Sunday, May 31, 2015


Yes, there is great rejoicing in the Myers-Benner household.  The bathroom remodel is done at last!  Ok, so I feel like I'm kind of cheating to say that for two reasons: I should clarify that phase 1 is done (which is all we plan to tackle for now) and that Jason has a short job of applying clear caulk at the baseboard once the oil is completely dry.  But we aren't counting those two caveats right now!  Kali just did round 1 of washing the bathroom floor (her first floor washing ever and she felt successful!) and I'll go back over one more time before we start moving everything in.  We determined that the next time the compost toilet needs to be emptied it will not be returned to the back kitchen but be relocated to its former home (in the actual bathroom!).  The picture here is of Jason nailing the very last piece of baseboard (leaving mostly just oiling and touch up painting which he completed yesterday).  It felt close enough to done that  Jason and I have both enjoyed rather luxurious showers in the new space - kind of feels a little jungle like with the plants around.  After carting our things upstairs for the past 5 months or so, showering right around the corner from our bedroom in the most amazing shower I've ever stepped foot in is a rather lovely experience. While our visitors often have been staying in the upstairs spare room (in part to have access to a "real bathroom," I'm thinking from now on regardless of where they sleep, the shower should be part of every Tangly Woods visitor's experience!  How wonderful the shower is, is in part that we are definitely earning our showers these days!

I'm heading outside to start harvesting just about as soon as I get myself out the door (usually with Alida as my helper/cheerleader or she and Kali happen to both be up early and they entertain each other inside).  I normally am still bringing things in after 10 a.m. (which is when I like to be done the morning harvests and out of the run).  It appears there will be no break in the action between strawberries and spinach processing and peas and garlic scapes.  The mound of snow peas Jason and I picked last evening didn't make it to the house...  And Jason shared with me the one ripe sugar snap pea, knowing we'll soon be flooded in them (there is not much I'd rather be flooded in!!).

Lunch today included a repeat new dish that I discovered online and then modified.  I used up all the rest of the trombone squash - grating it and sauteing it with frozen sweet red peppers and then fresh garlic scapes, shallot flower stalks, onion and garlic chives, lemon thyme and parsley.  I poured eggs and cheese over it and baked it. It's the first egg bake of any kind that Kali has tried AND had seconds.  Then Kali and I made nettle garlic biscuits, at her request, to go with and there were no leftovers and Alida said we should make them again tomorrow.

Kali has been inspirational in the kitchen and with the spring harvests.  She is full of grand ideas, getting us in over our heads in projects sometimes but she always sticks with me until the end.  Today as I got ready for the nappy walk she asked if I had any jobs for her to do while I was out. What a kid!!  We capped a lot of strawberries this morning and have a whole tray in the solar dryer. Kali could hardly get her trial batch out of the dryer before Alida ate them all. She was an excellent strawberry monster this morning as Kali and I were processing them (a good number less made it in the dryer and freezer due to our little and very cute monster!).

Yesterday we took the morning off as a family and headed in to the last morning of spring soccer.  Kali had an 8 a.m. game followed by Alida's last minikickers at 9.  The girls have both thoroughly enjoyed being part of the community soccer league and Alida is hoping this fall she can be on a "real" team.  We all agree that she is ready for it - we just have to decide if we are up for it (new baby, two practices a week and two games a week). It is to be on an upcoming family meeting agenda but I feel pretty certain we'll go for it.  It is really nice to see the girls enjoying themselves so much, and improving their skills dramatically just over the last few months.  Here's Kali about to get some action and then Alida enjoying one of their drills:

The whole Tangly Woods crew then joined us for brunch at Bowl of Good to celebrate the end of soccer, hang out together just for fun and a little premature celebration for us of the bathroom project coming to an end.  Thanks to Emily, Jonas, Jonathan and Rachelle we also enjoyed two date nights in a row this week.  Those are not only precious because they are rare, they are also wonderful since Jason and I set that time aside to slow down and be together so it provided some good breathing space in our otherwise very busy week.  We are reading a book together right now that is rocking our worlds (and has reassured us that we don't need to write the book we would have envisioned possibly writing because it has already been written).  It's called The Nourishing Homestead by Ben Hewitt and if anyone wants to get a better sense of what we are hoping to do on our little piece of land with our family, we recommend the book (though we are only done the first few chapters).  I've was inclined to highlight and underline things until I realized I'd be doing that to about every other sentence.

Well, I better get moving on the bathroom floor while Alida is still sacked out.  It seems that Spark has woken up from his/her most recent nap.  I'm enjoying thoroughly the stronger kicks and punches I'm receiving these days - even saw my belly move from the outside last evening and Spark has given his/her daddy and aunt Emily and big sister Kali some sizable jabs in recent days.  So fun!

The signs of new life are still so very apparent all around us.  We are hatching chicks pretty continuously (yes, record year) and right outside our back door we can watch a mama cardinal sitting on her nest in the snowball bush. I feel bad for how often we scare her in our comings and goings, but she would have hopefully been observing our patterns prior to building a nest!?  The other place on our property I am enjoying right now is Nora's garden.  So many of the flowers are in their prime.  It looks like the orange butterfly weed may bloom just in time for the anniversary of her death this week.  It will be a week of reflection and remembering, as we cross over another year.  On June 4 it will be 7 years since she died, at 7 months of age; and she would be 7 right now if she was still living.  We look forward to gathering with others in her memory at a blood drive we are organizing next Monday, June 8th.  On the actual anniversary we hope to take a picnic and head to the lake as a family.  It continues to feel like one of the best things we can do to honor our memories of her, is to treasure our family and spend time just being with each other.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Passed the halfway mark!

Yesterday marked 20 weeks, and I marveled at the thought that in more or less that much time again we'll have a little munchkin in our arms!  Wow...  We'll have an ultrasound in a few weeks and, yes (to answer the most common question), we will be finding out if this little one is a boy or a girl.  I have a pretty strong boy inclination and Alida is sure it will be a girl, so it is pretty likely that one of us will be right.  I'm voting for healthy most of all.  He/she sure is getting stronger and I've enjoyed some good little kicks/punches in recent days.  About a week ago Kali and Jason each were able to feel a poke from the outside - an exciting development and something we look forward to more of (and for it to get strong and frequent enough for Alida to enjoy as well).

The last two weekends have been delightful.  They have been filled with lots of family work outside. We also enjoyed having my parents around the last several days to join in the fun - weeding, planting, harvesting and eating! We are enjoying all the stages of this food growing thing, but the latter has been particularly rewarding of late...We are about to head outside for one more stint of the same this weekend - have some tomatoes yet to get in the ground and some amaranth.  So far the following can be found in the ground; much of the list was planted in the last ten days: peanuts, onions, potatoes, dried beans, tomatoes, shallots, squash, corn, okra, sugar snap peas, snow peas, hull peas, pole beans, dill, basil, parsley, hot peppers, sweet peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, popcorn, and garlic.  The promise of lots of goodness to come!  Within the next few weeks we'll get in our sweet potatoes and string beans.

In the meantime we are enjoying lots of fresh things from outside already: lettuce, spinach, lambsquarter, carrots, nettles, strawberries, rhubarb, shallot flower stalks, chives, perennial leeks and onions, many fresh herbs and mint tea by the gallon.  What abundance!  Today was our first large picking of strawberries.  The girls have been itching to make strawberry jam and we had enough today to make about a gallon of strawberry rhubarb jam, as well as freezing a few trays of berries.  I don't know what I would do without the girls enthusiasm and assistance.  It's so fun to work at those projects together.  We put away a good amount of fresh jam at lunch with toast or yogurt.

While the girls and I worked on berries this morning, Jason got into the bathroom project. It was hard for him to come inside on such a glorious morning, but we are down to the wire (with out self-imposed deadline of the end of May).  And it is almost done!  As of right now the linen closet is installed and he just needs to finish out a small built in cupboard, baseboard and then filling in holes, oiling wood and touch up painting. It's really fun to see a familiar piece of furniture in our bathroom.  This linen closet was the one right outside my bedroom in Martin House where I lived before Jason and I got married.  We salvaged it before the house was torn down.  So it looks like we are soon going to be able to have a moving in party!!  How long will it be before I don't go to the back kitchen in the middle of the night assuming a toilet will be there to pee in? It is a change we are all looking forward to. 

And, finally, on our walks to and fro various gardens and spots on the property, I often slow down as I walk past Nora's garden.  It is in its prime right now with so many colors bursting forth. I'll end with one of the flowers that we've been enjoying admiring.  Now off to the garden!

Friday, May 15, 2015


There has been much to celebrate lately: mothers, strawberries (Alida is consuming them as fast as they turn mostly red), ducklings, anniversaries, "spark squiggles," lambsquarter, baby bunnies, family who are also neighbors, squash that out grew our daughter, the gentle rain falling that has chased us all inside and has me playing yahtzee with the girls (and writing a blog post simultaneously)...

In the celebrations mentioned above there have also been some firsts, so let me go back and expand a little more on the above items (I'm sure none of you that read this regularly would think I could be this brief anyway). I will come back to this later though, as this is as far as I've gotten and it is beyond dinner time and one child had no nap today and the other got up at 6 a.m. at a sleepover so I better at least stay ahead of hungry bellies if we don't want things to go downhill.  So off to dump some things together to make some pumpkin pancakes and hopefully I'll get back to this later...

...Darkness has chased us inside, but I'm no less distracted.  Girls are scurrying around to get ready for an early Saturday soccer morning.  Getting us out the door at 7:30 a.m. is no small feat so we do as much as possible the night before. Alida is in her uniform and Kali working on it.  Alida is trying to be patient while Daddy fills the leaf bucket for the composting toilet and collects eggs.  She is probably the one most excited to enjoy the anniversary treat I made for Jason.  Yes, today marks 16 years since we tied the knot and we are so very happy that we did!

One of the highlights of our anniversary today was the 19 week visit from our midwife.  I must say how very much I'm enjoying this form of healthcare!  Alida and I were happily chopping up the first part of our trombone squash when she arrived.  We sat and chatted for a while until Jason came in from the onion patch and then continued the three of us until Kali arrived from her sleepover/birthday party.  Then we all got to hear Spark's strong and steady heartbeat (in the 160's).  He/she seems to be right on track and I'm enjoying an increase in what I've coined the "Spark squiggles."  They are not perceptible from the outside just yet but they are getting a little stronger and more frequent every day.

So about that aforementioned trombone squash: it's been sitting on our bar ever since harvest and not showing any signs of rotting.  Since winter squash was the one food that actually repulsed me in the first trimester, I've been slowly working to befriend it again (even the smell of the raw stuff was enough to turn my stomach).  Well, we realized that this weekend is the first of two main garden planting weekends and we wanted to plant seeds from the best trombone squash.  So the time was right!  But you really can only use so much at one time of a squash taller than your daughter!  So we used the bulb tonight to make pumpkin buttermilk quinoa oatmeal pancakes (completely made up and tasty!) and the rest is sitting on the counter waiting for me to be inspired.

So another fun experiment lately was drying lambsquarter!  We have a lot of it and we weed a lot out but all of us enjoy it steamed and in other things so I decided to put some up this year.  We've made our hot spinach dip with lambsquarter a few times now and there has yet to be leftovers.  I've weeded it out of the peas, beets, shallots, potato and onion patches as well as a few other random locations.  I'm trying to find new ways to store things, and drying was the favorite last year.  But would drying non-blanched lambsquarter work?  Well, it worked and I have a jar of lambsquarter powder.  Now what, you might be thinking, do you plan to do with it?  Not sure yet, but considering putting it in pasta (since I don't want liquid in my pasta but often end up with a lot of it when putting in cooked pureed greens).  I'll try to report later on as to whether this idea is a keeper or one for the compost.

[brief intermission: I'm now trying to write the blog while the family enjoys chocolate no bake cookies and Alida is chattering a mile a minute.  As she slurped her milk, she said, ""We thank the god for milk" and then after a brief pause noted "I mean cows."  Oh the things that come out of her mouth.]

Lastly, a quick reflection on Mother's Day this year: it was very special in a couple of ways.  I am kind of a strange one when it comes to holidays.  I have a strong inclination to go against the tide of our culture and there are many ways that I'm turned off by the mainstream approach to these "special days."  But, when it comes down to it, even if I state that I don't really care if we don't do anything, I can sometimes feel a little sad when nothing marks the day (and it seems that all my friends are posting pictures and status updates on facebook about the ways they celebrated and the things they were gifted and...).

This year, though, I was really feeling rather nonchalant about it.  We had fun plans to walk into town to have lunch with Emily and Jonas, which was a treat in and of itself.  And we had a day at home otherwise and time together as a family.  What more could I wish for?  Well, the night before Jason was gone and the girls seemed up to something.  Then in the morning they ran off whispering and came back to present me with a card from each of them.  What was so very sweet about it was that Kali took the initiative to remember the day and to get Alida in on the plan to surprise me.  I felt very loved by my gals!  And Spark has continued to shower me with little gifts on a daily basis as he/she calms my fears by making his/her presence known!

Our time with Emily and Jonas was also a highlight!  It is so very special to have family living right down the road who we like so very much!  Our times together feel so mutually beneficial.  The girls get to spend a lot of time in their home but it is a treat for Jason and I to join them.  We also got to meet the new members of their household!

The newest members of our household are also cute and fuzzy!  They were gifted to the girls by our neighbor and he showed up with them one morning before Kali had woken up.  So Jason woke her up that morning by delivering to her a bucket of ducklings - a nice surprise!  There is one Khaki Campbell duckling, one Gray Call duckling and one Muscovy duckling.  Thankfully they have integrated well with the chicks that we were brooding upstairs and it is mighty cute to see them all in a big pile together. Ok, this family needs to do what most of our feathered friends are doing...sleep!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The 2015 food preservation season is underway...

As Kali and I walked down the driveway yesterday afternoon with Alida for a nappy walk (much needed, moderately resisted, successful in ending in sleep!), I hugged her and said, "have I ever mentioned how much I love Fridays?"  She acknowledged that I have mentioned liking them but she hadn't distinguished them necessarily from the other days I don't have to leave home for work.  She's right that, of the seven days of the week, the four on our homestead days rise above the rest.  But Fridays tend to be particularly special in that Saturday follows and then Sunday.  So on a weekend like this one, in which I will step into a car one time this morning to take the girls too and from soccer, Friday is just the beginning of three days immersed in life here at Tangly Woods.

I love that!  And I love that when Alida wakes up and sees rhubarb sitting on the counter and exclaims, "the first rhubarb..." and then follows with, "can we make jam?" that I can think about it and respond affirmatively.  There is a tad more give in the day when I know that I have two days following to work and play here at home.  My hesitation was actually more about what we would use to sweeten rhubarb since we are slowly whittling away at those products.  We are out of sugar and molasses and don't plan to restock those.  We are out of honey other than a few tablespoons from a little jar gifted to us by friends in thanks for a rooster, though I do plan to restock since the girls are itching to make strawberry jam.  So what remains is maple syrup.  Seems a little too precious for canning but it worked splendidly!

The reason I had picked rhubarb in the first place was to try my idea for a lemon juice substitute. I haven't used them in recipes yet but I have a gallon bag of rhubarb ice cubes in my freezer that I'll admit to being a bit pleased about!  I just cooked down the rhubarb, creamed it with my immersion blender, and filled ice cube trays.  They popped right out when frozen and seem very promising.

So the girls and I went back out and harvested a bunch more, enough to make a quadruple batch of canned rhubarb jam.  It was approved plain, it was approved spread on rice cakes and it was approved as a topping for yogurt.  I still think it is funny that rhubarb jam recipes tend to call for lemon juice. In my current way of thinking, it seems a bit redundant.  So we omitted that and did about a gallon of cooked down rhubarb to two cups of maple syrup and I could probably even bump that back a bit more.

We enjoyed a breakfast together of sausage (your choice of chicken or groundhog), the current favorite nettle, chives, leek and egg saute, alongside fried polenta.  And I am currently making about two gallons of mint tea every other day or so to keep us stocked.  There is no end in site to the peppermint, applemint, lemon balm or spearmint we can choose from.  Yesterday, I also eyed up the expanding and lush looking oregano patch and decided it was time to get the solar dryer back in regular use. I've dried some alfalfa for tea and now have a quart jar of dried oregano on the shelf - hopefully the first of several as we ran out just a few weeks back.

I think part of what is making my days at home even more enjoyable is how much the girls want to be part of things and how very helpful Kali is as she gets more fully engaged in our homestead.  I hung out loads of laundry yesterday but she brought them in for me.  She was right there for every step of the rhubarb jam process and rather than just watching, she often would watch me for a moment and then take over.  And after dinner last evening we all were outside in the main garden together.  Alida was mostly our chatterbox and entertainer, while Jason, Kali and I weeded and did some harvesting.  Kali and I picked 8 large bowlfuls of spinach for fresh eating and the freezer and didn't quite make it through half the patch before dark.  So that has been bumped to today's list, along with harvesting a bunch of magenta lambsquarter for the freezer (all family members enjoyed it steamed last night for dinner so we'll add that to our collection of frozen items).  We need to get on that since the lambsquarter is wanting to overtake our beet patch. It seems that all sorts of edible goodies want prime space in our ever improving garden soil!

In our fruit salad the other evening I put the last container of 2014 strawberries.  So other than the little bit of jam left in the last container, we are officially out of strawberry matter from last year.  Seems like good timing - just enough time to make us good and eager for the first taste as we watch the green berries grow by the day.  Last evening in the garden, I made a comment about how none of them had started blushing yet.  That got into a conversation about blushing and being embarrassed and Kali kept Alida busy for awhile suggesting ways she might embarrass the strawberries so that they might ripen more quickly.  Alida seemed to be confusing embarrass with scare or startle as she kept running over to the strawberries and saying things like, "boo!"

Alida seems to be enjoying that with each passing week she is getting stronger and more able to do things.  She is getting a bit more independent, though is still quite the cuddler and has a strong inclination to be close a lot of the day.  Last evening as we walked hand in hand (at her request) to the garden, she said, "let's hold hands always." At other times she seems quite fine with me heading outside without her. She was playing with Kali and our friend Cyrus the other day when I went out to harvest some things.  When I said I was headed out she said, "Ok, bye..." and then ran towards me and said, "Don't worry, we'll look after everything."  How good to know!  When she is doing a new task or showing some new skill, she will often say things like, "See, I am able."  It's so cute to see her delighting in her own development!

Well, speaking of developing skills, it's about to kick off the Saturday morning fun of rousing sleeping kiddos, brushing frizzly hair and redoing braids, getting some food in bellies and getting ourselves out the door for the morning soccer fun...

But I should not end this blog without one note on the progress in the bathroom.  Jason got the mirror installed so with a functioning sink and a mirror above it, he felt it was time for the long awaited beard trim.  I think it was cheating just a tad (though I guess he really only noted that he wanted to not trim his beard again until he could do it in the new bathroom, which he did). Alida is sad to not have quite as much to pull on!  I am glad it is no longer long enough for Jason to chew on it!  So I think we are down to about 4 days left on the bathroom project, which we hope to fit into the cracks in May, between main garden prepping and planting activities.  And of course a continuation of the chick hatching season, which has spread over several months and is by far a record year.  Jason figured that he will have flocks out at 9 locations other than our own this year, which is exciting!  We are enjoying a much greater reliance on broody hens this year and they are doing a great job helping with the hatching and raising of chicks.  Plus they are so fun to watch!

Friday, May 1, 2015

A new month has begun!

May first and one of my favorite kinds of days: all of us at home all day together!  We enjoyed a pancake brunch and due to the rainy weather outside, Jason is now making lots of noise progressing on the bathroom renovation (Alida is not impressed with how loud his drilling is; I'm happy for the sounds of forward movement!).  I just finished up the monthly property pictures and am always amazed by the transformation in the outside world between April and May.  It's so green outside, mixed with all the other colors of blooming things.  

We've made it through the end of April without too many battle scars.  The girls amazed me last week as I was on for about 8 days in a row and didn't have a lot of extra energy to spare on the home front.  As you can see here (taken at brunch this morning), Alida is a bundle of fun energy and hard to catch still enough for a non-blurry photo. I was very grateful for friends who spent fun times with them to help make the week special for them, despite my absence.  Whenever I put in a 50 hour work week, I wonder how people do that on a regular basis.  I could easily see putting in 50 hours of work on our homestead (probably on a good number of weeks I do), but putting in 50 hours away from home, most of those in front of a computer, would not work for me over the long haul.  

Here's a few other snippets from recent days:

We finally caught the groundhog making its home under Mom and Dad's 3-season room.  The hole is now filled and there is groundhog sausage in the freezer.
We calculated last night that Jason has about 5 full days of work to finish stage 1 of the bathroom remodel (the only stage we hope to finish for now).  So our current target completion date is the end of this month.  We'll see if it needs revising yet again...
Our solar panels are up and running!  Jason was pretty happy to see that on a very sunny day the panels were actually producing slightly more than both of our houses used.  The system should provide on average a little less than 50% of our overall usage.
The girls wondered what Spark thought of a chick sitting on top of him/her.  We'll never know! 
It's looking like a pretty good fruit year. We aren't out of the woods on the possibility of a hard freeze but so far so good.  This could turn into a whole lot of currants - though we always share a good number of these with the birds!
I'm pretty impressed with winter cress.  It is delicious to eat and then when it goes to seed it makes for a sea of beautiful yellow flowers.
Yep, we've still got happy spinach!
Just got out the last container of strawberry jam.  Our mouths are watering as we see the flower petals fall and the little tiny fruits start to swell.
And finally, some of the delicate beauty in Nora's garden!