Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas 2013 in Keezletown

This is the first year since Nora was with us that we are not traveling at all over the Christmas holiday break.  This time around, we still got to see lots of family and were able for the first time ever to help host the Benner celebration in Keezletown.  That came to a close on Sunday and yesterday we welcomed my parents, who will enjoy their in-law quarters for two weeks while it is otherwise unoccupied with Jonathan and Rachelle doing month long trip to see family.  So we have been enjoying creating special memories together at home, and getting some long awaited house projects accomplished.  I'm trying not to think about the end of the break which is fast approaching but soaking up a few final days at home.  So here's some final images from 2013 before we welcome the New Year. Kali is still trying to figure out who in this household might make it until midnight with her tonight!

Making gingerbread cookies together was our one Christmas cookie adventure and the girls had fun decorating them with friends.  They didn't last long!
Alida is helping with our waffle brunch for Christmas morning!
A little pre-brunch dancing to Christmas music
Do I really need any other Christmas presents?  A definite "no!"
We couldn't "live" without our own Spot It game so here they are breaking in our cards - a gift for Kali but definitely intended for the whole family!
My love for my hubby runs deep and I even get a kick out of his love of stainless steel bowls!  This was by far my best Goodwill find of the season. I'll even forgive him for forgetting what I got him when I asked him to show his present to my folks last evening. 
Following our relatively low key Christmas celebration, just the four of us, we geared up for a celebration of 20+ with all the Benners joining us.  The weekend went way too fast...we hope there will be more times like it in the future.  The girls soaked up all the relatives - kids and adults alike were all considered additional playmates (for Alida that meant lots of rounds of Spot It).

Here you can enjoy Alida's antics eating one of the many incredible meals we enjoyed over the weekend.  I'm pretty sure we caught her doing this soon after we were doing blind taste tests of yellow and green dilly beans.  She didn't pick up anything except that you squeeze your eyes shut and eat without looking at what is going in. :)

Here's a few other images from our time together:
Alida is a big fan of her new hat made by Aunt Anna and her new fancy outfit from Aunt Emily and Uncle Jonas.
One of our meals together - glad for our large front room!  I also get a kick out of this photo - who knows what wisdom Jason is imparting but he has an audience!
The first day was beautiful out and we got to enjoy a long tour around the property - the next morning it was pouring rain!
These gingerbread cookies didn't last long either...
Storytelling time!  And there are actually 6 on the couch - you just can't see the third cousin who has not yet emerged, but likely will before too much longer!
I could have enjoyed many more hours of hearing stories shared.  Alida's attention span wasn't quite up for it, so you can see Jason playing Spot It and hopefully picking up on most of the stories.

While we have been doing a lot more eating, game playing and visiting than normal, there is also visible proof of some of the project time this break has afforded us.  Jason has completed the trim on the windows we installed last year, all except for the final coat of oil that will hopefully be applied this evening.  He is working with my dad on finishing out the 3-season room in the in-law quarters and is laying tile today - which he seems very happy to be doing. 

Kali is busy working with Grandma on the sewing machine, Alida is catching an afternoon nap (will she make it to midnight with her big sister? do we want her to?) and I'm about to sort through books and finish up a little rearranging project.  The goats are tethered outside doing their strength training. You should be able to see the jug in this picture that Cookie Dough is attached too - Jason had a nifty idea of filling it with concrete so we could let them graze in various locations.  They like it and are crying less so that makes me more amenable to their presence at Tangly Woods (which relieves Kali of her worry that I'll give them away in a moment of frustration!).  Anyway, the little guys are working at getting strong enough to pull their tethers around and so they are often not where we put them.  We are thinking maybe they will be able to pull the wagon around before too long.  It they aren't careful, we'll come up with some more jobs for them!  Right now they are happy to work at eating our lawn down. 

Until 2014...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Spinach and Spot it!

It's just been a little over a week since I last posted, but feels like much longer ago!  Christmas has come and gone and lots of new memories have been stored up among these walls.  But that is for another post.  This is just a quick one to note two recent highlights!  It is appropriate that while I type Alida and I are engaged in a game of "Spot It."  We now have five different variations of the game - what good stocking stuffers they made!  Now often one of the first things out of Alida's mouth in the morning is, "Would you like to play a round of Spot It?"  Very hard to resist!  The other morning just for fun I asked her if she wanted to play a round of Spot It.  She looked at me and said, "Are you the Spot It asker?"  I guess that is her job. :)

So we fit in rounds of Spot It here and there throughout our day and she is getting quite good at it. Soon I won't be able to do dishes and play with her, or do a blog post for that matter!  She was happy to have lots of additional family members around this past weekend and was usually able to find someone who was up for a round!

The other big non-Christmas event of our week was getting a huge load of spinach to freeze on shares from friends who are organic farmers and have an abundance of greens still remaining after the end of the season.  Jason spent a few hours picking a huge bin of spinach (probably holding 2-3 bushels) and then was my hero washing and sorting spinach for at least 8 hours.  We wrapped up the freezing operation around 11 p.m. and had happily tucked away over 35 containers of spinach and had a lot for
fresh eating remaining. 

It is interesting for me to note how much harder it is for me to gear up for a large food processing project in the winter.  I'm just out of the groove!  I really look forward to the time when we have a small greenhouse or another method for growing fresh greens in the winter. However, I'm not sure I want to be producing large amounts of things such that we need to put up a lot of stuff during this time of year. I'm pretty sure I'd still be washing spinach if Jason had not been available to help.  It was A LOT of spinach.  The ducks were happy to get the large amount we determined not up to snuff for human consumption. I do like having animals who are eager to eat the leftovers! 

As much as I'm not into large food processing projects in December, I'm also enjoying immensely the bounty of food in our root cellar and freezer and thrilled that we could make a large Christmas dinner for 24 without going to the grocery store.  Because I think it will be fun to remember down the road and because I neglected to photograph the colorful meal, I'll note here what Jason and I made for the Benner Christmas feast this past weekend.  And hopefully I'll get around to a Christmas post later on, but if I don't shift my focus to Spot It, Alida is going to "cream" me again (her word after she beat me this last round)!

  • Roasted Chickens - from our flock of course
  • Mashed Potatoes - from our garden
  • Gravy - made with our chicken broth
  • Garlic Roasted Sweet Potatoes - garlic and sweet potatoes from our garden
  • Cranberry Relish - WV cranberries harvested by my parents!
  • Green Rolls - with amaranth and lambs quarter from our property
  • French Bread Rolls - made with homemade ricotta whey
  • Butter - homemade from our local milk share
  • Jam - strawberries and autumn olive berries from our property and cinnamon jelly from a neighbor
  • Applesauce - from the huge load we made from apples gleaned from a local abandoned orchard
  • Turnip Souffle - with freshly dug turnips and eggs from our chickens
  • Spinach Ricotta Quiches - spinach from the aforementioned bounty, homemade ricotta and eggs from our chickens
  • Salad Greens with toppings/dressing - greens from the same organic farming friends, hardboiled eggs from our chickens, shredded carrots from another local farmer friend and my favorite salad dressing made with some of our onions (which are starting to sprout so need to be used!)
Very satisfying meal!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

First day of winter!

The thermometer read over 70 degrees early this afternoon - feels more like the first day of spring or summer. We just returned from a trash walk to fulfill our Adopt-A-Highway commitment and to help beautify our road and were sweating in December (in t-shirts!).  There is clearly someone who has a habit of picking up coffee at Waffle House and flinging their cup out the window and another (or the same) person who drinks very large bottles of beer and deposits the bottles all along our road.  The heaviest find was a large bag of waterlogged trash that someone had decided to throw into the stream at the end of our driveway.  We did not attempt to pull the deer carcass out which was there as well (our suspicion is that some of the hunters on Massanutten Mountain are sport hunters and for some reason that particular stream has become a dumping ground for the parts of the deer they don't want (sometimes the choicest cuts of meat are taken but in some cases the only thing retrieved are the antlers).  Not only is this polluting but it seems so wasteful and disrespectful.  So I can't say that my positive feelings towards humanity are bolstered by our trash walks, but it does feel good to make a contribution to cleaning up the place where we live.  And we got to greet some neighbors along with way and came home with one Christmas gift of cinnamon jelly and roasted pecans.

Now I'm sitting in our bedroom while Alida finishes up her nap with the window open and the sound of the wind in the pine trees.  The background noise for awhile around here will be construction noise, as this week's project on the home front is for Jason to finally finish up the trim on the window's we replaced last year.  It's fun to have these days at home to look forward to - while we have some goals for the time it feels we can move at a more relaxed pace enjoying meals together and evenings of games and being together as a family.  We'll be spending Christmas week together at home for the first time since Nora was with us and will welcome the Benner clan here to celebrate with us the weekend after Christmas.

The girls and I made our menus for the week yesterday with them each picking things they would like to eat. With the exception of Kali's first request, we have everything we need to make their favorite dishes (I love not needing to go grocery shopping!).  Her first request was toasted cheese sandwiches, which she was easily diverted from when she learned we didn't have cheddar cheese - and it worked out perfectly that our friends had made toasted cheese last night for supper club so she got her wish afterall!

Tonight's meal will be my favorite - haystacks!  The impetus for making a huge pot of chili was that we had noticed the very start of a little soft spot on the end of our rather long trombone squash.  Thanks to Anna we got started growing these and had allowed one to remain on the vine as long as possible for seed. It just kept growing and growing and growing!  And it has held up remarkably well. It was so fun to peel and chop up and the chili is about half squash!
It's hard to believe that it was just last weekend that we hiked to the lake with snow still on the ground!  And we even got to enjoy watching a great blue heron enjoy the lake - an uncommon occurrence as we hardly ever see any birds on the lake. The other treat was eating persimmons off the tree by the lake (and picking a bunch to bring back home).  Alida sacked out on the way there and then woke up as we got home.  She asked if we were going to the lake!  I feel kind of bad when we talk about what we are going to do before she falls asleep and then she misses it, but she didn't seem too bothered, especially when I talked about taking a picnic there once the weather warms.

Now it is time to do our monthly deworming of the goats so I better wrap this up. They will be thrilled since it means human contact and attention - and some oats and molasses.  We got goats to experiment with raising goats to see how they fit us and our homestead and I'd say the experiment has been a success on my end of things - I don't want to raise goats!  I think if I had nothing else to do, no other living things that depended on me for their physical and emotional well-being and I wanted to have goats by my side 24/7 they would be perfect!  As it is, I have lots of other things I'd like to fill my days with, I have three people who I love dearly who I want to invest my time and energy into and I would rather not have the goats tagging along everywhere (though they were kind of cute hanging out with us this morning while we hung laundry).  The reality is that these particular little guys seem very emotionally needy - they want to be with us!  Recently when we've taken them for walks we try to go where they want to go - which means running as fast as we can to keep up with them. Where do they take us?  Not to a honeysuckle patch or some luscious grass in the yard - to our porch and they just stare inside. The other day they took Jason to our side porch, then to the door on the deck and then around the back of the house to the garage door.  Silly kids!  Yesterday I tethered Oreo on something that wasn't strong enough and he got loose - no problem, because he just showed up on the side porch!  In my good moments, I can enjoy having them around and watching Kali and Alida enjoy them.  But I often feel a little overwhelmed by the thought of providing them a good home for the duration of their lives. I think they would be happier either with a lot more goats around or if they had people close by them all the time.  As it is, every time we walk out the door they pipe up and that gets pretty old for me.  They took a little trip to Waynesboro this past week when friends borrowed them to be part of a Nativity scene. :)  Their stay away was extended due to bad weather and I realized how much more relaxed I felt walking outside and not hearing their bleating.  I find it interesting how the noises from our chickens and ducks don't bother me in the least but the goats cry definitely gets me at a different spot.  But for now it will be me that will have to adjust as there would be louder cries from a different kind of kid if we got rid of them at this point!  And that other kid is chomping at the bit to get back outside so I better get on with the day and off this computer (as the littlest munchkin is also awake and clambering for attention)!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It was a bit of a stretch finding a tree this year on our property, but we at least found a part of a tree!  Jason, Kali and Alida scouted it out yesterday and we were able to get it cut and inside before the most recent snow.  Last evening we decorated it and I'm not sure Alida stopped chattering once.  This was a very exciting activity.  The ornaments are going to play musical branches I believe this year due to her intense fascination with the tree and all the fun things hanging from it (that seem to wish to be moved around from time to time)! 

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself!  It seems that three weeks between blog posts means much has transpired.  In this case it included a fun trip to Pa. for Thanksgiving with the Benners, a rescheduled fall party which included eating donuts off strings and bobbing for apples, and a wonderful visit from cousins.  Here you can see Jason beating me in our apple bobbing competition.  Not only did he succeed in getting his apple before me, he was substantially dryer!

The girls had so much fun having cousins around this past weekend.  We were grateful the bad weather held off long enough that most of Saturday was spent outside playing in leaves, at the swingset, on the tire swing, etc...  The goats thoroughly enjoyed the visit too as they got taken on multiple walks.

The other thing that happened with November coming to a close was that Kali successfully completed her story that she set out to write for National Novel Writing Month. She participated in the youth Nanowrimo program, after being encouraged and inspired by her uncle Jonas.  It felt like a complete transformation to see her go from hardly ever writing more than a word or two to soaring above her 3000 word goal with her story, "The Land of the Rainbow."  We are eager for the sequel to come out.  Here she is submitting her story - she was not about to forget the deadline and spent hours working on editing it while we were in PA for Thanksgiving.  Yes, we are proud of her and were quite impressed with her stick-to-it-ness on this one!

She has pretty much been taking a break from writing in December, and it's a good thing she is done her story because snow has arrived!  She was out in it for over 3 hours straight today, about 2 of those alone.   By the time Alida woke from her afternoon nap and we got outside her snowman was already constructed and she had taken many runs down the hill on her sled, making a great path for us to follow.  The brush piles at the bottom of the hill were perfect for catching us and most of the time Kali would fly down the hill, sail up into the air and land right on the brush pile.  Of course that never happened when I was at the bottom ready to document it, but here she is on one of her runs.

Here's  a few more pictures of the girls enjoying the outdoors, both pre and post-snow. 

I think my time at the computer is about up. Jason is finishing up rehabbing our back door, the girls were coloring but Alida is ready for my full attention (and I think some more food in her belly), and it is about time to get a fire going in the wood stove.  I imagine we'll be taste testing some more popcorn tonight (we are needing to eat a lot of popcorn to decide what to favor for seed for next year) and it is just the right weather for a hot drink and a game!

We are having a lot of fun eating delicious home grown popcorn and new this year grinding our own cornmeal!  Here the girls and I are making tortillas with homegrown and ground red cornmeal.  Tomorrow I'm going to try cornbread made with 100% cornmeal from our harvest this year.  Fun!  I've also put it in rolls and used it making pizza so far.  If we get into it in a much bigger way our little hand grinder won't cut it.  But it works for now!

Until next time...

Friday, November 22, 2013

A very leafy "staycation"

So we've been to West Virginia with wonderful friends and back since the last post (which included enough fun to be an entry all on its own), but that's not going to be the focus of my musings today.  I'm copying off of a wonderful, rejuvenating, fun week off work where I didn't go anywhere.  Well, that's not quite true - we went out one evening for a monthly supper club with friends and another evening for a small group monthly dinner we are part of.  So in 8 days I got in the car 2 times, both times with my family and for something purely pleasurable!  Just the way I like it!

Several months back a friend of ours asked Jason about doing a side job for him.  It was the kind of carpentry work Jason enjoys and is really good at and so he decided to go for it.  We knew there was no way it could be done in a timely fashion if it was to just fit in the cracks, so I looked for the first week in my work schedule that didn't already have meetings in it and blocked it out as a vacation week - or in this case a staycation since Jason was the one going off to work and I was staying put.  Since we weren't preparing to go for a trip, the week kind of snuck up on me.  In reflecting back on the week, I think this actually had a profound impact on my enjoyment of the week off.  I had little time to build up expectations and went into the week open to whatever it might hold - which ended up being a lot of leaf and pine needle raking!

Tuesday evening on our way to and from small group I was reflecting some on the week.  I put it right up there as one of the best vacations I've had in a long time. Here's a list of the things that made it so wonderful: being at home, not waking to an alarm, staying in "comfy clothes" all day every day, playing games with the girls, puttering in the kitchen, making and eating yummy foods together as a family, reading stories, going for walks and jogs with Alida and a bike ride/jog with Kali, having friends over, being outside a lot, getting lots of exercise raking and making a noticeable difference around our property, being more involved in the daily rhythms with the ducks, chickens and goats, getting a few naps and reading a book for pleasure.  It really was lovely!  It was hard to see it come to an end and the catching up phase at work is far from complete...

The week also held more big transitions here at Tangly Woods.  After enjoying Emily and Jonas' presence on our homestead for a number of months, they moved to their home in Ktown over the weekend.  We all knew it was an inevitable change and something to be celebrated (a milestone in their home renovation project), but it was hard to be 100% happy about it.  There is no way to replicate the experience of bumping into each other often because you live under the same roof.  I know all of us will remember those months together fondly.  I was amazed at how the girls took the transition in stride and were right in there helping to load the truck - they seemed to do better with it than me.  Maybe they are used to the comings and goings around here by now.  We are all glad that they are just a super quick drive or a pleasant walk down the road!

Jason did finish up his carpentry job in time to have Tuesday free for a duck and chicken butchering day.  He didn't manage to do that, however, without pulling an almost-all-nighter one night.  I woke with a start at 4:30 a.m. to see the porch lights still on and, upon searching around the house, didn't find him sleeping anywhere.  When I called he was on his way home so I got his supper warming which he ate around 5 a.m. before crashing.  It reminded me of the push before we moved into this place where Jason worked 36 hours straight on rewiring the rooms that we were planning to move into first.  Not the kind of thing you want to do often and I was very glad to have him home safely.  The next evening we sent him off to bed around 7:45 p.m. and the girls and I hung out for the evening.  Alida is on the cusp of really being able to play games with us, but still needs lots of coaching most of the time.  And if she is at all tired and starting to get rammy she is more likely to mess the game up by throwing cards or removing pegs...  The game we are having fun with right now is Mastermind, which Kali is now ready to play the hard way (according to the scoring rules).  So we fit games in here and there between tasks.

I wouldn't have gotten nearly as much raking time in if the girls weren't enjoying being together so much.  They played at the swing set, took the goats for walks, played games inside, came along and jumped in my leaf piles, etc...  And then, of course, there were times that Alida wanted her mommy and so I could be found with a sheet full of leaves on my back and hauling Alida on my front - no wonder by the end of the week I thought I saw the faint definition of arm muscles. :)

I was glad to get to ease back into work. I had two full days of work this week and now am home enjoying a three day weekend.  The first morning back to work, I had to tear myself away with Alida just barely holding it together - the little quivery lips do me in every time.  Thankfully yesterday she was still sleeping when I left and this morning we happily woke up side by side.  She'll turn to me and say, "I'm all done sleeping" which is very appropriate at 7:30 in the morning and less so at 11 p.m. when she hasn't fallen asleep nursing but seems to think the night is already over.

In general Alida seems to be more of a sleeper than Kali. She is still consistently taking an afternoon nap, which Kali gave up way earlier than this.  And most days she falls asleep in the jogger while I'm getting a walk or a jog in.  She will sometimes insist that she doesn't need a nap or wants to keep playing but she never resists for very long and normally sleep overtakes her by the time we reach the end of our road, sometimes the end of our lane!  But from when she wakes up until she crashes for a nap, she's a busy little gal.  This is her right before the nappy walk trying to put multiple hats on her head...She's got lots of ideas for her day - coloring is currently right at the top of the list, but she is also my little side kick in the kitchen.

I'm glad my girls seem to enjoy being in the kitchen, since it is my favorite room of the house. And I'm glad that they are both currently semi-adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. I don't feel like I've done a lot of blog posts about all the yummy things we are eating lately, but maybe that is because it is starting to be the norm - that our meals are colorful, delicious and the ingredients largely sourced from right around us. That is so very exciting to me!

Jason was in charge of supper last evening.  Our neighbor G had some extra deer bones that he passed to us which Jason cooked down for soup stock.  He then picked the meat off the bones and set it aside.  He added some of our home grown potatoes to the stock and then sauteed some of our purple onions and garlic in venison fat and added that.  Finally, we put in a whole bunch of chopped carrot TOPS and the chopped venison.   The bowl of steaming soup seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper was delightful.  Why have we been composting all our carrot tops?  I find it so odd that I've never looked into whether we could eat them. They are super tasty (a little like parsley), as are the carrots we are digging right now (the first delicious carrots we've grown here).  And since I'm still a little obsessed with all the things you can make pesto with I decided to google "carrot top pesto."   Of course it exists, and I made it and we enjoyed it, alongside the soup, on rolls made with pureed stinging nettles and ricotta whey. Yum!

I got to play in the kitchen this morning, in between getting more loads of leaves from our neighbors.  Here's what we enjoyed for lunch (I was going to take pictures but forgot, so use your imagination!):
  • Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes - our home grown sweet potatoes tossed in olive oil, chopped garlic and rosemary picked right outside our back door!
  • Roasted Sunchokes (otherwise known as Jerusalem Artichokes) - given to us by our neighbor and which we enjoyed much more than ones I had made a few years back.  I just tossed them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Alida gobbled them down!
  • Savory Spinach and Broccoli Quiche - made with spinach from our friends down the road, broccoli from next door, our onions and garlic and chicken eggs, and milk from our milk share. 
  • Cranberry Pecan Orange Muffins - the only "semi-local" thing in these was the wild West Virginia cranberries hand delivered to me by my mom!  This was an attempt to use up some cranberry pulp she had given to me and to make maximum use of my oven while I had it on this morning.  
I've gotten a better sense of how Jason can be so hungry by lunch time too.  After a morning of raking and  hauling leaves up and down hills food looks and tastes mighty good!   I find it so satisfying to be getting more involved on the outside of our home with projects, not just getting things at the doorstep and turning them into meals.  It's nice to be getting a more complete picture of the process, though I still rely quite heavily on Jason's expertise pretty much anytime I'm working on something outside.   You may be wondering what we are doing with all these leaves - I think our neighbors (while seemingly happy to see them raked for them and removed from their lawn) may be wondering the same thing.  We are stockpiling as many as possible to use over the winter and for our humanure composting system.  And then we are putting a thick layer down in various areas that we no longer want to have to mow and are transitioning to planting areas or walking paths.  After this past year, we are quite set on reducing the areas that we mow around our place.  This is a step in that process.

Jason hasn't gotten in on much leaf raking at all this year since other projects have kept him sufficiently occupied.  We have our sights set on wrapping up some construction projects this winter and today is the start of one of those.  Finishing up the eaves is the kind of thing we might never get to if it was up to me, since I tend to not notice this kind of thing.  But now that he is working on it, I'm excited to have the outside of our house look like we didn't stop before we were done!  Getting near the top of the priority list on the inside of the house is getting around to putting trim on the windows we replaced last year!

Well, I now have a not-so-little sleeping bundle in my arms.  I think the construction noise outside may have roused her prematurely and she isn't quite ready to wake up.  When she does, if it hasn't started raining, we'll see what headway we can make on some more pine needle hauling. :)  I'm kind of getting a kick out of myself this fall as it feels familiar to my weeding binge this past spring.  I started noticing weeds along the roads and would dream about weeding.  Well, I'm noticing leaves everywhere!  I think it probably has something to do with how I enjoy visible results.  Weeding and raking both give one the gratification of making a very noticeable difference immediately.  I think Jason is enjoying the fact that I'm determined to get as many as possible on the days I'm at home!  So maybe a staycation in the spring for weeding and a staycation in the fall for raking should be coming seasonal traditions! I could get into that.  For not, it's time to play a round of Mastermind with Kali!