Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Terah's date night and request and Garage deep clean

The sledding with friends mentioned in the last posting happened! We were delighted to all feel well enough to enjoy a wonderful day with our dear friends from Canada that had spent the week in the in-law quarters upstairs. We hadn't dared to invite them down before attempting to purge our home of germs. The kids had so much fun inside and out, and it was so good to reconnect and catch up! Those visits only come around every few years so we tried to savor the time together and I tried not to think about the fact that Alida could be a teenager before it happens again - hopefully it will be sooner!!
As a side note the snow was really beautiful and the wind kept kicking up clouds of it. What was not so lovely about the snow/ice and the subsequent melting is that it attracted the ducks even more to our front walk. They loved the puddle that formed as the snow melted and could not be dissuaded from using that as their hang out spot. The problem is wherever ducks hang out, they also poop (a lot)! I sure wish our front walk didn't have to be a congregating spot for them and often the chickens. Sigh! I do not find it to be a particularly welcoming thing for guests to have our front walk splattered with chicken and duck poop but can't seem to keep up with clearing it off OR with shooing them away...

So last Friday night we took our healthy, giggly, spunky 4 year old out on a date! It was her time to cash in her Christmas coupon and it was so wonderful to see her feeling great again! I'm not sure who was more excited. I was so excited I dreamed about it the night before but of course it was all mixed up and we had brought Kali on a 2nd date rather than Terah. I was happy to wake up and realize we had time to get it right! Many times during the day she asked if it was time for her date. It was the first time, but hopefully not the last, that both me and Jason went out with JUST her! She soaked up the undivided attention! 
We enjoyed an evening of going to You Made It pottery where she selected a bowl to paint. While fun it was not the kind of thing I would want to do often with a four year old. You had to paint what you wanted on the bowl 3 times (so there were 3 layers of paint). She loved the first round, concentrated and made it through the second round and was clearly ready to be done by the third so I had to think of ways to make it fun and silly. From there we made our way to Bella Luna where we played Dutch Blitz while we waited for our pizzas. Not completely filled after that course, we crossed the street to Bella Gelato for ice cream and some rounds of Set. It was a full and very fun evening for all three of us! 

On Sunday we enjoyed another sabbath hike with friends. While on that hike Alida announced that we were having a family meeting and that she would be facilitating. So that's what we did that evening and she did great facilitating (some of us had been suspicious that "facilitating" meant something more akin to being the boss of the meeting, but she clearly had observed and taken in what the role of facilitator was all about). At that meeting one of the agenda items was discussing Terah locking their shared bedroom door and then not unlocking it with her play keys upon request. This, understandably was annoying Alida. So Terah agreed not to but that was when we learned...that she wanted her own room. 

My how our kids throw us curve balls! Our 16 year old has no interest in her own room, our 8 year old would be scared in her own room and now our 4 year old wants her own room. She said she wanted her own room to have a private place to wrap presents for us. Now there would be much easier ways to accomplish that goal! But she also wanted to sleep in it, and wanted no one to come in but me. This idea had Alida in tears (completely shedding her facilitator role). Change is hard for her, she was worried Terah would be scared or fall out of bed, and she didn't think she would sleep as well. In the end we agreed to try it for one night. I fully assumed she would make it 5 minutes and change her mind. Nope!

After the first night, she said she was going to do it every other night. So last night was her second night in the guest room (to be hers in the future?). We moved the mattress onto the floor in hopes that I would sleep better not being worried she would roll out. She has just said she plans to sleep in the guest room again tonight so that negates the every other night plan. Not sure where this will lead but we are taking it a day (I mean, a night) at a time... Life with kiddos is so very full of surprises. The last thing I wanted as a kid was to sleep in a room by myself. I would have LOVED to co-sleep with my parents! I spent many a night being scared. It's lovely and surprising to see Terah becoming a confident and independent sleeper. I just wasn't expecting her to want to move to the other side of the house. We haven't made any major furniture shifts just yet. Seems a little early for that.

So now, for the other and final bit of major news. Monday and Tuesday of this week were slated for the deep clean of the garage. I promise I was not wanting to miss out on the "fun" but Monday was an office day for me and the girls were with friends. So that meant that Mom, Dad and Jason could work without distractions. They got the whole garage emptied out and cleaned. This was a major accomplishment in and of itself! The end of the day got a bit more stressful as night approached and the weather prediction was calling for rain as early as 4 a.m. the next day. So it was a bit of a mad run to get all the stuff yet to sort and clean back into the garage, common room, and wood shed. So it wasn't a perfect deep clean but it still had the desired effect!
Jason spent most of Tuesday sorting things, Mom was in the wings to help clean things, Dad was in the wings to carry things and helped with chores, and I was in the wings to help sort things and make decisions but was mostly working for CJP. So, in short, Jason really bore the brunt of this project - especially the mental (and shall I say emotional) work of this! It's so hard to know when to throw/give something away and when to retain it for the possibility of needing it and avoiding buying a new one. Knowing that "throwing stuff away" is really just moving stuff to the landfill (it doesn't really go away), deepens again our commitment to try not to amass stuff in the first place. 

Today I was at work again and they wrapped things up! So other than hanging one thing and doing a few minor projects that came out of this one (maybe tomorrow), the garage deep clean is officially done. It's much cleaner, less cluttered, more organized, more roomy and lots of little projects were accomplished in the garage and in the house with things found in the garage. I'm not sure yet if Jason will say it was worth the 2.5 days of work, but I think soon he will! And I hope for some of the upcoming projects that I can have more hands on involvement so I can more fully "feel the magic" of the deep clean process. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Christmas and a discombobulated start to 2020!

Yesterday marked 2 weeks since the first of our family fell ill! It was Christmas Eve and Alida woke up only to throw up minutes later. She was washed out most of the day, fevered and mostly laid around while the holiday hubbub happened around her. We all felt so bad that she was sick when the holiday fun was getting underway. Little did we know!

Christmas morning she was up and perky and seeming more or less back to normal - that gal is robust! We enjoyed a relaxed day just the five of us, opening stockings, putting a puzzle together, making a Christmas brunch, playing games, etc... It touched me once again how Alida had bought a chocolate bar for Nora's stocking and also put in an orange heart she had made. She is always sure to include her. I'm so grateful how having Nora's stocking up with all of ours brings her up in conversation many times around the holidays, especially with Terah. So it was a special day but at various points I just noted that I was feeling a tad off. The Christmas treats weren't tasting quite as good, and initially I just tacked it up to having too many of them. But by evening it was clear that I was not completely well. Everyone else seemed ok...so far!

Long story short, I spent the next two days doing more or less nothing - other than trying to stay comfortable. Then Terah got sick. Then Jason got sick. This happened right at the time that Jason's entire family was coming to Ktown for the Benner Christmas. There was no chance they wanted to be in our home! I felt so bad that we took at trip to MedExpress where they loaded me up on medications, but didn't even test for the flu. In the end, after a consult with a doctor friend, it seems very possible that we actually had the flu, despite all having gotten flu shots for the first time in years. In short, it was miserable!

Kali and Alida were well and would shower, put clean clothes on and go join the Benner family fun. Jason, Terah and I were at home hacking and fevered and almost feeling too bad to even feel sorry for ourselves for missing out on the fun. Then we had a 24 hour period with no fevers and, while still coughing, were feeling up for family time. So we joined for one evening and the following day. Many games of Dutch Blitz, a walk up the hill, reading stories, eating together, and no doubt sharing a concoction of germs from the various colds and illnesses that were present in the house.
By the time Benners left and we were ringing in the New Year, Terah was sick again - high fevers, washed out, complaining of her belly (and sometimes throwing up), coughing, snotting, etc... (you get the picture). And then Kali got sick. So 5 for 5! Kali mostly just laid around and read and didn't require much parental attention - Terah had most of my attention and worry! And so it was not until yesterday that we had a fever-free day and a day without complaints of her tummy hurting. We even took a snow walk to friends last evening but by 8 p.m. she was begging for home and bed. So she is still on the mend but much better!

So the long dreamed of and awaited holiday break for rejuvenation and rest included a lot of laying around but not exactly the kind that feels all that rejuvenating! It was really the most discombobulating illness I can remember having - I don't remember being so sick since I was a kid. The whole world felt like a different place and I wasn't sure how to make sense of it. I found myself thinking so much of friends who have dealt with/are dealing with chronic pain and illnesses. I clearly would need some new tools and resources for managing life with that over the long term - as the two weeks that just passed felt incredibly long!

We did insert a few bursts of productivity, trying to feel some semblance of normalcy and also trying to make little strides in our winter project list. That included going through all our shoes and developing some new patterns of shoe storage, as well as purging our collection. This may seem like a small task but it is one of those with profound impacts in the day to day!!! That got the "cleaning/organizing bug" in full swing and so we did tackle the attic deep clean. That probably added to my discombobulation as the attic is where so many sentimental items were tucked away and the hardest kind to go through and decide what to keep and what to part with. 
This past Sunday came after days of not doing all that much and it was a beautiful day out. Jason and I felt like the most Sabbath-like thing we could do was work together on something outside. We ended up stripping old bean vines off trellises, moving around trellises for the new growing season coming and worked on some winter cut back. Jason also got to weave Terah's turtle shell together and the top comes together now!! Oh, and Jason planted onion seeds so I guess that means the 2020 gardening season is officially underway!

And now here we are at January 8th! Yesterday it snowed and in addition to a beautiful coating on the world outside, we decided to work towards a fresh start inside our home too. While the girls played out in the snow, Jason and I cleaned our house together. It needed it! And it was an act of faith to roll up the sleeping bag Jason had been using for many nights in the living room and to attempt a germ-purge of our home. We said it was our day to get "re-combobulated." Time will tell if it worked but it felt very good to do and I felt more "normal" than I had for some time at the day's end! I'm sure hoping we all can fully mend and stay healthy for awhile! It's a gorgeous sunny day and I have a feeling there is some sledding with friends in our future!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

2019 Myers-Benner Year in Review!

Well, everyone's Christmas loot has been relieved of its wrapping and squirreled away in private piles. It's time to write this yearly reflection.

In some ways it does feel like the same letter. We've just reviewed 2017's and 2018's versions, and they both sounded pretty familiar (pardon the pun). Maybe that will help keep this one shorter!

Terah turned 4 in October and has not toned down her spunk in 2019. Thank goodness! She's got lots of catching up to do, with two older sisters who can do so many cool things. At this year's hog butchering she stood with nose poked over the edge of a wooden table where Alida was dicing pork fat for the lard kettle. "I want to be old enough to cut lard!," we heard her wistfully wish. She did foray into the use of sharp knives this summer with the slicing of okra for the freezer. Taking her out in the evenings is not now so risky, as her attention span lengthens and naps are a thing of the past. At Shalom Mennonite's Christmas Eve service last evening she sat attentively--albeit on three different laps--and sang along with a few of the carols. This makes her daddy's musical heart go kinda soft. She frequently joins in card and board games way above her age level (because that's what's being played), often succeeding to a surprising degree, particularly at "Set." Her concept of fairness, however, correlates more to her victory/loss status than anything. Maybe we'll let her be 4 after all.
Alida is now 8, going on 9 in March. She seems to relish being a kid, but like most kids loves to feel like she's learning and accomplishing things. New fiber crafts hold a special place for her. Just now she is knitting a set of "doll scarves." She has two pet chickens that she cares for most mornings, usually with a ready, positive attitude. This year she's spent a day together most weeks with a homeschooled friend only a year older that she met through soccer. They immerse themselves in big kid projects, clubs, schemes, and GIGGLING! Alida likes to work in more traditional academic areas, too, including spelling, math, and anything else she thinks up for Kali to "play" teach. Maybe because learning usually comes easily for Alida she tends to lose her steam for any given session if she gets an answer wrong. With art, too, perfectionism is a hurdle for her, and adapting or starting over when a piece has disappointed her in some way is often too much to handle. Gardening may be the best therapy for perfectionism--watching how the plants make do--and Alida's flower garden this year was a joy for us all. She also succeeded at growing popcorn this year, with the planting dates versus the neighbor's GMO corn favoring keeping lots of seed. The 2019 crop crossed some kind of genetic threshold for her corn, such that most of it showed the coloration she's been selecting for. At one point in the picking she called out to me in wonderment and joy, "Daddy! This year is my reward for all that hard work!"

We continue to honor Nora's memory throughout the year, hanging her stocking with the others, embracing the awkwardness of answering the trite question, "How many children do you have?" with the long version when appropriate, and organizing/hosting blood drives twice a year. This year held two especially weighted and meaningful drives as our friends Eric and Peggy Brubaker's 10-year-old daughter, also named Norah (with an 'h'), died suddenly from sepsis after a croup-like illness that followed a disastrous and unexpected course. She died in April. At our June drive Eric and Peggy and some from their circle joined us for the blood drive, which we adapted to honor the memories of both of these beautiful children, who had shared time in the UVA Medical Center (at the beginning of Norah's life and the end of our Nora's). It was held for the first time at the Keezletown Ruritan hall, a change that sprang from the facilities and policy rejiggering the Red Cross did upon buying out Virginia Blood services. We liked the location! The fall drive was held there, too, and again it was a joint effort with the Brubakers and their circle, to whom it also seemed to furnish meaning in the presence of loss as it has done for us. It was the first time Kali was old enough to donate and she overcame her anxiety and did it!

Kali, now 16 (and almost completely disinterested in driving), continues to exhibit her trademark blend of optimism, gentleness, sweetness, curiosity, humor, ingenuity, and spark. You never know what she's going to do next, but whatever it is it's probably going to seem 1) Interesting, 2) Smart, and 3) Fun (If it's gulping down another in her long string of reading materials, then it is only those things for her!). This fall she tried out for EMU's production of Kate Hamill's adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice. She made the cut and was cast as Miss Caroline Bingley. This was clearly a highlight for her and she did a fabulous job, holding her own just fine on stage with the college kids. We gained a new appreciation for the time commitment that goes into such a production (and at times wondered if that driver's license might be a good idea for future dramatic endeavors). For someone so spontaneous and creative, she sure sticks with things a long time. Ducks, for example. She's been keeping ducks since the age of 8, and this year was a fun one for that. After a year with no successful duck hatching, it was time to try it again. But the ducks were not able to settle in to an incubation routine, so we moved three extra broody chicken hens to the duck coop and allowed them to give it a shot. To our surprise, all three hens stuck out the whole four-week incubation, sharing one nest peacefully and raising the 7 successfully hatched ducklings as a mothering trio. Months later, they still run around together as a charmingly blended interspecies family. Adding to the charm as they grew was the penny whistle music that drifted out of the woods where Kali was teaching herself to play while supervising the young ducks' free ranging excursions (Tough life, but someone has to live it). Kali continues to advance in piano, is becoming more skilled as a cook and child caregiver, and sporadically has mathematical epiphanies as she is rousing from sleep. She got her braces off this year; she is fully adjusted (pardon the pun) to the new reality. Caramel, popcorn, apples...all ON limits once again! The dentist and orthodontist were pleased with the results, but then said that if she tried to cram any more wisdom into her head she would be negatively impacted, so we scheduled an appointment with a maxillofacial surgeon to get it (her) knocked out. She was nervous on the day of (as was her mother), but also deeply curious about the process. We all enjoyed the videos of her dopey behavior as the anesthesia was subsiding.

Janelle is 41 now, and also has no interest in driving, but she has to. Two days per week, anyway, there is currently no other viable way to get to the office she is still choosing to attend to. It has been a challenging year for her in many ways, including at work. It is still an excellent fit for her skills, and her contributions are still deeply appreciated by her immediate colleagues, supervisor, and the students. Furthermore, recent cohorts of students have pushed CJP in ways and on topics (systemic racism, gender awareness, etc.) that were needed and are welcome, if stretching. For these things she is genuinely grateful. But there are also ways in which that work environment has contributed to her sense of overwork and burnout. In a similar way, our home farm is deeply satisfying and intriguing to her, but the sense that the work is never done eats at her every day. It would be somewhat easier to follow the excellent advice to put your time into what makes you come alive (because what the world needs is people who have come alive) if one could determine just which things those are. Complicating this is the abiding sense that the world (writ large) is caving in and we have to do what we can to hold up the sky, and everything she is doing is a sky support activity that she must not desist from. Or, as a person privileged by race, class, and citizenship status, does not deserve to desist from. Yes, that is a heavy load, and 2019 was the year to feel its weight. On the other hand, she's gotten joy and life from some special student friendships this year, and has savored early morning coffee-and-reading sessions with her partner (yours truly) together reading Leah Penniman's Farming While Black in an effort to further our background understanding for the food justice direction we feel compelled to take our farming endeavors. She has especially appreciated the "Uplift" text boxes interspersed in each chapter that break up the often sobering reading with examples of strength, ingenuity, vision, and generosity of spirit springing from folk so long living without justice. She recommends the book to everyone - not just farmers! In the same vein, even when life feels heavy for Janelle there are so many moments of joy and fulfillment, especially when sharing one's life with plants, animals, and children! This she also recommends. Janelle did manage to distract from the more existential ruminations for a few months in spring when she and the girls told lie after lie to Jason to protect the secret of the surprise concert and [decoy event] party she was throwing to celebrate our 20th anniversary in May. It was a hoot! Thanks for coming, if you're someone who did.

Jason is 43, and while he is driving his passengers sometimes wish he would be more interested in it. His life is still largely played out among the aforementioned plants, animals, and children, and furthermore the children of the plants and animals (piglets, chicks, ducklings, seeds). He mostly passes his time completing the various implied tasks, in the background wondering what it is all about and how it could be made more harmonious. Figuratively and literally, that is, since music activities including appreciation, playing/singing, and writing are still gnawing obsessions of his. Anyhow, in this attempt at harmony, he is trying to allow it to come home to him in a practical way that his reflex has been to make progress by starting new projects or expanding/complexifying old ones rather than by simplifying, prioritizing, and/or ending projects. He acknowledges that this in no small way contributes to his dear partner's state of burnout, and in fact is a redundancy when compared with her work situation, wherein she deals with big-hearted, big-idea, creative faculty and staff members all day, all week, all year long.

Recently the two of us (Jason and Janelle) spent a few days at Lost River State Park in a quiet little cabin with almost no one else around (also recommended - and more than once every 5 years), where we actually had time to dig into some of the issues that plague us and were able to make some decisions. Jason experienced such pleasure when the seed-project pruning process produced some clear reactions and priorities in his psyche. It was joy (and a little pain) to leave some perfectly good but less needful or enticing projects sitting on the shelf for someone else, for later, or for (gulp!) never. The feeling that Jason has been living with--that change is afoot--is not exactly diminished so much as it is replaced by the feeling that we are entering that change; living through it. Still it is not at all clear what that change is or what the results will be. It could be, in fact, that this is all a matter of recognizing that change is the universal constant and growing accustomed to such. Jason is not presenting at any conference this winter. You see, he had grown uncomfortable in that position. Most particularly, he realized that: 1) The spaces he'd been in as a presenter were almost exclusively white spaces, and 2) While he can't help showing up in any social space as a white male, he had not yet learned how to do so skillfully and responsibly, and ought to make some progress on that before taking on more of this kind of leadership. He will continue to teach chickens and chicken butchering at the Allegheny Mountain Institute once per year and Tangly Woods will continue to be open to tours/workshops as appropriate (in 2019 this included one PBS TV show interview; it may or may not result in air time). In January he and Janelle will attend the annual conference of the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, for which he was grateful to receive a Grazing Scholarship. At the Mininger family reunion in August, Jason picked up a tattered copy of Miss Leslie's New Cookery, an 1800's vintage cookbook. It is highly entertaining and soothing bedtime reading (ok, the recipes for sea turtle are not soothing), but given the cringe-worthy class and other biases (including against cloves), he does not recommend it in an unqualified way.

In general family news:

Everyone has enjoyed having piglets around, and we are enjoying (bearing with, also) having a glut of popcorn samples for taste-testing. Several of our plant populations seem to be turning new corners on flavor and consistency, including cantaloupe, a few popcorns, delicata squash, maybe others. This has made some of the taste testing more pleasurable! And it had better be, since there are literally hundreds of rounds of popcorn to test.

Our dear friends Jonathan and Christen (the same Jonathan who used to live at Tangly Woods) just bought the house a few doors down. YES!! We are excited to enter each others' lives in more practical, day-to-day ways and are grateful to Jason's sister Emily and her husband Jonas for seeing more value in selling them the house than keeping it for a rental. The neighborhood just got more interesting and more cozy!

We've had a surge of interest in music around here, with all the kids taking piano lessons, and with singing together entering play times. At the annual "Sing for your Supper" event held the day after Thanksgiving at Jason's aunt Ruth's place, we sang and played May Erlewine's song, "Grateful" as a family with Kali on piano, Janelle on guitar, Jason on mandolin. This is a whole new level of family fun!

Soccer is still a big focus for the kids for several months each spring and fall; this fall even TERAH got in on the fun!
With another year of (part-time) intergenerational living under our belts, we affirm more than ever what a good idea it is. Unless it's not...we can't say what would or wouldn't work for any other family, but just watching our kids' comfort and affection in the presence of Janelle's parents makes it clear to us: Life is to be shared! The relationships our girls are nurturing with their grandparents is a gift of immeasurable value! We also enjoy sharing many other aspects of life at Tangly Woods together, and Mom seems especially eager to be part of our deep clean phase #2 this winter. Dad and Janelle have to fight sometimes for turns doing the chores, but the break in morning chores and Mom's availability to be "on call" if the girls need anything, has given us the chance to slip out for some morning jogs/walks!

A few special times in 2019: 

~ A 20 year reunion of the 1998/1999 residents (of which Janelle was one during the year after our return from Bolivia and before our wedding) of the former EMU group house known as Martin House. There was much laughter, storytelling, game playing, sharing meals together, singing and sharing times! It was a great group to be with the first time, and it was only better this time! In terms of relationships, the intervening time seemed to melt away. In terms of kids, the passage of time was clearly evident. 

~The Clymer Kurtz band returned to Tangly Woods for another house concert. It turns out it was their final one in that configuration. Are Christopher and Maria Clymer Kurtz (anchors of the former band) going to return to Tangly Woods in their new duo configuration, "Clymer & Kurtz?" Stay tuned!

~Janelle was on the planning committee for the Mininger Reunion in August, a reunion that comes around every 3 years. Following that meaningful time of connecting with extended family, Janelle's great aunt Eleanor Mininger came to our home for nine days in autumn: a wonderful time of storytelling, relishing home life together, and connecting with our grandparents' generation.

Another upshot of the Lost River retreat time was a decision to take Sabbaths. That is to say in 2020 we're going to try consolidating some of our planned "family time" and "time off" that we've worked hard to wrangle into our schedules into a one-day-per-week periodic episode of lowered productive expectations. Of course, we'll have to care for animals and cook food, but we can also take walks, play games, read, nap, spend time in the woods, and visit with friends and neighbors, or what-have-you. In the busy week, we'll have that break to look forward to. We can't guarantee every week will afford this kind of repose, but we had to be real and practical about the need for rest (and are a bit chagrined it took us being in a state of urgency about it to finally make this commitment).

Well, as always this year-end blog post feels very incomplete. How do you sum up a year? We'd best not try any longer, but will instead leave you with this little sample. Please feel free, however--if you want to collect some more details--to peruse our blog, which is where you are reading this now. Just scroll down or select months/headings from the sidebars. And you can sign up to receive new blog posts by email in the upper right corner if you are so inclined.

May you find, at this turning of the year, that you can't ignore what the sky tells us this season: It may be the coldest of times now, but the light is returning and warmer days are coming! Written by Jason for all the Myers-Benners with editing from Kali and Janelle

P.S. See below for family photos taken on the first day of every month in 2019, from the same place and "as is."