Saturday, February 27, 2016

My idea of a good day!

Wow, did I need a day like today!  It confirms what I already knew - this family needs days at home where we don't have to go anywhere.  If for no one else, it helps gets Terah's little digestive system get back on track.  This little gal likes to poop at home and sometimes will go all day without going when I'm at work with her or we are all away from home.  She's gotten three good poopies out in the sink today (still no poops in her diaper - I think we are going on 2 plus months...).  Big girl!

While we are on the subject of things that will likely make her roll her eyes at me and ask me why in the world I posted that on a public forum, here's a video of her on her changing table today. And, yes, I did try to get just a few seconds of her rather impressive thighs. They are super squeezable!

So, today: the word I told Jason best describes the day for me is "expansive."  I didn't feel super rushed, and felt like I had time to spend with each of my family members and still got a good number of things done.  I mean, I even scrubbed our toilet and bathroom sink!  And clipped all the girls' finger and toe nails!

The day started with no alarm - well, I guess I always have my "terah-alarm."  We were up pretty early but Jason had beat us to it (and he had been up early enough that he was into my idea of starting the day with a cup of coffee).  But first Jason helped Terah and I get a much needed shower - a very nice way to start our day!  By the time our coffee was steeping, Alida had joined us in the front room and a fire was making the room nice and cozy.  I got our soaked and slightly fermented amaranth porridge going and before long roused Kali so she wouldn't miss out.  We all enjoyed bowls of porridge with some combination of toppings (homegrown dried strawberries, soaked dehydrated pecans, coconut, raisins).

I had my little kitchen morning burst, getting cream skimmed for butter, getting yogurt started, doing all our dishes from our day away the day before and straightening up. By that time Terah was ready for her first nap and she sacked out nursing and transferred to the front pack for my marathon laundry hanging job.  Alida came to help me, chattering the whole time and hanging a few things on her little line.  All the lines were full by the time we were done, and then in to cut up a large Pennsylvania Dutch Squash to go with our homegrown ground cornbread, steamed spinach and leftover pork and venison roast for lunch.

Terah is making us feel rather guilty for not including her at meal times so she has now added squash to the list of foods she has licked, sucked or otherwise sampled.  She loved it.  She started the meal already nearing her next nap time so her interest got more and more desperate until I couldn't keep her happy with the little bites and she dissolved and was asleep nursing in a matter of minutes.

I got food put away but then settled down with Terah's baby book, my journal and the recently arrived Sun magazine.  I did some writing, a little reading, took a short snooze and all the while Terah slept and nursed intermittently.   Kali was reading and Alida was looking at books.  All was peaceful and quiet!  I offered to read Alida some of the many library books we had brought home yesterday.  Thanks to tips (books lists and how to put them on hold) from my friend K, we came home with books I was looking forward to reading. I think Alida was in a slight state of shock when I read book after book without falling asleep and without saying I needed to do something else.  It felt really, really good!

Eventually I was itching to get the lunch dishes done (before supper) and so passed a sleeping baby to Kali. She looked a little bigger than the last time Kali had held her sleeping. She soon woke happy and was our side kick while we got our roasted squash spread on dehydrating trays to try our one ingredient squash leather, I finished cleaning up from lunch, made some egg salad, got the butter washed and in the freezer and likely some other random tasks I'm forgetting.
The older girls had decided to go outside and when I looked out they were with Jason in the garden.  Jason had finished up making tomato and pepper cages and was digging carrots. I got Terah's little sweatshirt and hat on and out we went. She loves being outside and is so interested in everything around her.  We watched the chickens, checked out the carrot digging, and noted the purple crocuses blooming in Nora's garden.  Speaking of flowers that remind us of Nora, Jason found a clump of yellow flowers blooming - 6 of them (one for each member of our family!).
We concluded our afternoon by going for a family walk, and snagging Terah her third and final nap of the day.  Now we are back, Jason is washing up carrots, Kali is keeping the fire stoked and folding laundry, Alida is entertaining Terah in her bouncy seat and I'm thinking about getting supper underway.  But first a few other things I wanted to mention.

It's nothing new but I recently commented again to Jason how Kali is spoiling me.  She continues to ask how she can help many times a day and now knows enough ways to be helpful that she doesn't even always need to ask. If I make a little list for her, she happily goes about the tasks without reminders.  On my last work day at home I told her there were a few things she could do if she wanted to. I was back in our bedroom working while Terah slept and I heard Kali loading the wood boxes and then coming in from emptying the compost and then the sound of her sweeping the floors. She's too much!

Alida's forte is still in other arenas but when she is rested and has had enough cuddle time she's an incredible kid too.  She is pretty cute about not participating in our family Lent commitment to make no food purchases. I'm not in the least bothered by it - I actually get a pretty big kick out of the four bananas she bought for herself with her money at the co-op yesterday when Jason went with the older girls to the post office next door.  Kali, on the other hand, would not even get herself a piece of free fruit at the co-op as she thought that was close enough to cheating.  I love how different each of our girls are and how amazing they are!  Here they are in the matching hats Kali made for them.  Off to spend time with them...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Growing a culture, starting at home

The following blog entry is "guest posted" by myself, Jason:

Tonight was our second Family Night of the year.  Janelle was the Decider this time (move over, W!), and she didn't think she could top my family night from January which was ice skating at the Bridgewater Generations park, so she decided we'd just take a walk, eat supper, play a game, and read a book together (the book was my idea).  Actually, the ice skating was her suggestion, so let's give credit where it's due.  But this was not an ordinary walk--oh, no--it was mighty unusual in that it was a walk with ground rules: no talking about schedules or logistics or the to-do list...the only topics of conversation that were allowed were things we observed in the world around us.

This was much harder than expected.  Any time lady nature failed to dazzle us with some unusual tree shape or a swollen stream or beautiful cloud or whatnot it was all too easy to fall straight back into using the time to hammer out some detail of our lives.  Kali was our referee, but she broke the rule a time or two also and had to be called on the carpet.  Alida had the easiest time with it.  O.k,, I guess Terah was the only one with a perfect score, but she was asleep for most if not all of it, so she is disqualified.  What a good activity!  Hopefully by the time we hit the driveway entrance again we had gotten a bit of a taste of what it could be like to develop a family practice of mindfulness, and had gained a realization of how far from that we often are.

By the time we got back to the house, shutting in the ducks and chickens on the way in, we were all pretty hungry and ready for Kali's very fancy "S" meal.  Everything on the menu had to be prepared by Kali (her Monday night tradition) and had to start with "S".  So we had a Scrumptious Supper of Spaghetti Squash with Sauteed venison and Sauce, with Soybeans to the side.  Also a person could add Seasoning (including grated Romano, thankfully).  Yummers.

While we were baking squash, we decided to try something new.  I had discovered earlier in the day that our prize Tromboncino from this past year--all 50 inches of which has been displayed on the buffet throughout the fall and winter--had a secret bad spot developing on the back side.  That was a side effect, I suspect, of enduring the high moisture and temperature of the indoor human environment since early October; it gets a pass.  At Janelle's suggestion I started a gallon of winter squash ferment with the top half (it was still almost completely firm and juicy, by the way), then after considering together we decided to bake the rest of it along with the spaghetti and stripetti squashes for supper, scraping out the flesh of the tromboncino to cook down for pumpkin butter.  We had made some nice pumpkin butter earlier in the week from a PA Dutch squash that was boiled and pureed; it seemed reasonable that baking it would eliminate the need for steaming off all the excess boiling liquid in the reduction process, saving substantial time and energy.  The jury is officially still out, but it looked really promising as I spooned rich, relatively dry baked squash flesh into the crock pot and then quickly mashed it with a potato masher.  I had to be quick because everyone was starting to snitch the yummy stuff!  Do we grow the sweetest squash I ever met or am I just off of sugar?

Part of the joy of evenings like this is the family culture that is developing around our habits and activities.  I took special note of one aspect of that this evening while we ate the squashes together and decided which we wanted to save the seeds from:  "I guess it must be pretty rare," I observed, "for a family to get so much fun and joy out of evaluating and developing the varieties of plants and animals that they depend on year after year to meet their needs."  Janelle thought perhaps it is only rare in our time and place, and I suppose that could be so.  In fact I feel rather ignorant of the methods folks use and have used around the world and through time as they engage the selection process in their domesticated varieties.  But I suspect that usually it is not so much a family hobby as it has been for us (though maybe for some families it has been).  My suspicion is that often it has been the work of one or two members of the family to take on the selection task, or that it would be more a matter of selection being incorporated into the agricultural portion of their culture, consciously or unconsciously, and perhaps with changes in traits occurring imperceptibly over long periods of time.  Likely it looks vastly different in different times, places, species, and cultures.  I suspect also that global connectivity has delivered to us an unprecedented access to genetic diversity of plants, even though the total number of varieties worldwide is in sharp decline.

In any case we get a real kick out of it, and I am so excited to see what the next five to ten years brings in terms of the plants and animals we work with becoming ever more at home in our context--making our home their home, I suppose--and meeting our needs and desires ever more capably.  There is much to be said for finding a variety that does the job reliably and sticking with it (i.e., keep ordering that seed every year).  But why not take it a step further and use that variety or varieties as a starting point and take some initiative to hone that fit until it's so dexterously meeting your family's needs that you would sooner give up your TV or your favorite toothpaste or maybe even a juicy opportunity in another state than part with that strain of organism providing for your needs from the land you love?  Does anyone else want that kind of relationship with their sustenance?  Does anyone else want to love their seeds that much?  Man, I sure do.  It makes harvest time about doubly joyful and interesting...'Look what the crop looks like THIS year!'  From popcorn testing to squash evaluation (we are tough customers, let me tell you) to admiring each year's batch of chickens as they range in the yard to holding our spinach to a rigorous standard, this family has a burgeoning love affair with breeding domesticated organisms.  It feels like what will develop as a result may be something pretty special.  Our preference would be that just as my passion for this topic seems to have infected the whole bunch of us, we might begin to be surrounded by other families who take some of the same satisfactions in their own homes.  To me that would signify the possible beginning, at long last, of the true homecoming of our society; the establishment of an enduring stability; the making of peace with and in this land.  Once your eyes have been opened by this process, I will hazard that you will begin to see the human condition as I often do:  in our self-perceived impoverishment we blunder our way through a world positively dripping with potential.  Maybe this is some of what Fukuoka (The One Straw Revolution...highly recommended) meant when he held a piece of rice straw in his hand and asserted that if we really understood the potential in that one piece of straw, it would cause a total revolution in our way of being in the world.

But back to our evening.  After supper we settled into a lively round of The Marble Game (a homemade board game much like Sorry and Trouble).  Alida won, which made for an easy transition to tooth brushing and then starting in on a family out-loud reading of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small, during which Alida almost immediately fell asleep on my lap despite my giggles at Mr. Herriot's word choices.

On evenings like this it feels to me that if it weren't for money and climate change my life would be more or less perfect.  On the other hand, perhaps it is a reaction against the excesses of the money economy and the environmental crisis that has pushed us so clearly in these maybe we owe more to these than we usually think we do.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Experiences of life and death...

Jason went to town to play ping pong with a friend Friday evening.  He texted me when he was headed home, which was soon followed by another text that said, "Stopped for a deer. Be right home." I was, at this point, rather preoccupied with the nighttime routine, involving two overly tired children, so didn't reply to clarify what precisely he meant - texting often leaves much unsaid!  Upon his arrival home, I learned that there was in fact a deer in our car.

I do not take lightly animals being hit along the road and wish it didn't happen. But it does. And if we find them in time, it feels good to make use of the meat if we are able to. The next day I asked the girls if they knew what daddy had brought home.  It got the conversation started and I mentioned something about it being a new pet, named Fred (not really sure what inspired that comment).  That got Jason's creative juices flowing and before the end of the meal, this "ode to Fred" had been constructed.

We have a new pet deer named Fred.
He is dead.

Crossing roads successfully was not a good fit.
He was hit.

While he was alive we did not get to meet him.
We will eat him.

While on the subject of death, we had a funeral in our home today.  Jason had put "play foam" on our family meeting agenda.  It was bound to be a contentious subject. Someone gave Kali play foam many years back. For those unfamiliar with the stuff (you haven't missed much!), it's little colored beads that all stick together and you can play with it, kind of like play dough. That is until it is years old, has lost much of its stick-togetherness and is starting to stink. Jason got to clean up after the last time Alida played with it, thus the agenda item.

Alida's only comment on that particular agenda item was, "keep it."  The rest of us unanimously agreed the time to part ways had come. Jason suggested we have a play foam funeral, sing some songs, shed tears and lay it to rest.  Alida took care of the tears part.  We sang a variation of "Alleluia the play foam is over..." and we all, minus Alida, had some black clothing on to signify mourning.  While we were at it, we ditched some moldy crusty play dough.  Alida's grief was appropriate and very short lived.  Kids are amazing that way.  It felt like a pretty good process in the end - holding her while she expressed her sadness at the loss and then watching her bounce back and sing as she played with the remaining mediocre store bought play dough, still with tear stained cheeks.   Then this afternoon she and Kali made a new batch of pink play dough.  It is a huge hit and Alida happily threw out another container of store bought stuff, which now pales in comparison with the new soft pliable dough.  We are all happy with the outcome.  I love family meetings!  And the notes will give the girls many good laughs down the road.

There's also lots of good living happening!  This weekend has had some really good low key hang out time with the girls for me. It's been so welcome!  Terah tried out the outdoor baby swing. I got out on numerous walks (as that is the best way to assure Terah her 3 naps/day, especially if anything exciting is happening inside).  The older girls have joined me for a few fun walks and I particularly loved the fashion statement Alida made on our walk today with her sparkly pink shorts over her footie jammies.  I so often wonder what the neighbors think of us!  Terah got to enjoy watching the chickens and ducks and we visited Kali and Alida's teepee that they made in one of their long outdoor play times. On my way outside with a picnic snack for the girls, I admired a patch of blooming crocuses and took a deep breath at the sight of Kali at the top of her climbing tree (she is careful, but my she is high up)! Inside the house, Terah has enjoyed a few short stints in the highchair, and was fond of sucking on a carrot circle.  She is definitely starting to seem interested in what the big people are doing when they sit down at the table with plates of colorful yummy smelling things in front of them.  She still seems most content in someone's arms but we keep trying play time in other locations.  Tummy time is still not a favorite but having increased control over her limbs will help with that I think!  She continues to be a voracious chewer and impressive drooler!  Here are some visuals of the aforementioned things:
And now it is Sunday afternoon and today has felt more sabbath-like than many Sundays of late. Rainy days always help with that.  Jason just collected the eggs with all three daughters for the first time and is now playing piano with Terah while the older girls play with their chickens and ducks.  I've been happy for a full day at home to stay in my pj's and gear up for another week. It is uncertain what new things this week will hold, but no doubt there will be some.  Terah has also been busy finding and using her voice and it is rather loud at times.  That, coupled with my sheer exhaustion, is making us wonder how much longer it will feel like a good option for us to go to work together.  So a bottle may be on the "new things" this week.  That comes with very mixed feelings for me.  While I can't adequately describe how tired I feel at times being tethered to our little munchkin, I also am pretty taken by how it feels to be such a bright spot in someone's life. We keep finding our way...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

She did it - at least one of my 2016 predictions came true!

It's been a Benner tradition now for a number of years that at our holiday gathering at the end of the year we all make predictions about the coming year. I predicted that Alida would donate her hair this year.  As of February 13th, it came true!  She was showering Saturday (the one day/week currently that her hair gets clean) and somehow the subject came up and she decided she wanted to do it...and that very day!  It worked out conveniently that we were having a birthday celebration for my mom that evening and Aunt K would be joining (who cut my and Kali's hair when we donated).  She was up for the task once again.  Alida was so focused and serious as we got her hair parted in sections and braided and ready for the big cut. I will admit that I was a little concerned she might decide against it upon seeing how short it was going to be (I was having my own misgivings).  But she never swayed a bit.  I think she enjoyed (but might have even been a tad taken aback a bit) by all the attention she was getting by chopping a foot off her hair.  I got to watch the whole thing with Terah sacked out in my arms, and almost got a bit teary as I watched the transformation.  It's amazing how different she looks.  And how perfectly it fits her. Her hair is now as bouncy and spunky as she is.  And she loves it. She seems to particularly love jumping up and down and having her hair bounce along with her.  It's super cute!
And, speaking of firsts, look who tried out the high chair for the first time!  I haven't been brave enough to let her test any more foods since letting her suck on an apple sliver the other night and then having the worst night of sleep we had had in weeks.  So chewing on toys it is for a little bit longer:

Terah also got put to sleep by Grandma Myers for the first time the other day. Mom brought her grinder along so we could grind some wheat we had around (no food purchases in Lent will certainly help us be creative and use up what we have around!).  While we were at it, we did some cornmeal too.  Terah still enjoys the vibrations this makes, and was lulled to sleep (though Mom had to keep throwing some back in the hopper to keep grinding so as to not wake her by stopping).  I still would not call Terah a "good sleeper" but am happy to report that I think she gave me about a 6 hour block last night: if I fed her between 8:15 p.m .and 2:15 a.m. I do not remember it!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The things our life is made of....

Warning: this post is going to be long and about a whole random assortment of things.  Whenever I download pictures, I'm surprised by all that has transpired.  Most days are a combination of hard work, play, good food, and family times mixed with a good dose of laughing, whining, shrieking, crying, negotiating, helping, sighing, groaning, and smiling!  I am exhausted... I love it, but can't seem to keep up with the relationships to tend and nurture, the mouths to feed, the little ones to comfort, the work emails/tasks that come in by the dozen sometimes...Thank goodness it is still winter, so at least the outdoors is not beckoning us as it will be in just a few short weeks!

Despite feeling like Terah is still not much of a routine and that she feels like a highly unpredictable little gal, we keep trying stuff.  And she keeps coming through - surprising me with saving her crankiest times for when we are just at home and no one is expecting us to be anywhere or do anything in particular at that time.  One of the things we decided to try recently was a family photo shoot with our friend and my colleague, Howard.  The last photos we had taken with him were when Nora was with us (I'm so grateful for those family photos now!).  His style suits us perfectly - easy going, not too staged, and lots of pictures.  I'll just share a few here, but we've got a few hundred to treasure.

About like it was before our dentist appointments, Alida was adamant about not wanting to go.  None of us could get out of her why, but that is somewhat typical (seems a stage of opposition and resistance is what we've got right now).  The other night I noted in an exasperated tone how it seems like she is in a whining phase and Terah is in a fussing stage and I'm so eager for the "Mommy, how can I help stage?"  Without a moment's pause, Alida's said, "that's Kali's stage!" :) Anyway, she kind of got into getting dressed up and ready to go and seemed to be warming up to the idea as we set off for the little family adventure.  Trying to get Terah there with her clothes clean (not soaked with drool or spit up) was the other challenge, but we made it.  And then had such a grand time - it was delightful watching Alida ham it up in front of the camera, enjoying herself thoroughly.
While we get out and about as a family occasionally the vast majority of our time is spent at home together. The majority of the population would likely struggle to comprehend our sheer enjoyment of some of the seasonal things we do together.  The one that stands out in this particular season is popcorn testing.  I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that this one of our wintertime highlights. When Jason sorts corn he sets aside all the ears that he thinks might be popcorn seed worthy.  We then shell off each cob into a different cup.  Then over the winter months we sample each individual cob - popping 1/4 cup so we pop the same amount of each kind (that means that we favor in our seed the cobs that produced a lot of seed).  After sampling, we all vote on if the corn is a keeper or goes in our "piffle corn" jar for eating.  Some nights we all pick one to sample and then we give each other blind taste tests to see if we can tell the batches apart.  Kali has an amazing knack for telling the difference.

While on the corn subject, Jason received the best present ever in the mail yesterday. He has recently sent an email to a woman who has done some incredible work with corn breeding.  He had read about her and decided to see if he might get a hold of some of the corn to mix into our flour corn project.  She graciously responded, and, while retired from seed breeding, was willing to send Jason some seed.  The little box contained 50-100 seeds of about 13 different strains.  Yes, he was like a kid on Christmas morning.  While washing dishes after dinner, I looked through the pass through to see him sitting at the dining room table, stroking his beard, deep in thought, with this gaze on the little envelopes of seeds.

Two other new 2016 routines we are getting into as a family are Sunday reading nights and Kali (and it was supposed to be Alida but her help is not to be counted on!) cooking Monday evenings.  Jason made a goal of reading a book each month this year, complete with a book report to the family.  I would not call Sunday evenings relaxing for me, but I'm fully on board with the plan (Terah is not thus far - she is not really into sitting placidly on my lap while I read Pippi or Paddington Bear to Alida).  I look forward to the time (I know, we are talking years in the future), when we all enjoy picking something to read to ourselves.  It will come, and faster than I probably would even want to wish for!  Kali, of course, has absolutely no objections to a reading night and is normally the first one in the living room with a book.

I've been so grateful to have Kali's creativity and enthusiasm in the kitchen on Mondays - my first day of work for the week.  She has come a long way since the first meal of peanut butter toast and super sugary juice she made for us a few years back.  Last night's meal had the added fun of being a "p" meal - I sense a new tradition of "letter meals" starting.  We had personal sized polenta pizzas with pesto, parmesan, and pasta sauce (and spinach, olives, cheese and oregano on top).  And as sides we enjoyed pickles, pickled beans, and sauteed peas.  We ate sitting on pillows and used as many p words in our dinnertime conversation as we could.  Later in the evening we tested popcorn and played a game.  It was a perfectly pleasant family evening!  I'm thinking we better do an "s meal" soon so we keep working down our squash pile!

One of our dinnertime conversations recently was about Lent and what, if anything, we wanted to do for Lent as a family or individually.  As is fairly typical, Alida was uncertain of her desire to engage in giving up something or doing something challenging, but you could tell that she also wanted to be a part of it.  We were all suggestions she might give up whining or complaining about cleaning up.  She initially said she would try not whining but then decided she wanted to pick something that wasn't hard so she decided for Lent she would give up climbing to the top of a mountain. At one point in the conversation she burst out, "I don't like Lent."  We could not help being amused!

The rest of us each made an individual commitment (Jason - no internet searches; Kali - lights out and no reading past 10:30 p.m.; me - no seconds at meals).  And as a family we will make no food purchases during Lent.  We have given up grocery stores before, but this takes us to a new level. Looking forward to it! It starts tomorrow so Jason needs to do his asparagus research today...

The other thing I've enjoyed recently, is some outdoor time.  Terah is enjoying riding facing forward in the front pack and looking around, when she is not riding tucked in against me sound asleep.  It's so fun to see the girls enjoying the outdoors, their chickens, Kali's ducks, the snow, and the fresh air!  Speaking of the outdoors, they are getting eager to head out into the fresh wet snow that has been accumulating since last evening:

Daffodils poking up in Nora's garden
Checking out the access path Jason and Jonathan are working on clearing
The stream at the end of our driveway with icicles on the log crossing over it
Some confusion here on who belongs in the pen
Better not neglect a little Terah update before I wrap this up, as she is the one changing the fastest around here.  We discovered after multiple unsuccessful tries that she now enjoys being swaddled to go to sleep at night.  It works really well for settling her and getting her into her first initial deep sleep. I had hopes of it being the ticket to a full night of sleep for me.  Well, it seems it is not "the ticket" but maybe one of several sleep aids (and we haven't discovered the others yet).  She is notorious at getting herself out of her swaddle by about 4 in the morning and from then on is her restless self.  This morning, I finally gave up on sleep at about 5:15.  She is now so in the habit of not pooping in her diaper that she grunts, squirms, farts and otherwise disrupts my sleep until I rouse her enough to take her potty.  Then she is all smiles and this morning Jason and I enjoyed mugs of decaf coffee, a little progress on the book we are reading together and welcomed the snow-transformed world outside as light returned.

Terah enjoys so much when her big sisters wake up.  This morning they enjoyed some sister cuddle time before getting out of bed.  Alida is not sure about Terah's new interest in grabbing hair so she was keeping her distance after Terah's first handful.  Both girls seemed pretty excited about Terah getting to enjoy a taste of our p meal last night.  Terah has been getting so interested in what is happening around her and it seems like she often gets agitated at mealtimes (once again not being interested in sitting placidly on my lap while we consume all sorts of interesting looking foods).  So last night, I caved.  She likes dill pickles.  See for yourself: