Love it or [try to] leave it

“If Trump wins the presidency, I’m moving to Nova Scotia,” one of my friends told me during the last presidential election.
“Oh, you have Canadian citizenship?”
“My grandfather was from Nova Scotia! And I’ll do a DNA test even to prove it to them!”
I didn’t see the point in explaining to her that that would do absolutely no good, unless the Maritimes are actually so inbred they’ve developed their own genetic markers. “Oh so you guys kept up the citizenship?”
They hadn’t. But she wasn’t going to let her stop her. If Trump was elected, she was leaving.

A few weeks later, Trump was elected. Almost a year later, my friend is still living here. She hasn’t made anymore comments about leaving the country, but she does occasionally make outraged Facebook posts.

It’s a weird thing how everyone seems to think that it is really just that easy to move to another country. Protesting against the government? You don’t respect the flag? Fine, if you don’t love it, leave it!

And go where exactly? Most people, like my friends, seem to think all they need to do is declare their intent to immigrate in order to so. Pick a country and go there!

As it turns out, it’s actually not all that easy to emigrate. First, there’s the whole issue about getting an immigrant visa, or a work visa if you qualify. If you happen to be really rich, you could always buy yourself a visa! But presumably you’re an Average American who doesn’t have $50,000 to blow investing in another country in order to move there.

Then there’s the whole issue of actually adjusting to a new culture. Most Americans assume they’ll immigrate to Canada. It’s like America, but not America. It’s all the advantages of being similar to America, but actually a different country. It’s like leaving the US, but still staying in America. But it’s those tiny little differences that will eat away with you as you try to adjust to living there. A wholly different country you would be prepared to experience differences, but Canada?

They use Celsius. They use metrics. They sell their milk in bags. Summer is that time of year when there is no snow on the ground.

Then there’s the bigger problem: networking. Or rather, rebuilding your entire social network from scratch once you’ve immigrated and left all your friends behind. If you’re like a lot of immigrants (expats, for the upwardly mobile), you’ll end up just hanging out with other Americans. Who else will understand what you’re going through? Who else will also feel angry at those stupid little things people in your new country do that don’t make sense? Honestly, if that’s what you’re going to do, you may as well just stay in your own country and save on all the moving costs.
But that’s okay because most people never get around to actually moving to another country after something happens they disagree with politically. They threaten it. They may even google moving to Canada. But they never actually go, which is probably fortunate because all they’d end up doing is exporting our problems to another country.

They’d probably also just come back.

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Long Time, No See

So it’s been a while. Life has gotten away from me and it always seems harder than it is to pick up the pen again. Or keyboard, as it may be.

Since my last post, we’ve added Gamma, who is nearly two at this point. He was once the calmest, happiest baby, but since he’s approaching two years old, he’s decided terrorism is the only way to get what he wants.

Not getting that food off the table he can’t eat because he has FPIES? Quick, toss everything within reach onto the floor, then go rigid, scream bloody murder and throw yourself on the floor! It’s the perfect strategy!

I read an article recently that said toddler brains look the same as adult brains on LSD. I believe this completely and have added it to my parenting playbook. Toddler acting up? What’s something that would distract an adult on LSD? Lights worked well during young toddlerhood. Bizarre noises, facial expressions and spinning him wildly around seem to be the thing now. Asking him where various body parts an animals have mixed results. Your mileage will vary.

As for our other children, Beta has started kindergarten at the local public school. We tried having her home after one year at preschool to “see how it would go.” We learned that she talks way too much and needs a lot more kids to play with than we can adequately provide. Since the public school has the closest Kindergarten, we’re taking her there. We haven’t decided if this is the long-term plan. We’re open to homeschooling her if that’s what she wants, we’re open to sending her to public school, private school is even an option if we can find one that is close by and not horribly expensive. So far, she shows none of the signs of dyslexia Alpha has and finds phonics and phonemes to be completely normal and acceptable.

Alpha, meanwhile, is still homeschooled. He shows no desire to go to school even though we told him that if he wants to go, he can. He doesn’t have to stay home. Nope. He’s happy and progressing. We spent 1.5 years teaching him phonics using an in-depth kinesthetic phonics program to help him connect letters and sounds. He now reads very well and eagerly with things that he wants to read. We’ve moved on to learning grammar and spelling, using AVKO Sequential spelling, which he hates. It’s nothing personal, really. He’s not a fan of doing anything that is challenging. He does well with spelling, however, and is progressing. Finding a good grammar program has been more challenging and, for the moment, we’re using Khan Academy and heavily modifying English for the Thoughtful child to suit our needs. Math continues to be Singapore Math 3 and we’ve had some conflicts over his insistence on adding three-digit numbers in his head. It works, except for when it doesn’t and I have to keep insisting he write things out and do carrying even one problems where he can conceivably do without this so that he gets used to it and can use it when he needs it. For history, we’ve moved into early modern, which is exciting because we live in New England and can easily head over to Revolutionary War sites and visit Plimoth Plantation. Science is chemistry this year and he’s also learning typing. Extracurricular include Finnish, German, Gymnastics, Art and swimming

This all makes for a very busy schedule.

We still have chickens. Different ones then before led by a different Rooster, whom we’ve dubbed Sir Robin. He was raised with a bunch of other cockerels, which is fantastic because it has made him a gigantic pussy. He’s afraid of everyone, except for the hens. He even runs away from Gamma when he approaches. While this does make him hard to catch, it’s a nice change from the aggressive assholes we’ve had in the past.

Our ducks were unfortunately murdered by a weasel who squeezed into their coop, but since the drought in the Northeast has eliminated our pond, it’s just as well.

 

Pregnancy Update

I’m still pregnant. I have a little over 3 months left, yay, but so far I’m feeling fine. We learned a while back that it’s going to be a boy, news which threw my daughter into a tizzy and it took her a few days and trying to steal the ultrasound pictures to come to terms with. Alpha was happy. Originally he wanted another sister, but after we had some friends over who have 4 boys and a girl, he changed his tune and told me how much fun it they must have all the time with so many brothers. So that’s clearly his goal: MOAR FRIENDS!!!
Beta has accepted things since then and enjoys cuddling with the baby (my belly) and keeps telling me what the baby likes or what the baby wants to do.

She is really into the baby. We’ll see if she’s as into when it’s born.

As far as the baby is concerned, he’s doing really well. He’s very active and enjoys kicking me all over. Everything came up normal on the ultrasounds, aside from the fact he refused to turn so the tech could get one specific measurement on the heart. Stubborn, I guess, or overly comfortable.

Things are definitely getting more difficult as things progress. Now once I hit 11,000 steps in a day I can tell without looking because my belly starts to ache and complain. Going to the gym is no longer enjoyable because I”m not increasing the weights I lift. To the contrary, I’m decreasing them in many cases. But I’m trying to keep going and usually make it there 2 times a week. Things keep getting in the way and I ended up taking two weeks off due to a horrible cold. I’m pretty sure it turned into bronchitis after a while because I ended up with a cough I couldn’t shake. Thank goodness for my asthma medication.

Weight gain front: I’m doing well. From my lowest weight in the pregnancy, I’ve gained 10 lbs. From my starting weight, 6. This is fantastic and I’m quite happy about it. I hope I don’t go too crazy in the last 3 months and ruin it all since my goal is not to gain more than 20 lbs. so that I lose the weight I gained pretty immediately after giving birth.

Annoyingly, I keep running into the the notion that since I’m pregnant, I shouldn’t be doing anything. One of my friends is the worst offender and hanging out with her gives me a huge headache because of it. She spends her time urging me to eat up because I’m pregnant, asking me if I need to rest or sit down and offering to pick up my daughter for me because, hey, pregnant people shouldn’t be doing heavy lifting, right? Gaaah. She’s probably just trying to be nice, but she should know by now that my daughter is one of the lighter things I lift. When I told her how I was trying to pull the creeping ground ivy out my yard because it’s taking over, she called me a crazy pregnant lady because obviously I shouldn’t be doing that. It drives me nuts. When my belly aches, I take it as a sign to sit down and rest because physical discomfort is generally a sign of needing to take a break, pregnant or not. But I don’t view pregnancy as a 9 month break from real life, especially not with two older kids running around.

In some ways, I’ve grown positively manic. I feel like I have a long list in my head of Things We Need to Get Done Before the Baby is Born…and I started this list when I was about 3 months pregnant. But this time I know the baby is going to be born in winter. I know that it’s important to get shit done outside so that when spring comes, things are ready and we don’t have to be stressed. I know it’s important to get our kitchen done and to have things  organized and ready so I’m not all stressed trying to figure out where things are.

The fact that we’re homeschooling makes me feel this pressure anymore. I’ve got to keep the balls in the air as best as I can and prepare as much in advance so the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

Fingers crossed, anyway.

Ready, Set…

We’re about to launch into our very first official year of homeschooling. Schools in my town already back, but since I consider starting before September heresy, we’re starting September 1. This also happens to be the day Hogwarts always starts, so I figure we can’t go wrong with it. Never mind that it’s Labor Day. We’re starting then, dammit (I actually only realized it was Labor Day after I decided we’d start that day and decided not to bother changing anything).

I’ve spent the last few weeks photocopying all the curriculum resources I have, three-hole punching them, and filing them away into binders as well as drawing up a tentative schedule for how this fall is going to run. I think I’ve arranged things so we’ll have time to take off a month when the baby is born and my family comes to visit. I figure most homeschoolers slow down around December and just do holiday stuff anyway, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal. I’m still nervous about it though. Our ability to take off in December is dependent largely on us being on the ball before then. What if we’re not? What if we’re hugely lazy? Unfortunately you can’t plan for every contingency and at least we have a lot of flexibility built in.

Beta will be going to preschool this fall, which makes the thought of homeschooling first grade with Alpha a lot easier. I’ll have 9 hours a week with only Alpha around. Hopefully we can get all the Important Stuff done then.

I’ve also made his Schultüte, a concept my husband failed to understand.

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I showed him it when it was mostly finished and he just looked confused. “So how long does he have to wear that? Everyday?”

“What? No, it’s just for the first day.”

“So why do you wear it the first day?”

“NO! You don’t wear it at all! You put stuff in it.”

“Like a backpack?”

“NO! Like sweets! The point is to sweeten the child’s first day of school so that it’s fun and they look forward to it.”

Then he decided it was a neat tradition. I still have to buy fillers for it, though.

As far as our curriculum is concerned, I’ve opted to use materials that strike me as tried and true by various homeschoolers: Singapore Math for Math, Explode the Code for reading/phonics (along with beginner reader books), Handwriting without Tears for handwriting, History Odyssey: Ancients 1 for History, and R.E.A.L Science Life I for science. Additionally, Alpha will have  German class on Mondays, Gymnastics and Art on Tuesdays and Finnish school on Saturdays.

So with fingers crossed, we will dive right in…and hopefully everything will work out well.

A Boring Post About Farm Economics

Making a profit off your farm is challenging–especially if you’re a novice farmer like I am. But over the last 3 years, I’ve reached a few conclusions about ways to profit and shared them with my husband, who agrees.

So here goes:

1) Chicken eggs are loss leaders. Maybe not for every farm, but I think for most of them they are. It may not seem like it if you’ve never owned chickens, but having chickens has very low barriers to entry, which means that most people who move out to the country or small town start off getting chickens. You only need a coop, some chicks (or pullets), some feeders, waterers and feed and you get almost immediate payoff: delicious eggs every day. Even if they cost more than the grocery store, people who get backyard chickens decide it’s worth it because the chickens become pets. Then they end up having too many eggs and decide to sell the extra, resulting in a sign in the yard advertizing “Eggs $3/$2 a dozen!” Since any one can do it, chicken eggs (while easy) is not an area for which we should look to make a profit.  In order to break even on eggs at the moment, we would have to sell them for $7 a dozen. Reducing feed waste would go a long ways to decreasing this.

2) Duck eggs are a waste of time. The Guide to Raising Ducks book sold my husband on duck eggs, saying that people pay a lot of money for duck eggs, so you can definitely profit off of them! More accurate would be “Some people love duck eggs so much, they’re willing to pay a premium for them. But most aren’t willing to pay for them at all.” This means we exclusively eat duck eggs at home because we have very few wiling, paying customers for them.  Anyone who hears we have ducks gets excited and says “Oooh, meat ducks?” and then loses interest when they hear they’re laying ducks. Which brings me to my next point.

3) Raise meat. This is a better way to be profitable and has many advantages. Barriers to entry are much higher because most people who get a few chickens and think of them as pets aren’t thinking “I’m totally going to kill this chicken and eat it as soon as it stops laying!” They can’t handle that. Even if they would like to do it, they usually don’t want to do it themselves and would rather have someone else do it for them because they don’t know how and it takes some practice to learn how to slaughter a chicken quickly. Trust me, I taught myself using youtube and blog tutorials and have definitely spent more nights with my hands shoved up a chickens ass than I’d like. But I’m willing to keep doing it because every time we sell a stewing hen, we make up the cost of the chick, plus some extra, which helps offset the losses we make on our chicken eggs.

Therefore, we need to stop doing laying ducks entirely. We should concentrate on meat ducks, meat geese, consider meat chickens (but I’m weary about that–cornish crosses are very sensitive to stress and the environment and die easily. Ducks and geese, on the other hand, are very hardy.

Getting pigs is also a good idea. Every person I’ve told I want to get pigs wants us to get a pig to raise for them as well. Pigs are definitely considered Real Farm Animals and, consequently, have a high barrier to entry. The downside of pigs is that piglets are very expensive at the moment due to the porcine diarrhea that’s been going around, killing piglets.

Basically, we need to get into raising animals you slaughter after one season so you don’t have to overwinter them. It makes things easier.

4) Become the middleman. Surprisingly, the one area in our farm in which we are consistently profitable is the one we weren’t even aiming to be profitable. When we first bought chicks, I would order our soy-free, organic feed online, but shipping was really expensive and I didn’t have enough chickens really to make ordering a pallet worth it, so we started getting it from a feed store in a few hours away, but on the way home from Finnish school. It was still expensive. Then I met some other people interested in getting soy-free feed, thus making ordering a pallet worth it. We started ordering pallets of feed. At first, I didn’t fill the pallet up, but as the number of interested people has increased, I’ve started filling it up and we still go through it within 3 months. Keeping the price roughly the same as before and rounding to the nearest quarter, we still make over $1 on each bag of feed we sell to other people, which makes hauling the bags from the truck and storing them in our garage worth it.

Other areas in which we could become the middleman would be: supplying people with pullets. Sometimes people who get chickens don’t want to deal with chicks. They want things to be super easy, so they’re willing to pay to have someone else raise chicks for you. We’re raising some ducks for a friend and, since my husband ordered too many, have some extra ones we want to sell (though I wouldn’t mind selling all of them at this point). We could conceivably do this with other animals as well.

5) Premium berries, melons and asparagus. If I’m going to raise stuff in my garden to sell, I only want to do the stuff that is actually going make money. Carrots are out. Asparagus is in. Melons are in (I planted a good number this year, so hopefully that amounts to something). I need to eventually get to a point where I can order more raspberries–yellow and black in addition to red. It’s all about thinking strategically.

Our Ducklings and Goslings

We ordered new ducklings and goslings this year. We got 15 gold star hybrid ducklings–6 for a friend, 6 for us and 3 they sent extra– to replace our current ducks, who are getting along in years and are going to be turned into dog food before the end of the summer. They don’t know it yet, though.

We also ordered 4 white emden  geese and got 5. This will, once again, be used for meat and slaughtered come fall.

They all arrived in the same package, peeping pitifully, the goslings already twice the size of the ducklings.

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The ducklings’ and goslings’ first day out, happily swimming in their water pan.

We kept them in their pasture pen for the first few weeks in order to keep them safe for predators and, more importantly, our other birds. But yesterday I decided to let the goslings out to see what they’d do. And they did basically what geese do: wandered around eating grass and looking pretty happy. A few chickens tried to attack them, but one of the goslings fought back and bit the chicken. Then I broke up the fight and that was the end of that.

But once the goslings were out, the ducklings started peeping plaintively and loudly, looking for their lost comrades. I’m beginning to wonder if they view the goslings as their parental figures since they’re so much bigger than the ducklings. There are 15 ducklings, so they can’t have been lonely. One duckling managed to escape out of the pen and immediately ran to the goslings and happily grazed with them while the remaining ducklings kept peeping loudly until we relented and let them out as well.

Then the entire group wandered around our property, grazing happily:

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My husband was worried they were going to go down to the pond again. The last time they were out of their run, when we had to lift the hole thing up and move it across the yard to fresh grass, they were all out and our children toughtfully herded them down to the pond so they could swim in it the first time. My husband ended up having to wade in and get them out, leaving both shoes behind stuck in the mud. But they didn’t. They were far more interested in the grass, clover, and what I’ve decided must be wild kale growing in the yard. Not to mention the shrubbery on the part of the geese.

This weekend we will pull out the electric fencing stuck in the back, overgrown part of the property around the house and put it around some poison ivy. Then we can stick the gosling and ducklings in there to graze in the day. Either we’ll build them some sort of shelter from predators in there or just hunt them out and put them back in the pen during the day. We haven’t quite decided yet.

But eventually the ducklings are going to have to join their free ranging relatives in the wide open fields and stop hanging around the geese all the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real Home Economics

Ages ago, I read the book Radical Homemakers, which discussed a subset of the population that was foregoing traditional jobs and choosing to live off the land and produce the things they consumed themselves. I was largely dissatisfied with this book, mainly because the author didn’t seem to have a good understanding of economics. She liked to call the economy the “extractive economy,” one that extracts your labor from you and doesn’t give you much back. She extoled the value of making the household a unit of production, instead of consumption. Except she never seemed to acknowledge that there are a lot of things it makes more sense to buy than produce yourself. And if you can get a job that pays more than turning your household into a unit of production (especially if you don’t enjoy all the work that comes with it), it makes more sense to have that job than to make everything yourself. However radical it may be.

Now I have finally found the book that discusses making it yourself vs buying it: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. The author, Jennifer Reese, was laid off from her job in 2008 and decided to figure out which things actually were cheaper (or better quality) to make at home because it obviously isn’t everything.

And it’s hilarious. Then again, watching suburbanites turn from city-dwellers to wanna-be homesteaders is always funny–I should know. I am one.

Reading her book has made me crave goats again. I really do want a goat, but since my goat would probably be a milk goat and not a meat goat, I’m holding off. I know I don’t have the time to milk a goat or learn how to play midwife to one or breed it or deal with subsequent offspring or make cheese/butter/whatever from the milk.

So that needs to wait. However fun making my own Camembert or mozzarella might sound.

This book has, however, made me feel more determined to get pigs. My husband and I discussed getting them this past spring, but we were woefully behind on everything we wanted to do anyway and decided not to add any additional livestock. But now we’re a bit caught up. And I’m out of pork. And we have about 5.5 acres of wooded area I’d love to see opened up a bit more.

I’ve been reading up on raising pastured/forest pigs and decided we should get 3. I know one person who would be interested in buying one pig from me (dead, of course). One pig would be for us and the third we would have to find someone to buy. I found a blog from a pig farmer in Vermont who seems to know what he’s doing and he wrote (and updated) a post on finishing your own pigs and it was very informative. Basically, pig chow, no. Forest/pasture, yes. Maybe I can embarrass myself and ask around at local stores/supermarkets/bakeries and find out if I can get their waste foods (bread, fruit, dairy) to feed the pigs as well.

The farmer recommend dividing up the area you want your pigs in into 6 small areas and rotate them between them, spending a week at each one in order to make sure it’s been well torn apart. I know exactly the area in our woods I want them at, too. The area and hill behind the pond, where we had loggers remove our pine trees. They left a ton of fallen lumber and branches there, which have been rotting for about two years now. We’re thinking about putting swales in there, a permaculture thing suggested by some of our friends (who are very into permaculture) and then planting our orchard on top of that. But the area is now overgrown with various plants and small trees. Having pigs open that up for us would be awesome. Maybe they’ll help get rid of our blackberry plants, too. Who knows.

Other than that, Reese has informed me that amazon.com has the cheapest vanilla beans ever and I just ordered half a pound of them for $36. I was also planning on making strawberry jam from u-pick strawberries this summer (Alpha wanted to see how it’s made), but her book informed me that homemade strawberry jam tastes just like store-bought and is therefore, not worth it. So I’m now going to make Strawberry-Rhubarb jam with Rhubarb I got from a friend who doesn’t have (or want) anything to do with it.

And I’m going to make my own vanilla extract. This is exciting!

Some notable quotes from the book:

“If rather than a lush green garden, you want your outdoor space to resemble a Third World village, I suggest getting some chickens, who will methodically denude the landscape of every blade of grass, low-lying weed, and wildflower. And i you want to rid yourself of shrubbery and small trees as well, get a goats. Very soon you will have the adobe patio of your dreams.”

“Where is that sweet spot between buying and making? What does the market do cheaper and better? And where are we being deceived, our tastes and habits and standards corrupted?”

“Are you nuts? If so, make it! (re: Vermouth)

“Chickens squabble. Chickens have minds of their own, however small. Not so the ducks, who waddled in lockstep formation around the yard, wing to wing, all day, every day, muttering. They were like a Hare Krishnas, always chanting in a gang.”