Wednesday, May 24, 2017


We arrived home today from three really delightful days at Lost River State Park! It was a birthday present from my parents to me that the whole family got to enjoy! All the lovely memories of times shared will very soon rise to the surface, as soon as the kids get over their post-vacation let down and the parents get unpacked, caught up on laundry and make it through these clingy crabby times!

We hadn't even left the cabin before Alida was noting that we need to come back again. And Terah, when we got home, did not want to unpack and was getting really agitated and sad as she patted the suitcases. When we inquired it was very clear that she wanted to return to the cabin. I understand the feeling and am quite certain we will return. In the meantime, I'm feeling more or less strung out and am only typing now since Kali has gotten Terah entertained playing with stickers/markers and Alida is sacked out. I'm so glad Alida is sleeping as she so desperately needed rest. I also finally learned why every time she saw me since we got home she gave me a sad puppy face and clung to me. She wouldn't tell me why she was sad and I was clueless. Finally through tears as I was brushing her teeth she reminded me that when Terah was using the kid rocking chair on the porch before we left I had promised her a turn. Well, by the time I got myself out of the cabin she was already out at the car with Grandma and Grandpa and I feel quite certain I would never have remembered in my whole life that she hadn't sat on the chair one last time. Sigh! She clearly felt rather heartbroken by the whole thing, made 10x worse due to her exhaustion. We'll hope that as my dad used to remind me, "she'll feel better in the morning!"

Terah gained a bit of independence in our three days away. While the older girls and Jason were at soccer we slipped outside for a few moments of fresh air and to see how the gardens were growing - this was between major rain showers! So much growth! I grabbed a bunch of garlic scapes, asparagus and kale and then with my hands full was trying to coax Terah back to the house. She had found the sand and fire ring and was quite content. I was trying to convince her to come back for a bowl to pick tea. I got pretty insistent about my need to head to the house. She just looked up at me, waved her little hand and said, "bye." Well, there you have it! So I took myself to the house, dropped off my load, and came back to find her where I left her. :) She then joined me for tea picking and returned without too much fuss. The fuss came soon after that when she wanted to brush her teeth, right before being invited upstairs for some fresh strawberry shortcake. And what a fuss it was! Her screams are still ringing in my ears and I'm feeling that very distinct rattled feeling I only feel after such an episode. Once again feeling grateful to Kali for the brief reprieve I'm experiencing now!

But I'm not thinking I'll be able to write much so I'll go the quick route - some photos with captions that will hopefully give a tiny taste of our time prior to leaving and the lovely time away!
We didn't have to miss any soccer with our Sun-Wed getaway. Here's my side kick at soccer practices! She seems to enjoy having mom all to herself on the sidelines and even makes friends with some of the other spectators at times!
I continue to enjoy watching Kali improve and enjoy the sport! She even had a shot on goal recently. Jason has taken over coaching Alida's team for the remainder of the season since they had to replace all the JMU coaches when school ended. 

Last incubator hatch of the year. Jason's marking them and getting ready to take them out to put under a mama hen who hatched some at the same time. There are chicks all over the place this spring. The broody hens keep cropping up and Jason can't seem to keep himself from putting eggs under them!

Here are Kali's ducklings before we went away for three days! They are so much bigger already and job #1 after we got home was for Kali and Jason to get them situated outside in their new pen. They are having a rainy first evening out there without their "mom" (the brooder they have gotten warm under/around since their arrival). 

I love this picture because it captures one of Terah's "looks." She has several! Here Alida had told her something not to do to the ducklings that she did not approve of. This, I believe, was taken the morning we were getting ready to head out.

Now at Lost River! We thought it would be appropriate to try my first hard cheese on our little getaway. It was a SUCCESS! Farm house cheddar - somewhere between a medium and sharp cheddar. Yes, I'm pretty excited about it!

The beeswax outer shell peeled off easily! Thinking I might get the next batch started tomorrow. We'll see if the stars align or not... Until I have a cheese press we'll have to be creative but now that we know it is delicious, it's worth it!
Here's the girls outside our little cabin. It was a sweet little home away from home - well built and plenty of room for the 7 of us, especially since we were outside as much as possible!

We cooked all our evening meals outside. Jason and I were SO thankful for Kali, Mom and Dad to help with Terah. And we are so thankful for the design of our fire ring at home. It was a very wise move for Jason to build it high up off the ground. It was nerve-wracking to have Terah running around the fire here, so we all rotated being "on Terah duty." 

There is nothing like eating outside, food cooked over a fire. We got to enjoy all sorts of pizza pocket combinations since we had three meals to play around with different combos. I will have to say that the toasted cheese with homemade ricotta, mozzarella AND cheddar was over the top!

Hiking was a big hit - see Terah's little swinging arms. She always wanted to walk and did really well considering the uneven terrain and her little legs being a good bit shorter than ours! I was so grateful to Mom for keeping the two younger girls for a few hours the one day so that Kali, Dad, Jason and I could go for a long hike to an amazing lookout spot. 

There were lots of playgrounds with slides. A big, big hit! The only bad part about the playgrounds was leaving them. 

The place was ideal for our girls - I have no doubt they could be happy there for a full week and still not explore everything they want to check out!

I was especially taken by the blooming mountain laurel!

Terah got her fill of "fouwas."

A moment before I took this Mom was in the middle and I was noting how tall Kali was! They make a pretty sweet trio!

There was a stream right outside our cabin and in many other places around the park. Terah would call out "wa wa" whenever she saw the stream. AND she wanted to get in! There were some tears also associated with that desire not aligning with the weather or our plans...

This gal could have been happy damming the stream for hours and hours.

This gal thought she could be but my the water got chilly after awhile. I rescued her right after this photo with a towel and some cuddles!
Speaking of cuddles, it's just about time for that. I'm starting to hear an occasional "ma ma" from the next room so my presence is being inquired about. So far, just replying that I'm right here has been enough to get her back into playing but that will only last for a matter of minutes most likely. So might as well wrap this up for now, as life here continues on and I doubt I'll get back to write more about our time away.

In closing, here's my short list of highlights: two full days off email for the first time in years, playing games, eating over the fire, trying our first hard cheese, snuggling up to read stories with Terah, hiking in the woods, TWO hikes with just Jason, getting to have a unique hour plus "Tangly Woods check in" with Mom and Dad (maybe also for the first time in years?! or at least many months!), watching our girls delight in time in the woods and by the stream, seeing a little chipmunk outside our bedroom window that didn't know I was watching it, seeing many beautiful flowers, hearing many birds singing, breathing in the woods' air, looking out over the mountains and taking in gorgeous views, feeling that good tired in my legs at night, taking a nap, sliding down the curvy sliding board with Terah, swinging, and I'm sure the list could go on and one (but I'm outta steam and time!). Thanks Mom and Dad for a great birthday present!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Family gardening times!

We've been chomping at the bit to get our hands in the soil recently! Hosting graduation parties and house concerts along with the fear of frost kept us away from the main summer garden planting for a time. And then the rain just didn't want to let up for awhile. But now we've been enjoying sunshine in abundance and this family is getting stuff in the ground! AND loving it... Ok, so we have our moments - Jason's "hope for the day" at breakfast was that he would not lose his patience today with his family while we gardened together. :) I think he has done pretty well thus far, though Terah wanting to tear into the 6-packs of tomatoes without help was tempting him to lose his cool! She is so cute wanting to be right in the thick of it (cute when not actually being destructive or picking off our white strawberries or plucking the going to seed asparagus). She was mighty cute carrying the tomatoes down to the garden and hollering "daddy" at the top of her lungs so he would notice what a big girls she was being!

We kicked off the first family gardening day on Mother's Day! The day was made extra special when our former Tangly Woods' member, Jonathan, called up and asked to join us for a few hours. It was a treat to have someone join us who 1. the girls love having around (Terah was even holding his hand and sitting on his lap and Alida was doing her best to distract him from gardening!), 2. we love having around, and 3. knows our place very intimately and can celebrate with us the many changes/transformations that have taken place especially the last few years. I can't quite imagine anyone other than us who would get as excited about the bin of duff (collected from under a brush pile after a biochar burn) we are mixing with our humanure compost right now to spread on garden beds before planting. The stuff is amazing!!!

Our first family gardening day was focused on getting seeds in the ground. We had gotten our corn in earlier (as we were feeling determined to beat the folks across the road who plant GMO corn and make it very hard for us to be able to save seed). On mother's day we seeded cilantro, cucumbers, cantalope, costata romanesca, sweet dumpling squash, spaghetti squash, trombone squash, delicata squash, buckwheat and okra (and probably some things I'm forgetting!). We followed up the evening of our 18th wedding anniversary planting a field of lentils/oats with our two youngest while Kali was at a birthday sleepover!

Today the focus was on getting plants in the ground. Now tucked into the ground with an ample supply of compost are lots of tomatoes, hot/sweet peppers and basil plants. It looks like the sweet potatoes and regular potatoes will wait for the next opportunity (along with our watermelon, sunflowers, beans and some other things not in yet). I don't know how to articulate how amazing it is for us to see our soil improve year after year - the organic matter is increasing and the rock load decreasing! And we have compost! Enough of it!!! In addition to our soils improving the other exciting thing is that our ability to work together outside is only going to keep increasing. That is a very exciting prospect especially for the parents in this household! I actually got to spread compost, clear beds for planting and water lots of stuff in today - with relatively happy, content and even sometimes helpful children hanging around! The shady fire ring and watering cans and the  hydrant are our main life savers for extending work time all together outside (for the two youngest - Kali pretty much sticks with us the whole time at this point!).
It's a hot day today so we were all glad for our break a little before noon. We gathered at the picnic table (which we moved into the shade) and guzzled a gallon of mint tea while also enjoying homemade vanilla pudding, soaked/dehydrated pecans and sliced fresh strawberries (along with Alida's invention of adding mint leaves to the combo - she's on a peppermint craze, picking enough to make peppermint pesto the other night and then donating her mint dark chocolate bar for melting/coating!). No, the berries are not our own strawberries - we just learned of an organic pick-your-own place in Broadway and happened to be right by it after our marathon of dentist appointments yesterday so checked it out. The berries are large and abundant - not succulent like home grown varieties that don't hold up for market, but good!

Well clearly the morning work wore Terah out as she is on her 3rd hour of her afternoon nap! Time to get her up for a little more outside time and then soccer practice/games this evening (finally won't be rained out). I'll close with one of my favorite sites of late - these beautiful three snuggled up together at night! And then of one of the many flowers bursting forth with color in Nora's garden!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Kali's Dutch Hookbill ducklings!

The subject of this blog post gives away the most exciting news from Tangly Woods today. But lest I get ahead of myself, here's a few fun tidbits from last evening. There's no doubt that the person most excited to have a little cousin down the road right now is Terah. She is completely smitten with baby Ivy, who she refers to as "I I." There's almost no better guarantee of happiness than to tell Terah that baby Ivy is coming over or that she is going to get to play with or hold Ivy or that we can look at some pictures or videos of Ivy. It's really sweet as she also obviously remembers times with Ivy. This morning when I got applesauce out of the fridge to use for making our brunch, she said, "I I." She was reminding me that that Ivy had eaten applesauce when she was here for dinner last evening!

Terah has more or less "graduated" from her high chair so the cousins got to sit next to each other last evening. Here's them enjoying dinner side by side, and then also one of Terah's enthusiasm holding Ivy. Ivy was getting pretty tired and was rubbing her eyes, but is still so amazingly patient with her cousin loving on her!

So today's news! We had gotten an email on Wednesday that Kali's ducklings had shipped. So yesterday morning we called our local post office to let them know they might get a peeping box for us. We were unclear if we'd get the call yesterday or today so when yesterday came to a close without a call, we knew today would be the day! I didn't necessarily have that in mind when I got up this morning and got multiple projects underway!
I was taking advantage of my normal morning burst in the kitchen. I had a squash roasting in the oven and some persimmon, applesauce, chocolate bread about ready for the oven, as well as a spinach, ricotta, bacon, egg bake. Just as I was about to put the finishing touches on all of that my phone rang! Sure enough the Penn Laird post office was informing us that the box of ducklings was there and ready for pick up. Sometimes I wonder if Kali has the ability to get ready for anything quickly. Well, she was out of her bed and ready to head out the door before I could put the breakfast in the oven and grab my keys. Nothing like ducklings awaiting pick up to get her moving!
The excitement in the car was palpable on our 10 minute or so drive to the post office. Before long the little box of peeping ducklings was in the car with us headed home. They were clearly ready for water and food as soon as we got them out of the box and into the kiddie swimming pool. They are the background noise for me as I type; that and the two younger girls playing in the bathtub! Kali got them settled in and then we headed down to enjoy our own breakfast - which we were all ready for by this time! Fun times ahead! This is a new breed Kali is trying out, hoping to introduce more broodiness into her flock. There's almost nothing I enjoy watching more than a mama hen brooding chicks, but I have a feeling a mama duck with ducklings would be equally thrilling! I love any excuse right now to spend a few minutes in the compost coop. It's like a little world all of it's own. There are grown chickens, a mama hen with half grown chicks that still try to nestle up to her at bedtime, a mama hen brooding OVER 30 chicks, a mama with 6 brand new chicks, and there there are 3 hens in the broody pens sitting tight who will be hatching chicks in the coming weeks. So much new life!

Here's a few more of the ducklings to enjoy, as well as a short video at the end:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

FIRST strawberry and other less important updates!

Ok, time for some big deep breaths! It's been quite a time of fun and chaos since my last posting. A very short recap: worked a long 8 day stretch leading up to and including graduation, hosted 75+ people for a grad party, the night of the 8th day came down with a nasty stomach bug (like I have not had in years), was a complete zombie for a day, came out of that in time to help with final preparations for SPI ( for work and hosting 75+ for a house concert (last night!). This morning the sun is breaking through the clouds and I have a day at home before another big week begins with both the start of SPI bright and early tomorrow and the first of our two main gardening weeks (but we won't be even considering planting out plants until these next few nights with possible frosts pass us by)!!

It always feels like thriving through the end of April is a team effort around here and this year was no different. I was eternally grateful for Mom and Dad's presence upstairs during this particular week. Having some extra pairs of hands for pulling weeds, reading stories, making food, hugging girls, going dishes, being the soccer chauffeurs, mowing, playing games, etc... made a huge difference in our family's experience of the week. While I know Terah missed me at points in the week, she is such good buddies with both of my parents and did really well in my absence. I know I commented to Jason more than once that I felt like I wasn't falling apart like I sometimes do in April. They get some credit, and Terah gets some credit for continuing to sleep better at night. I'm ready to give a pretty big shout out for the power of sleep!

In the midst of the crazy week, all the Tangly Woods' gals went out on a trash walk. Our littlest was even initiated into the crazy vests routine and was quite proud of her little work gloves! It was looking to be a rather uneventful trash pick up walk; we know of at least one neighbor helping to pick up trash but we are also hoping that habits are changing since we didn't even get one full bag of trash/recycling along our road. But Kali added some excitement to the walk when she swung her bag against her leg and the broken glass within gave her a nasty cut on her leg. She really wanted to continue with us and so she was quite a sight by the time we returned home. Oh the sacrifices made by this Adopt-A-Highway volunteer. :)

In other exciting news, on a very different front, our first batch of cheddar cheese is waxed and in the root cellar doing its thing. We'll break into it in a few more weeks. If I get really inspired today (unlikely by the way I'm feeling currently - catching up on laundry and doing some cooking might be all this gal is inspired to accomplish today), I might get another batch going.  We used a natural bees wax for this first round. I think it's kinda pretty if I must say so myself and smells slightly sweet like honey. I'm slowly getting back into the routine of getting extra raw milk and making things from it so we can give the pigs whey or skim milk and not lots of whole milk. Stocking up right now on mozzarella and have made ricotta and butter as well. It's the time of year to do it - the butter is such a rich yellow color with the cows enjoying such lush green pastures!

One of our greatest challenges at this time of year is not having our evenings all of us sudden go from delightful to everyone falling apart. With the daylight hanging around longer we tend to push hard on outside stuff until dark and then all of a sudden find ourselves at 9 p.m. not having eaten dinner or folded laundry or frozen the heaps of spinach picked while it was still light. Then there are overly tired (and hungry) kiddos, Kali often takes what feels like an eternity to shut her ducks in and things kind of go downhill rather fast. The first step towards positive change is increased awareness right? I'm clearly noting the pattern with a desire to change it. It's a good night when we can get our two youngest in bed cuddling with daddy for some stories by a reasonable hour or without any tear stained faces. And a cute sight it is! Terah now believes clearly that this is part of the nighttime routine and will not stand to be removed from the scene until she is feeling tired enough to rub her little eyes and then the desire for mommy's arms and some milk wins out!

The lushness in the outdoor world is almost incomprehensible right now. It's really stunning! No we didn't even nearly get through the to do list pre-graduation party, but we got through a lot of the wish list and the gardens are honestly looking as good as they ever have. I know that Jason and I both had our moments in the week of marveling at the way beds are shaping up, soils are improving, perennials are filling in and lowering the weed load. It feels like, as much as we have worked hard at it for the past decade plus, the plants are really doing the lions share of the work. And they do it so beautifully!!
I just finished up another full round of picking on our spinach beds yesterday. They have yielded bushels and bushels of spinach for us! This round of picking was the time to pull all the early bolters that we don't want to save seed from. So it was the largest picking and clearly the amount will plummet from here on out. But not before I've been able to put up many containers of frozen chopped spinach. It feels really good to finally feel like I have a system for picking, washing and blanching spinach that works super well. I can almost do it one handed with a baby on my hip, though I'm faster with two and enjoy it more when I can scurry around alone with the girls playing in the background. My only complaint, that I haven't even verbalized to anyone until now, is that our kitchen scissors is very suboptimal for chopping it or my hands are very weak. So a good spinach snipping scissors is on my wish list for a future season.

My sense is that this will not be a bumper crop year on peas. Our germination was not great. On the hull peas I won't be overly disappointed in that it may be grace if we don't have tons of peas to shell. But I'll be sad if we can't eat to our heart's content on sugarsnap and snow peas. Time will tell on those! Jason made new pea cages for the hull peas which are installed and the peas happily surrounded with grass clipping mulch. The main garden has become an area that feels easy to keep weeded and well maintained. It is one of those areas that is bearing much fruit, in multiple senses of the word, after years of tending and improving soils. It's honestly such a joy to watch it flourish! We even have kale plants that are looking really good currently - I am so used to us not having much success with any cole crops that I keep forgetting that I could pick kale for us to eat sometime. That and I haven't really found myself sitting around wondering what there is we could cook up to eat or having extra time to harvest more things. The spinach has really been plenty to keep up with, though I did get oregano pesto in the freezer this week too!

So after a lot of weeding, cleaning, and prepping we had a grand time opening our home and the lovely outdoors to my Center for Justice & Peacebuilding work community. We hosted the graduating class, their family and friends and all that wanted to join to celebrate with them. While plenty warm it did not rain and we were able to enjoy being outside the whole evening. It was the normal level of chaos where Jason and I were mostly scurrying to and fro, but I think both of us also got to enjoy snippets of conversations with folks or stop for a minute to marvel at the world gathered in the space we call home. It really was a beautiful circle of humans gathered! Our girls once again did a fabulous job sharing our home and their parents for the evening. I think it's sweet to see Alida holding Kali's hand - as I know she both enjoys the hubbub and also wants the reassurance of being near someone familiar. I can understand the feeling!
We had two gorgeous days when I was scheduled to be home following my long stint of being away most days at the office. My wish list was long and I was excited to do some catching up on the home front. That was when the nasty bug hit fast and furious and I completely lost one of those two days. I meandered at the end of the first day as far as the onion patch where Jason was working his weeding magic. But as I approached he looked up and said, "you aren't feeling better yet." I guess I wasn't hiding my misery very well! Amazingly, Kali was the only other one in our family to get it - about 24 hours after me (sadly my mom got hit with it too!). It was nice of Kali to hold off for 24 hours as she helped me make it through day 1 and kept Terah safe while I checked in and out of awareness all day long. Then she got to have her zombie day when I was on day 2 and functioning at about 65% or so! So I got to moderately enjoy the second beautiful weather day and then the clouds and rain moved in again. My did we have rain! 

I'm not sure who enjoyed the rain that collected in the fire ring more, Terah or the ducks. Both seemed very pleased with the arrangement. Terah kind of looked at it wide eyed and said, "wa wa." It was as if she was wondering why we had never done this before. She played until she was more or less sopping and I think a tad chilly. The ducks played and splashed and swam and dabbled for a long long time! They are so fun to watch in their element. Kali stood out with them for a long time getting good and wet (but thankfully she was on day 3 of the bug and starting to feel much better).
The rain definitely altered our pre-house concert plans. Out the window went the idea of mowing, as well as a good number of weeding projects. So Jason got to do some garden planning and other random indoor tasks - including making an egg collecting basket out of a gourd we grew. Yes, if we you cannot read his facial expression well enough in this photo to tell, he is pleased with himself! It's working quite well to date, assuming he can keep it from being swiped by one of his daughters. The littlest especially is pleased with his creation as well!
Speaking of the littlest gal (who is cooperating very nicely and sleeping in so I can finish this post!), she continues to be a very spunky, determined, and sometimes rather feisty gal! She knows what she wants and is not in any way reserved in putting it out there. Whether that be for a particular hairstyle or a food or a toy or a person to hold her or for mama milk, she will let us know! Her vocabulary is exploding but you do have to know her well and be able to pick up on the slight nuances between words as a good number of them sound VERY similar still. So sometimes we have what feel like little games of charades where it is a combination of sounds and hand gestures or taking us somewhere to show us something that finally gets the message across clearly. She is pretty interested in being part of whatever the big people are up to and this week we have finally more or less ditched the high chair - WAY earlier than we did with the other girls! She just seemed to want to be at the table in a big person chair.
Ok, better wrap this up and work on breakfast preparations and get laundry underway before the whole crew is up and at it. But not before mentioning that our first strawberry was split into thirds yesterday for the girls' enjoyment. It's going to be a tough year as there are some very eager hands and mouths around here for berries and at least one of those sets of hands is not wanting to wait until the berries are red! I'm not counting on having any for the freezer! Terah's favorite word is "me" right now and sharing is not really in her list of strengths currently. Alida is also pretty eager to get to the berries before the slugs. It's Kali who asked me several times whether I was sure I didn't want a portion of the one very small berry that was already hard to get into three pieces!

In closing, as the baby wakes, here are two short videos of our wonderful evening last night! Due to the clouds continuing to spritz on us up until just before show time we made the hard call to move the music indoors. It ended up being a gorgeous evening, thankfully, and so folks spilled out onto the yard, deck, swingset and kids were tearing around the property while music poured out the open windows. I was running around too much to take a count but I know it was over 60 and less than 100 - and a diverse gathering of neighbors, friends, community people, band followers, family, etc... Here's just a tiny taste! I love the second one: after Terah got used to our home (again) being overloaded with new faces, she settled into it and seemed to really enjoy the music. She was clapping spontaneously and I loved her little swinging legs. She was even playing peek-a-boo with one of the concert goers. The evening was a success from our vantage point and Jason just came in to report that the hoards of children tearing around through all the gardens did not yield more damage than a few broken off garlic leaves, some flopped over shallots and the drainfield being smashed down in places to make the hay cutting slightly more challenging. "Worth it!" was Jason's take, and mine too!!!