Sunday, January 31, 2010

Snowy weekend

Kali is proving to be more and more like her Grandma Myers in her love of snow!!! She has been quite thrilled with the additional 4-8 inches of snow that fell yesterday. We bundled up yesterday and today and enjoyed "penny walks" outside. This was a suggestion in one of Kali's magazines - in short, each person chooses a destination. One of you is "tails" and the other "heads." You shake the penny and then whichever side is up that tells you your first destination. Once there, you choose two new destinations, shake again and so on... Very fun and I told Jason, as silly as it is, it somehow fills my desire to be accomplishing something. :) And Kali is happy to do things like deliver egg cartons to our neighbors, check the mail, empty the compost, fill the bird feeder (as well as lots of silly things like jumping jacks in the snow, pulling her around in the snow to form huge letters, etc...) as long as it all falls under the "penny walk" heading.

Yesterday and today Kali and I have restocked our bread, granola and granola bar supply, as well as cooking dinner last night exclusively on our wood stove. Today we have maple barbecue chicken marinating in the fridge and are about to roll out our lamb's quarter homemade pasta. We have had fun doing projects, keeping Jason fed but otherwise staying out of his way!

Jason and I took time Friday morning to do a quick "2010 Strategic Plan for the Myers-Benners." It was helpful for me to get our goals for this year on paper and, while very daunting, somehow alleviated a portion of my anxiety about the coming months and gave me more energy and an ability to see how I can be helpful. So much of the big projects coming up fall largely on Jason's shoulders (building chicken coops, building a wood shed, disassembling the tower, etc...).

Speaking of the tower, Jason removed the first of the paneling today! So it is really coming down! While we are nowhere close to ready to take it down, he needed some wood for the "rooster condo" he is building and figured he would go ahead and start using the tower wood. I had to laugh to see Kali covering her ears while Jason was banging away. We have a picture of Kali in her highchair soon after we moved here with her hands over her ears and Jason putting up trim in the background. Here we go again!!

...We have now enjoyed a very late lunch and one well worth waiting for. I was laughing as we rolled out sheet after sheet of pasta. I thought it was a bit ridiculous that the recipe online I was using for spinach pasta noted that it served 4 people. I thought we would have pasta for days. Let's just say that I did not put away any leftovers (though I do have enough noodles drying for at least one lasagna). We consumed a lot of pasta. Kali was thrilled to have fewer comments offered about possibly adding some variety to her plate other than just plain noodles and I was happy to see her consuming large amounts of eggs from our chickens, lamb's quarter from our garden patch and non-GMO ww flour. We'll be doing that more often, though the amount of cranking involved won't likely make it as regular an activity.

Time to see if the laundry on the line thawed and dried for me.

One other thing to note: for those familiar with the game cribbage, it seems worth mentioning that Kali now beats me about half the time. I recognize that there is some element of luck in the game, but still... It has also been interesting to note that she now really tries and doesn't just keep all the letter cards because she likes them best! We'll see if the competitive Myers gene is coming into full bloom or not?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cleaning up our road - what dedication!!

So we haven't done a family "trash walk" lately. I knew that Jason and Kali were likely going to go to the dump later this week and that a sunny day was coming up for laundry drying so today seemed a very good opportunity to make a dent in all the trash and recycling I've been noticing along the road. And Kali enjoys trash walks a lot, especially can smashing.

It was colder than I was expecting when we ventured out this morning to give an apple core to Curious Hiddley. But after stocking up energy with a large pancake for breakfast and some time looking at dust bunnies, flax seeds and plant leaves under Kali's microscope, we bundled up and headed out. But note that this time the family trash walk was just a Kali and Janelle trash walk, as Jason is up the hill today butchering chickens for S and M (and us) - Kali is going through our canned chicken chunks at an alarming rate!!

The first half of the trash walk was very fun. Kali practically ran the mile in to the outskirts of Keezletown. She enthusiastically jumped on cans and picked up trash (even red trash - despite her current dislike of that color) along the road. The wind made opening the large garbage bags a bit of a challenge, but doable. About halfway into town the recycling bag was getting a bit heavy and I was finding it a bit trying to balance carrying both bags, pushing the jogger and watching for cars, trash and recyling!!

At the halfway point is a puddle that had been a favorite "ice skating" spot for weeks when it was frozen solid. With the recent rain it had become a deep thick mud puddle and we had come prepared. The jogger had been carrying Kali's over shoes so that she could tromp around. Just about the time I figured we had better head home before Kali got cold and wanted to be at home 5 minutes earlier, I heard (from a bit farther down the road where I was picking up a bottle), "uh oh" and looked back to see Kali sitting in the puddle.

So now her feet and pants were wet and she was ready to be at home and not out for a trash walk. And I will admit to not overflowing with grace as we started the trek home - now with two large trash bags of increasing weight, pushing Kali now in the jogger who was not overly cheerful. By the time we got to our driveway, having given up trash/recycling collection when both bags were starting to get tears in them and we had picked up one particularly smelly bottle that was making the aroma around us unpleasant, the humor of the situation had come home to me.

I had managed to load up one of the bags on the back of the jogger and had Kali's agreement to do so, with her other option being that she walk (okay, so maybe it was a borderline threat but I really am not sure I would have physically been capable of pushing her and carrying the two bags...) As soon as we were both inside, warmed up, in dry clothes and with some lunch in our bellies, it was all worth it. We did, however, agree that trash walks are probably best with Daddy along.

In other news, we are now happy owners of a "herd share." We are currently getting one gallon of local milk weekly, soon to go up to two. I have my first batch of yogurt "incubating" and just made my second batch of butter with Kali and her friend R from next door. It is very exciting to know that our recycling bin will fill up at a much slower rate now that we will have no milk jugs to add to it, as well as other dairy containers. I hope to start learning some about cheese making in the coming months.

We just decided at a recent family meeting that for Lent we are going to give up grocery stores. It will be a fun challenge and will encourage us to work down our freezer and pantry supply, to make the Saturday Farmer's Market a weekly tradition and to experiment more with making dairy products from our milk. Kali was not overly enthusiastic initially because she was concerned about having a supply on hand of yo-baby yogurts, arthur macaroni and cheese and alphabet cookies (three treats she likes to pick out from the natural foods section at Kroger but that are not even normally at our house all the time). However, when she got some sense of how long 40 days was and my reassurance that we could get one of each to "tie her over" she was ready to commit too - and seemed excited about the prospects of using her own pasta maker more and experimenting with making flavored yogurts at home. We'll do our best to keep it fun!

Lastly, I was waiting to have the final word on the health and well-being of Herm and Germ but I only have half of a report. We can now say that at least one of our goldfish is amazing!!!!! The long cold spell started to get us worried when our rain barrel seemed to be freezing all the way to the bottom. We kept thinking it would warm up, or we'd forget about it for a few days. Finally, Jason took a few steps to try to aid the thawing process and just in the past week it was back to water again. But no sign of our two goldfish that had weathered several winters outside, and who had come to Fruit Farm Lane with us from our Wolfe Street home over 4 years ago. I felt very sad to think that we might have not only let down one of the hens under our care but had also let our goldfish freeze to death. I got an excited call from Jason yesterday at work letting me know that he had just had his first goldfish spotting and it was ALIVE!!! We have yet to see two at one time so we are still waiting to see if the living fish has a living fish friend.

As I sat down to write this blog I looked over at Kali on the floor and I smiled! She had been "knee deep" in stuffed animals minutes before and had settled down with a stack of magazines. She looked very comfy, complete with modeling the big hole in the toe of her sock that gives her foot a way out the bottom end when hot. While I'm more than ready to send them to the rag bag, they are one of the only purple pairs left in her drawer and so they are treasured! Now she is concentrating on writing out the months of the year and organizing her magazines by month. For this moment the house is quiet and I'm enjoying sitting in front of our big picture window watching the clouds move across the moutain and patches of blue peeking out now and then with an occasional snowflake sailing to the ground.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lost (bummer) and Found (yikes!)

Two weeks ago Kali had her first play date with some kids she had related to at Shenandoah Valley Community School, and who live not too far from us (their parents are CSA and market gardeners…we’ve got a lot in common!)

As they were about to leave, we were checking out the chickens. One of the kids was enjoying counting the different kinds (I think it was Kali). The number she came up with for Silver Laced Wyandottes was 3. Hmm. I checked, because the number should be 5. As usual, my daughter’s observation was reliable. 3 it was.

Because the coop had to be perched on top of frozen hunks of snow, and a bit of melting had occurred during the day, a gap had opened under the fence, and two chickens had apparently escaped. I was not bothered by this insult to the customary order of things (I try not to be like that), and nor was I concerned about catching them again (I’m pretty good at that). I was, however, mildly worried because I had no idea where they were, and dark was approaching.

After they left, Kali and I took a spin around the property, eventually finding one of the hens after she emerged into broad daylight to merrily scratch in the grass. She was easily apprehended and returned to safety. The other one was still missing, and it happened to be the best hen of that breed that we had. I suspected that she was still in one tangled thicket or other (there are plenty to choose from), but she managed to evade my eyesight. As darkness descended, snow began to fall, and I wished she were under the roof of her coop, perched in a warm row with the others. All I could do was hope the owls and foxes would also fail to notice her.

Not so. As I was walking along the driveway in the morning through a fresh inch of snow, a set of animal tracks caught my attention. They looked like tiny dog tracks (with the nail prints visible), except that they were in a line like a cat's would be. Appearing beside the prints was a steady linear depression, like a lopsided tail drag. Just exactly what you'd expect to see if a fox had drug a chicken carcass off during the night. I wanted to make sure, so I followed the tracks forward (I lost the trail as it entered the woods) and then backwards, where a few chunks of flesh and a few smatterings of feathers gave me a pretty good indication of the way things had gone. I could see where she had roosted, and though I didn't know whether the Cooper's hawk I had seen taking off from that general area earlier in the morning had been the first on the scene or if it had all been the fox's doing, the moral of the story is that she was eaten during the night or near first light.

I was pretty sad. In one sense, it's not reasonable to be sad about that, because I eat my chickens often and with little (though some) sadness. Perhaps it's sort of selfish to begrudge my fellow meat-eaters a place at the table. The fact is I do not attach moral significance to this kill. The hawk and/or fox are just finding sustenance in the most skillful ways they know. Somehow I just don't like seeing her meet her end in that way. I sort of make a deal with any animal I bring into the world that I will provide for their comfort and safety for as long as I judge them to be of use to me, and that when the time comes I will do my best to respect them in practical ways at their time of passing. This is partly anthropomorphism, I know, and nature has no such scruples. It's just how I work out the relationships that cannot help but arise when farming animals, and I felt sad when it seemed I had let her down. I'm o.k. now. So is she.

Barriers (fencing included) are one way we arrange for peaceful co-existence with our natural antagonists of whatever kind. Sometimes that reality comes home rather dramatically.

The other evening, Kali got a bee in her bonnet to learn about the major fixtures and appliances in our home. We discussed refrigerators and freezers first, opening up the utility compartment of the freezer to see the compressor, etc. Then we were onto ovens, then sinks, then toilets. As we were discussing and discovering water pressure from gravity versus mechanical systems, there came a point when I wanted to show her where the water comes into the house from the crawl space. It was easy enough to do, because the pipe comes in right under the little wooden box on which sits our toilet brush and extra toilet paper. In the back of my mind was the knowledge that removing this box violates one such peace-keeping barrier in our home, but I have done so often without incident.

This time was different. I nonchalantly lifted away the box (which has always simply been setting in that location, held there by its own weight), let out a loud "WHOA!" and hastily slammed it back into position before the cute little blacksnake hibernating under the pipe could get any ideas about waking up and scurrying under the washer or making a break for the bedroom.

This is the kind of thing you hate to tell your wife about, but I knew she had to know. So, the perfect solution arose: allow Kali to tell her, of course! It took some time to convince Janelle (and her mom, who was staying with us for the weekend) that Kali was referring to a literally true event, but when reality sunk in it was quickly decided that the box must be firmly affixed in place, with screws, that evening, starting now. The work was, of course, completed efficiently and without complaint.

The box, you see, is open to the plumbing chase, which is contiguous with the roof cavity, which is, from a mouse or snake's perspective, contiguous with the great outdoors. With the advent of renovations accompanying the construction of the in-law quarters on our place, the peace-keeping barrier will be moved outward, such that critters will find entry to the roof cavities impossible. That will be nice.

Barriers have their limits. That statement could be from the Department of Redundancy Department, but it's intended to mean that choosing a barrier for negotiating a relationship with a possibly antagonistic force isn't always the most advantageous. Agriculturally and otherwise, we westerners tend to think in terms of barriers. We lock our doors, seal our borders, mend our fences, put up our "keep off" signs, wear latex gloves, blast our food and homes with noxious chemicals, caulk the joints, etc. etc. It makes the thinking and planning simple for linear, if-then minds.

But every creature, western or no, depends on an earth ecology that is characterized not by barriers and eradication, but by webs of mutual support, interdependence, tolerance, and modulation. We would do well to open our minds to the reality of the ecology on which we depend, so that we can better choose where barriers are appropriate and sensible solutions, but also recognize when they are doing more harm than good, or causing unintended consequences.

This is part of why I am currently enrolled in a Permaculture Design Course put on by the Blue Ridge Permaculture Network. Four weekends of input and a team design project seem as if they will get me on my way to capably accounting for a multiplicity of forces and factors in arranging our living and production patterns and systems here at home. The course is set up to qualify us for creating designs with/for others as well, though that is not specifically why I'm taking the course. I recommend the Permaculture Principles website to anyone who is intrigued by this notion and wishes to know more:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

No stage fright here!

We returned about 1 this morning after a second holiday trip to PA. This one was primarily to participate in a retirement party for my Mom, who has dedicated much time, energy and passion over the last 9-10 years to starting up and directing Compeer Lancaster ( While I certainly wouldn't have wanted to miss it, I also wasn't necessarily expecting it to be as personally meaningful as it was. I admit to feeling a bit surprised and self conscious when I could sense that the tears were going to start flowing and not easily be stopped during much of the program planned to honor Mom.

On our trip back to Keezletown, I attempted to articulate for Jason and myself what made that space and the service so touching. I imagine it was many things colliding at once in those 45 minutes: thinking of Mom's journey with cancer during the early years and being grateful for the gift of more years with her presence than, at moments, we thought we would have; sensing in that space how life transforming this program has been for many people who otherwise don't even have one meaningful friendship or much other fulfillment in their lives; sensing how much that differs from my own life that so often, even with challenges and pain, feels full and overflowing; thinking about the milestone of Mom's retirement and knowing that while it appears as a loss to some it is also one marker on the way towards their transition to WV and eventually to Keezletown, and the big year ahead as we undergo construction on their home attached to ours; and possibly most notable for me were the feelings attached to being in a space with over 100 people who I hardly knew and yet a good number of them knowing something (if not a lot) about me and my family. It was odd, and very touching, to have more people talk with me about Nora and express their heartfelt support and condolences in the short time we were there than at any other gathering that I can remember (other than memorial services). I'm still trying to soak in the uniqueness of that gathering...

The most fun part of the party was the post-party entertainment! Kali must have been eyeing the microphones and listening intently to the music during the short service. Prior to the party she was at the front dancing to her heart's content to the music coming from a small CD player (background music to most but to her ears it was all the people talking that was the background noise!).

She and her cousins C and T joined her on stage as people continued mingling, eating and eventually cleaning up. They enjoyed dancing, racing across the state, timidly talking in the microphones and then more and more boldly as time passed until "Row, Row, Row your Boat...Life is But a Dream" was being belted out for all to hear!

Prior to Grandma's party Kali and I were talking about it and Kali was curious about the idea of Grandma maybe feeling a bit nervous to be the center of so much attention. It was cute to see Kali thinking about putting herself in Grandma's shoes - she concurred that if there was a party for her with over 100 people there it would be fine if she didn't have to talk. If she had to talk she would not like it but if she could just be there she would like it. That's our girl!

However, put a microphone in her hand and get her on a stage and it seems that the shyness often noticed quite strikingly in interactions with people (even those fairly close to her) evaporates.