Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas retreat days!

On one of my precious walks with a good friend recently, I was commenting about how hard it often is for us to just relax and have fun at home, with all the pressing projects calling for our attention. It seems that so many people come to Tangly Woods and talk about how relaxed they feel. Jason and I often look at each other with this "if only we could feel what they are feeling" look! I've often wanted to find ways to nurture us enjoying our land and times together without the project list looming. From that walk was born the idea of a "family retreat day" at home where efficiency and productivity are not the supreme goals! And while we are trying out a new thing, why not dive in and do two in a row: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were slated as our first two "Myers-Benner family retreat days" and last night, when my head hit the pillow, they were deemed a whopping success.

Here's a few of the many pictures that I took to give you a bit of glimpse of all the fun we had. I will just note up front that "relaxing" is just not going to be something we (Jason and I) do at this stage of family life. The days were joy filled and full of precious moments all together, but I would not call any part of the time relaxing. With Terah in tow, that's not going to happen just yet...
Our preparations for the family retreat days started well in advance! In part so we could fit everything in that our dreaming sessions had cooked up and so that we wouldn't have to split ways and try to do things in the most efficient ways. We wanted to spend as much of our days TOGETHER. So a few days before, we roasted the girls Halloween decorated pumpkins to make a smattering of pumpkin desserts.
Mom graciously left her grinder with us for a few weeks and we've been making good use of it - most recently we ground the following grains we grew: millet, barley and corn. 100% millet pancakes are amazing! Previously we ground a bunch of sorghum that our neighbor grew and that was all prepped for our pumpkin pie crust!
Ready for feasting! Pumpkin pie squares with barley flour crust and local honey (we voted for the others that used maple syrup), crustless pies since Alida was sure she wouldn't want crust, and then she liked the one with sorghum crust.
Another pre-retreat day experiment was nixtamilizing some of our Texas gourd seed corn (simmering in ash water and soaking over night), dehydrating it, and then grinding it to make masa in preparation for corn tortillas for one of our Christmas day meals.
There was also lots of sneaky time in the girls' bedroom as they wrapped presents. And I imagine you won't be too surprised to know that they made their own wrapping paper. They learned the trick of carving potatoes to make paint stampers  from a friend and it was a hit! So while I used up old wedding wrapping paper they made festive Christmas prints for wrapping their presents.
Our first retreat day meal: Soaked polenta "grits," applesauce, eggs and our homegrown salt cured bacon. Other than the salt, it's a Tangly Woods (expanded to Fruit Farm lane for the applesauce) meal!
While presents were by no means the focus of our two days together, I will have to admit that once Terah learned that the things on the mantle behind her high chair and in the stockings were surprises to open, she was pretty interested in them. Thankfully she didn't care so much what was inside so helped all of us open ours and then was mostly ready to move on. The older girls were so sweet in their excitement to give presents this year. I was a tad overwhelmed by receiving fair trade almonds, an 88% cocoa fair trade chocolate bar AND organic fuzzy socks, which I'm wearing right now! Kali also made each of us a red finger knitted snail Christmas ornament - and admitted that they were the cause of some of her later nights recently!
First major non-efficient move of the day: we are ALL doing chores together! This was one of the highlights of the two days for me. While I would not want to do it daily, I'm pondering the possibility of doing them once a week to keep me more connected with the going-ons out of doors! The first day I mostly watched and learned...
First stop was to deliver some leftover bacon to Buttercup for a Christmas Eve treat. On Christmas Day she got some popcorn duds. 
Kali takes amazing care of her animals and is clearly supremely concerned about their well being - really struggling if a day goes by that she has not been able to let both her ducks and her pet chicken out to forage and enjoy roaming!
One of the only times we split ways was for Terah's first nap on Saturday - she was worn out by the end of chores and fell asleep quickly and easily for me. I worked just a 1/2 hour while others were finishing chores and then put my computer away (that was the only work done in those two days, promise!). I played some games with the girls until Terah woke and then we all scurried around to gather things for our Christmas Eve feast of pizza pockets over an outdoor fire!
The mealtime entertainment was the girls flying their balsa wood airplanes. It was Jason's idea of a Christmas present for the two older girls and they love themt! We got them stuck in at least 3 species of trees over our time outdoors - which of course meant some tree climbing for Kali (she didn't mind!)
I can't help it - another food photograph! I'm not sure when I have eaten something so delectable. Sour dough rye bread (thanks, Mom!), toasted with homemade butter, with homemade everything inside: parsley basil pesto, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, dried oregano, tomato sauce, and our pork sausage with dried sage and fennel. It was one of those meals I was full way before I wanted it to be over!
It was the first time we made a fire "just for us" and not for some big event. It has always felt like a big production so for some reason that means we only do it with company?! The funny thing is that it felt like less of an ordeal with just 5 of us and was really, really fun - so another thing we'll hopefully be doing again (not waiting for the rare retreat day).
This gal was happy, happy, happy outside! She loved it...
At one point she totted off for a little adventure all of her own. Initially she went down to the garden fence and slipped and fell on her back. She didn't cry at all but just lay there in the leaves looking up at the sky and finally made a little chirp of a "hey, I'm over here, can someone pick me up" sound. I almost didn't want to, she was so adorable laying there. Then she got braver and walked all the way from the fire ring down to the red coop to visit the chickens. If you look closely you might find her. 
We enjoyed a late afternoon walk together for Terah's second nap and visited a neighbor who is traveling through her first Christmas without her spouse (who was also our friend!). The girls had made her a set of hot pads and we brought some Tangly Woods fruit preserves. The sky was beautiful on our way home as the sun was setting.
The evening fun started with Kali shedding over a foot of her hair. She had decided to donate it at Christmas. I knew she was feeling a tad nervous about it in the days leading up but there was no turning back on the day of. Once this gal makes up her mind, she's committed!
Alida on the other hand (as is typical for her right now) didn't want Kali to cut her hair or didn't want certain hair bands used. So I not only had her open the present of about 100 new hair bands, but also her toy opossum to provide some comfort. She had wanted one for Christmas, but when she opened it she said "what is it?" We though that entry on her Christmas list was rather random and not all that thought through, but she loves it all the same. Though it pales in comparison to the doll Kali found for her at Gift and Thrift. It's amazing how this doll has a long history with us even though we just met her for the first time this Christmas. We are hearing lots about her life!
Ready for the big cut!
...and she's much lighter! It's super cute on her! And, in case you thought that was the end of our day, there was decaf coffee, and pumpkin desserts and game playing until Alida was begging to go to bed. She ended up falling asleep on the couch before we got to the nighttime routine all together...
Day 2: I watched the first time so Jason carried the baby and I did the chores!
I think my upper body would be stronger if I did this regularly. Some of these "movable coops" are indeed movable but with some muscles (and my arm muscles are not used nearly often enough other than carting around our 25 lb plus youngest!
Kali gave coop moving a try too!
The composting coop is my favorite - not only because I think the birds are the prettiest in there, but I think it's an awesome place to live. Oh to only have that big a space to keep up with. :) I would not be a fan of catching a mouse daily in my house though...
I also had to learn the duck routine! I got some glimpses into why Kali's duck chores often take her 2 plus hours. I will be cutting some corners on her routine when I do chores for her when she goes to another conference with Jason in a few weeks! 
Terah LOVES Buttercup! If she is within sight, she would really, really like to be touching her. We'll see how long until she begs for her own pet chicken. It's good he's got the Keezles breeding project going on...
Well, it appears that Kali's ducklings don't just trick Grandpa. After "not laying well" for a few days, Kali found 8 eggs (from 4 ducklings) in her free range coop. That, and the 3 in the fridge, provided all we needed for a double batch of nutty sweet potato waffles for our Christmas brunch!
Jason worked on frying up some more bacon, while I got the waffles going with the girls and also got our refried beans simmering for later in the day - and, for Christmas we went all out - all the dried beans used were grown at Tangly Woods (pretty special beans!). 

I was making waffles for a few hours (today's breakfast will be leftover sweet potato waffles french toasted!!)
It was afternoon by the time chores, brunch and presents had concluded. Terah had lasted amazingly well, but she was sacked out even before we got up the hill to pay a short visit to our neighbors and deliver some waffles!
Then for a Christmas Day hike to Hensley's Pond (I even got to enjoy holding Jason's hand and giving him a hug since the baby slept the whole way there and back - when she is awake it seems that I'm not permitted to give to or receive affection from anyone but her without her loud protest!)
I love these people!! 
So I didn't mention yet that for days leading up to our retreat and on the days themselves, Jason was fitting in working on a project in pockets of time, and often with Alida along for the fun,. Finally about an hour before dark on retreat day #2 we were ready to shoot some hoops!
Here's Terah making a basket in her alternative hoop. I love how she lifts her little hands up and then claps for herself. She was having fun (that is, until the large ball hit her, but she recovered ok):

She's an intense little gal with a mind of her own, but she's also such a fun, creative spark of curious, lively energy!
I could get into playing bball as a family! The long term goal is to pour a 24x24 concrete pad but no hurry on that, as the space already works great!
We even squeezed in some badminton and sandbox playing before dark! No pictures of this, but we all did the egg collecting and shutting in chickens and ducks before coming in to make dinner together (we skipped lunch today as our brunch of waffles held us quite nicely!)
Making homegrown/ground corn tortillas with masa: I must admit they were tricky and while delicious did not hold together great. But it was our first time! I was glad I wasn't doing it for company or by myself...
Here they are - tasty and special, and a tad crumbly. We;d love a tortilla making lesson from someone whose family has done this for generations!
After dinner, we squeezed in one more game playing session (no one had room for any more pumpkin pie after our taco dinner with the sweetest spinach from our garden!). Then it was off to bed - a worn out family from so much fun together! 

Terah is still sacked out in my arms but Alida is laying here on my bed with her new doll, Ashley (oh, and the opossum is Maggie). She just admitted that "I got it," meaning the virus that has been making its rounds. We thought she had been spared, but Jason noted she was fevered overnight and her eyes are a tad bleary this a.m. I didn't mention it, but illness was definitely part of our retreat days - Terah has had a cold for over a week and it keeps moving through different phases but has made her a tad more cranky than is typical for her and me less rested. I'm glad Alida felt good for our Christmas together and hopefully she'll be on the mend and feeling great in a few days when the Benners descend for our Christmas/New Year celebration together...

Now while it is Monday and Jason is out doing chores, while I work on laundry and breakfast and kiddo care and cleaning up the house from all our festivities and preparing for the next, I hope I can carry with me some of the ways that our Christmas weekend together was unique and special (and embed some of those components into non-retreat days too)!

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