Tuesday, March 20, 2018

First day of spring musings

Here we are again! As the rain pours down, with a wintry mix and snow on the way later today and tomorrow, we welcome spring! I'm marking the first day of spring by successfully moving all our freezer stuff into one and defrosting the chest freezer that hadn't yet had it's turn at getting a short break this winter. The remaining food fits in one, just barely! And today I'll use up the last of the frozen green beans and our last pureed persimmons. It's starting to be that time of year, where we use up things just in time to have a long enough break from them to get real hankering for the planting, weeding, tending, harvesting and processing work and fun of the coming growing season. 

I've had so many thoughts and emotions swirling through me the last number of days. I'm not sure I have the time or this is the place to air them all, but I'll give a taste of life of late and may find ways to insert the things that are not easily described in words or expressed through the photos.

Yesterday, after a particularly challenging morning at work, I swung by the post office to mail Kali's photo for a Cricket art contest. As I stood at the mailroom window my eyes fell on a little plaque there on the wall. "Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire." My goodness, those words... They have been ringing in my head and heart every since, and I'll admit to having a lump in my throat most of the last 24 hours. Somehow the urgency felt deep within me to find the courage to figure out what that means for my life and our family's life is present with me in ways it hasn't been for a long time.

Then this morning, Jason and I attempted our morning coffee and Sabbath poems alone. We successfully had coffee and read some poems but not alone. As is often the case, kids, even in their sleep, sensed that the parents were about to sneak in some time just the two of them and instead we enjoyed our coffee and poems with Alida and Terah, interspersing breakfast-making for them and the interruptions that are commonplace!

We ended our reading time with a long poem called The Farm. I felt understood on the deepest level as we read it - thanks Wendell Berry! It's pages long so I won't share it all here, but here are a few tastes.

"Stay years if you would know
The work and thought, the pleasure 
And grief, the feat, by which
This vision lives...

For you must learn to live
With neighbors never chosen
As with the ones you chose. 
Coyote's song at midnight
Says something for the world
The world wants said. And when
You know your flock is safe
You'll like to wake and hear
That wild voice sing itself
Free in the dark, at home...

But don't neglect your garden.
Household economy
Makes family and land
An independent state.
Never buy at a store
What you can grow or find
At home - this is the rule
Of liberty, also
Of neighborhood. (And be
Faithful to local merchants
Too. Never buy far off
What you can buy near home.)...

Eat these good beasts that eat
What you can't eat. Be thankful
To them and to the plants,
To your small, fertile homeland,
To topsoil, light, and rain
That daily give you life.

Be thankful and repay
Growth with good work and care.
Work done in gratitude,
Kindly, and well is prayer.
You did not make yourself,
Yet you must keep yourself
By use of other lives...

There is no end to work - 
Work done in pleasure, grief,
Or weariness, with ease
Of skill and timeliness,
Or awkwardly or wrong,
Too hurried or too slow.
One job completed shows
Another to be done..."

I believe it was at this point in the poem that I said something like "has he been here before?" I feel a fullness of emotion in me as these words slip in and around my spirit. They resonate at the deepest part of my being - something like what sets my soul on fire maybe?!

As we make our way through the book of Sabbath poems it's amazing to me how much life and love is woven throughout, as well as deep grieving. There is also a sense of how our lives and work are part of something much bigger than ourselves, but also how we come and we go. I have found my heart full of thoughts of those that have made such deep imprints on our lives and who are not with us physically as we make our way through the seasons of this year, namely our neighbors and friends, Samuel and Robert. 

There is nothing like a blooming amaryllis to be a constant reminder of someone. Robert loved amaryllis and before his death he gave us some seeds to try. Normally they are grown from bulbs and we had never done either before, but we are not normally ones to turn down seeds. We tucked them in the soil and waited. Our long wait is now being rewarded as the first two plants bless us with their extravagant blooms. I can almost imagine Robert outside our large picture window taking a look at what surprise splash of color unfolds before our eyes. I wish he could see these flowers, new to the world. 
Kali's aforementioned artwork being submitted to her kid's magazine...
And then there's Kali and Jason's bed project. It's coming along and is truly a project where the process will be as valuable as the end project. They have finished preparing the wood and are now installing the bed in Kali's room. At times I can find myself feeling impatient with the process - it is no small feat to take one's climbing tree and transform it into a bed with hand tools. But when I get in touch with what this process has been for Kali and Jason - to spend hours together working side by side, using tools that have been handled by loved ones no longer physically with us, my patience expands. Jason has used an adze given to him by Samuel and Kali has used a draw knife that was her great grandpa's, whom she never had the privilege of meeting. Here she is in action.
We took a trek to Charlottesville this past week to take advantage of a March sale at the organic mattress store where we got our mattress. The girls enjoyed trying them out, and Kali's mattress should be shipped within the next few days. The hope is that not long after its arrival, her bed frame will be installed and ready for use. The snow coming might aid in the completion of that goal, as it makes spring outdoor work just a tad challenging! As we always try to do, we made the most of the miles driven over the mountain. We combined our mattress shopping trip with a lovely visit with Noreen and family, one of Nora's doctors during the last week of her life and now wonderful friend of ours. As we near the 10th anniversary of Nora's death, we are hoping to more deeply engage in a writing project with her that has been bubbling up within us over the past decade. It's time to bring it to fruition! And this feels like the right timing and season in our grief journey to dive more fully into the process. I've been on the lookout for 3 yellow flowers the last number of weeks and finally found them a few days ago in the fire ring. That time signifying enough warmth in the year to take our fragile baby outside has come around again. 
And while the soil is still too cold for entrusting seeds to the ground, there are warm stints that we are taking advantage of. My how good it feels to get out there and do some family work together. I can't think of anything I enjoy more honestly. AND the new garden fence is enabling us to do projects we have never risked doing with chickens on the loose. We are laying down feed sacks and mulching paths heavily with leaves and it all stays where we put it. We are doing to love this new fenced in area!! The work has involved many wheelbarrow rides for the littlest and lots of gate guarding and opening/closing for the middle gal. As well as chattering about all sorts of things, and of course a dose of griping when the work starts to feel long.
On the inside of the house, we've got seeds started and little plants reaching for the sun. We are itching to start moving them from the little cell packs to the soil that will nourish them and allow them to grow to their full potential. But for now we tend them indoors. And my focus continue to be on using the harvests from last season to nourish us, with a smattering of fresh spinach to savor and give us a taste of what is to come! It was fun to celebrate St. Patrick's day with a large spinach salad fresh from the garden. And another treat for that holiday was a surprise visit from Jason's sister. Our green meal was even more delightful with our numbers expanded with loved ones to fill our table!
The other day I had one of "those mornings" where I just plowed through food preparations and processing in the kitchen. I counted up the milk jars used and I had gone through 8 gallons of milk making ricotta, farmer's cheese, cheddar and yogurt. I'm finally in a groove with farmhouse cheddar and am really excited about the results. My last few batches, that were still ones I had waxed before ditching that unnecessary step, had little pockets of unintended blue cheese, but the one I cracked into this morning is just what I'm aiming for. It's about time to try a longer aged cheddar, but that will take a day when I'm feeling particularly adventurous!

That same morning, I made one of those brunches (turned out to be closer to lunchtime) that kind of expanded as I went. Before long there was a cottage cheese cheddar oregano bake in the oven, alongside roasting squash and a sorghum yogurt cornbread. On the stovetop I had tomatoes stewing with some of the last shallots and, to top off the meal, I steamed fresh spinach. Is there anything sweeter and fuller in flavor. It was clearly one of those meals that wanted to not only be savored but also photographed. The textures, colors and love that went into it is not easily captured!
Times up so to end a few snippets that didn't neatly fit in anywhere else but that I didn't want to lose sight of. Terah is still often a mommy's girl but she can't help but find daddy pretty exciting sometimes. Recently she wanted to go out with him for chicken chores and he was happy to oblige. Here's the cute pair:
And there's our almost 7 year old eagerly counting down the days to her birthday party and then her actual birthday. She was trying on her outfits for her party today and the Easter eggs are already filled for the hunt. I enjoyed a very short "Alida Mommy date" the other morning when we went to town together and did a co-op run for some needed birthday party fixings. As always, she soaked up that time and our littlest was mostly ok with the arrangement, though she made it very clear to us that for her birthday she wanted all of us to go to the co-op together!

And our oldest is not sitting around twiddling her thumbs. When not building her bed or tending her ducks or helping with the spring rush on the homestead, she is enjoying various creative pursuits. She recently had a poem published in Cricket and just yesterday the paper had a little blurb about her fame.

These gals get a lot of credit for making life what it is: rich, exhausting, rewarding, exasperating, challenging, hilarious, sweet, full of opportunities for growth and oh so very full!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Room #6 Our bedroom

I told Jason yesterday morning that it was a good thing we took breaks in between rooms AND that we don't do this very often. I enjoy cleaning (some) and organizing (a lot), but this process is putting that to the test for sure! I did say that taking pictures along the way is kind of an encouragement mechanism for me because I have the thought, "before too long you'll be putting before and after pictures on the blog." Yesterday Jason was my hero! While I cleaned furniture, organized drawers, kept up with feeding all of us and doing dishes, as well as keeping the laundry going, he washed all the walls/trim/windows AND the ceiling fan and loft area. Had we not been a team on board the whole time together, the bedroom would not be DONE!!! Today was our "finish up" day and there in case we needed it. Thankfully, it looks like we will mostly be able to fill the day with other things - EXCEPT for having to flip over our mattress which Jason discovered we reinstalled upside down. But I think we can handle that and since today won't be deep cleaning, I have a secret hope of getting our taxes done. Fingers crossed. Right now Terah and I are working up a Sunday brunch: grits, chicken sausage, potato crusted ricotta quiche, squash chocolate mousse with chocolate persimmon bars and while the oven is on I'm roasting another round of squash, because that's what I do these days whenever the oven gets turned on

But back to the bedroom cleaning! We gave ourselves parts of several days again, breaking up the job into a few parts. Day #1 was Thursday and all we attempted that day was to take our books off the bookshelf and sort them. I guess I should not say "all" as that was plenty for what ended up just being an evening job! The removing was easy, the sorting not so much. But we got rid of some, some are now in the Free Little Library and I have some stacks on the guest room bed of books we want to pass to others. So that task will linger with me for a bit yet. We were able to move all the girls' books onto shelves outside our bedroom and with all that we are parting with, everything we have not fits very easily on the shelves. AND we even found a good use for a few of Jason's precious rocks - book ends!
Day #2 we tackled our closet. Now THAT was a job. And it was the "room" in our house, I was most eager about transforming into a more usable and less frustrating space. We actually spend a lot of time in there and it was beyond cluttered. Like the back kitchen being the repository for all our family stuff we didn't know where to go with, our closet was the repository for personal/sentimental stuff that we didn't want to part with but weren't sure where to go with. There were multiple reasons I anticipated the closet being an emotional roller coaster ride. And it was in some ways but I felt amazingly positive that day - and even had some good laughs throughout the day, not the least of which came when Jason modeled his red union suit one last time for all of us! We both tried on more or less all our clothes. And once the clothing part was done, we starting sorting through our shelves stuffed with random items, etc... I finally felt ready in this 10th year to part with the little wrist band that Nora wore when she was in the hospital. I also was ready to recycle "my life." I had piles of old date books. Maybe some day I would want to look back on what I was doing on March 11th, 2006?! Alida was my great assistant disassembling them for recycling. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my current date book, let alone having time to peruse old ones which are hard to even read because I crossed off things once they were over. And that's why we have this blog anyway, so the girls don't have to root through date books if they want to go back and reminisce! The girls (and I) were also ready to part with the accumulation of baby teeth - my goodness we had a lot of random containers of teeth. And getting rid of Jason's pleated dress black pants freed him up to get rid of his black shoes - you be the judge how recently he wore them?! In the end, this one room has our trunk loaded for the thrift store. As we sat down for supper last night, I mused with Jason about how absolutely overwhelming it would be to think of bringing all that stuff back in and finding homes for it!
I didn't do great with before/after pictures but here is one of Jason's side of the closet. It's even better in real life!
By Day #3 (yesterday) we were done most of the emotional work and now we had the work work left! I've never photographed so much dirt as I have during this project! Our bed hadn't been cleaned around and under ever. We kept our commitment and took EVERYTHING out - detached the bookshelf, disassembled the bed, removed the recliner... The most challenging item to move was our mattress. Could anything we more awkward - why did they not install handles on those things? Maybe because then I would not have laughed so hard my stomach muscles hurt as Jason and I tried to return it to the room (remember, we get to flip the thing over today...). I should note that the worst part of the whole day was when the girls came in from playing outside and Terah discovered the mattress returned to our bed frame. They had been having a lot of fun with it on the floor of their room. She was so so upset - one of those all out tantrums that she wears herself out having and has red blotchy skin at the end of it. Poor little gal! It didn't help that it was 5-6 p.m. on a no nap day; our attempt to be prepared for the time change!
I had a few surprise moments as I cleaned all the furniture and things from our windowsills. And I found myself taking a short break here and there to send an email to the various people that came to mind as I cleaned things. I know that I've made a lot of disparaging comments about "stuff" throughout this process, but it is also kind of amazing how our "stuff" also provides powerful reminders of relationships that are important to us, or memories of times that were significant. For me, most poignant yesterday were memories of starting the job that I've now been in for almost 20 years and then memories around the time of Nora's death and gratefulness for those who journeyed so closely with us during that time. For those memories and feelings of appreciation, I thank our stuff!

We once again made some significant changes to improve the flow and quality of our life in that space. The annoying hanging lamp is gone, a bedside stand is now by the recliner. The bedside stand removed from our bedside enabled moving the bed over to make more room to pull the drawers out on the one side more easily. YAY for ending that ongoing frustration. And yay for having a lamp to read by that will be easy to turn on. And yay for windowsills now having one plant and one picture, rather than cluttered so much it was hard to pull the shades down. Ahhh...that's how it feels!
One more room to go! Ok, so the front room is probably best to be thought of as two rooms and I'm going to need some more "laying in bed at night planning sessions" to work out how we are going to approach that one. Let's hope for sunny days where we can air some things outside! Stay tuned...

Now to put the finishing touches on our brunch before kiddos get too cranky (oh, and I guess it is time to fully rouse Kali so she can join us!).

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Photo shoot and signs of spring

I got a little distracted posting about our family retreat day and realized there was some other "scrapbook worthy" things to note in this space before our next deep clean commences later this week. Deep breath - it's time to tackle our bedroom!!!!

So here's a few things that we've been enjoying of late. I'll start with something that we are on the cusp of enjoying to its fullest! Some time before our neighbor R.M. died, he had passed some amaryllis seeds to Jason. Jason planted them and watered them and for a long time nothing happened. Now our first flower stalks are up and about to bloom. R.M.'s love of this flower was evident by the many that he tended in his home and we wish he was here to see this completely new variety bloom. It's been a constant reminder of him on our front windowsill!

When we aren't flower-gazing, we are often peeking out our back kitchen window to see what's happening in the window well. Here are several hens lined up and waiting for their turn. They are entertaining and rather loud when they have deposited their offering and are ready to tell the world about it. Jason just announced last evening in our family meeting that he thinks some of them have chosen a new spot, yet to be discovered. He thinks it is from a swap in roosters - I learned something new about roosters. They apparently help hens find good nest spots for laying their eggs. So it's time for another egg hunt around here.
I mentioned the large chicken butchering that took place Saturday. The workshop part of it ended up being small, which I hope meant it was great for the few that came to learn for various chunks of the day. Terah and I joined for a little but were mostly occupied with food preparations and other household tasks. Today will be cutting up and sausage making day around here, the next stage in the process. This large group of roosters is what stemmed from the order for 50 hens of his Shenandoah breed. I kind of miss seeing them roaming about but it was time to not be putting so much feed into birds that were at the ideal butchering age. Jason narrowed it down to selecting two breeders from the group.

The signs of spring are all around us. Daffodils about to burst into full bloom, rhubarb poking up, spinach putting on size, forsythia turning yellow, grass greening up, etc... And then there is snow in the forecast for today and/or tomorrow (mixed with rain). I'm afraid that many plants may have some shocks still in store for them as I don't think our cold weather days are behind us quite yet. It certainly is starting to feel like pea planting weather is just around the corner though. And the shelf in the common room is loaded up with more trays of seed starts and now our sweet potato slips are also underway. We really do need to wrap up phase 1 of our cleaning project so we can move our attention fully outside!
I mentioned a few activities that were spawned by our cleaning projects. Here was another "if we are going to keep this we need to use it" items. We have a pasta maker that we definitely make use of occasionally but there were all these other parts that I didn't know what they were for and then a ravioli attachment that I had deemed too frustrating to use.  Jason and the girls were not ready to part with it so I suggested they make homemade ravioli for dinner on a day I was at work. They agreed! We all benefited! The project was a long one and not without some things to learn and improve upon but they did it and it used all those random parts (which is partly why when I made it it didn't work well - I didn't use all those parts). Jason is the person in our family to break in such a gadget and figure out how it works. We all enjoyed the homemade spinach ricotta mozzarella raviolis! 
Ok, it's time for me to get this day under way. I have laundry going, butter ready to be washed and ricotta that needs to be stirred, but I'm pinned down by a nursing little one who I'm not sure is ready to get her day under way quite yet. Yesterday and today include many hours of playing in the kitchen as it is a hosting-heavy week around here, as well as making meals to deliver to others. I'm so thrilled to have found a bushel of sweet potatoes under the stairwell that I didn't know we had. Yay! I did just use the last bulb onion yesterday but have also started harvesting and using the green perennial onions. Perfect timing!

In closing, I'll share a bunch of photos from a recent photo shoot we had with our friend and my colleague Howard. I am not a big fan of photo shoots but am always grateful for the pictures. Our last one, also with him, was when Terah was just a few months old. It's such a low key and fun atmosphere and Howard gets a lot of great shots of not only the poses but the in between spaces. He also seems to have fun tinkering with them afterwards so here's a smattering of our favorites!
 And I thought I'd also share some of the "outtakes" or silly ones! The girls did great but were certainly starting to go a little crazy towards the end. And Terah was not at all pleased when a photo combination was proposed that included me and excluded here, but she did think it was fun to try to pick her nose.
That's us! (And there are over 200 more where those came from!)