Archive | September, 2012

A Sojourn to the Islands

27 Sep

Nick and I are taking a little break from our little munchkins to celebrate our five-year anniversary. As my friend Annie said (who is also celebrating her five-year anniversary this year), a lot has changed in five years! We got married, gutted and remodeled a house, welcomed two children into our lives and moved to a farm. I cannot imagine the next five years being as eventful but you just never know!

We escaped up to Doe Bay on Orcas Island in the San Juans…the picture above with the sailboat in it is our view from our yurt. No filter required! Just pure beauty over here.

Some Boston Love with Erica Mecler Caron

25 Sep


I have had the great fortune of knowing the lady pictured above for 14 years now…that ages me, but that’s ok. We met our first year in college in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. She is a spitfire to say the least and can have me in stitches in under 5 minutes (and you wonder where her daughter gets it…). Erica is the friend you went to when you needed an answer or a hard honest opinion (the girl can argue her side like no one’s business) and a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen to your rants and raves. She is true to herself and that is one of the biggest reasons I love her so. I have to admit, I got a little teary-eyed reading her answers – it makes me so proud to know this lady and to see her raising this gorgeous little spirit with such awareness. Please welcome Erica and her family to our series:

Q: Tell us about your family.

Our immediate family includes myself, my husband Sean and our daughter, Sidney who just turned 2. Extended family in and around Boston include my mom and close friends who we spend loads of our free time with and Sean’s brother, sister-in-law and parents who are a short plane ride away in Virginia.

Q: Where do you live? Will you tell us the story of how your home came to be yours?

We live in a small city 5 miles north of Boston called Medford.  Sean grew up in Maine and I grew up 20 miles west of Boston in a true “suburb”, where my mom still lives today.  He and I met in law school in Boston and have chosen to make our home here.  We started living in and around Somerville, another city on the outskirts of Boston during law school and when we moved in together (gulp) 6 years ago.  When it was time to buy, Somerville was a “hot area”, in other words, expensive.  We bought a townhouse in Medford and in June 2011 bought our current house in another part of Medford called West Medford.  We love our house and are here to stay…at least for awhile.

Q: How did you decide to live in Boston?

We’re both from New England, met here and built our lives here, both personal and professional.  We discussed moving to DC for a brief period, but I couldn’t leave New England.  So Sean (very nicely) made the sacrifice to stay in Massachusetts with me and near my family and we’ve continued to build our life here.

Q: What’s your favorite feature in your home/neighborhood? What makes you the happiest about it? Also, what are you dying to change?

The best home feature is our back deck.  I admit, we basically bought the house for the deck.  Its big and our house is built pretty high on a hill so its very private and we have a great view of the Middlesex Fells reservation which is a really neat “urban” oasis to hike and explore.  Also, our house is set into the trees so when you are on the deck and on the main living floor, it sort of feels like you are in a treehouse.

The best feature about our neighborhood is our neighbors themselves.  Our houses are pretty close together so if we had bad neighbors, it could break it.  But ours are fantastic.  There is lots of helping others with yardwork on busy weekends, kids are always riding bikes, people are invited to other children’s birthday parties without a second thought about age differences and there is always someone to sit on a stoop with on a Saturday or Sunday and have a beer.  The road itself is also very private, so we feel safe letting Sidney run around in the front yard or between yards with the neighbor kids knowing someone isn’t going to come and run the kids over.

Dying to change…we need another bathroom.  But that is in the works.  And we need to put in a better retaining wall to protect our backyard.  Other than that, nothing much.  We’re happy with the size of our house.  Its not too big, but big enough for our little family and a little extra if the family grows.  We can always find Sidney in it, no matter what trouble she has decided to get into. Continue reading

Canning and Such

22 Sep

Canning Season is in full swing now – crops are dwindling down. Here are some photos of what we have been up to…

Tomatoes to sauce

Green Beans to Canned and Pickled

Cucumbers to Pickles

The Farm Life So Far…

20 Sep

It has been two months since we moved from the city to the farm and here is what I have learned thus far:

  • Running a farm – even if it is just a family farm that feeds its residents only – is hard work. Hard enough work that with two young children, I have had very little time to help.
  • We eat way better. With fresh veggies or fruit to pick for every meal and a long drive ahead of us for meat, we have increased our produce intake and reduced our meat/dairy intake. It feels good to eat greens every day.
  • We spend less on thoughtless shopping. With a 30-45 minute drive ahead of any shopping excursion, we buy less of the “oh sure, let’s just swing by the thrift store real quick” or “hmmm, I don’t feel like cooking, let’s order a pizza.”
  • Life is slower. I no longer feel bored after an afternoon in our cramped backyard and feel the need to drive around in search of something to do. I now realize how much I would just hop in the car to go to a thrift store or grocery store just to get out of the house. I now know that that caused a bit of franticness and a little too much activity.
  • Living in a small community is totally rad – the bookmobile guys know me by name, the ladies in my yoga class are chatty and want to know more about me, the owner of the grocery store I frequent knows me and we have kids in the same class…everyone is so nice.
  • We drive longer distances but less often. This feels better for some reason – less frantic.
  • My kids are soooooo happy frolicking around.
  • There are so many aspects that make a farm work – there is always something you could be doing, fixing, making or cleaning. I suppose that is true with any residence but if you have animals that depend on you and gardens waiting to nourish you if given the proper attention, there is a stronger need here it seems.
  • I am more organized (which I didn’t think was possible. Organize may as well be my middle name) and more creative. With longer distances to stores, mail and banks, I have to plan ahead as to hit all the needed spots in one outing. I devised a better weekly menu guide for myself to further organize our week – more on that later.
  • It’s ok if my children touch horse poop, pick up dead moles or mice and poke at coyote scat with a stick. This is not going to kill them. Just remember to wash their hands afterwards…especially the little guy who likes to suck his thumb.
  • It’s hard to be bored here.
  • I have been back to Seattle twice in two months and I don’t miss a thing yet (aside from our friends but we have managed to see everyone about as much as we did when we lived within 15 minutes of each other).

Taking a Year Around the World with the Van Loens

17 Sep
Q: You have just started your traveling adventure – can you run through your timeline and destinations real quick?
We are taking a year off (July 2012 through August 2013) – we are starting with 4 months in Peru (Cusco specifically), Chile, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Tahiti (French Polynesia), New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, Tibet, Mongolia, and Russia.  16 countries in all before we return to the United States.
Q: Why did you pick to travel to these places? How did you decide where to go?
Traveling as a family, we felt that we needed to be “realistic” about locations to travel to/through as a family that we would feel safe, but would provide us with a range of different experiences.  We also made decisions based on travel distances, visa requirements and availability of friends we could stay with. For example, we had to choose between India and China. China offered more free places to stay, so China it was. Europe and Scandanavia are too expensive right now while the Middle East and Africa are too far out of our way. We will save these places for another trip. Other considerations included wanting to go places that none of us had been before (new for all), wanting to engage in slow travel vs. sightseeing, finding some exciting volunteer opportunities, and (of course) budget considerations.
When we originally started planning our itinerary, we thought about doing an around-the-Pacific route, ending with some time in Hawaii (since that was somewhere that the kids really wanted to go), but through our airfare research we learned that most RTW tickets won’t allow you to cross the same ocean twice, so we decided to change it up and add the Trans-Mongolian railway piece.  Now it’s truely “around-the-world”. We ended up with a “hard / easy / hard / easy” mix – we decided to pick a “hard” place to start (Peru) where we didn’t speak the language, so we could learn new culture and language (that’s why we are spending a longer time in our first location).  Then we will move to “easier” locations (like New Zealand and Australia).  Repeat with SE Asia and China.
Q: Tell us a little about your decision to take these 13 months off – why travel in the first place and why not just for 3 or 6 months?
Great question(s) – perhaps we’ll split up our answers:
We decided to travel in the first place because we feel that we learn and grow the best when we are separated from our comfort zone – we can theorize how other people live, but nothing has the same impact as “being there” – that’s when the real growth occurs.  Plus, it’s a great life opportunity for perspective shift (as individuals, as a family, and as a couple/team).
Why did we decide to travel for 13 months and not less?  We got this question a lot from family and friends.  After asking ourselves this question, we think the original idea came from Anne’s year-abroad experience.  She realized that it took literally months to shake off the “comparing everything to what it was like at home” and embrace “being there” in the present / in the moment.  Not that you can’t learn and grow in a shorter time period, but a year seemed like a true commitment.  Short answer = because we could.  True, we made that happen, but it was made a bit easier that both Anne and Noah were able to make a CareerBreak happen – Anne as teacher, Noah in project-based IT work.

How to Do Barn Chores

15 Sep

My parents took a little trip to Oregon to visit my sister so we were on barn chores for a few days. The kids know more than I do – they do barn chores with Gramma all the time. Maya knew the names of the horses by heart before I did. Scooping poop, throwing hay and filling up water troughs…oh and fly masks. Sebastien goes straight for the hay masks, picks one up and throws it over his shoulder – then he goes to the hay and piles a bunch in his arms to throw to the horses. He’s got it down pat. Maya, of course, has been doing this for years so she is all over it.

Nothing like an 18 month old picking up horse nuggets and tossing them in the wheel barrow – I guess the rake isn’t of much use to him – and a 3 year old licking water out of the trough….yep, I think they are liking the farm life all right.

Here are some pictures of our walk to the barn…

Continue reading

Learning to Slow Down

13 Sep

The other morning, as I sat and watched my son throw rock after rock after rock into the creek behind our house, it occurred to me that despite only living on the farm for two months, I have already learned an important lesson – one that I am sure is the main reasons why one would choose to live on a farm in the country in the first place. You see, I have finally learned to slow down.

A friend recently told me about the time he lived in the backwoods of Tennessee for a summer. Him and his friend quickly realized that there was not much going on – like, at all. It was not uncommon to see neighbors, as few as there were, simply sitting on their porch, enjoying the moment. It took him almost an entire summer to learn to slow down and appreciate this peaceful pace.

Our days in the city were more often than not rushed between getting out the door in one piece, doing some kind of activity and driving back home before naptime. By the time both kids were asleep, I was exhausted and slightly stressed out. There were definitely days where we just played in our yard or inside our house, but I found that I got bored quite quickly. The city buzzed all around us and I was eager to be a part of it. I also wanted to expose our kids to more than just our back yard – the beaches, the trails, the zoo, the parks, friend’s houses and so on. So off we went – zoom zoom.

Now that we live in the boonies, zipping all over town is not really an option. Plus, we live on land that houses most of the activities that I drove all over town for. We are super lucky to simply walk down the road to the beach for the morning, picking blackberries along the way as we did yesterday morning or explore the creek beds or wander the pastures looking for the horses. It wasn’t until I sat there by the creek watching the rocks kerplunk in the water over and over again that I realized I wasn’t antsy to move and do something else. I was perfectly content. Peaceful. Quiet.

The energy here is so much slower…you actually have time and space to think and feel and do. I was starting to feel a little crushed and depleted (two kids under 3 will do that to you) and now suddenly, I feel more balanced. I think this is primarily due to the space and the fact that the kids get more and more independent but also to the newly learned skill of simply slowing down our days. I have learned to sit and watch my kids run about instead of simultaneously trying to get 4 things crossed off my list. I have finally realized that trying to stuff it all into one day, one hour, just wasn’t doing anyone any good. This means that sometimes the laundry doesn’t get put away for a few days or the bike trailer tire is still flat – ahem, going on 6 weeks. And you know what? Our lives continue on. They haven’t screeched to a halt. Even better, we are happier, more carefree and less likely to snap at each other.

You don’t need to live in the country or on 100 acres to achieve this – though it is easier to get to that slow pace when you do. I could have attained this in the city as well; it just would have taken a little more work and thought…something I have very little time for these days.

Small Community Living with Chris Axling

10 Sep

Please welcome my childhood neighbor and friend, Chris Axling and his family, to our ongoing Family Profile series. I am forever curious as to how and why people pick where to place their home and set some roots. Chris is a special case in that he grew up on the same island that I did and spent some time in the same city that I did (Seattle) – so I have to figure that his opinions about particular places will speak to me in some form or another. Chris has always been an artist for as long as I have known him (I still possess a vibrant painting of a butterfly he made me way back when) but his woodworking takes it up a notch – I am a daughter of a woodworker so I think I have some authority in saying that his woodworking projects are masterpieces – just solid beautiful works of art. He is also a gifted writer – he shares some of his witty observations on parenthood on his blog Babies and Dogs. So without further ado, I present to you our talk about his home, his family and his dreams:

Q: Tell us about your family – who lives here?

I live here with my wife Sarah, my 18 month-old daughter Josephine, and our dog Clover.  Sarah and I are in our early thirties, and have been together for twelve years.

Q: Where do you live? Will you tell us the story of how it came to be yours?
We live in Port Townsend, Washington – a Victorian seaport at the top of the Puget Sound.  We moved here three years ago.  After renting for a year to make sure it was somewhere we wanted to commit to for awhile, we bought this house.

Q: You started in the city. How did you decide to live in the country? Why did you choose this town?

We spent about six years renting in Seattle.  After getting engaged, we began to talk seriously about what where we wanted to live.  Seattle kind of ‘chose us’ for its jobs, but we really wanted to live on a few acres and build a house.  Not wanting to buy in Seattle’s outer bedroom communities (where we could afford what we wanted, but become a commuting zombie), we turned our attention to communities not directly connected to Seattle’s economy.  I had become a carpenter, in part, to fulfill the goal of building a house, but also because it would be a profession that’s not exclusive to cities.  Sarah could take her job with her, which became an important financial bridge as the financial crisis blew up and I was laid off.
On our weekends we visited communities around the Puget Sound, real estate adds in hand.  My wife needs sun, and I’m pretty stubborn about living in Western Washington, so we focused on Whidbey Island or Port Townsend (Sequim was out of the question until we are in our 60s at least).  We decided on Port Townsend, which gets half the rain of Seattle, and it’s close to the Olympic Mountains, which is where Sarah and I met.  But, perhaps more importantly, it seemed to have a more vibrant community, which I remember from visiting it as a kid with my parents.For a town of only 9,000 residents, it has a lot going on.  It has a tremendous diversity of restaurants, and many of them source much of their food from our surrounding farms.  We have a wonderful food co-op and our farmer’s market won Washington State’s farmers market of the year last year.  It has two historic movie theaters and one of the last drive-ins in the state.  Our old Carnegie library is great, and proportionally our town has the highest rate of library card ownership in the state.  Fort Worden – the most diverse and well used State Park in the state’s system, is within city limits, and houses Centrum, an art’s programing non-profit that attract local writers and musicians for a variety of festivals every summer.  And mixed in with all the old hippies, are boat builders, mill workers, “trustafarians,” liveaboards, and Seattle retirees.  As our town’s bumper sticker says, “Port Townsend: We’re all here because we’re not all there.”

Is it Time to Say Goodbye Already?

5 Sep

Fall has arrived. It was bitter cold this morning – the breeze was frigid. By the afternoon, the temps push back up into the mid-seventies, but you can sense a change. That little whip of a cold morning sure made it clear – summer is coming to a close.

The activities around the farm this week definitely compliment this change. One day, I spent 12 hours making tomato sauce and canning it. We have pickled and canned the rest of the cucumbers and green beans. Gramma and Grampa (with a little help from the little ones) stacked two cords of wood under the shed. Crab season is complete and the salmon are starting bite. The blueberries are dwindling down and the last of the berry crops, that delicious end-of-summer blackberry, is at its picking prime. Time to start planting the Fall crops and taking down the summer debris.

Preparation has begun.

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