Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Growing, growing, growing!

Everything around us seems to be growing right now: babies, children, chicks, plants, and the to do list!  The only benefit to going a very long time without rain is at least the grass isn't growing too fast right now such that we are putting off the first major mowing just a tad longer.

Ten days is too long to go between postings right now, as it feels like each day is packed full of adventure and new things around here.  But I'll do my best to include some highlights.  First, and most importantly, an update on the little (or not so little) people in our home.

Terah had her 6 month check up this week.  She now weighs 22lb 12oz and her weight is not "chartable" on their handy dandy growth charts, as she is off the chart (and slacking in height: just the 95th percentile).  She was most pleased to swipe the nurse's measuring tape and chomp on that for about half her appointment. Her doctor was more or less unimpressed and not concerned by our list of "pressing" issues and her answer to pretty much all of them was that this little gal is just her own person, charting her own path (and that our older girls had spoiled us)!  She's really a grand baby and so much fun when I'm at least moderately rested. She is also enabling my empathy to grow by leaps and bounds for various parenting challenges that I never got to experience before her. For example, our other girls were excellent "transfer babies." We could go from arms to bed to pack to car and back again when they were asleep.  Not this gal! Yesterday after taking just 2 naps, we headed home from small group last evening a little before 9 p.m. She fell asleep in the car (a big success for her) and was sacked out when we arrived home...until I got her out.  Sigh!  It was then after 10:30 when she finally was able to give way to sleep again - so I guess it was a 3 nap day after all!

Here's Terah enjoying parsley!  She is still not consuming much food but enjoys playing with it - particularly sucking on dill pickles and chomping on leafy things that she can shred and feel the interesting textures in her mouth until she gags and gives them back.

We decided to be efficient with our doctor appointments and do back to back appointments with Alida having her 5 year old check up right alongside Terah's appointment.  It cut the waiting time in half, so we'll be doing that again!  Alida grew over 3 inches this past year, but even more impressive was her growth in other areas.  I don't know what it is about the first time our children are old enough to do the vision tests but I well remember almost crying the first time Kali did it also.  There is something so cute about them standing there with their little hand cupped over one eye, slightly inclined forward and reading off the letters so purposefully (and proudly).  Kali loved the eye test and it seems to run in the family as Alida was pretty impressed with it as well.  But even more than that was here little lesson in mindfulness.  She and Terah both got one vaccine (the same one in fact), and the nurse didn't attempt anything fancy with Terah - just the "get it over with as quickly as possible" route. With Alida, though, she taught her to lay back and close her eyes and take deep breaths. She helped her relax her leg until it was floppy.  I was standing there a bit dubious.  I didn't think Alida would go for these "tricks" at all.  I was wrong.  She followed right along, took all the tips to heart, and only flinched a tiny bit when the needle went in. She then talked about the success of that approach for the rest of the day, as well as the status of her sore (but not very) injection site.

No new doctor stats on Kali, but I can report that she is growing up in so many ways - the one I'm thinking about most this week is the growth in her abilities in the kitchen. She has been cooking regularly now on Monday nights for a few months and is getting more and more skilled with each meal.  This past week I was in the bedroom working while Terah napped and basically came to the table when supper was ready (my help was limited to a few quick consults on cooking time and spices that might be nice in her dish).  I couldn't stop exclaiming about the deliciousness of the meal - it was a hit with all of us: soaked rice/black amaranth combo cooked with a red lentil spinach dish served over top. Simple and scrumptious!  I told her we might have to up number of cooking nights - she is open to the possibility!

Now for some of the other growing things.  Let's first comment on some of the projects that have come off our ever expanding project list:

The potatoes are planted!  And, unlike onions, we even had some seed potatoes left over to share.  I got in on just a little rock picking up and a row of potato planting with Terah in tow.  But mostly this was a project completed by Kali and Jason, with some assistance from Alida.

Our new asparagus bed is complete and the crowns planted!  We had a scare when we realized that our crowns were still in Mom and Dad's fridge when they last came and co-existed there for about 24 hours with a few apples and a banana before Jason realized it.  Those fruits put off gasses that kill living tissue so we were quite concerned.  We have yet to know if any damage was sustained, but I was very pleased to be the first to notice two little sprigs on the one variety shooting up yesterday. I've been obsessed with going down daily and giving them a drink of water. I am yearning for a good asparagus patch!  And we should give credit where credit it due - here you will see that the ducks and chickens are always quite happy to get in there and work on bed preparations with us - the chickens scratching is often "the kind of help we all can do without."

Jason got all the remnants of the fall/winter tree/brush clearing picked up, chipped, put on brush piles for the next biochar burn or stacked in various places for cutting up/splitting for firewood.  We just emptied out one side of our woodshed and so it will be ready to fill when the weather cools and it's the firewood splitting time of year.  For now, in a moment of inspiration, we decided for Jason to move forward with prepping the white raspberry bed below the new garden for fall planting - this used up most of his accumulated chicken feed sacks and several piles of duffy material that we were happy to get cleaned up.
We are having fun watching chicks of various ages growing up.  The first batch will go to my aunt and uncle in WV tomorrow. Part of the second batch will make their way into Keezletown proper for Emily and Jonas and the third batch is currently being brooded for us by a great mama hen.  Round four is split between the incubator and another broody.  When possible, we love using broody hens. It's so fun to watch the mama teaching them the ropes - much cuter than the fake brooder we have in the kiddie swimming pool upstairs. But the kids do like having chicks at the ready for holding and playing with.  Here's the mama unsure of the camera pointing at her and her chicks.  She made a nest and called all the chicks to her. Soon they were mostly underneath her with a few peeking out around the edges:

Terah is now awake so I need to bring this to a close, but a blog post would not be complete without a few food updates.  A few recent finds/successes/experiments!

Jason introduced me to Great Solomon's Seal shoots - better than raw asparagus.  Now I want to spread that all over the place. Super tasty!

I've got a winner for using up dried sweet peppers and tomatoes and my frozen shredded trombone squash.  If I saute chives and then add a quart bag of shredded squash to the pan along with a handful of dried peppers and tomatoes, it works perfectly. Throw in some chopped nettles and pour eggs over and bake with some fresh herbs added and we have a delightful breakfast.  It's great in that the squash is so watery when it thaws but that is beneficial in this application as it helps re-hydrate the dried veggies and nettles also tend to be a bit dry. Yes, I will admit that I'm a bit pleased with myself on this find.

And big news (that is only slightly sad): we used the very last garlic bulb from last year.  It was used with some trout our neighbor gave us and a final round of roasted sweet potatoes.  Thankfully the garlic chives are thriving all over the place and the garlic patch can be thinned of diseased plants that we can use until garlic scapes come in, which should hold us then until the garlic harvest.  Yes, I'll miss garlic cloves for roasting with veggies, but I like to run out of things in time to really feel their absence and welcome their return.  So we won't be buying garlic or onions and will be creative with the various "garlicy" and "oniony" matter we have around until harvest time!

To end, back to that growing to do list. The word that will most frequently appear on that list in the near future is "weed."  There is no end to the areas that are calling for weeding, mulching, and would benefit from an application of compost. We'll get to it as we are able. And sometimes we get to it in little blitz weeding sessions - like the one pictured here on the rare evening when supper is done and cleaned up from before dark and we can all go out and relieve some strawberry plants from their weedy surroundings!  They are flowering and we hope to give them their best shot at replenishing our dwindling strawberry supply. Time will tell!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Onions, chicks, babies and more

So here goes: a whole smattering of updates from our lives and homestead in no particular order, except for what comes to mind first.  Terah is sleeping in my arms (still with minor sniffles from the latest cold going through out household), Alida is "reading" Dr. Seuss here on our bed (and trying her hardest to be quiet), and Kali and Jason are out moving the ducks and getting into the days chores/project list.  Last night got into the low 20's and we have yet to know the full extent of the damage. Kali slipped out at dusk last night to get a container of red buds for our spinach salad today in case they got zapped. It looks likely it will likely be a year without peaches.

I'm so grateful for a much needed day at home, all day long!  Other than possibly venturing out for a walk (the routine seems to be settling into a walk for Terah's third and final short nap of the day in the late afternoon), I plan to stick close to home. Those daily walks are so helpful for me - a combination of thinking time, allowing my mind to swirl and circle around and sort out various things needing processing, and then just checking in on the world around me and the neighborhood. Right now I'm enjoying watching a pair of Canada geese in the neighbor's pasture and waiting to see if they might nest and if we'll get to see baby goslings.

We are solidly in "crazy month" and, after weathering some hard days earlier this week, it seems we are currently (maybe temporarily but we'll celebrate it while it lasts) in a bit of a better groove.  Terah will be six months old tomorrow and I have good reason to believe that the trajectory we are currently on is going to make the second six months of her first year of life higher on fun and lower on stress than the first half.  I will be the first to admit to anyone who asks that the past months have tested my limits on multiple occasions (often on a daily basis).  We joke that Terah wanted to be sure she was the last offspring in this family.  And while we could have assured her of that, she has helped Jason and I know very deep in our core that we have all (and more) than we can handle now.  I think on multiple occasions throughout each week that I really don't know what I would do without Kali's help right now.  And she is building some serious arm muscles lugging her little (but big) sister around.  We'd have a serious backlog of dishes and laundry if it weren't for Kali taking Terah after meals for a dance session or swing ride or tummy time so I can clean up before the next nap-time comes around. And it doesn't appear that they could be a whole lot more fond of each other.  One of my greatest joys is watching our girls enjoy so much good quality time together.

It seems that we started our family with our most chilled out baby/kid and they have gotten increasingly intense ever since.  It's fun to see how these traits change and develop as time goes along, but in the infant stage it is exhausting.  By nightfall when Terah is clawing at my face and pulling my hair into her mouth, I just want to collapse out of sheer exhaustion.  Thankfully nights are including more rest so I usually feel somewhat rejuvenated by morning and ready for another round of it.  Sleep is such an amazing thing.  Terah's been going down pretty easily for her morning and early afternoon naps, assuming I isolate myself with her in our bedroom. She's a distractable little gal - especially if her big sisters and/or daddy are anywhere within earshot.  And when I'm not around, she will take her naps in the jogger, the front pack, dancing or in the swing.  It's pretty cute to see her sacked out swinging.  She reached a major milestone this week, taking several ounces from the bottle. Not laying back relaxing, of course, but in her circle seat with big sister entertainers while she slurped the the bottle turned up (the image in my mind is of a little calf sucking on a bottle). She beats to her own drum!

A few exciting developments on the homestead:  Our onions are in the ground!  We also recently put compost on our spinach and it is happy, happy, happy!  We are back to eating lots and lots of fresh green things!  The fresh herbs are delightful and adding wonderful flavor to my morning egg concoctions - the oregano, winter savory and parsley (that overwintered well under cover) are the favorites right now.  Jason hopes to wrap up the blueberry hugelkultur bed today!  Oats are planted in it for now as a cover crop until we plant blueberries this fall.  The tomatoes have sprouted, the peppers are looking great and the sweet potatoes are starting to sprout.  Our mouths water as we anticipate all the fresh foods we will enjoy in the coming months.
Alida helping to sift compost for the onions.
Making progress on the blueberry bed - a many-staged process...
Almost done - just leaves on the path and compost/duff on the asparagus bed by the garden fence!
The hope of things to come...
We could easily stay occupied 24/7 on our little plot of land, but we venture out now and then.  As often as we can we do that by foot, which was the case for this month's family night (which was actually a "family afternoon" in which friends I&M joined for the fun).  It was Kali's month to choose and she chose hiking on the mountain where at every juncture someone got to choose which direction we went.  We went in age order (though Terah missed most of the hike due to being sacked out on my front so she didn't make any directional decisions) and it was a hit!  Clearly we'll be doing this again. We saw many things we had never seen before, the red buds were in their full glory (and perfect for snacking upon since a certain mother took 5 kids hiking without snacks, except for the littlest since it is kind of hard to me to leave that behind!), the air was cool but the sun warm, and I love hanging out with kids that are so interested and curious about the world around them.   
Yesterday, we ventured by car to the Home and Garden show at the Rockingham Fairgrounds. There was a "homesteading festival" tacked onto it this year and Jason had agreed to do a workshop on local genetics (focused on plants) and one on raising chickens.  We agreed on the way home that we are pretty sure it was not a complete waste of time. If for no other benefit it gave Jason the chance to think through short workshops on two topics he is very passionate about.  And hopefully some of those present learned something (we gave out a lot of our "Tangly Woods special" spinach seed and seed catalogs from a new company that we hope to have opportunity to partner with in the future as they are working to develop seeds for this geographical area).  There were probably 10-15 people there at the start and up to 20-30 present by the end.  Due to the high winds and cold temperatures, they chose to move the workshops last minute from an outdoor pavilion to the back corner of the exhibit hall.  Had we not happened to run into Jason's sister and husband, who had attended some of the earlier workshops, who knows if we would have ever found the workshop location. We were very glad we had turned down the 10x10 exhibit table we could have set up outside (where few dared to venture).

We didn't linger long after the workshops. We didn't need vinyl siding or a supply of freeze dried food or lots of free candy.  But we did decide to officially end our Lent family commitment of not purchasing any food and we swung by Sharp Shopper on the way home (chuckling as we ran into a few others who were present at Jason's local genetics workshop).  Grocery shopping has not changed for me (any kind of shopping tends to leave me feeling kind of physically ill).  However, after a few month's break from being in the stores, I was even more floored by the array of options presented to us anytime we step foot in a store. And saddened by the quality of those options.

The Lent commitment was a success in so many different ways.  For one, I was able to unplug our chest freezer in the garage this week for a thorough cleaning.  All our frozen stuff now fits into our stand up freezer and I know what we have and how I hope/plan to use most of it.  Running out of some staples (e.g. peanut butter, coconut, raisins, chick peas, flour, etc...) has encouraged lots of creativity and I've discovered some winners.  Here's a few tidbits:
  • I really like red lentil hummus and it is a great way to slip in some fermented green tomatoes.
  • If I want probiotics and I'm off dairy to see if that improves our baby's general outlook on life, I can in fact drink the juice from fermented green peppers or winter squash (it's not delightful but it falls in line with wheat grass juice).
  • Dried winter squash is crazy stuff - it goes down to practically nothing. The last batch was left in longer and I added cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg so we now have spiced winter squash chips.
  • Homemade peanut butter (from home grown, soaked, dehydrated and roasted peanuts) or pecan butter with coconut oil and salt is incredible!
  • Dried corn and green beans are delicious in a soup with a chicken broth base.
  • Dried colorful peppers are great in a four bean salad - they soak up the liquid and are flavorful and a nice texture.
  • We can do just fine with our home grown/ground cornmeal and making rolled oats into flour - we really don't miss other flours much at all (though we did buy some soaked organic ww flour that Sharp Shopper carries, so I guess we missed it in some things).
  • And, in general, I'm really enjoying making up lots of recipes and having the results be enjoyed by most of the family most of the time!  
Anyway, back to yesterday's outing: it felt so good to walk back into our home and the sound of chicks hatching. Round two of hatching is coming to a close.  They are, once again, very cute!  The first round of chicks have graduated to an outdoor pen with a heat lamp and are doing what chicks do (and our baby does) best: GROW!
In closing, I thought I'd include just a tiny follow up to Alida's birthday.  Jason and I each gave her a coupon for her birthday. Jason gave her a coupon to build a butterfly house for her garden, which they completed this week and you can see pictured here.  I gave her a little coupon book of various things to do with me uninterrupted.  In some ways it felt silly to give her coupons for reading time, cuddle time, cooking time, outdoor play time with me.  Shouldn't I be doing this anyway? Not just for her birthday?  It was really the uninterrupted part that made the gift unique.  And what a hit that little booklet has been.  She used a good number of the coupons in the first few days following her birthday and we both benefited from the dedicated time together.  I hope that even after the coupons run out, I'll find ways to carve out those spaces with her.  It pains me so much when she makes comments like she did yesterday: "No one thinks about me anymore."  I'm glad she verbalizes them for us (it is likely Kali thought those things during Nora's time with us, but she would have kept them inside), but it is still hard to hear.  We got to talk about it some yesterday and acknowledge that it is hard to get less of our attention with a baby in the house (especially a baby with this particular baby's temperament and noise level).  We also assured her that we do think a whole lot about her...  We just need to reinforce that with daily snuggles that she so loves.

Speaking of snuggles, I will end on what is the bright spot of each of our days currently. Awhile back we decided to try reading a James Herriot (country veterinarian) book out loud together at bedtime. Who knew it would become a family tradition and the absolute favorite way for all of us to end each day.  Alida normally falls asleep within the first 5 minutes but even so she chose it over watching a library movie the other night.  I think it feels so good for her to snuggle up between Kali and Jason each night and fall asleep to the sound of her daddy's voice (or laughter).  Terah and I sit in the recliner and she nurses to sleep - most nights pretty easily but if not easily I have a great story to distract me from a bout of evening ramminess.  I never make it through the chapters either, so we'll be able to read them over and over again and I'll always learn something new!  We owned two of the four books, and once onto the second book I knew we needed to acquire the third and the fourth (which we now have waiting for us!).  For awhile it felt like the coming of night brought an increase in anxiety for me, as I never knew what the night would hold (sleep or lots of baby soothing without sleep).  It's fun to look forward to bedtime each night now and to have girls that are super cooperative in getting ready because they know what's coming and are eager to get to it.  It's these kinds of traditions that I love more than anything because they are ones that I know our girls will remember fondly when they are older.

(Ok, must post this before I lose it! My computer just went black, prepared itself somehow for a "crash dump" and then rebooted. I thought I might have lost it, but here it is. No more chances... Probably a good sign that I need to get off the computer and on to other things.)