Saturday, January 28, 2017

A bunch of tidbits - a scrapbooking post!

So other than organizing a vasectomy party, what have I/we been up to you might be wondering? Most days, much of the same: cooking, cleaning (kind of), laundry, changing diapers, nursing a baby, office work, dishes, listening to Alida's stream of consciousness, trying to keep Terah out of danger, reminding Kali to take care of her ducks, playing Rook, testing popcorn, going for walks, and we must not forget to mention adoring a little cousin/niece when she comes to visit! Terah even enjoyed holding Ivy for a long time on her last visit (since she was finally "germ-free" and could fulfill her desires to get her hands on her little cousin). I have no pictures of that, since I was occupied making sure she used all her skills of being gentle, and didn't poke her in the eye! These beautiful girls and budding sweet relationships give me hope and joy in a time when I so easily swirl into despair and anxiety (pretty much anytime I spend more than 10 seconds on facebook). 
Yes, we have not gotten out of the habit of photographing our food! I try to use some restraint but when our morning brunch includes roasted garlic and sweet potatoes, a potato crusted spinach ricotta quiche and a potato crusted sausage mozzarella quiche, it is hard not to take a picture. It brings back very fond memories - of the food and the people that ate it with me. It feels so satisfying to eat a meal like that in which almost every ingredient has passed through our hands multiple times - harvesting the potatoes to washing and shredding them, picking and blanching the spinach, butchering the hog and then grinding the sausage and then on the day of spicing it with our dried sage and fennel, getting the milk from our local farmer and making mozzarella and ricotta, and the list could go on! The memories of digging the sweet potatoes with the girls or planting and harvesting garlic - all these things make the process of making a meal so much more deeply satisfying!

After those deeply satisfying (and rather rich) meals, it feels good to get some fresh air and exercise. That part of the equation is not happening nearly as often as I would like - since getting all the young folks bundled up and ready to go out at the same time often feels like more than I can accomplish. But since Terah is normally down to 1 nap/day right now it has made the days feel a little less like a scheduling nightmare and easier to figure out moments when we have a block of time to enjoy the outdoors. And nothing seems to motivate Terah more than an offer to go outside. That is where she is currently - enjoying playing with the ducks and Buttercup with Kali! They went out after our brunch and have been out long enough for me to do most of the supper prep I needed to get done and the dishes and might I be lucky enough to also finish a blog post? 

Yesterday we went for a "girls' walk." Jason is busy working on the "winter cut back," which is more or less doing a once over on the whole property and cutting back/out some things, moving some things, pruning, etc... So while he chipped away at that multi-day/week project, we went for a wagon ride/walk. Terah is not fond of nappy walks right now so our better timing for walks is after she wakes from a nap. She'd like to walk, but can normally be persuaded to ride (at least for awhile). She's pretty cute trying to walk in her tennis shoes and her snow suit and bulky coat. Sometimes she falls flat on her face because she is a bit off balance with all the gear on. But she doesn't seem to mind. She has walked all the way up the hill with me to visit our neighbors and seems proud of her strong little legs. 
When we got back from our walk, we hung out with the ducks and Buttercup for awhile so they could get some outdoor playtime. Buttercup now spends her night in her coop and her days with the ducks. It's hilarious because it kind of seems like she has assumed they are now her adopted family. The ducks will waddle off in a line and Buttercup will run to join them. She seems to have adjusted to the new routine quite well and it's pretty funny to watch her with them. The reason they are not getting more time out is we continue to have a heck of a time with predators. Currently Jason is trying to catch/kill a fox that has mange and looks really miserable. It would be mercy to put it out of its misery, and would also mean it would not be acting desperate for food. I heard two shots yesterday morning and assumed that he had been successful, only to learn that instead it was a mink that had been under one of the chicken coops and was acting funny. Our neighbor helped him track it down and after killing it learned that it was probably blind in one if not both eyes. It also did not appear to be well. Sadly, it was later that day that Jason realized that the mink had been successful in maiming one of his hens through the wire of the coop. So that hen will be in a soup pot by the end of the day - another very obvious mercy killing. These are not our favorite things about life on the farm, but it is all part of it!

So that's a few snippets of news from the homestead. I am trying to be present to these beautiful times with our daughters! They are precious and fleeting (in that they are all very set on growing up super fast)! But it would be a lie to say that our minds and emotions often stray to things happening near and far from our homestead. Our hearts ache for loved ones who are facing hard questions as they deal with advanced prostate cancer and for the many who are at the receiving end of so much hatred and injustice in our world. It's an ongoing struggle for us to discern where our energies can make the most positive impact...

But the outdoor play time is up and a nap is on the horizon. So I'll end with not 1 or 2 but 4 videos! Terah clearly is most prominent in our video postings so I thought I'd include one here of Alida and one of Kali too.

To start here is one of Terah feeling VERY proud of her new skill. She's been "helping me" blend things for quite some time but the other day discovered she is strong enough to do it all by herself. Now none of us are supposed to help her!

It's so fun to see how little people watch the big people around them and before you know it you see them trying to follow in your footsteps. That can be a good or bad thing depending on the circumstances. Terah brushing her teeth is pretty fun to watch, even if she is not quite tall enough for her spit to get where it's supposed to go:

Alida is our creative and imaginative one right now. She comes up with songs and poems and stories and new family members on a daily basis. Sometimes I will admit that my own mind is swirling and I tune her out. When I tune back in, it's often good for a smile or chuckle. Not sure what inspired her dreaming of growing up "tall and broad" but here she is! She also is cute making up words, when she forgets one that we used that wasn't a familiar term for her. We got home from the co-op the other night where we had splurged on a few apples and some organic cheese to go with our popcorn testing. I was in nursing Terah and heard her talking excitedly to Jason about how we had "bulged" at the co-op. 

And, finally, Kali with her ducks and chicken. We were trying to get a picture and then I realized I was videotaping instead, and then the ducks were not cooperating with staying put. They thought Kali was trying to herd them home. They are funny! Enjoy...

Friday, January 27, 2017

Inventing a rite of passage

The culture we find ourselves in is falling down on the job in quite a few ways.  For that I, Jason, believe we have to blame capitalism, mass media, and the histories of colonialism and industrialism, among other factors.

One of the deficits we experience is a lack of reliable and helpful rites of passage.  People can't really tell when they have grown up or aged to a given point, and there is little by way of a circle of support or encouragement available to most of us in times of life transition.  I am generally kind of bitter and disgruntled about this...I think these and other gaps in cultural function are behind much of the psychological malaise we are so apt to over-medicate.

I have just such a life transition coming up, and in thinking ahead to it I was having some trouble moving forward.  My intuition pointed to a need for some community affirmation and support; I knew there was not a ready-made process for it, but I could feel the need.

But in a way the culture is less to blame for this time.  I can't imagine any longstanding traditional culture having crafted a rite of passage for voluntary sterilization, A.K.A vasectomy.

That's right, dear reader, I am scheduled for the ol' snippy-snip!  Big move, but it is time.  We are both quite clear that our last child is our last child.  No trouble with that decision.  But we were having a dickens of a time deciding which method to pursue.  More specifically, I was having a dickens of a time swallowing the notion of a vasectomy for myself.  But it took some plumbing of the depths to figure out why.  The procedure itself?  Fearsome in its way, but in the end no big deal.  The risks?  Pretty tame for the vast majority.  The benefits?  Real and clear.  Sooo...duh, right?

Wrong, apparently.  It took a while to realize that it was a grief process and a life transition for myself that I was contending with.  Maybe I'm the only one (so far I haven't encountered anyone else), but I feel kind of sentimental about my intact reproductive system.  All I have to do is look at these three wonderful beings (our kids) that live and grow here with us to get all internally weepy about it at any moment.  To me the fertility process is a source of wonderment and meaning.  One of the great privileges of my life has been to choose procreation:  to take the trove of traits stored in my gonads and mix them with my partner's own set to bring the wealth of our human genetic history forward into the next generation.  Is that not enough to astound the mind?  Your average mink or heron does this without probably much awareness of the implications..can procreation for them even be thought of as a choice?  But I am a human, so I did choose it, with all the awareness and appreciation I could muster, and I am very grateful.

The other side of that coin is that humans can also imagine the implications of procreation when wisdom would suggest holding off, and so are faced with a different kind of choice.  The animal in me recoils at the thought of purposely altering my body, permanently, so as to prevent any further pregnancies.  What self-respecting life form would ever make such a choice?  Even for humans, this notion is relatively new.  Prevention of pregnancy through various means is not new...many traditional cultures had ways of establishing spacing and procreation patterns that helped them craft a way of life commensurate with their setting.  But destroying one's fertility?  That's another matter.

Bit of a dilemma.   Logically, the choice was clear.  Emotionally, it daunted me.  I decided I needed some help convincing myself that the time was really upon me.  I didn't want to go into the procedure unready.  I needed a ritual.  I told Janelle in one of our conversations on the topic that what I felt like I wanted was to be able to go the village elders and tell them I thought I was ready to be sterilized, and for them to say, "Oh, what makes you think so?"  Then, having thoroughly questioned me and heard my justification, they would say, "Well, maybe you're right, I suppose it is time.  We'll notify the medicine woman and the musicians, and you tell your family to prepare their blessing.  We'll bring the special costume and ceremonial mask to the meeting hut the first day of next week.  Everyone else will gather for the ceremony and feast at sundown, but you show up an hour earlier for a cleansing bath."

Barring that, we threw a little party.  I sent out an email invite to a few selected-for-the-purpose male friends with "Vasectomy Party" in the subject line.  With characteristic wit my friend Tim replied-to-all, "Another great party concept by Jason Myers-Benner."  This called to mind images of a Tupperware-like gathering where deep discounts on quality vasectomies would be available to party-goers, with a urologist on premises and all normal waiting periods waived.  I reassured the fellows that there would be no sales pressure.

What we did have in mind was a simple discussion/support circle, some snacks, and a little ping-pong, time permitting.  I came up with a bit of subject matter that suited my needs as best I could discern them, and waited for the RSVPs.  To my surprise, this was one of the more popular gatherings I have called.  I think we ended up with over a 75 percent affirmative response rate among locals.  My interpretation of it was that other guys were eager for a chance to talk about the subject.

The gathering itself and the nature of the discussion corroborated the hunch.  Simply put, it was great.  Just what I needed, or as close as it was going to get.  Guys shared their experience of and wisdom around vasectomy, others their own misgivings or ignorance...a good time was had by all.  The snacks, provided by Janelle with some loosely themed on symbolism and visual form related to male genitalia, were gratefully consumed, and the ping-pong session hit the spot.  In the end, maybe just scheduling something and getting people to show up met the biggest part of the need, and I was lucky enough that it was a meaningful and affirming time, to boot!

So, DIY ritual?  Sort of.  And it seems to have worked.  I am looking towards the vasectomy date with a calm confidence as my dominant mode.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Launching T.W., illness, and family times

As our regular readers may remember, Jason's 2016 prediction (really more like a resolution) was to read one book/month. We expanded that to include a family process for deciding which book, and then Jason reporting back to us via a written book report (which was posted in this space for interested readers). This year's focus is on carving out writing time for Jason - the long term dream is a book, the short term goal is a blog post each month on our website! As of today the intro for 2017, with some reflections pertinent to this day in our country's history, is up (see and January's post is on the home page: If you'd like to receive notifications in the future of new postings, just go to the home page, scroll down, and on the right you will see a "subscribe via email" option. This writing experience will be all the richer for Jason (and for our whole family) if folks engage with him in response to it - so your comments, critiques, affirmations, questions, stories, etc... are all welcome!

In my arms as I type this post is a sacked out 15 month old. She's had quite the week, which means we've had quite the week! About a week ago she spiked a fever. For 3-4 days she was our cuddle bug, and when with me nursing almost nonstop (which is likely why I'm once again nursing a plugged duct as she feels better and slows her frequency of nursing again - argh!). She didn't have a lot of other symptoms, so we were a bit perplexed by the whole thing. She was plenty crabby, and was once again sleeping horribly at night. She would cough every now and then and seemed to have a sore throat. She also seemed a bit off balance and we caught her playing with her ear a few times. Strep throat? Ear infection? She never seemed lethargic, more just washed out by days of a fever on and off. Finally the fever subsided on day 4 and within hours I noticed a rash cropping up on her torso/face. Something clicked in my mind and a little internet research confirmed that she likely had Roseola or Fifth Disease. We were glad that was a closer match to her symptoms than say scarlet fever (which we were also googling!). So it seemed the best course was to carry on/ride it out!

We are still riding it out, but we think the major waves are beyond us. Sleep has improved for her, and therefore me, in the last night or two, and she will take off to play with her sisters again for snippets of time (not needing to be in my arms 24/7). She had two especially rough days this week - my office days. It seems she can now remember loved ones when they are gone and the one day she spent the first 1/2 hour of the day walking around the house looking for me, accompanied by pitiful wailing (or so I was told). Hate that! I'm glad today she is much more of her spunky self - in other words trying to climb on things again and get herself into all sorts of dangerous predicaments).

We decided to proceed with our family night plans last evening since it seemed that a diversion would be good for all of us (and since all signs pointed to the contagious stage of her illness being pre-rash). So despite her face looking pretty bad at points in the evening (it seems to come and go, sometimes hardly noticeable and sometimes rather impressive looking), we enjoyed our night on the town. We've been aiming for one family night/month (that was 2016's plan), where we each take turns planning the night. Of course, never content to leave things as they are and always good at mixing things up to make them more complicated, our 2017 added a new twist. We now plan one family night together each quarter, we each get to plan one family outing a year (so one each quarter since Terah's not ready to get in the line up yet) and then one family retreat day each quarter (we each get to plan one of those days). The retreat days have the parameter of not getting in the car. The jointly planned family nights and the individually planned ones can include an outing and possibly the expenditure of some cash to make it happen. So still 1 thing/month, I just have to make sure to keep track of what that 1 thing is. Our kids get so into planning these things and it is clearly making special memories so it's worth it!

Yesterday's was more of a family afternoon/evening, as we picked up the girls around 2:30 from their friends' home in time to get to town to check out the Fire Department's Museum (closes at 4). We all agreed it was interesting to go, we enjoyed our time there (we had the place to ourselves) and we are unlikely to feel the need to return. It was a great impetus for talking together about fire safety and establishing our meeting spot outside (the far end of the pine trees) in case of a fire. We also determined that some future family time will need to include the fun of practicing getting out various rooms through the windows. We'll try to keep it light, as Alida is at the age/stage where things can easily inspire fear in her. I think the museum and the games there and the bag of goodies she came home with was a good way to address the subject with her. She wasn't, however, interested in donning the gear!

I mistakenly left my camera at home so snapped a few pictures at the museum with my phone and then just soaked up the rest of the evening without a thought to pictures. The one plus of a family outing to town is we were able to park in one location and walk to everything from there, using the car as our pit stop for diaper changes, restocking supplies, unloading things accumulated, etc...

After the museum, we went to the Visitor's Center by the main library for Kali to get some brochures of things she might like to do for our next family night that she is in charge of. Terah snagged a nap in my arms while I sat in one of the side rooms there and watched a video on the civil war battles that took place in the Shenandoah Valley. I left feeling rather pensive, to say the least (as I looped through the entire video more than once while she nursed), as I pondered the valley's history and thought about its future.

Next stop: well the library of course. We are now well stocked with new reading material for the next few weeks. And it was even a productive visit as both Jason and I had outdated library cards so they are now renewed (I knew about mine and it had been on my mental list to take care of for months - didn't even know Jason's was out of date so we got that taken care of before it ever made its way to a list!). After we relieved our arms of the bags of library books, we set off the fill our bellies.

Our initial plan had been the Indian & American Cafe. But we had enjoyed walking around town and looking at the other restaurant options that we had never tried before. We ended up deciding on a Mexican restaurant that we were told by a customer, while we were standing outside looking at the menu, served excellent food. We enjoyed the chips, salsa, burritos, quesadillas, and fajitas. I don't consider myself super picky when it comes to food - I can enjoy a wide variety of foods. And it was a fun new experience to have as a family and the girls enjoyed their time (including the spiral staircase we took to get to our dining location)! I imagine you know a "but" is coming. It's just hard to have that compare to this morning's brunch: roasted sweet potatoes with garlic, potato crusted ricotta spinach quiche and potato crusted pork sausage and mozzarella quiche. Truly a hearty Tangly Woods meal that spoils us for most restaurant fair!

We made it home in time for Jason to keep working at his writing project (mentioned above) and for us to fit in a little popcorn taste testing (gotta keep moving on that project or we won't know what seed to use come planting time!). It's such a hardship! :) The girls and I played some rounds of Phase 10 until it was clear that the day needed to end so we could all get refreshed for the next one. Terah's been so clear when she wants to cuddle and fall asleep. She'll even walk crying to the recliner in our bedroom and pat it or lean on it. Still no explosion of words, but she can communicate what she wants most of the time! She did that again this morning when she determined it was nap time - off to the bedroom she went beckoning me to join her! And that is where we still are and I better shift gears to get some work done before she wakes...

Saturday, January 14, 2017

VABF Conference report by Jason

At the urging of some close friends (one of whom is on the board of VABF…no conflict of interest there), we decided to finally cave to the gravity of the Virginia Association of Biological Farming, by which I mean Kali and I went to the conference.  I think I have known about the association since within a few years of its inception, since around that time is when I was spending an afternoon per week at Glen Eco Farm, and Marlin and Christine Burkholder have been members all along, so far as I know.
But I am not especially a joiner.  It is way too easy to get spread way too thin with involvements, and conferences are not cheap.  I have always thought it was a good idea to have a VABF.  Glad people are doing it.  But I wasn’t convinced our connecting to it would be important enough to either them or us for us to put the time and money into it.
Maybe that was right, and maybe it was stupid.  But whether we’re late on the draw or finally ready, I think the timing was good for connecting with the Association and some of its members, a few of whom I already knew.  I am not especially an online person, so although many of the connections and most of the information technically could be available other ways, I for one still believe there is no substitute for the person-to-person element.
I think I’ll just do a brief chronology of the three days, with maybe a comment or three as I deem it helpful for our family’s memory-keeping and anyone else’s getting a taste of the events.
We left home Monday the 9th with a few bags and pillows and sleeping bags and a trunk full of chickens.  Oh, and a mandolin, just in case.
The chickens were bound for the home of some early-stage homesteading friends deep in the Allegheny Mountains of Highland County.  Appropriately enough, these were Allegheny chickens: one of my poultry (hopefully not paltry) inventions.  They were the last Alleghenies I had.  This sale represented the completed launch of the breed into its intended bioregion.  The delivery was a pleasure in itself; if the flocks of this breed serve their caretakers well and it flourishes, then any association I continue to have with it will involve trips to the Allegheny Mountains, and visits to farms and homesteads perched on mountainsides, tucked into hollows, or—as in the case of this one—both.  We spent an hour or a bit more getting the chickens settled, talking over their Mangalitsa pigs, and walking the lane and yard of the home these fine folks are working so hard to grow in a place so achingly beautiful you could forget to leave.  On the way back to our car, we discussed parenting, schooling, homeschooling, unschooling.  Chickens are the context or excuse for these kinds of contacts, but the substance is connection to land, home, family, others—a restoration of what industrialists and capitalists have buttered their bread by disrupting.  The image that sticks in my mind is the little group of us entering their tiny off-grid cabin (still under construction…they live elsewhere for the moment), coming in out of the 16 degree mountain evening that was pushing its cold right through our clothes.  I won’t say it was warm in there (though the buckets of water were not frozen…yay for passive solar design!), but compared to outside it was so welcome.  Their baby stopped fussing, we all relaxed our taught, stiff muscles a bit.  As we walked away back to their car, there was such a distinct impression of one definition of home:  a little spot you’ve made where you can find some relief from the cold.
Where was I?  Oh, yes, heading to the conference.
What a shock.  The conference was held at the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, VA (Bath County).  Our entire home, plus in-law quarters, would easily have fit into the lobby.  Twice.  Maybe four times by volume.  Not kidding.
Of course, we couldn’t get into the lobby right away.  First we had to turn down multiple offers of valet parking (we had been tipped off that tips are expected, and I only had eight bucks in my wallet) and find the overflow self-park lot.  After being nearly forcibly separated from our bags, we went in and figured out room stuff, the details of which might make entertaining writing if neither you nor I had anything better to you.  Let’s laugh about it over tea later.  I’ll just say funny things happen when you are crashing on the floor of a friend’s suite in a swanky resort.
Anyway, once getting our heads back on our shoulders by giggling with our friends about how silly it all was, Kali and M (Kali’s good bud) and I went to the pool.  I am not sure whether it was the water (we were staying at a hot springs, after all), but if so they added Chlorine in quantity.  But there was something about it that was different, since I was more buoyant than I can remember having ever been and I didn’t gain that much weight over Christmas.  So I’ll bet it was mineral water.  With bleach.
While there I taught the kids some classic splashing techniques, we did some contests, soaked, played sharks and minnows with two other conference families, etc.  It was a very luxurious pool, especially at the inlet, where bath-temperature water gushed from a semi-circular cascade.  It was fun at the pool to try to guess who was a regular swanky hotel guest and who was there with the conference.  The older couple that walked ahead of us to the pool suite had such a dignified affect, and seemed so at ease in the environment.  Bingo.  Rich folk.  Later I sat next to the husband at one of the sessions.  So much for that.  Maybe I deserved the water in my ear that bugged me as I went to sleep that night.
Other than water in my ear and some relaxing exercise, what I got out of the pool time was a possible gig at next year’s conference.  One of the sharks-and-minnows Dads, it turned out, was husband to the conference coordinator, who was soaking in the shallow end with some friends.  We made our acquaintance drying off at the poolside (awkward but disarming, I suppose, for a first contact), and I pitched my idea for a presentation then and there.  We were utterly without pens and paper at the time, but made more productive contact later.  It looks promising.  Topic:  bioregionally specific agriculture and food products as culture-builders and economic drivers.
In a way, that met my main goal for the conference, and I hadn’t even eaten the first continental breakfast!  The rest was gravy, man.
I would like to give a quick listing of all the sessions Kali and I attended together, for a record for us and a flavor sample for you.  Keep in mind this represents about one fifth of the total sessions offered:
The Big Food Talk—Meredith Leigh
Food philosophy and systemic patterns; where we are at this point in history. Perfect for me.
Winter Squash Breeding and Research—Edmund Frost
Involved a taste test!  We are selling spinach and onion seed through Edmund this year.
Pastured Poultry Production—Erica Hellen and Joel Slezak
Best technical session I attended.  Joel said they’d try some of our Shenandoahs!
Debt-Free Farmsteading—Hari and Karl Berzins
The 2008 crash stole their dreams and kicked them into the freedom we all need.
Sustainable Freshwater Aqua-Farming—Dr. Lynn Blackwood
Less applicable to us…wholly commercially focused.  Sustainable?  Maybe.
What is Biodynamic Agriculture?—Alex Tuchman
I didn’t know, and I was curious.  So I went.  Now I’m more curious.
Growing the Seed Garden—Ira Wallace
A few good tips, and a chance to watch Ira Wallace of SESE in action.  I admire her.
That’s it.  Then we went home.
But the in-between times: that is probably where the most action happened.  Based on things I said in Q and A forums a few people approached me about chickens or seeds.  I delivered seed for sale through Common Wealth Seed Growers, talked to soil experts and fellow agricultural nerds, bought a seed saving book, made a contact for another chicken workshop gig and even made a few new friends.  And Kali was there for the whole thing, and enjoying it.  I felt like a pretty lucky guy.
Many thanks to Janelle and her parents whose careful tending of people and animals made my attending and Kali’s a possibility.  I hope the payoff is rich for all of us.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Leaves, Laughter, and Lament

I don't often have a blog post title before the text itself, but these three words came to mind as I sat down to jot a few thoughts down, as well as share a few pictures and videos.

One of the markers of fall for us is that it is "leaf collecting time." We are known with some of our neighbors as being folks who are very happy to come rake and haul away leaves that are unwanted. This year was no different - in our desire for leaves (lots and lots and lots of leaves - is there such a thing as too many leaves?). What was different this year was that our good intentions did not always match the time available to follow through on them. I was starting feel rather embarrassed when communicating with our neighbor about raking at their place. It felt like about every week or two I would check in if it was a good week to come over and collect and then at the end of the week I'd send my regrets for not ever getting over. We had more or less used up much of the large pile Jason and the older girls had collected at a few others' places in the fall and were in need of restocking. So yesterday and today were the days and we finally made good on our word. They were lovely days, if not a little unsettling being this warm in January. My parents are in their home upstairs right now, which meant that they were happy to have Terah hang with them to free me up some on both days some to work with Jason. Every time we get a chance to work side by side, we are reminded once again how very much we like doing just that! It was fun to wake up this morning both feeling that good tired sore feeling from hard work, and then to both note that our legs felt a tad like play dough on our morning run together.

The leaves are not just good organic matter, they are a lot of fun for the young and old alike. I watched as Jason took a break today to run and do a flip into the big pile. And yesterday when the girls' friends were over, there were all sorts of games taking place in the leaf pile. Terah got to enjoy a few wheelbarrow rides, and some stomping around in the leaves. She also had her first experience of the tire swing in the woods (which is on the path to our neighbors) and it was a big big hit! She would clasp her little fingers tightly around the rope, which was very handy for her swinging safely and not so easy to get her off when Alida's turn came around!

There's been a lot of fun and special times in our household this week. That is pretty typical every week, but there is an added specialness that is unmatched when Grandma and Grandpa Myers are upstairs. Kali is not up there as often as she's got her ducks to meticulously tend and often gets side tracked reading (amazing how the minutes can fly by), but the two younger gals are pretty much always ready to head up the stairs! It's pretty sweet for me to watch the love and enjoyment flow both directions! We've also enjoyed having my folks come our way for some meals, particularly those weekly amazing meals that Kali makes for us (a baked potato meal is on the menu for tonight, which is why I'm blogging and not cooking).

There were two days recently that the older girls didn't spend quite as much time upstairs since there was some snow (ok, a very little bit of snow) on the ground! It was also VERY cold, but that did not deter Kali or Alida from going out to break in the sleds for the year and throw some snowballs. I think they love snow just about as much as their Grandma M does (which is saying something)!

I was very grateful for Mom and Dad's presence this week especially as Kali and Jason went off to Hot Springs, VA for two fulls days for the Virginia Association of Biological Farming conference - Jason's head is still swimming and his list of follow up contacts is long. One of the many exciting things about it is that we passed off our first seeds (spinach and onion) that will be marketed by a local seed company this year. Jason also made some great chicken contacts AND on their way to the conference he sold his Allegheny breed of chickens (one chicken project has gotten its wings and flown elsewhere - though no doubt Jason will be keeping close tabs on it and likely consulting with the current owners and other interested persons in the months ahead). It was very fun to hear their stories of the conference as it happened to take place this year at a rather upscale resort - a cultural experience for both of them (Kali is adjusting just fine to only having one spoon and one fork at mealtimes again). I was glad to split chores with my dad, and it is a tad sobering I will admit to think of Mom and I keeping everything going with Dad, Jason or Kali for 10 days in March/April. But we will rise to the occasion!

So it's been awhile since I've shared any videos so I'll share two. The first one has a rather surprising ending, and by the fast end to the video you can ascertain that it was a big surprise for me when it happened too! Thankfully no major injuries sustained and we have gotten a lot of good laughs from it since! Enjoy...

The second one is to give you just a small taste to a very regular after meal occurrence in our home. It's so common that once Terah is out of her high chair she will sometimes go over to the carpet, pat it and call for Daddy to come over. He is to lay down and act like he is going to relax and stretch and then he normally gets tackled. Or the request for "acrobatic team of the century" starts. And it is popular with both Terah and Alida. Terah is pretty into the idea of them taking turns (on this, not the tire swing). If Alida is in a different room she may even go looking for her. And, not to leave anyone out, Kali is now in the line up for gals that need to have turns. It's pretty cute - and it normally enables me to get the dishes done. Bonus!

So what's to lament? Definitely not growing, happy and healthy girls, leaves in abundance, new learning and connections, the joys of multi-generational living, fresh air and hard work, fresh carrots in January, and more sleep (yes, this must be mentioned briefly - Terah has officially transitioned to 1 nap/day and we should have done it sooner - no fighting to get her to sleep as she can almost not make it through lunch and then she is very ready for bed at a reasonable time in the evening. It's been good for my sleep and our relationship - another thing to celebrate). The lament comes as I let doses in of what is happening at the macro-level, in our society and our country right now (much of it has been happening for some time, but for some of us it is more blatantly apparent now than it has been). I continue to wrestle with how my life can be used to make the most effective impact for good in our world!

Terah has rejoined me so this will have to be a good stopping point for now!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ways and Reasons to Celebrate--New Year's with the Benners

What does Christmas mean to me (Jason)?  Had I access to the back of the box from the 1500-piece puzzle my (Benner) family has put together every year for the past nearly three decades, I could give you the mostly harmless version put forward in poem form there.  We had never noticed the poem before.  After my sister A read it aloud dutifully poker-faced, I said to Kali, "Remember that conversation we had the other day when we were trying to find a good definition of 'trite'...?"  It strikes me as possible that we had read it before, but had all forgotten it, because it didn't really say anything even though most of what it said was true on some level; my working definition of the word.

Just one of many enjoyable--and characteristically amusing and intellectual--moments in the Benner Christmas gathering which occurred on and around the New Year's weekend.  This is the second year, I think, that it has been held in Keezletown rather than the ancestral homestead in Pennsburg, PA. The justification for this break with convention is that there are two Benner babies in Keezletown these days, and there are as many family units here as in Pennsburg, plus Pennsburg and Keezletown are roughly equidistant from each of the other two siblings' spots.  Therefore, the pull of tradition has lost out to the hard facts of logistics and wear and tear on parents' states of mind.  Thanksgiving is hard to imagine anywhere but Pennsburg (more central to the larger family's logistical web), but at least for the time being Keezletown is getting the Christmas nod.  Five hours on the highway is just really different for the under two set than for everyone else.  We are most grateful to have avoided the ordeal, and truth be known we would have had to bow out.

Which would have been felt as a loss, particularly by our eldest.  A day or two ago Alida was being her usual spunky self and sounding off about nothing in particular, saying antisocial things immediately followed by their contradiction (she is so 5).  She spouted, "I hate Christmas!"  "Really?", Kali said, playing along.  Then, in undisguised sincerity, "I love Christmas."

For a sweet, warm, interested 13-year-old like her, what's not to love?  A whole bunch of people who have loved you and paid you attention for the whole of your life but whom you don't see often gather in one place to prepare and eat delicious food, tell stories, give gifts, laugh, and lounge together for a few days at the beginning of winter.  Maybe if your other options are having your senses flooded with fast-moving media or school-clique minidramas, it could seem boring.  If your other options are hanging out with your family, taking care of your ducks, or reading, it is a shimmering treasure in the year.  My childhood was in many ways much like hers, except for school (I went).  Holidays were similarly wonderful.  What a gift, and what an education!  I am so pleased that she is picking up on what matters.

What did we actually do together?  Well, I can't remember us gathering around a screen even once, which might be the main difference in our family schedule from the mainstream.  Otherwise it was pretty typical, I would think.  Eat, talk, play games, wash dishes, make cookies, eat, give some presents, wash dishes, enjoy some drinks, shoot some hoops (put that new net to some use!), split and stack some firewood together, meander around the gardens a little, talk, talk, eat, talk, wash dishes, etc., etc.  Nice family time, in other words.

One thing we have done recently that is a little unusual, very rewarding, and easily replicable is that each year my sister C has been collecting, on New Year's Eve, predictions (not resolutions, exactly) for the coming year.  Interspersed with the collecting is the reading out and collective judging of the previous year's predictions.  This is every bit as simple and fun as it sounds.  It requires only a kind family with a reasonable attention span and one member with initiative to lead the activity and another with the wherewithal to keep track of a piece of paper for a year.  C fills both functions for us.

I feel that I could easily become dependent on the rituals we are fast accumulating around the new year for my sense of transition between years.  Certainly I felt way more ready to accept the fact of 2017 being the actual, factual, current year after having toasted out the old and in the new on that night.  How helpful to have a ceremony for reviewing the past year and getting set for the one coming on!  It feels so fitting to do this with the people I have loved the longest and the best.

Given this spirit of reflection and anticipation, we were pleased to discover that the meal we prepared for the Benner "Christmas Feast" mirrored in edible symbology the New Year's ethos that has emerged.  Tradition states that pork (paired with sauerkraut...can't remember why) is the auspicious choice for a New Year's celebration since the pig forages by rooting in a forward direction.  Chicken is inauspicious since it forages by scratching in reverse.  We made both!

I'll detail that meal in particular, even though all the food we ate was special and delicious (ok, so the conventional candies are an exception...sometimes yummy but it's a stretch to call them special when they shoot off the production line at the rate they do and at the societal/environmental cost they do). Mom's pies and gingerbread houses, K's quiches, C+M's snacks, J's potstickers...all scrumptious and I could go on!

Janelle and I decided we wanted to provide and prepare the Christmas Feast for everyone, and to challenge ourselves to source as much of it as possible from our own stores of food: grown, harvested, and preserved by us, here, during the past growing season.  Here is the menu:

1 salt-cured ham from one of our pigs.  Long-boiled, then oven-browned.
3 roasted chickens, butchered a few days ahead, aged in fridge.  Lightly herbed and buttered.
Lentil cheese loaf (for C the vegetarian) with homemade cheese from our local milk share
Stewed tomatoes and shallots (for the lentil loaf) - was there ever a more succulent combo?
Ham gravy thickened with our home grown/ground barley flour
Chicken gravy
Sweet potatoes roasted with garlic and olive oil
Mashed white potatoes
Dilly beans
Steamed turnips with butter
Garden peas (1 small bag left in the freezer yet from 2016)
Cut sweet corn
Cranberry salad

Not every ingredient was from our place.  The cranberry salad had apples and oranges from the store and we picked the wild cranberries in WVa, the butter came from our neighbor's milk (we skimmed and churned it), the olive oil is imported of course, we gleaned the sweet corn from a neighbor's field, and all the salt and pepper were from afar, as were a few other ingredients (especially for the lentil loaf). But everything else was as local as it gets.  It seemed that that notion held meaning for more than just us, and some made a point of mentioning the fact, which was welcome.  To us it felt like a real accomplishment; the fulfillment of long-held dreams and ambitions of ours.  Also, if I do say so myself, it was among the most savory, simple, and satisfying meals of my life.  A way to celebrate and a reason to celebrate rolled into one.

May the 2017 of each person who reads this post be filled with many such celebrations of his or her own kind.  Happy New Year to you!

ps. And once all the Benner's made their departure we rang in the New Year just the five of us by making fresh gingerbread with our recently harvested ginger, eaten with an applesauce yogurt combo OR a lemon sauce made with our one and only ripe lemon from our tree. Yet another unique culinary experience! The other thing that we are attempting to make into a New Year's tradition is getting our onions and leeks seeded. We didn't quite get it done on January 1st but by the 3rd the shelf was installed in the common room and trays of seeds were in there to remind us that spring is a coming!