Light & color: making marks




Birth Story Revisited

I am blessed. Let me say it again, I am blessed. I have two beautiful children, an amazing husband, and an overall rich and full life.

I am also sleep deprived. Like, from the last 8 months, sleep deprived.

Ever since we tried transitioning our 14-month old son from co-sleeping in our bed, three out of four of us haven’t slept more than 2-3 hours at a time, sometimes up repeatedly for hours during the night. Thankfully our oldest sleeps soundly.

I’ve read books, talked with moms, spoken to the doctor, vented and cussed and struggled overall with how to help our boy. Pick him up, don’t pick him up, let him cry it out, don’t over-stress him…And until this week, I now realize, I was looking at the entire problem through the wrong, foggy-eyed lens.

We went to a sleep specialist, who is actually a pediatric nurse practitioner with a holistic philosophy. I find her utterly fascinating. I’ve known about her for some time, went to her once with our first-born, have friends who use her and am awestruck at how she weaves her understanding of biology and chemistry, perinatal psychology, energy therapies, nutrition and more, all within the family context of what she calls the “heart centered relationship”.

Milo wakes up often each night, in a highly agitated state. The specialist stated it was neither comfort seeking nor night terrors. She looked deeper and further back. She asked about his birth story.

Ever since his birth, December 10, 2012, I have looked back with great pride to the water birth, the one hour delivery from the time my water broke and the two pushes that carried him out and up into my arms. It was so fast that his head did not mold.

I never considered what his experience was. Could it be possible that what I considered -from my perspective- a beautiful successful birth was, for Milo, likely traumatic?

According to our specialist, an abrupt transition from the womb into the water was for my baby likely rough and rushed, flooded with adrenaline. She spoke of the cranial nerves which carry the impulses down from the brain and have ties to the nervous system. She mentioned that the presence of adrenaline will diminish the body’s natural release of oxytocin, the calming hormone.

Because of the nature of Milo’s birth, a pattern was set early for tension, hyper-vigilance, and adrenaline imbalance. This helped explain some of the early behaviors we have observed as well, extreme sensitivity to noise, need to touch my skin while he slept, hyper sensitivity to diaper changes, and a strong desire to be held.

Where do we go from here? We have a list of behavior modifications to try such as earlier bed time, increase melatonin rich foods to help stabilize sleep cycles, massage and joint compression to help him feel comfortable in his body, and more. We were also encouraged to visit an Osteopath who could provide manipulations to assist in calming Milo’s nervous system. Paramount here is to pattern behaviors that reassure our young Milo that the world is a safe and secure place.

Being a therapist, and advocate for children it was hard to realize I had overlooked Milo’s experience at birth and the ripples it could produce. We all are sensitive beings and our feelings, behaviors and physiology are connected to the experiences we have had. From the perspective of an infant entering the world, it is no different.

The Burden of Restoration


We bought our home in “as-is” condition, a cash only sale because no bank would finance the property.  To our great fortune we found an angel to provide that cash, with an agreement that within two years I would pay them back with interest.

One year – almost to the day of moving in – we are completing a bank loan to honor that agreement, but in trading an angel for some bankers, I could not have fathomed the process, nor the word-smithing required, to meet bank standards.

At the earliest stage of the renovation we tore down the barn; too far gone for preservation, an easy choice, but we did keep a 200 square foot area that connected the barn to the Ell.  Nothing sentimental, it was a matter of necessity to have storage for the things and stuff of family life.

Our shed is quite old – tree trunks, with bark still on, function as studs – and it is not pretty: roofline sags, the only remaining shutter hangs forlorn from its last hinge, asbestos siding is missing in places.  At some stage I will take down the shed, and in its place erect a mudroom, second bathroom, and a bedroom for Becca and me.  And storage space.  But that is a project for some other season.

During the first year our focus has been the main house interior: to reduce the energy draw; to redo the plumbing, electric, kitchen, bathroom, and floors; to develop the garden beds for a permacultural homestead.

The timing of the refinance was an open question.  Last spring, when rates were incredibly low, I risked a meager appraised value because work remained unfinished.  The house was comfortably livable, but looked 90% done.

By early autumn, rates had increased, but my “punch list” was finished.  I felt optimistic.  Never could I have imagined the obstacle that would arise.


Twenty years ago I set out to work in “humanitarian finance.”  My goal was to organize a trust fund to generate cash, free and clear, for media-based community development projects.  Back in the Clinton era, end of the last century, the economy was roaring and people excitedly thought the internet would be a boon for democracy rather than commerce.  The future seemed bright.

While reading in a Law Library I came across the “Philanthropy Protection Act of 1995”, Public Law 104-61, which allows not-for-profits to manage investments outside the constraints of the Investment Company Act of 1940, which, just happens to be the primary source of regulations for the mutual fund industry.

I found a loophole.  Public Law 104-61 is not widely known.  When I contacted McDermott Will & Emery, a law firm which has the largest tax practice in the United States, they declined to provide advice because no one on their staff had any knowledge of the law and they “didn’t want to learn at my expense.”

Naïve and strong willed, I forged ahead into the deep waters of off-shore finance.

Within a few years we held in trust assets of various and unusual form: safe keeping certificates for 100 metric tons of gold bullion held in the underground vaults at Kloten, Switzerland; a rough-cut emerald weighing 1,000 grams; title to thousands of acres in Ecuador.

The more rare the asset, the harder it seemed to manage.  How do you establish a bankable value for a one-of-a-kind emerald?  And after Sept 11, the likelihood of insuring such an asset became virtually impossible.

The Trust Fund also held, in Swiss bank accounts, liquid assets.  Cash, the ubiquitous United States Dollar, caused the greatest difficulty when one of the bankers helped himself to the trust funds.  Humanitarian finance was an oxymoron.

That banker went to prison in Lichtenstein.  The Trustees, myself included, became Defendants in a lawsuit in a Federal Court.  Ultimately the lawsuit was settled, but I was forced into bankruptcy.  I have kept my distance since from the world of the glassy-eyed banker.


Coming into the refinancing my past was layered, but this is the means forward to secure this home and property for my family.  The process of restoration has been life affirming, and once I was ready for the appraisal, I began to see it as the last step in absolving the deep-rooted shame and pain from that debacle.

My credit scored well.  We locked in a good interest rate.  Only the appraisal remained.  We needed a value of $200,000.

The appraisal came in at $200,000 but subject to tearing down the shed.  Given that, the underwriter refused the appraisal, because that verbiage would not be acceptable to the secondary market.  We were dead in the water.

I told the bank that we would not tear down the shed just to complete the refi.  We do intend at some point to tear down the shed – I look forward to building the new addition – but I am not going to rush into that.

The bank asked about repairing the shed.  I made clear that would not be done before our interest rate lock expires, so that was a moot point.  The third option was to restate the value of the home excluding the shed.

Our home and the shed passed the City’s building inspection with no issues.  The home and shed are insured.  It seemed incredulous, but if one bank insisted the shed was an obstacle, why would any other bank see it differently?

The Loan Officer was highly motivated to make the loan and went to the Bank President.  The President, in turn, went back to the appraiser to appeal for a change of language.  The appraiser, to our great surprise, consented.  He changed his report.

Eighteen words made the difference: “the shed is not a safety hazard or concern.  Settling is normal for a building of that age.”  No repair needed, no tear down, no reduction in value.  Our home is now financeable.

It will be a meaningful personal victory when we close the refinance on 4 December, but our work of restoration has a long way yet to go.  The physical property may be the least of it.

The script of every life includes victories and struggles, and as a parent, my goal is to raise children not in the shadow of my circumstance but in resolution’s opening: healthy, intact, curious young souls able to explore, question, move forward without the baggage of their predecessors, the patterns of generations.

This burden of restoration reaches deep, and its ultimate measure will not be the financial, bankable asset, nor even the condition, of physical property, but the WHOLE self, the emotional, psycho-spiritual, playful aspects, that we nurture.

I had never seen it this way before, but through working to restore one piece of the earth, and to create a home and haven for my family, I have learned a new way to think for the second, let alone the seventh, generation.


Christmas Trees are for the Birds


First year ever. We bought a Christmas Tree.

Out into the fields, Little Miss E and I went.

We toasted marshmallows, drank some hot chocolate then ran among the trees, E shouting, “This one! No, this one!  No, no this one!!”  In the fading light of a mid-December dusk I made a quick choice and cut rapidly with the saw.  Oh, what a big event, and its momentum carried through the holidays.

And then last Sunday it was time to take down the tree.  Along the roads now, balsams lie discarded, heaped upon the snow banks, so much trash waiting to be carted away.  “Where do they go?” E asked, and I really don’t know.  It got me wondering.

In our home, the threat of discarding the tree was too great.  E had a meltdown.  And I had an idea.  I remembered my mother, an avid birder, telling me that our feathered friends love to take shelter in the boughs and branches of the trees – whether rooted or cut down does not matter – and so a plan was hatched.  “Wait, we can help the birds!”

While Becca grabbed cranberries from the freezer, and a needle and thread, E and I hauled the tree outdoors, into the sunlight of the front yard.  We stood the tree upright in the snow.

E was thrilled.  Back into the house, she dashed to the art table and insisted “I can do it!”  I showed her how to hold the needle and thread, how to position the fingers while pulling the needle through, and she was off.  In her typical fashion, she shouted, “I can do it, I can do it.  Give me space!”


And for good style, she donned rabbit ears.  Who knows why.  It was quite a look.


We transitioned from meltdown to excitement.  She ate loads of raw berries, then danced as we hung them on the tree.  Later, while stringing popcorn, she ate far more than she strung.

But we put together enough garland to encircle the tree several times.  And so we answered her question about where our tree will go:  at our house, it is for the birds.



Petrokus was our family’s pig.  Well, half the pig was ours.


On a rainy saturday, one week ago, he was loaded into a trailer and I told my daughter E, “He is going to another farm.”  That was true, by half.  “Why?” she asked.  “Well, he has gotten too big for Dan’s farm.”  That was completely true.  He had grown to almost 400 pounds.

He spent the weekend in that trailer, at the other farm, until Monday when he was taken to the slaughter-house.  I wasn’t sure how to broach that topic with E so I had punted.  But this morning, we made the long drive up to West Gardiner Beef.  We loaded the car and headed back home.  I felt it was time to talk about our payload.


Of all the “big” conversations I might have with my children, I would anticipate the topics of sex and drugs.  The source of our family’s food, however, would hardly seem to belong on that list.  But I was feeling pretty uneasy.

We are trying to live as close to the land as practical, and when friends offered to co-raise a grain-fed hog, that was a welcome opportunity.  I love pork: braised, brined or roasted; pan seared or smoked “low & slow”; dry rub, salt cure, wet mop – whatever the manner, I love it all.  My daughter does too.  Becca is sure this gene was inherited from my side of the family.

We visited Petrokus during the summer.  We talked about him when we purchased grain at the feed store.  We touched upon the idea that Petrokus would provide our family with food.  We want our children to know their food and its source.  The issue of slaughtering may very well have been my own.

On the way to the slaughterhouse, I had told E that we were going to get some meat.  Now I needed to add some details.  I eased into the conversation.

“So, E…the meat that we are carrying is…from…Petrokus.”

I pondered that phrasing.  Was it better, clearer to say “…is Petrokus” ?  I distanced the animal and the act by inserting “from.”  I continued, “He gave his life, gave us food.”

Silently, she looked out the window at the bare trees.  I did not want to rush the conversation so I gave the silence plenty of time.

“Did the butcher…did the butcher…hurt him?”

The topic of “hurt” is commonplace in our conversations.  She might ask if a pencil hurts paper when she makes marks, if it hurts a carrot when she takes a bite, if it hurts a tree when the winds blow.  “Hurt” is her three-year-old variant of “Why?”  So her question was not as loaded as it might seem.

I thought about Chuang Tzu’s zen tale of the butcher and the oxen.  At first he “saw the Ox as one mass.”  With experience comes insight and then “My whole being apprehends.  My senses are idle.  The spirit free to work without plan follows its own instinct, guided by natural line, by the secret opening, the hidden space, my cleaver finds its own way.  I cut through no joint, chop no bone.”

What I said was, “The butcher did his job well.  So it is okay.”

More silence.

“It is sacred,” I continued, “when an animal gives its life to feed us.  We are thankful.”


Her thoughts drifted to her new-born brother.  “Will we be able to share this delicious meat with Milo?”

It must be in the genes!  “Yes,” I said, not opening the question of how long before a newborn could be fed pork.

In silence, she looked out the car window.

Then finally, “Will we have another pig next year?”

So our conversation passed without trauma.  Or perhaps this is just the first phase of a long ongoing conversation, with changing feelings, about the source of our food.  Certainly she will have much to say on the topic.

For the record, here are some facts about the fattening of Petrokus:

– purchased the suckling pig on 1 May, approx 18 weeks old;

– consumed 1,100 pounds of Blue Seal “Pig & Sow” grain pellets and 650 pounds of Blue Seal “steamed flaked corn.”

– hanging weight at slaughter: 370 pounds (that is super huge); fresh meat includes pork chops, shoulder roast, loin roast, spare ribs, fresh bacon, salt pork, liver, ground pork, the remaining meat will have a maple brown sugar rub and be hickory smoked, including two hams, bacon, and hocks.

All Things Nutcracker

Our daughter’s third birthday is around the corner so OF COURSE there’s a Nutcracker theme. Since she saw the performance in November, she has been twirling, arabesque-ing, and leaping everywhere she goes.

We even took her to Swan Lake this past Saturday which further expanded her little world.  I’ve now got Tchaikovsky on my iPhone so we can roll around the grocery store to the tunes. Here are several photos of what David and I are putting together for her day.

Nutcracker assembly line – some table top nutcrackers…and larger one to poke your head in!

Army of Mice and Mouse King

Leave it to a Child

…to come up with new ways of doing things.  That’s one of the cool things about making art – the possibilities for solving problems are endless.  It should not have surprised me when my 2 1/2 year old decided that she could get BETTER results from painting with watercolors if she first poured the entire bowl of water onto the paper.  She dabbed colors into the pool with her brush and then watched the swirls of color move throughout the puddle. Totally fascinated her and reminded me to keep an open mind…and a roll of paper towels. 

Foundation of Love

“If we do not know how to take care of ourselves and to love ourselves, we cannot take care of the people we love. Loving oneself is the foundation for loving another person.” from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Your True Home

As a parent, I’m role modeling self-care to my daughter.  I cannot expect her to learn from just my words alone.  I must show her how it is done – or not done.  The behavior must match the words. This is not a simple task.

Inspiring Gifts

My daughter received some beautiful, wooden play items from sweet Auntie Baps for Christmas. During E’s pretend cooking session, she explained to me that she needed to put the milk bottles in the refrigerator.

We pulled out some cardboard scraps, hot glue gun and went to work.  I did the cutting and gluing while she stayed close and watched.

And if you’re going to have a refrigerator, you have to have an oven…


Nicole Foss is an author whose focus is the crossroads of peak oil, real politik and global finance; her question is ultimately about sustainability. Writing under the pseudonym “Stoneleigh” she is the Senior Editor at the Automatic Earth [].

She travelled through Maine recently and I helped organize a presentation in Portland.  With less than two weeks notice, we were able to get seventy people to attend on a Monday night.  The discussion lasted four hours.

Nicole’s thesis is that the bursting credit bubble will result in a severe retraction of the money supply.  By reducing or even eliminating credit, only cash will remain and become extremely scarce, thus reducing the velocity of money; the pendulum will swing away from “the orgy of consumption” toward “austerity on a scale we cannot yet imagine.  …As a much larger percentage of the much smaller money supply begins to chase essentials, those [essentials]…will be the least affordable of all.”

This scenario is not, she says, just financial, but compounded by decreasing supplies of oil, with increasing costs of production. “The future is at our doorstep,” she writes, “and it does not look like the past as we have known it.”

No one can know for certain whether Nicole’s scenario will play out.  But that provocative message caused us to wonder about what, as a parent, we need to do to prepare our little one for a future so uncertain.

Our response:

Embrace practical skills – planting a garden, baking bread, fixing a flat tire, living within a budget, to name but a few – because they are fundamentally necessary while also teaching self-reliance and help maintain freedom of action.

Live as close to the earth as practical and possible, and build social capital in our community.  Personal integrity is the most enduring asset.

Play is essential.  Especially in dark times, we need to create joy in our home.  Art-making can fit within that, while also teaching resourcefulness and creative problem solving. That is what our art farm is really about.

Everything has its counterbalance.  Even amidst dark and dire times, there is hope and light.  That is not a pollyanna notion, but something essential; as a balance sheet must have assets to the liabilities, as yin has its yang.

A New England saying is “a rising tide lifts all boats.” But any Yankee fisherman also knows the tide always goes out.  The real and natural cycle has both ebb and flow.

Therein lies the balance.