Friday, June 21, 2013

Leaving the jungle...

So the long anticipated vacation is upon us.  Every time recently we've been talking about our vacation around home, Alida's pipes up, "Can I come to?"  And yesterday when Jason and Kali were talking about our trip, Alida said, "Don't leave me at home!"  As if that was a possibility!  It's cute to see both girls excited about the adventures to come...  Oh for the days of the pure joy of vacations without the preparation, packing, and planning!  Thanks Mom and Dad for all the work you put into family trips - sorry for any bit of crabbiness that I no doubt added to that coming up at you from the back seat of the car!

We pull out tomorrow morning making our way to Maine via Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and then home via Connecticut and again Pennsylvania.  We look forward to seeing various members of Jason's family on our way to and from Maine and spending a good part of the week in Maine with my parents.  I'm particularly looking forward to the 4:2 adult child ratio!

The last few days have kind of felt like a sprint to the finish line (or in this case the start).  We are grateful to be leaving the homestead in good hands, and having people here that can enjoy the things coming ripe (we'll miss most of the black raspberries).  As a follow up to Jason's last entry, here's some photos of the outdoors, or little people enjoying what is coming in from the outdoors!  It will change a lot in the next two weeks I'm sure!
Alida enjoying her first red raspberry
Kali doing the same
Due to the front walk weeding project being partially completed our yucca is in full bloom since it now has access to some sunlight!
Where the aforementioned raspberries came from
Onions going to seed are so beautiful
Will there be squash and/or cucumbers when we return?
We've been enjoying snitching dill - here it is towering above spinach going to see, melons starting and lettuce
Garlic in the background, tomatoes, peppers and sweet potatoes underway
Who recognizes this plant?  Thanks Aunt Christie (or am I to thank Ms. Eleanor Rosebottom) for the peanut seed!
Beans are blooming and to the left are two more beds planted today
Our potatoes didn't fully recover but there will be potatoes!

Three sisters planting - will we get the produce or will the critters?
Onion field - after a rough start, looks like we'll get a lot of onions (and amaranth!)

Jason and Jonathan planing oats between the wheat rows

Kitchen garden is flourishing - including Alida's popcorn. Made a batch of red currant jam today from the bushes around the apple tree on the upper edge.

Still picking some beautiful strawberries - thanks to the Sparkle Supreme variety!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's a jungle out here!

We've had strong rains this spring, and it shows.  For once, water is not the limiting factor on this dryish little southeast slope we call Tangly Woods.  "Dryish" I say because of four factors:  1) the general climate of the Shenandoah Valley, which because of a dual rain shadow effect falls into official "semi-arid" (though rather humid) status, 2) we live on the side of a small foothill of the mighty Massanutten; there isn't a whole lot of anything uphill from us, so we don't have active springs or much other water moving through, 3) the legacy of wheat farming which eroded the precious topsoil and its lovely moisture-retaining capabilities in centuries past, and 4) a relatively porous silty soil (mineral portion) which doesn't keep water especially long without good organic matter content, which varies here.

So in an ordinary year, we and our cistern and weak well struggle to keep up with the water demands of even the modest garden patch we've developed so far.  I've come to realize that many times our plants have probably been water-stressed by the first day of summer.

Not this year.

Every leaf of every green plant on our property that is in anything like reasonable good health is just as broad and green and moisture-plush as they get.  New sprouts are appearing in odd places along bare woody trunks or vines as the plants take advantage of the moisture bonanza and in some cases the light-snatching opportunity we've given them with our various clearing projects.  This is likely to be one of the years that loggers of the future will be able to identify as a nice fat growth ring in the stumps of the trees they fell.

Resultingly, it's kind of getting dark and gloomy in our woods as the trees detect each available shaft of light filtering through the canopy and unfold a leaf into it, silently squeezing more and more light out of the understory.

This was all fine and good and mentally stimulating (the fascinating shapes of the vine/tree amalgams, the dark forms slipping furtively through all levels of vegetation, the birdsong ringing through the wet woods) until the jungle started trying to include my chickens in its food chain.

Maybe it was my fault for casually throwing rotten eggs and sadly dead chicks into the woods; I may have unthinkingly baited the coon myself and given it a taste for all things chicken.  Or it may have happened anyway.  After three failed nests I was so pleased to have broody hens succeed at hatching out 12 fine chicks, and I thought I had accounted for the possibility that coons could reach through wire to tear chickens apart in their cages by installing 1/2 x 1 inch wire mesh for the floor of the brooder coop.  Alas.  We lost three or four chicks that way and one hen is now in seclusion recovering from the mutilation of her feet.  Lesson learned.  I gave the hens and chicks in those coops shallow pans with wood shaving to brood on at night so they can be protected from that particular danger, and they seem to be using them faithfully with no further problems.

Soon after that incident, however, I began free-ranging my half-grown cockerels and pullets.  Actually, I only free-ranged half of the flock (the half I was less attached to for breeding purposes) of 26.  I think the first night I lost one or two, and many nights thereafter that was more or less the pattern, so that in the course of a week or so I was down 5 birds.  Now, I had expected to lose a few, and truth be known I was counting on our little temperate jungle to help me in my selection process, since one of the goals of this breeding project (the "Alleghenies") is to develop a chicken that can free-range successfully in the moist, rich woodlands and forests typical of the mountains found in the east of the continent.  I just didn't expect the assistance to come so swiftly and emphatically!  My little jaunts into the woods to close the chickens in in the evening took on a more sensitized quality as I strained to see where errant chickens might by roosting in the trees and watched and listened for signs of predators.  They were all totally invisible to my eyes; I had no choice but to wait and see what news the morning would bring.  The urge to pray for my chickens caught me off guard!

When the morning had brought bad news often enough and when I felt the experiment had returned meaningful results, I re-integrated the remaining 8 free-rangers with the penned 13 and went back to confinement management for their own safety.  One quite interesting result:  It hit me with a jolt when I realized that I had no more chickens with yellow feet.  Three of the original 26 had been yellow-footed, a trait I am selecting against because a) I don't fancy it aesthetically for this project and b) it strikes me as bad woodland camouflage.  Hmm.  Maybe I was right.  Three out of the five that disappeared were thusly adorned.  Dark colored and/or mottled chickens form the bulk of the remaining eight and all have dark feet.  Despite what we were taught in school, natural selection is not always slow or gradual, especially when it's coming in the form of an ecologically-based correction to human fancy.

So then when a bear began visiting our neighbors' bird feeders and a great big scat showed up within 30 feet of my young birds' coop...

My evening forays into the woods have again taken on a whole different quality!  I regard the likelihood of a dangerous encounter with a bear to be extremely low, even when they are skulking around regularly.  Even the likelihood of a bear destroying one of my coops and eating the living contents seems low to me since I know lots of people keeping chickens in bear country and have heard of only one incident.  Still, something about knowing that an omnivorous animal bigger than I--and far stronger--uses this land, too, substantially changes the experience of walking around after dark.  I can't help thinking about my own self being warmly welcomed (bear hug?) into the food chain!  All those dark patches of understory look a whole lot darker...

But this is what I wanted, right?  Isn't this what I was after:  meaningful and close contact with the ecosystem that sustains me?  Didn't I want to be "just one of the animals"?  Is not the whole project here one of integration, of shaping and sustaining the forest garden that shapes and sustains our family?  Doesn't that involve taking some risks, learning some hard lessons as we allow that process to play out?  Gulp.  Yes, I guess it does.  Hoo, boy!  Am I ready for this?

I've always admired those people whose reaction to a cold swimming pool or hole is to find the highest ledge around, jump right in and get the shock over with.  That is not me.  I inch my way in until I'm up to my armpits, then close my eyes and let myself slip under.  When I come up, I'm adjusted.  One of the ways we can adjust and adapt to a given natural community is by recognizing patterns found in our environs and imitating them.  This is one meaning of the term "biomimicry."  With regard to chicken keeping, it's helpful to realize that in the chickens' ancestral, wild context (the jungles of southeast Asia), they were the common prey species known in English as the Red Jungle fowl.  Common prey species usually employ the strategy of prolific procreation to counterbalance the heavy predation they experience.  When you think about it, chickens are adapted to raising a brood of 8 or 10 young once or twice per year.  That means that to maintain a steady population the Jungle Fowl only expected 10 to 30 percent or so of its offspring to survive long enough to reproduce.  If I have the goal of installing my chicken flock in the ecology of my own jungle, then I'm going to need to be able to raise a lot more chickens!  Hence the composting coop, built this spring and stocked two days ago with the remaining members of the half-grown flock.

When the chickens are fully oriented to their new home, we'll try another round of free-ranging (gotta get those ticks!)  Stay tuned to find out how that goes!  It may be that in practical and prudent terms the near future will find us living in the Tangly Woods a point.  We'll probably still rely on our garden fences, our deer repellents, and our anti-Lyme disease antibiotics just as long as we need to to confer reasonable assurance of our safety and sustenance.  But little by little we will keep tinkering with our style of living so that more and more we can become adjusted to making our life here as full participating members of the ecological community.  Through the years we will find out just what that means, and what it costs us.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blood donating or trying at least...

I thought I'd write a little bit while the emotions are still swirling and Jason is out doing chores before I head in for an all day meeting.  Sleep has already cleared my emotional space somewhat - it usually does! Also, it is probably important to note that I went into last evening's blood drive with a lot of emotions already very near the surface - I'm saying goodbye to two close colleagues this week and so the big work transitions that have been looming for months are now at hand and that is part of what is on my heart and mind these days.  That, and journeying alongside (and mostly from a distance) friends who are walking closely with loved ones who are very ill.  So I was looking forward to last evening - a time and space to gather with others, remember Nora, remember others who are journeying through times of loss and do something helpful in the process.  We arrived a little before 5:30 p.m. with Nora's memory box, the book my Mom had created about her life, her little green blanket that I had croqueted and some homemade snacks.  One friend, who accompanied us to Nora's birth, had already finished donating.  Over the next 2-3 hours, another 12 people donated blood, Jason gave platelets, and 2 friends who could not give blood cut their hair to donate.  While Jason was hooked up to the platelet machine for most of the time, I was the resident photographer and visited with friends as they came in and donated.  You will note that I did not mention donating myself and that is because I'm not among the 12...

So my iron was too low. Despite furiously rubbing my second finger to get the blood circulating well before a second finger stick, it was still a little too low to give this time.  Big deal, one might think (you might be thinking as you read this!).  There were over a dozen others that gave, some who had never given before, and hopefully I'll be back on track in a few weeks after pulling out the iron supplements (I can hardly eat more dark greens that I'm currently forking in...).

For me, it hit a deeper emotional chord.  I'm not even sure I have all the words for it, but here goes.  In some ways it felt like my experience last night of being "rejected" from giving blood and having things not go as I had envisioned in my mind, brought me in touch just a bit more with many of the emotions that characterized that time with Nora.  I know it probably seems like a stretch, but it doesn't take a very large trigger to bring back some of those feelings.  The feeling of being out of control of the outcomes and of needing to let others do things for us that we were not able to do.  The feeling of others journeying beside us but ultimately it was our path to walk, and one that had so many unexpected twists and turns.

It was so very special to be there talking with family who knew Nora, friends who had been there to support us after she died, and new friends who have joined our circle of care and support in the years following.  And there may even be a gift hidden in my own inability to give last night. One other person's iron was too low to give also and one friend who was hoping to donate for the first time (and was eager to have others who had done it before join her) woke up with a sore throat yesterday.  So there may be a little follow up "mini-blood drive" in a few weeks!  I don't envision I'll ever be someone who is "good" at easily letting things go, but I imagine I'll keep getting plenty of experiences that give me opportunities to practice!  Hopefully many of those experiences will be small like last night, and not as much what our journey with Nora entailed.  There is so much beauty to be found and growth to be had if I'm up for the challenge!

(More pictures to follow and maybe a few more thoughts in a day or two so check back...)

Update: below is a smattering of pictures from Monday evening. And I've fully "recovered" from the disappointment of not giving, and am actually kind of amazed once again how sometimes things just work out for the best (even when, at the time, it seems bad to me).  We'll be having a little mini-blood drive with four of us coming up in just over two weeks with those that were not able to give Monday and, thanks to Aunt Emily hanging out with the kiddos at the donation center, Jason will get to join again so we'll hopefully get to donate together after all (if you give platelets you can do it every two weeks just FYI!).  I continue to be flabbergasted that it is possible that it is me noting that I was disappointed at not being able to give blood and that I'm genuinely excited to try again.  Here's hoping for increased iron reserves!  And a big thank you to all that joined us Monday and a deep sense of gratitude within me for the very tiny person that inspired the event!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Two unique gals!

So I've had a growing list of things I've wanted to get updated on the blog (my "scrapbook" feels horribly out of date with some major events missing).  I haven't, for example, written anything about our two May weekends away - both fun and full of adventure and good times.  The first was Emily and Jonas' wedding - a much anticipated and special weekend celebrating with them.  The second was a trip to WV with two other families - it had been three years since we had last coordinated our schedules to get away together.  There could be much said about both, but I will just note one personal highlight that ran through both weekends. Our 14th wedding anniversary fell on the day before we left for the wedding weekend in PA.  We kind of mutually decided that we'll really celebrate next year (our 15th on the 15th).  What surprised me was how celebratory this year ended up feeling - having a wedding of two dearly loved ones right near our anniversary, and me spending my late night reading time on my writing from the weeks around our wedding, put me in a reflective mood (as well as feeling so very grateful for the living and loving Jason and I have done together these last 14 plus years).  While in WV we pulled out our wedding video and watched it with Kali and Alida for the first time. Very fun!  So fun that we pulled it back out when our friends arrived and watched parts of it with them, doing some reminiscing throughout (as well as plenty of laughter, a few groans, and more gratitude).

But all that was last month and as things go around here, lots happens on a daily basis and so the main focus of this post is to talk about our kiddos (the one napping and the one out in her bikini filling up the wading pool). It's hard to keep up with them right now.  Just when we think we have something figured out, it changes.  They are doing plenty of living and loving as well, and while I have moments where I could burst with frustration, I have more times where I feel I could burst with feelings of complete amazement and joy in our little family!

One of the more challenging things that keeps popping up now and again is the fact that Alida is two and in the age/stage where whatever the big people are doing is very interesting to her.  She wants to copy and join in and do whatever we are doing - especially what big sister, Kali, is doing!  This, 75% of the time, doesn't seems to bother Kali and she happily and willingly includes Alida in her activities.  But when it does bother her, it really bothers her and I haven't yet found an approach to her anxiety and frustration about it that seems to really help.  She doesn't want them to be the same people.  Neither do we!  But to date there seem to be many signs pointing to the fact that they won't be, and even now aren't!  I'll share just a few here (and Kali would likely not approve of portions of this post, but I'm hopeful that down the road she'll be glad to read it...let's hope anyway!). So now for the 3 S's...

Sleep: Kali doesn't "need" sleep.  For as long as I can remember that is her firm stance, one that cannot be disproven by any amount of scientific research because they have not studied her.  But there is no doubt that when she sleeps, she really sleeps!  One of the big changes for us, however, is that she no longer wishes to have one of us lay with her while she falls asleep.  Years ago we decided to give up the fight on this one.  I was never a confident sleeper growing up and remember feeling very fearful at night, most nights.  While not always convenient, it felt good and right for us to provide Kali with a feeling of closeness and security at night. And we figured if Alida was sleeping with me anyway, we might as well spread around the nighttime cuddling.  So we dropped it, knowing it would not last forever, but recently Kali said she wanted to try an experiment. I thought it would never come and then all of a sudden a one night experiment turned into forever, or so it seems.  She noted that she is not as hot and has more room with just her in her single bed. Good thinking (and timing with summer right around the corner).  So she is still our night owl, reading until she can't keep her eyes open (but note that her eyes getting heavy does not mean she is tired or needs sleep!).  Alida has a bit of a night owl tendency in her but she shows true signs of tiredness in a way that Kali never did (the little gal gets cranky!).  And she seems to almost welcome sleep - both naps and nighttime.  And she still likes to be near her mommy (well the emergency milk supply), for now!

Soccer: Kali just finished her first soccer season and loved it!  She'll likely be doing it again this fall.  She was very motivated to be part of every practice and game and she has never done her duck chores so fast as when we need to get moving to go to soccer!  It felt like a big step for her to want to do this on her own and it seems like it moved her forward both in her confidence interacting with others socially and in her soccer skills. I still wouldn't say that to date she shows a high natural aptitude for the sport, but the league is a perfect place for her to try it out with coaches that are way more into gaining experience, having fun and teambuilding than in winning. 

I learned that I'm not going to be a quite spectator...My two most humorous moments to date included watching Kali turn a complete 360 when her coach hollered to her to "turn around" when her back was facing the ball and then watching her at least twice almost follow the player she was marking off the field when a sub was coming in for her.  It's cute to hear her analyze her own play and wonderful to sense her super attitude about playing - seldom even knowing what the final score of the game was.  The noncompetitive nature of this league is probably best demonstrated by the fact that you don't forfeit a game if you don't have enough players, the other team just gives you some of theirs so the game can go on!

Well, soccer, is the one place where we have the most "rub" right now as Kali wants it to be her thing (even after informing her than millions of people play soccer worldwide!).  She has given some mixed messages though because she was very supportive of Alida having her own soccer bag to go to practices with her own soccer ball.  But of late she tries to get Alida to play with our football when she is kicking soccer - only minimally successful.  The fact is that Alida has quite the little foot and it wouldn't shock me in the least if in the end Kali moves on from soccer to other things and Alida actually is the one to stick with it. Who knows. Here's Alida at it:

Secrets: This is probably where Alida and Kali's personality seem to be showing a very striking difference.  Kali is very private.  This, for her external processing mother, is not an easy thing!  And the more one tries to get something out of Kali, the less likely you are to do so.  Actually I don't think it really makes a difference what approach you take, you will not get something out of Kali that she doesn't wish to offer. There are benefits to this approach, of course.  But I'd certainly be grateful for a few more glimpses into her mind and heart, on personal matters (she will gladly have an abstract or theoretical conversation anytime!).

Alida is our little "open book" gal right now.  Of course that might change over time but I'm enjoying the contrast and found it particularly helpful the other day.  

So Alida just melts when Kali reprimands her - trembling lips, sobbing and cries of "mama."  I was hanging laundry the other day while the girls played on the porch. I heard Kali say, "Alida, don't do that."  Silence and then the request again a bit more forcefully.  Soon Alida was coming my way crying.  For the next 5 minutes or so I tried to get Kali to tell me what Alida had done that was so troublesome so that I could more easily talk with Alida about it. It was clear I was fighting a losing battle as Kali was not going to tell me.  She seemed to think that her telling Alida not to do it was enough and that if she told me then Alida would just pick something worse to do. I think she was reading into Alida's intentions a bit too much, but I was completely in the dark as to what Alida had done.  Of course my curiosity was peaked but I've learned that I might as well just drop it as I'm not going to get anywhere.

It was hours later that inspiration hit - why not ask Alida what she did?!   We were in the kitchen, and I just nonchalantly asked Alida what she had done that morning that had bothered Kali so much. Without missing a beat she informed me that she had put a boogie on Kali.  It was hard to not laugh really hard at that moment.  A quick check in with Kali confirmed that I had been offered the truth.  Now, I'm still clueless as to why this was top secret information on Kali's part, but clearly Alida had no trouble offering it!

So I'm trying to love and cherish the ways in which our girls are similar and different and hope we can help them to honor those things too.  Kali doesn't seem to mind they they are both thrilled with their new swimsuits!  I'm not sure how Kali will feel if Alida wants to get pigs - it would be different than her but that might be pushing it.  Speaking of animals, three quick tidbits. Kali was out on the walk the other day when a very small wood duckling showed up.  That's right, one very small peeping wood duck!  We caught it and a day later my dad and Kali delivered it to a wildlife rehab center.  We have a patient number to call and check up on it.  It was a cute and very wild little thing - it didn't waste a moment trying to get out of the cardboard box we had put it in.

I'll give the sad news next and then end on a happy note.  So we had another brood of baby chicks hatch under a mama, giving us three mama hens sitting on chicks.  This morning when Jason went to the low coop with a mama on each side, he found a very injured hen and two chicks missing on one side and a slightly injured hen and one missing chick on the other.  It makes us sick to even think of it, but clearly a raccoon got under the coop and dismembered and pulled out the baby chicks through the wire. Jason knew that raccoons could be a problem, but thought the gauge wire on those coops was not only snake proof but "other critters" proof. Not so.  We'll be doing something different for them tonight but that doesn't make it feel much better today.  Jason will need to do some work on the one hen and will probably try to give her remaining chicks to the other mother hen tonight (hoping she'll bond with them) so that the hen can hopefully recover from her injuries.  Very sad!

Lastly, I think we are not going to classify my mason bees as an "animal." We've had a "one new animal" a year policy for the last number of years (and that has included babies).  Well, we went to see some baby goats the other night.  That is a very dangerous thing to do if you are not planning to purchase them.  Oh, they were cute and so persistently friendly.  Alida was sure about their boldness, but I found it very endearing. The one little fellow figured out the zipper on my sweatshirt and was successfully pulling it up and down. The one is black and white (Oreo) and the other brown, black and white (Cookie Dough).  They need their mama for another 6 weeks or so but then I have a feeling they will be making Tangly Woods their home.  We forgot to take pictures, so check back...

Now back to some veggie and fruit processing - I could spend all day just bringing delightful treats from the outdoors in for processing and it is only early June.  We continue to enjoy strawberries daily in many forms, fresh greens of various kinds and the sugar snap and snow peas are coming on (though I doubt any of those will even get cooked before they are consumed).  We are grateful for such abundance and the fruits of labor that we find so much fulfillment in!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fishing for a feeling

This is the day for it.  We decided this day needed some quiet family time more than anything else, so Janelle assembled a picnic while I finished up some garden tasks and retrieved fishing rods and tackle from the attic. Just two lines:  one for each child since us unlicensed adults can’t legally fish our own lines…we can only assist a child who wishes to fish. Alida is two, so she needs LOTS of help, which works for me.  We figured while we were there we could poke around after some nice rounded sandstone rocks that can be found in the neighbors’ woods near the pond and which would be perfect clambering rocks for Nora’s memory garden.

The trek to the neighbors’ farm pond was an exquisite piece of rural walking.  The air around us was in constant, light motion and was just on the dry side of perfect.  Because of the late spring all the trees are still wearing their freshest green leaves here at the beginning of June.

Halfway there it hit me like an acorn to the skull:  I had forgotten the worms!  Pshaw.  We paused to consider, and decided it wasn’t worth going back for them, nor getting bent out of shape.  We’d use lures, or improvise some bait from the woods…surely there would be something a fish could like under a rock or log.

Arriving at the recently shorn hayfield, we found a shady spot and made leisurely work of consuming the zesty lettuce-and-pesto (garlic scape pesto and parsley pesto…does it get zestier?!) sandwiches, tortilla chips, home-canned dill pickles and mint tea Janelle had packed.  She pointed out the sky to me:  the moderately billowing clouds in the clear air framing the lowering sun was almost too soulful to bear.

When we had had enough to eat, we turned our attention to the fishing project.  We turned the pint jar from the pickles into a bait hopper and began thinking about what invertebrates might be hiding under what objects.  A quick look around revealed some large, moveable objects close at hand:  Hay bales!

We rocked a few round bales back off of their flat spots and poked mildly through the slightly damp and wholly miserable smashed grass beneath.  On the third try we located a fat scarab grub, a young earwig, and a miniscule slug.  Hey, we’ll take what we can get, so I nabbed them and dropped them in the jar, which was not easy in the case of the slug.  We made our way to the pond.  “Finally,” Kali said.

She had decided that bass were her prey of choice for the evening, so with excited earnestness she selected a brownish see-through rubber worm from my tackle box that she thought the likeliest to attract their attention. I threaded it onto the hook, she turned and strode away, the lure swinging crazily back and forth in time to her gangly nine-year-old paces.  She was so beautiful.

After she was off and casting into the shallows she favors (the only bass she has caught sucked the worm in nearly at her toes), I speared the hapless grub for Alida and then slung it out to the middle to dangle tantalizingly a foot below the surface.  The bobber looked so alone out there waiting for the moment when the grub would catch some fish’s cool round eye and its little red-and-white self would be dunked a few times, then jerked under.  A few minutes of our quiet attention went to the theoretically impending drama.  But as the drama began to fail to materialize, the loveliness of the evening began to predominate in my consciousness.  There was that sky again.  My spirit canyon was echoing with I am so lucky.

A few more minutes passed that way before Janelle said she could help the baby to fish; maybe I wanted to poke around in the woods for rocks and perhaps some more effective bait?  That seemed like a good idea, so I handed over both and forged a route through the chest-high grass to the edge of the woods.  The woods is included in the pasture, so there was little undergrowth to obstruct my movement or vision.  I located a plentiful pile of rocks right away and walked over to it.  As I stepped up onto the heap a rock suddenly gave way and turned under my foot; to keep balance my foot instinctively stuck out and found another rock…which was no better than the first.  Luckily for my bipedal pride I managed to find steady footing without ever toppling, but the process was repeated a few times as I picked my way over the mound of time-blunted sandstone that made the lichens look young.

And there it was:  Like a bobber jerked under when you’re looking away, the feeling I was stalking bit for real and without warning.  The instinctual and potentially embarrassing struggle to regain balance that began in a particular way the day Nora died, five years ago today.  My inner self gave a little smile of recognition, issued some slack, and then gave a tug: the hook was set.  To continue the metaphor, I thought if I kept a little tension (but not too much) on the line I might have something to write.

I spent the rest of the evening playing it in while I:  located some (far more satisfactory) worms under chunks of fallen limb or two-foot flakes of their shed bark, installed said worms on empty hooks, held the baby on one hip and the fishing line against the other, demonstrated to Kali how to handle a bluegill (no luck with the bass) without getting prickled, detangled her spin-caster in the slanting light of evening, walked home at dusk with three lovely females (one of whom was proudly carrying a stringer with three lovely bluegills), and watched with my heart full to bursting as Kali rasped her fish with gusto—scales flying in all directions.  And now I am here at the computer at half-past midnight and it looks like I have landed the thing.  Finally!

A beautiful day!

Today marked 5 years since Nora died. Monday evening I admitted to Jason that it felt really odd to not feel "ready" for the anniversary of your daughter's death.  How does one get ready?  And what does it mean to be ready?  Whatever the answers to those questions might be, I didn't "feel" ready.  I, being the over-analyzer that I am, was mulling over the various emotions I was feeling (or in some cases lack thereof).  Life just doesn't contain a lot of quiet reflection right now - just come visit for awhile and you'll see why (the bundles of 2 year old and 9 year old energy keep things hopping!).  Any reflection time comes around midnight right now and these 5-6 hour nights of sleep can only go on for so long with us functioning positively during the awake hours.  So I wasn't sure how today would go or if I would be able to carve out any spaces to "check in" with myself.  We are looking forward to another blood drive coming up in about two weeks, but we had made no major plans for today other than to spend it mostly at home and mostly together as a family.  It feels like one the main ways that I can honor Nora and the memory of her time with us and the lessons her life taught me is to savor life and the gift of our family.  So the only thing we knew we were doing for sure today was to get off the property for a bit for some fishing, a picnic and possibly scoping out rocks for Nora's memory garden.  The first two happened and not much of the third.  Our departure from the home place was delayed in part because both Jason and I were trying to wrap up some projects from the day (pole bean planting for Jason and cooking for tomorrow's Tangly Woods meal for me) AND because look who arrived today! 

What a surprise (because Jason had lost track of when he had set the eggs under the mother hen and because all our other hen-incubated broods had failed to date) and what perfect timing!  It really topped off the day for us. It felt so good to see these new little creatures communicating their existence boldly and their mother confirming it.  There is also a mother hen with one little chick that hatched today as well.  And, in this case, it is actually her chick so that makes it extra special. 

Each anniversary is different and the dominant emotion of the day changes.  This year's for me was gratitude.  I felt so full as we walked with Kali, Alida and Jason down the road to our picnic spot.  And throughout the day as messages came in (okay, I'll even be grateful for Facebook's role in spreading the word on events and life happenings), I felt very grateful for those that have journeyed with us and continue to do so.  It means a lot to have people remember Nora with us. It makes the memories of that time real to me, as well as the emotions (both of which I'm glad for).  Now to carry the perspective a day like this brings to me forward is the ongoing challenge!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

How many fresh green foods can you fit in a breakfast?

What a wonderful day thus far!  Playing away in the kitchen and harvesting all sorts of good things from the outdoors. Jason and I had fun counting the number of fresh green things included in our breakfast this morning.  Peppermint tea, stinging nettle eggs with wild onions on a lamb's quarter amaranth roll with parsley basil pesto spread on it.  It was delicious!  I felt inspired by our breakfast and since that time have made more peppermint lemon balm tea and took the dried strawberries out of the solar dryer (yum) and filled it up with peppermint to dry.  I then harvested more parsley and made parsley pesto (yum) and then Alida and I harvested the garlic scapes and (are you sensing a theme?) made a large batch of garlic scape pesto. The recipe I found said that you haven't lived until you have tried the stuff.  I think we have done a fair amount of living, but this just added to the richness of life!  Now it is time to chop up the rest of the garlic scapes for the freezer!  While taking out the compost just now, Alida and I snacked on the first snow and sugar snap peas.  Despite being on our third planting of tomatoes and peppers from the two freezes we were not prepared for, it's hard to stay grouchy too long with the abundance surrounding us!  And Jason's peanuts are up which makes him exceedingly happy and they are really cute!