Monday, June 18, 2018

Summer's almost here, it's hot, and a fun trip to PA!

It's just a few minutes before 8 and I just said goodbye to Kali as she headed off to work! Yep, it's Monday morning and she is off to work, not me! She has joined the blueberry picking crew next door again this year and has already surpassed the amount she picked last year. She has a few friends on the crew and is thoroughly enjoying it, and it isn't even too difficult to get her out of bed at 7 a.m.! I'm grateful for the flexibility to be home to make it possible for her to do this. Otherwise, it'd be a tad challenging on the home front since getting out to do chores before it's too hot is important for Jason and right now the two littlest gals are still sacked out!

Speaking of those little gals, I succumbed to letting Max and Ruby do some entertaining last week when we were trying hard to get a lot of farm stuff done before our summer travels to the Benner home place in PA. Neither of them seem to go great in the heat, so I'm not sure how much I'm going to be able to get out and help when they also don't seem to wake up very early. I'd much rather be out weeding here at 8 a.m. and sitting at a computer at noon than the other way around. Still working on how to get our individual schedules to jive with the collective! A few bursts of weeding had the spice and herb garden looking sharp and I also got to help weed and side dress some of our corn with compost. It is very satisfying for me when I get to work on and help complete a project. So many of the tasks around here are ever evolving and kind of stretch out in front of us (multiple day/week projects are a little less satisfying for me since I do tend to really crave that sense of completion).
...I have to chuckle because it is now hours later and I'm back at this. Terah woke right as I was reflecting on my desire to finish one thing before getting distracted. It might be what I enjoy most, but it is not what I experience most, that's for sure! Jason is much better at getting in a groove and taking a large task apart and just doing the next thing in it. He paces himself and has more endurance than me. In this photo, he is cutting and mulching with rye (a tedious and long job) to make way for planting flour corn (which is coming up nicely now). Kali seems to be able to stick with jobs alongside Jason, which is great. When we got home last evening they went out and picked the hull peas together. That's a dizzying job for me, with the mess of plants and peas and various stages of ripeness. I did enjoy picking the sugar snaps and snow peas, and while they are not stellar they are much better than last year. 
I just got in from a satisfying 2 hour stint of working outside - sometimes days bring unpredictable and pleasant surprises like today. Alida woke up happy. Terah woke up happy. They were interested in being together and were excited to earn money by entertaining each other. I told Jason that it feels kind of ridiculous to pay our kids so I can work, but he said it was just paying the absentee babysitter. It felt like a very worthwhile 4 dollars to have them enjoy two hours of fun together while I weeded the red raspberries and put the final wheelbarrow loads of duff on the row. I also grabbed a bunch of plantain and smart weed for the pigs and did a quick once over weeding in our potato patch. It's a big day for the pigs. They have been combined! So far Jason feels it is going better than expected. I'm feeling bad for the smaller ones who are being told (by being butted and bitten) who is boss. But so far it seems they aren't chasing after them, just not letting them get in their space. Hopefully more peace will come with time. Jason seems to think this was all to be expected!
Let me note just a few more tidbits from home and end with a some highlights from our weekend in PA! The other day when Jason and I were in some busy slightly stressed space, all of a sudden this mound of something under a blanket came moving across the floor. It was so hilarious and broke us from our state, bringing us back to the glorious present moment of life with Terah! I'm not sure if she is pretending to be a turtle or what, but she gets her whole self under her blanket and scoots around.  It's very funny! Other times she likes to play in the stuffed animal bin and sometimes almost disappears there too.  
Kali continues to really enjoy playing piano and sometimes her younger sisters will let her. 
 Soccer season is over. Jason even survived taking all three girls to Soccer Fest on the last day!
We now have FIVE pea shellers in the family. Bring on the peas! It's amazing how fast a large pile goes down with so many helpers. It's also amazing how many peas the five of us could consume. We'll savor the few that will go in our freezer for the winter!
And finally berry season is upon us! Right now we have goumi, red currant, gooseberry, black raspberry, red raspberry, white raspberry and blueberries ripe. We missed the serviceberries, so the birds probably enjoyed those. There are also probably still mulberries along the lane, but I haven't verified that since we got home. The main issue is picking time, so we are mostly just snacking on things when we are out and about. No jam making yet (which is not urgent since we still have lots in the root cellar!) Terah is a HUGE fan of raspberries!!! I asked her if red, white or black raspberries are her favorite and she said, "red, white and black raspberries are my favorite." There you have it!
So time for another distraction so this blog post may read with a slightly disjointed feel. Consider it an appropriate feeling for how life actually feels to at least the parents in this household much of the time. It's time to go pick up Kali at the blueberry patch and take the older girls for a playdate with friends down the road. I'll end this section with a picture of the milkweed right now. I hope we can provide good food and homes for monarch caterpillars again this year. In the meantime, the flowers are so exquisite! Ok, I'm off. I'll be back to share a bit about our adventures away from home!!

...Terah is playing "turtle" with her blanket in the living room so we'll see if I can knock out the rest of this post before her nap! So we left last Thursday for a long anticipated weekend in Pennsburg. The impetus for this particular trip north was to celebrate Jason's niece and nephew's high school graduation. I completely spaced and didn't take my camera to the graduation party, so the pictures here are from a few other parts of our weekend together.

Weeks ago Terah had brought to the family meeting that she had never ridden on a boat, a train or a bus and she wanted to. She has now ridden on a boat, thanks to Grandpa Benner and we have train tickets for a scenic ride in WV this September with my parents. The bus won't be too hard to take care of sometime soon as well - that was the easiest of the three modes of transportation requested... The day before the planned boat ride she started saying she wasn't going to ride a boat after all. The idea must have sounded appealing and the real thing a little scary. Once we explained she would not be in the water and the boat would float and offered for her big sisters to go first, she was back on board with the plan.

It did not disappoint! The five of us loaded up in Grandpa's van (which was actually pretty close to a bus, allowing Terah a great view out the windows), and drove to Lake Nockamixon. It was a picture perfect day - warm but not hot with a nice breeze. On our way home to VA yesterday, we all were sharing highlights from the weekend and this was definitely the one shared by us all! The boat ride was great, but the unexpected excitement for Terah was playing in the water by the dock. I quickly realized that the only clothes she had along were soon going to be very wet, so off they came. She was quite happy about that and got to splash around and see small fish right in the water in front of her.
It might have been more disappointing to leave the lake if there wasn't a lot of other fun to be had! Other non-graduation party fun that stands out was attending a soccer game, adoring a baby cousin, and playing in the pool. The time went quickly and before we knew it, it was Sunday morning and time to start the trek homeward.
The kids did great with all the hubbub and happenings. And Terah slept well at nap and nights. That said, the ride home felt long! It seems we were all a tad lower on sleep due to having fun visiting, a little overstimulated and probably all in need of quiet and space, and so car quarters felt tight and patience wore thin all around (it didn't help that Kali was very stuck in a long suspenseful book and so was less present to being on for entertainment in the back seat - I would have loved to have lost myself in a book too!!). So there was silliness and grouchiness in abundance and we were quite happy to see Fruit Farm Lane when it came around!! 

So here we are, happy to be home safe and sound and back in the middle of things! The long wet cooler spell has been replaced by hot muggy weather. All the gardens are calling for our attention and I am working hard to focus on all the things going well - the huge clusters of grapes & the gorgeous potato field & succulent white raspberries - and not all the things that are not a smashing success or we are very behind on - the pathetic looking garlic & the welcome garden that is a maze of weeds, to name a couple. Little by little!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Cuteness in abundance - and "newsflash!!"

We all look forward to our "date nights with Ivy," which come around monthly. Yesterday was such a gorgeous day that it seemed a shame to spend any more of it inside than we absolutely had to! The cooler temperatures made an outdoor fire seem attractive and our girls are always up and eager to make pizza pockets over the fire. So we had a plan!!

I love watching kids enjoy the outdoors - and with such abandon! They played and ate and played and ate and got REALLY messy! The food was delicious, the air was fresh and cool, and there was some serious cuteness to take in. Ivy was so sweet sitting in the big chair downing her pizza pocket and about 1/2 a quart of dill pickles! I had to feed her pickles after awhile because going from eating to playing to eating meant that the food had a sandy crunch to it if not inserted directly in the mouth from someone else.

I love Ivy's, "I splatted!" And she was doing a lot of that. Her two feet haven't quite learned to come off the ground together but she sure was attempting to hop into the puddles. I'm not sure how long they could have played out there and it likely would have been a hard sell to get them to leave that fun and come inside, but the offer of a bath with lots more toys to play with got the two littlest ones traipsing up the hill. We did not take any detours but I plopped them both right in the tub, where they proceeded to play until pick up time. What fun was had by all!
Some day Jason and I are going to make an outdoor fire and leisurely make pizza pockets by ourselves and then sit there watching the fire, reminiscing about the good old days when kids were under foot and we would just sit down to take a bite when someone needed a drink, or another pickle, or their food fell in the sand, or a child was about to go down the slide in a precarious position, or someone was getting just a hair too close to the fire, or someone needed to poop, or the fire needed restoking, or someone wanted another pizza, or we needed to check the three pizza pockets we had on the fire, or.... You get the picture!

But let me not wish away these days any faster than they are flying by already! We are seeing signs of kids growing up all over the place!! And here comes the NEWSFLASH! At about 2 years and 8 months Terah just spent her first night WITHOUT me!!!! I'm still in a bit of a shock that it happened and went off without a hitch - or at least without any difficulty on her part (that is once she went to bed around midnight).

Mom was here for part of this past week while my Dad happily birded elsewhere. She offered for the girls to have a sleepover upstairs and normally that means the two oldest. But Terah seemed more ready and we offered for her to join and when she learned this meant she could try out her hand-me-down sleeping bag and sleep in the "cave" (their walk through closet) she was in! At least verbally so. I thought maybe she was going to be all talk on this one and when bedtime came around would recant and want to come downstairs. Not so!

It sounds like she did an hour or two routine of getting ready for bed, needing a snack, brushing teeth again, being thirsty, getting hungry again, brushing teeth and then finally after a big poopy she sacked out near midnight. I had been sleeping for quite some time by then!! Then in the wee hours of the morning (around 4 a.m. or so - which happened to be almost to the minute the exact 10 year anniversary of Nora's death), I woke and then rested fitfully for a bit before getting up to head to work around 6. I started thinking about her in her sleeping bag and worried she got down to far and couldn't breath underneath the covers. Clearly I was sure she couldn't possibly have just slept peacefully up there all night without me - which was, in fact, exactly what she had done!

She's still a fan of "mama milk" but also clearly can go without it. And she also seems to be quite used to waking up with Grandma nearby rather than me or Jason. This morning, as I was doing my morning puttering she woke and I heard her call, "GRANDMA" from our bed. Thankfully she wasn't disappointed to see me and thought it was funny when I told her she would have to call a bit louder for Grandma to hear her all the way from West Virginia! We enjoyed our time so much having Mom around and miss her already! (And a goal for future blogs: I need to make an effort to get some pictures of Mom and the girls when they are together - so often when she is here and spending time with the girls I am at work or occupied with other things - but I'll make an effort!)

Ok, time to pick some lettuce and get some compost on our corn patches. Off we go!!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

10th Anniversary Blood Drive for Nora

This one is going to be a little hard to top! We gathered Monday with many others to remember Nora at Virginia Blood Services. What a special evening! There were many things about it that made it extra memorable.
When we arrived I noticed that they had a sign out front and that the place looked extra orange inside. As we got closer, I could see a lot of their staff looking at the windows watching us approach and that they had clearly decided to go the extra mile in preparing for us. There were orange balloons and streamers and t-shirts and many of the staff were wearing orange. If I hadn't been ushering kids in with my hands full of stuff to set up, I think I would have just stopped and cried right there in the parking lot. I felt overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness and how excited they seemed to join in the celebration.
The sign out front noted "in memory of Nora Lynne" but also mentioned "the Gratitude Pool." I didn't really understand what that meant but didn't have time to think too deeply about it either. It wasn't long before the first donors arrived and things got crazy from there until the end - but a good kind of crazy. It was our largest turn out by far and with so many people near and dear to us. In the end we had 23 successful blood/platelet donations. A few folks joined who had never donated before, which is always a bonus. And we had lots of potential future donors (kids) around and under foot. I tried to count up everyone that was there and think I am right at 56, with about 15 of those being little people!

That does not count their amazing staff and also one platelet donor who was giving when we got there. I thought it was amazing that she happened to be also wearing orange. I found out later that it was not a coincidence; the staff had called her to tip her off to the event and told her she could keep her appointment but should wear orange. She did, and also brought bright orange cupcakes to donate to the tables laden with orange snacks. So so sweet!
So we had donors/contributors of all kinds. We had blood and platelet donors, snack donors, cuteness contributions in abundance, not to mention hugs and cheerleading contributions. It was all a part of what made it a meaningful few hours. Shortly after we arrived and before things got fully rolling, I was called over to Jason who was preparing to give platelets. A representative from their Charlottesville headquarters had joined for the evening, and as it turns out he was there to present to us a plaque. That is when I learned what "the Gratitude Pool" was. So it seems that Jason and the VBS staff had been in cahoots for some time now to surprise me. VBS had recently started this program and our group was the first to meet some kind of threshold of giving. So, in essence, "the Gratitude Pool" is a team of donors that are organized around the memory of Nora Lynne. That is a sweet thing!
What they presented to us is an "excellence in community partnership volunteer achievement award." At the time, I really didn't have an extra second to reflect on it all. What struck me the most was that Jason had successfully kept such a surprise from me for months! And then the look on the staff faces, who seemed so excited to have pulled it off and eager to unveil the plans. And then touched that they had thought of our group as the one they really wanted to see come together for this. That all meant so very much to me!

In the hours and days following, as I always do, I've stewed a bit more on the whole thing. I can never seem to let things just be simple! I started having musings about what the actual purpose was of this "team of donors" and if somehow this was going to shift the focus of these events in a way that would impact their meaning and significance for me/us. I didn't want that!

Giving blood stems from a very individual desire to do something I thought I could not do and to do that to honor Nora, and the things her life taught me. For awhile it was just something Jason and I would do together and over time it became very meaningful. It then became a ritual we wanted to broaden and invite others to join us in. And the rest is history. I want the goal of our times to remain gathering to remember Nora and honor her by giving to others. That is why we keep doing the blood drives 2x a year. And, honestly, there is an aspect of it all that is kind of selfish. For me, it feels really important to have our friends and family remember that Nora is part of our family. As time goes on, there are less opportunities where she naturally comes up in conversation or where people mention her. This is a very clear and easy way to keep that in front of others and I like that. So if we can do good for others while remembering her and asking others to remember her with us, all the better.

I do not, however, want to start amassing a collection of VBS awards. For our regular blog readers, you are familiar with my aversion to accumulating "stuff" and our recent successful deep clean/purge! I also find that "prizes" and even often being paid for something can sometimes cheapen the whole thing for me. It's almost like trying to put a tangible value on something that is very intangible messes it up. Bear with me for a tiny soapbox moment: I get so annoyed at "do good" organizations (environmental ones are right up there on my list) that send you mailing upon mailing highlighting what you can get if you give x amount of dollars. It's not their fault - they are clearly doing what works. I'm frustrated that as a culture and society, we need to be rewarded for caring for the environment or doing what needs to be done to make the world a more just and equitable place for all... Okay, stepping down now!

All that to say that after a helpful email exchange with some of their staff, I feel like we are all clear on the purpose and goal of our events, so onward we go! Mark your calendars now for October 30th, Nora's 11th birthday. Same time, same place!

I don't want to end without saying how much it means to me to have so many children at these events. This was an especially kid-filled event and I loved it. From a few months old all the way up to Kali at 14 (and we realized that as early as next fall 2019, Kali would be eligible to join as a donor!!). For the most part they seemed to have a grand time coloring, eating snacks, and watching what was happening. There were a few moments of skepticism when both parents headed off to check in/donate, but then other kids stepped up to entertain and console. It was very cute! The most touching moment for me is the one picture above when I'm donating. Terah came over to watch and was doing fine and talking to me until the moment when I got stuck. And then she dissolved into tears. It took some concentrated effort to convince her that I had asked them to do it, that I was ok, that I was not hurting badly, and that this was all in the plan. She was not at all sure about it. As you can see here, though, for the most part she had a grand time!!

I will just close by saying a big THANK YOU to all who joined us! For those that had never joined us before (but hopefully will again in the future) and for our faithful regulars who have hardly missed a blood drive. To those that never met Nora but have gotten to know her through us and to those who knew her intimately well. Thanks for sharing memories with us, for honoring Nora with us and for the many ways you have walked with us and supported us on this journey of living and loving and losing. There has been loss and grief and there has also been a lot of joy and celebration. Our lives are richer having had Nora with us and also richer because of the ways others have gathered around us to honor her life in an ongoing way. The Gratitude's a good name!