Sunday, July 30, 2017

July 2017: Unschooling, vegetables, no more duck killing

July! We're coming out of the fog of our trip to the US and Canada, which felt like it took about three months out of our year. (A month before, a month there, a month after). Even though our trip didn't turn out quite as we hoped, coming back I've noticed we're taking all these leaps, maybe because the kids are growing up, or maybe because we were outside of our comfort zone and that caused unexpected growth. Perhaps because we saw people we love and were able to take stock, in a small way, of where we've been, where we are, where we hope to be.

This month I've had to evaluate my work (like, the paid stuff) for the next few years... I'm set to work until the end of 2019. I am so grateful that I was able to negotiate to continue in a space where I can largely work from home, which is not the case for many people in academic research. I am also able to do research largely in my own neighbourhood, which means that my (public health food) research meaningfully intersects with our farm dreams.

Unschooling sometimes requires leaps of faith, but I think usually what is best is if you take progressive tiny steps of trust, rather than leaps. When it's tiny little steps of trust, you're able to see signs of growth and flourishing, whereas when you're trying to take a leap, it sometimes implies that you ignore signs from your family, waiting it out, thinking you haven't yet landed after the leap. When we've decided "no bedtimes!" "No screen limits!" it generally doesn't go well (I think it is too confusing for the kids!), but when it's gradual: when we sit with our kids and help them decide what they love on an iPad, or when we're open to the possibility of a gradual shift in bedtime routine, it goes much better. Which is to affirm that it's centrally about the fruitfulness of the process, rather than the destination. Which isn't to say we should endlessly tweak things until the process is perfect-- I sometimes do that! I think it means we try to rest in relationship with our kids, as best we can.

One irony about being on the farm is that a lot of times the kids are indoors. We came to a new awareness of this when they were bouncing off the walls at bedtime, and we realised they hadn't done any exercise all day. We don't force them to do chores, though I suppose sometimes we do coerce Noah (trying not to). The kids love the animals and I want to keep it that way... I'm not quite sure how to make the farm a joy and not a burden that takes us away from them. Perhaps as it becomes less of a burden (uhh... labour of love??...) to us, we'll be able to invite the kids into sharing the process in a way that feels less like we're trying to unload the burden of our values onto them. So Eug and I spend quite a bit of time doing chores, and if the weather is good then usually the kids sortof gravitate with us. Anyway, we've been intentionally getting outside on the farm a bit more. I still take the kids to the beach or mountains once or twice a week, which can make it feel like they are getting plenty of time to roam and exercise, but actually this is not the kind of daily, continuous bursts of speed they seem to need.

Our duck population was large, and we'd finally found a duck stew we really enjoy and were regularly killing ducks (6 since we got back from our trip). There were two major problems with the duck farming strategy. One was that it never got any less time-consuming, though dry plucking first did seem to help. So Eug would spend his entire working day on a Saturday killing two ducks-- they took about 90 minutes per duck, and each duck gave us just one meal for the five of us. So we knew this was not a great approach to meat, after all. The plucking is just too difficult for us as a regular part of our week, and an entry level mechanical plucker costs about R9000 here ($750). Hard to justify right now.

The second problem was bigger: Noah has never gotten used to our eating ducks. He's actually ok with pigs and chickens going to slaughter, but never ducks. Everything I've read suggests that children under the age of about 10 are intuitively matter-of-fact about the process, but for Noah each duck death felt like a trauma (though we've certainly never had him actually witness it. He was happy to be part of the rooster processing). Which added to the labour (I needed to take the kids off-farm, and it was by no means a learning opportunity, though raising the ducks has certainly been), and to the sense that the process just didn't add up. His tears were an expression of very real pain... not really what we were hoping for as far as farming goes... So no more duck killing and eating. We're gradually selling the ducks we already have, and will keep just a few for the sake of our farm's diversity, for eggs, and in case Noah changes his mind or we have more time. It has been a major lesson in meat production, but at least we can say we tried it. I feel huge gratitude now whenever we eat meat, and am thinking more about how we should eat on the farm.

I imagine it will change as the farm changes. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking about our vegetable garden. Growing vegetables year-round seems to be one of the best things we can do as a next step. We have a lot of trees in the ground-- I would love to put more trees in, but with the drought the question would be how we could water them next summer given the layout of the farm. In August I'll be focused on setting up water systems for vegetables (a small hand pump, together with a pump coming out of our reservoir). Vegetables can be very water intense, but we'd have systems in place to make it as efficient as we can, and then, I am sure, begins a new stage of learning. I've grown vegetables here and there, but this is a real effort to supply a much bigger portion of our diet with vegetables we grow ourselves.

Anyway, we are living and learning. We had our first taste of home-grown guava this month, which Noah said was "magical." While it is sometimes hard to see what exactly we are doing, or whether our kids are maturing, our kids say excitedly each night "I can't wait until it's morning!" That seems like enough.

Noah is helping out on the neighbour's farm once a week, feeding 100 pigs and 200 chickens. It's lovely for him-- he's learning and growing from the experience.
Barley feed!

Chicken feed!

Noah also got to go on a hike to the nearby waterfall with just his grandfather! There hasn't been nearly enough rain for winter, but the waterfall is still flowing, which is a really good sign.
I didn't expect that Cape Point would be the kids' favourite spot in winter, but it is. Noah and Eli are in this picture, as they run out of the car so fast that they're by the ocean before Hana is even out of the car seat. 

We found a dead seal on the beach, and did what anyone would do...

inspect its large teeth.

Drag it up away from the waves, so that it wouldn't be pulled back into the ocean...
... and come back weekly to see how the seal's body was doing... (week 2 it was completely buried, but week 3 it was back)

Week 3: The skull is almost ready for relocation...
We saw a Cape Clawless Otter, which made me extremely excited. Can you spot it?

Otter is still in the picture!

The kids felt that if they approached on all fours, the otter would not be scared and run away. Mmmm.


Cape Point has the most amazing shells. We go at low tide so that we can look at a lot of rockpools, and we put them back carefully.

Unsafe modes of transport. This is a directionless trolley gifted to us by someone. It's basically used to crash at high speeds.

These waves are extraordinarily cold. 

Epsom salt crystals. 

building with spielgaben. 
Another winter's day, another.... beach???

Silvermine hiking
Big girl doesn't need a ride anymore.

She does, however, need to pick up every single rock on the way.

Boys ran ahead and had to circle back to find Hana and I.
penguin babies are everywhere. 

We had the entire penguin beach to our selves, because the penguins are all hiding in the bushes with their babies, and it's the middle of winter.

Noah made me call a ranger about this adolescent penguin because at first she looked... dead.. and then... uncomfortable stuck between two rocks. But she's just a firstborn, waiting for her younger siblings to grow up so her mom can come out of the bushes, onto the rocks to hang out with her. A metaphor for first borns of all species?

Mid winter swimming.

with auntie Kim.

These are our annual beds. 2 years and a lot of labour (and a lot of horse manure) in the making... finally ready and starting to grow stuff.

starting to grow vegetables...

Noah's toad raft... our reservoir is a good breeding ground for endangered toads, but if they get in they can't really get out.

Eli's Toad raft...

Saturday, July 1, 2017

June updates: Travel, home, rain, thriving.

Much of June, we were still traveling. Traveling with three children, for us at least, is a reminder that we are dependent on a pretty narrow set of circumstances for our own thriving. Eug and I have worked towards being pretty flexible, but when it comes to kids, all kinds of things derail us in such unpredictable and surprising ways. 

If I wanted to seem more human on the blog, one statement that would be sortof true would be to say that we spent June in survival mode. We're back home and with one of our kids facing really significant challenges at the moment. I don't like that statement "survival" very much, because it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. It gives me permission to act stressed, be a jerk, or eat crappy food. And that's definitely not our whole story, or even the whole story of our trip to the U.S. We saw good friends and felt connected to the precious years we spent with friends in Boston. We spent time with Eug's mom and brother. On the human side, I have so much empathy for those of you (us) who are struggling to figure out how to help kids with behavioural challenges. So we're finding our way back to thriving, realising there are moments that derail us and that--with some help from friends, family, God-- we can choose joy.

Looking at the pictures from the last month is enough for us to begin to tell a different story, a story of thriving. Noah: the only person in our family who can handle Henry II, our annoying and aggressive rooster. Hana: the baby who disappeared and was found at the top of our A-frame chicken coop. We're so happy to be back on our farm. 

In other news, more than half of our bantam silkie crosses seem to be roosters. Ever seen chickens the size of your hand try to engage in a rooster fight? It's ridiculous. Also ridiculous: what to do with 3 of the 4 tiny roosters. Eli says: Why would we want to eat a chicken that is mainly feathers! Even his feet is feathers!! Indeed. So the kids say we have to divide the property into rooster zones so they all have their own space. I say we give anyone who moves into the neighbourhood a housewarming gift of a tiny rooster. Welcome?!

On the farm, my dad took care of things super well, except for the now overweight cat, but she's not complaining. There has been rain, though not enough. There have been a few deaths, at the hands of predators, which reminds me the lines between vegetarian, vegan, meat eater are not so straight and clear: we, as subsistence farmers raising animals do, at times, do play god a little in the ways we nurture, domesticate, protect or give freedom, allow to reproduce (or not). More importantly, I'm not sure there's a way around doing this. Anyway, here's to travel and returning home! Hope you are all doing really well.

Skittles in the laundry room of the place we were staying.

4-leaf clover. 

South Station with Lidwien, my professor and friend from Wellesley, for sixteen years now.

At a dear friend's wedding, Noah and Eli hit the dance floor with a new friend.

very early mornings in Cambridge.

Playgrounds with many free bikes and trikes for kids to use.

Legos at friends.

The Archibalds' train.

And, back home:
You have no idea how aggressive Henry II can be.