Category Archives: philosophical ponderings

a trip to the fair, and other signs that summer is ending

I have always loved the Blue Hill Fair. It’s a small-ish country fair that’s managed to hold to its agricultural roots in today’s crazy-busy, buy-it-break-it-buy-another culture of acquisition. They had a dollar-day this year – whether they always do and I only noticed this year, or whether this year was the start of something new, it was yet another indication that belts continue to tighten but not to the point where we are without our little luxuries. An afternoon and evening of wild abandon for a family of six was seen to for a hundred dollars plus gasoline. Memories were made that will be treasured for decades, whispered into the ears of a new generation. That’s enough for me. That’s more than enough, really, feeling like a small but vital link in the chain the connects my grandparents to my grandchildren. How much more could a person ask, than that? 

BlueHIllAgricultural Collage

Blue Hill Fair Collage

CIMG0582

midway rides Collage

fries 2

Looking over the pictures, I’m struck by the frantic need for amusement, the aggression, even, in ensuring that a good time is had. We were able to naively float over the top of any darkness, foam on the waves over a deep, dark sea of yearning that the children are too young for and that Niek and I have made our own peace with. I wanted to find a poem that would speak to that jangled fairground feeling but found instead an excerpt from a Louise Gluck poem that speaks to that time between abandoning those feelings and making peace with them. This is from her poem Midsummer, published in the volume A Village Life in 2009. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 

The Summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting. 
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending
     messages:
You will leave the village where you were born
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something that you left behind, even though you
     can’t say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it. 

Another indication that summer is ending is that my dad is preparing for his return to Florida, where he seems to spend just a little bit more time each year. Florida is lucky to have him and while I wouldn’t wish to keep him here in Maine through hard winter snows, I can’t help but wish the United States were just a little smaller, that Florida was a little more within reach. <3

me and daddy

And of course, there is the madness of back-to-school. With four kids, this can get out of control pretty rapidly and we are ever seeking ways to normalize the transition. Max is off for his second year of high school, Nick moves into middle school (but which, due to our rural setting and low population, is still part of elementary school) while Rowen impatiently awaits her turn to move up and beyond, and Arden cheerfully prepares for the adventure of first grade. I’m in the second year of my graduate program, and find myself a little more comfortable at being part of the back-to-school group, LOL. 

Rowen's first selfie

Rowen’s first selfie

The farm animals also serve to keep us in sync with the passing seasons and the shorter days. The baby hogs are still adorable and small, but they have grown and we need to pasture them away from their parents, who need in turn to put their minds to the next generation of happy hogs on the farm. The goat herd has been thinned from well over 20 members to four does and three kids, with the understanding that the kids will not be wintering over with us. Baby ducklings are now adolescent ducks, unable to be cuddled and coddled but not ready to take their places beside their adult counterparts. The spring’s chicks are now the egg-suppliers of late summer – and how happy we are to have our own chicken eggs again! Baby bunnies need to be removed from one tired mama rabbit, and unbred rabbits need their turn before autumn is too far progressed. Only the guinea keets remain immature and I hope they will size out considerably before the cold weather hits. Measuring the earth’s rotation by the growth of animals has been one of the most magical elements of farming. 

CIMG0454

I’m not sure how you interpret the signs of summer giving way to autumn, but I hope the change brings you a sense of happiness and of fresh beginnings as well as some possible regret that another season is ending. Thank you for spending some time with me here, and wishing you well in whatever you are doing as one day leads to the next. 


the twenty first day – let there be night

Wishing you and yours a peaceful, joyous solstice. For me, it’s a time of reflection – where do I want to direct my energies, now that the days are lengthening?

It’s also a great excuse to go to bed early. ;)


day thirteen – simple joy

SOLE food 012

Today I took a walk in the woods to help a friend find a Christmas tree for his sister. The moss was deep and springy, as if it had never been walked on. Fallen trees lay peacefully rotting while saplings grew randomly wherever they found light and nutrients. It was so quiet – my flailing around on the uneven ground was like a sneezing fit during a prayer in church. The air smelled so incredibly clean and crisp. The sunlight seemed to have a  substance, a weight, of its own.

I tried to keep that simple, natural joy with me for the rest of the day. When I began dinner – tonight was a SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) food night- I wanted the pureness of the food to really shine through. I loved the fact that whatever we didn’t use, the chickens and goats would turn into a new food source through the eggs or milk or meat they provide for us. I felt like a small but happy part in the Greater Scheme of Things. That’s a really nice feeling, in my humble opinion.

My thing of beauty today is the star inside one of our apples. I hope you find it as beautiful as I do.


day ten – the more things change

… the more they stay the same. I was just looking back on what was going on a year ago and discovered that I was, then as now,  feeling harried from being over-committed, busy with projects for the solstice/marketplace fair, participating in a Blackbird Designs exchange, enjoying the company of friends, keeping busy with the livestock, and enjoying the kids’ activities. What I was doing last year that I am not doing this year is shoveling snow, running mom to doctors’ appointments, or reading something fascinating. It was around this time last year that we got Flip and Twist, and this year they are big enough to launch some serious attacks on the Christmas tree. This year, we instead have three baby goats and all the associated joys and on-the-job learning that goes with them. Last year we celebrated Sinterklaas but this year that was overlooked because I neglected to add it into the planning (in my defense: I’m not the Dutch one in the family); that will not happen next year. Looking back over the stitching that I was busy with and with the gifts received from friends around the world, I’m especially gratified to see our home decorated with handmade gifts from friends not only from last year, but from years back. It’s nice to feel far-flung friends here in our home and heart during the holidays.

It’s now been (almost) two years since our move to Maine. “What a long, strange trip it’s been” – well, maybe not long, but it has been strange. No one would have ever thought we’d now be living on what can only be called a mini-farm (or farmette, as I like to call it) with goats, geese, chickens, ducks, guineas, dogs and cats. The kids’ successes in school have been another surprise – we certainly assumed it would take them a year or more to adjust, but they’ve taken to it like … well, ducks to water. ;) Niek has also settled in and says he can’t imagine living anywhere else despite how incredibly different (and more difficult) life in rural Maine is compared to city life in the Netherlands. I’m extremely grateful for all our good fortune and I can only hope we are giving as much as we are receiving.

Today I spent some time with the barn animals. I got in a solid hour of stitching on Primitive Bird. I enjoyed the kids playing wildly while Nick had a friend over for the day. I spent some time in the kitchen making my “signature” multigrain pancakes for everyone to nosh on for lunch. I spent time with several friends and soaked up a good dose of holiday spirit. I enjoyed a solitary drive to Lubec and the almost heartbreaking beauty of the countryside here. In short, I’ve had a little bit of all the things I like best today. I feel nourished and relaxed in spirit, and ready for the next surprises that Life has up her sleeve.


day six – reality check

I woke up, late, from a dream that I was visiting a friend who committed suicide several months ago. I felt weird and unsettled … and rushed. I couldn’t get my clothes on right-side-out and had to turn on the light, which made me feel irritable. I got downstairs and realized I didn’t have time to do my barnyard chores and get breakfast made and get lunches packed so I felt more rushed and irritable. Nicky tried to help, but kept getting in the way and I was having a hard time not letting my irritation show. I doubt I was successful in that. Eventually we were all at the table and had a few minutes of strained togetherness before I got up to do the undone chores, the kids got busy with tooth-brushing and backpack-packing, and Niek walked the dogs. It was raining and I had more chores than usual because it was time to haul down new grain bags. The inside of the barn was as muddy as the ground outside. Even hanging out with the animals didn’t curb my foul mood. When I came back in the house, Arden was being sweet and funny and Niek had made hot coffee and I tried to let go of the negativity that had been building up inside me. Then Arden and I walked to school, and we bumped into two friends who were also walking a little boy to school so we all walked and laughed and talked together. At Arden’s school, I came across another friend and we made a date to get together next week. The simple joy of talking to friends … that was something I missed so desperately in Holland, where although I had friends, they lived in other parts of the country. It was rare to just bump into someone and have a conversation, make a date, shoot the breeze, etc. I thought about that while walking back from Arden’s school. I found a few late-season apples that had fallen off my neighbor’s tree and landed close enough to the road that it didn’t feel like stealing to pick them up and bring them home for the animals, who were very grateful for the treat. I found a warm brown egg under one of the hens. Emily gave me ‘breathing therapy’ – insisting on being nose-to-nose for much longer than usual today. When I came inside to check my email, I stumbled across this blog post and it said everything that I want – that I want to say and do and leave behind when my days are over – that I have to share it with you.

***

local food

Tuesday is market day – I take in the eggs the girls have gifted us with, and pick up a variety of locally-grown goodness. It’s always exciting to see what’s in the offering, and meal-planning becomes especially interesting for a couple of days while I experiment with things new to me or simply enjoy old favorites. This week will include a bit of both because I came home with a gigantic blue hubbard squash (we all love it) and a small array of fermented foods that includes kimchi and ruby kraut. Niek and I are very partial to sauerkraut so I’m sure we’ll like these more adventurous additions. If the kids also like it, I’ll invest in the supplies necessary to begin fermenting foods here at home. I’m amazed at the nutritional benefits and it’s yet another way to stretch summer’s goodness through the year.  I also came home laden with milk, cream and butter produced in Lubec and Edmunds, both just a piece up the road as my grandparents might say. I’m amazed by the diversity available in our diets once we look outside the box a little bit. Eating locally in the winter months is getting a whole lot more interesting! And brings me to today’s ‘thing of beauty’. Am I the only one who thinks that fresh peeled beets are utterly amazing? I could look at them for hours, I think. It’s like psychedelia without the substances. ;) But they are very hard to photograph, especially when your family is looking at you like you’ve finally lost it.

beet beauty

***

card and gift from Ruth

After my marketing, I found that Niek had forgotten to empty the mailbox and our envelopes were well on their way to disintegrating. He’s forgiven though – he took me out for lunch today, simply to brighten an otherwise dull, rainy day. :) After I helped the cards out of their soggy jackets, I found a wonderful card and gift from Ruth that I want to thank her for right away. I love the snowy bird (it reminds me of my Charley Harper charts!) and the GAST colors of Geranium and Piney Woods are absolutely perfect.

***

Primitive Bird TGH

There has even been a bit of stitching today! I’ve started The Goode Huswife’s Primitive Bird for my neighbors, who are held hostage to the sometimes very noisy chatter of my ducks, geese, Guineas and chickens (particularly the roosters!). I thought the verse might hit home: “Don’t the little birds set their tongues in motion as soon as the day has dawned. They never stop their thanks.”  It’s an early start, but at least it is stitching.

And thank you so much for your kind words about yesterday’s exciting accomplishments. I don’t think I’ll top that for awhile, but I hope you’ll keep visiting me as I count down these days till Christmas in a mindful manner. ;)


i’m toasty warm, thank you

Oh my gosh, would you look what Heidi made me? This cowl is so soft and so warm … I’ll bet you five bucks that if Niek gets called away this winter on work, I will even sleep in it! (Hey, Heidi, is this machine washable? I should ask now, LOL!) Seriously, Heidi can do anything, and do it with flair. She quilts like nobody’s business. Her cooking is sublime. She can decorate rings around Martha. Her cross stitching is absolutely perfect. (And those are just the things I’ve experienced first hand!) But most importantly, Heidi has that rare ability to make you feel that you are the most special person on the planet. She has charm and grace and amazing manners; she’s empathetic, generous, and kind. Oh, and she has the handsomest cat you’ll probably ever meet. :) I made something specially for her ages ago, but haven’t finish-finished it – I guess it’s time I did so! Heidi, thank you!

gift from heidi

When I asked Niek to take a picture of me wearing this cowl, Arden insisted that I also take a picture of him with his daddy. Who’s a ham? ;)

my two fellas

While I was drifting around cyberspace yesterday evening, I came across this nifty blog: 2012 Year of Smalls. I know, I’m so great at sticking to SALs and other scheduled stitching activities, right? Not. But hey, I can totally visualize the gorgeous array of meticulously stitched and finished smalls I’ll have at the end of the year … can’t you? Sigh … hope springs eternal. ;)

Around Chateau Chaos, we are very appreciative of the warm weather that gives us (um, me) more time to get those pre-winter outdoor chores done (which is to say, putting up a new fence). November is a great month to reflect on all that we’re thankful for. I’ve loved the daily postings people have done various place, citing something for which they’re thankful each day. If only I were so … coordinated. Timely. Efficient.  It’s come to my attention once again how thankful I am for my health – not to mention how necessary it is to do a little maintenance if I expect that good health to continue. I’m very thankful for these slow, dark November evenings when it seems we finally have enough time to spend together – to cuddle on the sofa, to watch a family movie together, or just to watch the kids whirl around and play. I’m thankful to be back in a place that feels like home to me, after living in so many different places for so many years. I’m thankful for our little farm behind the house, for our growing self-sufficiency and our closeness to nature and the joy to be found in doing simple, humble chores. Robert Frost, ever an evocative poet, wrote “Not yesterday I learned to know/The love of bare November days/Before the coming of the snow” in My November Guest. November used to be my least favorite month, when I last lived in Maine, but in the passing of the years I’ve come to embrace these long, dark evenings that give us time – and permission – to enjoy the quiet moments that our souls need in order to become replenished so we can rejoice when the days grow longer and the days become busy again.


it was quiet and the air was still cool

I woke up earlier than intended this morning. I’d hoped to sleep in, since I’m always running a little short on sleep, but I woke up early and went out to take care of the animals. It was quiet outside – I could hear the waterfall and, further off, a dog barking. Of course the geese were honking and the goats were blatting, but I’m used to those noises and they rarely rise above my subconscious. Someone had a wood fire going to take the chill off the early morning air and it smelled so comforting and timeless. I stood out on the hill in the backyard, listening, looking, feeling. The day was so full of promise and potential. Today is the anniversary of a terrible tragedy, an act of appalling violence that will haunt many of us for a lifetime. But can we remember that the violence was perpetrated by a very few? That most people are at heart kind and good? Can we hold on to the promise of an early morning and live our lives by that, rather than be driven by a need for retaliation?


it’s probably just the weather

… but I’ve been feeling all over the place lately, and not in a happy way. I don’t mind flitting around (welcome it, actually), but I need some sort of something to feel centered on, or I get out-of-sorts. The summer went weirdly, veering off-course very early on – nowhere near as much homeschooling was done as was planned, and basically any sort of planning whatsoever was ditched by mid-July. We had company, and then Max went off for a grand adventure in Europe; we had more company and then Niek went off to work and visit in Europe, and I … I just sort of held on for all I was worth here in Maine. LOL. By the time Niek got home again, I was feeling incredibly sympathetic to single parents whose key refrain is, “Because I told you so!” Ugh – not a pretty image. I’ve also been battling uphill when it comes to expanding the farm and have been feeling a little frustrated that no one seems to “get” my vision of a small-scale farm that focuses on heritage and rare-breed animals, as well as on expanding our own self-sufficiency. Perhaps as winter rolls over us and we have a good stock of food that was raised right here, naysayers will start to understand? It would be better yet, of course, if I didn’t feel the need for approval but could instead bravely march solo to my own drummer. Sadly, I seem to be one of those whinging types who needs a pat on the back every so often.

end of august 2011 013

In and amidst all this, my stitching has not been lost but it has suffered a serious shortage of attention. I’m still plugging away at the over-one Prairie Schooler piece, which really will be done for Christmas. (Though how many other pieces get done for Christmas is becoming ever more doubtful as the weeks slip by.)  Here’s an update on that:

PS WIP

I’ll also be selling cross stitch, embroidery and home-baked bread at the solstice fair again this winter and have been planning ahead toward that. Another exciting upcoming stitchery event, for me, will be next spring, when I have a booth at the local Margaretta Days festival, displaying stitched items and charts for sale. I’ve been mentally charting out goodies for that event, which celebrates our local role in the Revolutionary War. Were you aware that the first naval battle of that war was fought right here? Pretty amazing stuff! So my long winter evenings are already spoken for, and I look forward to those (hopefully quiet!) hours spent with needle in hand during these chaotic, crazy days of earliest autumn.

To keep any moss from growing under my feet, I’m starting up a wee bakery business as soon as the kids return to school. So many people have asked me for bread that I thought it would simplify things to send around a ‘menu’ and price list – orders come in until Monday evening, and the fresh-baked bread heads out the door during school hours on Thursday. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? I already have several orders for the first pick-up date of September 8th, which is pretty exciting.

ryeberry baguette

In the immediate sort of Nowness of time, we’ve enjoyed:

The annual Blueberry Festival

Blueberry festival

Max’s homecoming

on the road

Max's welcome home dinner

A clean barn to prepare for Pinto Bean’s impending motherhood and the addition of a milking stand for Pinto’s surplus milk (as well as a restraint for hoof trimmings and the like)

motherhood on the farm

And a nearly-complete living room make-over

new furniture!

And I guess that covers the high points of the last several weeks. It’s been busy and uncoordinated, but we have had a lot of fun. Nick and Rowen have learned new things, but they’ve also had a lot of time for creative playing – I love how they make up their own incredibly complicated games and stories and I unabashedly admit to eavesdropping on them. Of course, the games do end up in arguments and even tears about 70% of the time, but … really, that’s life, isn’t it? Max has grown so much that I feel like one of Snow White’s dwarves next to him and I have the unsettling reaction of bursting into laughter whenever he stands beside me. I’m sure it’s unsettling to him, anyway. But seriously, how could I have given birth to this young giant? He must be very close to the six-foot mark now, and he’s only 13. Unreal. Arden talks constantly and because he’s a little too young to participate in Nick and Ro’s games, he invents elaborate scenarios involving toy cars, flotsam & jetsam from his older siblings … and two reluctant kittens. ;)

mock meet

And me? I’ve become quite proficient with avian midwifery and am moving along to caprine endeavors. There’s always a lot going on (and some might say, too much) – I fall short on many scores, but I get right up and try again. It would be awful to be bored. ;)

runaway keetling


ignore the typos, please

Arden’s little “bug” transferred itself to my sinuses, so if I miss a typo or two, please ignore it.
Sinus irrigation and all the usual tricks just aren’t doing it for me this time. Ugh!

But there’s a  lot of good stuff to share!! Nick and Rowen have been in school skits this week and they were so much fun to watch! Nick played a hornet (and I had to make his mask in the 10 minutes or so before he got on the bus that morning – nothing like a bit of excitement!) and Rowen played a girl who’d rather read quietly on the sidelines than play in a group. Both skits were about cooperation and friendship, and the kids made up the skits themselves.

kid fun

kid fun

With dear friend Tigger, we tapped our big maple tree out front and have been boiling sap to make our own syrup. Oh my gosh is homemade syrup delicious!! Arden got the first taste, but we all enjoyed it. :)

kid fun

homemade syrup!

I received some fabulous stash from Mary Katherine, thanks to the generosity of dear friend Judy. The goodies arrived in two packets, and I unthinkingly put everything away from the first packet, but here’s what arrived in the second packet. And thank you, Mary Katherine, for the additional Dinky Dyes and needles! It wasn’t necessary, but very appreciated! Thank you Judy for a wonderful Christmas gift that I enjoyed to the hilt! I decided on all floss, hoping the beautiful new colors would whisper to my design muse. :)

partial stash haul

I have done a bit of stitching and finishing. Here’s the end result of my Pink Girl with Swan make-do. I think it came out pretty cute. She’s set in the top of a papier-mâché decorative box that I use for storage of stitching supplies.

Pink Girl with Swan make-do

And here’s Penny Angel, my contribution to the world-wide SAL paying homage to Lisa and expressing sadness at losing her. She’s a woman who touched so many lives …. the void she’s left is just impossible to comprehend.

stitching finishes

I’m going to close with a sweet picture I snapped of Rowen cuddling Flip the other day. It can be difficult to see our kids (or other family members) as people independent of our relationship with them … I hope I always honor and respect my kids for the amazing people they are.

kid fun


bonanza!

I’ve received my order from Theresa at Shakespeare’s Peddler and I’m just shocked. Have you noticed her $20 grab bags? Usually I steer clear of such things because I *always* wind up with stuff that I probably wouldn’t use in 100 years. But I gave in to temptation and would you just look at what she sent? The stitcher’s six-pack is a separate item (both the six-pack and the grab bags can be found at the bottom of this page), but the other three pictures are all contents of the grab bag!! (Charts are: Bent Creek’s Photobooth Snowmen, The Workbasket’s Polar Quakers, Blue Ribbons Designs’ Blooming with Inspiration, Ink Circles’ Croakworth 2008, Prairie Moon’s The Hat in the Cat, Helga Mandl’s So Long, Kitty!, The Victoria Sampler’s Nuthatch, Val’s Stitching Stuff’s Oh! Cluck!, and SamSarah’s April Baubles.) I’ve already started using one of the four (!) Silk N Colors included. All this for $25 – I’m just … speechless.

amazing deal from Shakespeare's Peddler

We had a quiet Veteran’s Day, mostly just hanging out with each other and paying a couple visits on my Mom, who has a bad case of pneumonia. Being the crazy people we are, we went to the beach at sundown and had fun running around with the kids and dogs. It was cold, but invigorating! When we came home, we enjoyed some of Niek’s unusual chicken soup (with lime!) and some of the best baguettes I’ve baked yet. A very fine end to a very fine day.

beach at duski

I have been stitching, but it’s not enough progress to warrant a photo. I’m loving the Early Maine Pincushion, and have also started a sweet, old-fashioned monochromatic design I picked up at our fabulous local quilt & craft shop, The Gingham (also mentioned here).

My parting thought on this Veteran’s Day was said far better by the great Nelson Mandela than I could ever manage to phrase it:
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.


Nina Gaby

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