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Jan 29 2014

How Pete Seeger Calmed My Pregnancy Fears

By at 2:08 pm

pete seeger

As a mom, there have only been a handful of times I have let my children see me cry. Yesterday, when I learned of the death of the great Pete Seeger, was one of those times. When I tried to explain who he was and some of the things he stood for, I could not complete my sentences. So I turned to YouTube and let Pete speak and sing for himself. Within minutes, my 4-year-old was dancing to “If I Had a Hammer,” and then we were all singing “We Are Not Afraid, To-day.” And of course, since we are farmers,“Inch by Inch.”

Meanwhile, my family and friends started sharing their personal Pete Seeger stories. My father told me about seeing him play near his cousins’ New Jersey chicken farm when he was a boy. My husband’s mother recalled seeing Pete play concerts at Jewish Community Centers near her home in Bayonne, New Jersey, during the 1950s when he was black-listed and few would hire him. My friend’s parents had a first date at a Pete Seeger concert. Other people sailed with him on the Clearwater or sang with him at summer camp, a political rally, or on a street corner.

This is my Pete story. I was raised on his music and my parents still keep his CDs on pretty much continuous loop in their house. When I was pregnant with my son seven years ago, I had placenta previa, a medical term for a low-lying placenta. The doctors said I would need a C-section if things did not change. I got even more worried when I had another ultrasound and the doctor was questioning whether the placenta was healthy in general. This was late in my pregnancy and that night I had a dream. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 5 2013

How a Public Menorah Lighting Taught Me a Valuable Parenting Lesson

By at 3:55 pm

giant menorah lighting

We stood shivering in a hotel parking lot waiting for the lighting of a giant outdoor menorah. It was my first public menorah lighting and I was in full “mom mode,” pulling up hoods, chasing dropped dreidels, handing out gelt, and sort of pretending to be excited–but we were really there for the children.

Since we live on a farm outside of Jewish community, they need to see that Hanukkah doesn’t just happen at our house and at their grandparents’ house.

There were a few brief speakers and I was feeling pretty distracted, thinking of the Thai restaurant right across the street, wishing my children would stop swinging their light sticks at each other, and feeling cold. The rabbi was talking about our inner olive oil which burns longer than we expect, about our essential Jewishness, but my mind wandered. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 20 2012

On the Farm: My Son Got a Seed

By at 2:43 pm

seedling growingI recently took my children to a friend’s daughter’s birthday party. After the party, the children were offered a choice of party favors. I was surprised when my 5-year-old son, the farm boy (like, we actually live on a farm), chose a little plastic pot with a seed in it (guaranteed to grow, just add water). I started coaching him to choose something else, saying, “Leave the seeds for other children. You have millions of seeds at home, so maybe a new eraser for school?” But he dug in and brought the pot home.

As a mother, I should really learn to keep my mouth shut, because I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the next few days, he cared for his little potted plant with so much care it was stunning. He watched the little sunflower seedling emerge from the soil, drop its seed shell and poke its head toward the light. Each day he carefully carried his little pot to the sink and added just a few drops of water, not enough to flood the tiny pot. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 11 2012

Kale Chips: A Surprising Hit with Preschoolers

By at 9:33 am
kale chips

A preschooler snagging thirds!

Last week, my sweet boy turned 5 and we celebrated by hosting his preschool class at our farm for a treasure hunt, pony rides with a neighbor, and lunch. He originally requested a party at one of those indoor bouncy centers, so I was very happy that we were able to coax, sell, and redirect him toward a homespun farm party.

The day before the party, my husband brought in a large bag of tender baby kale from the farm–the first of the spring new growth. When I asked my son what we should serve as a snack for the party, he completely surprised me by suggesting kale chips. I laughed and wondered how they would go over with his class that is used to much more standard preschool fare. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 20 2012

On the Farm: Adventures in Pickling

By at 12:30 pm

I love the taste of naturally fermented sour dill pickles. Since I don’t live anywhere near a Jewish deli and I have lots of fresh vegetables on hand from the farm, I really want to learn to make my own. But my initial attempts at pickling have not been a success.

Natural fermentation is the traditional way of making pickles taste like they are fresh from the barrel at a Jewish deli rather than fished out of a jar from the supermarket. They are not packed with any vinegar and not refrigerated, giving them the amazing taste and some say great health benefits. I put off trying my own naturally fermented pickles for years, using the excuse of being pregnant and nursing young children. It seemed to me that if you can’t eat feta, you should think twice about eating food left soaking on your counter for a week or more. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 2 2012

On the Farm: Nursing our Fledgling Apple Orchard

By at 10:22 am
apple branch

The beginnings of what will eventually be our apples.

Years ago my husband and I volunteered on Kibbutz Sde Eliahu in Israel, working in an organic vineyard and vegetable garden. On Tu Bishvat, kibbutzniks we had never seen in the fields came to help in the garden for a few hours. When we left the kibbutz, the leader of the vineyard gave us a little farewell blessing. We didn’t understand it all but he definitely said to “have children” and “plant trees with real roots, not just tomatoes.”

So, we returned home and pretty much got to work following his instructions. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 30 2011

On the Farm: Seed Shopping

By at 1:12 pm

seeds in wooden spoonsMy daughter, who turned 2 this week, fell in love with an 8 by 10 piece of purple felt I bought for a craft project. She has been busy using it as a doll blanket, folding it like a napkin, and generally keeping it close. I didn’t plan it that way but I think she likes it more than any of her birthday and Hanukkah gifts combined and it cost 32 cents.

As farmers, Hanukkah coincides with the arrival of stacks of beautiful seed catalogs. And now that we have celebrated the eighth night, it is time to turn our attention to seed shopping and planning the next farm season. Searching through the seed catalogs, we are always looking for something like the purple felt–a new vegetable or flower variety that will surprise us and exceed all expectations.

There is always the hope that a certain seed variety will be this coming season’s most valuable player, producing abundantly while ignoring pests and humid weather.  Over the years we have found a few of these, like sungold tomatoes, okra, zinnias, and sunflowers which consistently thrive on our farm. But just like expensive toys, there are always varieties that fail to impress and are quickly tossed aside and forgotten.

So in the coming weeks, we will search for the seed equivalent of the 32 cent square of purple felt, an unexpected seed variety which will help make the 2012 farm season successful. I hope we find it.

Oct 3 2011

Rained Out Rosh Hashanah

By at 12:03 pm

I am one of those people who questions conventional wisdom, and sometimes that means stumbling on clichés and common knowledge the hard way.  It took working two jobs with a long commute to start to understand why Shabbat matters. It took my short but intense flirtation with homeschooling to start to appreciate public school.  And this year, I think I am developing a new appreciation of Rosh Hashanah and why we need it so badly.

Rosh Hashanah has come and gone and it is still raining, not constantly, but at least a little bit every day. The rain is falling on top of completely saturated soils, recently flooded farm fields, and daunting new areas of erosion.  The past month has been hard on the farm. The ground shook in an earthquake and then the rains started and just kept falling.  We saw winter squash plants floating in standing water, lost thousands of pounds of produce to wet and mud, and watched our town flooded with roads and bridges collapsing. As a mother, there have been too many days indoors and we have all become antsy and cranky.  More than once, my 4-year-old has demanded we start building an ark “right now, get the hammer, get the wood!”

When I joined my husband in the flooded field, I had another one of those “life is learning common knowledge the hard way” moments.  It hurt watching him do the sad and ugly job of sorting the good squash from the bad. But even as I stood there, with my feet sinking in the mud and my toddler on my hip,  I could see my family as a black and white depression era photo. Farming is really hard. Everybody knows that. But here we are again, learning lessons the hard way.

Which brings me to my newest — cliché heavy–  revelation. This year, I found myself yearning for Rosh Hashanah weeks in advance.  I was ready and waiting with apples and honey because I thought Rosh Hashanah would be our new start, the season would change, the rains would stop, we could call off ark building and go out and jump in a pile of dry leaves. But it is already a few days after Rosh Hashanah and guess what? It’s raining again. So, I guess we have to wait a bit longer.

But I needed this idea of a new start, I needed to be filled with hope for what comes next, to imagine turning over a new leaf, a new season, a sweet new year. It might not be starting immediately, but I am sure it is on the way.

Cliché? Most definitely, but I think it is part of what the people who thought up the holiday had in mind and I’ll take it! I wish all of us a happy, sweet, and less rainy New Year.

Jun 29 2011

On The Farm: The Tomatoes are Here!

By at 2:01 pm

Tomatoes from our farm.

We try to eat at least somewhat seasonally in our house, switching from fresh vegetables to frozen in the winter and following the fruit that is coming from Florida rather than further afield. Most of the year I skip over my fresh produce section in the store because there is minimal organic and we either have fresh vegetables from the farm or are working through our frozen stash.

Of course, I make exceptions but it always feels particularly strange and a little like a betrayal to buy tomatoes from someone else’s farm, especially from an anonymous supermarket source. Plus, if I do break down and buy a tomato in the winter they are usually pretty awful (like they have been in cold storage). So for the most part, we do not eat fresh tomatoes except during tomato season.

So, when the first tomatoes start to come in from our farm it is cause for a mini-celebration. This is our first tomato week, a little later than usual but they are full size (cherry tomatoes usually come first but they were planted later this year.) This year, we celebrated with fancy Capri salads with fresh mozzarella which seems increasingly available. The children are eating them sliced on plates with a little sea salt and enjoying the messy fingers. And my husband and I are eating them whole like apples.

If all goes well (tss, tss) and we avoid pitfalls like early blight, late blight, blossom end rot and those horrible new invasive stink bugs, we could be picking tomatoes past Labor Day and even at a trickle until the first frost. We have had some tough tomato diseases blow through in the past few years, so we need luck, prayers, crossed fingers, precautions, enough (but not too much) rain and whatever else works. So while the tomatoes are coming in, we will try to be sure to enjoy them a little more knowing that we will miss them in the winter.

Tanya Tolchin is a manager at Israeli Harvest, a farmer at Jug Bay Market Garden, a writer, an environmentalist, and most importantly a mom. She has a new blog: On the Lettuce Edge.

Jun 15 2011

On the Farm: Milking a Cow Gives You Time to Think

By at 9:13 am

It turns out that new farmers and new parents have something in common.  Both groups marvel at how days can be completely filled with caring for the needs of others and complain about having “no time”.   It is true that farmers and parents put in long days and nights and the list of tasks at any moment is daunting. We put our own needs behind the needs of thirsty children and thirsty plants and can have trouble finding time for basics like getting haircuts or returning library books.

But there is another side to both mothering and farming. In the past few years, I have spent countless hours nursing my babies and toddlers or sitting quietly as they play in the bath, stack blocks or play in the sandbox.  While your hands are not free and you may have to keep singing, rocking or cleaning up splashes — there is an abundance of time to think.

I was recently talking (on the radio) with Severine von Tscharner Fleming, a fellow farmer and director of an organization for young farmers called the Greenhorns.  She described her experience with a new dairy cow. She said the mandatory 40 minutes of milking each morning provides her with essential time to gather her thoughts for the whole day. Before she had the cow, she went straight to her email in the morning and did not have the time and freedom to think. Other routine farm tasks like weeding and picking can provide similar time.

Since many of us are always within reach of email, Facebook and endless distraction — it is actually a huge gift to have quiet time to think.  It takes some getting used to and lots of parents like new farmers will feel trapped in certain seemingly mindless tasks. We need to find strategies to use this time to our advantage.

At ages 4 and 17 months, my children are starting to play together for small stretches of time. While they play I sneak around afraid that if they notice me they will drop their activities and come running. Sandbox time is when I pull out my computer and write and when there is enough light I try to combine nursing and reading.

It’s definitely a puzzle and some days are frantic without a single quiet moment. But tucked inside many long days of parenting and farming there is an abundance of time to be quiet and think (or sing lullabies, listen to NPR, make up stories etc.). And these days, that makes us pretty lucky.

How do other Kveller readers spend their parenting quiet time?  Leave a comment and let us know.

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