Friday, September 28, 2012

Maybe this will be the year...

One of my favorite songs right now is the "birthday song" my sister-in-law wrote whose chorus states, among other things, "maybe this will be the year, maybe I will get there, maybe I will learn to turn each day into a celebration of my life..."  I think I'm getting closer!

Today was such a "normal" day in many ways and yet absolutely wonderful and filled with so many specials treasured moments.  My favorite moment from the day came very near the beginning. After enjoying those early morning moments with Alida, we got our shoes on and headed to the garden with a handful of bowls to see what we might find.  As we meandered down the hill, the cool morning air was invigorating and the mountain in front of us was so beautiful.  Jason was down by the garden filling a 5 gallon bucket with water for the ducks.  All of a sudden I realized he was watching Alida and I as we walked towards him and the water was running out of the full bucket all over the place.  It was a very cute moment!

While I got started "dealing with" the oodles of garden goodies - my first and some of the best birthday presents - Jason made breakfast.  He noted, as he walked in with gloves on to protect himself from his handful of stinging nettles, that probably not many people want to eat a bouquet of stinging nettles on their birthday.  I thoroughly enjoyed my nettle eggs and homemade grape juice for breakfast before heading out for a long walk with Alida.  When we returned I harvested some shitake mushrooms and fresh oregano and Alida munched on a persimmon before heading in to see if Kali had woken up - she was already busy reading!

I spent a good part of my day in my favorite room of the house - the kitchen - chopping, blending, mixing, baking, sauteing, grating, kneading...  Fun, fun, fun!

I savored a large kale salad for lunch with the very last of our tomatoes, along with red peppers from our garden, garlic, and a whole bunch of other goodies.  At the end of the meal, Jason gifted me with three books and it wasn't long before I was curled up by a sleeping baby (who Kali almost put to sleep reading Babybug magazines while I did lunch dishes) reading about making a solar food dryer.   The gift came with a promise (that he was nervous about making) to make one before the next gardening season comes around.  Yay!!

Alida started reading one of them for me at lunch:

I looked at the clock at 2:20 p.m. and the next thing I knew it was 3:30 p.m.  My eldest daughter definitely does not take after me in her disdain of naps - I love them!  Not sure when I would have drug myself out of bed had it not been for Alida being ready to get on with her day!  The rain had started falling and in a small break from the rain, Kali and Alida headed out to care for Kali's ducks.  Then when the rain started again, they enjoyed splashing on the front walk.
The afternoon included some food prep for Jason's birthday tomorrow, which I won't report on now since it is a surprise - though I think he probably has figured out that the funny cake pie sitting on the counter has something to do with him turning 36 tomorrow. :)  I chose a pizza supper which I was not disappointed about.  The dough was made with blended amaranth leaves and swiss chard and topped with homemade sauce or fresh pesto made today, sauteed mushrooms, yellow squash, red peppers, home dried oregano...  Alida mostly ate pickles.  Kali decided it was the day to try her pickled dilly cherry tomatoes.  They are...interesting!

We just enjoyed a few rounds of dominos, munching on homegrown popcorn and savoring some decaf coffee with fresh cream. Now I'm going to cuddle up with Alida to read some stories while I get a foot massage.  What a life!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

You just do your best

Crop failures are a part of every farmer's and gardener's life that I've ever heard about.  Also, bumper crops.  See below:

A neighbor who dropped by for some chicken feed said, "So, I see you've mastered sweet potatoes."  Not that I know of.  I would consider it mastering the cultivation of sweet potatoes if I had accurately predicted, ten years running, whether our crop would be a plentiful or poor one, and if I had corrected any problems that arose before they became destructive, such that the majority of years an ample crop was procured.  At the beginning of this season, when I committed my beautiful, lovingly tended little sweet potato slips to the soil, I was hopeful that conditions would be to their liking.  However, it was a bit of an experiment since I had never interplanted them with sweet peppers on such a scale before (20 plants each or so), nor had I ever interplanted them with okra at all.  Also, I was worried about voles, since I've heard horror stories about people going out to harvest their much-anticipated tubers to find only chewed-up nubs under wilted vines.  As it turns out, the sweet potatoes made a lovely (and stunningly productive) living mulch and understory for both species, but especially the okra, and I saw only one tuber that had only slight evidence of chewing by some rodent.  We just dug over two hundred pounds of sweet potatoes from two forty-two foot double-cropped rows.

The peppers were planted every 2 feet with a sweet potato plant between each, and the okra were sown on 18 inch intervals, again with a sweet potato in each hill.  Despite being planted closer together, the sweet potatoes with the okra row made bigger tubers and a thicker carpet of vines than those planted with the peppers.  I chalk this up to mostly shading...the peppers make a more formidable shade.  But it could also be that I planted the okra row first, and used my oldest and most vigorous sweet potato slips there.  I am impressed that the sweet potatoes seem fully compatible with either species.  I don't know the variety we use, since we bought anonymous slips a few years ago at the farmer's market, but I'd be willing to hazard a guess towards "Beauregard."

For those interested, we prepared the soil thusly:  A generous helping of autumn leaves over the whole area in late autumn, several applications of clover-heavy grass clippings in spring (about a two-inch layer each time), followed by a thick hay mulch.  Pepper and sweet potato plants were set out into small circles of exposed soil scraped through the decomposing mulch layers, and okra was seeded into similar circles.  The sweet potatoes were never watered individually...the assumption was that they would get the water they needed from proximity to the well-watered peppers and okra.  This summer, watering was only necessary for the first half of the warm season.  Most of that soil has not been tilled at all for at least 2 years, and when we dug the sweet potatoes we saw the benefits of that:  every clod unearthed was riddled with invertebrate (insect, worm, etc.) tunnels, which make perfect passageways for the rapidly expanding root masses that garden plants need to be able to develop in order to thrive. 

So...a success.  It feels good.  The tubers have been gently washed and are now "curing" (hanging out in a really warm spot for a few days) in the three-season room in the in-law quarters.  There is no sweet potato like a sweet potato harvested before the weather gets really cold and then properly cured, or so I read.  Last year I cured some so hard I cooked them with a space heater!  We're going about it more gently this year.  But I must say, the ones that didn't get cooked were the most fragrant and sweet autumn vegetable I can remember eating.  I guess the ones I'd had up until then had mostly been treated pretty poorly...perhaps even refrigerated, which is a terrible thing to do to a sweet potato.

That's what we did with our sweet potatoes, and this is how they turned out.  I can't take much credit for it, but I think we've learned a few things that will come in handy in coming years.  I'm talking about vegetables, but I could just as well have been talking about our daughter who recently turned nine, and who just today underwent a calm and low-key ritual at our church celebrating the developmental passage that the tenth year is for most children.  Raising children is, in my experience, in many ways like gardening:  you take advice, read the books, get to know your context; then with no time to lose you move ahead with what seems best to you, monitoring how things are going as best you can and making adjustments as seems wise, and eagerly awaiting the results.

We celebrated today's ritual with a round of Chipotle food, consumed as a picnic in JMU's arboretum, and by moving "Kali's tree" (the tree we planted in honor of Kali's first birthday) to it's sixth and hopefully final home by our front walk.  It's fitting, since the tree, a jujube (Chinese date), was collected as the progeny of a tree we had enjoyed by our front walk at our first apartment on Hamlet drive.  We are looking forward to the fall when we can again stoop and collect the spongy little fruits on our way into the house!

Today was a good chance to reflect and take stock, and realize that without us ever "mastering parenting", we've got a pretty nice bumper crop of nine-year-old on our hands who has been growing imperceptibly each passing day, and just like as time went by this season I would root around at the bases of the vines and feel encouraged by what I felt, every so often we get little glimpses in Kali of a yield beyond our hopes.

Naps and hats...

Kali has been very interested recently in trying to put Alida down for her naps. To date she has not been successful.  However, yesterday after she had read Alida a stack of Babybugs, Alida sacked out in less than 3 minutes nursing. This is unheard of these days, as she seems to be wanting to take after her big sister in thinking that she does not need sleep.

When she is not sleeping, she is BUSY!  And her most common word right now is "self" and she says it OFTEN!  She just ate her "yoga" (yogurt) by herself and the clean up job following was impressive, especially since she also likes to fling things when she is done with them (we'll probably find splattered yogurt around for awhile...)

She continues to like accessories.  Here she is enjoying figuring out our big hat:

I'll let Jason share some of the other news as this blog needs his creative flair!  Amazingly supper is over and the dishes are done and it is only 9:20.  Jason and the gals are dancing in the living room to Latin Dance.  Maybe I'll get a little dancing in before calling it a day!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Growing up!

One more reminder of my childhood has been taken from me!  I hope to hang on to my one final baby tooth just as long as I can (at least until our HSA has recovered!) but as of mid-morning today, I had one less molar in my mouth and a few thousand dollars less to our names!

I'm about to put the first food into my mouth, and while quite hungry, I must admit to kind of wanting to keep everything as far away from the soreness as possible.  During a delightful nap next to Alida the last of the numbness wore off.  So I can feel my ear again!  And my tongue, and that there is a large gap in my mouth and I'm also feeling some of the effects of the yanking and drilling.  I decided this was not the post to include photos, though I did bring home my baby tooth to show Kali.  I wonder if anything would happen if I put it under my pillow?

The good news is that I didn't have a panic attack or faint or anything like that.  Emily joining me in the waiting room equipped with a head massager didn't hurt anything, instead helping me start in the most relaxed and calm state possible!

The bad news is that once the baby tooth was out he discovered something he had "never seen before" (not sure that is a compliment when sitting in the oral surgeon's office).  He was just about to put the implant in when he discovered a soft pocket of tissue (called it a cyst). He removed it all and said it was like I had a "little cave" under my tooth.  He could not in good conscience put in the implant knowing it would probably not take.  So instead he filled the cavity with bone fragments and sewed me back.  That will need to heal and the bone to integrate with mine and then in about 4 months he'll open it back up, drill into it again and attach the implant.  Then I wait 3 more months and go to my dentist for the crown.  So about the time we start eating fresh spinach again this should all be behind me (hmm, not sure if that is an encouraging way to think about it).

On the way home I stopped by Kroger to pick up my antibiotic for preventing further infection, which I'd like to do!  I told the woman at the counter that I was sorry if I sounded funny but that half my face was completely numb.  The woman in the back said, "that's okay you are not drooling yet."  When I got back out to the car I looked into the mirror for the first time and realized they had only cleaned me mostly up and I still had blood around my mouth...but, as she noted, at least I wasn't drooling!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Roses and thorns...

One of my new favorite traditions here at home is going around at our Wednesday evening Tangly Woods meals and sharing about our week.  We started with two categories, roses and thorns, and have now expanded to six, adding buds, prickles, pickles and seeds.  It's a great way to hear from everyone regularly and stay in touch with the good, bad, interesting, exciting, flavorful, hopeful, and dreaded things in each other's lives.  And, as one might expect, an added benefit of that sharing and supporting each other is that the thorns and prickles usually become a little less intense in the process!

My own personal roses and thorns from this week are pretty clear in my mind and I'll dwell more on the rose than the thorn (though it has been hard for me to get it off my mind since I have a pretty clear physical reminder of it).  One of my two baby teeth has become infected which has catapulted the process forward of "taking care of it."  I'm on antibiotics (which I really don't like especially when nursing despite being assured it is safe for Alida to continue breastfeeding) to calm the infection and working at getting the extraction and implant process scheduled ASAP.  I've never enjoyed dental procedures and so I'm working a lot with my own internal process as I prepare for this - it didn't feel like a particularly good sign that my body felt weak and all clammy just after making the appointment (which they later cancelled on me so the final plan is still pending).  I know that there would be many ways to put this small "bump in the road" into perspective, and I'm working at it (that perspective-shaping is assisted in part by having a student in our program from Syria who is sharing updates and photos of the violence happening in his home country - it's hard to hold that together with my current reality!).  But I have to admit that I keep coming back to the fact that they will be yanking out a tooth that is not loose and then putting something there in its place (with me awake!).  Currently they want to schedule this on my birthday - it would make for a memorable 34th!

The rose is much more beautiful, fun, rewarding and life-giving.  Sunday we had a wonderful day with good friends co-butchering and co-grape juice making.  I have to admit that the whole butchering process has not gotten easier for me of late (but that would be a subject for a future blog post when my thoughts and feelings have sorted themselves out more), so I was quite happy to be absorbed in the tasks of child entertaining, feeding all the mouths in our home, and making grape juice. I LOVE making grape juice! I understand exactly how the process works but somehow it still seems magical to me to watch the hot sweet purple liquid pour into the jars.  Kali, who has in recent months not been very interested in consuming much liquid, even guzzled two glasses full.  Alida consumed her fair share of grapes, enjoying popping the juicy middles out of the skins.  The house and homestead was bustling with activity all day and I smiled a lot.  It was activities I love with people I love preparing food that is tasty and will add color and flavor to the table all winter long. At lunch when we all sat down for a hearty meal of baked lentils with cheese, swiss chard cheese bake, rice, and a grape rhubarb crisp, Jason commented how trying this life we are living is!  It was a day of feeling full and rich, and tired by the end!

Let me just slip in some other random newsworthy items here before getting on with this very rainy day - good for napping which might be why Alida is still sacked out at 8 a.m. (not sure why our eldest was up at 6 today - when the birds started singing she told me that it would now be impossible for her to fall back asleep).

A garden update!  This picture can speak for itself.  Needless to say, Jason was a bit surprised (and pleased) to unearth a partial hill of sweet potatoes when doing some weeding.  They are HUGE!  Let's hope we can figure out a process for curing them this year that doesn't half bake them in the process.  We should be all set with a great source of vitamin A for awhile.  We are still harvesting okra, basil, swiss chard, kale, peppers, amaranth, and an occasional watermelon.  What we'll enjoy of tomatoes and beans are now tucked away in the freezer and cans.  We are feeling overwhelmed with the generosity of neighbors who are sharing their surplus of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant and squash.  Lots of good eating happening around here. 

Maybe that accounts for some of the incredible fast growth in the kiddo department. I finally admitted that Alida did not have many clothes that fit her in her drawers. During a nap this week I made my way to the attic and pulled out the 2T clothing.  I remember Kali wearing these things!  I just had a hard time bringing myself to believe that our baby was ready for them.  Well, I may have missed my chance because her belly is already exposed in some of the 2T shirts so I'll likely be headed back up there for the 3T box before much more time passes.  Oh, it is going so fast!  The shocking part of it was that Kali is also growing but mostly up. She came out to the kitchen giggling the other day with a pair of pants on that Alida had been wearing the night before.  They fit her - they were capris on her, but they were snapped and zipped just fine and they had not been any too big on Alida.  Kali was quite tickled that they could wear the same clothing. The shirt of Alida's that she had on was not quite so nice a fit. 

We've been enjoying seeing more of our neighbors along Happy Valley Road.  We've been doing the hard task of trying to limit our involvements, which has meant letting go of some things we genuinely care about.  Part of that process has involved trying to assess what gives us the most energy, where can we contribute the most, and what seems most life giving for our whole family. It seems that putting roots down in this place and investing in our community here is what really thrills us.  And there are all sorts of fun connections and synergy that seems to go along with it, as well as learning about fun happenings.  The girls were invited to come down the road on Saturday for some pony riding and pony cart riding.  They loved it!  Alida was particularly impressed with her bicycle helmet "hat."  CUTE!

Bubbles and sleep...

Someone loves bubbles:

Another someone is convinced she doesn't need sleep and even has a clear reason as to why she rubs her eyes at night:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Apron dance and more...

I intended to write more to go with the two videos below, but if I wait for time to write more, these videos will likely be a thing of the past.  So here they are!

It wasn't long after I finished the clip below that both girls had added a wooden spoon each to their dance for an added feature!

Alida is taking after her big sister in her enjoyment of reading books - but she hasn't quite figured out how she would fake us out better regarding her reading abilities if she held the book right side up!