Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve and a batch of green rolls is fresh out of the oven.  Before too long we'll sit down to roasted sweet, white and the last of our purple potatoes and venison burgers.  It's not exactly oyster stew, which I mostly liked for the crackers, but it's what we mutually agreed upon for our Christmas Eve dinner.  The pancake and smoothie brunch has been long enough ago that my belly is starting to feel eager to deposit some goodies into it.  One of our holiday goals has been to get hungry between meals! 

As the holiday greetings come in by snail mail and email, I'm realizing it is about time to craft our own letter that sums up the year that is coming to an end.  That's always more daunting than a blog post, hastily crafted with multiple interruptions throughout.  So here I am with a hodgepodge of news that I didn't want to lose sight of. 

First of all, when I downloaded our pictures just now, I found that our camera had been set to video function when we asked my dad to snap a family photo before heading off to church yesterday. It was our first foray to church in several months and due to that, and that we don't get out all that often as a family, it seemed a prime opportunity to get a photo.  We have a few photos, but family photos don't seem all that exciting - most people occasionally take a family photo, right?  But how many have a video of taking a family photo without knowing you are taking a video.  Don't worry, it gets turned the right direction at the end. :)

Today has been a really fun day at home with the girls.  Occasionally Alida's notes "Mommy's home" and I love to tell her that I'll be home today, tomorrow, the next day, the next day and the next day.  We are all still coughing and blowing our noses occasionally but spirits are rising and we see the end of this particularly germ invasion.  I slept the full night in my bed last night for the first time in weeks, only up a few times to take my coughing fit to another room so Alida would not be disturbed.  So we are on the upswing.

It didn't hurt anything for it to be snowing when Kali awoke this morning.  Not long after brunch we headed out for a little adventure, which included a jaunt down to the kale and broccoli patch (a neighbor's market patch long abandoned but still producing and available for our picking).  And, yes, I did brush snow off of kale and broccoli, coming home with two bags full!  Here are the girls enjoying the snow. It was cute to see Alida trying to throw the snow, somewhat unsuccessfully:

The last tidbit was Jason's and my astonishment again at our littlest gal.  It has been so very fun to experience her explosion of language and comprehension.  She is putting things together left and right and letting us in on her inner workings.  She seems to remember things and also attach emotions to happenings (like the bird that got hit flying into our door or the cat that showed up at our door one evening - she still talks about both happenings with some measure of sadness at their plight).  Anyway, her recent obsession has been with Spell-a-Puzzle (a game that Kali received from her Aunt K years ago).  By the day she gets better and better at it.  The puzzle is made up of pieces that each have a letter of a word on it and a part of the picture. Then on the back are little pictures of the word that is to be spelled.  The game says not for children under 3 and for children ages 4-7.  Historically we have done the bulk of the work for her but in recent days she has started putting all the pieces together herself as we hand them to her (we don't dare try to do it for her as there are unpleasant repercussions to such actions).  Well, today I was busy doing something else and she was out there working on it by herself. When I came out, I was more than a little surprised to find her putting together a word that she had searched out the pieces for by herself and put together.  She did it several times.  The manufacturers still consider the game to be a choking hazard!

Timer's ringing, kids are getting hungry (which means crabby for one), the fire needs tending, etc...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Germs & Farmers Cheese

I know, the two things in the title hardly seem to go together, but they did in my day today.  It seems it is the time of year once again where we are battling germs almost nonstop.  I've been thankful that all of our bugs to date have been relatively minor.  Alida, however, wilted during the night last night.  I felt her feverish body and wondered what the day would bring.  It brought a pretty sad and tired gal with a bark-like cough that caused her to crumple into tears and to tug very strongly at my heart each time.  On the work front tomorrow ends the term so it is one of my busier weeks and I wasn't sure how clearing my schedule was going to go.  But after one attempt at transferring her sleeping from my arms to Jason's, it was clear where I wanted to and would be spending my day - at home!  If she would only know how much more relaxed Jason is around sick kiddos, she may have chosen his tender care, but for today I was the "chosen one" and glad that I was able to be with her.

Unlike the picture here that I just couldn't help but include (could she get any cuter?), Alida was pretty much on my chest either sleeping, cuddling or nursing until about 4:30 p.m. (I'm so very, very glad she still enjoys and can benefit from nursing when she doesn't feel like eating a thing).  She is currently benefiting from a little Ibuprofen and so is up and about toddling around and playing with Kali, still greatly disturbed anytime she needs to cough.  Poor little gal! 

This afternoon I found myself saying what my mom often would say to me to try to help me focus on the positive: "there is no great loss without some small gain."  I missed a number of things today that were unfortunate, but gained a few things too.  I loved all the cuddle time (she seldom is still long enough to cuddle unless she is sleeping0, and it enabled me to finish Barbara Kingsolver's newest novel, Flight Behavior (strongly recommend it!).  I also got to enjoy a walk with R, one of our housemates.  And, with Alida feeling a bit perkier, got to spend just a bit of time experimenting in the kitchen with my new book, Wild Fermentation - that's where the farmers cheese comes in!  Here was dinner:

It was actually slice-able - super easy (add vinegar to boiling whole milk, stir, strain and salt if desired! 
Please note that this is the remains of ONE sweet potato after we all enjoyed generous helpings.
Kali still "doesn't like" kale chips but there is always a very mysterious crunching sound whenever they are served.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Snuggle Love

One of the happiest moments of my life so far (Jason writing) happened this morning.  When I woke up, Alida was still sleeping, but Kali stirred and wondered where I was going (I usually keep her company in her bed).  Janelle had to get ready for work, so Kali and I curled up with Alida in the big bed and drifted off again.

After 45 minutes of intermittent dozing by Kali and I, Alida finally roused, gradually becoming aware of me, and then Kali.  She was happy to see us, and Kali wrapped her arms around Alida, who smiled and reciprocated.  They spent some minutes smiling and cuddling and enjoying the presence of each other, and Alida said, several times, "Suggle Yuv."  This translates as our family word for such times (usually with parents, not the other kid!), "Snuggle Love."

The friendship developing between these girls is so sweet and precious.  Kali genuinely cares for Alida and her needs, and seems to enjoy her involvement in toddler provision and minding the vast majority of the time.  She is really very patient with her, and despite the fact that Alida doesn't always enjoy all of her methods and that they sometimes have conflicts when their needs or desire conflict, Alida seems to admire Kali very much, saying and doing and consuming as much of what Kali does as her age, size, and awareness will allow.  Most of the time they are at ease and happy together, and they are very cute when they play soccer together!

I look forward to more of these moments, and it was especially heartening to see them enjoy waking up side by side, since one of our hopes is that before too much more time goes by (not to rush things) the girls might enjoy sharing at least a bedroom if not even a bed, such that Janelle and I get to occupy the other one TOGETHER again!

Note from Janelle:  Below are just a few of the many pictures taken today while I was at work.  Kali said I probably shouldn't look at them if I already feel like a particular little person is growing up too fast!  Is she really ready for a big kid swing?  And, also, please note that when the "boss" is around the chickens are pecking around the yard like good roosters!

Roaming roosters not so pleasant afterall...

So one note on Jason's last post - he is in the picture that I took of him in the tree stand (look closely!).  I figured if he got to spend several hours for two mornings and two evenings sitting in the woods, I wanted a "guest blog post" out of it so took a picture just in case it might be needed!

So while he was sitting enjoying the woods and peaceful solitude, I found myself trying to get his roosters to free range around the yard and NOT our front porch!  Five of them seemed much more interested in hanging out on the front porch, glancing in our door to see what might be happening in the "human coop."  I was not impressed with their interest in roosting on our porch railing either.  My attempts at shooing them to the yard (reminding them that they are to be finding bugs!) seemed to amuse them but not deter them from finding their way back. 

So my "to do" list for tomorrow now includes cleaning chicken poop from our porch and walk...

Participatory naturalism

The tree trunks showed up to me (Jason) as ribbons of lightness, gently leaning this way or that, approximating straightness, pocked with imperfections.  I looked down at the tool in my gloved hands.  The moonlight glancing off of it struck my eye in one straight, hard line; quite cold.

It's not often I've been privileged to watch the moon set, followed by the sunrise a few minutes later, especially from twenty feet up in a tree.  Watching, or rather hearing our woods wake up and get its day started was a distinct pleasure.  It started before dawn with a hollering match between my many roosters.  Among the wild birds the white-throated sparrows were first, breaking into a chorus of cheeps that only faded when they had gotten down to the business of breakfast.  They were followed almost immediately by a volley of yelping calls from some species or other (I imagine woodpeckers, but who knows?), uttered only once per individual in a call-and-response daybreak liturgy that lasted all of about five seconds and was never repeated during the time of my presence in the woods, until the next day at the same time.  The light was adequate now to my task, so turned to face the more open part of the woods, slipped back the hammer and was ready.

Two mornings and two evenings I sat in my tree stand, waiting.  It had been since this time last year that I'd spent more than twenty consecutive minutes sitting alone in one place in a natural setting.  By the time hunting season comes around again, I'm beginning to pine for it.  It is healing time.  I love being a dad and a husband, and would not trade this time of life, with all its challenges, for any other person's life or any other time in mine.  But that part of me that craves unstructured space to think in, and which spontaneously turns outward to the world, observing, observing, gets short shrift right now.  And there is something unmatchable about being there as a member, knowing that you want something that might come along.  It's a different kind of attention, and a different kind of community.

The first night, after dark had fallen and I was still sitting, enjoying the quiet, two or more deer came and poked around for a while near my tree, but I couldn't even see them much less get a shot off (besides it's quite illegal to shoot after dark).  I unloaded my gun on the evening of the last day, returned the unused shells to their sleeve, and returned the gun to its spot in storage.  No one has fired that gun for probably fifteen years.

It was, I think, twenty-two years ago this fall, on my fourteenth birthday, that my parents made me close my eyes while they walked out of the room.  When they came back in, they laid in my open hands something surprisingly heavy, long, hard, and cold.  It turned out to be a 30-30, complete with an over-under scope (and a field case)!  A classic deer gun.  This was a special event: a big moment, a loaded moment, a moment that lurched time forward.  It was also a bit of an awkward moment for me.  My gratefulness was real, but not simple.  My parents, and by extension, us, were connected through church and family relationships to many people who maintained and valued hunting traditions.  Some of my extended family counted on venison as a significant staple in their diets.  My Dad usually joined his brothers in northern Pennsylvania for hunting camp after Thanksgiving each year, and my older brother wasted no time joining in when he reached his 12th year. 

That is to say, taking up hunting would probably have been as hard not to do as it was to do.  But my parents were not ones to press many specific expectations onto their children, and I was a sensitive, emotional, compassionate kid.  The talk in my family (with no hint of disappointment or embarrassment) was that despite my native patience and my alertness to the natural world I was not too likely to be interested in hunting, since it involved killing animals.  My parents could see me taking a camera into the woods, they said.  True to expectations, I stayed away from hunting camp the first year, as I recall, but I did end up taking up hunting the next year. When I got home with my license, Dad took me out with his old single-shot twelve-gauge after small game in our field.  I remember my heart pounding as I actually shot a squirrel from a few yards' distance off the side of a tree trunk, and then a few minutes later took a cock pheasant on the wing.  I still remember Dad's surprise at my success, the lead pellet I chomped down on in that tasty pheasant fricassee, and the way the squirrel's head hung from its shoulders by a few red shreds.  There is a photo somewhere of a scrawny kid wearing his Dad's ill-fitting hunting garb, holding a mutilated squirrel by the tail in one hand and a pheasant by the foot or tail in the other, squinting into the sunshine. 

That year I went to camp, which turned out to be populated by thoughtful, articulate, wise, and funny men who savored their connections to the natural world and their collective history.  I have often wished more people could be exposed to that kind of experience; it has payed me dividends.  I think I was a bit relieved to have missed the only deer I shot at that year.  I wasn't sure I had the nerve to cut open its belly and sink my arms in, knife in hand, to haul out the innards, and I was not particularly sensitive to the kind of peer pressure that makes a person need to have something to boast about...why did I come, I wonder now?  I don't know exactly, but I still remember from that year the Pennsylvania mountain darkness and cold, and the shrew that popped its head up out of the leaves by my boot and disappeared again just as abruptly.

I went on to shoot deer four out of the five years I went, even paying my uncle (family discount!) to mount two of the bucks' lifeless (lifelike!) heads, which I hung in my bedroom.  The only girl I officially dated in high school quit speaking to me (she was an animal lover) after I brought in one of them as a prop for a speech I'd written on deer overpopulation/hunting.  I was a "smart kid" and a "good student"; I think the other "good students" were a bit baffled by my presentation, but members of the hunting subculture seemed to appreciate it.  Usually those guys didn't have a whole lot to say to me, nor I them, despite there being no ill will between us.

This has been my story with hunting all along: a brainy, cerebral affirmation of a participatory form of naturalism that doesn't totally make sense to the other hunters and doesn't register with academia.  Goodness knows that in the largely intellectual circles I ran in college and somewhat since, the subject didn't come up much.  The merits of vegetarianism versus participation in the industrial meat system, sure.  But the question of the ethics and benefits of hunting simply isn't relevant to many of our lives, so even when it comes up it's hard for the conversation to get much steam behind it.

To my life now, it is quite relevant.  Among our plantings the deer are an ever-present force, and this year particularly the woods seem to have kept busy with making deer out of themselves.  As such, the savvy hunters among our friends and neighbors have had a good year.  Despite my hours in the woods this year, I was not among the successful.  But here's the beautiful part:  We have over thirty pounds of venison in the freezer anyway, because of what I'm calling the "Deer Economy."  It is illegal to sell wild-harvested venison or other game, and venison in particular tends to come in fifty-pound units, so when the hunts go the hunters' way, there is often a substantial amount left over, which ends up in the grateful hands of neighbors or less successful hunters, or in my case, both.  My sister E and her fiance J have gotten into making bone-based soup stocks and since they are now in the area (yay again!), we were able to pass some deer bones to them this season.  E said to me, "I love how this one deer has made so many people happy."  She's so right.  First off, it was a happy animal itself up to the moment the shot rang out down by the neighbor's broccoli patch.  Then the hunter (who was also the broccoli farmer) was happy as he claimed his quarry, and then again as he cut out the choicest meat and stashed it away.  We were certainly happy to have the parts he didn't have time to mess with, and the two of them were delighted by a few bones with meat scraps clinging to them, especially when they sampled the soup!  Then they passed the boiled-out bones on to some dog-owning friends of theirs who were pleased to have such a lovely treat for their beloved companions.  But I suspect none of us were so purely and thoroughly pleased as the dogs themselves.  This kind of exchange of gifts and sense of bounty are what the holidays are coming to mean to me.  Or is it that by immersing ourselves more and more in the kind of life we find necessary if we are to live in touch with the sources of our sustenance, we rediscover the sources of our culture's rituals and ceremonies?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The first day of December!

This afternoon after Kali wore me out in a bike ride/jogger run (she is increasing in speed much faster than me), I enjoyed one of those rare pockets of time where supper was in the crockpot not needing my attention and there was nothing else pressing that had to be done and the weather was my favorite (just right for pants and a long sleeve shirt).  I was happy to soak up some time with these very sweet sisters...

So while Kali and Alida dug for fossils, I watched them and commented on the rocks they were finding and looked around the woods seeing what I might notice or learn by just being present to the moment. I started noticing the little evergreens and remembered that we wanted to pick out a little tree for our Christmas tree.  It wasn't long before the girls and I were checking a few out - Kali and I (for once) liked the same one.

Alida didn't comment on the tree.  She was too busy walking around saying, "let's go funny cake."  This was cracking me up but I had no idea why she was combining those words.  At supper tonight, I was telling Jason the story and he said, "oh, she's saying 'let's go fly a kite'."  We got a good chuckle out of that. I fully believe that was what she was intending to say, but Kali and I both heard "funny cake" pretty clearly.  See for yourself:

When Jason came in from the tree stand (he enjoyed 4 stints up there this week watching the day start or end in the woods and only encountered deer on one of them but after it was too dark to hunt safely), he was escorted out to the Christmas tree and affirmed our choice.  So we enjoyed an evening of decorating the tree with Christmas music in the background, letting the girls open a little present from their stockings (which Alida calls "boots."), and playing a game together and letting Alida enjoy whole pieces of popcorn for the first time (she was impressed).  Jason and I also went through some of Alida's clothes (getting rid of the 18months-2T stuff and digging into the 3T box - can it really be so?)!

Over dinner, I shared how I really want to get bees.  I just finished reading A Dirty Life and LOVED it (thanks mom and dad) - now dreaming of a visit to Essex Farm sometime.  They don't even talk about bees, but somehow reading it helped clarify some things for me - including a deep desire for me to feel more integrated into our own little plot of land (not just taking care of the food that comes in the door but being more a part of the whole process).  Jason has chickens. Kali has ducks. I want to have bees (and I'll never have to butcher any!).  So we'll see. I'm stating it out loud and in writing because I really want to do it.  So ask me about it in a few months and see if I'm making any progress on making that dream a reality.

Okay, it's about to be December 2 so I better join the rest of the family in getting some sleep.  I will end with a picture of some of Jason's chickens enjoying a dust bath at the base of Kali's chinese date tree located along our front walk.  We are officially free ranging some chickens as of this afternoon and it is surprisingly pleasant to have them meandering around us as we go about our day.

End of November hightlights!

Before November is in the too distant past, I want to note a few highlights of recent days (I was writing November on all the bills I paid today, in some kind of denial that December is already upon us - which might have been partially because I ran in a short sleeved shirt today)!

The first is that we no longer need our "regular toilet" and we are very excited about that - maybe a bit ridiculously so...  There has been an extra amount of "potty talk" around here, as we all enjoy our "new potty."  There are now two functioning composting toilets on the premises and one recently built outdoor location for depositing our humanure, which to date has been coined the "turd corral."

I have to say that I'm impressed.  It smells less than a normal toilet - not at all.  Jason built a wooden frame to which a regular toilet seat is attached.  A 5 gallon bucket fits inside.  For cover materials we started with pine needles which were neat and easy to use but not quite as absorbent.  We have moved to crushed leaves, free from the city if you scoop them yourself.  They are just a tad bit messier as they are slightly damp but it makes it that you are never going to forget to wash your hands (one particular person in this household sometimes needs such a reminder).  We are getting our system down and enjoying it thoroughly.  I feel so wasteful now whenever I use and flush a regular toilet! :)

We got our composting toilets in working order just days before heading out for a fun, luxurious, much needed family trip to West Virginia for Thanksgiving.  It was a great mixture of play, fun craft projects, naps, hikes, lots of good food and Jason even snuck in some hours of work here and there with dad on the house.  Our minds were often with Jason's extended family as they gathered in Conneticut for his grandfather's memorial service.  It was a hard decision to miss being there in person, but we weren't sure how present we would have been able to be after the amount of time we would have spent en route (Kali is an excellent easy going traveler; Alida needs a lot of entertaining and we also learned on this trip that she gets carsick, to the point of vomiting after mountain number 2).

A few highlights from our West Virginia time via pictures.  It doesn't capture nearly all of the time or the fun projects but you'll get the picture.  I should mention that one of the projects we are particularly happy to have done was making venison tallow candles.  It was so nice to experiment with it with mom close by - I always feel more able to try new things out with her expertise close by.  They turned out great and I feel ready to do them "self" next time (as Alida would say):

Alida was interested in the job getting done in the attic eaves.
The job went so well that we got a couple of walks in - on this particular one I carried the backpack empty the entire way. Someone was a very happy little hiker!
Kali found some snow - you had to watch your back with her around...
One of several projects included matching aprons for Kali, Alida, Deirdre and Zelda.
Kali helped Grandma design a quilt top and then proceeded to help sew it together.
By the end of our time there the top was done - a testament to Kali's lengthening attention span on projects like this!
Yes, we sat still and did something as "unproductive" as playing with a marble racer together. How nice and what a wonderful change of pace
She was sporting her new hair things and her daddy couldn't quite get over how cute she was.
Alida enjoying her first sled rides.  Kali was in heaven!