28 June 2009

A birthday trip to the zoo!

We went to the zoo today to celebrate my birthday.
We ate ice cream, and saw dinosaurs, and had a blast!
I am sunburnt, exhausted, and very, very happy.
Good night!

23 June 2009

Talking to pagan kids about death...

I think that death, like sex and political corruption, is one of those things parents can't wait to have come up in conversation with their small children.

Um...ok, maybe not.

I officiate at funerals pretty regularly, if not frequently, and we attend those as a family, so Jack is pretty familiar with the whole 'death' concept.

But this last year and a half has been one of rather more intense focus on death. Over the course of 12 months, we said goodbye to 21 or 22 people. (After a while, I stopped counting.)

The year of deaths gave us many opportunities to think about and talk about death, with each other and with Jack.

It all started around the 18th of December 2007 and I had hoped that the curtain have been lowered on the epoch with the births of grandchildren to two close friends a few months ago.

And then on Saturday, as we returned home to water the garden on our way between Solstice adventures, we found a bunny flopping around in the back yard. It clearly had a broken leg and there was blood on its fur. While I watered the garden, Jack watched it and murmured encouragement, and then offered it lettuce from our garden and some water in a cup.

We discussed how Hazel had had a similar injury, in Watership Down, and we decided to name out little friend hazel so maybe some of that healing luck would be spread to him. But we can't afford a vet bill right now, so all we could do was wish the poor little thing luck. We did agree that if it managed to survive until next day, we would see whether the Rabbit Rescue can help with a wild bunny. (They mostly rescue tame rabbits from what I understand.)

By the time we got back at 9pm, though, there was no sign at all of our little Hazel. Jack and I decided to believe that he had made it back to his warren, and that he was now resting safely and healing, but we know and discussed that he is even more vulnerable to predators while he can't run away and that he could die from his injury.

Hazel turned out to be a herald, though. Early Sunday morning, we learned that Rod's older brother is within days of ending his fight with the cancer that has ravaged his body. And so the topic of death comes back. Far from being afraid, our little pagan boy is accepts death as a part of the cycle in a way that will be harder to do for most of us adults.

He spent much of yesterday singing dirges about his own death and his next life, and proclaiming that he's pretty sure that Uncle Carl has more time before he leaves. He told me at dinner, if Dad seems kinda quiet, it's because his brother is dying and he's sad.

Death. Yup. BIG topic of conversation lately.

So, how do you talk to a kid, a pagan kid, about death? First of all, it will come up sooner or later. No need to rush things. It might be an animal by the side of the road. It might be a book they read. It might, knock wood, be something far closer to home. But the questions start.
What does 'dead' mean?, Are you going to die? When? When will he come back? Does it hurt to die? Will I die?
Next, be careful to answer the questions the child is asking. Understand that as emotionally loaded as these questions are for us, to children, they are no different than other questions they ask to try to understand their world and depending on their age, the questions may be more mechanical and less existential than you might be expecting. Answer the question at hand, and don't overwhelm him or her with a lot of heavy emotional and intellectual stuff. When they're ready for that, they will ask.

It's important not to put your children off when they ask these hard questions. The best you can do is answer patiently, gently, and consistently, as many times as the child asks. (If their timing really sucks, explain that this is not a good time for that discussion, but be sure to get back to them within a short time with an opening to ask again.)

Once the questions start, there is no perfect answer.

The physical facts of death are pretty straightforward. Death is final. We all die eventually. Whether it hurts depends on how we die. Generally, we don't know exactly when our turn to die will come.

The harder questions, "why do we die? What happens to us after we die? Why does everyone cry when people die" The answers to those will depend a lot on what you believe about death. Whatever you say, how you feel about death, your fear or comfort, is going to be communicated to your child much more strongly than anything in your words. The best thing to do is to decide ahead of time what you think about death. If you can't deal with that (and many people can't go there) then decide what you want your child to believe.

You should probably base your answers on your spiritual path. Death is a very emotional topic, and if you try to wing it in the moment, your answers can be pretty confused and confusing and children ask again and again to see whether they understood. If your answer keeps changing, it doesn't help.

Our beliefs include reincarnation, and that has made it easier to answer Jack's questions.

What does "dead" mean? Dead means that our bodies have stopped having our soul living inside. Our bodies are like clothes for our soul, and when our soul is done with this body, it "takes it off", leaving the meat part of us behind. But the body can't keep going without a soul, just like your jeans can't run without you in them.

Why do we die? Sometimes bodies get very old and worn out or very sick, and it becomes impossible for them to keep going. Other times, we have finished what we came here to learn in this life, and our souls arrange for an accident. But it's not our personality's decision, and it's no one's fault. Our soul decided a long time before we were born what it wanted to learn from this life, and once it's done, it wants to move on to the next life and the next lesson. (This doesn't account for murder but we hope that one doesn't need to come up in our lives.)

Does is hurt to die? No, death doesn't hurt, although the accident or illness that comes before death often hurts a lot. Pain is part of having a meat body. Dying feels wonderful, because our soul gets to go through the light tunnel to the Summerland, which is a place full of love and light where sadness doesn't happen and nothing hurts anymore.

Are you going to die? Often this is a bid for reassurance. We answer it by saying that yes, we are going to die someday, but we hope it's a LONG time from now, after Jack has grown up and has a partner and children to love him. We also assure him that, should we die sooner than we hope, we have arranged for Auntie Celeste and Auntie Dame to be his "spare mammas". They will take care of him, and teach him, and love him. We also assure him that we will be watching and loving him from the Summerland until he's grown. Then, perhaps we can come back as *his* children, and then it will be his turn to teach us.

When will Uncle Al come back? Well...he won't. Not in Uncle Al's body, anyway. That body got all used up, even though he seemed to be fine. We don't know when his soul will come back, or where. Or even if he wants to come back. Some souls decide that they have learned what they wanted to know about living in a meat body, and they decide to stay in the Summerland.

Why do people cry at funerals? Well, we know that the soul we loved is going to the Summerland, where they will be very happy. But we are still going to miss them a lot. So we are crying for our sadness at losing the hugs and smiles and jokes of someone we love.

What is heaven? Heaven is the Christian version of the Summerland. It is where Christians go to be with their God forever. It's beautiful and no one is ever sad there and no one ever hurts there. Just like the Summerland. The big difference is that Christians who go there to be with their God, aren't going to come back to live again in a new body.

Where will I go? That is your soul's decision. As a pagan child, I think you will probably go to the Summerland, but if you decide to be Christian and spent the rest of forever with the Christian God, you could decide to go to Heaven.

Your answers will be different, because they will be based on your own beliefs, but I hope this has helped you to figure out how to approach the questions.

21 June 2009

If I Seem to be a Little Blue....

The Quandry….
by Rod Smith

So I called him, as I often do these days, he can't get to a computer any more and he's got to be bored out of his mind…

The voice on the phone is recognizably his, but it is punctured by the snorts and snarfles of a man struggling for every breath.

The non-committal "yep, yeah" in response to most anything I said might be offensive in almost any other context…. the excitement he feels at my presence on the phone is palpable, yet verbal response is more than he can manage right now…. "yep, yeah, OK … oops pardon me I just chundered…. yep, yeah…"

in the background beepers are going off, sounds like its his bed…. and some sort of interference that sounds for all the world like a bunch of old aboriginal guys playing didjeridoo...

Were I there I could sit with him for a while, just be there, that way he could talk if he felt like it… but the damned phone…. you can't be present and silent, that very comfortable silence between people who know each other well… it's not what a phone is for... one "needs to have a conversation" on the phone…

I'm 15,000 miles away… at least I have the phone.

He's staring the Grim Reaper down for the fourth time in 8 months….. at least he has a phone…

It may not be my tool of choice for comforting the sick, but the phone great when that's all there is…

It is impossible to make meaningful conversation when I have no idea how much of what I am saying is understood…

So, does he need the conversation? It is clearly more than he can cope with, but that doesn't make it a bad thing…

I contemplated calling him back and reading something meaningful to him… but what? The only book that I know would excite him is "Tertius Interveniens" the Kepler volume I left him with last year when I visited…and yes we are crazy, he and I, I don't know too many people who get excited over Kepler…

ye gods that was over a year ago!! …

I read his cards for him the night before he went to see the doctors about this… "this is serious, mate, it may not kill you, but its gonna turn your world upside-down…."

I'm just glad I didn't read his astrology while I was there, it would have been very hard to mask my anxiety once I saw how that stacked up... but I digress

How do I feel when I'm really ill? Do I want hours of conversation?.. nope… I want to be left alone to get myself better…, someone calling by every now and then to make sure I'm OK is great, but more than 10 minutes conversation sets me back when I'm that sick… and he's that sick and then some…

I guess I'm trying to tell myself that I handled it well, that the 5 or 8 minutes of not-terribly-interesting rambling, the awkwardness of trying to present conversation in ways that can be answered in yes-no sound-bites, the overwhelming sense that I was taxing him way beyond what he could cope with, and yet my own desire to be there, to be really present with him when he needs support….

It was both cruel and kind to end the conversation quickly, cruel because I know how much it means to him, kind because I know it taxes him deeply… and cruel again because I really don't know how to cope with it… and that's not a situation I find myself in very often at all… I can always cope, but this one has me rattled…

And so to the quandary, is it worth it?…. Weighing the pro's and con's, is it worth what it costs him to talk with me? Is it worth what it costs me to talk to him?

Conversation is, after all, more about the desire to communicate, than about the words we use to do it… it has to be worth it, lest all conversation be rendered meaningless by fleeting moments of difficulty...

Happy solstice everyone!

Today, the sun crossed into the sign of Cancer, heralding in summer for this year. Last night and tonight are the shortest nights of the year, and traditionally, this has been a day of great celebration -- especially in Northern Europe, where winter can mean a few short hours of daylight between 18 hour nights.
our very own wheat patch
Because it is only a few days off from my own solar return, I have long considered this day a new year of sorts. As things stand on this day, so they often go for the entire year.

Last year, my oldest cat had just died, and she was one in a long string of deaths around me in the previous six months. My garden was a shambles and I was struggling to keep up emotionally.

This year is different. Although there is plenty of illness in our world, there are a lot more signs of hope than there were. My garden looks like it has mainly made the commitment to grow and give fruit. The last week has brought birth announcements, wedding and graduation invitations, and other signs that life goes on and there is still hope in the world. The potential loss that remains seems much more a part of the natural cycle than it did last year. Not my favorite part of the cycle, and very hard because this time the illness is much closer to home (see Rod's post above)--but still balanced.

This year may have some hard moments and some very painful losses, but it will be balanced by some good things, I think, and this is life.

I hope you all see a tip of the balance for the better this year -- Happy Solstice!

18 June 2009

A Discovery

Thanks to Sue, over at A Mother's Heart, I have a new discovery -- a fairly painless way to figure out what level your child is reading at.

Sue pointed out the Leveled Book Lists. The Leveled Books List site is hosted by the McCarthy-Towne School in Acton, Massachusetts. It lists common elementary-level books and their grade-level assessment. I can, if I decide to, pick up a book from each level and sub-level, and have Jack read them to me. When we get to the place where he gets frustrated, or stops understanding what he's reading, I will know what level he'd reading at.


I have checked some titles Jack has been enjoying a lot, but I don't know that I'm going to make time for a real analysis any time soon -- but it's cool to know I could do it for free and with just a trip to the library.

Thanks, Sue!

17 June 2009

There's so much to say ...

But there's no time.So I hope you'll enjoy this visual evidence of my progress in the garden.

Herbs along the outside, tomatoes (badly in need of weeding) and potatoes along the inside, and peppers and eggplants in the inner row, with wheat in the middle. The heap of sand between the peppers and the wheat will be the next row-to contain cabbage and (more) eggplant, if Rod's bunny deterrent has worked. Eggplant and...more tomatoes? if not.

No -- the gate's not finished yet -- Rod stopped with that to find and fix Mr Bunny's back door. ;)

14 June 2009

Gardening, June 14

Well, another wonderful day in the garden done. I got a second row in all in one fell swoop -- with a lot of help from my delightful partner.

I had done it as a series of pits for the first row, but it was clear to me that it wasn't going to be ideal. It's far easier in a series of pits -- and there's plenty of payoff, because you can stop every so often and plant some more green babies and you can stop much more quickly when you're exhausted and still call it "done.

But there are 'walls" between pits where the soil wasn't amended. I could tell where this year, but it's going to be tricky next year. The more I thought about that, the clearer it was that I should put my back to it and do one long trench for the second row.

I went at it for about fours hours this afternoon, with brief breaks while Rod and Jack were at Chess club.. By the time Rod and Jack got home, I was completely whipped, but I was close to done. I had dug almost the whole trench by myself and was almost ready to start with the amendments.

Rod came out to see how I was doing, and made all the appropriate oohs and ahhs -- and then he took a good look at me and offered to finish up for me, because I was clearly exhausted.

(I felt like I was moving through fudge -- my muscles were simply not willing to make the effort any more. At that point it's less about productivity and more about determination.)

I gratefully accepted and so Rod knocked out the last little bit that needed to be dug deeper, and then he turned the soil as I added amendments -- which involved a fair amount of digging to add the sand back in.

We got the trench to within a few inches of the top, while we discussed what we might grow in it, but in the end, we called it quite until tomorrow when I'll fill the last of the trench and then plant.

Rod could have kept going, but I was no longer able to stay upright to super...er, um -- keep him company, and we had to get dinner on the table before he had to leave for the hospital for an overnight procedure.

Besides...I had been planning to put the Three Sisters garden in that area, but while he was digging Rod reminded me that the squash would take over a HUGE amount of the garden, so we had discussed putting that outside the fence.

I could pot in peppers, but I am told that one should not put nightshades together, and the potatoes and the tomatoes are already nearby. Are eggplants nightshae? i think they are. I seem to be planting mainly nightshades this year.

But I can hardly put the cabbages or peas or beans in ... at least until we solve *this* problem.

(Yes, he *is* inside the garden fence. With the gate closed.)
Tricksy rabbit...but my goodness, he is pretty.

Now...back to Watership Down, where someone else can do the heroics for a while.

Night all.

13 June 2009

Smiffy's Herbal: Chamaemelum nobile - my old friend chamomile

OK, I posted a cry for help in identifying this and thanks to Ruby in Montreal and Denica in Amsterdam, it has been identified.

This my friends is Roman or English chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), not to be mistaken for its taller, showier look-alike, German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). It is sometimes called "garden camomile" ground apple, low chamomile, or whig plant.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, they belong to different species but they are used similarly. Most research on chamomile has been done with German chamomile, which has similar, but not identical, active ingredients to its Roman cousin.
Roman chamomile originates in northwestern Europe and Northern Ireland, where it creeps close to the ground and can reach up to one foot in height.

Gray-green leaves grow from the stems, and the flowers have yellow centers surrounded by white petals, like miniature daisies. Its leaves are thicker than German chamomile, and it grows closer to the ground. The flowers smell like apples.
And it's related to asters, daisies, chrysanthemums, and ragweed. I is found in dry fields and around the edges of cultivated ground. It flowers in June and July.

Chamomile tea is good for fever and restlessness, particularly in children. It relieves anxiety and soothes tummy distress. It's a good wash for open wounds because it is antibacterial, anti fungal, and anti-viral and it reduces inflammation. It can even be made into a topical rub for painful joints, callouses, and swelling.

Chamomile is rules by the sun, its element is water and is said to rule sleep, love, and purification. Wash your hands in chamomile tea to draw money to you, burn it in your incense to bring peaceful sleep or fruitful meditation, and put chamomile flowers in your bath to attract love.

Seed the perimeter of your property with chamomile to dispel ill intent and dissolve animosity. (Interesting that it has grown at the end of the driveway in every home I have ever lived in.)

Roman chamomile doesn't seed particularly well, so to propgate it, it's easiest to divide and replant it every three years or so.

My old pal chamomile -- so glad you have a name now!

11 June 2009

Jack's Famous Cinnamon Bread

Go for it Jack!

It's a good bread. I can't wait to share it with my friend, Connor.

To make it, first you'll need a little flour and a dough. The first thing I had to do is flip it and fip it and flip it. Next, put on a little dough and then flip it some more. Next, put a little cinnamon on it. Then bake it for 60 minutes.

Anyway, as I was saying, it's a great bread.

by Isaac Jack.

(Note from Mamma: photos to follow when Dad gets home to get them off his camera.)

Any idea who this is?

A long, long time ago, someone told me that this is chamomile.
I believed it until a few days ago when I photographed it and then went out to Google to double check.

It doesn't look like it is...I have never seen a daisy like flower on it, though it has grown at the end of just about every driveway I've ever lived near.

It's pretty -- but what is it?

09 June 2009

Latest bread update

By Rod

This loaf is an adaptation from a bread made by a foodie friend… Thanks Sue!!.

It is slightly more expensive than the original loaf I posted here, but my goodness it’s a winner for taste and texture. It is a GREAT bread to serve for company, it’s a little sweet and the crumb is wonderful.

1 pound fresh-ground red wheat flour.
1 1/3 cups water
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice.
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter.

While your wheat is grinding, mix the water and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.

Once the flour is done, pour it directly into the water, and mix the dough until it is of even texture. The dough should feel firm without feeling dry, but it should definitely not be sticky.


Leave the dough to ferment at room temperature for 6-8 hours.

Knead in the yeast, honey, salt and butter.

Once the dough is evenly mixed and feeling like a good dough, let it rest for 15 minutes.

Give it a good long knead, the dough will border on sticky at this point. (add herbs here if required.. see below)

Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Deflate the dough, mold your loaf into the tin, (sprinkle cheese here if desired… see below) and let it rise again, this time check it at 30 minutes, and get your oven warmed up to 350 F. When it springs immediately back when touched, it is ready to bake.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Glaze with butter when fresh out of the oven if desired.

BREAD MACHINE – Place yeast and honey in the bottom of your pan, place the dough on top, make a dent in the dough for the salt, make sure you keep the salt and the yeast apart, and add the butter into the top of the dough, one tablespoon on either side, I usually make a slit in the dough to fit the butter… set your machine to finish 9 or 10 hours later.


Add a few tablespoons of grated cheese to the top of the loaf as you mold it in the pan.. I’d cut the honey back to a tablespoon though

This bread will easily take a tablespoon of chopped rosemary in the dough, I’d add that as I finished the major knead, and knead the herbs in with the last few strokes.…. You might try a bit of basil and thyme as well, making a blend of three herbs.. a tablespoon of one and a teaspoon of the other two, depending on which herb is strongest in your dinner (or which one you like most)… again, I’d cut the honey back a bit

NOTE: I have yet to soak one of these for the full 24 hours, but I’ll keep you posted when I do.

08 June 2009

Some days, it's just obvious that it's working.

I don't know of any parents who home-school, who don't occasionally wonder whether it's going to work the way they hope.

If we didn't have faith, we wouldn't persevere, of course. But as conscientious parents, we wonder if there's something we ought to be doing differently.

And then, there are the days when we can see that things are going as well or better than we had hoped. I've had several of those experiences lately.
I was out in the garden at the crack o dawn several mornings in a row. Jack later woke up and came out to join me.

One morning, he sat near the garden eating an apple -- and answering the birds with their own songs. He was also able to make a formal introduction for me. A little bird had been scolding me all morning from the tree next to the garden. I had been chatting with him, but I had no idea who he was or what he wanted. Jack told me it was a chickadee and pointed out that the little guy had been introducing himself all morning. "Chicka-dee-dee-dee". Once I called him by name, the little bird flew off, evidently satisfied.

As we finished up homeschool time this morning, Jack told me that he didn't want to stop, even though he was clearing having trouble keeping his focus. I asked him why and he said
"I want to get through this to get to the Romans. They have been buzzing in my brain and I want to know more about them. I already know about this stuff!"
What could I say? I handed him his choice of books about the Romans.


One of Jack's greatest enthusiasms is to dig up one of his science experiment books and do one experiement after another.

Jack has been doing multiplication in his head. He isn't really great at it yet, but he really *understands* the concept, even if his grasp on the specifics isn't quite there yet.


Having been working with him on homeschooling for a couple of weeks, I am starting to reconsider the curriculum. It seems to be giving him "more than he wanted to know" on some subjects and a lot less on others. This has been an extremely valuable interlude for me.

Punished by rewards? Why bribes fail in the long run.

From the Hall Full Blog:
Social scientists have studied motivation in kids a lot. There are two types: researchers call self-motivation “intrinsic” drive—the desire to do something purely because of the pleasure we derive from the activity itself. On the other hand, we also do things for “extrinsic” reasons—not for the process or the activity, but for the outcome or reward. Kids often do their homework for the grade or the approval of their teacher, for example, rather than for the fun of learning something new.

Intrinsic motivation makes for greater happiness and success, particularly when it comes to academic life. Self-motivated kids achieve more, perceive themselves to be more competent, and are less anxious. Extrinsically motivated kids are more prone to depression. While intrinsic motivation is a particular form of joy, extrinsic motivation can lead to a particular form of unhappiness fueled by fear of failure or disappointment. Sadly, because girls tend to be more attuned to their external appearance and environment, research shows they tend to be more extrinsically motivated and thus are more likely to be depressed.
But she doesn't just leave us hanging...in her very next post, Christine offers us the ERN method for helping kids develop self-discipline, and get those less than enchanting chores done without a lot of drama.

Her conclusion:
Rewards work in the short-term because they provide us with a nice feel-good Dopamine hit. But unfortunately, rewards tend to have a negative effect on kids’ motivation over the long-term. The answer is to motivate kids to do those not-so-fun things that are necessary in life with the particular kind of encouragement described above. That way, their brains deliver those feel-good chemicals in response to their feelings of mastery and autonomy (intrinsic motivation) rather than in response to receiving a material reward (extrinsic motivation)

07 June 2009

Garden Day 8

or "Where have you been?"

I have been mostly out in the garden.

If you are on Facebook, you may have seen some of the updates, but I haven't made much time for that, either. ;)

This is all taking a very long time, because I am starting fresh beds with the French Intensive method/permaculture/biodynamic.

(I have no idea what to call it -- it's inspired by all of those, but isn't really any of them.)

What that essentially means is that each row requires that I dig a trench, and then fill it with compost, amendments, and soil back to the surface -- and *then* I can plants my babies.

I'm not strong or persistent enough to dig along the entire row, so I dig side by side holes along the row and fill and plant them as I go. It takes longer, but I can take breaks every so often and plant -- and that's why I do this hard work -- to plant, not to dig!

It takes some time, especially since our sandy soil is essentially nutrient free.

I dig down...I don't know, half a shovel handle or so -- until I break through the sand, to the clay, and through the clay to the lighter, fluffier stuff.

Then I add alfalfa, manure, peat, and amendments (rock dust, lime, fish meal, kelp meal, fish bone meal, blood meal, bone meal, etc.) mix it all together, add more sand and clay and mix it in.

Once it's thoroughly mixed, I start again with more dirt, more alfalfa, more manure and peat, more amendments. That is repeated four or five levels, making sure that the soil and all the amendments are thoroughly mixed at every level.

It seems like a lot of work -- but this is basically starting new beds.

Once they're in, I will dig nutrient into the top foot or so with a spade as I plant next year. Maybe. We're thinking we might try "lasagna" or no till gardening Next year. We will cover the beds over with amendments and mulch in the fall.

In the spring, we would have to dig only enough to get through the mulch to the dirt and get the plants feet in nice black dirt. It sounds far easier on the back and a lot faster to get to the fun part ... and I may well still be double-digging new rows to make our 400 square feet come fall.

Anyway, so far I mostly have tomatoes, peppers and potatoes in. A new row of eggplant and horseradish will go in tomorrow between the potatoes and tomatoes, and then once the fence is complete, I can start putting in cabbage and three sisters. I also have an herbal row along the outside of the fence. It's part protection from insects and distraction for bunnies and it's part herb garden for us, if the furry neighbors leave us any.

Anyway, I have just been informed by my garden apprentice that it is way past my bedtime.

Good night all!