Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Holidays and Hikes

Well to date we are five for five! We have now successfully celebrated: Eat a Red Apple Day, Fritters Day, Make a Gift Day, Wear Brown Shoes Day and Day of the Ninja. Tomorrow is Put on Your Own Shoes Day and then we might have some issues on Microwave Oven Day! See what's coming up: https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/fun/.

Some have been more momentous than others. Fritters day was the most fun as I experimented with four kinds of fritters for our breakfast with the kids' friends: spinach, corn, lemon ricotta and blueberry applesauce. We all had different favorites (which is better than all fighting over the same one). We all made a gift for someone on Sunday (appropriate holiday for early December) and yesterday I even modified my work outfit in order to pull my brown sandals out rather than black. Today was a bit of a stretch and I was very glad for the girls' creative thinking: they suggested we make something in our Ninja. So we'll soon enjoy hot drinks with chocolate ricotta mousse made in our Ninja!

Our weekend included special times with friends, hosted in our home and taking a meal to a friend and his fiance who recently had surgery. Good times were had making music, making balloon pets, carving a pumpkin, putting on plays, and then on Sunday we took a hike to the lake as a family. We were "behind" in our goals for the week - the self-care and family relationship nurturing goals - so we had to "cram" a lot into Sunday. Jason and I enjoyed a jog in the morning before our hike and then I got to cuddle and read to Alida for bed. The day really was beautiful and the time together special. There were a few hiccups in our carefully laid out plans. But as I look at the pictures from the hike, I'm glad to remember mostly the positive parts of the day, including harvesting freeze dried persimmons for a mid-hike snack and seeing the sun make a fireworks show on the lake.
The hike ended with yet another bad dog experience, for our middle daughter this time. It feels like despite our best efforts, we keep having run ins that feel like they set us back considerably - feels like one step forward and two steps back.  We plan to take a step forward this Thursday as we have made an appointment to pay to play with puppies at a local place that breeds golden retrievers. Let's hope taking a good chunk out of the day for this outing is a worthwhile expenditure of time and money. I hope it can be a positive and fun experience for all, but especially our two youngest gals.

After the unfortunate dog experience, Terah (who we really needed to nap on our hike prior to an afternoon music concert) was wide awake. So I was feeling upset and concerned that we might take a napless child to a concert in which children were not to make any noise (except those singing). I walked ahead of the rest of the family and at one point Terah wanted to hold my hand and then she started singing and singing. It was cute, very cute, BUT she was supposed to be sleeping. Here's a clip - taking just a few minutes before sleep overtook her. Phew!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Thanksgiving travels and more...

The rest of the family is upstairs enjoying showing off Grandpa's train to Isaiah and Miranda who are over for a sleepover. The house has been quite lively this evening! There's been pumpkin carving, a pizza party, balloon pet making and it's only 8:30 p.m. And we are celebrating national pickle day (that the kids thought they had made up, only to learn that it was in mid-November and it was not their invention). In the process of that discovery we learned that today is actually "Eat a Red Apple Day" and so thanks to Mom's stash in her fridge we all had 1/4 of a red apple alongside our pickles at dinner. And I've just found four fritter recipes I'll be making for breakfast tomorrow for "Fritters Day." Check out all the things you could be celebrating: https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/fun/!

While the world is full of amazing things (silly and sensible) to celebrate, my heart is heavy today as I think of the CJP community I have been privileged to be part for close to 2 decades now. Yesterday one of our alums was killed in a car accident in Sudan. He is my age, leaving his wife (also an alum of our MA program) and two daughters (10 and 6, so Nora and Alida's ages). It feels so sudden, so tragic, so sad! It's hard for me to hold that alongside all the silliness and fun happening in our home. It is a reminder of how fleeting this life is, and hopefully will help me to savor all the goodness that life offers and to work to share that goodness with others!

I felt so grateful for safe travels to and from Pennsylvania over Thanksgiving. It was a full two days with the Benner clan, including the now favorite "Sing for your Supper" event at Jason's aunt's home. One thing was quite striking this year - there are A LOT of kids in our midst! They add cuteness, noise and complexity to scheduling. Our girls love the time there and enjoyed making gingerbread houses, playing at the swing set with cousins, and performing in the evening event. For those that weren't there and want to see their 2017 version you can find it below. I also included, for comparison their 2013 version!

One of my favorite times of the days there was some playtime at the swingset with the kids. Ivy joined us and Terah and Ivy were trying to scare me:

My parents looked after the homestead in our absence, which freed us up to be fully present in PA (thanks!). Right before we left, Dad got his train set up. It was our first time setting it up in our home and it's been a big hit (except that Alida is very concerned about anything going wrong with it and the tiniest derailment of the train also derails her). It's amazing that this train is still working - they don't make toys like this anymore! It's a fun reminder of Christmases from my childhood! Especially the whistle. The girls are enjoying introducing all their friends to it when they come over.

A few other quick highlights:

The three girls cooked together last evening (with just a bit of help). There weren't a lot of things they could do all together but they did all peel garlic at the same time. We enjoyed chicken and garlic, homemade green pasta with pesto, and a fresh lettuce salad with chick peas and pesto dressing. We finished off the meal with chocolate mousse and berries. They can cook again any time! 
 I've really enjoyed a few stints working outside recently - raking and collecting leaves. We concluded (I think) that job for this year. It's time to move on to the other winter projects - as much as we are not sure we could ever have too many leaves. We've stockpiled quite the stash, and in the process have also accumulated enough acorns for the pigs to enjoy some every day until our butchering weekend. That's coming up here in less than 10 days and as it approaches I feel the mixture of emotions I often feel at butchering time. These have been such fabulous additions to T.W. We really enjoy having pigs around. They are great animals, fit well with our systems and seem to thrive off of things that are otherwise not being used.  I will miss them, as much as we will enjoy the pork and lard. I also like that their meals right now include many of their favorite things - Jason found a bunch of wild cherry pits for them today.

Kids are ready for a bedtime snack so off I go...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fall musings

I already know that this is going to be a post with no particular focus but which will include a whole smattering of things. So here goes - consider it a few pages in our 2017 scrapbook, done hastily at the tail end of Terah's afternoon nap after I ran out of steam for my "office work" for the day!

Our "baby" Terah continues to love all things "baby," whether they be human babies or animal babies or baby balloons! And her desire to hold babies normally outlives the baby's desire to be held! And it seems anyone younger/smaller than her can constitute a baby so she still occasionally asks to hold her cousin "baby Ivy" who can now do very well on her own two feet! Here Terah is soaking up a little cuddle with one of our newest baby friends on a recent visit. It still feels like about the only thing that calms her down, though in her excitement she is apt to kick her little feet with the sheer pleasure of having her hands on the "very, very cute" little person! I am already anticipating that we are going to have some challenges over Thanksgiving with the newest "very very tiny" and "very very cute" cousin that joined the Benner family this fall. There are going to be grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc... who are all going to want to soak up time and snuggles and Terah is likely to want to have her all to herself. We're hoping for the best!

It's startling at times and also fun to note the ways our "baby" is growing up and is really not a baby anymore. She still loves snuggles, still loves mama milk, and still is in a fairly demanding stage of development. But in other ways, she is changing and growing up faster than I'm almost ready for, but in very fun and entertaining ways. Her exploding vocabulary is so fun and she chatters almost constantly. She also has a cute sense of humor. The other night while Jason and I were out and my folks were hanging out with the girls, they were talking about eating things while at the dinner table (very appropriate topic of conversation). Terah said something about "eating mama" paused and then said, "not a good idea!" I agree!

She is really getting into playing with other children, but it is still kind of hit or miss. Sometimes she clings to me and doesn't venture into the kiddo-chaos. Other times she will disappear for awhile and I get to enter the adult conversation happening. That was never so stark as recently when we hosted Alida's soccer team for a post-season potluck. Families were arriving that we didn't know that well other than hanging out on the sidelines together. This is normally the perfect situation for Terah to do her "I'm a tiny bit anxious about what's happening so I'm going to be mommy's little monkey and climb all over her." It may not surprise you that I don't find this to be all that enjoyable. Instead, I realized all of a sudden that I was standing in the kitchen getting to know one of the sets of parents and talking with them at length with no interruptions. We happened to be talking about our children (this seems so very typical!) and were noting that our youngest children were the ones that had humbled us, making it quite clear that it was nothing in our particular parenting genius that had made our first child be so chill (or comparatively chill). About that time, their youngest and our youngest tromped through the room. Terah had found a bosom friend (one a few years older than her but nonetheless they were connecting!). The two of them hung out most of the evening, ate at a little table together, put puzzles together, and Terah pretty much didn't need me all evening. I'm still in shock over it, honestly! (Since that night I've thought back to the very beginning of the season and if I'm right I think this was the same little girl that came over and talked with Terah at one of the first games and lured her over to their family's blanket with a bag of animal crackers - I'm thinking Terah maybe remembered that better than I had!).

Speaking of growing up, a few other tidbits: Terah can actually be somewhat helpful in the kitchen now, though still needs close supervision. And she does not always dress appropriately for the tasks, but one can't be too picky! She's a pretty cute nude cook. She likes to stir things, peel garlic, put things in the pigs' scrap bucket and open the fridge door (often and unnecessarily). She also really likes to try grinding corn. Here she is at our NEW pecan table (made from trees from our homestead). Yay for winter projects coming to fruition! It has already been used multiple times as a grinding station and I'm a fan!
The last update from Terah's world that I'll offer is that she got her first haircut. She was/is very proud of it. The other day when she had some impressive "pillow head" I noticed that she had a "tail" of very long hair and then a shorter section that kind of looked like a higher shelf. It was an odd but probably decently fitting look! But she took to the idea of a haircut immediately and so we did it (despite her eldest sister even getting a little teary at the prospect - it was just going to change her look and she loved her baby sister's look and so that was hard to adjust to - and very tender of her). It was all of a few snips to remove the little tail but it changed her look considerably. She's been talking about it ever since! She sat perfectly still and was the model customer at her mother's salon! It always feels like a big deal - that first haircut! But now it's done and we'll move on to other firsts...
Maybe I'll move to a quick update on our eldest. She hasn't lost her fire-starting skills and is putting them to good use now that the weather has been more consistently fall-like. We are needing some cold weather as we are still working on last year's firewood supply. It's nice to have a supply such that anytime Kali feels chilly she can get it fired up! I do love the atmosphere a wood fire provides - as soon as Terah wakes I hope to get one started for our evening at home together! In other news, Kali had her first braces follow-up appointment this week; got her bands changed and the braces tightened. All seems to be on track and she is now sporting orange and yellow bands for fall/Thanksgiving before she moves to the Christmas colors theme next month. They sure do try to make braces as positive an experience as possible!

Not to leave out our middle gal: she just enjoyed a few days at the Mountain House, savoring Grandma and Grandpa all to herself. She LOVES those times, and I'll admit didn't seem to miss us one bit! But we missed her and were glad to have her back, along with her cadre of imaginary friends, some of whom are about the best soccer players I've encountered. Her ability to keep them all straight, to someone who doesn't remember having relationships with imaginary friends as a child, is very impressive! She's also growing up by leaps and bounds and is cooking supper for us tonight solo. That is IF she can pull herself away from whatever puzzle Grandma has out upstairs. She has "the bug!" It must have skipped a generation and then hit hard as today she said something like, "I can almost hear it calling me back" when it was time to come downstairs for lunch!

The one other thing I'll mention about Alida is that she had a strong reaction to a yellow jacket sting recently (swelling that was a bit broader than just local to the sting and hives on her legs), which led us eventually to an appointment with an allergist this week. We are now the owners of an Epipen (which, after talking with the Dr. and learning how often these end up being used for someone other than the one it was prescribed for, I'm kind of grateful to have on hand). Alida seems to fall in a bit of a "gray zone" in that hives in a child are not that alarming and it is a tad uncertain if we could call her swelling localized or not. So we have the option of having her tested at some point for a bee allergy but they are having a hard time acquiring the bee venom right now to even do the testing so we have some time to think about it. In the meantime, I'm trying to make sure we don't scare her love of the outdoors out of her and help her be smart and yet still play, play, play in the fresh air!

Speaking of fresh air, now for a family update on what we are all up to - LEAF RAKING/COLLECTING! Ok, so it has mostly been Jason, but yesterday we were all out there for awhile collecting sheet-full after sheet-full of treasure! I love these win-win kinds of situations where our neighbors are grateful to us for raking their leaves and we are grateful to them for letting us have them (and I still can't get over feeling a little bad for taking away this rich resource, even if they don't see it as such for themselves). Jason came up with a new way of tying the sheet and making a backpack out of it so even Kali and Alida were lugging some noteworthy loads down the hill to our ever-growing pile. I enjoyed focusing on the pine needle areas and added a new thick layer of mulch under the swingset. Before lunch, we all landed at the leaf pile about the same time and enjoyed some leaf play (this week we have not been doing great at our 7 things and had yet to check off "family yard time" - this will have to do it for this week!).
Terah was mostly taking it all in, not sure what to make of her family members disappearing into the massive pile. But she was starting to loosen up and enjoy it by the end:

So now today: as I type Jason is washing up the last of the butchering equipment - probably some of the same bowls pictured here at the start of the today. This was the last of his large chicken butchering days of the year. It ended up being mostly Jason and my dad, with a bit of assistance from a friend and me in the morning. Leading up to today I was not expecting to be involved in the butchering. I assumed I'd be on kid and food preparation duty - especially if our last minute idea to make it into a workshop took off. It wasn't until this morning when the vat of soup for lunch was simmering and the girls had been invited to hang out with my mom off and on throughout the day that I realized I'd have a pocket of time available. And in that moment I also felt like maybe today was the day when I needed to summon up my courage to take the next step for myself in this process of living with and then butchering and eating animals that we have raised. While I have helped to pluck and learned to cut up and I now cook with chicken fairly regularly, I have never killed one. I now have. Twice.

I don't feel happy or proud of it. I don't feel eager to do it again. I don't envision it ever being something I like to do. It wasn't easy and I don't want it to be. But I'm glad I did it. I'll maybe find more words to say more over time. For now, I'll just say that somehow, for my own personal pursuit of living with integrity, it felt like a step I needed to take, even if I was weak in the knees doing it.

I will end with something I did feel proud of - that aforementioned vat of soup! Our 21-quart canner was full of a piping hot Tangly Woods soup for lunch today (and to eat and share in the days to come). What made it so special? It had all ingredients we grew or processed except for the spices, AND one of those ingredients was dried black beans. I love these little milestones when it feels like we have gotten to a new level in our pursuits of sustaining ourselves off this little piece of land. Granted I used all the black beans we grew, other than what we saved for seed, but it still was pretty special. In addition to the beans, it had a mammoth squash I had missed during the growing season until near the end, diced tomatoes, lots of onions and garlic sauteed in lard, chicken, and corn we had gleaned and frozen. Yum!

Now to get Alida started on her dinner. I'm sure it will come as no surprise to some that she'll be incorporating the boxed macaroni and cheese that she bought recently at the co-op into her meal!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Soccer over...for now (and fun cousin times)

There have been some fun times in recent days worth sharing about! We've had a string of large hosting things, with more on the horizon. In between those times, we are moving towards more of the fall/winter pace - full of projects but at a less hectic pace, with a bit less urgency behind each moment. That is welcome! Recent rains have even given Jason some much needed shop time and my cheese press is complete! We've also enjoyed more than our "required" 1x/week outdoor yard family time this past week and enjoyed a few stints of basketball playing as a family. Those have been highlights for me, and I know for the girls too!

Having the days a tad more open, also lends itself to a bit of spontaneity that is rather unusual for our household. So last Friday when I happened to see that Emily was looking for somewhere for Ivy to hang out (so she could have two hands-free for a bit), we jumped on the opportunity for a play date! And what fun we had. Terah was just waking up when she arrived and Alida needed about half the play date to finishing waking up (our girls seem to have a lot more of Jason's morning tendencies in them than mine!). But we still filled the hours with lots of fun - seeing the chickens and pigs, reading books, dancing, and Ivy's favorite, lots of slinky fun.
At one point Alida was reading to Terah and Ivy but neither were paying complete attention. Terah can't take her hands off Ivy, and continues to be rather enthralled with her! Ivy continues to be mostly patient. My favorite Ivy part is when the rooster crows catching her attention. I love her imitation of the sound (we've watched that part just a few times!!):

The following day was the grand finale of the soccer season for both of our older girls. They have really enjoyed playing again and by the end of the season, Terah was a pro-cheerleader, spontaneously saying "good teamwork" from the sidelines! Kali is nearing the end of her soccer career with SVU unless she chooses to move up to the co-ed high school team. She has one more season on the all-girls U12-14 division and then we'll see how she is feeling. Yes, her mother has some reservations - mostly just wanting what has been so fun and stress-free for her to remain that way! The high school team plays at the same time as Kali's team on the field just beyond them so I've been paying attention this season. Kali has become a much stronger player but I'm still not sure she would enjoy what appears to be a faster and more competitive game.
Alida's team ended up being extra special this season. After the initial disappointment of her coach having to cancel after the first practice, all of us parents joined forces and took over coaching responsibilities and it worked out great! Such that we might just do it again in the spring and try to keep the girls together. They were troopers on Saturday, playing through the rain. And I thought it was pretty special that on their last game day each of the girls scored at least one goal. Fun! They really have started working well together and I get even a tad choked up when I see them looking for each other to pass the ball to. Silly me!
We also learned that one of Alida's teammates is also homeschooled so we are dreaming of some playdates in the future to tie her over to next season. Alida does awesome with her cadre of imaginary friends who often are found playing soccer with her in our front room. But I know she would also be happy for more time with friends who come with some flesh and bones! We look forward to hosting as many of her team's families as can come this week for an end of the season gathering.

Ok, I've got a baby nursing in my arms and have about 15 minutes to get myself ready for work. Not my favorite scenario - how to extract myself from underneath her without her waking and then being sad that I'm leaving. Here goes! I'll leave you with a cute moment from the other evening. These two... :)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Nora's 10th birthday, fall beauty, soccer coming to a close...

After welcoming a day yesterday of rain and clouds and wind, today has dawned bright and beautiful. The colors outside are spectacular and the air is fresh and has that rain-washed clean feel to it. Not that I have been out in it much, but that is the reward dangling in front of me for just as soon as I get this post published! You see we hope to start the week out right. Recently in a family meeting, we all contributed to a list of things we'd like to include in each week. With the days shortening, we have had a hard time squeezing in a few of them. So we are going to head out in the middle of the day for some family badminton before Terah's afternoon nap. Here's the list: a mommy-daddy jog, family walk and/or bike ride, mommy reading Alida to sleep, family game, music time, dedicated "school-related stuff" time for Kali, and most recently added is outdoor/yard time together. Somehow it doesn't seem like it should be hard to fit these 7 things in one time every 7 days but it has proved to take considerable intentionality to do it!

Today feels like a day to prioritize one or more of those items. It feels like a day to do as much together as we can, to savor being together, to enjoy each other. Ten years ago today the future felt pretty uncertain and, for both Jason and I, there were some very dark moments. We welcomed little Nora Lynne into our family and wondered what the future would look like for her and for us. Ten years later, I feel lots of emotions. The grief has morphed and changed over the years. There is still sadness and some tears, but also a sense of gratitude and fullness. Our lives are beautiful in so many ways, and some of those ways are because of Nora and for that we feel really grateful.

Nearly 40 others joined us last night for a very orange party; each one present has been an important part of our journey over the last decade. Some knew Nora well, others never got to meet her and know her only through our sharing of stories. As I went around the room and introduced who was in the circle and how we knew them, I felt like bursting: here all together were friends, family, the triplets I gave milk to, the woman that hosted us in Charlottesville and provided much more than just a bed to sleep in, Nora's playmate and buddy on the cusp of turning 10 herself, friends who journeyed with us as we tried to decide whether we had the courage to try again, some of my women bosom friends who have walked with me (literally) over these years and helped me navigate life's ups and downs, and of course my own dear family (my lover and life partner who has shared all of this with me and our larder full of three beautiful gals! 
In the weeks leading up to our blood drive and last night's gathering, Jason and I have both done what we do best it seems. I've organized and planned and prepared for the gatherings we have hosted, throwing myself into the details and into corresponding with those joining us. It has given me a chance to think about and share stories and engage with others, which is always meaningful for me. Jason has spent parts of multiple days digging soil, heaving around heavy rocks and forming the fun climbing/sliding and waterfall feature in Nora's garden. In evening times, he has learned a new song Garden Rose that reminds him of Nora. While he felt no performance urge, he was willing to share the song with those gathered last night. I could listen to him sing it daily! Below are his slightly modified lyrics. I think it won't be hard to tell why he thinks of Nora, and all our daughters, when he sings this:

I have lived as a garden rose,
It is the only life I’ve known.
I’ve felt the touch of tending hands,
I get my rain from a watering can.

Now from the time I was a seed,
I have had everything I need.
And I grew strong and I grew tall,
Until the day I could see past that garden wall.

I always thought that my life was enough,
Till I saw your face so brilliant and so rough.
You were shining right back up at the whole sky,
Handing out smiles to travelers passing by

Now tell me something little wildflower,
Can you make some room for me?
'Cause I will climb out of this garden,
And put my feet down in the weeds.

Now if those oak trees all were acorns,
And if caterpillars turn to butterflies,
Can you give me one good reason,
Why a rose should not become a weed by and by.

'Cause don’t the sunshine lay the warmest,
On the shoulders of the wild?
And don’t the breeze touch the sweetest,
On the face of its own child?

And tell me something, little wildflower,
Have you made some room for me?
'Cause I will leave these walls forever,
And lay me down among the weeds.
A little wildflower I will be.

When not preparing for Nora's 10th birthday, we've been getting in the fall/winter groove. Jason has started the yearly fall cut back, we've started sorting dried beans and shelling corn will commence soon, we are harvesting the last of the fall raspberries and still picking up persimmons to pop in our mouths when we walk down the path to the yard, and we have been trying to use as much veggie amaranth as we can consume before it freezes (the girls enjoyed making a large batch of green noodles the other day and I mostly survived the project without pulling my hair out)! And, finally, the girls are savoring the last weeks of fall soccer. It's been a fun and good season for both of them. 
Jason is tending 100 plus chicks, with the hopes of having at least half of those turn out to be females (for an order of 50 hens that he hopes to fill of his Shenandoah breed - yay, for someone catching the vision for that breed!). He was able to hatch chicks over four weeks and has mostly integrated those hatchings successfully. We had one sad attempt at having a mama live at peace with her brood and another and were able to remove her quickly after she had pecked just one chick to death. Hate that! Another night they got too cold and piled up on each other under the one heat lamp we had (have since borrowed a second) and we lost 8 that night. Hate that too! So last night as the wind was blowing, Jason went out and lowered the heat lamp and also put up some plastic and other wind barriers. They all made it through the night and I think he has a set up now that will keep them all comfortable as they grow!

Ok, things are breaking down in the front room (probably time for a diaper change, a nursing break, and getting this family on to another activity). I'd say that next activity is to move to the outdoors for some sunshine! In closing, don't want to forget to mention that we continue to enjoy special times with our niece Ivy (and of course her parents too!). We enjoy the routine meals together, but also are happy for times that forge new special memories. This past week we trekked up the hill behind their home together to sit and look at the colorful mountain in front of us, visit Blake's tree, and watch the girls tear around after each other or the little ones toddle around on the blankets and flop in the grass. While we are aware of our biased opinions, who can deny that this is a pretty adorable quad of gals?!