back and forth

     I’ve been a bit discouraged lately. We’ve been hunting for our “forever home” and real farm, and have hit a few snags. Several seemingly perfect properties have been snatched out from under us by buyers making cash offers, and a few are gone before we can even schedule a showing. With our assets tied up in the current house we own, in order to finance a larger farm and property, we’d have to sell our current house - or make contingent offers that hinge on selling our own place in the duration of closing (contingencies aren’t very sexy offers to sellers who are getting cash). To sell our house ahead of time means relocating three dogs, two cats, a flock of chickens, several honeybee hives, a bin of worms, three rabbit hutches and of course, all the homesteading equipment that goes along with each of them (not to mention all the crap that we’ve accumulated in the last 5 years). Oh, and A BABY. Exhausting just to think about, right?

     So, I’d all but given up hope, thinking we’d be stuck in our current house, our garden limited to a few small beds, our honeybees subject to foraging the sprayed fields just down the road, bla bla bla, until we went to the Mother Earth News Fair this weekend (funny story: I was feeling rather claustrophobic from the day-in-day-out child care of the last 10 months and told the hubby, “I need a vacation! Come hell or high water, we’re going to the Mother Earth News Fair, wherever it is this year,” to which he dutifully replied, “Of course darling, we’ll make it happen!” Only to learn it was going to be held in our town, 20 minutes from our house). I haven’t been this giddy or had this much fun in ages. We were surrounded by our people - baby-wearing, organic gardening, mushrooming, chicken- and bee- and worm- and rabbit- and goat-raising, fermenting, homesteading hippies. And then, we go to Sunday morning’s live chicken-processing demo with David Schafer and Joel Salatin, and like any good Sunday morning religious experience, it was uplifting. It was pure inspiration. Pure motivation. It gave me hope that we’ll find our farm, that it’s out there, waiting for us to move in, grow grass and rotate pastures (Joel’s a self-proclaimed “grass farmer,” since the pasture is at the heart of healthy livestock and a healthy farm system). Most people wouldn’t say that about seeing 8 chickens “dispatched,”scalded, plucked and dressed, but to us homesteading types, seeing it completed so respectfully and mindfully by the absolute pros in their field? Well, that’s a pretty perfect Sunday morning.

Me, Ava and Joel at the Mother Earth News Fair, Asheville, NC, 2014.

Yes, I know, there are actually three teeth in this child’s mouth, but that is less about me not being able to count, and more about the fact that mama and papa can’t really get their sh*t together to photograph our babe on time. So, let’s all just ignore the fact that she’s like, 8 years old in this photo. :)

Baby’s first duckface.

Are you getting sick of these yet?

Behind the scenes with mama and the “milestones” chalkboard + sneak peak of month 8!

Showing “midriff” in her great aunt’s vintage baby clothes. Despite the fashion sense, she would have been sent home if she walked into my middle school showing off that belly.

Montessori Mothering
     Seeing as it’s both winter and my 8th month of parenting, we are looking inward on the homestead these days. It’s been an unusually frigid winter, severely lacking in the snow department for my tastes (if it’s going to be cold, it might as well be beautiful!). We’ve had to bring the rabbits inside for several particularly cold nights (we really thought they’d die outside otherwise), but the chickens have fared well and all three hives have survived the first cold snap.

     Inside, we’re looking to the wee one’s development. Now that she’s sitting up on her own, she can use her hands to grasp and grab, manipulate and bring objects to her mouth. She can play with them, see how they work, and gnaw, gnaw, gnaw. We’re employing a combination of Attachment Parenting and the Montessori “method” at home as much as possible. I won’t go into the specifics of either, since a quick Google search will yield more eloquent and knowledgeable descriptions of both. But suffice it to say, I really resonate with both approaches. Montessori, in particular, has sparked a real passion when it comes to how I’m approaching the early education of this tiny human being.

     So, with that in mind, I thought I’d take you on a tour of her room these days - it’s much, much different than the adult-friendly nursery I put together in my prego days. Since her nickname is The Bird we call this room The Aviary.


    Here’s a wide shot of the Aviary. When applied at home to young babies and children, the Montessori philosophy encourages independence, order and building of the will. The ideal child’s room has everything at her level - instead of a crib, a floor bed that she can easily get into and out of. The entire room is, in essence the crib, and is completely child-proofed. Books are her level, simple wooden toys are at her disposal, and pictures are hung on the wall at a level she can see (childproof frames, too, by the way, with no glass and attached to the wall with Command strips).


     Here’s the Bird on her floor bed. My mom likes to joke that she’s like a parakeet with her mirror and her wooden rattle toys! The bed is an organic cotton/wool futon mattress in a full size (I won’t go into how terrible flame retardants are in this post either, but I did my research and am really glad with the route we took). I actually love having a full size - I can nurse her on the bed and lie with her, and, it provides a nice, soft landing for learning how to sit and crawl. The mirror is leftover from the newborn days and is used to get a full view of their room. The idea is that gaining a mental picture of the lay of the land makes it easier and more predictable to navigate later on, when they’re mobile.


     I absolutely love the idea of hanging artwork at the child’s height. As an artist, classically trained pianist, and art therapist by trade, it’s paramount to me to integrate the arts in her life. These frames hold 10 laminated cards with photos on the front and descriptions on the back. We have three: one of great art prints, one set of just Van Gogh’s work, and one with 10 insects and info all about each one (got these on the Michael Olaf [.net] site). They are seriously cool!

     We also have a plethora of wooden toys; we are steering clear of battery-operated toys that render the child a passive participant in play. Traditional toys require engagement, investigation, discovery and focus.


     Obviously, there will be a few modifications made when she’s mobile. I’ll remove all the paper books from the shelf, and only leave a few, chewable ones out. The plant will have to be hung out of reach, and the majority of toys will go in the closet, with just a few on the shelf within reach at a time. Most Montessori home nurseries and play rooms only have a few toys out at any given time and after a few weeks, are rotated for continued interest.


     The Bird’s absolute favorite “toy” at the moment is this treasure basket. Another brilliant Montessori concept, the treasure basket introduces a variety of items of different textures, weights, temperatures, and sounds. In this basket I have metal, wood, silicone/rubber, cloth, and natural objects. She’ll sit in front of it for an hour if I let her, taking things out of the basket, putting them back in, chewing and exploring all of the objects along the way. It is a genius idea and it’s very FREE. My next project is themed treasure baskets organized by material (all wood, all natural, all metal, etc.) and/or color (starting with the primaries, red, blue and yellow).


     And finally, that mobile. Another leftover from the early weeks and months, this kid adores her butterfly mobile! We also have two others: hummingbirds and wild North American birds. Using the Montessori method, any creature or object on a mobile should be found in the sky or in the ocean…birds, butterflies, fish, clouds, dolphins, whales… The nursery, and everything in it, is grounded in reality - the springboard for true imagination.

     Above all else, a Montessori baby’s room should be peaceful, tranquil, orderly and easily accessible. I absolutely love the Aviary - it’s hands down my favorite room in the house. Good thing, too, since we spend most of our days there!

Hoo, boy. Kiddo was not in a good mood for this month’s photo. But with the help of Tia Grande, we managed to squeeze a half-hearted grin out of her!

     I started 2013 off nauseous and pregnant but excited for the year to come. I knew it’d be a big one. In January of 2013 I was working a very stressful job, one that often came home with me and flavored an otherwise easy and beautiful pregnancy. At the time, the hubby and I were elbow deep into watching the entire Battlestar Gallactica series. The Hubs and I knew we should probably catch up on neglected series and get our fill of TV before the wee one came (and, it turns out, we were very right). I also slept. A lot.

And that was just the first 6 months.
     Twenty-thirteen then morphed into the blur of early parenthood when our daughter surprised us - healthy and gorgeous - three weeks early. We three survived the last 6 months of pregnancy, labor, delivery and the first 6 months of parenthood with a lot of mutual support, distraction (in the form of a few memoirs and novels) and lots and lots of chocolate. I couldn’t tell you which half of the year went faster, but I can say quite definitively that 2013 was the most punctuated but messy year of my life…the months were categorized into trimesters and developmental stages, and while neat and tidy by weeks and numbers, my life was otherwise a catastrophic mess of sleeplessness, sore nipples, dirty diapers, dirty dishes, a few tears and laundry. Ah, 2013.

     Baby aside, we did manage to do a few other things. The hubby started a new job and put his freelancing aside for a bit. This put me at home and on the homestead, radically shifting our roles from the last four years. I also entered a new decade of life and have the aches and pains to prove it. In homesteading news, we caught two swarms, raised four new chicks, including a rooster, to add to the flock, and managed to keep all of our furry and feathered charges alive by the skin of our teeth. I grew a squash. I kept up all of my magazine columns, started writing for TAPROOT magazine, starting writing for a local women’s magazine and secured new blog work and potentially (!) a big new writing project for next year. We met an unbelievably amazing group of mamas and papas through our birthing class, and subsequently welcomed all of their babies throughout the month of June with our own. Collectively, they’ve been an indispensable support system, village and sounding board for one of the most chaotic years of my life. I’m so grateful to have them all close by.

     And so, we begin 2014 with a messy house, lots of love in our hearts, and such gratitude for all the friends and family that have supported us this year. I’m spending this last day of 2013 with my babe, at home, cutting masking tape Xs to place on the floor where it’s safe to step without waking the baby at night. This is my life now! It’s cold outside, but all the animals are fed, watered and hunkered down. The dogs are curled on the couch and it’s only a matter of time before I’m nursing the babe down for another nap.

     Last year, I rang in the New Year sleeping soundly. Fingers crossed that’s how 2014 begins. Here’s to another year of joy, love, gratitude and, hopefully, less painful nipples. Happy New Year, friends!


We’re a bit behind, I know…but seriously, how cute are those leg warmers?

Meditations on a Stinkbug
     Last month, our pest control guy came around, as they do. We do the bare minimum of pest control around here, opting for their essential oil sprays instead of the pesticides. With his bill (thanks buddy) he handed me a flier and on it, the tale of the brown marmorated stinkbug. Clearly it was meant for concerned home owners who tired of stepping on the crunchy bugs and unleashing their stench into their homes. I could relate. The story next to this invasive insect’s photo explained its history, that it was native to parts of Asia and why many found them to be a nuisance. And oh, also? Get used to your new friends, because no, there is nothing we can do about them, please stop asking. And P.S. if you haven’t figured it out by now, don’t step on them lest you find out how they got their name.

     So in the months I’ve been home with the baby, I’ve made many stink bug friends. At first I thought we had two, maybe three visitors, but I’d soon count several dozen as summer turned to fall and they retreated into our house. They have a way of silently gliding from one locale to another, providing the illusion that there are many more. It’s hard to keep track of them. You know, in all my free time.
     Some days, when I’d sit down to nurse the baby and had forgotten a book before sticking her on the boob, I’d think quietly and watch the stinkbugs. One day, a determined stinkbug on his journey across the Middle Earth that is my house used the office door frame as his road to Mordor. Watching this little creature became a meditation session where I pondered the struggles and pain that is this earthly existence. Was he searching for food? A way out of my house? A partner to make more little stinkbugs? I watched him gradually crawl up one frame, over the door along the top of the frame, and back down to the floor. By then, my daughter’s nap/nurse session had ended, so we humans went along our business. During her next nap/nurse session several hours later we rejoined the saga of the determined stink bug on his journey across the bathroom door jam. It was a plight Tolkien would have been proud of.

     Now, mid-December, the cats and dogs have lost interest in pawing and stomping on the stinkbugs. The invertebrates also stay pretty high up in the house these days. When the weather was warmer, I would toss them outside, but now I feel terrible to send them out to their deaths in the cold. I’ll admit, I considered becoming the first homesteader to keep pet stinkbugs, but I don’t know what they eat, or how fast they reproduce, or if they’ll all just slowly starve gripping strange places in my house (one died behind the door jam in the bathroom. I think it was our nursing time friend. Kinda sad, right?).

     So, I let them snuggle up in my houseplants and wish them well. I clean up their little carcasses when they don’t make it to greenery and potting soil. I secretly hope they don’t start making babies and take over my house. But I do get a little happy for them when they find a fellow stinkbug friend.

I’ve officially earned my stripes as a crunchy, homesteading mama…17 pints of applesauce made while baby-wearing. Booyah!

Weekend DIY: Holiday Edition

     In years past, the bombardment of holiday décor in department stores as early as October really used to bug me. Carols would croon out over the radio before I had even put away my Halloween costume. My birthday being right around Thanksgiving, I always took it as a personal affront that the November holiday was glossed over and everyone went straight to Christmas. But now, celebrating our first holiday season as a family with a little one (just coming up on 5 months old), let me just say for the record: I get it. I get the eight weeks of carols and the faux reindeer on neighborhood roofs. And I’m ready for it all. Do I want to hear “Jingle Bells” on November 2nd? Yes, actually, I do. Buy a mini, baby-sized Santa hat on November 10th? Absolutely! Put up our Christmas tree before Thanksgiving? I’m there.

     This is the first year I’ve ever been so moved by the holidays as to want to decorate for them. Here is one such craft project that can fit nearly any schedule, any budget and any holiday celebration. It’s great because it’s made of (mostly) all natural supplies, and that’s a must on the homestead. The materials are simple and inexpensive (if you already own a glue gun, all of these materials can be purchased for under $20). It has a sleek modern look, and it smells absolutely divine. What’s not to love?

Cinnamon Stick Wreath


What You’ll Need:

-Cardboard wreath frame

-90-150 cinnamon sticks (craft grade is fine)

-Hot glue gun

-2-3 hot glue sticks

-Decorative bow or ribbon (optional)






How to Make it:

  1. Start by placing four cinnamon sticks in the North, East, South and West positions on the wreath frame (Or, if you’re looking at it as a clock, put one stick at 12 o’clock, one at 3 o’clock, one at 6 o’clock and one at 9 o’clock). This will help guide where to place the rest of the sticks so they don’t end up lopsided on the frame.
  2. Place four more cinnamon sticks between each of the original four (Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and Northwest if you wanna get nerdy and technical).
  3. Continue in this manner until you’ve filled up the wreath to your liking.
  4. Place your bow, ribbon or other adornment on the wreath. Hang it. That’s it!

A few tips:

Ø    If your cardboard wreath base has holes pre-drilled for hanging (like mine did), be sure to leave a few open by not placing a cinnamon stick directly over it. This makes hanging much easier. Or, you may choose to tie ribbon, string, or wire through the holes for hanging before gluing the cinnamon. Either way, don’t block ‘em.

Ø    Use the ugly sticks! Curled, off-color or otherwise wonky cinnamon sticks make for an interesting wreath.

Ø    Glue the thickest cinnamon sticks first, gradually layering with thinner sticks for a full look.

May your holiday be filled with spice!

Happy All-Hallow’s-Eve! From the cutest little honeybee and her keepers.

Hello friends! Fancy meeting you here.

     Wondering where I’ve been? Well, motherhood continues to be a roller coaster of emotions, from the expected (pure bliss and nipple pain) to the less popularly discussed (frustration, fear and personal disappointment that you could do better). Take my lack of blogging as a sign of really attentive attachment parenting; I’m with my child every minute of every day. Just want to make sure you got that: I’M WITH MY CHILD EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY. It took me most of the weekend to finish this post.


     Breastfeeding is less about screaming into a pillow in pain and more about tossing a boob into a baby’s face when she so much as grunts, so I guess we’ve got it down by now. I’ve even experienced a few minutes of that thing my mom calls pure bliss for mom and baby - I dare say, breastfeeding is growing on me. This past week, I got a shot of sunshine straight to the heart when my four month old laughed - like, really, laughed. Naturally, she was finding her own bodily functions amusing. She farted, and then laughed, which squeezed out another fart. And then laughed again. Apparently, she is her mother’s daughter.

      And we’ve modified the babe’s bedroom to employ the Montessori at Home method for the last few months and she really loves it. She loves it so much that she’ll only nap on me. The entire room acts as the crib, and is baby-proofed top to bottom. A floor mattress with a mirror attached to the wall allows her to wake up, see the room, entertain herself and fall back asleep. I rotate mobiles for continued interest. Everything is at child level (including the artwork on the walls) to foster independence and creative thinking (and yes, those are Ikea bookshelves from the early 2000s that I tossed on their sides). The very expensive crib, like most ovens in Manhattan apartments, is used for storage. In other news, anyone looking for a really nice, never used, non-toxic/no-VOC crib made from sustainably harvested wood hit me up.


      If you think motherhood has made me a bit sassier these days, I blame it on the lack of sleep. Or maybe the lack of inhibitions. I have been known to whip out a breast in public these days. And proudly at that (see photo at the NC Arboretum above).

      And the homestead? Well, it continues to be in several states of disarray. The chickens are happily molting, eating more food than ever, and laying about one egg a week combined. We’ve postponed raising kits and harvesting meat rabbits, yet again (hey, we just nailed down bedtime, one major milestone at a time). The last of the season’s weeds are determined to give me something to do in October, and it seems the bee hives are the only ones truly thriving on the neglect. But, my baby is chunking up, I’ve got new writing endeavors on the horizon, and life is generally good. No complaining here.