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...

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!