Friday, September 16, 2016

The Here and Now

A new house, a new province, almost a new life…so much has happened these past few months since Will found his Cape Breton farm. After years of dreaming and planning we made an impulsive offer of purchase, a miraculous house sale, a wild and disastrous move with five children, four goats, a dog, a flat tire, two lost car keys, and —thankfully—a grandmother. (My intrepid mother came along as Baby Whisperer and kept Hermione happy while we drove for twenty hours.)

Our move was a series of disasters that made us doubt our sanity. Ah, but it was too late to change our minds. The house was already sold.

 It was a giant, flying leap of faith to say good bye to everything familiar and a much-loved community and strike out to the rugged West coast of “darkest Cape Breton” as one friend puts it. We were lured here by cheap farm-land and the ocean climate, and we had no idea how awesome it would be.

Somehow we’ve managed to land in an amazing community. Writers, artisans, and back-to-the-land style organic farmers, educated people seeking a quieter, more intentional life, market gardeners, young and full of energy and eager to network. Cape Bretoners are famous for their warmth and generosity and the reports are not exaggerated! We are putting down roots fast, with the warm welcome and inter-connectedness of this community. 

The farm is Will’s dream. His vision includes food sustainability, organic soil practices, fruit tree grafting, seed saving, and “permaculture”. It’s been percolating along side of his PhD. We joke
that the longer he spends in academia the  the more he wants to be a farmer. The soil here is dense clay but good for the kind of agriculture he’s interested in. This land has good bones.

I can’t say the farm is really my passion—I’m just along for the ride. And for the ocean. It’s impossible for pictures to convey the kind of energy that sparks out of these waves and air. I feel more ALIVE here than any other place. If I can create a healthy home for my children, make soap, make art, and spend as much time by the water as possible, I will be happy to stay here forever, however poor we may be.

Our boys started school in the local public school. Mixed feelings all around, rather predictably from William “long and boring”, Hugh, “yeah, it’s ok. I met some fun kids and my teacher’s nice.” And Matthias: “Totally epic!” Will is apprehensive since he hated school as a kid, but I really need the break. I remind him that our kids weren’t big on home school either. We were un-schoolers by default. Anyway, I told Will that even if they’re in public school we can still keep up their education. So we’ve been reading Greek Myths every night and going through our favourite history book for children. Nice art and written as a kind of conversation between author and child. We have a great little library right around the corner from our house where we load up on our current interests: sea coast flora and fauna, Greek mythology, Robertson Davies.

The goats are thriving too. Henrietta the One-Horned Wonder, born this spring, is almost grown. Helm, our gentle, handsome little buck, is doing his duty and Josephine and Heloise are bred; new kids and new milk later this fall. They have the run of an overgrown apple orchard so they are in heaven. 

There are no stores here other than grocery and hardware. We are almost two hours drive from the two bigger towns in Cape Breton with the big box stores. No internet at the house, either. The result is a kind of post-consumer, post-technology detox. My mind is clearer, days are more productive and creative.

There is so much to do here, community-wise, we can hardly keep up. I’m trying to paint my house as usual. Paint colours blah blah blah….this shade….agonize….that shade….

This is my progress so far. Little things keep interrupting like Front Porch Peter (our CSA neighbour who is the best) bringing by a billion pounds of zucchini and daikon radish. Food is expensive here so I didn’t say no. I hope he REALLY likes kimchi.

Of course I envisioned our house being painted in our first week: Will and I working side by side while our children entertained themselves in the long grass like Laura Ingalls Wilder. But fortune doesn’t favour the mother of screaming one-year-olds bent on self-destruction and Will has been problem-solving since day one when our well went dry. 

Still, what is life for but work ? And creativity and play? This is what we love, and Cape Breton is a wonderful environment for doing what we love.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Long Winter's End

It's been a long few weeks. Will is on the East Coast scouting out prospects as we plan for the Great Unknown Post-PhD Future.  We're crossing every finger and a few toes too.

 (I think he's also having a great time.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Mary is wishing the animals would just butcher, wrap, and pop themselves into the freezer. I knew goats were pesky but I forgot that they are diabolical and can actually fly.

The prospect of selling the house is terrifying and exciting. I am using Will's absence as an excuse to purge and downsize without anyone saying, "Hey, I was saving that for the kids." I might even paint some walls. There's also nobody to remind me that it takes a lot of gas money to drive to Ottawa, so we've done a few trips and bought some very necessary organizational furniture. (I feel like I'm going to confession right now....)

It's still Orthodox Lent around here, and this year I'm trying to be very sombre and focused, so no movies or music...for me. The kids are being fuelled with Ninjago. We get quite a lot of firewood and animal chores out of one episode. I monitor them to make sure they haven't lost their appetite for more elevated art, but a few weeks of crap diet hasn't done too much damage. And it has inspired a whole lot of improvised martial arts and an interest in kanji too. I love both Japanese and Chinese alphabets so it's lovely to find scraps of paper, maps, secret messages strewn about! And all that zany humour...very good for the morale during this last stretch of winter.

I am listening to Ancient Faith Radio podcasts while I work and really enjoying the ramblings of Fr. Thomas Hopko. He has a talk on the Sermon on the Mount which knocked me off my chair last year. (This is the time of year when I come face-to-face with my humanity....and realize just how far I have to go on this Christian journey.)

Oh yes, and egg candles!

Monday, February 29, 2016

This Leap Year Morning

One year ago I posted a picture of me at twenty weeks pregnant. I'm a little bit horrified to notice that this year I look exactly the same. Oh the timely austerity of Lent.
Not unrelated: this is goat milk butter, curtesy of Hannah and Josephine, our lovely ladies in the barn.
This, my friends, is bullet proof coffee made with goat milk butter. It is something between dense whipped cream and whipped butter, but sweeter. You need a cream separator to collect cream from goat's milk as it's naturally homogenized. Then we churn it by hand. Will and I often joke about our posh life....calculating the cost of labour and milk, we are eating forty dollar pats of butter.  Ha! We're rich! You just can't put a price tag on some things.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A little bit of Lent

I lost the lens cap for my camera about a month ago. The reward for finding it has gone up to five dollars and we've even gotten flashlights to look under the piano...but in the meantime I have expensive-camera-paralysis. Which means that a whole month of Mio's life has passed without photos because I'm pretty sure that the moment I take the camera out of its bag is the moment the lens will meet its doom. As if that matters. (Winter financial reality check hello! It all matters!) 

I feel like all I've been doing these days is internal work. Hard work. Like learning how to communicate with husband (11 years together and I'm only just realizing that we actually don't speak the same language. We're possibly not even the same species.) Learning how to deal with stress in a way that it's properly diverted instead of exploding in people's faces. Then there's the ongoing repentance from being basically human, and other such problems. It's all good.  It's just very.... Lenten. It wouldn't be Lent without hard internal work.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fat Booties

What with all the babies being born, it's time to get knitting again!

 I can't seem to stop knitting these. They knit up fast and are just so chubby and adorable. I do find the ankles a bit tight, but consumer feedback tells me this keeps them on baby's feet. 

Knitting notes: it's a free pattern found here.  The knitting/blogging world has known about these for a long time, apparently, but not the grateful recipients. The feet must be bootied!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rings and Things

Hugh wanted me to add the above picture to show his perfect poise. 

I've been teaching a little history class to my kids and a few friends. Their mum, in return, has been teaching science. It's been totally fabulous to outsource some learning, and I love the weekly discipline of presenting a class. I miss teaching. 

Here's one of the little history projects they did for our Ancient Mesopotamia study:
Built the Code of Hammurabi out of cardboard and black paint and, when they ran out of black paint, charcoal. It was a beautiful cooperative effort.

They carefully copied the image from the top of the famous stele. Hammurabi is receiving his right to rule from the god Shamash. Then they copied it by eye with white oil pastel.

 Each child came up with ten rules for the house which must be written on the stele and obeyed. The Code commands that if we spill the compost, we must pick it up with our teeth, if we do not eat our vegetables, we must eat more dessert...

Below, Hugh and Kai demonstrate how the Code came to be: Hammurabi spake, and it was written.

I read aloud the fabulous, juicily poetic children's version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean. I highly recommend it! It was the basis for the most entertaining and philosophical conversations we've ever had about life, death, immortality, love, friendship, grief, courage. And it really is an exciting story.

The author muffs up the character of Siduri, the wine seller at the edge of the world. Siduri, in my opinion, holds the key to Gilgamesh's quest. In McCaughrean's version Siduri is a fat, tipsy buffoon who doesn't care about lofty quests for immortality. I went to the original epic to find the real Siduri, whose wisdom unlocks the problem of Gilgamesh's obsession with immortality.

               When the gods created man
               they alloted to him death,
               but life they retained in their own keeping.
               As for you, Gilgamesh,
               fill your belly with good things;
               day and night, night and day, dance and be merry,
               feast and rejoice.
               Let your clothes be fresh,
               bathe yourself in water,
               cherish the little child that holds your hand,
               and make your wife happy in your embrace;
               for this too is the lot of man.

Immortality might be outside of our grasp in this life, but the present moment can be luminous—this too is the lot of man!