Sunday, May 12, 2019

April and May - they are something else!!

Often when I start "feeling like it's time for a blog post," I look at the blog to see what I last wrote about. I had to laugh this time around. It's only been a little over 2 weeks but my goodness a lot transpired in that time. This will just be a smattering of the highlights! And I may be rather distracted throughout, as I'm enjoying a Mother's Day foot soak and massage given to me by my two youngest daughters while Kali provides piano music in the background.

We have enjoyed two play dates recently with Ivy. Those are always fun evenings for all of us. We've hardly spent any time indoors on either occasion. The concrete pad has definitely been a good investment - it was almost worth it just to see Terah riding the tricycle and pulling Ivy behind her. SO cute! It's been prime picnic weather - cool evenings, not too buggy yet and the fire ring is the best sandbox ever! I'm happy that this year we are not just doing picnics when others join us, but we have been eating outdoors much more frequently than other years. The new picnic table in the shade has been a big bonus
On our second evening with Ivy, I made fruit smoothies and Jason concocted a new delight for his palette. He is for sure the biggest fan in the family of locust tree flowers. I enjoy them but I would not say I relish them. He relishes them! And was enjoying dipping them into the fruit smoothie and then stripping them off the stem and crunching enthusiastically.
What I'm savoring these days is asparagus! Our old patch is in full swing - giving us a nice mess every other day to saute with garlic or cook up with eggs, nettles, onion and garlic. Our newer patch is well just that - still relatively new and giving us a few spears here and there. The fresh spring foods have felt so delightful this year. Right now we are enjoying so much bounty, so many gifts of this piece of land: onion and garlic chives, perennial onions, peppermint, applemint and lemon balm teas, locust flowers, fennel, dill, spinach, lettuce, anise hyssop. lambs quarters and amaranth, stinging nettle, basswood leaves, beet green thinnings, and of course asparagus. AND the strawberries are just starting (Terah found so many today she started putting them in her pockets - not the best idea but they were still enjoyed).

Ok, so now that I have shared some good news, I cannot put off any longer the potato update! Here photographed is one of the very few potatoes that sprouted. Yes, that is right! Soon after the girls and I planted the potatoes without Jason, we got more and then more rain and our potato patch had running water in it! Below you can see the trenches where our potatoes were planted and were, probably at the time of this photograph, rotting. We filled in the trenches with dirt to soak up the water but alas other than a small section at the highest part of the patch, the first planting was a loss! Didn't exactly build my confidence in managing a large crop planting without Jason, but I know in my head that it had nothing to do with our planting abilities and everything to do with the fact that we have springs coming up in our potato and garlic patches this year for the first time ever! 
 Let's hope take 2 is more successful! We did it all together this time - more fun that way anyway!

Ok, let's circle back to something going well. We have a lot of chicks running around with mama hens right now and more hatching all the time! The broody pens in the compost coop are all filled with hens sitting on eggs and in the arch coop there are five broody hens all trying to share a nest - it's rather crowded in there and difficult for Jason to collect eggs having to reach under and around five broodies. :) Chick hatching never seems to get old for this family. We did have one sad situation where we tried to introduce incubator-hatched chicks to a mama hen that had hatched some under her. We missed the window of opportunity for her to bond with the new ones and for a day or two we were rescuing the chicks as she rejected a percentage of them.  
A recent highlight was a date evening where Jason and I enjoyed a hike to Hensley's Pond just the two of us! It felt so good to catch up and spend some time reflecting on our two decades together as we anticipate celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary this week! As we approach our anniversary, I feel so full of gratitude for the ways we have grown together over the years - I know I loved Jason on May 15, 1999 but that love feels so much deeper and fuller and more beautiful now!One of the surprises of the journey is that sometimes the most beautiful times have come after some of the most painful. Somehow our capacity for grief seems to mirror our capacity for joy!

We have gotten so much joy watching our amaryllis bloom this year. We got seeds from our neighbor, Robert, before he died and they are now such a wonderful reminder of his presence in our lives.
So we made it through April and the busiest week of my work year. We definitely needed to take a silly family photo on May 1 - which was right in the middle of my stretch of 8 or so full work days in a row! I still haven't fully recovered since there is just one week between graduation and when our Summer Peacebuilding Institute starts (tomorrow!). But I've been grateful for a few days at home this week to catch up on what is happening in the house and the gardens. The presence of my parents, and then especially my mom for the days leading up to graduation, was a stabilizing presence for the girls and so helpful to me and Jason.

And graduation went well and was so meaningful - a reminder of why I continue to want to invest some of my time and gifts into my work at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding. It's definitely a highlight of the year for us to host the graduation party at our homestead on the eve of graduation. It feels like a gift to have so many amazing people celebrating together in this spot that we call home.    
Sometimes after a long day at the office, I could hardly wait to get outside and do something in the dirt or with the animals. On one such day, when I arrived home to many loose ends needing to be tied up, Jason caught me in action feeding the pigs in my work clothes!
Speaking of pigs, that is another update from the last post. NO piglets. BUT we are up one pig. Yes, we bought a boar. The "teddy bear" boar we borrowed is now a bit older and has most likely now impregnated his first sow. The people that cared for him are moving and wanted to sell him. We couldn't turn down the opportunity to buy a boar of great disposition, delivered right to our pig paddock. So he's getting settled in and as of today we combined him with the females - he's very pleased, they are a little less sure. We have been "living into" this decision so not everything is figured out - like what we will do if we have 2 litters of piglets in the fall when folks aren't as interested in buying piglets. We may have some things to figure out down the road, but it felt like a risk we were ready to take (I think...).

So, I don't often remember to take before and after pictures in the garden but this week I knew we were going to have a pretty impressive outcome from our weeding in the onions and shallots. So here you are! We saved this particular job for a day I was home and could prioritize gardening!

Behold the onion patch before weeding:
And after:
 Behold the shallot patch before weeding:
 And after:
It was my favorite kind of weeding - predictable, simple, with very dramatic visible effects. We had enough weeds to mulch the middle paths. Yay for keeping the organic matter right in the gardens where we want it!

Ok, I think my foot (now leg) rub is likely coming to an end shortly. Terah tired of it long ago but I think Alida could have a future as a massage therapist. She's good! But she does like to chat with me while she works, so I haven't had a lot of focus as I've typed. But it was worth it...

Just a few things in conclusion. Morning chores continues to be a shared thing and that is exciting. My enjoyment of chores has stuck. And some mornings we'll all be out there together - Kali doing her duck chores, Alida taking care of her chickens, Alida as someone's side kick, me doing chicken/pig chores and this week often Jason scything. That is my favorite way to spend our mornings - outside together.
We are delighting in fresh foods and beautiful flowers. I love the combo of orange poppies and purple comfrey flowers. I enjoy them best outside but these days sometimes there will be a whole smattering of new bouquets sitting around inside by the end of the day.
The peonies are starting to bloom but sometimes I think the buds not yet opened are even more beautiful. Today they were all covered in rain drops!
Ok, now really concluding. We made a bike swap with a friend and so Terah now has a balance bike she is attempting to master. Today she decided to practice in her leotard.
And, finally, this week is the week! We hope to get most of our main garden plants in - tomatoes, peppers, basil, and sweet potatoes. We got a bunch of seeds in this past week: trombone, cucumbers, and okra. Hoping for some sunshine after a couple rainy days! Looks like sun will be coming our way here before too long (amazingly the girls' soccer schedule has just dodged the rain for the most part and we've all been enjoying the season)! So once we get past the night predicted to go down to 38 degrees, I think we'll feel ready to risk entrusting these little plants to the soil!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Making history and other spring news!

So a new thing happened at Tangly Woods this spring that feels rather monumental! It's now somewhat dated news, but over a week ago something transpired that has not happened to date on our homestead: the girls and I planted a major crop without Jason! This may not seem like noteworthy news but it is! Now it is important to state that we kind of swooped in to do the fun and easy parts after Jason had spent a lot of time wheel hoeing and trenching, which are undeniably the tough parts! But we must still celebrate successes where they can be found! It turned out that Jason had a date to make a picnic table with our friend Tim on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and there was rain in the forecast. We didn't want to pass the opportunity up to get potatoes in the ground. Together we laid most of the biochar in the seams. When it was time for Jason's attention to shift to picnic table construction, the girls and I carried on! We finished putting biochar, and then duff when we ran out of char, into the potato trenches, covered that with some soil and then planted potatoes on top. We tucked them in and wished them well! We made a pretty good team and were done well before dark. Yay! Now, I guess our success will truly be apparent when the potatoes come up!
While Jason wasn't able to finish the picnic table that day, we prioritized getting it done soon after and we are now enjoying a second outdoor eating space up on the concrete pad. It's a winner!
The chickens are also big fans of us eating outside!
While we are on the picnic theme, we enjoyed a lovely outdoor meal over at Emily and Jonas' recently. I was proud of myself for remembering my camera. I often neglect to take photos when we are all together since it often feels like "just normal life" and somehow I think we often have in our heads that we are to photograph the special or unusual things. But honestly lately it seems that the commonplace everyday things are grabbing my attention as much as anything! That seems to be true for Alida too. I will not bore you with the 200 or so VERY ordinary pictures I just downloaded from our camera, but here's just two that I thought were worth sharing.
It's been such a striking spring. I don't know if it is actually any different this year or it's just how it is every year when color and green edible things return. The forsythia were so striking, the first batch of tea tasted so fresh, the fruit trees are giving glimpses of the potential of fruit to come, and the red buds and violets are delicious! The world outside our windows is so alive, colorful and textured! There are birds singing choruses all throughout the day and the chickens and the mamas with chicks are providing constant entertainment. When I take moments to breath deeply and take it in, I'm filled with wonder!
I mentioned the red buds! They truly deserve their own paragraph. What a tree! There are splashes of pinkish purple all around us and some of our favorites are right below our home in Nora's garden. I hardly remember how little they were when planted a decade plus ago when we brought them from my parents former home in Mount Joy. The other day after a long stint of gardening/playing outdoors together, it was past time for a meal and we all landed in Nora's garden. Feasting began and continued with enthusiasm for some time! The pictures don't quite do justice to the smacking of lips, munching of flowers right off the tree, and the delight of the beautiful moment all together. I included a short video at the end that helps give a better sense of it!
Spring has also been the bearer of one major disappointment (with another likely this Friday). After convincing ourselves more or less than our red pig was pregnant, her due date came and went with no major activity to report - other than us reading into her every grunt or change of movement and sleeping horribly one night as we kept waking to check on her or think about her. We had attempted to hold the dream of piglets loosely but had obviously failed! The black one would birth at the end of this week, but at this point we are doubtful since all the signs we used to judge the red's pregnancy proved to be inaccurate (and they were the same things we were noting on the black one as well). We are still working on plans b, c, or d if at the end of this weekend we are still "pigletless!"

As springtime gets more complicated on the homestead and at my work, we were able to shed one weekly commitment this week when Alida's little foray into field hockey at JMU with the Purple Pups program came to an end. It was a fun ending as it was parents' and kids' night and so I was able to brush up on my field hockey skills. Kali willingly took care of Terah on the sidelines, who was ready to go home soon after the hour got underway and who was not impressed at the snack of pumpkin seeds I had brought along. I didn't realize how discontent she was until reviewing the videos Kali took of us playing with Terah grumping in the background. I was having too much fun to notice I guess. We played a parents against kids game and I scored my only field hockey goal of my career (I always played defense). I immediately felt bad scoring as I was unsure if we were supposed to let the kids win or not. I tried to reign in my enthusiasm after that until they mixed things up and put parents and kids together on teams and then I felt I could unleash my competitiveness when going up against the other parents!

On the home front it feels like we are entering some new phases/stages - some welcome and some not so much. Alida and Terah are becoming such sweet playmates. They are big into Easter egg hunts right now and also playing school. Alida will come to me exclaiming how good Terah is getting at her letters - with a surprise and delight that warms my heart. She seems thrilled at Terah's progress and her hand in it! She really has a right to take some credit, as I have yet to put any serious time and attention into Terah's letter comprehension and she is making big strides on that front. 

Terah is also shifting from being a tag along side kick who is cute and chatters but is mostly not all that helpful. She is starting to expand her ways of helping and seems thrilled when she can make genuine contributions. The other day she wanted to vacuum. It's not exactly an efficient use of time when I end up standing there watching how cute she is and then calling the whole family to come see her. Not a time saver but my was she a pumpkin trying to manage the large vacuum without help. She has been actually helpful in other areas in the garden especially. She loves to help me pick spinach and while it's more a hunt for the big leaves for her, she does make a dent in the picking time. She's also a good rock picker upper and my how we can use as many hands for that job as are available. And the other day when we are weeding together, she went up to the house by herself to get her sunhat and one for me. It may sound little but it's really huge!! Now, I probably should state that she is still more often helpful in the sense of entertaining herself so we can work, rather than helping with our work The other evening when we were all out weeding, she was doing her variation of "wheel hoeing" in the yard for quite some time:
Now our middle spunky gal - she's something else! She is smack dab in the middle of loving to tease, play tricks and most regularly hide her older sister's stuff - the essentials like her tooth brushing/flossing supplies. It's a nightly ritual which I tired of long ago and which Kali seems to be sustaining some level of interest and entertainment in (to the point of attempting retaliation sometimes). In general it would just be funnier at 8 p.m. than it is for me at 9:30 or 10 p.m. when Terah needed to be asleep long ago. This too is likely to pass and I'm trying to bear it as gracefully as possible in the meantime. Alida seems to love to giggle and frump in about equal proportions and seems to like to complain about her life and the "injustices" in it and then to proclaim something to best ever in adjacent sentences. In her opinion, this was the "best Easter ever" as the girls were decorating eggs. We used markers this year since I didn't have any good fake or naturals dyes at the ready. I'm glad for flexible daughters! The eggs turned out great but also bled through more and made anyone's hands who held the eggs a mess. But it was not an option not to color eggs, that's for sure! I have given the girls the warning that the plastic eggs will need to make their way back to that attic soon. This year we had them down on multiple occasions and I will admit to tiring of finding plastic eggs everywhere, even when I have no intention of taking part in a hunt!
I cannot get through a post about this spring without commenting on the rains. Rain, rain, rain! The ducks are LOVING the weather! Before the last deluge we still had water running actively out of our root patch. It seems we have springs opening up in our main gardening spaces. Weeding the garlic right now would mean wading through the water in the paths. I will admit that my anxiety was not kept in check all that well in the last rains. I chalk it up much more to a broader anxiety about the larger climate changes that seem to be accentuating at a rapid pace than this one particular rainy time.

We did have to provide some extra TLC for one of our chicks during the last rain storm. Several chicks found their way into an outdoor cage and then could not remember how to get back out. They were drenched when Kali found them and 4 of the 5 scurried off to their mother but the one was more or less unresponsive. It probably was suffering from hypothermia. It was too weak and cold to even peep. Jason held it over one of the warm incubators for awhile until Kali took over the chick cuddling responsibilities. It is kind of amazing what warmth can do to a small creature. It slowly started opening its eyes and we knew it was on the mend when it started peeping incessantly for its mama. We reunited them in the evening and it is doing just fine!

As the rains poured down last Friday night, friends were making their way to our home for the weekend. I was relieved when they arrived safely and was hoping the long and arduous journey would feel worth it to them by the end of the weekend. I think it did! These are new friends made through the STAR training Jason and I took part in in February. Charlotte was in our training and quickly identified that there was a great chance of her partner, Craig, being a bosom friend to Jason. She was right! We enjoyed a weekend of cooking together, looking at seeds, talking about our pasts and our futures, and generally getting to know one another better. We have reason to hope we might get to see much more of them in the future and that thrills us!

Now it seems we can't get to the end of this post without sharing at least one food photo. I've been slacking on that front, but the other morning when we sat down the breakfast with the above mentioned friends, I had to get up for the camera! What a feast - Tangly Woods eggs, fresh roasted potatoes, a greens saute of nettle, kale, spinach and onion with red buds on top, a cilantro sauce and cooked lentils. A feast for the eyes and the tummy! And while this plate of food was consumed inside our home we are finding ourselves eating as many meals together outside as in right now. The bug load is still low and the weather is still cool in the evenings - perfect for picnics and sweatshirts (my favorite)!
The main trouble with picnics is the outdoors is so much more exciting and so keeping Terah and Alida at the table for any length of time is hopeless. And getting them to feed themselves rather than the chickens has also proven to be quite difficult. The chickens are not complaining, but I will say that I get rather annoyed when we come in from a meal and minutes later a child proclaims they are hungry! I guess I can just send them back out to the red bud tree! It's worth the minor annoyance - especially after a day spent in my office as I looked longingly out at the blue sky and sunshine!

Now a day at home is underway. The next round of eggs are hard-boiled and the first batch of cheese is draining. Jason just headed out to do the morning chores. It seems that Dad and I have to give him a turn at it sometime and my list is long enough to keep me occupied for the day! Later this morning I'll take Kali to (potentially) her last orthodontist appointment before her braces come off!

Jason and I did squeeze in reading together this morning the last of the essays in the booklet I recently bought from an incoming CJP student - she compiled these stories and did paintings to go with as part of a summer internship in Pittsburgh. Our copy is now available for sharing and I highly recommend this compilation of short personal stories on "It's Personal: Investigating [My] Whiteness" with the subtitle of "The Stories of White People and Internalized Racial Superiority." So stretching and challenging in good ways. Threads of those stories now weave with my own and go with me throughout the day.

I will close by sharing the other thing on our minds and hearts a lot these days. For the last number of weeks, we have been following along from a distance the heart wrenching journey of another Norah. We went to college with Norah's parents and happened to both be at UVA at the same time - our Nora was in the last week of her life and their Norah in the first. Several weeks ago, she was taken to UVA with a combination of viral and bacterial infections as likely to have happen as being shocked by lightening. After three weeks of intense care and attention, showering of love, medical interventions to try to save her life, and hoping and praying for healing, her body suffered multiple strokes and she died Thursday surrounded by family. My heart breaks for them as I cannot imagine saying goodbye to a healthy 11 year old daughter. I remember commenting how different my journey of grief would have been had it been Kali. It's not about the depth of love as much as the quality of the relationship, and possibly even more so about the nature of the loss. I have thought often when meeting parents who have lost a child to illness or an accident, that that feels more tragic somehow and that you can definitely call it untimely. In Nora's situation, there was deep grieving and there continues to be a sense of loss and longing. Yet in many ways Nora lived out her genetic potential and Norah will not have the opportunity to do so. We will continue to hold their family close and look forward to learning more about Norah and celebrating her life and grieving her death at the memorial service this weekend.

What I wish for all kids is that they would have the opportunity to relish snacking on red buds to their heart's content!