Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rain, rain and more rain!

What a June!  We were out weeding and getting beans planted right up until dark tonight and I commented how crazy it felt to be hand weeding without tools at this time of year.  The ground is chock full of moisture and the plants are responding!  Jason is tucking in trombone squash vines into the trellis at least once a day, and today twice.  Water, sun, soil, compost and seeds are a pretty amazing combination! I spent the first few hours of my day going out and in with tea, lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard greens, sugar snap peas, snow peas, lambsquarter, amaranth, basil, and parsley. I weeded as I went and Alida joined me for part of the time, picking some red currants in the kitchen garden.  So the morning was veggies and this afternoon after Alida's nap I worked on fruit but only got as far as the red raspberry patch (picking several quarts) since I got side tracked in the potato patch and ended up weeding the whole thing (giving what I found to the goats to keep them quiet) and picking off a good number of potato bugs! Thankfully Kali got inspired to pick black raspberries and found about a quart around our place.  Maybe tomorrow on the red and white currants?

It seems that around here our best laid plans must be held loosely.  Jason's last two work days have been exclusively work that was not on our radar when last we went over the project list.  And it has been hard and heavy work.  That rainstorm I mentioned in a previous post ended up dumping about 2.5 inches of rain in about an hour, after we had received an inch the night before.  It had no where to go and so it ran on the surface all over the place!!  Here's a smattering of pictures of what we found after the rain let up.  There was plenty of fun to be had and the duckling was quite impressed, but Jason has been rebuilding our driveway and still has a ways to go.  

Nora's garden retention pit was full to the top!
We have a pond (and hand dug one!)
Yes, a little pleased!
Ducky is enjoying a swim...
and dabbling for food.
Bonus picture: the butterfly weed in Nora's garden is exquisite right now and the bees love it - see how many you can spot in this picture!

Homemade peppermint patties!

It may have to be a "two post night" as this one must stand on its own.

The other week while Jason was in his SPI class, the girls spent a day here at home with Rachelle.  Kali must have picked up my "pesto bug" (it tends to hit me about this time each year), and she suggested they make peppermint pesto.  Sounds a little weird right?  Looking online only got them savory recipes and they were thinking sweet.  So they took matters into their own hands and made up a recipe.  Here it is (sorry, we haven't done it enough times to have refined the recipe enough to include amounts):
Lots of fresh peppermint leaves picked off the stems
Fair trade organic almonds from the Friendly City Food Co-op
Local honey
Vanilla made by Rachelle
Coconut oil that has been warmed enough to be liquefied
Puree in a blender or whatever you might use to make pesto. 
Well, what is one going to do once the pesto is made? When blended it is a little runny and so in order to do much with it, other than eat it by the spoonful which is not a bad idea, you might wish to harden it up a bit in the fridge.  It is kind of like a breath mint straight, but it was begging for chocolate.  So that first round we made some into little balls, froze them to harden the coconut oil and then coated them with dark fair trade organic melted chocolate wafers.  Quite tolerable!  They didn't last very long at all and I was already thinking of ways to improve the final product - like making round disks of the pesto so you have more surface area for chocolate.

So today I made a batch of pesto with the girls for the first time and we have our very own homemade peppermint patties hardening in the fridge to be shared at tomorrow's Tangly Woods community meal.  I will admit to being pretty impressed with Kali's invention and pretty pleased with myself for making a homemade version of a candy favorite in the Benner household.  It almost borders on healthy!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Family night & a garden paradise

I'm typing with the sound of rain pounding on our roof and thunder rumbling in the background.  The mountain is almost completely obscured from my vision.  Alida is napping, the duckling is quiet (for once) and Kali and Jason are in the garage refurbishing the pet chicken coop to be ready for a duck!

This weekend feels like a gift - none of us will get in a car for over 48 hours (a truly Sabbath weekend!).  I'm treasuring the hours at home together.  For a number of reasons (not the least of which is some lingering health concerns that are to date unresolved), I feel like I'm not only needing this time here at home focused on our family life together but also savoring it all the way to my core!  We kicked off the weekend last evening with a fun family night.

On our way home from an only very moderately successful trip into town, Jason and I chuckled about the fact that even when we try to be a "normal" family we fail miserably.  You see the girls have these "free Friday wrist bands" from the library's summer reading program and last evening they could each play a round of mini-golf at Mulligan's for free.   Most of our Fridays coming up are already spoken for and this was at the top of Kali's list anyway.  So off we set shortly after 7 p.m.  On our way to the car, I felt the first drop of rain and the feeling in the air "was not good" for a family set out to go mini-golfing!  By the time we were on our way down 11 South it was raining.  Plan B.  We would just fork over the money and go bowling.  Jason went in, confirmed it was open to the public and came out to fetch us. I was proud of my foresight when grabbing socks for those of us with sandals on (just in case).  We soon learned from the staff person at the desk that the only option available to us was Cosmic bowling, which was $10/person for a 2 hour block.  That started at 8 and it was about 7:40 p.m.  We asked if we could just play one regular game. No, because we wouldn't be done by 8.  We asked if just the girls could play a regular game.  No, the manager had said no one on the lanes before 8.  

We deliberated for all of 5 seconds before heading out.  Plan C.  We stopped at Sharp Shopper right before closing, picked up some special snacks and headed home.  We set up our own duck pin bowling (complete with duck) and had a grand time, ending the family evening with a game of Upwords!  The girls were amazingly flexible, not complaining at all when what they had been looking forward to doing was no longer possible, and in the end I think we had way more fun than we would have at either Plan A or B.   

Here was one of the creative uses we have found for our duck pins.  Make sure to have the volume turned up to catch Alida's belly laugh!  Kali tried her hardest to get the duckling to follow her down the "lane" and knock down the "pins" but the best she got was the duckling nibbling on one and knocking it over that way.

Since we are on the subject of the duckling, I'll share two additional videos. Please know that I'm using restraint (there are a lot more where these came from)! It's kind of like a new baby in the household.  Everything it does (except its constant peeping when it hears Kali's voice and it is not with her) is pretty cute.  

It now can move quite quickly but can't yet keep up with Kali on our slippery floors.  But it sure tries!!

This little video gives a glimpse into what was a common scene in our back kitchen for a day or two earlier this week.  The girls would play next to the duckling's basin so they could play in peace (or I could cook in peace).  And the duckling got to try out Legos too. 

It really loves nothing more than to be snuggled up with Kali while she is reading. It seems to like to find its way behind her hair on the back of her neck (under its mama's feathers I guess).  I'm not sure how the transition will go with it moving to its own pen outdoors but we have a little while before we have to cross that bridge. In the meantime, we are all enjoying its presence indoors.  Kali takes it out for little adventures - to eat ants on the front walk or down to the little pond Jason is digging to splash around.  Once Alida wakes and this downpour stops, I have a feeling the girls will head out with the duckling to the fire ring for a swim as it is completely flooded several inches of water.  

Even though the weather prediction this morning looked less like rain than when I checked yesterday, it seems like we are getting rain when they call for a small chance of showers.  It was saying "cloudy" for today when I checked after lunch and it sure is cloudy right now but it is also dumping rain down at a very fast clip.  We got an inch last night and I'm guessing we have already gotten more than that in the time I've been typing. Jason just waddled into the house completely drenched.  He sheepishly informed me that he had forgotten that the goats were tethered out.  Apparently he found Oreo standing with his ears dripping water looking pretty pathetic and Cookie Dough huddled by the wall of the composting chicken coop as far out of the rain as he could get and NOT on his leash.  We have no idea how he managed that but he wasn't going anywhere very fast. They were very glad to get back to their little refurbished washing machine house.

Anyway, due to the possible rain predictions, I headed out first thing with Kali and some bowls and baskets to do some harvesting. It's one of my favorite morning activities right now. The air is cool and the bugs are still moving slowly.  This photo is what I got on my first round out with Alida.  The tea is now steeping on the stove (we have been going through about 2 gallons of mint tea daily).  The oregano has been made into pesto and deemed quite edible at lunch.  The parsley was also made into pesto and got the same affirmation.  The lettuce and kale are washed and in the fridge waiting for us to be able to fit more green stuff into our bellies.  The last of the garlic scapes were used promptly with some snow peas for a saute to go with our breakfast (which was closer to brunch by the time we got around to it).  I stringed the sugar snap peas and we are snacking on them whenever the urge hits us.  I've frozen gallons of snow peas and sugar snap peas for the first time ever!  

Before lunch, the girls and I walked up the hill to deliver some peas to our neighbors and on the way were reminded of all the fruit coming ripe!  We ate black raspberries as we meandered up the hill and upon our return I got containers for all three of us.  The girls went up and down the driveway and got a nice little mess of black raspberries.  I checked out our red raspberry patch and in about 10 minutes had filled my quart container, and wasn't nearly done.  That, along with the first blueberries we picked next door yesterday, made for a wonderful lunchtime treat!  While we were picking berries, Jason picked the hull peas (probably the last major picking before we pull the vines and plant green beans), which are waiting for me to shell and freeze.   I think I'll move to that next, as there is really nothing more enjoyable than shelling peas during a rainstorm.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Turtles part two

I, Jason, was sorry to realize the morning after having written the last post that I had failed to include what is arguably the most important turtle sighting, and its attendant ruminations.

There was a movie shown during one SPI lunch break called, as I understand it, Turtle Island.  "Turtle Island" is the name many native american groups used for the north american continent.  I've never heard an explanation of what the significance of this naming is...I suppose the time has come to find out.  The presence of the first human inhabitants of this land is never far from my mind, and their universal name for this continent was one of the first things I associated with the turtle theme that I saw emerging as the class developed.

It's been only in recent years that I learned that my family may have a fairly direct connection with the abuse of native american cultures and groups:  my great-grandparents were among the first settlers of the shores of Lake Superior, and helped to found the town of Bayfield, Wisconsin.  Their habitation of that land came not long after the removal of the native inhabitants, probably at least partly by force if it followed the typical pattern of american settlement by Europeans.  I don't really know anything about their relationship with the local native folk except for the following clue:  Part of the way they made their living at one time was to host on their farm, campground style, euro-american tourists who had come to observe the ceremonies at the nearby reservation.  I'm withholding judgment on principle, but so far this does not sound too good.  It's time I learned more about that, too.

Anyway, Turtle Island (the movie) is about particularly one aspect of the genocide of native groups perpetrated by the eurocentric government, religion, and culture of the United States: the history and legacy of boarding schools for native children.  I won't go into much detail about the film, but will simply recommend to everyone that they see if they can't get an opportunity to watch it (being aware that some graphic subject matter may make it less appropriate for young children).  We really shouldn't go on any longer as a culture without facing up to the unbelievable cruelty these communities have undergone.  I was grateful to the creators of the film and to those whose stories are detailed there that they are willing to put forth the effort and endure the vulnerability required to bring this history to light.

Though we can't find any reference to the film on the website, it was put out by this organization: www.whitebison.org.  This is an excellent source of information about efforts native folk are putting forth to bring healing to their lives and communities.  One thing they are especially trying for currently is to extract an official apology for this legacy from the Obama administration.  I believe instructions might be somewhere on the site for how to help with this campaign.

For the purposes of the design project and the class, then, I found myself thinking a lot (before and after viewing the film) about how the presence of native folk could be felt in the design of a new peace center at EMU.  Or perhaps even more to the point, how we could, with a new building, take the opportunity to make a break with certain aspects of the history of our culture and forge a new path that reflects our most deeply cherished values with integrity.  I see implications for sourcing of energy and materials, building function, flow planning, spacial aesthetics, artistic statement, and stylistic cultural associations.

I realize, as I indicated in the last post, that this is a bit of a stretch for many folks.  You may find yourself thinking, 'It's just a building...get over it!  What matters is what goes on inside the building.'  I have two responses to that.  One is that I have always known intuitively that what goes on inside the building is affected strongly by the shape and design of the building (I'm not alone in this), and I've been exposed to snippets of scholarship along these lines in the past.  This class, of course, constituted a huge advance in that understanding.  The other is a series of questions:  If it's just a building, then why did Saddam Hussein build one of his palaces on the ruins of King Nebuchadnezzar's?  Why do courthouses in western cultures nearly all give off the same ethos of power and intimidation?  Why are dungeons dark, and thrones high?  What of the McMansion?  I say there is no such thing as "just a building."  Every construction is in some way a communication from the assembly of people who made the decisions associated with it.  Don't you think we ought to pay attention to what we're saying?

Think about the words associated with architectural styles:  Colonial, Victorian, Modern, Jeffersonian...all of these have deep and specific history and assumptions associated with them.  It's not as cut and dried as, "If you build a Colonial style building then you are saying you affirm the practice of colonialism."  However.  It's worth asking the question of whether the typical ignorance about the sources and meanings of architectural styles is associated in any way with an apathetic or even aversive reluctance to examining the ways in which cultural/moral assumptions connected to those styles might persist in the present (even in our very selves...yikes!).  Furthermore, we may be dismayed to realize the ways in which the families and communities and categories of people to which we may belong have benefited or continue to benefit from the unethical and abusive systems of power literally housed in those brick-and-mortar structures.  Can we face this?  Do we have the insight?  Can we summon the courage?

As I was mulling over these things the other day, a metaphor from Christian scripture popped into my head that may help illuminate this thinking for some:  New wineskins for new wine.  According to Jesus, when you put new wine into an old wineskin, the old wineskin will burst and both will be ruined.  So if we've made the leap to realizing that there were and are serious problems with the status quo of power and human social systems, and we've dreamed new dreams and visions of how we might work and play together in peace, then is it not only reasonable that we realize also the need for inventiveness with regard to physical structures we create to house this new way of being in the world?  I hope you might agree with me that it is so.

This one has "pet" written all over it!

So Kali's ducklings were scheduled to hatch yesterday.  Sunday there were no pips.  I was secretly a little worried as often our chicks start hatching a good day or two before hatch date.  But we told Kali to save her worry for the next day.  Maybe the power outage had slowed their development down a bit (hopefully it wasn't their demise).  By Monday morning, one pip.  By Monday evening, one duckling and no additional pips.  To date there are no more pips.  Kali started with a dozen eggs, was down to ten by the last candling, and only one hatched.  Not considered a good hatch by any calculation and sad because we expect to find mostly formed ducklings in all the other eggs.  We aren't sure what happened and, of course, are more and more fond of using broody hens when possible (they are so much more reliable than electricity).  But, in the end, this might be an opportunity of a lifetime for Kali.  Without other little ducklings around, it is getting all the attention and due to that seems to have imprinted onto Kali.

The little thing peeps constantly if Kali is not close by.  It seems somewhat calmed by Alida too.  As last evening wore along, we weren't sure how this was all going to shake out.  Were any of us going to get any sleep?  The heat lamp also made it bright so it didn't seem to give it the clear communication that it was time to sleep.  It would be calm and happy in Kali's hands and the moment she put it under the lamp, it peeped and peeped until she returned.  I find the sound much more endearing than that of the goats, but still not desirable to listen to all night long.  It didn't seem like having the duckling in her bed was a great idea.  Of course Jason came through with the plan!

Before getting to that, I should mention that it made a guest appearance at our family meeting last night.  Kali had a bit of a harder time concentrating than normal. Understandably so!  She had a pretty good distraction:

Kali put the duckling back partway through our meeting so she could eat her popcorn and it wasn't impressed.  She also had a hard time brushing her teeth.  See how the duckling feels about being separated from her for even short periods of time:

Kali and Alida were both trying to assure it that it was okay without them.  It clearly didn't agree with that assessment.  It was soon after that we started exploring sleeping options that involved the duckling being close to Kali:

Jason suggested that Kali could put it in a shoe box with good air holes and tape it shut and put it inside her sleeping bag with her right next to it.  So before long, the little duckling was laying on a rag in the little shoe box acquired this week when Alida got new sandals. I helped Kali make her bed on the floor of her bedroom and soon they were tucked in side by side and all was quiet. I was worried about it smothering but Jason assured me he was 100% sure it was safe.

I woke up around 6:30 and happily realized I didn't have to go to work and could even go back to sleep for a little bit.  Then I remembered the duckling and was completely awake in an instant. I heard nothing. I went into Kali's room and was relieved to see that the sleeping bag was not completely covering the box (so the duckling should be getting sufficient air).  I jostled the box and still heard nothing. I went to brush my teeth and try to assure myself it was fine.  I got a flashlight and went back in.  This time Kali roused and sleepily told me that it was shuffling around and peeped some in the middle of the night. I am assuming it was the sound of her voice that roused the duckling and I was relieved to hear shuffling and little tiny contented noises.  Phew!!

So after a good night's sleep, the duckling got in on some new adventures.  Here it is taking its first swim.

Kali also took the duckling out for some ants.  Now Kali is curled up on her beanbag reading beside the duckling's metal basin. The duckling is not always so sure that she is close enough, but it seems to calm when she talks to it.  It doesn't look like Kali will be getting to her garden weeding anytime soon!

Monday, June 16, 2014


Turtles.  I need somebody to help me figure out what's going on with the turtles.

The first ones showed up at the beginning of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute course I was fortunate enough to take this past week and a half called Peace by Design:  Architecture as Peacebuilding Practice.  The course was taught by Barbara Toews and Deanna Van Buren.  Barb is a restorative justice practitioner and Deanna is an architect.  They have been moving in the direction of each other's specialty over the past number of years, and for several have been collaborating, leading design workshops focused on restorative justice issues, most notably with incarcerated folk.  If the connections here are not immediately intuitive to you, you may feel free to join the club; most people have reacted to hearing about the focus of the class with puzzlement.  But when I begin to talk about the Berlin wall, the village green, or separate entrances for different kinds of folks, usually something clicks...designs, whether intentional or unintentional, have profound effects on our moral universe, and vice versa.

Anyway we were asked to make collages on the first day with collections of images cut from magazines that signify peace, or a place of peace, to us.  I rifled through the bins of clippings and selected a hodgepodge of images that reminded me of our home, which is surely my most soulful place of peace.  Some folks chose literal images, others symbolic.  Some were more rigid, others more fluid.  If people needed a particular type of image, they were encouraged to ask the group to help them find such.  At one point Deanna asked that we keep our eyes out for turtle pictures for her.  Why turtles?, we wondered.  Because she likes turtles, it turns out.  Ah.  Then we'll look for turtles.  A few were located and included in her collage.  Quirky, definite, and unexplained:  That kind of thing sticks with me, lingering in the shadows, waiting for meaning.

Second sighting, then, was when, on the second morning, I was gathering some peace-signifying objects to bring in as per pre-class assignment (I had forgotten them the first day).  One was a hollowed-out, crystalline-structured stone (similar to a geode) I had found while weeding the day before, one was a piece of arrowhead parent material (found next door) imported, as I understand, from the Potomac region by pre-colombian indigenous folks, and the last was a vertebrae of a local deer a neighbor had given us to butcher a few years back (I was attracted to the form and had saved it out of the stockpot).  While retrieving them from the windowsill where I keep all my special doodads, I saw the dried box turtle shell that was found not far from the arrowhead parent material rock, and which I have been unable to part with for many years.  On a whim I stuck it in my bag.

Over the coming days, as I dug into the reading, threw myself into the studio practice and soaked in fascinating lectures and discussions--scales falling from my eyes the while--I began to sketch some forms into my dot grid journal that pertained to the final project.  The assignment was to generate meaningful input by way of design concepts into the very real process, perhaps soon to be initiated, of designing a probable new building on Eastern Mennonite University's campus meant to house the cluster of Center for Justice and Peacebuilding programs, as well as very likely several other programs.  Almost right away I realized that the rounded, earth-hugging, protective space I was already sidling up to in my mind looked a whole lot like that turtle shell.

The class was masterfully taught, with, for me, just the right balance of hands-on, tactile experiences of creating and stretching mental development.  The group was diverse in age, ethnicity, and place of origin.  Also much of the work was in groups, and the profs were skillful at adapting things on the fly when opportunities for greater learning arose or when someone expressed a desire.  The greatest surprise for me was the extent to which I came to realize that the design process, when done with integrity and with the public interest ever in mind, is as much an exercise of collaborative community building as it is coming up with design concepts that favor peaceable processes and outcomes.  Substantial bulks of time were spent gathering information about the people and programs for whom and which the potential structure is intended; we even delved into local Mennonite history and contemporary Mennonite politics and philosophy, all in the interest of gaining a clearer view of the context within which the structure would be built and would function, and the values it should serve.  This is, not surprisingly, quite a tall order for a seven-day course, given especially that most of us were new to this kind of work and some of us spoke English somewhat more comfortably than others.

Now, the class was set to end Friday afternoon soon after making our final presentations to a few of the key stakeholders in the design process:  a representative from the architect's firm, the executive director of CJP and the university's provost.  Given the number of class hours remaining I found myself wondering, as I walked around the yard tucking in the animals on Thursday evening, if my design partner and I were really going to be able to a) make a final draft sketch of our design concept, b) make a model of the same, and c) prepare to present it to the panel by 2:00.  I was taking the course for personal training purposes only...there was no grade to worry about.  Still I like to do things well, as much as anything because I was experiencing the course as deeply meaningful and wanted to honor that meaning with my diligence.  Also I didn't especially want to look a fool.  Absorbed with these considerations, I nearly missed...

the turtle

training its glassy eye on my distracted movements.  I watched it where it lay among the plant parts, living and dead, which covered the ground and which make up the lion's share of its world.  We both breathed the humid air.  Then I dashed off for the camera.  I wanted to record for memory its form, and its connection with the ground.

The next morning, the last day of class, I walked in prepared to make the case for blowing my conceptual wad:  I sort of wanted to try to reach for the relatively complete building concept that had gelled in my mind the day before.  No, it didn't exactly fit with where my design team (down by one since the third member had had to move on to his next workshop in another city) had been going, but nor did it exclude the ideas we'd been working on.  It would be a stretch, but...what if we COULD?!

I put the notion to Barb and Deanna, who gently helped me immediately to see that that was not reasonable.  The relative awesomeness of my idea was more or less irrelevant (they did not say it this way).  Nor was it going to serve the class process well to make that kind of reach.  I was grateful for their wisdom in helping me curb my inspiration.  Chuck Close has famously said,"Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work."  The great lesson of this class has been a little more familiarity with what it means for the process to be the product (sort of, anyway--it's not that the final product is unimportant).  I am trying to learn to trust the process, to hold my ideas and even my yearnings loosely.  To pay more attention, instead, to the flow of people and of life and the elements all around me all the way along.  To know the world as an infinite field of possibility, and myself as a firefly out in that field, blinking my hopes into the dark and watching for an answer, fishing for a connection.  I'm trying to remember that none of us can hold on to light.  I must be getting at least a smidgen better at it, because it was not hard at all to set my super-good idea back on the shelf without worry about what would become of it in the end, and let the buoyancy return.

Relieved, then, of the little tyranny of inspiration I had been toying with, I got to work.  By the time of the presentation, we had reasonably representative floor plans and a section sketch, a collection of interpretive images, and a plan for who should present what.  No time for a model.  Our plan included a rough concept of a circular gathering space with a domed roof (more igloo than turtle, I suppose) with a dedicated space for interfaith exchange (the particular passion of the by-then-absentee group member) connected by a large, curtained doorway, and a separate building, connected by an outdoor walkway, dedicated to the STAR program for trauma healing (the particular passion of the other member, my co-presenter).  These are two examples of the kind of program the actual structure will need to accommodate.  The interacting values, constraints, relationships, and forces included in the design are beyond relevance for this writing.  What matters is: a) this building will not, could not be built in this way and everyone knew that, and b) having the concept up on a board to interact with is an excellent way to explore the issues and get folks thinking.

I discovered that it is, in a way I consider good, a fairly bracing experience to have to convey and answer for a creative process, especially to practically-minded folks who are dearly aware of the constraints they face and the priorities they represent as they consider a new building project.  What an excellent, excellent crash course in group process (further up the food chain than I'm used to relating to, but still) for architecture.  Deanna pointed out in the final circle after the presentation was over that stirring up discussion and generating reactions of various kinds is a good sign that you've touched something important.  The worst reaction, she advised, was silence.  The reaction and discussion that our project stimulated was brief but lively, questions and comments ranged from theoretical ("Where in this concept do you see indications that this is specifically a university building?"--on the spot I had to admit it wasn't much in evidence as presented) to eminently practical discussions wherein the architectural firm's rep. affably refused to answer how much a circular structure would add to the cost of construction:  an excellent result!

For me this was a vulnerable mix of pleasure and awkwardness.  The more I think about it, the more I like it, and the more I want to try it again.  While it brings it home to me that collaboration is not all peaches and pancakes, I find it a highly stimulating challenge.  If, as I suspect, it is in the milieu of elicitive process in iterative combination with creative process and evaluative process in real time with real consequences for real people that the really important work takes place, then I think I might want in.  I've always been an aesthetically oriented person, but "pure" art has never, in my adult life, held my attention for long.  I need palpable relevance.

I was sad to say goodbye to my new friends, some of whom seemed like, given time, they could become quite good friends.  Similarly, I was a little sad to leave the environment I had found so stimulating, though truthfully I was more glad to be able to return my full attention (o.k., nearly full...still some lingering inner work and pondering:  Where do I go from here with all of this?) to our family and home:  my place of peace.

Friday evening was lovely.  We've had some great rain this week, and the plants are bursting at the cells.  All four of us wandered around picking this and that and pulling at the odd weed, doing the puttering that is the stuff of my lifelong dreams.  Clouds began gathering, so I rushed around collecting eggs and shutting in chickens, trying to beat the lightning storm.  Soon after I came in, the sky opened and dropped its load.  We watched through the windows with awe, and when the storm passed we ventured back out to splash around.  Saturday and today also contained choice experiences in generally convivial family and homestead pleasure.  Chicks were hatching, peas needed picking and shelling and stringing and blanching and SAMPLING.  This kind of happiness is only boring from the outside.

This evening we were performing the latest round of tinkering in the gardens when Janelle called out to me from the potato patch (where she had been stalking beetles), "I found a turtle!"  I trotted down to have a look.

There, sure enough, was the same box turtle I'd spotted the other day, distinctive for the grayed patch of exposed bone on its carapace.  It was digging a hole with its hind feet.  Could it be?  Was this, of all things, a turtle making a nest?  This time we asked the girls not to touch or disturb the turtle at all, but to watch from a respectful distance.  I scooted off for the camera again, and snuck in a few shots, trying to maintain awareness of Mama Turtle's anxiety level.  If there is anything the world needs, it's more box turtles, I say.  Far be it from me to put that prospect in jeopardy.  When we'd gotten our fill of seeing her, paused as she was in her ancient ritual, and had judged that it was time to leave well enough alone, I pushed three sticks into the soil such that the center of the triangle they formed marked the turtle's nest, and went about my evening.  If, in the morning, she has finished her work and I can see clearly where she has laid the eggs, I'll cover the spot with an overturned steel milk crate and flag it to prevent human traffic destroying the nest.

So.  Turtles.  Please, somebody.  Help me out here.  I am a sentimental person and I enjoy found symbols and meaning-making.  But so far I got nuthin'.  Which is fine, of course.  Dave Jacke, from whom I was privileged to learn permaculture design once upon a time, was at that time fond of emphasizing that it is not advisable to rush away from the place of confusion, or not knowing.  He claimed that was very fertile ground.  For my part I shall leave you now (favoring instead the company of my pillow at this wee hour of morning) with the below poem, first brought to my awareness through its position above the toilet on a friend's bathroom wall.  I intend to move off into sleep thinking about Mama turtle in the potato patch, the cool night air sliding over her, tucking her precious eggs into the dark soil and then crawling away with nary a backward glance and no notion of what will become of them.

Waiting For Signs
"I used to wait for a sign, she said, before I did anything. Then one night I had a dream and an angel in black tights came to me and said, you can start any time now, and then I said is this a sign? and the angel started laughing and I woke up. Now, I think the whole world is filled with signs, but if there's no laughter, I know they're not for me." Found in StoryPeople book - Mostly True

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A whole lot of "jackpots"

Last evening when we all landed home, Jason and I were more or less ready to crash.  Jason was having a little "post SPI class" let down and I was just tired from juggling the week with the added complexity of having a student for a husband!  Really all went super well the entire week and the girls were a big part of the smoothness we experienced during the week.  They just went with the flow and had a grand time being with different friends.  Yesterday I spent the whole day in town with the girls doing errands, taking a fun little field trip with them to Silver Lake Mill, and going to Jason's class presentation in the afternoon before heading home together.  But good moods and helpful attitudes are not enough to protect me from the sheer exhaustion that comes over me after taking Alida to a shoe store!  She now has two pairs of new summer shoes and I can only hope her feet don't grow too fast.  She is 100% pleasant in the store but wants to bring me a new pair of shoes to try on about every 30 seconds, or she wants to try shoes on herself and race up and down aisles, or she just likes to pull them off and show us the variety of shoes in the store.  I was very glad to pay our bill and get out of that store!  And she wondered why I wanted her to ride in the cart in Sharp Shopper. :)

Anyway, it was a muggy, hot evening and that only added to our tiredness.  We unloaded the car, put some things away and then headed out with baskets in hand.  Jason picked the hull peas, I picked snow peas and Kali started in on the sugar snap peas.  Alida rotated around, chattering almost nonstop about her garden finds!  I also picked lettuce and kale and then decided that we better not get more things to process that evening.  As Jason was collecting eggs and putting in chickens we heard the first loud clap of thunder.  Another evening storm rolled in, with less wind but louder thunder and then the rain just dumped!

It was so fun to sit in the living room snipping ends off peas and shelling the hull peas together while watching the rain completely hide the mountain from our view and then it slowly reappeared as the storm passed.  Then I stepped outside.   It was a magical transformation!  The air was cool and fresh and everything was dripping wet.  We left the rest of the peas inside, delayed supper even further and out we went!  The girls splashed in the fire ring, while Jason and I happily discovered water in the retention pit in Nora's garden. I walked around in amazement of our little paradise.  The butterfly weed in Nora's garden is at its prime (1-2 weeks later than normal, as it often blooms right on the anniversary of her death).  The drastic change in weather kind of made me want to jump up and kick my heels, but instead I joined the girls for some splash tag in the fire ring.

We then came in, got rinsed off, I whipped up a batch of pancakes for those not completely stuffed with peas, and we finished off our food processing event.  By the end of the evening we had two trays each of hull peas, sugar snap peas and snow peas in the freezer.  Alida keeps wondering why we are freezing things and I keep trying to explain but I'm not sure it will sink in fully until we pull them out come December and January!  I went out today to get mustard greens for our breakfast and I am quite certain everything I picked yesterday needs to be picked again.  Between the rain and the sun, things are growing so fast I think we could almost watch them grow!

And, to end, we had more bear excitement today. After lunch, Kali was once again in the living room and exclaimed, "the cub is back."  Sure enough.  See for yourselves...

We've gotten our fill of pictures now and must turn our attention to making our property a place this little guy will not want to hang around!  It sounds like there are at least two, and maybe three, bears of varying sizes who seem more comfortable in the presence of humans than we would like.  I took Alida for a nappy walk today and ended it early as there was a larger bear in the cornfield right by the road and, while it seemed mostly interested in eating corn, it unnerved me a bit to be that close to it (without the door between me and it).  On my way up the drive, I learned that a smaller bear had been found within the hour in our neighbor's yurt.  I put a call in to the Virginia Wildlife Center and based on my description of the cub, the staff person there was pretty confident it was probably a year or so old and just a "bear in training," learning the ropes of life on its own.  I would like to wish it well, and would also like it to discern that it would really like to spend its time farther away from the humans.  Unfortunately, it was probably the good smells coming out our windows that drew it to our porch.  No denying it was kind of cute as it sat on our walk just sniffing away!  And, who can blame it!  The freshly steamed snow peas and the eggs scrambled with an abundance of garlic scapes, mustard greens and spinach were delicious!

P.s. I guess you might be wanting an explanation for the title of this post.  At one point last evening in our wonderful flurry of harvesting and then exploring the rain washed world, Alida noted something about us having "a lot of jackpots."  And I believe that comment came soon after Jason said something like, "this is what happy looks like!"  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Power outage and Daddy's school

It's our Thursday date night, which clearly begs the question, "Why are you on the computer?"  I'll get to that momentarily.  The girls are likely having the time of their lives at the waterpark, thanks to the library for the free passes connected to the summer reading program and Aunt Emily and Uncle Jonas for sparing us a trip there!  We happily came home to a quiet house and enjoyed a leisurely dinner, the highlight of which was sauteed garlic scapes, snow peas and mustard greens.  We are rolling in green stuff these days.  The ones that come to mind immediately include: garlic scapes, onions, cilantro, parsley, snow peas, hull peas, sugar snap peas, apple mint, peppermint, lemonbalm, amaranth, lambsquarter, stinging nettle, lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, and kale.

This last week we have not had much time at home and so we have had a few small windows of time (at least once with a thunderstorm brewing) where we were out with bowls and baskets harvesting as quickly as we could.  Last evening was one of those times.  We got all the peas picked - hull, sugarsnap and snowpeas - and then Jason had just enough time to get the eggs collected and the chickens shut in before the storm hit. Thankfully the friends joining us for the evening and overnight arrived moments before the rain started pouring down.  I was glad to have all "my people" safely tucked inside.  As the wind picked up, I suggested that we start to think through our power outage plan.  Jason headed off to the back kitchen to draw water right as the power flickered and then went off.

Before too long we sat down to a kerosene-lamplit dinner of rice, lentils, sugarsnap peas, strawberries and goat meat in peanut sauce.  We had not planned for our first try of the goat we butchered to be so memorable, but it sure was - not just in that it was delicious but the atmosphere was delightful and we enjoyed our meal at a leisurely pace (since there is a limited number of things that we can easily accomplish with no electricity - a sobering realization).  It may have been harder for me to eat the goat dish if I was not feeling some days like the two goats we still have are going to make me completely lose my mind.  I know that sounds extreme but both Jason and I are at our wits' end some days.  They have learned to cry the most pathetic, pitiful cries for attention.  And we have sometimes confirmed that they have ample food to eat and clean water and what they clearly want is someone to be with them.  I just don't have it in me - I have enough emotional needs to attend to among the humans that I love and to be completely frank am not interested in dividing that more to have a share for the goats.  I often feel these days that we are not the best home for them - they want to be pets or they want to be with a large herd of goats where they have lots of company and freedom to roam farther.  But clearly more than just Jason and I are invested in this decision.  We can laugh about it when we talk about it with others but I could write a long blog post just about this dilemma as it has definitely been coloring my enjoyment of home and compromising the comfort that I so depend on in my home space.  But lest I never get to the point of this post, I'll move on!

By the end of the meal the huge bowl of sugar snaps were history. I had already snipped the ends to the snow peas in preparation for blanching and freezing them but that clearly was not going to happen. So Alida and I got busy shelling hull peas while Kali and her friend C were playing in the living room.  All of a sudden, Kali piped up, "Mommy, there's a bear cub on our porch."  Honestly, my mind took a few seconds to process the information, but I knew from her voice that this was no joke.  Alida almost freaked out as we all bolted towards the door. Jason ran back to get her and assure her that we were all going to be fine, we just didn't want to miss it.

Sure enough, there on our porch with its little nose up at our window was a bear cub.  It looked in at us, came over to the door, and walked to the edge of the porch.  It was still raining out and it clearly looked like it wanted nothing more than a dry place out of the rain. I pushed the window open further to see if I could get a better picture and this startled the little fellow enough that he made his exit.  We watched as the cub took off through the yard and out of sight.

While we were definitely surprised by the sighting, we were slightly less shocked than we might have been had we not heard from several neighbors about recent bear sightings.  Jason had also seen it out in the cornfield a few days prior and wondered if maybe it was motherless, since it was behaving in ways atypical to a bear with good training.  Our neighbors called us the other day to say it was in a tree on their driveway if we wanted to come see it.  We also learned from the same neighbors that others along our road had used their four wheeler to deliver a bucket of dog food to the bear. Bad idea!

So once the bear drama had subsided we got to work on the other dilemma - Kali's duck eggs (set to hatch in a matter of days).  The eggs can cool down for a bit of time (like when the mama duck would leave to get food or water) but we didn't want to risk having too much time pass so we called some friends until we figured out who was the closest to us but still with electrical service.  So Kali, her friend and Jason took a little field trip down the road to make the emergency delivery.  Have we mentioned liking using broody hens better than incubators?  Yay for things you don't have to plug in!

Just before they arrived home the power flipped back on.  By this time it was after 10 p.m. and there were dishes strewn everywhere and we had not even started prepping for the following day.  It wasn't until a few moments into dishwashing that I formulated words to go with my strange feelings about what had just transpired.   It was more striking to me than ever before.  When the power went off we all visibly slowed down.  What else could you do? I lingered at the table after dinner and at a relaxed pace shelled peas and when they were done just chatted.  The second the lights came on, I was in high gear again getting dishes done, packing lunch, getting our things together for the morning.  It was all things that needed to be done and of course I was hurrying because it was already late and we were all tired.  But I found myself yearning for that lamplit table filled with beautiful faces to look at and wonderful people to converse with and the internal slowing down that accompanied that time.  So some Lent ideas are brewing in this household!  Maybe we'll have to turn off the main breaker to our house at a certain time each day or for a few days or...  It is definitely in the times when we lose power where it is so blatantly apparent how dependent we are on having electricity at our fingertips.  I don't like it, but it is good to be reminded of it and I would like to practice being more prepared to do without.  At a minimum I think we each need a good working headlamp!

...well the almost full moon is only getting higher up in the sky. The girls are now home and Alida is sacked out beside me and I don't think Kali lasted long after her head hit the pillow.  I need to engage in another little flurry of activity as supper dishes still await my attention and I need to pack things up for one final day in town.  It's been quite a week for all four of us, but most changed from normal routines for Jason.  After me working with the Summer Peacebuilding Institute for about 14 years, Jason is taking a class!  It was on a recent trip to PA that I mentioned to him that there is a class being held this year that seems like if there was ever going to be a perfect fit this was it. It's called Peace by Design and I'm happy to report that my hunch was correct. He's loving it, and I imagine you will get in on some of the musings once he is able to catch his breath and we get caught up on things around the farm. His absence has been felt!  It's 7 full days of class and it comes to a close tomorrow.  

The girls have done superbly with our crazy schedule this week.  Alida is so adjusted that the other day she talked about going to "Daddy's school."  We literally chose to "go for it" days before the start of the class, we had to scramble to figure out where Kali and Alida would be on his class days when I was working and we had not proactively made our schedules lighter in that time.  So we still had things most evenings, as well as long days in town for all of us.  But the girls have enjoyed playdates almost every day (the artwork was from a playdate here at our home earlier this week) and the last two days they have joined me in my office for a few hours (thankfully Alida slept most of the time she was there). Speaking of sleep, I'm going to have to end this abruptly because I'm not wanting to see in the new day and I'm headed that way if I don't get moving!