Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Unplugging: Cape Charles here we come!

So tomorrow morning, we will head out for a week away from the homestead (and for me, possibly more importantly, away from email and my computer)! We are leaving Tangly Woods in the capable hands of my folks and getting a much needed break together as a family. We'll be taking a return trip to the exact same little cottage we stayed in just a few weeks after Nora died. We haven't been back since...I'm eager to get reacquainted with the place that provided us comfort and a place away and near water in that intense time of grieving. I'm also eager for Alida and Terah to get to enjoy it this time around.

As of right now, there is stuff all over the place. I still haven't showered. I haven't started packing my things. But Kali and Alida are in bed. Terah is enjoying multiple showers with everyone in the family that needs a shower. And the impossible list from this morning is slowly getting shorter. Once we get on the road we will all be very excited I know! And the girls have been such troopers today. I finally sent Kali to bed, though she was concerned about me getting enough sleep. She's incredible!

Since I know that everything to this point will feel like ancient history after our trip, here's just a few snippets from recent days...
We have another reader in the house! She is so cute about it too and very excited. She got a chapter book out of the library for our trip and is well into it before we even get on the road!
I rediscovered English muffins the other day and they worked with 1/2 our homegrown and ground (thanks Mom!) barley flour! What a great idea for summer when you don't want to turn the oven on.
I love seeing all the photos Terah gets in her photography stints. Here is Jason mowing...
This one might actually be an Alida photo of me skimming cream to make butter. 
The kids had a sleepover this week that included a hike for us and a bike ride for them to Hensley's Pond. It was Alida's first time traveling by bike!
We successfully made Jason's backpack a lot lighter on the way home!
On the ride home the kids tried to go the whole way without pedaling. They are so fun!
The other exciting news: it's wineberry season! Kali has been getting a quart or two on our land about every other day.
We also enjoyed a picking stint with friends last evening which netted about 9 more quarts for the freezer. I just made a batch of vanilla pudding tonight to take with us on our trip to enjoy with fresh berries!
And it's time to call it a day and this is what our guest bed looks like. It's going to be an early morning for the adults in this family! 
I just have to keep reminding myself that there is some serious game playing in my future...

Friday, July 6, 2018

Beet Chickpea Cakes with Tzatziki (and a quick well update)

So I've landed on many a blog when searching for recipes where the post is a large smattering of colorful photos of all the ingredients and steps and then at the very bottom you find the actual recipe. As a very amateur blogger, I've never done such a post and it seems about time. I've never felt particularly inclined to do so before now - but when I found myself making this dish multiple times again this season, I thought maybe it was one worth sharing! I am possibly going outside the normal "blog protocol" for this kind of thing though and flipping the order. I'm going to start with the "real" recipe right up front, as it has always annoyed me to have to scroll all the way to the bottom, or even more if it is pieced up throughout the post. I actually did follow this mostly to a T the first time we made it back in 2015. It was amazing! And since I've tweaked it some, stopped measuring, and have cut out some steps and guess what: still awesome! So here's what they say to do. And you can read on if you want to know what I do! This recipe comes from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin.
Beet Chickpea Cakes with Tzatziki

Makes 12 cakes/serves 4 (hmmm, doubtful!)

2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing cakes and tray
3 1/4 C cooked chickpeas, or 2 15-ounce can's drained and rinsed well
2 medium red onions, finally diced
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
2 medium red beets (12 ounces), grated on largest hold of a box grater (4 C)
2 T balsamic vinegar
3/4 C chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment papers, lightly brush with olive oil, and set aside.

Place chickpeas in a bowl and crush with a potato masher; set aside. (Don't mash the chickpeas completely. The mixture should be somewhat chunky.)

Warm olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add onions, and saute for 5 minutes or until browning. Add garlic and salt, and cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in grated beets, and continue cooking for another 6-8 minutes or until beets are cooked. Add balsamic vinegar and remove from heat. Add to mashed chickpeas along with chopped dill, and mix well to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Use an oiled 1/3-cup measure to shape mixture into cakes. Place on prepared tray, and brush top and sides of each cakes with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate tray, and continue baking fora nother 15 minutes or until brown on the bottom. Remove from oven: allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

To serve, slide a thin spatula under each cake and flip onto plate so bottom side is up. Top with tzatziki, or serve it on the side.


Make 2 cups

1 large (8-ounce) Middle Eastern cucumber (or a regular cucumber, peeled and seeded)
1 1/2 C whole-milk Greek yogurt or Labneh
1/4 C chopped fresh dill
2 garlic cloves, pressed
3/4 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Freshly ground black pepper

Grate cucumber on the largest holes of a box grater, place in a strainer, and squeeze out juice with your hands. Drink or discard juice, and add cucumber to a medium bowl along with yogurt, dill, garlic, salt, olive oil, and a pinch of black pepper. Stir to combine, season to taste, and serve drizzled with olive oil. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.
So there you have it! The official recipe! Give it a try, you won't be disappointed. If you want to know the MANY alterations I've tried that have also worked great, and see some not so fancy pictures, read on!

The night before I soaked a bunch of dried chickpeas. Soaking helps reduce phytic acid and makes them more digestible (esp. if you also skim off the foam that comes to the top when cooking).
The day of, I started out harvesting things. I started with the beets, so I could clean them up and then make an egg saute for breakfast with fresh beet greens, onions and garlic!
I give our dill the photo credit here but enjoyed a quick solo walk up the hill to our neighbor's glorious dill patch for lots of fresh dill!
It was not a scheduled "harvest day" for our cucumbers but it was not hard to find plenty for this recipe. Got enough the day before for about 21 quarts of pickles! They are doing great!
I cleaned up the beets and peeled them, grated them and put them in the fridge, as I knew this was going to be an all day effort interspersed with lots of other things!
I got some of our sad rotting garlic bulbs down from the garage drying racks to salvage what was good. I should not be quite so despondent about them. I actually am able to get a lot of good out of most of the bulbs, but I can tell they won't stand the test of time so we are plowing through the ones with no roots as fast as we can enjoy then, which is pretty fast, especially since it's "pesto season."
Terah saw me with the camera out so of course wanted a turn. I gave her the job of resident photographer. Here's proof that I was really doing what is pictured here! She takes some pretty funny pictures.
I used potato onions as that is what we have harvested of our bulb onions of the year to date - and I like them better than the green perennial onions for something like this, but those could also work. We also have shallots but they are amazing paired with tomatoes so we are saving them for that purpose (like the tomato, shallot, salt, pepper, cream soup I made for lunch yesterday - YUM!!!).
The first part of the day was just a bunch of ingredient prepping - peeling garlic and onions and leaving in water for a number of hours until I could get back to them. Then before Terah's nap I turned on the chick peas and let them simmer good and long. You want them soft and I save some of the cooking liquid in case I need to loosen up the patties a bit more or the chickpeas while mashing.
Closer to serve time, I got the cucumber yogurt sauce going. I had chopped the garlic long ago, as I understand something is released that is good for us when the juices mingle for awhile. So why not! I decided to leave some of the cucumber skins on this time and it worked fine - maybe not quite as much liquid was squeezed out but I was just as happy with the end result and it was prettier.
While I worked on the sauce, I started the saute - with ham lard of course! This can easily be done with any preferred fat - though I recommend one that doesn't denature at high heats.
Look at that gorgeous dill! Some day we will have amazing dill; it's getting better every year!
I'm horrible at selfies, but by this point in the day I was in need of a cucumber juice refresher, so here I am enjoying my few sips. In the background there are a lot of dishes piling up.
By this time, our niece had joined us and all the girls were providing prime entertainment for me while I finished up dinner (the large boxes that had delivered our toilet paper and dish soap were being transformed into various modes of transportation). It also meant I was solo in the kitchen. I started mashing the chickpeas by hand and realized Kali had done that part for me all the other times this year.
I bailed and did some with the immersion blender which worked great and saved me some minutes on dinner prep, as the minutes were counting at this point.
Saute was done so I added the fresh dill and the balsamic vinegar and for the first time tried some of my friend's awesome oxymel! A quick shout out for Red Root Company! This particular oxymel won "Best New Food" in 2018 at the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo. It is delicious on sauteed greens and now I will also add in beet chickpea patties!
And here they are! I do not use olive oil at all. We don't grow olives or make olive oil. I greased the pan with lard and did not put any additional oil on them. They were not lacking in flavor! I also use a 1/2 C measure if I'm feeling antsy by this point to get them in the oven. I was...
I never measure anything anymore so this was probably somewhere in the triple - quadruple batch range in terms of quantity. I did two pans for the oven and then froze some of the mixture for the first time to see how it holds up being frozen and then thawed.
Now the oven was doing the rest of the work and the sauce was ready, with flavors percolating!
I added a few eggs to the remaining mixture and fried up a few as patties. Interestingly Terah has not been thrilled with the patties to date (none of the rest of us can understand what is wrong with her taste buds in this regard), but she seemed to like these better!
And now it is time to enjoy! But in all fairness, I will need to admit that our niece, who loves to eat at Tangly Woods, did not eat much of these. She was not a fan. The blueberry smoothie on the other hand, that went down just fine (several helpings of it) and she also really liked the little slivers of cucumber seed insides that were leftover from the sauce. I couldn't help but laugh towards the end of the meal when she piped up that she needed/wanted (can't remember which but at 1 yr 9 months it's more or less the same) some chocolate mousse. Hmm, I guess that has become a pretty popular and common offering. It just so happened I was plum out of it, which suited her fine as there were so many things to be enjoyed (only later did I remember that I had it in popsicle form but by then it was close enough to bedtime that I thought her mommy might appreciate if I didn't mess with sleep cycles by introducing caffeine).
We sat down to savor the fruits of our labors - joined by our neighbor who provided us with all the dill. It was lovely, except for the nagging worry in the back of Jason's and my mind - had our well just gone kaput? Just before dinner our water had 100% stopped working. Not good! But we (mostly) enjoyed our dinner and then started troubleshooting that issue.
So here I was at the end of a fun and very full day in the kitchen with dishes from dinner,  cheesemaking, snacks and kids needing drinks and no water!!! Oh, and I was already pretty tired at that point - and feeling stressed about our upcoming vacation and the long to do list and AirBnB guests set to arrive Saturday and no water. So I sat and read some stories with the kids and, once Ivy headed home, I then found some reserve of energy within myself to wash the dishes with cold cistern water before calling it a day!
P.s. I didn't quite get this blog post done in time to leave you all in suspense about our well. Or to put up a more reflective piece on water and our dependence on it and also how easy it is to take it for granted. And I can't conjure up anymore the worry about needing to drill a new well if ours had collapsed or fund a new pump and wonder why the one we installed years back went out on us so soon. Jason made phone calls today and got the recommended well folks out here ON THE DAY OF OUR CALL! They came, looked at it, sent some folks back to troubleshoot some more, and they fixed it! We are so grateful - our well is ok, the pump is ok, the controller was not! We have yet to receive the bill, but we are most likely looking at hundreds rather than thousands AND we also learned that we need to add to our "home maintenance check-list" to re-pressurize our tank occasionally. Nope, that wasn't in the "house manual" (the one we never got!). Not sure how you are supposed to know these kinds of things but now we do!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

For the record - 15 stops...

Disclaimer: for most, this will be a very boring post. No photos. Only word pictures. And it's about doing errands. How exciting can that be?! But this is also my family journal/scrapbook and doing a 3-4 hour stint of errands with all three gals and 15 stops is something worth writing about. So here I am!

As mentioned previously, I'm working primarily from home until August. But we will need to run to town at least weekly for scraps for our pigs and egg/milk deliveries. As is typical for me, I like to make a trip to town "worth it." Yesterday's definitely was! Just as soon as Terah roused from her afternoon nap, we headed out (with the goal of getting to the bank before closing time). Here's a quick run down of our itinerary.

1. Free Little Library - Kali has been trying to read through a big stack of books that didn't get purged in the deep clean since she wanted to give them one more go through. She and Alida went through a bunch yesterday and there were 2 to drop off on our way out. I sure hope they are better quality than the one we pulled out the other day: Coco's Candy Shop. That could be the topic of another blog post sometime. The note to parents in the front touts it as a "unique experience in Christian education" and my is it ever. Disturbing, at best!

2. Milk Shed - First round of deliveries! Had to drop of our herd share payment for the month, as well as some ricotta and butter for herd share owners to enjoy (and hopefully tip the farmers that provide us with an abundance of great milk!). I also left a box with a plea for 1-4 cup plastic containers. I'm just about out!

3. Bank - a few small chicken-income checks to cash and Kali had her first blueberry picking check to deposit. Of course Alida and Terah were glad to get stickers and we went in the middle aisle of the drive through which was a new experience for Alida. She was fascinated with the shoot that delivered things back and forth.

4. EMU's Campus Herb Garden - a facebook plea for dill seed heads had yielded a few leads, including checking the herb garden by the dining hall. Of course I got permission to do so first! It was in disarray and there was a crop of dill there but not a very healthy looking one. That stop only yielded one sub-optimal seed head. Onward we went...

5. CJP - I needed to drop off jugs of milk for the person we got our guinea hogs from this spring and who we have been bringing "waste milk" in for weekly. I also had a smattering of other deliveries: eggs, milk, yogurt, and ricotta. I had a few other quick office things to attend to, but decided to not actually set up shop and do any work. Seeing as we were only 1/3 through our itinerary, I knew it was going to be a long haul.

6. BOG - just picking up the pig buckets for the week. With some consolidation, I got them down to
5. Remember, we have our smallish Toyota Matrix, the back seat is filled with three gals, and I don't have the trailer along. It was going to be a tight squeeze.

7. Friend's dill patch - now this dill patch was something else. My goodness, it was lovely! It puts our dill plants to shame. We have more than ever but it just seems our soil is not quite exactly what dill would like. Earlier in the day, I had gone up the hill to our neighbor's and gotten some gorgeous feathery dill, but her seed heads weren't ready for pickles. A bunch of these were and I felt like I had just won the lottery (but of course it was even better than that!). You could hardly tell I'd been there, there was so much!

8. Gray Jay Provisions - second pig scraps stop. It was probably a good thing that they only had 2 of the 4 containers of slop for us this week. Not sure where I would have put the other 2. We also delivered some mint and some mint starts.

9. Rocking R - in we went looking for 5 items: narrow mouth screw top lids, replacement sunglasses for the ones sat on in the car, solar salt, water filters, and two more turn buckles for garden gates. We successfully found lids and sunglasses all by ourselves! Then a very friendly Rocking R employee took pity on us and quickly and efficiently helped us find our other items. I love that store! As we were leaving, I wasn't sure the best order for the remainder of our stops. We were getting to the more fun ones for the girls, so I thought they might like to choose. Kali and Alida were both flexible without a strong opinion and Terah, following in her sisters' footsteps, and piped up, "I'm up for anything." What kids! They truly make errands fun! 

10. Library - Alida has been very eager to turn in her summer reading program and get additional slips for bonus hours of reading for various prize drawings. The girls each got their "prize pack" and then got some books to take home. Each girl picked out 5 and then I chose 5 DVD's that were on a rack near the front of the library that all looked interesting. Not sure we'll even watch them, but just in case...

11. FCFC - Alida was eager to use some of the coupons in the July/August coupon book. I needed to clear them out of citric acid again for cheesemaking. Alida also bought a few plums to share and Terah bought two bananas (one for her and one for Persimanon - our car sock puppet) and a little package of 3 mint honey chocolate patties (which she shared with her sisters). They each got a free fruit and we happily departed. I love how much they love sharing with each other!

12. Friend's to deliver eggs - One more egg delivery to make on this town run to a friend's tiny house. I had never seen it before and loved it immediately. It's not much bigger than our front room. Made me eager for our little retirement cabin in the woods!

13. Friend's to pick up window AC unit - so our small window AC unit that we have had most of our marriage finally conked on us a few weeks back. And you know how fast Jason and I make big decisions. And now it is in the low-mid 90's and muggy. Ceiling fans do wonders BUT it felt like the heat and humidity was starting to build up. A work colleague and friend was over the other day and mentioned how comfortable our house felt (I was feeling hot). I mentioned our AC woes and she offered a window unit that was just sitting in her basement. No arm twisting needed! It's up and running and I'm grateful. That buys us some time to make a longer term decision about what we want to help with dehumidification and some cooling in the summer. Jason's cooking up some ideas that would also land me a more appropriate "cheese cave" in the process.

14. Dairy Queen for cones - remember the aforementioned summer reading program prize packs? We cashed in the first of a stack of coupons. Two swirl ice cream cones for the older girls and vanilla for Terah. She was pretty excited and pretty sticky by the end. The ice cream didn't seem to thrill her, though, as much as the cone. So much so that partway home, before Kali could educate her thoroughly on ice cream cones, she took a large bite out of the side of the cone. That made it a tad more urgent to eat quickly on a 90+ degree day!

15. Mailbox - last stop and a worthwhile one. Terah's new Babybug had come the day before so I thought probably the older girls' magazines might be there. They were! So up the driveway we went, loaded to the gills, happy kiddos and a tired mama, and restocked on great new reading materials! 

The unloading took awhile and a shower helped me feel a bit refreshed before getting some food in us and watching the first half of our Babies movie before the fireworks show. Our day ended with multiple bangs! The Massanutten Resort's firework show was moved again to a location that gave us prime viewing right from our front window. After the grand finale, we called it a day!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Car trouble, garlic status, and daily rain!

So I've been laying in bed trying to choose between sleep and getting a head start on my morning. The alarm woke me from a pretty deep sleep at 5 a.m. Normally I'm a morning person but this morning our bed felt pretty nice! In the end, the desire for a "morning burst" while the kids are still sleeping won out. I'm not exactly at top speed just yet but I've got yogurt and ricotta started and here I am to update this virtual scrapbook on the past 10 days or so...Jason is out doing chores so he can take off for Allegheny Mountain Institute for the day, where he will be doing a chicken workshop with their fellows.

I'll touch on just a few of the themes of late: blueberries, water, weeding, harvesting and, the constant around here, entertaining kiddos!

Blueberries: the season is here in all its glory! As mentioned before, Kali is on the picking crew again this year and so I'll actually have to wake her in about an hour (around 7) so she can get to her job at 8. She's really enjoying it and steadily improving on speed. The quality of her picking was top notch from day one, so speed is really her main area for improvement. She is so good at sticking to something and if she sticks with picking blueberries she'll be a really valuable crew member in a few years. As it is, I'm really enjoying when she gets to help pick for us now as she contributes considerably to our freezer stash! I've enjoyed three nice stints in the patch and hope for a bunch more in the coming days. The bags of blue in our freezer are slowing stacking up!!

Water: we have now had two non rainy days in a row (though yesterday it did spritz on us a bit and the day before there were a few thunderheads forming which miraculously didn't turn into anything - Alida was inside when she saw the clouds and got worried that all the rest of us outside would get stuck in the shed during the storm without her. I found myself tempted to tell her that that was not going to happen and she was silly for worrying and then remembered that just the day before Jason had in fact gotten stuck in the shed for quite some time when a storm cropped up quickly with lightening close enough to strike the hill behind us!)

The pattern has seemed to be some combination of clouds and sun for the first part of the day and then when I'm getting Terah down for her afternoon nap the sky starts to darken, clouds roll in and then dump. It's been incredible, really! It has felt like we now have a rainy season of sorts and after so many days like this and knowing our garlic patch smells like a swamp, I've had this deep desire to find the "plug" for the sky! No such luck!! And some plants are actually doing great with the extra/excess moisture. Our basil looks fabulous currently, the peas did better than they have in years, and if we get cucumbers for each flower in the patch right now we'll be swimming in them. I also feel grateful for a dry house and no destructive flooding! That said, the peppers and tomatoes would really enjoy some heat and sun. And it looks like that is coming our way with 90's in the 10-day forecast! I'll be longing for 60's and clouds here before too long I'm sure!

We have enjoyed two recent swimming stints at a friend's pool - once as a family for our June family night planned by Alida and once last evening when the girls and I stopped in for a dip while in town doing errands. Kali is becoming a real fish! For a child who has never had a formal swimming lesson, she is quite the swimmer (I guess I should stop being surprised at things like this: she is now able to play two handed piano tunes...). Alida wants to learn to swim but won't try most of the things we suggest just yet. Terah is a force to be reckoned with in the water. Last night she was in a large inner tube and wanted me to let her float away from me. She is NOT safe without very close supervision and unfortunately she is no longer interested in the very safe floaty boat we were generously given by family when we were up in PA (she loved it the first time around and then I guess it was old hat and she wanted the novelty of big people things or no floating devices at all...). I imagine she has the potential of being an early swimmer. I know these short stints in the water have made all the girls eager for our upcoming week in Cape Charles!
Weeding: Oh my there is a lot of it! The rain has helped all kinds of plants grow! Many of the weeds are also edible for us, but I can't keep up with harvesting/processing them all. As I was pulling out handfuls of smartweed and lambsquarter and amaranth and chickweed and plantain and various other weeds yesterday, I was SO SO SO glad we raise pigs. It is so lovely to not only get weeding done, but also bring baskets filled with "treats" to our pigs, who will then turn that into delicious and nutritious meat for us to enjoy year round. They really are such an amazing fit for our homestead, and becoming really friendly with us too. Thankfully the two breeds are now cohabiting more or less peacefully, which is great!

Harvesting: We are now in the time of year when we have to put "harvest day" on the calendar for every other day. We are still in the thick of berry season, and the first wineberries are starting to open!  We have made a few batches of jam: blueberry rhubarb, gooseberry and currant to date. We just pulled our hull peas but are still enjoying sugar snaps and a few snow peas. AND cucumbers have started and we have double the area planted in them this year and it looks like we'll be able to stock up on pickles!!! Beets are ready to harvest any time so beet chick pea patties with dill cucumber sauce will make it on the menu shortly. Jason recently harvested barley and got it out of the weather yesterday (only some had sprouted due to all the rains).

Yesterday we finally decided it was time to cut our losses and harvest the garlic (and we pulled the potato onions at the same time). Our garlic patch clearly suffered the worst through all the rains and we knew it was not going to be pretty. It was definitely not our most enjoyable garlic harvest - due to the swamp smell and the mud and the rotting garlic bulbs. Note the picture below: garlic without roots is NOT a good sign. That said, there was also some really nice bulbs in there so not all was lost. Jason has been inspiring me to always try to notice what is going well so as we pulled the garlic, I celebrated the beautiful bulbs and also the sweet potatoes and pepper plants we added to that rotation this year. We will get multiple crops out of that field... Just for comparison, last year we harvested about 10 bushels of garlic and this year we were shy of 4 and a portion of that may be a complete loss. BUT there will hopefully be enough for pickle making, salsa/pasta sauce and seed for next year. Maybe more. Time will tell how it holds up...
The one other kind of recent harvesting was a small chicken butchering we did together the other day. A friend was interested in some stewing birds and Jason had a handful of roosters that he was done breeding. I've been trying really hard to do a lot of my inside cleaning/cooking/food preservation stuff while Jason is doing morning chores so that I can join in the outside farm/garden work for a good stint before lunch and then putting on my office work hat during Terah's afternoon nap. It's been lovely when the stars align and it works out. It did the other day for me to join in butchering. I will admit that there have been many a butchering day where, if I'm honest, I'm not at all disappointed that my task list keeps me from helping. I am "happier" cooking for those butchering or watching kids or doing any number of other things. Who "likes" to feel uncomfortable? Who enjoys a job that comes with an underlying feeling of being nauseous most of the time? And I have a pretty strong suspicion that doing it more often would not change the discomfort or nausea, and that's ok with me. It's something I want to get good at (or I'll start with aiming for "ok") living with. I feel a deep gratitude for the ways these animals participate in and contribute to our homestead. It's not easy to kill them. 

The notable thing about this butchering was that Kali was engaged in her duck chores and Terah and Alida were around playing on the concrete pad and watching. I was so impressed with Alida. She was the most incredible mentor and big sister ever. I was in the thick of it plucking feathers and so Alida was "Terah's person." Terah was not so sure about the whole thing. She's been around it before but my sense is she is just getting old enough now to kind of "get it." She was saying things like, "that rooster won't crow anymore" or "it doesn't feel anything now..." She would get curious and want to come over and watch and then be a bit hesitant or unsure. Alida was SO sweet. She would say to Terah, "You aren't so sure about it? Should we take a little walk?" and off they would go for a spin around the driveway until Terah's curiosity got the best of her and she wanted to come back for another look and time of questions and comments. Alida helped her so much to take it in at her own pace and in her own ways, interspersing some tricycle riding in there and all. By the end, Terah's nose was right in it and she was very interested in exploring the different colors of chicken feet!

Cute kiddos: I saved the best section for last! Where to start?

Let's start with a video, in case you are getting tired of text. A week ago we enjoyed a lovely visit from my sister and the girls just soaked up the time with their aunt (we are looking forward to a repeat today!!). Terah is really into "reading" and many times when we sit down to read stories at nap or bedtime, she'll pipe up, "I can read that one." I never turn her down as it is pretty cute to hear her recite the stories from memory OR I'm often so sleepy that I catch a wink or two while she is "reading." She read most of The Interrupting Chicken here. It's even better if you know the book, as it's likely you won't understand all of what she is saying but she's pretty close to right on for a lot of it!

While on Terah, the other day she was playing with this little basket and for some reason got it into her head that she was a "capstone" when in it/wearing it like this:

This cracks me up because when Kali was about two, I heard her one day "reading" to herself and talking about "theories." It was at that point that I realized I had probably been taking her to a few too many of our graduate students' final capstone presentations. Terah, on the other hand, has never been to one since she is not the placid child Kali was. :) BUT she sometimes enjoys leftover snacks from capstones and hears me talking about preparing for them. So above is her variation of a capstone, never having experienced one in person!

All our kids are enjoying berry season and our white raspberries are so big this year that they can be lovely caps on one's fingers: 
 After the first "sisters' cooking night" was a smashing success, they suggested and planned another one. I should say the younger girls wanted to do it again. Kali was willing, as she is so flexible and patient, but this time I was home to watch it unfold. And credit must be given where credit is due: our eldest should get a few stars in her crown each time she agrees to one of these! There is a lot of enthusiasm at the beginning and then the younger two get bored or only want to do the fun things or head off leaving Kali to it alone or fight over who gets to do what tasks. She handles it remarkably well, but I do have a new perspective the next time this comes to a family meeting! We did enjoy a delicious spaghetti squash meal and then the squash halves made excellent boats. There was a fun little adventure to the stream to float them!
The other evening we enjoyed a lovely visit from relatives that live about 45 minutes or so from us. We all love getting together with them. Family members who are sweet, kind, fun, interesting, and enjoyable to be with - who could ask for more! The most touching part of the evening was seeing Terah become fast friends with my great aunt (who I adore!). They were so sweet together playing and reading stories. I went over at one point to take a few pictures and my aunt noted to me that she was the only one having a certain "problem." She said that as she was playing with Terah she felt like she was playing with Sarah Ellen (my mom). How cute that playing with Terah reminded her of 70 or so years ago when she would have played with Mom as a little girl. I love that!

The most entertaining part of the evening, besides learning the new card game Exploding Kittens, was Alida's silent auction. So clearly the Mininger Reunion silent auction now two years ago was a memorable experience for her. I had no idea but she told me the other day that she still remembered her bidding number: 11. And she has been very interested in earning money, in general and in particular for the girls treehouse fund they are working on with friends. So she cooked up the idea to hold a silent auction and what better group to do it with than our Mininger relatives coming to visit, who also happen to be joining me and Mom as the planning committee for next year's reunion. Perfect! Alida often cooks up grand ideas and sometimes struggles with the follow through. Not so on this one. She did need some reminders to "stay on task" if she wanted to have it ready in time, but spent most of the day preparing.

She made some new things, chose to auction off some previously made items and spent hours preparing bid numbers, bid sheets, and other signage. In the end she had a dozen items to auction off from note cards to a flower bouquet to pottery to hot pads to pictures to finger knitting AND my was she excited. This was just her thing!! And it was a smashing success. She ended up earning nearly $20 for their treehouse fund, which far exceeded her expectations. I have enjoyed using my hot pad already, and I've already used my two tree/bird cards!
I'll close with one more cute Terah story and then our most recent unfortunate car experience, that ends well, and then I need to get Kali out the door!!

Last week at a meal where our meal time blessing card was for us to each share one thing we were grateful for Terah said, "I'm thankful for the food and Mommy sitting down." I burst out laughing. I don't know how deeply she thought about that, but I think probably her experience of me is of me bustling way more than sitting! It was a good reminder to take moments to sit together, as much as she also seems to thoroughly enjoy being my side kick for a good bustling stint!

And now the car: this will hopefully not be any kind of recurring theme in our lives! On Monday I headed out the door (much to Terah's displeasure) for a work goodbye lunch for a colleague. I was leaving just a few minutes after I wanted to and so as I backed up and noted a gasoline smell, I attempted to talk myself out of being worried about it. I am super sensitive to car smells and always fear the worst. I tried to reassure myself that it was probably nothing and would dissipate. This time my worry was warranted! As I headed towards Keezletown, the gas smell increased tenfold! After about a mile there was no denying that something was amiss. I pulled over and stepped out to see gas spraying out of the underside of the car. Not good! Here I am late for my luncheon, a mile from home with no cell phone and a clearly malfunctioning car. 

I made a quick decision, which looking back was probably unwise, to go another 1/4 mile to a friend's home. I pulled into their driveway, turned off the car and jumped out as quickly as I could. I'm sure I looked crazy to their dad who happened to be in the driveway when I pulled in. I was very shaken by the whole thing and my stomach was just churning, wondering if the car could have exploded or caught fire. I ended up borrowing the friend's car and arrived at the luncheon only fashionably late and considerably rattled. I can't say I enjoyed my lunch all that much... 

Long story short: lots of phone calls, got the car towed to our mechanic, learned there were two holes in a gas line, will be $170 poorer, the car could have caught fire if there had been a spark, we are relying on the graciousness of three people to loan us cars until we get ours back on Thursday, I'm fine and the car will be fine, I'm so glad it didn't happen with the girls in the car with me or when Jason was on his way to WV, and I really hope the critters that were likely the culprits go enjoy some berries or nuts and leave the underside of our car alone. Can we really not design cars to prevent this? This experience has been a tad like me breaking my cell phone - it drives me crazy how much our lives rely on a working vehicle! But, no, we have not decided to give up our car...yet! Now back to cheesemaking I go...