Pockets of the Future Blog

Striving to live now as all will live in the future.

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  • Archive for April, 2008

    Apr
    26

    A Children/Kids Frolic on Video

    Posted by pockets

    Children and kids are apparently a natural combination which is surely is fun to observe.

    In the following video you can listen to children telling stories about goat, kid, hen interactions just like Fern does in Charlotte’s Web.

    Within hours the kids are ready to alternate play with rest so children and kids go on a merry romp after which the kids, Gretel and Marts, curl up together and sleep.

    We are already really enjoying having such these elegant bits of fun on the homestead and can’t wait for the next installment of kids.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie

    Apr
    26

    Our First Newborn Nigerian Dwarf Kids on Video

    Posted by pockets

    After a lot of cold, raw, wet days this day was warm and beautiful. We had been working hard all week and needed a break so my husband took us all on a nature walk to our special spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had a very strong feeling that some birthing energy was building up on the place but going for a walk seemed right. We had a wonderful time enjoying the change of scenery and came back tired but refreshed. When we got home, I took down the laundry and then went over to check on the goats. Iris had kidded just as nature intends, privately and in a sheltered place. Soon the cob goat shed was full of goats and humans and children and kids.

    Here everyone is getting to know everyone else:

    After some time Iris passed her placenta and ate it like every good mama. You can see details of this on the video and hear some discussion about this between Paul and the children.

    This was such a relaxed and natural first birth. Good for her and good for us. Oh, and we named the kids Gretel and Marta. Both names mean the same thing which is neat for naming such nearly identical twins. They mean “child of light” which certainly describes the beautiful day on which they were born.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie

    Apr
    20

    Our First Nigerian Dwarf Goat Kids!

    Posted by pockets

    On a day of beautiful, warm spring weather the doe we were sure would give birth last of our three pregnant does gave birth first to two elegant looking little doelings. The birth was completely natural and uncomplicated and Iris turns out to be a very effective and attentive mother. The doelings are cute beyond words. I now have kid fever and am impatiently waiting for the other two does to have their kids. I am pretty sure you cannot have enough of these adorable little bits of romping fluff.This is where we found Iris and her kids - in the complete-enough-to-do-the-job cob shelter. It is downright cozy in there and just perfect for the growing goat families.

    A calm and confident mama.

    Little babies need their “all in a heap” rest.

    You can be sure there will be more posts, photos and videos coming. There are many wonderful attributes to Nigerian Dwarf goats, not the least of which is their really cute kids. Our children are enjoying the kids so much. It is heartwarming to watch.

    Oh, and we are still working on names. Guess we had better hurry because there will be quite a few more kids here any time.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie

    Apr
    17

    “The Promise of a Renewal of Life”

    Posted by pockets

    We are hesitatingly, hopefully believing that spring is now fully here to stay in the mountains of Floyd County. We have heard repeatedly about the early warming of last year and then the devastating freeze of that April which wiped out local apples, peaches, blueberries and more. A couple of weeks ago we had thought maybe spring was here but then temperatures dropped and it snowed. Would our heating oil and our hopefulness hold out until we can put all of this aside until next year, I wondered?

    I think the daffodils have kept me going frankly. There are quite a few planted here around the house by past generations. From the large bay window over the kitchen sink I can see one particularly nice looking clump tucked away between the “granny house” and the outdoor bamboo shower. The heirloom daffodils on the east side of the house, though, particularly exemplify to me sturdiness, persistence, hope, a natural rhythm despite all appearances and the intense color and simple lines of more natural times gone by. Each day I am grateful for their teaching by example.

     

     

    This past winter (I am going to go ahead and call it “this past winter”) was probably the toughest I have ever gone through in terms of surviving whatever nature dished out with whatever resources were at hand. It was not, by any means, the worst winter ever in terms of degree of cold or inches of snow but it was the toughest in terms of our lack of resources to meet the challenge. For me with a very low functioning thyroid that pitches me towards vulnerability to cold and a perhaps over functioning sense of responsibility about keeping family and livestock well fed, scarce resources with regards to heating oil, food and hay made me feel kind of desperate off and on all winter long. The constant cold both inside and outside wore me down. The constant concern about where and how we would get our next installment of hay wore me down. Winter became what it truly is - a time of testing, endurance, survival. It became a time of looking within to search out the most fundamental levels of energy, strength and faith in order to not only survive the season but to yield to it and draw from it what it had to give.

    The warm temperatures, the greening grass, the wildly yellow daffodils are not just the harbingers of “oh, lovely spring” to me this year. No, this year spring is a fall-on-your knees-and-kiss-the-earth experience with a “Thank you, God, for renewing life both this spring on this patch of earth and eternally within the hearts of all people.” As long as we yield to the natural rhythms by paying close attention to them both outside of ourselves in the natural world and within in the spiritual world, spring will come eventually and it is a profound event. It is hard to appreciate the profundity of spring at this time in human history in which we have used wealth and technology to distance ourselves, indeed insulate ourselves, against the rigors of a natural life. So much is lost with this fussy, resource gobbling insulation.

    Henry David Thoreau certainly did not insulate himself from the rigors of a natural life. Rather he plunged into them with a fullness that was uncharacteristic of his time, place and station in life. Several years ago, scholar David Robinson wrote Natural Life: Thoreau’s Worldly Transcendentalism to great reviews. Just reading the reviews of this book bolsters my strength and perspective.

    To live the natural life meant two things to Thoreau: to study nature by observing and recording natural phenomena in the life around him, and to bring his life into a harmonious accord with all the movements, patterns, and events of nature.

    Imagine what human society and the state of the earth would be like today if all lived in this way, with this fervor, with spirituality as the focus, with yielding to nature as a means.

    As a professional keeper of a nature journal, it is reassuring to revisit Thoreau’s thoughts on how he used his journals as ‘a calendar of the ebbs and flows of the soul.’ Thoreau’s work speaks across centuries, reminding us that, in Robinson’s words, ‘our continuing kinship with nature will support and enrich our public lives. Such a relationship with nature has been, throughout human history, the source of poetry, wisdom, and moral prophecy.

    I have this book on my (extensive!) Amazon wish list and hope I can get it soon. I look forward to reading it and finding companionship with someone else so focused on living a natural life in its deepest sense. I look forward to gaining a deeper appreciation for Charlotte Mason’s insistence upon nature studies for children. There is much more to it, I think, than just preparing their beings for close academic work and a comfortable appreciation for Divine creativity. In the first pages of Chapter One, Robinson notes that a comment Thoreau made about being able to withstand any rigors a New England winter could dish out went

    beyond any usual concerns about seasonal conveniences and comforts. We can detect the barest of outlines for what would eventually develop into an arduous spiritual discipline in which seasonal change and other cycles and events of nature became signs and patterns for his own acts and attitudes, a spiritual language that required the most careful and attentive study. This particular Sunday, Thoreau saw the promise of a renewal of life, in which he would be both an enthralled spectator and a committed participant.

    I look forward to reviewing what we are doing here on Natural Path Farm and in The Lionsgate School in light of Thoreau’s thoughts and experiences as pondered in Robinson’s book. I have no doubt they will weave together beautifully with the other approaches to living a natural life we embrace here, i.e. Sahaj Marg, a Charlotte Mason approach to education, organic homesteading and so on. The last time I read Walden, I was deep into spiritual life but was living in a city and dreaming about homesteading and homeschooling. It will be a treat to revisit this old friend, Henry David Thoreau, through reading Natural Life: Thoreau’s Worldly Transcendentalism since making such drastic changes towards the satisfactions, challenges and rhythm of a more natural life.

    This revisiting, in and of itself, will be like a change of season. Natural rhythms generally have a way of touching on the past while moving towards the future. This revisiting will be like that. I welcome sinking more deeply, nay rising more highly, into a natural life with the guidance of the many who have gone before with so much insight, dedication and inspiration.

    When I go outside this morning to admire once again my beautiful heirloom daffodils and look over at the cows who can now graze contentedly on intensely green spring grass, I will imagine many others including Henry David Thoreau and Charlotte Mason and the spiritual Masters all there beside me rejoicing equally at the new opportunity for real life this vibrant, new spring so graciously offers us. May we all loosen our bent over winter postures into the openness of a frolicking spring.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie

    Apr
    12

    Pezra, Our First Cow, Goes to a New Home (with videos)

    Posted by pockets

    The beautiful red and white, highly intelligent Pezra was our first cow. It was she who broke us into cows, who gave us the sweetest milk we had ever tasted, and who taught us that you have to work with cows not by attempting to overpower them but by always being one step ahead of them. As this also applies to parenting, this is a useful lesson to be constantly learning in the field.

    For me who never had so much as a goldfish growing up, it was Pezra who encouraged me to stand my ground as the caretaking human and not be intimidated by something as measly as a 1200 pound body and a sometimes crafty, opinionated mind! For my husband, it was Pezra who gave him the look when she first arrived that anointed him as “farmer.” It was Pezra and my knee injury that gave Carolyn the opportunity to move more deeply into farm life by learning how to milk the cow only I otherwise milked. This has created a depth, a skill, and a perspective unusual in a girl whose default focus is on reading classics, writing poetry and singing opera. That Pezra also loved classical music and particularly Mozart was a boon for Carolyn. It was Pezra who taught the younger children to form a relationship with a very large animal that is based upon respect, skill building, intuition and an appropriate degree of caution.

    While we will always be grateful for Pezra, the time suddenly came when she had to take her ministry elsewhere. The amount of land we have simply cannot support as many animals as we have running on it. I asked a local acquaintance how we might go about listing her and he suggested craigslist. He knew others who had searched for and found rare breeds through craigslist. We listed her last Friday and had emails waiting for us the next morning from a young woman who commented that she gasped when she read the listing. That she knew enough to know that this was a special opportunity and was open enough to share her immediate reaction to discovering this opportunity of having a Dutch Belted family milk cow endeared her to me at once!

    Psychology talks about a “goodness of fit” between parent and child. I have observed that a goodness of fit is also crucial between humans and their animal companions/livestock. Life is just better when all the parts of your living system fit together in some kind of nameless, energetic way. My conversation on the phone with this woman indicated to me that there definitely would be a goodness of fit between her and her family and Pezra. I also find that people who work hard to obtain unprocessed milk, appreciate rare breeds, avail themselves of rotational grazing and know about issues related to grass feeding and minerals and so on are just neat. They have to be different because it takes so much effort to break industrial molds and head towards what is natural. This was the case here too so we had an interesting conversation.

    Later that day, this woman arrived with her two young boys and her two parents who are cow people. Oh, and with a stock trailer. Her dad checked Pezra out. We all chatted. They conferenced and within a short period of time Pezra was loaded onto their trailer and was off to her new home. There are times when everything aligns and what could be a complex or time consuming transition becomes stunningly simple and swift. This was one of those times.

    It was really hard to lure Pezra up into their trailer and hard to hear its back gate clang shut. It was hard to see her disappear down our mountain road. It is hard now for me to write about it. However, it is wonderful to know that she will be cared for thoughtfully and effectively. It is wonderful to know that Pezra will be nourishing another family. It is wonderful to know that Pezra will be in a place where many children will see her during the summer at their summer camp. Hopefully the word about Dutch Belted’s will now spread just a little bit faster.

    Pezra’s new owner was kind enough to email us the next morning with the cheery news that Pezra fit right in. She even sent us a photo of Pezra with her older Jersey, Buttercup.

    What a photo! Pezra looks like she has been there for ages. We certainly wish all success to everyone and everything there.

    It has been tough looking out at the pasture this past week and not seeing Pezra’s red glow. However, I can almost hear the land breathing a sigh of relief and I find that milking one cow instead of two somehow cuts the work by more than 50%. Very odd. That will all be made up for when our goats kid in the next few days to week, though! Always some kind of transition happening here on the homestead. It is good. It keeps you supple inside. It reminds you of the fact that each living thing is a unique individual with its own destiny, functioning and developing within a subtle web of relationships of which we humans only form a part. May the Higher Intelligence guide us all.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie



    Apr
    09

    A Melt-in-Your-Mouth Italian Flat Bread Rounds out a Somewhat Italian Meal

    Posted by pockets

    I wrote recently about my discovery that there are many flat bread recipes out there in the world and noted how we just may especially need those recipes as the percentage of protein in wheat continues to fall.

    Last weekend we had a resoundingly successful Italian meal of Lentil Chestnut Soup and Fried Ricotta Flat Bread with Parsley Garlic Sauce. My husband loved it. The children loved it. They couldn’t wait to eat the leftovers. It was wonderful

    Catherine at Albion Cooks apparently adapted the Lentil Chestnut Soup from a Deborah Madison lentil chestnut soup recipe. I don’t have the soup cookbook of Deborah Madison’s and I had all the ingredients on hand that Catherine used so we cooked it up. My husband pulled a bag of chestnuts from the freezer and shelled and boiled them for me. The rest of the soup was really easy to make. By the way, you don’t have to have your own chestnuts. She calls for canned chestnuts in her recipe. I think of this soup as being somewhat Italian, by the way, because chestnuts are an ancient part of the Italian diet (and landscape).

    Then I made the Fried Ricotta Flat Bread. As I am accustomed to making tortillas and chapattis, I found these easy to make. The only difference is in the ingredients of the dough. This dough is very rich with the addition of ricotta cheese (freshly made in our case), egg yolks and milk. You mix the dough, let it rest and roll out thin rounds just like with tortillas or chapattis. However, you fry these breads. I virtually never deep fry anything so having a fried food is an occasion here in this house. I rolled out the breads and Paul cooked them in the oil. They puffed up beautifully and were golden brown.

    There is a parsley sauce or salsa verde to go with these ricotta flat breads that is not to be missed. It consists mostly of finely chopped Italian parsley and fresh garlic together with a few other ingredients. The recipe calls for anchovies which we don’t eat. I just left them out but added a little extra salt. Next time I make this, I hope I will have some capers on hand. We love capers (which are pickled flower buds by the way) and they will add some of that pungent flavor and earthy saltiness that the anchovies must add.

    Gattina of Kitchen Unplugged explains that

    This parsley sauce is called salsa verde, means green sauce in Italian. Green sauces were an entire category centuries ago, are generally uncooked, varied by adding anchovies and/capers to taste. People use to accompany it with boiled and poached dishes, but the new Italian cooking seems not to be rigid with it. Anyway, serving it with this bread is suggested by Sale & Pepe - Grandi Fritti all’ Italian, I tried it, and I liked it.

    A whole category of green sauces is something I would like to learn more about! In any case, this parsley sauce was delicious and positively medicinal with the amount of garlic that was in it. Interestingly, the children loved it. I should have made a bigger batch, in fact.

    The flat bread itself was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It had a pastry-like quality to it which together with the earthiness of the soup and the intense green garlicky-ness of the sauce made for a satisfying combination. In fact, Paul served the children some of the flat breads sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for dessert.

     

    One great aspect of this meal is that it easily transitioned into leftovers. We are intent on making larger portions on Friday or Saturday so that I can cook less on Sunday and enjoy a bit more Sunday-ness, if you know what I mean. The Lentil Chestnut soup recipe is easily doubled or tripled and stores in the refrigerator well. I made a quadruple batch of the fried ricotta flat bread recipe which Paul encouraged me to try splitting in two and storing half in the frig to roll out the next day. I did this and it worked very well. I am glad he suggested it as it was wonderful having those hot, rich flat breads one more time.

    The end result was a nourishing meal full of new tastes which everyone was delighted to enjoy two days in a row.

    Boy, I can’t wait to learn about another new flat bread! This one really added a new dimension for us (which is kind of funny because it is flat!). More to come …

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie

    Apr
    07

    An Exquisite Heirloom Daffodil

    Posted by pockets

    For my birthday last year, my parents gave me a much appreciated gardening bag of goodies from Smith & Hawkin. Included was a collection of heirloom daffodil bulbs from the early 1900’s. The children and I planted them along the east side of the house last fall and now we are reaping the benefits as they slowly and delicately bloom.

    There are lots of regular type hybrid daffodils blooming around the house that were already here when we moved in. My husband has regularly brought blooms in for me so that I can enjoy them while I work in the kitchen. Last week he brought one of the heirloom blooms into the house for me. It is in a vase at the kitchen window.

    Everyone in the family has noticed this lone daffodil. It is small compared to modern blooms, simple in shape, exquisitely formed and glows with color. Furthermore, it has been in a vase for at least a week now and yet still looks as perfect as the day my husband brought it inside.

    I can’t wait for these blooms to naturalize and take over more of the side yard. Maybe I will be able to plant more as well this fall. Their unassuming perfection is an inspiration every time I go in the door.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie

    Apr
    03

    CO2 Up, Wheat Protein Down and the Move to Flat Breads

    Posted by pockets

    We have a lot of things going against us in terms of trying to stay well nourished these days. To start with, no one seems to know how or what to eat any more. Secondly, historic documents and various alternative health measurements (such as iridology) show us that humans are not born with constitutions anywhere near as strong as what people used to be be born with. Thirdly, industrial attitudes towards food and the agribusiness farming practices that flow from those attitudes alter the nutritional profile of foods significantly for the worse. Many studies have long established that organically grown foods are more nutritious than industrially grown foods. I think that common sense would indicate this but scientific measurement also now confirms it. Fourthly, as I wrote in a previous post we have lost much of our genetic material in terms of varieties of produce and livestock so the nutrition and growth adaptability they provided is also lost. Finally (I like to say “finally” but I am sure this next blow against good nutrition is not the final one), rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere reduce various nutrients in all foods whether or not they are grown with organic or industrial methods.

    This last threat is detailed in “Global Warming and Empty Calories” on Grist.

    One of the silver linings of climate change, some have argued, is that high carbon dioxide levels will mean increased crop yields, which will, in turn, be good for combating global hunger (the logic, I suppose, being that if we’re frying fifty years from now, at least we won’t be hot and hungry). But some underpublicized studies, reported this month in Nature, cast a long shadow on this sunny assertion.

    Careful experimentation with growing crops in a simulated high CO2 environment revealed that

    crop yields were elevated — plants imbibing large quantities of CO2 had more starch and more sugar in their leaves than those on a normal carbon diet. But because they also took up less nitrogen from the soil, they made less protein.

    Industry says, “Great. With higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere, we can grow more food and just have farmers throw more fertilizer on the fields to make up for the lack of nitrogen.” Nature, however, is not so easily meddled with and certainly not to be outsmarted by mere humans:

    Arnold Bloom, a plant biologist at the University of California in Davis, thinks that the reduced nitrogen levels seen in high-CO2 conditions is not just the result of plants needing less protein. He believes they actually become less able to absorb nitrates from the soil — in which case, dumping extra fertilizer on fields won’t be of much help.

    Protein levels in wheat, for instance, are not only important in terms of nutrition, they are critical when it comes to making bread. Gluten is the protein property of wheat that forms the stretchable structure that holds the gases generated by the action of the yeast and allows the dough to hold the rise. This is so important to the breadmaking process that you can buy gluten as an extra ingredient to insure a high rising, light loaf of bread.

    Gluten content of the same variety of wheat will vary from year to year anyway according to varying weather conditions. Now it seems, though, that we have created the atmospheric conditions that will cause protein levels in wheat to drop permanently. Gluten is expensive. While many bakers use it as a matter of course, I never have. So far our bread rises fine (thanks to the thorough kneading provided by our Bosch) but apparently the day will come when that probably won’t be the case. I hope I have some time to come up with a Plan B for this. I know one baker who always researches the percentage of protein in each year’s wheat crop and adds gluten to her recipes accordingly. Perhaps we will all have to do this eventually. Or perhaps we can start eating more flat breads where holding a rise isn’t an issue and make up for the shortfall of dietary protein from other sources.

    However, research also shows that

    crops grown in high-CO2 environments have diminished calcium and zinc levels (between 10 and 20 percent).

    OK, I guess we will have our grass-fed cows and goats to rely upon for calcium, zinc and protein. And I can learn how to make more varieties of flat breads. I wonder how many kinds of flat breads there are anyway. Time for another Google search… If I come up with a particularly nutritious and tasty flat bread/cheese combination, I will be sure to pass it along. It is never too early to think ahead.

    Quick note: I quickly started a Google search before posting this and already unearthed the fact that there are more than 60 types of flat breads worldwide. I don’t think pita crisps are where I would start after pizza, pancakes, tortillas and chappatis, however. Here is a short list of possibilities to choose from. Or how about fragrant, flavored focaccias or Turkish Spinach and Feta Gozlemes or even fried Ricotta flat bread with parsley sauce (I would subtract the anchovies)?

     

    Wow, this certainly seems to be a case of opportunity arising out of difficulty. I am going to sprint into the kitchen and get to work. I will keep you posted on on all interesting flat bread developments!

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie

    Apr
    01

    A Spring Poem with Drawn Narration

    Posted by pockets

    If it weren’t for the schedule of reading a couple of poems to the children at lunch every day and having one of the AO poetry suggestions for Year 1 be A. A. Milne’s The Complete Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, I would never have personally read this charming, delicious to read aloud book. The children love it and have many favorites which they beg me to read to them over and over. Often with poetry readings, I give them the opportunity to draw something drawn from a poem they have just heard. That combined with nature study inspired Will to go out the other day and draw some of the daffodils in bloom by the south side of the house.

    Today the gloomy weather cleared by afternoon. We all went outside under my husband’s direction and worked with rock and mud building the walls of the earth oven. This was really satisfying work. Nearby the daffodils glowed and danced in the sun and wind which reminded us all of Milne’s “Daffodowndilly.”

    Daffodowndilly

    She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,

    She wore her greenest gown;

    She turned to the south wind

    And curtsied up and down.

    She turned to the sunlight

    And shook her yellow head,

    And whispered to her neighbour:

    “Winter is dead.” p. 30

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,

    Leslie