Sunday, June 30, 2013

weeding, not weeding, and listening

The past few days have been full of coming and going in and out of the garden. Given that the garden is requiring, but not necessarily receiving, a lot of weeding attention and that it is finally providing substantially for our meals, it is a busy place.

In the moments that I have had the time to be out there, mostly bent over a patch of weeds, I've been listening.  These are the sounds I remember most from a day spent in the garden.

I heard some loud chirping, clearly of numerous baby birds, coming from one of the birdhouses on the posts of our garden.  I had noticed a few days ago that one of the houses was full of small twigs and I wondered if babies might soon be born in the nest.  As I weeded a tomato patch close by, I began noticing that there was an adult bird coming and going, carrying worms.  The chirping always started just before the mother arrived, as if the babies had some way to sense that she was close by even before she arrived.  The chirping would intensify as she landed outside the house, and then fall completely silent after she went in.  The silence would continue for a couple of minutes until the chirping began again.

The peas have gotten so tall that Jonathan and I needed to add a higher trellis for them to climb.  And the pods are filling out.

Most of our meals now include a bowl of peas on the the table.  We often joke about how Julia, not necessarily a green vegetable lover, loves garden picked fresh peas and gets her year's worth of green during garden pea season.  She likes them when they are small and young and sweet, before they get large and slightly bitter.

With my head in the beet row, forcing myself to consider thinning them (I have a really hard time with thinning) the garden gate opened and closed over and over again as Julia dashed in, grabbed a handful of pods, either ate them right there, or tucked them in her dress, and ran out again.

This year, I have been better about successive planting so that as these peas have gotten quite tall and will likely be gone by soon, there's another patch almost ready to be trellised.

We use our own compost, rich with chicken manure and bedding supplementing our kitchen scraps and yard trimmings.  But I don't think I always let the compost cook enough.  Evidence of this pops up everywhere in the garden beds.  Tomatoes, squash, and melons emerge where I did not plant them.

We call them rescue vegetables.  They are what grows from the compost seeds that survive the decomposition process.  Like thinning, I do not have the heart to pull these invaders out either.  So I always end up with some as-yet-to-be determined type of squash popping out of the lettuce.  While weeding the lettuce patch, and the rescue squash, I listened to Julia and Elliott standing nearby collecting a small batch of peas to take with us on our visit with Grammie.  They decided they wanted to add some herbs.  Elliott asked what the one they were trimming was and Julia said it was thyme.

Elliott, wouldn't it be cool if, in a Wrinkle in Time, when they are explaining tessering - wouldn't it be cool if they held a piece of thyme and folded that to show the wrinkle?  asked Julia.

And the last sound, the sound of late last night, was our first pesto making party of the summer.  Brought on by realizing that our arugula and cilantro were bolting and would soon be past their prime.  The wiz of the food processer, with the kitchen windows open and it being cool and completely dark outside was the last sound from the garden for the day.

See?  Noisy.  And good.

Friday, June 28, 2013

legalizing the urban backyard...pigeons in the garden

It was not until we moved away from our previous house, built in a small neighborhood in the middle of what had been farm land in a town that was decidedly farmish, that we were allowed to have our own flock of chickens.  It was written into our homeowners association rules that chickens, or fowl, of any variety were not permitted.

We moved from our semi-rural area into the city of Portland though, admittedly, we are on the outskirts.  In truth, there are farms right down the street from us.  We can smell the cow manure on hot and breezy days as a reminder of their presence.

Here, in our city, we are allowed to have six backyard chickens.  This is according to a city ordinance created several years ago and crafted in response to an increasing interest in urban chicken tending, local food, and backyard homesteading.  So our ladies are legal and appropriately enclosed.

I searched the internet for just the right backyard coop for us, was stunned by the price, and then was delighted to find a well priced used one on Craigslist.  The only problem was that it was located deep in the heart of Vermont.  Jonathan gamely rented a U-Haul trailer and drove across Maine and New Hampshire and then into Vermont, lost his cell phone signal -- and therefore GPS -- and still somehow figured out where to find the seller of the coop.

There were several hours during which I, back here in Portland with the kids, did not hear from him.  A great deal happened to him during these hours, including moving this enormous beast of a henhouse across the seller's yard, getting it into the trailer, being gifted two surprise starter chickens,  then leaving and heading home.  And realizing that since he had no signal, he had no map, and he really had lost track of where he was.

He got incredibly lost.  And not only was he lost, but he was lost with two fowl in his car (this is my new-to-poultry husband who had never been in close proximity to a live chicken anywhere, let alone trapped in a car with two).  And an open U-Haul trailer with a bright red barn-like chicken coop in the back.  There were some double takes.

He headed in the direction that his nose told him to and somehow ended up back in New Hampshire.  Given that New Hampshire is my place of birth and he and I have spent a good deal of time in its northern parts, he thought he recognized where he was.  And he did, but what he recognized was the beginning of the Kancamagus Highway, one of the most beautiful and scenic routes in the region.  But curvy and torturous, steep and decidedly not coop friendly.

I don't know how he did it, but he got that coop home.  And we were unexpectedly chicken owners.  I mean, we planned to have chickens.  But we were being careful, getting their housing set up, fencing built, their permit and food all arranged before the actual chickens arrived.

The two chickens spent the night in a dog crate in the house.  They were very cute and endearing, until we smelled that smell that lets you know why it is a barnyard smell and not a household smell.

And thus began our journey into homesteading, backyardin', and seeing just what we are able to do hidden here behind our urban facade.  Friends arrive at our home and are surprised.  By the large garden.  By the coop just behind the playground.  By the fact that I turned an unused side lawn into a fruit patch.  By 50,000 bees.  One friend, in efforts to make sense of what he was seeing, spied two new pullets in the kale patch.  You have pigeons in the garden! he exclaimed.

We have since found Paris Farmers Union, the one store in town that sells organic chicken feed and this store has become the place we go to ask for advice about our flock when the need arises.  We have not been able to find an urban vet who is willing to care for our birds.  I have learned most of our poultry medical care needs from books.  I have found The Chicken Health Handbook to be very helpful.

How I wish there was a place here in Portland that was for the urban homesteader, much like the Honey Exchange is for the urban beekeeper.  I have found a permaculture group that is amazing, but a place that combines knowledge and products, education and support specific to the urban environment?  That would fill a need.  Something like Asheville's Small Terrain, an Ashley English favorite.

Albeit progress, urban homesteading rules such as the six chicken limit are beginning to be a struggle for me.  I believe that six chickens was chosen to be the limit because it was thought that this would provide enough eggs for a family.  Maybe most families.  But what about the family of five, including one sprouting 12-year-old, that bakes and prepares most of its own food?  I find that I sometimes do not have enough eggs.  Or what about when one or several of your chickens molt or get broody and therefore will go for weeks without laying.  Or the fact that apparently chickens only lay for the beginning years of their lives.  What does one do with the hen who is with us still, but provides no food despite eating the feed we provide?  A bit of flexibility and consideration to backyard specifics would be helpful.  For example, recognition that we have a large and private backyard -- huge by urban standards -- would help.

Also, I have learned that there are differences in chicken nature, one of the most dramatic being whether our chickens are farm raised or backyard raised.  The hens that are the most comfortable with us, that squat when we try to pick them up and submit to our attentions rather than running off, or worse peck at small hands, are raised by families in their backyard, usually with children involved.  I would love to be able to raise some to share with new families entering the backyard chicken movement, as I now know from painful experience that this would lead to greater success for beginners.  The chicken equivalent of package bees rather than nucleus colonies, for example.  But the Portland Ordinance does not allow this kind of mini-hatchery.

I also have struggled with loss of chickens to urban predators, hawks mostly, and therefore have had to introduce new chickens to the mix.  I have approached these introductions like the psychologist I am.  And I know from talking to people more knowledgeable than I am and from reading lots of books that introducing one or two younger, weaker, and outnumbered new hens to an existing flock is very challenging.  We have had some very unsuccessful introductions.  The pecking order?  Aptly named.  So, again, the number limit of six is not in the best interest of this backyard flock.  And I do believe that the ordinance was written in hopes of assuring proper and humane care of the animals.  I am just not sure that it accomplishes this in some cases.

Since those first starter chickens, we have put in a sizable vegetable garden and fruit patch which provide a substantial amount of our own food, fresh in the summer and preserved or frozen in the winter.  We are in our first year of beekeeping, which we hope will increase our plant crops and provide honey in our kitchen.  We tap our sixteen maples and garnered two gallons of syrup this year.  And we have eggs.  Sometimes we wait on just one more so we can complete a recipe.  And sometimes  we have so many that we have to gift some away.

Julia said to me yesterday while she was having a snack: Mommy, we really need to get a cow, because then we could have whole meals that are made by us, in our backyard.

I know. I actually have been looking into that. I am thinking about dairy goats instead of a cow, given where we live.  But it looks like we aren't allowed to have any livestock in our area of Portland. At least not yet.  I am investigating whether there are any other people in Portland that I could join who are trying to change this.

Julia started to look concerned. Would it be something that made you have to go away?

Huh? Oh, you mean, like a job?

No, like Occupy Maine, she said, remembering my explanations of the park near the library with the banners and tents.  Would you have to go live in a tent somewhere??? 

Later in the day, as we drove home, I pointed out -- admittedly with annoyance -- the stumps of the trees close to the road in our front yard that the City of Portland had cut down during their annual tree removal activities. Why these lovely, privacy providing, unassuming trees, one of which was a maple soon to be tap-able, were deemed necessary to remove this year, and not during the many years that they had grown until now, I do not understand. I had counted on that tree in a few years to reach a diameter that was tappable!  I texted Jonathan and he immediately, perhaps impulsively, sent out an email to the city asking them to consult with us before they do so in the future. I fear we are getting a name for ourselves in this fair city of ours. 

Because, of late, Jonathan, on missions mostly pushed by me, has been spending a lot of time in the lines at City Hall.

I have sent him to inquire about: backyard chickens, treehouse building rules, wharf construction for the river, tax payments, outdoor cooking and fires, and most recently questions about whether we are allowed to raise livestock of any kind here. We have almost three acres, a river as a back property line and, until recently, full privacy from the street.  And our neighbors? Well, one neighboring house you can't see through the trees, and the others are not going to complain.  Because they are dead and lie quietly in Ye Olde Burying Ground next door. And, as I said, less than a mile down the road from us Portland's zoning changes from residential to semi-agricultural.

Moreover, I have to believe that this house, built in 1786, has had livestock here of some kind. I am trying to heat this house with the fireplaces in the ways in which it was built and designed, restore a bread oven, turn the fussy flower gardens into a family's food providing vegetable garden, and see the barn as a window into its past. I think a dairy provider of some sort is just what this house needs, and just what we need to continue down our path toward making small differences and changing how we think about food and its role in the environment.

Nicholas gasped when he heard about Jonathan's tree email and repeated City Hall visits. What??? He could get arrested for that!!!

He has good cause for alarm.  Because he would like to know exactly who is going to take care of us when I go live in a tent and Jonathan gets hauled off to the slammer for our backyardin' ways.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

groundhog watch

Write something.

This was the last text I received from Jonathan tonight, before he fell asleep, three states away, where he is taking a course toward certification in Library Science.  Jonathan has been a college student, teacher, lawyer, teacher again and now technology integrator for teachers in the years that I have known him.  He has landed in a career that he loves, that blends many of his past experiences, and that allows him the time to be with his family in the way that he desires.

During our time together I have been a college student, a graduate student, a child psychologist, a mother, and now...well, whatever it is that I am now.

We have come a long way from what we were, the children we were, when we first met years ago at the College on a Hill.  We have circled around heading down one path, regrouping, and choosing differently.  Today's adventure in the garden reminded me again of how much my path has changed.

I remember when I was a Junior in college, during a visit with my parents at a restaurant after a choir concert, that my mother told me the story of my father's battle with a groundhog, who was eating everything in their vegetable garden that year.  I think I smiled and listened, but in my library studying, saving the world by reading one cannon novel at a time while singing my way through four years of intellectual inquiry, it was a story that felt so far away from the world I was in.  Amused, but not connected.

I thought my mother was joking about my father hiding in the raspberry patch with a box...and a stick...and a string...hoping to catch the burglar.  But now?  I'm not sure it was a joke.  In fact, now I try to reach back into my memory to remember exactly what my father did about this rodent situation.  And to recall anything else I have learned since then about groundhogs.

On our honeymoon, we spent a few days in Seattle including an evening in a park to see Cheryl Wheeler and her friends perform.  One of the things I remember about that concert (in addition to the itching I was doing for the terrible rash I had developed from a bad reaction to a sunscreen) was that the performers took suggestions from the audience.  All four folk musicians were asked to sing songs about whatever topic was drawn from a hat.  The word that was drawn from the hat that night was groundhog.  

Wheeler stole the show when she was able to come up with a song that sort of mentioned this animal in her Potato song, to the tune of the mexican hat dance.  Though she had to stretch it a bit, she made her lyric about the ground to also be about the hog...and the rest was hilarious fast singing about spuds.

Upon moving to Maine seven years ago, the kids and I began frequenting the Audubon center near our home.  It did not take many visits to realize that they had a groundhog situation there.  Jonathan and I can still collapse into giggles about the Saturday we were there for a walk when we came upon two women, groundhog watchers, in camouflage clothing and fancy running shoes, carrying binoculars and notebooks, who seemed to be stalking the groundhogs, silently and stealthily searching for them, running from tree to tree, in efforts to not be seen like odd Navy Seals.  I still look for these women each time I visit there, hoping to see them one more time.  Because no one believes us when we try to describe it.  I want to take a picture.  Maybe they have developed better camouflage.

Groundhogs, famed for standing on their hind legs and glancing about along the Maine Turnpike, are not new to me, a child who travelled eight hours each way to visit her family's camp on Northern Maine.

But groundhogs in my garden?  That is something new.  And it is certainly something new to the man standing next to me, Jonathan, the boy I met on the back row of the risers on stage in college.  The boy from Scarsdale, New York.  The boy who knew the grocery store to be the source of all food.

Last year, our first year in this house with this hard-won garden, I engaged in a battle with a rodent much more intelligent than I.  One day I saw an entire row of beans disappear.  Then peas.  Then the vines of cucumbers and pumpkins.  Whatever was eating my crops was moving down the rows, one plant type at a time, carefully eating away my plants when I turned my back.

I stalked this creature, watching from the upstairs windows to see if I could spy what animal was chomping away at my garden so deliberately.  I wrote emails to family about what they thought was happening.  I was told it sounded like I had a groundhog.  And that I should be sure that the fence that surrounded the garden was at least three feet underground as well.  This was funny.  We had just completed building a fence around the garden two weeks prior.

See, Jonathan, of Scarsdale NY?  He does not know how to build a fence.  He does not see birds or animals on the side of the highway as we drive north until the kids and I point them out to him.  He did not know the difference between a flat head and phillips head screwdriver until he met me...well, until he met my father.  My father has quietly and thoughtfully continued to educate him, creating a tool stash for Jonathan, gifting him tools that he thinks he needs each Christmas.

But Jonathan had built me a lovely fence.  A fence that was likely to stay standing.  If you did not lean on it.  A fence of best intentions and spousal support for this woman he married years ago who seemed like one person then and is now quite another.  But it certainly did not run three feet underground.  I came up with a solution to the point of entry, borrowed from the design of our fencing around the chicken coop.

And I am grateful for the fence, and for the adaptability and support that Jonathan has given me, represented by this fence...because really, as my father told him when he asked permission to marry me...I am quite a handful.  He actually said that.

I am sure that when Jonathan arrived home from work a few nights ago he was exhausted and was ready to have a quiet evening.

He was not prepared for Groundhog Watch: 2013.

But that is what we were up to here, as I had spied a groundhog in the pea patch a bit before he arrived home, the groundhog running and hiding under the garden shed when I tried to corner it with a section of fencing.

He sighed.  Put down his messenger bag.  And he and Nicholas headed off to the hardware store to rent a groundhog trap.  Again.  He did not receive the same comments as he walked about the hardware store that I had when I did this last year, employees and customers offering unsolicited advice such as directing me to a gun store, suggesting ways to terminate it instead of relocating it.  Laughing at my insistence on having a Have-A-Heart trap.  One man openly mocked me and wished me good luck with that as I walked out the door into the sunshine carrying my large metal box.

Last year, ROUS, rodents of unusual sizes, were new to us. We googled everything.  Lifelong learners we are...just not of the topics we majored in in college:

  • What was this creature -- before we saw it.
  • How to deter it.
  • We sprinkled spicy pepper powder on the disappearing plants.  No luck.
  • We googled where to rent a trap.
  • We texted family about what to do with a rodent of unusual size in a box.
  • We were told of groundhogs' tendency to relieve themselves once a car starts moving.  And to put down a tarp. 

Once we snared it, we took a hilarious drive into the country to relocate it, with it squeaking and making a very unusual sound all the way, finding an isolated spot to release it finally, only to have to run to the car and drive away fast when a public utility truck appeared suddenly on a path we had not noticed.  If you have Nicholas tell you the story, we were in danger of being arrested for transporting rodents across town lines.

This year, we were wiser.  So All Family Groundhog Watch ensued.  It was a calmer, more curious, and less dramatic and frantic event this year than last.  Jonathan did google bait for groundhog traps and came out of the house with a lovely salad of cantaloupe, strawberries, peas, and vanilla extract.  The cage was placed in the garden.  Near the garden shed.  With fencing to help guide the groundhog into it instead of around it, as this cunning creature did the first few times it emerged.

Miraculously, it worked.  

Once caught, Groundhog Watch morphed into Groundhog Relocation Service.  Dinner, nearly ready when the trap was sprung, moved from the table to be eaten in the car.  

We have done this before.  And had asked the advice of Audubon about where best to relocate garden snatchers.   We all felt a little less criminal in knowing we could tell the rodent police that we had been told to release rodents in the places we would try -- by order of a far higher authority than the police.  By the woman at the desk at the Audubon center.  Groundhog Central.

This first suggested release site seemed a bit...busy.  We giggled at the sign on auditorium of the school.  Casco Bay Movers was having a dance recital that evening.  Movers of a different sort.

But a bit farther up the road was another recommended spot.  And here is where our pea snatcher was released.

I am not sure Jonathan knew what he was getting himself into on this journey we are taking together.  I wish him a good night's sleep, three states away.  In a house without animal dependents and laundry on the line and a wife who has a constant list of things to noodle over together.  And for him to do, often when it is dark and late at night.

Tonight, he needs his sleep.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

summer Julia

Julia.  She is nine this summer.  And Summer Julia is a different creature than school year Julia.  During the school year, Julia is a happily quiet and conscientious student.  She loves school and thoughtfully observes the social world of her peers.  She is a kind and loyal friend and is challenged by the complexities of nine year old girl friendships.

I, too, was a quiet child.  A child who loved school and its school work, and who was completely flummoxed by some of the challenges of friendships, wishing the world rewarded the Meg-types more, as it did in my favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle.

But Summer Julia?  Summer Julia is fierce. And today, though not a perfect day, today was a day in which Julia was in her element.

This weekend we made an overnight visit to my mother's camp in the western mountains of Maine. The camp, built by my mother's father, was where I went every summer with my family as a child.  

And I loved my time at camp with my family, where I could read on my cot all day if I wanted, under a sleeping bag, taking breaks to eat peanut butter and potato stick sandwiches.  Where I could listen to loons and spy herons on the big rocks on the edge of our cove.  Where I could hike and take a break from the social world that was being nine...and beyond.

Nowadays, for my family, we love...I mean we talk about it all hike up Tumbledown Mountain, a part of the mountain range that surrounds the lake.  To get there, you have to head off into the great unknown, leaving the paved road that winds around the lake, and head into the wilderness in which I know from family stories that my Grandpa used to hunt for bears on Thanksgiving morning.  The driving trek ends at the signs that tell you that here is where you should park if you are climbing Tumbledown.  And then ignore these signs and go a few miles farther until you find another widening of the road...which makes it feel a bit adventurous, a bit 007 for the preteens among us.  But if, once parked and bathed in bug spray, you take the Brook Trail, you criss and cross your way up the mountain in an on and off again relationship with a brook, sometimes a trickle, sometimes a babble, sometimes a full on deep pool with waterfalls as you climb several hours up to an amazing summit lake, in which you can swim.  You feel like you are one of a very few who have experienced this scenic and wild bliss.    

It is one of the few hikes we know that has a destination.  Well a destination besides a view.  There is nothing more motivating for hikers with young children (besides a pocket-full of candy, of course) than knowing that ahead there is a summit lake.  Cool and refreshing after several hours of hiking, climbing, and then scrambling up the ledges.  To a mountain top, with views of the mountains in all directions, in a lake with a small island in the center, covered in wild blueberries.  .

I tell you all of this about the summit in order to help you better understand the following:  Today, we were not going to make the summit. We will make this hike again this summer, at least twice.  But today, with the weather seeming a bit ominous, with predictions of thunderstorms, we decided that we would not try to reach the summit.  That we would aim for the deep cool runoff from the lake above, where we stopped last year for a snack.  Today, a deep pooled area with sparkling cascading water was our destination.  

After a hot and chatty hike, we reached the area and sat there eating our granola snack, barefooted and tired, watching other hikers descend, these wet and bathing suited hikers clearly having recently swum in the mountaintop lake.  Though we had not been summit bound, I felt a bit envious of their cooled bodies and conversation.  It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be.  It was warm.

And then I turned to Julia, who was a steady and positive presence today, despite the how much further and why can't we go to the lake protestations of her brothers.  This Green Kangaroo of ours.  

She was our quiet leader today.  And for that, I thank her, and I thank Summer.  For its break from school.  For its gift of time.  For its combination of warmth and tag sales and pajamas without schedules.  For its mountain streams and large rocks that beg to be climbed and time to noodle over her place in the world, between two wonderful and different brothers.  

To be able to cool her face in a brook.  And to inspire her brothers to do the same.  This quiet leader of ours.

And to catch toads in her hands, because she knows her younger brother would love to see them.  And to suggest that her toad meets her brother's toad.  And to work through her discomfort with the hopping and scurrying in her hands and to feel a bit more powerful because she was able to do it.

To swim in the brook.  Able to wrap her mind around the pleasure of this as our goal for the day, even though there was a summit lake just beyond our reach.

And to place her thumb beside an very large slug.

It was a wonderful day of togetherness, all connecting after a week of lacrosse camp and of Jonathan still busy at work.

But tonight, as I look back at our day, I think a great deal of Julia.  And of the girl who loves to hike.  To stick her head in a mountain stream to cool off.  Who quietly finds pleasure in a less than summit experience, and who shares her enjoyment with others.

And who kept all of us completely transfixed as we walked back down the mountain, tired, floppy, hot, and grumpish, and a bit worried about possible lightning.  With her telling us about her most recent read, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door.

Her pace.  Her steadiness.  Her quietness.  Her ability to experience this as strength and something to be emulated.  This is what summer is for.

All that.  But also for her leading us all through musical Parcheesi.

Friday, June 21, 2013

if you make it, you can eat it

I come from a family of ice cream partakers.

Honestly?  We are ice cream snobs.

I used to think that soft serve ice cream was evil frozen crud.  Made with vegetable oil and chemicals.  And likely a bit of dirt.  When my college installed a soft serve ice cream dispenser in the dining hall my sophomore year I considered moving home.  And judged all my friends who stood in the long line to get smooth peach swirls in a styrofoam cup.  I think my glares may have been somewhat responsible for how often that machine stood alone, with an out of order sign taped to it.

My father, a quiet man, loves his ice cream.  He churned out gallons of homemade ice cream for our baby shower for Nicholas.  He personally cranked away at the handle of his own ice cream maker at our shower, busy with a task.  Showing us his love.

My grandfather used to make homemade ice cream too, at his house in northern Maine, using a family heirloom ice cream maker.  He gave us, his grandchildren, a marble for every 20 churns.  It was a family tradition that I loved.  The salt.  The ice.  The wooden bucket.  So beautiful.  Preserved so thoughtfully, proudly, in their basement, the original sticker still on, despite its years of use.

We love our ice cream.  Jonathan has come around.  I pride myself in his conversion to homemade ice cream, almost as much as I do his conversion to real maple syrup from Aunt Jemima (really, I did not know such a disgusting substitute existed until I met him).

Our favorite ice cream stand?  Brown's Old Fashioned Ice Cream, on Nubble Point in York, Maine.  Hands down.  The best.  Nicholas had his first lick of real food there, courtesy of his Grammie, who was holding him and could not resist his reaching arms as she licked at her grapenut ice cream cone.

Well, except for the ice cream shack of family lore, that my family came upon somewhere in the the middle of nowhere on the way home from their camp here in Maine.   They had the most delicious chocolate chocolate chip ice cream that I have ever tasted.  We went a few times that summer, when I was 10 years old, and then, like many places in Maine, it was gone the next year.  Disappeared.  Every time we drive by the old location, I jokingly tell Jonathan about the stand as though he has never heard the story before of that creamy smooth and decadent ice cream.  Now it's just a car parts store that we pass on the way to camp.

We have passed this love on to our kids.  I would happily take them for ice cream in the summer every night of the week.  I would drive across the state, across several states, to visit a homemade ice cream stand that a similarly obsessed ice cream aficionado recommended.

This year, during a parent/teacher conference with Julia's teacher, I knew we had really connected with her teacher, that her teacher really knew and understood our child, when she recommended, after reading a poem about ice cream by Julia, her favorite homemade ice cream store, minutes from our house: Catbird Creamery.  Man.  Potato Bacon ice cream (Really. Weird.  But sooo good).  Salted Chocolate.  Ice cream sandwiches the size of your face.  Served by the nicest man I have met in a long time.

When it came to the end of the school year, after Julia had been well cared for, protected, and guided by this teacher for two lovely years, we decided to gift her with something as worthy as she was:  a gift certificate to Catbird Creamery.

The picture on Julia's note is of her teacher sitting in the ice cream shop, enjoying a cone.

So, we here love our ice cream.  But several trips to Catbird Creamery and I started to think about the financial implications of this family activity.  It was not sustainable.  We were going to lick ourselves out of house and home.

I have tried budget friendly ice cream.  My father scoffs at it...and so do I.  It is subpar.  Foul rot.  Not worth it.  This is coming from the woman who now refuses to buy bread.  Because I can make a better version of what I can afford.

This stubborn refusal to buy bread often leads us to eating sandwiches without bread.  Ahem.  My kids go along with this.  Their friends, when at our house?  They are confused.

And so, this summer, with an 11 year old who is handy in the kitchen and two trusty side kicks to help him, and an often an overflowing egg tray in our fridge courtesy of our chickens, I have told them:

You can have ice cream whenever you would like to.  But I am not going to buy it for you.

You have to make it.

So far this summer we have had mint chocolate chip, chocolate, and mocha chip.  We are about to work through a recipe for salted chocolate.

But this week, with Nicholas and Julia off at camp, I was watching the garden, and thinking about the kids' hunger upon their return.  On several days they have come home with friends, hanging out at our house until their parents come pick them up a few hours later.

I am struck at times by the way our family eats and how different this is from other families.  When a kayak trip up the river, or a decision to read instead of bake, or my stubbornness about not buying subpar food when I can make foodie quality food myself, on our budget.  Results in no bread.  No baked goods.  No yoghurt.  And no fall back store made snacks that I think these friends are used to.

My kids are used to being served bowls of ingredients that were supposed to be made into granola.  Or just cheese.  Or being sent to the garden to see what they can find.  But other people's children?  I think they are hungry.

I cannot get dinner on the table on these days before 7:00, sometimes 8:00.  Homemade pasta?  Delicious.  Fascinating, because I truly had never really considered what is in this staple food.  It is fun to make with children.  And really time consuming.  My children go wide eyed and judgey if they spy dried pasta in the grocery bag.  I recognize that look.

But local?  Local I can do.

In the rain today, Elliott and I collected strawberries and rhubarb from our garden.

A stop at the coop gave us the eggs, still warm, thanks to our broody hen, Monique.

Elliott helped me wash and cut our strawberries and rhubarb.  

I would love to be able to have access to local raw milk, or even better, to have my own, but we are not there...yet. So I have chosen to buy milk, not organic, but all natural, from the dairy farm within 2 miles from our house.  Yes, I turn left out of our driveway toward our Whole Foods market to buy it, rather than right toward the farm itself, but these are the compromises and weighing of time and expense that make sense for us right now.

And, thanks to a gift a few years ago from my sister in law Wendy, who knows and has married into this family of ice cream devotion, we own an electric Cuisinart ice cream maker.  It lacks the charm of the wooden bucket, the hand crank, and the glass marbles of my childhood.  But really.  I have three kids, chickens, bees, laundry on the line, an enormous weedy garden, and lacrosse practice to get to.  I need a little help.

This was our first flavor of the season, post my no store boughten ice cream for us declaration.  Mint chocolate chip.  The kids really could not wrap their minds around the idea of it being au natural in color.  Mint flavor is not green kiddos, just the leaves are.  Green food coloring was added.  Much to my chagrin.

But this day, after harvesting the eggs, the rhubarb, and the strawberries.  After measuring and pouring in the cream and milk from the nearby farm where we have pet the cows.  We sweetened it with the raw honey I had purchased from a beekeeper I met at my bee club.

It was as local as we could get right now.  It was homemade.  It was made together in the kitchen while the rain fell outside.  By Elliott and I, thinking of the rest of our family, away, and coming back.  Wanting to give them food made with thoughtfulness and love.  A way for us to connect and sit together for a few moments upon their return, to talk about what they did out there, and to show them how we had spent a few hours here.

And it was delicious.  

We served it up when the bigger kids got home from camp.  I find, the more of our food I make, that as I scoop it onto plates or into bowls, the more I know about what has gone into it, the work for me, the expense, the nutritional value, I serve a little bit less.  In some ways, our food just tastes better.  And a scoop of strawberry rhubarb ice cream from our own kitchen goes a little further than the nondescript chocolate in the colorful box from the grocery store.  We get more flavor.  And need less.

I watch as our children change their way of thinking about food.  Change their palates.  Their expectations.  They layer these thoughts in with their modern lives of sports and technology and friends.  It is this layering, this respect for traditional earth minded choices as modern beings that is where change is going to happen.

Julia, sweaty and tired from a day running about a field with a stick and a mouthguard, asked how we sweetened it.  I said it was sweetened with honey from a man I had met a few weeks ago.  

She smiled at me.   Next year?  We use our own honey.