Saturday, August 27, 2011

A day of "puttering"

As I nursed Alida to sleep tonight I was feeling that my day had been rather unproductive (it was a day in which I felt like I had all kinds of "catching up" to do after putting in a 5 day/50 hour work week - and that included catching up with my family, particularly a rapidly developing now 5-month old). It was merely a fleeting feeling that came over me, and then I started thinking about the day and chuckled inside. Alida sacked out quickly and I came out to rejoin Kali and Jason and the canning projects underway. Jason was getting started on dishes and we started chatting. He laughed as he shared with me how he was just thinking about how nice it was to have a low key day at home, in other words a day where we were not pushing/ultra-focused on getting a lot done. We shared a fun moment recounting our day together. Here's a snapshot:

I woke to Alida wiggling beside me bright-eyed and smiley around 6:40am. She is officially done being swaddled at night and it is cute to see her going from being a tightly wrapped little mummy to a sprawled out big baby laying on our bed. After enjoying some morning smiles and a few of her raspberries blown in my face (a newly acquired skill), she was ready for her first nap of the day and, while Jason did chicken chores and then picked stinging nettles for our breakfast, we went for a nice long walk.

Jason and I enjoyed nettle egg sandwiches, watermelon and applesauce and then started on our day, doing inside tasks and slipping out anytime there was a break from the rain and wind. Jason harvested the following things from the garden: slicer tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, swiss chard and lambs quarter, basil, and watermelon (the cucumbers had been harvested and canned the night before, the beans picked and ends snipped for eating over the next few days, and the sauce tomatoes were also picked last night ready for us to process today).

The rest of the day included Jason and I working side by side making just shy of 40 pints of salsa and while Jason took the lead on much of the tomato chopping, I made several batches of pesto, a huge batch of green rolls, and made up a recipe for a potato crusted fresh tomato pie because I needed to think of a way to utilize the oven heat for more than just the bread I was making. We also made the butter from our milk share, Kali made chocolate peanut butter no bake cookies with a little help and I ended the day getting a large batch of pasta sauce started.

Fitting in all the cracks of the day were many diaper changes (as well as many diaper changes avoided by Alida still going potty much of the time in the sink) and lots of time nursing. And watching Alida could be a full-time activity and great entertainment right now. She is so cute laying on her belly - her favorite thing to do is to lift her legs and arms up so it looks like she is swimming. She thinks it is very funny when we imitate her. She also loves having her belly eaten and she will grab about anything within reach - watermelon is still a much loved snack, so it is a good thing we grew a lot of them!

Alida isn't the only one adding to the fun and laughter in our home. Kali got an idea from a book, "50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth", to write a letter to your senator about protecting the rainforest. And so she did, but she tacked on two additional items. "Ps. Rule about no tailgating...Pss. Help protect monkeys." Off it went and she is eagerly awaiting a response.

She has brought it up a bunch of times since then and is wanting her correspondence with the senator to have the greatest impact possible. Well when she learned about petitions she got to work again. Her petition now has four signatures. Jason and I were both happy to sign the request for our representative to protect both monkeys and the rainforests. But what I loved most of all was Kali signing on Alida's behalf. In case you can't read it, it says, "Alida (Too little now...Probably will care later)." So if you are in the Keezletown area and would like to add your signature to her petition she is ready to collect as many signatures as possibly before sending it off!!

Well, Jason is working on the mountain of dishes from today and I need to attend to the pasta sauce simmering on the stove and the last canner load of salsa. We didn't exactly put our feet up today but we reaffirmed for ourselves that 1. we make a good team and 2. we love food processing the best when we do it together!!

It's a pretty good thing that the rain nixed Jason's many plans for the day!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Growing up...too fast!

So this week is up there as one of my busiest work weeks of the year. New student orientation started Tuesday morning and as is normal in the mad rush of last minute details I put a long 12 hour day in on Monday. How it is possible for a little person to change so dramatically in that period of time, I do not know, but when I got home Monday evening I once again felt overwhelmed by how fast she is changing. She was doing all these new things, including what Jason has coined her "tough baby act" where she throws herself back, juts out her chin and makes these very cute but low rumbly baby grunting noises. Very, very silly!!!

I'm trying to figure out how to balance all the evening home tasks with my desire to both crash from exhaustion when I get home and soak in all the changes we are seeing as Alida continues to grow and develop. Last evening we literally walked away from the to do list and took a much needed family walk. Alida had the new experience of riding in the jogger and did not even make it halfway before falling fast asleep. We had a hard time finishing our walk since a little kitten at the neighbors' seemed much more interested in coming home with us than playing with the other cats around. Finally, after Kali got to hold and play with it for awhile, Jason dumped it in a bush and we all ran down the road before it could figure out what happened to it.

Then last night we hit another milestone of sorts. Alida has been getting out of her "swaddle sack" with greater ease by the night and we wondered when it might be the end of swaddling. On our walk we decided to wait until after we get through this particularly busy phase to shake things up any more than necessary. Well, she had different ideas. She was not going to have her arms tucked in last evening and promptly wiggled them out every time I wrapped her back up. So she slept for the first time in a little sleeper and no swaddle and it went just fine. Growing up!!

Well, the baby has just joined me and I want to soak in the morning smiles before heading off to work. Some day I may get to posting some St. Palentine's day pictures of Kali's recent birthday party...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Debut at the fair

Ah. I see what the problem was. I had wondered why, even though my rooster was clearly blue ribbon material at the Rockingham County Fair this week (It's hard not to win when you're the only contestant in your category), the little yellow "For Sale...Make Offer" sign garnered zero responses. Now seeing these photos downloaded, I can see that the problem was that my lovely golden rooster was perfectly camouflaged against his wood shaving bedding. Folks must have walked right by all week wondering where the chicken in this cage had gone. If a Chantecler chicken ever wanted to hide in a bed of straw it would have no trouble!

Though I've kept chickens for as much of my life as circumstances have reasonably allowed (or perhaps a bit more), this is the first time I've ever shown a chicken. Normally I am not one for formalities or orthodoxy, even with chickens, so the Standard of Perfection promulgated by the American Poultry Association (this lists all the recognized breeds and their corresponding Platonic ideal form) can tend to elicit a bit of sarcasm on my part. So what brought about this foray into conformity? As my friends might guess, I did it as an outsider with an angle. You see, the Chantecler chicken is recognized by the Standard, and has been since the early twentieth century. But only the White and Partridge color patterns have so far been accepted. Perhaps that is why they failed to appeal to me. I, of course, keep the unrecognized Buffs. What a renegade!

There is a small but passionate community of fanciers who have taken it upon themselves to promote the cause of inclusion of the Buff among the accepted forms of Chantecler because, as near as I can gather, they are convinced of its inherent goodness. This amuses me. Perhaps they are taken with their birds but are irked that they cannot win the coveted Best Of Show really big blue ribbon with them. I do not count myself among them. However, I am convinced that this strain of Gallus Gallus (the domestic chicken) has some unique and useful genetic expressions that offer much to the poultry keeper (especially the amateur...which is most of us). These traits include: frost-proof comb and wattles (nearly absent congenitally), general hardiness and vigor, good hatchability, calmish disposition, an ability present in some of the females to hatch and rear their own young, non-aggression towards humans, decent rate of egg laying, easier than average plucking (for a heritage breed), eminent roastability (nice shape and very tender), and feathers that are light colored enough to allow a clean appearance to the plucked bird but with enough color to not litter the plucking site with visible blotches of white for months after butchering day (a pet peeve).

As such I am loathe to see it slide towards extinction, which is the direction it has been headed in recent decades. One strategy for its preservation is to promote demand for it. One strategy for promoting its demand is for people to believe it is a legitimate breed...a breed that can win blue ribbons, nonetheless! One strategy for more people for believe in the breed's legitimacy is for it to be accepted to the Standard. One condition for its application for acceptance in the Standard is that it have appeared in a given number of poultry shows. I think you can close that logical loop.

Also, it seemed like fun. And it was. I got to see the back side of the Fair, and that was my favorite part of the whole evening. Even if I had to face down the stares of the poultry keepers who seemed able to smell a greenhorn a mile away, I and my pony tail marched right in there and asked all our dumb questions until we found the designated cage. Next year will be easier, and if I can talk our neighbors (the only other people I know who own Buff their eggs from me, of course!) into entering a bird or two, maybe there will even be some competition!

P.S. We named him Ferris.

Friday, August 12, 2011

10:22 a.m.

Did I mention different sleep patterns?

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Our two girls at 12:03am. My do they have different sleeping patterns!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Grief; learning from my daughter...again!

When Kali's bunny was declining I not only felt my own feelings of sadness, but I was heartbroken to think of Kali losing another loved one. Despite her mixed feelings at times about "Hiddley chores" she clearly loved her bunny. And I've learned in the past day just how much she loved certain things about having him - the feel of his fur when she petted him and his spots! So yesterday when I carried her to the front room and cuddled her as she woke up and then was given the sad news, I had no idea how the day would unfold. She doesn't often talk about her emotions, and I often struggle to know how to support her and be there for her when she is resistant to talking about things that are sad or emotional.

Sunday morning my Mom (once again) gave me a brilliant idea of writing a letter to Kali about Curious Hiddley since Kali is such a reader and it might be less daunting to read words than have words spoken she has to listen to. So I tried it and it seemed to be one of the things that opened up the ability for us to communicate and journey through this together. I am so grateful for that. Sunday we had two long stints with Hiddley - petting him and taking all sorts of pictures that Kali wanted to have. At the end of the evening we said our tearful goodbyes, as both Jason and I thought it unlikely he would make it through the night (and he didn't).

I feel like the words that kept coming to my mind last evening as we followed Kali through her own rituals of grieving and her last hours with Hiddley's body were, "A child will lead them." I was so glad we left much of the process to her to guide, as it was the most authentically sweet, silly, sad, and special funeral.

Here are a few of my memories:

Kali has none of the inhibitions that many of us adults may feel around death and dead bodies. She was very sad about getting to the moment where she could not be with him anymore. As we broached the subject of burying him last night, she expressed not wanting to bury him. When we talked with her about what would happen to his body over time, she then decided she wanted to retain a piece of his fur so she could always pet it. We processed this for a good long while with her and were willing to consider doing this, even when she explained that she didn't mean pulling out some fur but skin with the fur attached so it could be a part with his spots. In the end other factors and plans for how to proceed took precedence and Jason didn't have to do a minor surgery on Hiddley before burying him.

Kali's intense desire to learn and understand the world around her did not depart from her even at this time. She wanted to understand what was going on. She wanted to hold and "play" with Hiddley. She wanted to look inside his ears, check out his skin color underneath his fur, talk about why he felt heavier than he ever did when she held him before, hold him right side up and upside down and comment on the position his feet were in and why they were stiff but his head was floppy, etc...

Tears came and went freely, as did some smiles and humor. As we were waiting for Jason to bring the shovels from the shed, we were on the porch. Kali put Hiddley up on the slanted concrete slab and of course his body slid down the slope. Well, this turned out to be very entertaining for Kali (as I bit my tongue and watched). All of a sudden she piped up, "he's sort of like a penguin." Then, within minutes, she was carrying him tenderly to the drain field where she wanted one of her final pictures holding him and then asked with tears in her eyes and a tremor in her voice that we harvest orchard grass to line his little box from "the spot where [she] most often got it for him."

We made our way to the garden and Kali helped to dig a hole in her old garden bed from which the fingerling potatoes recently were harvested. She took a break to walk around the garden with Hiddley (after getting him out of the corn and squash patch where she had chosen to lay him while digging). She looked at him, then tried to balance him on a garden trellis, then immersed herself in further exploration and questioning about his body.

When it came time to tuck him in the box, Jason found a large plantain leaf to give him and Kali wanted it tucked just so in the box after laying it on his back for another photo. It seemed that by this point most of the tears had come for her and she solemnly placed him in the box and then in the hole and proceeded to put most of the soil back in the hole. When it was done, without a word, she walked towards the gate, turned around and gestured for us to follow her, and then walked slowly back to the house. The ceremony was over and she curled up with a Calvin and Hobbes book.

From all outward appearances she was "over it" but clearly her mind was still processing all that had transpired. When we got into bed and were playing a card game at about 11pm, she piped up that we really won't ever know for sure what day he died as we don't know if he died before midnight or after. So she wanted me to write his death date on my calendar right between the two. I can do that!

It seems so odd to me that in some ways (though I know Kali was a good bit younger than she is now) I felt that I had to guide her through or figure out how to help her grieve when Nora died. In so many ways it seems that she is naturally more comfortable with the idea of death or at least accepting of it than I am, as much as she clearly doesn't like it and clearly will miss her pet bunny. And I was even more in awe of the way she fully engaged the process and was not scared of it.

No doubt this week has brought back many memories. It is as if our bodies house the physical sensations of grief and when we experience those sensations, floods of memories from other times we felt similarly come back.

One of the biggest things I noticed last evening after our little funeral was how I was wandering around the house, not able to focus on much of anything (even though I had plenty on my list to do before bed). I had a hard time concentrating. I wasn't even consumed with thoughts about Hiddley, I just couldn't really think clearly about anything. And with it came a sense of disbelief that he was actually gone, when I did start thinking about him. I have almost expected to see him in his pen when I go outside, or hear the bell jingle as he hops out for whatever treat we are bringing to him. And I have almost stooped to pick plantain on several occasions for him.

Life continues, though, in good and meaningful ways. And Alida helps all of us smile and laugh! She didn't exactly get the "serious and solemn occasion" announcement about the funeral and added some shrieks throughout the process. She is so intent on figuring out her world right now and she is getting more vocal about the process of discovery. Very cute!!! And she has no doubt helped all of through this sad time, without even knowing it.

Goodbye to a special bunny!

This is one of the hardest posts to write. After days of waiting, hoping, crying, and fearing it is over. I find myself once again grateful that suffering has ended, but so so sad that what that means is that Curious Hiddley's time with our family has come to an end and that what we are left with is good memories and many pictures.

It seems that losing this little bunny is triggering all sorts of emotions and stirring up grief that is pretty easily stirred up. Curious Hiddley's entrance into our family was such a wonderful thing and comforting and life giving. It felt at the time that he was at the SPCA at the right time and place, that day we arrived back from UVA without Nora.

The last two days as I've walked what feels like the long distance from house to hutch to check on him, my stomach has churned and I've felt the same physical sensations (just less intensity) that I felt those mornings waking up and making the trek back to UVA to see how Nora's night in the NICU had been. Those feelings of just not knowing what you will find - hopeful news or your worst fears realized.

This won't be an easy morning to leave home, knowing that Jason will need to share this news with Kali alone. I am so grateful that she said goodbye to him last night, that we got to tell him that we were grateful for the time he spent with our family, and that we were sorry he was not feeling well. Kali was glad for us to take a lot of pictures she wanted to have of him, even if he couldn't jump on his feeder or touch her finger without assistance. She is sad that he won't be around for her birthday and was uncertain whether she would be able to enjoy it as much without him. She also was not sure she wants to have another bunny. Me neither. He would be hard to replace!

Ps. Okay, so I couldn't go to work without telling her. I delayed my start time and we woke her to share the news with her. I'm glad I was there. I'm glad tears could flow freely for Kali. I'm glad we could share together our sadness. There will be a little family funeral this evening. But I was happy to see a smile coming through the tears when her little sister came out all bright eyed and ready for her day.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Friday and Saturday

So my first week of work is behind us (it was definitely a cooperative family effort and all survived!) and below is an account of how I spent my days "off." It feels like the last two days are worth recounting as they were jam-packed with hard work and fun, and I was already having a hard time remembering all that happened yesterday when I sat down to start this post. We knew August would be full, and so far our expectation has not been disappointed.

Yesterday started with Alida and me attempting a walk but getting rained back in - thankfully, though, it did the trick of getting her that first, very important short nap of the day. She had a few more naps throughout the day either in the front pack or on our bed, while the action carried on around her. Kali joined in for some of the activity (like helping Jason did potatoes and working on the garden watering with both of us), but was also found with her nose in a book a good part of the day. Here is a list of the major activities I can recall from yesterday:

-Garden watering - a big task these days so we all chipped in yesterday to help Jason be freed to do some other garden tasks (and we ran our cistern dry with this watering so were super grateful for the rain this evening).

-Chopping and more chopping of veggies for pizza sauce - this happened in various times throughout the day but by days end there was a pureed and strained tomato sauce simmering on the stove and smelling mighty tasty!

-Making butter from this week's cream.

-Making a batch of pesto.

-Jason and I had fun working together to make about two batches of salsa from garden veggies.

-Cooking down the last beets from our garden (except the precious few being saved to plant for seed).

-Making potatoes to go with lunch that were just dug from the garden; also making a kale saute and yellow squash patties from fresh produce. We are eating so well these days!

-Laundry - broke down and used the drier since there is no good drying day in sight...

-Playing "Go Fish" with Kali

-Picking and cooking lambs quarter for rolls

Interspersed throughout the day was planning out the Saturday schedule and menus for Kali's bday weekend, feeding Alida often and changing diapers or taking her potty, and worrying about Curious Hiddley. It seems that our bunny is having bouts of not feeling good more and more often. We fear that maybe he is getting old in bunny years or for whatever reason not in very good health any more. He hasn't eaten for the past two days and has only gotten a few dropper fulls of juice that Jason has given him with a medicine dropper. He seems very uncomfortable and we hope he will perk up soon. There will be a lot of sadness in this home if the time is near for us to say goodbye to that little fellow!

We got to bed right about in the middle of the night and were up first thing and at it again.

Saturday started with another walk and then the food processing and baking began. I was so glad to have Jason around for the day helping or it would have been a very different day. And I'm so glad that food processing together is one of my favorite activities.

Today's projects included: baking green rolls (from yesterday's pureed lambs quarter), buttermilk bran bread (from the buttermilk from making butter), peanut butter cookies (because Kali's birthday chain told us to), red beet chocolate cupcakes for the upcoming birthday party (since everything has to be red, pink or green in the meal for the St. Palentine's Day festivities), canning the tomato juice from draining the salsa tomatoes, canning the pizza sauce that was a labor of love (over 15 quarts of fresh veggies cooked, blended, put through the Victorio strainer and cooked over night down to a delicious sauce amounting only to 9 pints), and the major project: APPLESAUCE - we will add 70 quarts to our root cellar (20 of that done a few days ago). Jason and I make a good team!

Though right now I'm getting the better end of the deal as I'm sitting here typing and cooling off under the fan while the last load of applesauce is in the canner and Jason is doing dishes. I love the picture below taken when the last of the applesauce was done - it was also after Alida had had a "playing with and pulling Daddy's hair" session.

And of course to end: a few notes on Alida's continued exploration of the world. She is enjoying joining us at the dinner table in a new way of late - trying out the high chair. She got to lick pureed beets off my finger the other day and has enjoyed trying the applesauce. But it seems that banana is probably the current favorite of the few things in her repertoire. She continues to enjoy singing and talking to me when she winds down for the night and I find those times to be some of the sweetest of my day - that and the morning smiles!