Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Silly family meetings and snuggle puppy!

Monday started out as one of the toughest starts to a week that we've had in a long time. Thankfully, the week has been improving since that time. It was one of those scheduling mistakes that just kind of unfolded: a Monday playdate for the older girls scheduled before I planned the trip to PA with all three girls. So the four of us had been together non-stop for 3 days on our trip (without Jason) and the Monday we were all going away for the day leaving Terah at home with Daddy. This is not normally a problem, but it was the perfect storm in that I could not keep her asleep until a reasonable hour in the morning without laying beside her and nursing, which did not get me ready for work or the older girls ready to leave. So she was up too early and our departure was just more than she could bear. She wore herself out grieving and fell asleep for Jason before 10 a.m. She was tender much of the day and was very happy to welcome us home!

The first bright spot in my day happened at work in the afternoon when Kali and Alida were hanging out at my office until it was time to head home. I was focused on my work but happened to overhear this exchange, to which I burst out laughing. Kali was teaching Alida algebra at her request:

"Ok, so how do you get rid of the 3?" Kali asked Alida.
Without much pause, she replied, "Throw it away." 

Got some work to do on that subject!

That evening we had a very lively family meeting. As we were gathering ourselves and our meeting minutes' book, Terah said, "Mine is mommy playing with me." I love it! She gets that we start with things we appreciate. So so sweet! And this was her first meeting in which she offered an agenda item. That was "Daddy reading me books" and we unanimously agreed that the next day Jason would read her "The Busy Spider" and "10 Rubber Ducks" at her request!

Alida also brought an agenda item. It was "finding a new place for the living room fan." When asked to sponsor it, she suggested that we put it on my head. A lively conversation followed and after adjournment the camera was employed in making it so. Here I am, complete with ceiling fan on my head! We also have some with Kali and Alida taking their turns. If only all family meeting agenda items were so quick and easy and fun to come to agreement on. These are good times for building kiddo excitement about our meetings. The next day Alida wanted to have another family meeting!

Last evening was full of good family time again - Jason working on his conference workshop while the girls and I played Rook and then I got to cuddle with Terah and Alida to read stories. Alida sacked out well before Terah so as I got ready for bed she got in the recliner and waited for me to come. All of a sudden I realized she was reading "Snuggle Puppy" and I quickly grabbed the camera. I figured some you might be needing a little "Terah-video-fix." Here you are:

For those not familiar with the book "Snuggle Puppy," we got it from the library and it's one of those books that's a song, that we don't know. So I made up a tune and it has stuck. Terah's got it, even with the quiet page followed by a loud end. Yep, it's pretty cute!

It's suppertime and I just arrived home from a long day at work, but didn't want to forget these few snippets! I don't want to linger in front of a computer screen any more. I'll end with a section from the Wendell Berry poem Jason and I read together the other morning. It's from his collection of sabbath poems that we have been trying to enjoy our way through (in the mornings with coffee before the kids are up - the latter part hardly ever ends up working but we try). It resonated deeply with both of us:

There are two healings: nature's
and ours and nature's. Nature's
will come in spite of us, after us,
over the graves of its wasters, as it comes
to the forsaken fields. The healing
that is ours and nature's will come
if we are willing, if we are patient,
if we know the way, if we will do the work.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Home sweet home!

The girls and I headed to Pennsylvania on Thursday for what has become somewhat of an annual tradition - us making a trip somewhere to see family and leaving Jason at home to make progress on various winter projects. We initially had anticipated this being a boost in the back kitchen cabinetry project but we have scaled back our goals for this winter, nixing that project altogether for this year. Instead, he worked on his upcoming conference workshop, a cleaving bench shop project and, as weather allowed, the garden fence.

I'm not sure it's an annual tradition that any of us particularly like (being part on purpose) or that we hope to continue in the future, but it is handy to not have to find animal care, and if I'm needing to free Jason up to work on other things, it is a nice opportunity to see and do things we wouldn't otherwise get around to. This trip was no different - we were so glad to connect with my nephews and niece and also take in a birthday party for a nephew on Jason's side of the family. And, like most excursions of this nature, while I feel very glad to have done it and we come home with many good memories of good connection times, I am so very grateful to be home safely, singing "I love my house, I love my nest, in all the world this nest is best..." when we got to our driveway this afternoon.

My least favorite part (echoed by the girls) was all the time spent in the car. I do not enjoy driving on 81 (or 581 or 283 or 30 or 222 or 76 or 276 or 476 or 83). I do not enjoy flying down a road surrounded by metal with lots of others doing the same around ne (especially when my background noise is an overly tired 2 year old screaming). Thankfully that was only on our way home when we were almost home...

Now that said 2 year old is getting a LONG and much needed nap in our bed and doesn't seem interested in waking up. She missed Jason and last night cried when others were leaving my brother-in-law's house for the evening and we were not also going home. But when she woke prematurely when we got home, she didn't even want a hug from daddy. It wasn't time to wake up yet! I think her next wake up will be much better and she'll be super eager to see him, as were we.

The girls and I got to play lots of games with cousins the past few days, which was one of the highlights mentioned on the way home. We also had fun looking at some old pictures and videos together. I think all of us have a touch of cabin fever as the only stints outside for us were when we went to the birthday party and went to and from the car (other than Kali going outside to run up and down the side walk and climb a tree at one point). The party was at one of those bouncy house places with slides and all sort of fun and a good dose of over-stimulation for all! Terah threw a fit when it was time to go, but thankfully the place was so loud that I'm not sure how many even noticed! The place was called Jumpin Jacks, and on the way Kali had talked about doing jumping jacks there. Terah was a little distraught when we were driving back to realize that we had all forgotten in the hubbub to actually do any jumping jacks! I thought she would sack out on the way back to their cousins' place but she was too entertained by her party favors bag and putting ALL of her tattoos on.
She still much prefers falling asleep nursing (than being lulled to sleep in the car). She slept well overall while we were gone - except the 2nd night was rough, particularly when she was melting down in the middle of the night crying, "want Ivy." It's hard to reason with a 2 year old in the middle of the day, let alone in the middle of the night when she is asking for her cousin who is 4 hours away in Virginia!

So, as I expected, I'm so glad we went, and I'm so very glad to be home. I feel like I want to stick my hands in the soil for awhile. It was nice to go into the root cellar and check my 3 waxed cheddars that will be ready for testing soon! It was also fun to look out and see all the posts planted for the expanded garden fence, making it more possible to envision it. The mountain in front of me was a welcome site as well. Most definitely home sweet home! Now better go wake our littlest gal so I get some sleep tonight - as I did not have an afternoon nap and feel a tad travel weary!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Room #2 The Bathroom

I know, it is only January 7th but we are hooked! And know that June won't be like January, so better to clean when it is 2 degrees out than when it is 75 degrees and there are veggies to harvest and process!

Our weekend plans changed dramatically when we were on our way to have dinner with friends Friday evening and Alida threw up in the car. Terah already had a cold, but this appeared to be a new bug of some kind and one we clearly didn't want to share around (nor did she feel up for socializing with others). So back home we went to get her cleaned up. And she has spent most of the last 36 hours laying around (with a couple of those hours spent being entertained by Curious George movies from the library). In the end, due to illness in both households, we also rescheduled the meal we had planned to take to friends last evening so all of a sudden Saturday dawned and was wide open for me.

Jason and Kali had already planned to spend a good part of the day in the garage splitting her climbing tree down into boards with wedges (in preparation for turning it into her hanging bunk bed). But I was not involved in that project so the day was there in front of me and room #2 was calling my name!
It was the last "easy grab" and so I went for it. And the easy grab ended up taking me ALL DAY (minus, of course, the time spent feeding people, getting spoonfuls of tea into Alida, stoking the fire, my work hours for CJP during Terah's afternoon nap and other random small tasks). I think the lesson is firmly imprinted in my mind - I told Jason last evening that no other rooms can be done without a full day and without both of us fully engaged. And I think some rooms we are going to need to split out into "part 1" and "part 2." I think it would be overly optimistic to think we could do the kitchen in a day, for example! Maybe cupboards in one day and the rest on another or something like that. I don't want to skimp on any parts of the process so better to make realistic goals and do it right!

There was less stuff to take out of the bathroom so I was able to do that on my own and all the cleaning by sundown. My biggest take away: Spiders poop a lot! The wall cleaning felt particularly satisfying in the bathroom, thanks to them. The floor was not disappointing either!

The one thing I had not removed was a colored lamp we had salvaged from Martin House before they tore down the community living house I had spent my last unmarried year of life living in. The cord of it was affixed to the baseboard making it difficult for me to remove. And I didn't question that we would want to keep it. There enters Jason - this is why this is a team effort!

I admit that I was a bit of a slacker by not pulling it out, but we had said things that were "installed" didn't necessarily have to be removed. But what a good exercise to question everything. Do we really need it? Does it still serve its intended purpose (the non-sentimental one that is)? In the end the answer seemed to be "no." In fact, we admitted that leaving that light on had actually been annoying sometimes and was too much light at night. So last night was our first night without it. The only person that has missed it to date is Terah. When I took her potty early this morning she was disoriented and wanted me to turn the light on. I was able to distract her from that by the two new little night lights. I think we'll all be used to it in no time. Now to see if any of my Martin House housemates need such a lamp in their homes as I'm still struggling with the thought of Gift and Thrifting it! It was a great fit for the "diaper changes at night" phase of our parenting with Terah but it appears that that is now in our past (a subject for another blog post but it appears that Terah's interest in running around with no clothes on has more or less done the trick for her regarding potty training too - thanks kiddo!).

The putting back in was easier in some ways for this room until the last two drawers. It was pretty obvious we were putting the toilet back in and our bath towels and the shower curtain... But oh the drawers of hair things and chapsticks and random lotions and outdated medicine. That is what took us until about 10 p.m. And I was tired by that time and sometimes tiredness makes me grumpy but sometimes it makes me feel silly. Let's just say that Jason, Kali and I were laughing a lot as we sorted through our collection of "things to rub on people."

Once again pulling everything out made all the difference in the world. It's one thing to leave an almost used up bottle of sunscreen in a drawer that is bound to frustrate the next person who tries to get some out of it. It is another thing to deliberately put it back in the drawer after removing it. We tossed a lot of such items and I am 100% sure no one will miss them! Those are the hardest things for me though - things that really don't have any use for anyone else but if we took the time to cut them open and scrape them out we might get just a little more out of them (maybe).


So now I want to live in the guest room and our bathroom. :) Jason admitted that this project is more addicting than he imagined. I asked him last night (when he commenting on how obvious it is that I love this process) if it also increases his quality of life at all. He said that, in fact, it has and the one thing he notices is that the rooms smell better. They have a fresh feel to them. And there is space! Now the goal is to not fill it all back up!! And for me to exercise patience in the process as we clearly won't be able to keep up this pace, though I'm already itching to get into the next room. If the last two have been this satisfying, I can only imagine what the remaining ones will be like (but they will also include more hard decisions about what stays and what goes). Wish us luck and stamina!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Our New Year's resolution (Room #1 The Guest Room)

A few year's ago, some of our friends talked about a book they had read which had inspired a process of going room by room through their home, removing everything and only putting a percentage back (another portion was given away and then some was allowed to be stored temporarily to see if it would be missed). I was so envious and ever since then have been craving following in their footsteps. Jason has been willing to join me (and I think even caught the vision/"organizing bug"), but to date it has seemed completely unrealistic - not only because it doesn't feel like we have an overabundance of time to devote to such luxuries but also due to the ages/stages of our brood.

Not sure that has necessarily changed, but I'm working at not saying I "don't have time" for something. If it feels important enough to us, it seems like we make our goals and plans accordingly. And we are going to have little people in our home for awhile yet, so I wasn't sure a deep cleaning and paring down should wait for another decade.

In 2016, Jason read a book a month and wrote a book report to share with us. In 2017, Jason wrote a Tangly Woods website post monthly that will form the basis for a conference workshop he is doing later this month. We have deemed 2018 the year for us to get our paperwork in order and to deep clean our home AND I am excited about that! We are hoping to do a room/month, or front load it in the months that aren't as busy with planting, weeding, harvesting and processing our garden's abundance.

So I figured we might as well start off the year right! So instead of crashing after hosting 14, in addition to our family, for three days, we dove in. After Terah's nap, we got the rest of the house picked up before dark when Jason came in. Then we started clearing out the guest room. Alida kept asking, "Are you taking that out?" to which I answered, "Yes, EVERYTHING is coming out." A minute later the question again. I'm sure the novelty will wear off but there was still a festive feel in the air and we had Christmas music playing.

In all honesty, the novelty wore off even before we were done with the room. I won't say that it was done with no frustration and it got VERY late (or early, more accurately), but I can't complain. We ALL saw in the new day (so for 3 of the 5 of us that meant being up past midnight two nights in a row). But oh the satisfaction at the end of the 6 hours. Here was our process:

We took out everything except a shelf that was firmly affixed to the wall and a full length mirror in the same condition. Then Kali got to work on the bed (it was in desperate need of a wash), while the younger girls jumped on the mattress and looked at National Geographic magazines. We dusted, washed walls and trim and doors, took down light fixtures and washed those, Jason realized he had never caulked some places and so he caulked the closet and baseboards, he tightened down some loose screws, washed the floor, I beat out the mattress out in the brisk night air, washed the window and mirror, and got a load of laundry going to wash the curtains and rug.

By the time that was all done, we were already a bit tired and the hard work was still ahead of us - deciding what goes back in. We had intentionally decided to start with what I considered to be the easiest room. I think, in retrospect, the bathroom might be easier, but it turned out to be a good launching pad for the project. All of us had some stuff in the room so we all had some decisions to make. We didn't set any criteria for how much we could keep or get rid of, but I was shocked at two things: how much stuff was actually in the room and how much we were able to get rid of with little to no angst.
Some of the work spilled into the next day as we ran out of steam to have the girls finish trying on shoes and dresses. And I had a "gift box" in the cedar chest to sort through. So the next morning we finished that up and then today I wrapped up another project that stemmed from the cleaning. As we went through things, I found some keepsakes or other things that have been very meaningful to me over the years but I was ready to part with. It was a surprising twist to this project to find ourselves thinking of various friends as we pulled things off walls or out of boxes. So today the girls and I swung by the post office with some packages to mail. I hope the recipients will enjoy opening them as much as I enjoyed thinking of them as part of our process!

So one room down and it is only January 3rd. What did we learn from the first room? It is not realistic to tackle a room in an evening. Maybe with the exception of the bathroom, we need to give a full day to each room. And for some rooms we may want to split things out - like our closet for one project and the rest of the room for another. This project will stretch us, tire us and be very rewarding! And I do not yet know what mental, emotional, physical and spiritual preparation I will need to do in advance of tackling the girls' bedroom!

The Benner Christmas ringing in the New Year!

After our aforementioned low key Christmas at home, it was time to turn our attention towards preparing to host Jason's family for our holiday gathering. It was fun to anticipate having all our beds utilized for three nights (also including, of course, the fun-filled days together). I would say we made good use of almost every square foot of our quarters and the in-law quarters.

It would be hard to give the run down of everything packed into those few days but I'll give a list of my highlights and some photos to go along with them:

  • having the girls eager anticipation wear off on me - it's contagious when they are standing by the door practically quivering with excitement for the fun to begin!
  • being surprised by a small snow fall overnight that transformed the landscape
  • watching cousins getting to enjoy playing together (most of the time) - we had 6 little ones 4 and under
  • seeing the enthusiasm and fun had running Dad's train
  • adoring the littlest one in our midst - I even got a few stints of baby holding in, for which I was very grateful!
  • reading stories, playing games, putting puzzles together and especially time getting to know the two newest members of our family
  • a cold invigorating hike to the lake, giving an opportunity for more in depth conversations that I always cherish
  • the new year's eve party complete with new year's predictions reviewed from last year and new ones made, and having our wax fortunes told
  • seeing our girls have enough time to "warm up" with family they don't see often as we'd all like
  • Kali and Alida's enthusiasm for all the fun and silliness and how much they soak up the time all together and much much more...

Here they are...EAGER!

Surprise - none of us had been paying much attention to the forecast

Terah was found without many clothes on much of the time - we had the woodstove going much more than we do just for us so it was toasty

Terah was thrilled to get her hands on her baby cousin again...

She also enjoyed being verbal enough to be conversant with other relatives!

Alida and Kali assisted in preparations when Miss Eleanor Rosebottom once again wasn't able to come to our party at the last minute (it's amazing how she always has a good excuse at the last minute!)

We debated taking this down before the house was full of little people but we are SO GLAD we didn't!
The lake was covered in ice and snow and made some cool sounds. I was able to get that and part of a little impromptu dance off for you to enjoy:
Due to others making the trip and the fact that many families have little people to attend to, we offered to do more of the cooking this year. It felt good to share from our abundant supply of delicious food! I tried to do as much ahead of time so that I could also enjoy visiting while folks were here. It worked pretty well (though I have been grateful for leftovers since I haven't felt very inspired to do cooking this week!). We once again attempted to have our main holiday feast be a taste of Tangly Woods! While it was similar to last year's there were a few modifications so I'll give a quick run down of the menu here:


  • Salt-cured ham from one of our three pigs - boiled then oven-browned.
  • Roasted chickens, lightly seasoned, with gravy
  • Pinto beans (we grew!), with sauteed onions and garlic and homemade mozzarella from our local milk share.
  • Homemade ricotta and farmer's cheese from the same milk source for anyone that wished for more cheese!
  • Mashed potatoes (from our garden)
  • Steamed turnips (from our garden)
  • Steamed green beans (from our garden)
  • Corn (gleaned from a local organic farm and frozen)
  • Roasted sweet potatoes with garlic (both from our garden)
  • Sorghum bread (made with sorghum we gleaned next door and ground into flour, and barley flour from barley we grew, along with yogurt from our local milk share and our eggs)
  • Butter we made from our local milk and jam from our fruits
  • Red beet eggs (eggs from our chickens and beets from our garden)
  • And the non-local dish: Cranberry relish (but it passed the screening process because we picked them ourselves on a visit to my folks' place in West Virginia!)
I'll end here with one picture showing proof that I wasn't in the kitchen the entire time - which was mostly thanks to folks taking turns helping with the dishes. Terah even let me have a turn with her baby cousin. She was a little less possessive this time, which was nice for me (and others). I think it was probably more than there were so many distractions and plenty of exciting things to do!
Before folks starting packing up to go back to their respective abodes, there was the annual reading of the candy book. I got my pictures before some kids got restless and it became difficult to read the book, for the little hands eager to get their hands on the book! But it was a lovely peaceful scene for a few moments anyway!

Christmas at home (and that was all the way last year!)

It's been a whirlwind of activity around here  and we find ourselves in a new year. I will only attempt to give a few snippets here. The holidays have been full of meaningful times with family and friends, more time at home with Jason and the girls, and a renewed gratitude for our woodstove! It's been chilly!!

We did not travel for Christmas and that immediately makes the holidays more enjoyable for me - avoiding highway 81 is a sure way to increase my feelings of well being! Our girls did enjoy a Christmas surprise of my parents joining us for Christmas Eve and part of Christmas day.

It's a relatively new tradition (but a fun one), for each person (or couple if it needs to be condensed) to choose what do for a 1/2 hour of the evening on Christmas Eve. So after Mom treated us to chicken pot pie, we enjoyed coloring together, making holiday pictures where you each draw 1/3 of a creature without seeing what the previous person drew, playing 6 person Rook while enjoying hot drinks and Christmas cookies and putting together a puzzle of the United States and then removing states where we've been or know people.

Christmas morning involved going all out on a Christmas brunch of potato crusted quiches, roasted sweet potatoes with garlic, fruit salad and biscuits and then leisurely opening presents.
There were lots of thoughtful gifts given, but by far the one that has made the biggest impact was Alida's spinny skirt. She had mentioned wanting a spinny skirt and Mom made one for her for Christmas. It is all and more than this gal could have wished for. There's been very few days since then that she hasn't worn it. Here she is trying it out for the first time!

After Terah's nap, I was brave enough to try two baking projects with all three girls. Jason harvested our ginger for the year and another tradition is to make gingerbread with our fresh ginger. We happened also have ONE lemon so we enjoyed fresh gingerbread with lemon sauce. The girls and I also made gingerbread cookies which we enjoyed delivering to a half dozen or so neighbors the following day. I was exhausted by the end of it but it was worth it. It was a fun day being at home all together and was relatively quiet compared to what was to come!