Sunday, October 30, 2016

Getting in touch with the cycles of life and death once again!

Let's see if I can carve out a little reflective space with Alida frumping in the background, and the rest of the family grabbing a bit of supper before we gather for some "home video" watching. It's my month to choose our family day activity and I chose a fall hike to Hensley's pond ("the lake") and watching some family video clips, with the ones of Nora being our first priority. The jury is out as to how much farther than that we'll get tonight.

As we walked down the lane this afternoon for our hike, I mentioned to Jason that I kind of felt like we traveled to a different world the past few days. I don't have words for it yet (Jason will likely articulate it well when he gets to his pig butchering book report and actual pig butchering reflections). So mine will be mostly a brief account of it, with hopefully more reflections coming along the way. Right now I only have really general descriptors: butchering our pigs was hard, fascinating, fun, communal, celebratory, interesting, delicious, emotional, exhausting, integrated, neighborly, educational...I imagine I'll be adding words to that list for some time to come.

We had set Thursday and Friday as our butchering days. In reality it was those days, plus parts of yesterday and today, and will continue for awhile as Jason salts the bacons and hams for curing. Wednesday evening the girls requested to be woken early so they could go see the pigs one more time. Alida then chose to come inside for the actual killing, Kali watched both, and I got up my courage to watch the second one. It will never be easy for me to see one of the animals we have raised and cared for be killed. I don't want it to be. I well remember bursting into tears the first time Kali was butchering some of her ducks. I didn't cry this time but felt kind of sick to my stomach. I continue to feel good about sitting with the discomfort, recognizing the power that we have when we raise domesticated animals, and really hope that we can have integrity with how we integrate animals into our homestead. I have no doubts that our pigs had about the best life any two pigs could have had, and I'm glad about that! They contributed a lot and my visit to their pen the evening prior to butchering was in part to thank them for that.

I got my exercise Thursday and Friday going up and down the hill from our place to our neighbors many times. I kept things going on the home front with meals and laundry and childcare, and Jason took the lead on the butchering (with three neighbors lending a hand, two of them being part of most of the first two days for which we are so very grateful!). So I mostly got in on the scalding and scraping the hair off, and then was around a lot more on day two for rendering lard, making ponhoss and getting the halves cut into the various kinds of meat. Pigs are fascinating! So different that ducks or chickens. The first night we got out a piece of paper to write down all the different kinds of meat and products to decide how we were going to process it. I'm really eager to do it again sometime when I can be part of the whole event.
As is quite normal at this point, Kali jumped right in. She wanted to be up there as much as possible (amazing for the child that for a year or two hated pigs and staged a protest one day marching around our property with a "no pigs" sign - started I believe since she had a strong dislike of pink and could not be convinced that all pigs were not pink). Alida was a bit nervous about our neighbor's dog being out and about so she took part some but was also often up on the tractor or in the truck bed where she felt safe and had a good view.

I think my overriding feeling during the event was just this positive sense of goodwill and gratefulness for good neighbors who were willing to share their knowledge with us and make it a fun neighborly event. There's just nothing like standing around as broth is boiling down over one fire for ponhoss and another large kettle is being stirred as the lard is rendered. One of my trips down the hill was to grab some garden potatoes to throw in the lard. There is nothing like a potato that has been cooked/fried in a deep vat of lard, salted and eaten outside by the cooking fires. It was beyond delicious! We stood around and all partook; that is the kind of communion I can get into!
The night before Kali and I had gotten our arms sore grinding a bunch of popcorn good friends of ours in PA had given to us on a recent visit. We needed a lot and that was what we had a lot of. Kali, Jason and Alida sprinkled it into the mixture of broth and meat when the time was right, added salt and pepper and stirred until it thickened (like polenta). It was then scooped into loaf pans to harden (for slicing and frying). We shared it around to all those helping, and are passing it along to the various people who helped in our first pig-raising endeavor. It was the focal point of this morning's breakfast and we could have consumed more than what I fried up. We had to cut the last piece in four so we could all have one more bite.

There's ground pork in the freezer, some roasts and ribs, several loaves of ponhoss, bacon and hams curing, cracklins from the lard rendering on the counter and 7 gallons of rendered lard ready for consumption. Jason is talking about making doughnuts! And we are talking about getting piglets again! But for now we are also enjoying the simplification of our routines - no more picking up scraps or milk, one less step in Jason's morning and evening chores, and no need for the longer blocks of time needed for moving them. We are eager to settle into the winter routines, and it feels good to be scratching a few things off the daily and weekly tasks!

Speaking of scratching things off lists and winter routines, today Terah and I headed out to the remaining tomato plants. She had fun picking them and then pulling them out of the bucket, taking one bite and throwing them down. She's right that they are not as succulent as they once were but cooked with shallots and served over polenta or eggs or veggies they are delicious. I chopped up all the tomato plants, as I had done fays before with the hot peppers. I'm happy to not have them out there tempting Terah anymore. I was the hot sauce maker this year and while I've had Jason as my resident taste tester, I will admit that I really enjoyed making it and might even be tempted to start trying it in very small amounts!
One of the fun routines we are getting into is roasting squashes of various kinds often and keeping the seeds all separate and doing taste tests to see which ones we wish to save for seed. Why do we get such a kick out of this kind of thing! It's our family's favorite form of entertainment! And the seeds we don't save become delicious snacks toasted.
Okay, it seems as if at least the two smallest children are starting to breakdown so I should probably rejoin the family scene. I've got a weeping middle child on my lap (who is saying "it feels like nothing is every ok"). She did hike four plus miles today! I'll just end with a few final pictures from the past few days.
She's something else!
She loves hats!
Alida's (and Jason's) soccer team

Thankful for good friends that joined us for dinner last evening...

Giving us a good reason to make a fire and cook over it!

We love making pizza pockets but seldom do it just for us.

And here we are today - we made it to the lake, drank in the fall air and colors (though Terah didn't know she was at the lake).

I love these gals and their daddy!

This little yellow flower jumped out at me. I always think of Nora when I see yellow flowers and so it was special to find this one on our hike today on her 9th birthday!

When we got home it was a flurry of evening activities before dark. Terah has become quite the little laundry helper! And now Kali is wrapping up folding it so we have our futon back for movie watching so off I go. Not exactly an in depth reflection but that's all the time I've got today...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

For no reason in particular...

It's been awhile since I've used some of Terah's nap time to write. It just so happens that a major planned computer outage during EMU's fall break means that I can't make the best use of my normal work time today at home so I feel a bit freer to catch up on some personal computer stuff. The biggest success of the day might be finding a website through which we can get our "Nora blog" made into a book (for our own perusing when the last thing we want to do is sit in front of a screen to soak up some memories of her). We'll see what comes of that but it felt like a half hour well spent this morning to at least explore the option. It's hard to believe in about a week's time we'll cross over what would have been her 9th birthday! Recently we talked briefly as a family about a return trip to Cape Charles either around her 10th birthday or the 10 year anniversary of her death. It would feel good to go back to the place that provided some solace and comfort in those early weeks after she died, and to let Alida and Terah experience that place, and for the rest of us to get reacquainted with it. Another thing to stay tuned on, but it's a dream in the making! I'm thinking by next fall we might have the courage to attempt a family trip, but only time will tell!

I found myself feeling a bit scattered today - in a bit of a "wandering mood." It's as I'm sitting here now reflecting on the day and time of year that it strikes me again how it seems that my body often holds memories of this time of year. That time of anxious anticipation - eagerness to meet the little girl who was such a mystery on the inside, and wondering what the future would hold for her and us. The leaves have changed colors dramatically over the last week and with a change to cooler temps in the last day it's once again feel fall like outside. I love this time of year - love the brisk freshness and the reds, oranges and yellows that decorate the outdoor scenes. At the same time it seems it's a time of year that my body will likely always associate with some sadness and uncertainty and a feeling associated with lots of wondering and waiting.

Each year I feel like a slightly different person as I travel through another anniversary - whether it be because there is a new configuration of our family or our farm or just the personal space I find myself in. I've found myself verbalizing a few times recently that this past year feels like the hardest of my life to date. I probably need to ponder that more or at least be clear that that is just how it feels in some moments or on some days. It can probably pretty easily be chalked up to one major factor: a year's worth of sleep deprivation. I remember with Nora thinking that I didn't know how much longer I could keep getting 1-2 hours of sleep at a time. It was hard, really hard! And then it ended and I could sleep as long as I wanted (if I was able) since she was not with us needing our constant care. There was relief and grief all wrapped together (check out our blog dedicated to her for MUCH more on that part of our journey!).

My feelings aren't all sorted out about this year, or this phase of life as I still feel right in the middle of it. A friend asked us today over lunch what kind of rhythms or grooves we feel we are in. Jason and I kind of laughed (or maybe groaned) and then Jason, the king of good analogies, said it's kind of like one of those old trucks (he explained it with great sound effects but basically puttering along, then a back fire, sets off again, another explosion, etc...). We are finding our way, but it feels like it's hardly been smooth sailing. And I'm once again weighed down by many "shoulds" - how do I ever stop letting those dominate my mental and emotional landscape?

I think with Nora we had so, so many people encouraging us to be easy on ourselves, supporting us as we navigated those formerly uncharted waters. We've had our share of cheerleaders this time around too, but it's different with a "normal" baby. It seems by now we should be in some kind of groove, that I should be able to figure out how to get a decent night's sleep, that we should find time for Jason and I to connect and make various short and long term decision together, that I should be making space for one on one time with each of my girls and not have all my energy go to the littlest (often loudest) one, that I should be more available to my neighbors/friends/family going though challenging times. I noted also at lunch that it's tiring to often feel like you aren't doing a very good job in many different aspects on your life. I want to be a better mom, spouse, sister, daughter, friend, colleague, and neighbor. There are things that I think of in each of those areas that I yearn to be able to do (or in some cases be). But somehow my perspective on the world doesn't feel all that expansive right now - I feel very keenly, every day, a shortage of time and energy.

I'm sure there are things I could do to gather up bits of time here and there - we could stop using wipes (which we have to launder) and could up significantly our usage of toilet paper, I could stop chopping veggies several hours a day and we could buy more food, we could nix making butter/cheese/yogurt and either lower or eliminate our dairy consumption, and the list of those kinds of things could no doubt go on and on. But I fear if I/we do a lot of that, a piece of my heart and soul will take a pretty big hit too. It's the way I want to be living and what I want to be doing. It feels so integral to how I want to operate in the world and how I want our girls to grow up experiencing our life - knowing intimately what it takes to meet our daily needs. I just have to figure out if there are things I/we can let go of for a time, to ease the pressure and open up spaces to breath in more fully.= And I need to be willing to be honest and reflect on if the costs are worth it - when relationships are negatively impacted by me pushing to get a certain project or task done. That's hard personal work for me! On a positive/personal growth front it's worth noting that besides the decision to not dive back into piglet raising, I have made decisions on a few occasions recently to nix something from my to do list for that day and that has felt good (mostly) and freeing. So maybe I just need some more practice.

Enough of those musings for now. I struggle right now with how to make this blog reflective of our life, so that it gives our girls a good sense of this time in our family's life together - without necessarily putting it all out there for anyone in the world to happen in on. And I also feel after expressing some of the challenges of this time that I always want to counter it with the pure sweetness that marks each of my days too. I will yearn for these days in a decade or two for now - the kiddo chaos, the cuddles and slobbery kisses, the soccer cleats strewn across the floor, the cheese crackers crushed and spread around the living room, etc... In the meantime, I'm really trying to soak up as much of it as I can contain!

Here are some things from recent days. First a Terah video of something I seldom get to see - how our baby takes a bottle. Enjoy! You might wonder why we don't move exclusively to a cup - we might and we probably could as she takes so little from the bottle as it is. However, one of her favorite cup activities is taking a big swig and then spewing it or dribbling it out of her mouth!

The other day as Terah's nap was soon upon us (so we didn't "help" for long), we joined the older girls and Jason in the garage to start the processing of weighing, sorting and tucking away our now cured sweet potatoes. I already had sweet potato photos, so grabbed one of some of the piles of corn we have drying! We recently ground some of this type of corn and I've made two rounds of corn bread with our home grown and ground wheat and corn. Special stuff that the family has reported delicious (I'm nearing the end of a 3 week cleanse in which nothing in the cornbread is on my ok list of foods so I'll be making it again here before too long!).

 A new excitement around here is bubbles! Terah is so cute finding the bubble bottle now and going and looking for Kali. She knows Kali can blow bubbles so Kali has gotten even a few more brownie points from her little sister - she was already pretty amazing in Terah's book but now this! They have spent a lot of time on the front walk recently.
Cousin time is pretty special! We enjoyed having Ivy (AND her family) over for dinner the other night. Ivy seemed about as chill in our home as she is in her own. We got to see her eyes for a little bit. She's getting chubby cheeks and is only getting cuter! Terah is still waiting for us to let her get her hands on Ivy. She's pretty eager, but we all agree that should wait a good while yet!
Speaking of getting cuter, as tired as this gal makes me she is a load of fun! She is understanding so much more every day. Here she is playing peek-a-boo. She seems to get teasing and does her share of it. She also is very funny whenever she finds paper in the house - she goes with it to the recycling bucket under the sink (whether or not we want it recycled!). You have to watch her or things will disappear and show up later in odd places (that make sense in her little mind of course).
 The other day I was trying to lure her inside as it had started raining again. She does a great "go limp" number on us. She really, really wanted to play with the chalk (rain or shine). So she did!
And I'll end with today! We enjoyed having Jonathan out here working with Jason again and joining us around our lunch table. He provided a much appreciated boost on getting some more cover crops in. They worked in the root field with the sun shining and a cool fall breeze blowing. It looked like pretty ideal working conditions! I wasn't out much other than to take a load of food scraps to the pigs and a little meander around with Terah. I enjoyed seeing the field take shape, but mostly enjoyed watching the chickens running around and some in their favorite spot in the tomato row (with sun for warmth and dust for bathing, not to mention tomato cages to duck in and around should a hawk appear)
Time to wrap this up and encourage the end of the afternoon nap so we can get to bed in a semi-reasonable time! Mom is in their quarters upstairs this weekend while Dad is off birding, so all three girls are invited up for dinner and some time with Grandma this evening. Yes, that means a rare morsel of time for Jason and I to spend together. It's really bad when you start a list of agenda items you need to talk with your spouse about. That could consume a half dozen date evenings I'm afraid. Jason may wish to join the girls upstairs if I pull the schedule book out right away! It will just be nice to have the opportunity to finish our sentences with each other, should we choose (and remember how) to do so!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Catching up on all the other things...

So clearly there has been a lot of focus around here recently on birth and birthdays. But not everything else has been at a standstill. Here's a whole host of things I didn't really touch on much in the recent posts, but are worth noting as they are part of the fall fun and chaos around here.

We have harvested all our winter squash. I had very little to do with it other than photographing the weighing fun. I'll have a lot to do with it in the coming months as we dry it, ferment it, roast it, cook it, add it to soups and casseroles and burritos, etc... I think the total winter squash matter in the root cellar is in the 500 lb range - I lost track of the calculations. While our trombone squash (pictured here) did horribly at the beginning of this year (meaning not many got to full maturity), we had a pretty good PA Dutch squash year. So glad we all like squash so much! Recently, I've been on a kick just cutting it in large chunks and roasting it. It is delicious with just a bit of coconut oil and salt. Sometimes we just eat the insides out, but more recently I've been eating it skins and all. And, the trombone squash have re-surged here at the end of the season and we are enjoying a nice amount of summer squash now that the "stink bug season" has ended.

The sight here is pretty unusual, as our evenings tend to never feel very spacious. But all three of our girls enjoy hair brushing and playing with hair (which is a real benefit to those of us who enjoy having our hair played with - ME!). The relaxation element is diminished somewhat when we don't get started until after 9 p.m. and the littlest is still somewhat interested in the activity but is also entering her "rammy, need my Mommy very close" stage of the day. Here she was nursing and trying to wield a brush at the same time. Jason and I were talking about our evenings on one of our rare morning jogs today. Jason came up with the perfect analogy for what they feel like: playing Blokus. At the beginning there's so much space and it just seems like it will be no problem for all the pieces to fit together. Then as the end of the game nears, the space all of a sudden closes up at a speed you are surprised by every time. That's our evenings for you!

As the weather cools we are definitely enjoying more daytime activities outside all together (for brief stints on the "all together" part). We planted more sweet potatoes than we ever have this year, as we risked some outside the garden fence. Thankfully it was a low-to-no ground hog pressure year and so we got some! The biggest trouble we have when harvesting potatoes (sweet or white or yellow) is negotiating who gets to pull the treasures out of the soil. No one seems to fight Jason for the hard digging job, but the fun of unearthing the potatoes is a much sought after activity. It tires for Jason, but I think it's getting a bit better as girls get older (at least until Terah gets old enough to care).
We had very little bug damage or disease in the sweet potatoes. That tends to be how this crop is for us, which is partly why we love it so much (not to mention that there are hardly any ways that sweet potatoes are prepared - other than loaded up with marshmallows - that we don't like). There were some pretty huge ones this year and a some of those were obviously too tempting for the few voles that have taken up residence in our garden (and survived the lurking black snakes). As Jason pulled one large hill of sweet potatoes up in which one had a huge chunk eaten out, a little vole scurried off with a baby clinging to its backside. We are glad to have the sweet potatoes all in the garage now, in a little tent of blankets with space heaters on to cure them. We'll be enjoying them for months to come!

With shorter days comes longer evenings. Those are welcome, even though right now we are at a pinch point with fall harvests and getting cover crops in before winter (so we appreciate every hour of daylight we have). On one recent evening (going back to birthday celebrations), we had a little joint party for Terah and her Aunt Sue. I won't give anyone's age away, but we discovered they were actually in a fun kind of way the same age this year - we'll let the math wizards among us figure it out (didn't take Kali but a minute). You can see here that the aunt was more enthusiastic about the joint celebration (Terah's keeping a close eye on her). That was, until she got her very own little basketball from her aunts. She's been having fun with that (as has her big sister, Alida!).

And then the next day comes along and back out we go. The next round of harvesting was alluded to in my last post with the video of Terah learning to husk corn. While the first two pictures here are of the girls working on corn, what pulls on my heart strings are the sweet and simple shows of affection for each other - Alida with her hand on Kali's shoulder and Kali rubbing Terah's head. This kind of thing is as common or more so than the daily squabbles that no doubt also dot our days. It's so obvious at the core how very deeply they all care about each other (even when Terah pulls Alida's hair so hard before we can get to her that Alida breaks out in sobs).
Terah loves being outside so I feel hopeful about more family time outdoors in the garden in the future. She was so cute sitting in a pile of corn husks with the breeze blowing her hair. You have to keep an eye on her as often I feel like it's 1 step forward and 2 steps back when she is "helping" me. She is great at reorganizing my organization of husks and cobs (or anything else I'm trying to organize), or unloading whatever container I've just loaded. One of our largest corn patches was right beside where the pigs are currently stationed (their last location I believe before our fall butchering date arrives). They were very pleased to have knobby ears tossed to them and were often heard tussling over the tasty morsels.

We really have enjoyed having pigs. Jason has pretty much done all the work caring for them (with us bringing the occasional treats and my dad helping out with chores some on the weeks they are upstairs) and, while it has added to morning and evening chores, has been overall fun for him also. On one of our late night walks (when Terah was not able to settle nursing) we finally took a step to simplify something about our life (probably a good time to discuss simplification - when I'm so tired from the day that I can't see straight!). We decided that after butchering the two pigs we have later this month, we are not going to dive into raising another pair of piglets. We decided that taking a break for the winter felt like a relief, and seeking relief from the pressure we often feel these days was a good thing. We'll try to keep reminding ourselves of that when tempting opportunities present themselves to us.

One of the fall harvests I didn't take any pictures of was the amaranth. Jason did some of that with the girls when I was at work and has tucked in the rest of the harvesting in other pockets of time here and there. It's in various stages of getting the grain out of the stalks, winnowing and then drying it for storage and use. The black amaranth comes from what we have called the "veggie amaranth" and what we thought was not considered edible as grain. We have discovered otherwise. We soak some of it with rice and make a blend - Jason said the other night when we had it that he thinks we'll likely soon never make just plain rice. It is a pretty combo. It's also sticky. When Kali went to get Terah out of her high chair she chuckled and ran for the camera. Someone didn't quite get all her amaranth in her mouth!

So you might be getting a sense of the flow of our days through this post - harvesting, eating, harvesting, family time indoors and out, food preservation, planting, playing, and round and round again. So once again out we go, this time to get the fall garlic in. This year we are moving the garlic into the root field rotation, taking the place of the onions. It will be 1/2 again as much garlic as we have ever planted and that is a thrilling thought! Jason did a lot of work getting the beds ready so that the rest of us could join in and enjoy the planting. I have been embarrassed to admit that the backs of my legs have been a tad sore the last two days from planting - this shows how little gardening I've gotten in on this year. Points entirely to my need to get out there more next year! The older two girls have joined Jason a lot this year (especially Kali, but also Alida in stints here and there). Here's some proof that we were ALL in the patch:
Ok, I think my time is about up. I've been making mozzarella cheese while I type, and getting frequent visits from a little gal who I think is getting ready for lunch. So better switch gears from writing about our life to living it! I'll end with three photos that I took on Terah's birthday. As we were at the swing-set I looked over at our home and was just struck by the beauty of the perennial sunflowers in Alida's garden and the mountain in the background. The thought "who wouldn't want to live here" crossed my mind. I want to continue to savor and not take for granted the gift of our home.

I'm also enjoying the fun, manageable, small harvests of the end of the season. I made sauteed garlic, squash and tomatoes for breakfast this morning and got another round of paprika peppers dehydrating. We pick up a few chestnuts here and there, munch on persimmons as we make our rounds, and try to enjoy the less than optimal tomatoes that are still ripening but without the mid-summer flavor. I'm nearing being ready for the first fire in the wood stove of the year (I guess last year we had had one by now since we had one the night of Terah's birth - so it's about time!).

 But until frost, I'm trying to soak in the diversity of color that still decorates the beautiful outdoors. When Terah and I were out on her birthday, we were admiring the mums in Kali's garden. It was one of those times that I didn't realize the detailed beauty until I downloaded the picture. The light was just right to capture the droplets of water still on the flower. It's a favorite!