Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas festivities and year end reflections...

Ok, I'm back!  Terah is now asleep in the pack, Alida is heading outside to blow bubbles, and Kali is off to help her Daddy chop wood.  The sun is streaming into the front room so I'm letting the fire go out for the day. When I first felt inclined towards writing this morning, pictured here is what Terah was doing.  She took a nap all by herself on our love seat while I got dishes done and started downloading pictures. It wasn't too long until she roused and Alida entertained her for a good number of minutes until her diaper and belly started talking to her and in turn she started expressing a desire for some assistance.  Most of her naps to date have happened in the front pack or in my arms. While I treasure the closeness, it will be nice in other ways for her to expand her napping options.  Though this and many other changes seem to point to her growing up so so fast!  I've put a way a whole size of cloth diapers, most of the 0-3 month clothing, and she will soon outgrow her little blue seat and be ready for the doorway jumper and circle seat.  We had to adjust the carseat before heading to church Sunday.  And she road in the jogger for part of a recent walk like a big girl!  There are wonderful and fun things about some of the growing up stuff - she smiles, coos and laughs many times a day.  She is sleeping longer blocks at night. She is more entertainable and therefore a bit more patient if her needs/wants can't be met immediately. On the other hand, while soaking up the stage she is in currently, I can't help but already miss the little tiny baby that was only little and tiny for a very short time.

Right at this exact moment I'd be happy for a baby that stayed asleep in the pack a bit longer.  She just roused and left out what we'd call a "truck driver belch."  We'll see if her fist chomping can put her back to sleep or not. If not, this might be another short post without much deeper reflection.  And it appears that Alida's bubble blowing session has also come to an end.  This is more or less a typical day for me - I set out to do something and more than half the time I don't get much done before a string of interruptions.  It often makes me inclined to not even attempt any big projects.  Also, it seems the best time for Jason and I to think and reflect is in the middle of the night when all the kiddos are sleeping - but that is when we should also be clocking in as much rest as we can.  Yesterday afternoon I hit a bit of a wall when I had a few projects underway and a few others on my mind that needed to get done and Terah had sacked out on my chest and I was eager to rid myself of the low grade headache I had acquired.  I find it so hard to be constantly calculating how I wish to use the available moments in front of me.  Jason shared a current mantra of his on Christmas Even that he got from some reading he was doing recently. I think I want to try it out as well: "Time is a bringer of gifts"  So often I feel like I don't have enough time or time is running out or I'm behind or time is going by too fast.

Our times together over this past week have had a lot of gifts in them.  We had a very lovely Christmas at home, and are still looking forward to more celebrations this coming weekend when the Benner family arrives in Keezletown for a few days of fun family times.  We had blocked out most of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to just be together as a family, along with my folks.  During the afternoon on Christmas Eve we did our Adopt a Highway trash pick up all together.  My emotions followed the very typical pattern - at the beginning I enjoy being outside and walking and I feel good about beautifying our roadside a bit.  By the end I find myself feeling really annoyed at anyone who feels ok about flinging a bottle out their car door and somewhat depressed by trash in general and the fact that we are mostly just moving the stuff around (out of our site and to the landfill or at best made into more stuff that most of us probably don't need). I noted this time that maybe they figured that a 2 mile stretch of road is about as far as anyone can go and keep up a good attitude while removing all the litter.  I am glad we do it and it was highly entertaining to do it with the girls, just wish it was unnecessary.

The evening of Christmas Eve was the highlight of my holiday season to date.  I remember fondly a tradition from growing up where we each got to pick an activity that we all did together and where in our house that activity took place. I remember my sister B leading us all in gymnastics one year and I remember eating Christmas cookies in our downstairs bedroom and opening my cabbage patch dolls there.  So as we were anticipating the holiday at home, I hatched the idea of giving it a try and the idea was very appealing to the girls.  They got so excited about choosing their half hour and I think the evening measured up to everyone's expectations.

After a delicious soup dinner upstairs, Alida kicked off the evening with an art lesson. She told each of us what to draw and offered a few pointers along the way, but mostly chattered nonstop for the half hour.  Kali went next and had us play "pin the carrot nose on the snowman." I was, once again, inspired and tickled by her creativity and enthusiasm.  We all got some good laughs during that half hour.  Mom had printed off Christmas themed coloring sheets so next  we got to do some more coloring, this time with homemade dark chocolates to sweeten the time!  Alida was relieved that someone (me) had chosen decorating cookies for their half hour - Jason made two batches of popcorn for seed testing, we got hot drinks going and I brought out the gingerbread cookies we have made earlier that day with our home grown ginger and various options for decorating them.  Jason shared a few excerpts from a Wendell Berry book he is reading and then we had Alida open a Christmas present. We all enjoyed learning how to play the new cooperative game she got where you try to work together to not let animals go extinct.  And finally Dad read us a Christmas story and then we all took a quiet moonlit walk down the lane.  Alida didn't make it to the bottom of the driveway before sacking out in the jogger (too much Christmas fun and she was tuckered out), which made the walk considerably quieter for the rest of us.  After a good number of rainy cloudy days, it was beautiful to see the stars in the sky and to admire the ring of light around the moon.  A wonderful culmination to a very fun evening.  Terah did great too and seemed to enjoy the evening even if she isn't quite ready to color with us or decorate cookies. It won't be long!

The girls were super excited about Christmas day too - Alida was probably most excited about presents and about being a zebra. I don't know how or why she hatched the idea but she didn't forget about it.  And it was even plenty warm enough for her outfit.  At one point I was feeling a little concerned about Alida's obsession with presents.  By the end of Christmas morning, my worries had vanished and were replaced with admiration and amusement. Alida had had a lot of fun putting things in our stockings.  The silly items included a pair of gloves from our regular supply that she put in Kali's stocking and a brown scarf Kali had knitted for herself landed in my stocking.  But then in my stocking there were three adorable little coupons from Alida - one for cuddle time, one for a family walk and one for a hair playing session.  Those are keepers!  The present that I felt most uncomfortable receiving was the package she had wrapped with $10 one dollar bills for me.  She apparently told Jason she had a lot and didn't need it all.  I have such a hard time taking money from my children.  It's set aside with the coupons to use for some fun activity together sometime.

Jason and I (other than unlimited milk!) didn't get anything for Terah's first Christmas, but the girls and Grandma and Grandpa made sure she had some things in her stocking.  She was more interested in all the goings on than I thought she might be, and seemed pleased with her new little Cordoroy board books and the already loved stuff animals.  I think for all of us Terah is definitely the best present of this year's Christmas celebrations!  It's fun to celebrate the holiday with a baby who is waking up to the world around her and finding it endlessly entertaining (unless, that is, she is tired, hungry or wet)...

Kali opened her new cooperative game Christmas morning and we enjoyed playing Starwords together (note: it is very intentional that we purchased cooperative rather than competitive games this Christmas, especially with our middle daughter in mind!)  The rest of the day was spent eating lots of delicious food from our land and enjoying more game playing together than we normally can fit into a given day.  Of course there was lots of baby cuddling and adoring fit into all the available cracks of the day.  Here's a few other pictures of some holiday highlights:

Harvesting our Christmas tree after our return from West Virgina
Wearing "gives peas a change" - the only outfit I remember buying for Kali before her birth!
Cutting out gingerbread cookies!
Baby sweetness! 
She's trying to take it all in.
One of many delicious meals shared together!
 Well, it is now lunchtime and Alida is more than a little eager for me to read her a story (or if I don't intervene soon she will be opening a bunch of new paints without assistance).  Maybe it is for the best that I don't share too many additional musings.  Jason and I did get to go for one walk together during this holiday season and that was enough for me to know that many of my swirling thoughts and emotions are not easily articulated. In short, I feel like I'm waffling these days between feeling like what Jason and I are trying to do on this piece of land and with our one wild, precious life together is chock full of meaning and incredibly important. I can't imagine being engaged in anything more fulfilling and it feels relevant, purposeful, and like a valuable contribution to the world.  Then, unfortunately pretty often these days and likely exacerbated by me going for walks in a tank top in December, I wonder if any of it will matter.  I know that in a flash all that we have worked so hard for could be gone.  I feel deeply unsettled about the future, for us and for our children and for the planet in general.  I waffle too between the unsettled feelings spurring me on to greater and deeper engagement in the world around me and feeling as if all our efforts are in vain.  What it brings me back to many times is the whole notion once again of mindfulness and being present in each given moment.  And that I want the various projects and activities we are involved in to be fulfilling in and of themselves, even if in the long run they don't make a lot of difference.  So I fully intend to continue to throw myself fully into our homesteading efforts and while I'd like to think it's some kind of calling, I also do it for the sheer love of it!

A few more WV highlights

We've been home for over a week but for various reasons I only downloaded pictures today for the first time since WV.  A big part of it is that I'm getting to know a new camera, since ours decided to stop working entirely soon after arriving in WV.  Thanks to my dad, who had an extra lying around, we can still share pictures of a certain fast growing sweet little gal!  But I don't know that I'll ever be someone that gets excited about a new piece of equipment...  It seems we are in a phase of things breaking around here and we have a growing pile on the counter of things that don't work and we don't know how to fix - a blender, immersion blender, coffee/spice grinder, breast pump and now camera.  Jason and I really like things with the fewest moving parts possible!!

Anyway, I've just downloaded over 100 pictures from the camera and thought it was worth putting up a few more WV highlights before moving on to a post about our Christmas festivities to date.  While it was so very wonderful to return home and be reunited with Jason, many of our hopes for the week were also realized (lots of fun game playing, walks outside, reading, and getting a pretty significant break from the daily chores that occupy much of my time).  Thankfully I also enjoy a lot of those tasks so it hasn't been too hard to get back to incorporating them into my life.  Mom returned from WV with us and so the transition back to home was smoother due to her never ending helpfulness! She also gifted me with lots of help sorting through cupboards, getting rid of and organizing spaces that had been bugging me for months (if not years!).

But I'm getting ahead of myself!  Here's Terah enjoying one of her many "chat sessions" with Grandma (and Alida) in WV.  I normally got there with the camera after the best of the coos and squeals and laughs had passed:

Here's a few other moments worth sharing:
This is one of those moments that makes my heart melt!  I love watching our daughters enjoy being in each other's presence. I'm so glad that that is their experience of life together the majority of the time.  We have our moments (and even days) where it is not so harmonious but those times pale in comparison to these!
So Terah is a pro going potty in the sink.  I haven't put a big messy diaper in the diaper pail since before West Virginia!  We discovered there that she really likes going potty where she can see herself (and us) in the mirror.  So we have moved operations here at home to where she has a good view in the mirror. Since we arrived home she has also discovered her toes. Cute!
It seemed fitting that one of the first books to be read to her multiple times would have a chicken theme!  She particularly liked the daddy rooster.
The only homestead project I took with me was a big bucket of peanuts to shell.  We made peanut honey brittle and a sopa de mani (peanut soup) with some of them.  They represent days of labor from the planting to consuming, so we will savor them!  We got the bucket shelled that week and then in Mom and I's organizing fun we discovered another big container unshelled. So we have more than we thought!
I have no idea what the price per pound for these peanuts would be if we calculated it based on a fair wage for all the hours spent getting them to this point. I do know that they would be so very far out of our price range!  We will be growing a very small patch just for fun this year and to keep our seed fresh...
Terah enjoyed lots of conversations with the bears at the Mountain House!
Well the Christmas post and year end reflections will have to wait until Terah's next nap at least.  She is doing tummy time on my lap but that doesn't normally last too long.  I also need to put some more wood on the fire. It felt like a relief to need a fire this morning finally!  It's been too warm and as much as I love flowers it has been unsettling to watch them bud and bloom in December...

Monday, December 14, 2015

A week in wild, wonderful, West Virginia!

Have two weeks really flown by since we returned from our Thanksgiving travels?  I now find myself with Kali, Alida and Terah at the Mountain House, home of my parents.  Our time here could only be improved by having Jason here with us!  Partway through my maternity leave Jason needed to start working. I quickly realized how much I didn't enjoy him being away from home, and therefore us.  So I hatched the idea of spending a week enjoying time with my parents and the girls in WV while Jason got as many hours in working as possible, making it such that he didn't have to work as much when we could all be together at home.  I still think it was a great idea and other than the last hour on our way here I'd say that Terah has been quite pleased with the idea too.  I had no doubt the older girls would love an extended stay with grandparents and in the mountains. But, my goodness, absence sure is making my heart grow fonder!  I am missing Jason quite a lot and I know he is finding the house mighty quiet in our absence, and missing the littlest probably more than the rest of us combined!  A week makes a big difference when you are just two months old!  

The month of December kind of feels like my last hurrah and I'm trying to soak it up and not let my apprehension about the new year dawning impact too much my enjoyment of this time.  This week here and then time at home together with my parents in their quarters over Christmas and finally hosting the Benner Christmas celebration in Keezletown over New Year's weekend are what makes this month special.  It also marks my maternity leave winding down. While I've been working hours here and there throughout, I will officially need to be back at my 3/4 time position come mid-January.  Since it's been a challenge to carve out those few hours here and there, I'm wondering how getting back to 30 hours/week is going to feel.  Obviously it means that Jason will be picking up a lot of Terah-care time (which I know he will be grateful for in some ways) and I will be doing less around the house and he will be doing less of the major projects on our list.  I know, as we always do, that we'll find a few groove and establish patterns that work for us. I need to trust that we've  done it before and we'll do it again.  I probably have said this every other time too, but I'll say it again: "this time just feels a little different."

Anyone who knows us well knows that our long term dream is that we can all be at home together and that what income we need (which we hope keeps lessening) can be generated from our labor and land.  We know we are a ways away from bringing that dream to fruition but we have been taking some steps towards it (ok, so mostly Jason has been taking the steps and I've been trying to cheer him on).  We've got some applications in to a few seed companies, Jason and Kali attended a 2 day Farm to Table conference recently and made some good connections, Jason has put out two feelers regarding connecting on his various chicken breeding projects (with one very positive exchange on that front already), and we continue to think/dream/plan/design our next major building project, which we hope will be a large screened in pavilion constructed in 2016.  

A big part of our conversations in the last week or two has centered around one major question: "what are we not going to do?"  I've felt pretty clearly that the math just doesn't add up - we've got a finite number of hours in a day and days in a week.  We've been pretty maxed out as it is. It feels like quite a quandary. Jason and I love all the activities that fill our life together.  We enjoy working hard.  We don't really want to cut anything.  But I feel pretty strongly that there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing."  I know for myself when life gets so full and the list gets overwhelmingly long, my enjoyment of the things that make up our life wains.  I have yet to see where these conversations will lead us. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I am trying to soak up the time here, where our to do list has been tucked in my planner getting no attention from me.  I've taken a nap, read a novel, played a bunch of games, read stories with Alida, gone for walks, played outside, snuggled with Terah, eaten lots of yummy food, and visited with family.  I've done very little food preparation and not very many dishes - thanks Mom!  Here's a few pictures from our time (this is all I will try to upload from here - we may not have many things on WV, but our internet is faster!):
a hike to the labyrinth
a morning hike up to my uncle's cabin
watching a bubble - it had a blade of grass through it and still didn't pop!
can you see our reflections?
cute girls in matching hats made by Kali
finally a picture with her eyes open!
making a pretend pond scum lunch
today's love fest

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Travel report

We saw in the new month on 81 South as we neared home from our Thanksgiving travels.  Due to our neighbor generously off-loading not one but two deer on us, we decided to return home at bedtime last night so Jason would have two days to process the meat before he and Kali take part in the Virginia Farm to Table conference Thursday and Friday of this week.  It was so good to arrive home shortly after 1 a.m. this morning and crawl under our chilly covers.  My folks had not only taken great care of our all our "livestock," Mom also left her mark on every room (never have I returned home from a 5 day trip to find our home cleaner and more organized than when I left!). Additionally when Terah woke up at 4 a.m. and wanted to get reacquainted with her clowns, I decided to make a fire. The rain was pouring down and I remembered that we hadn't loaded the wood boxes before we left. I took a peak with the hope that there might be enough for one little fire to find that Dad had loaded the box for us.  I felt very grateful as Terah and I sat and watched the flames and felt the warmth.

Gratefulness should obviously be part of the Thanksgiving holiday season, but I found it very easy to come by the last number of days.  I can hardly count the number of little things I felt thankful for and amazed by over the last week (and some of them felt big to us).

Our safe travels to and from PA are near the top of the list. We never had to stop more than one time on any stint of our trip - even the five hour stint.  Terah surprised us at every turn.  She slept great in the car and the one day of travel where she was not as fond of the car seat, she not only took a bottle of expressed milk from me with no problem but she also fell asleep sucking a pacifier and was soothed by that when she roused 45 minutes from home early this morning.  She was amazing and I felt not even a smidgen of annoyance when she woke me after less than 3 hours of sleep this morning. Instead I just watched her see her clown mobile for the first time and stare at it for a long time before excitedly starting to kick her little legs.  It was really sweet to see her recognize them and seem happy to be home.

As much as all of us were glad to be home, I know for Jason and I this was the best trip we've taken to PA in a long time. We commented that we should always have a 7 week old with us. :) We so thoroughly enjoyed our time in Pennsburg and in Lancaster with family and friends.  Not knowing what the car travel would be like and also wanting family that hadn't met Terah to have time to get to know each other a bit, we decided to make the trip worth it by extending our time in PA by a few days.  We spent the better part of four days with Jason's family and filled it with eating, visiting, going for walks, playing Apples to Apples and many other games, participating in the now annual Sing for your Supper event at his aunt's home, enjoying watching cousins enjoy each other and marveling at how fast our little people are growing up, etc...  We are often one of the first family's to take off for home so it was a different experience to watch all the other out-of-towners leave and for us to linger and get to interact with a smaller and smaller group.  The crazy large family hubbub is fun in its own way but I also enjoyed the more intimate interactions made possible by the smaller numbers. It's nice to get to look forward to welcoming the family to Keezletown in just a few weeks.

We got to introduce Terah to some of my family by attending a pottery open house at my aunts and then going via Lancaster on our way home. After a delightful brunch with friends yesterday, we spent the rest of the day with my sister and family.  More games and visiting and adoring the littlest gal.  She slept through much of it so then didn't settle right away in the car. Alida, on the other hand, didn't sleep through much of any of the day time excitement and crashed easily every night, proclaiming her deeply felt exhaustion!  She didn't snag naps like some of the rest of us, and was a ball of pure silly ramminess each evening.  She's not much less dramatic then when she was as a wee one and one of her most common responses to our request for her to do anything right now, but especially when tired is "it's too heavy" (whether that makes sense in the situation or not).  What a kid!  When we headed for home last evening, she was asleep in a matter of seconds (maybe a full minute) when we got on the road and didn't wake at all until this morning. Tuckered out by so much fun!
It's been a rainy day of readjusting to home - mostly unpacking and getting settled back in.  The girls made a Christmas chain together, so the anticipation for the upcoming holiday season is in the air. Time to scout out a Christmas tree (once the rain clears).

My feelings of gratitude for the many beautiful things in this period of my life do not come without acknowledging the vastly different experiences of others around the globe (and even right around me here). I know that holidays are not always an easy time and that there is much to also grieve and feel angry about and much work to be done to keep making our world a better place for all.  I hope to be open to embracing that complexity. I'm also learning that not celebrating the goodness around me and focusing only on the negative things happening in our world normally more or less overwhelms me and raises my anxiety enough that I'm not much good for anyone.  So I'm trying to live fully, being present to joy and to suffering, and attempting to live in such a way as to make at least this little corner of the planet a more beautiful place.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On the eve of our travel adventures...

So tomorrow we embark on our first substantial trip (longer than to town and back) with Terah in tow!  So what am I doing blogging when there is plenty of packing, cleaning, food preparations, etc... to be done?  It just seems that anything pre-travels will seem like old news by next week when we land home again (in a whole new month)!  So I figured I might as well note a few things from our week.

The girls enjoyed their last playdate day with I & M this week since they will be traveling until the new year.  We enjoyed an evening get together with their family, complete with Alida sacking out on the futon from sheer exhaustion to Kali reading Calvin & Hobbes  (an 8 hour playdate is a lot for that gal!).  I was sure we were going to have a rough night with Terah as she fell asleep right before they arrived around 5:30 p.m. and was still sleeping when they left around 8:30 p.m. It's the only night we've ever had like this but she really never woke. I changed her diaper, fed her and headed to the bedroom.  It was about 6:30 a.m. when I next changed her and my goodness what a mess we both were.  We pretty promptly got in the shower...  She was super happy after her night of sleeping more or less 13 hours (rousing just to nurse).  We haven't had a night like that since - was it the few sips of elderberry wine I had at dinner??

This past weekend Kali cashed in a birthday coupon for a 2 night sleepover for her and Alida at Aunt Emily's.  They had a grand time, which was not a surprise to any of us! They went to the play A Year with Frog and Toad at EMU and Alida has been talking about it ever since.  This morning she came into the kitchen walking funny and told me it was how Toad walked.  I had to wonder if Terah missed them as she had two trying evenings, while they were gone.  But she has had at least one since so I'm not sure if my hypothesis is correct or not.  Jason and I had been hoping that with only one child under our roof we might snag a bit of time together and might also spend part of the night in the same bed.  Terah had other plans - I ended up sacking out in the recliner when she finally settled close to 11 p.m. the first night.  The day in between the two nights was great though, complete with Jason and I getting to work on a project together outside.  He had dug the next biochar pit for our humanure compost and we worked together on the burn.  It was the perfect job to do together on a chilly clear day. I could help with Terah in the front pack and we could talk while we worked.
Sunday morning the three of us headed over to Emily and Jonas' and were treated to a delicious breakfast. I then hung out with Emily and the girls while Jason did some work on their house (he's getting in hours here and there as he is able to in between vast amounts of venison broth canning).  All of us girls enjoyed a railroad walk until Alida got too tired to go any further.  An 8 hour playdate may wear her out, but a 2 night sleepover definitely tops it.  She was coming apart at the seams by the time we got home Sunday afternoon.  Nothing a good night's sleep couldn't cure!

Last evening we had a record number of people in our home since Terah's birth.  Our monthly supper club has grown significantly in size over the past few years to the point that the children now out number the adults 11 to 8.  The three other families graciously offered to provide the food and we just provided the space.  At the time we set the date of November 24th for our next supper club, I thought I'd be up for cooking, but they insisted.  My goodness I'm glad they did. I incorrectly assumed I'd have my stride back no problem by the time Terah was 6 weeks old.  She is doing an excellent job of keeping me on my toes.  She did a great job last evening with 10 older children running around the house having a wonderful time together.  And I even got to enjoy a leisurely dinner and conversation with friends while she snoozed.  Once they left she did her routine of nursing, seeming to fall asleep, popping back awake, repeat... That went on until after 10 p.m., but she wasn't sad throughout (she just wore her mommy out!).

As she was laying awake on the changing table after the older girls were both in bed, she was giving me the sweetest smiles and coos. I asked her if she was buttering me up for the night ahead.  If that was her goal, she was quite successful.  She really couldn't be much cuter or sweeter.  I love her expanding "vocabulary."

I've spent a good amount of time thinking about her "fussy times" which I have chosen to rename "emotional exhales" for my own processing of and dealing with them.  While there is not a real consistent pattern, if there is one at all it is that sometime in the evening (often between 7-8:30), Terah will have a time in which she gets so worked up she is not easily comforted by distractions, nursing, rocking, dancing, singing, etc... It takes my full focus and energy to try a bunch of things in close succession in an attempt to keep her from screaming so hard she can't catch her breath.  I normally can do it, but it is incredibly hard for me to not feel anxious about her sadness or wonder what we are doing wrong or what she needs to "fix it."

However, as I've paid close attention to these "episodes" there are many ways in which is seems that she just needs to work something out. It's as if she has an excess of stored energy inside and needs a way to release it.  So I've started to think about responding to Terah in those times the way I would want someone to respond to me if I felt strong emotions and needed to release them. I was just walking with a good friend the other day and talking about how we struggle to know how to deal with anger, especially when faced with situations of obvious injustice.  It's not that I think that Terah is necessarily experiencing a lot of anger or injustice, but I do like the thought that how we respond to her strong emotions now might give her a good foundation for dealing with strong emotions as an older child and even an adult.

Speaking of strong emotions, she has awoken in the pack and is sharing some with me right now. They are clearly attributed to what she would like to deposit in her diaper. So time to sign off. The next time I write we will have traveled to Pennsylvania and back and introduced Terah to lots more of her family.