSA as much as they'd like, and now, they earn money by doing so. This has been a weird thing for me to figure out because with the house, we don't have "chores," and the money is simply family money. What ever is left over after having paid the bills gets distributed, and we have slush money that goes toward different necessities each month. With the farm, however, I wanted to do something a bit different because the farm and CSA are our "home business," and I wanted the kids to be able to earn money from it as well, for it to be our contribution to the family finances in an empowering way.

How to do this, however, was the tricky part, especially considering we're not yet making money, and the money that's coming in is still being reinvested in infrastructure. A bit abstract for the kids to grasp, and way too future oriented. So, I decided to just start paying them when ever they felt like working, and this system has worked out pretty well because it gives the kids a chance to earn money on top of their regular budget and save more quickly for things they're wanting to buy. No one needs to work who doesn't want to, and it's been interesting to observe the different motivations and work ethics. Jules often helps and has saved a considerable amount already. Sam and Em are far less inclined to help and often do far less work when they're out helping, so we've kind of developed a pay-by-the-animal system rather than an hourly system. Most of the time, however, Sam's content to play—he's being a Chinese dragon in this photo—and leave the money-making to others, though having fewer dollars on the chalk board is a bitter pill at times.

Most of all the kids' time is spent playing—as it should be—and they play amazingly well together most of the time. They recently made a pair of stilts with their dad and have been spending lots of time trying to master the new skill, working hard together. They've been very into building fairy houses recently, thanks to Devin Martin's introduction to the hobby at the Live and Learn Conference. They recently had more Devin-inspired fairy fun carving some of our home-grown pumpkins to build hanging fairy bowers in the front crab apple tree—our one small climbing tree. The girls have rediscovered embroidery, which seems to be a fall activity, brought on by the shorter days and the nesting instinct they generate in us all. Books on CD are a great way to wile away these hours, and we've recently enjoyed The Swiss Family Robinson and Alice in Wonderland, and Em in particular is begging for more. We're considering joining an online audio book club, a la Netflix but for books, to feed this passion, as our library selection is dismal. But while our bodies and interests are turning towards fall, our weather has been doing anything but, and we've enjoyed balmy dinners by candlelight on the patio filled with love, laughter, and delicious homegrown food. Life is good!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

An Unexpected Gift

While we've hosted several black swallowtail caterpillars, we've never had the honor of hosting a monarch until this September when Em found one on some milkweed in the pasture. (Milkweed is the only host plant for both the butterfly and the larva, so if you want monarchs, be sure to plant some.) Monarch chrysalides are especially beautiful, resembling delicate jewelry with their soft green hue and golden filament. I was so excited to host one in our home, but, of course, we were leaving in just two days for the Live and Learn Conference.

Upon returning, I was so disappointed to learn that the caterpillar had gone missing while we were gone. Figuring it didn't survive for want of food, I resigned myself to waiting for next year for a monarch. Lo and behold, look what arrived unexpectedly one evening! I still have no idea where it made its chrysalis, and we've looked under and in just about every kitchen surface we can think of to no avail. So much for enjoying the beautiful transformation, but the sheer beauty of this unexpected gift was enough for this season. The kids each got a turn holding it before letting it finish drying its wings on our screen door so it could begin its migration.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Washington, D. C.

This Sunday we went into the city to meet my mother-in-law, nephew and sister-in-law, who was in town for a business meeting on Monday. We started at the National Air and Space Museum, which is always fun for the kids. We spent quite a bit of time in the hands-on "How Things Fly" section of the museum before moving onto the National Museum of the American Indian, which is conveniently right next door. We took time out to eat lunch in the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, which features different native foods that are representative of different cultures and regions.

After lunch we felt quite refreshed and headed to the top floor of the museum where, unfortunately, the introductory film "Who We Are," was not playing. But we still enjoyed walking around the different galleries and exhibits, listening to stories like the one about Devil's Tower, and visiting the hands-on portion of the museum. Afterwards, we enjoyed the weather and the gorgeous waterfalls that we'd viewed during lunch. (Sam's not angry in that picture—he's just feeling especially earnest about the turtle totem necklace he bought.)

The day was so beautiful and the kids still had quite a bit of energy, so we headed over to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights on display in the rotunda. The kids were totally psyched to see the original documents, and the adults thought it was pretty cool, too.
We were all surprised and a bit dismayed by how faded the documents are—John Hancock's signature is barely visible. Still, just seeing the original documents is such a powerful experience. Of course, we watched National Treasure when we got home that night! (Well, except for Jim who watched the Giants v. Eagles game.) Sam asked one of the guards whether there were really temperature sensors in the cases, but the guard said that part was only in the movie.

On our way home, we stopped for some ice cream and wandered through the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, which is always lovely and relaxing. The kids enjoyed some time by the central fountain, cooling tired feet. The day was absolutely glorious! Spring and Fall are beautiful times to visit D.C., and the best part about all these wonderful places is that they are free to visit—free of course because American tax dollars fund them, but hey, it's still pretty great!