Friday, November 30, 2018

Thanksgiving travels, hair donation and a completed leaf pile!

Before I dive into the things mentioned in the subject of this post, two small tidbits that are scrapbook worthy!

We grew a lot of black beans this year! It rained a lot this year! That means that many of them sprouted before we got them out of the field, threshed and winnowed. So sitting in our common room for awhile was four loaded trays of black beans. It looked like a daunting job with a mixture of sprouted, moldy and good beans. We were faced with the dilemma that is so often a part of our life at Tangly Woods. Do we take the "unreasonable" amount of time needed to sort through all these black beans to pull out the good ones - which probably wouldn't amount to no more than 20-25lbs of dry beans. There was no way we were going to "justify" the activity by comparing to what a sack of 25lb of organic black beans would cost. But is that the gauge we should be using? Well, we sorted one tray's worth, found the activity rather addicting and then made refried beans with them. That made the decision. They were scrumptious - once again we learn that food grown here tastes best! We spent hours together sorting beans while kids played around us or joined in. Yes, a considerable amount of time spent on the activity but if framed as good and fun family times that resulted in lots of black beans that we will enjoy this winter, the beans then are almost a bonus! I often get the sense that some might feel that we are "wasting" our time doing so much by hand when you could just go to the store and buy "the same thing." I would argue they aren't the same thing, I would also argue we aren't considering all the costs of such a mentality (and some are already paying the price of it), and I would finally argue it is a pretty good alternative to family television watching time. You might wonder if I'm trying to convince myself. In part, I am! We are not immune to the pressures felt from our economy and culture.

Well, that clearly could be a blog post all it's own, but let's move along. Isn't this a beautiful sight? What you don't get are the beautiful sounds accompanying it. I'm very much enjoying the fruits of Kali's birthday gift of piano lessons, and she seems to be thoroughly enjoying them, too. It's once again a new experience for me of seeing someone choose to pursue something (after a long time contemplating it) and then enjoy practicing and improving with no pressure or anxiety involved - AND no need for me to enforce practicing or bug her to go over her "homework." It's delightful! So much so that I offered to do a duet with her on the piano for "Sing for your Supper" at Jason's aunts over Thanksgiving. We were great in rehearsal, Kali was great in the performance, and I screwed up. But it was fun!

So more on our Thanksgiving travels: I won't waste too much space on the care ride. 81 and 78 are never enjoyable roads for me to travel on and this time was no different. Terah is not a very enjoyable kid for me to drive long distances with and this time was also no different. I also was not as prepared this time as sometimes - I did good packing food for the meals on the road but neglected to think through the "entertainment." With no working CD player, we were subjected to a lot of "I hate the car" and "I want out of the carseat" and "I want to play." The good news was that Terah transferred from bed to car on the way to and from PA and slept some of the way both times. Had she been awake all 5-6 hours, it might have done me in! Even as it was, I was VERY glad to get to our destination safely on both ends of our trip!

Once in PA, we had many good family times. There was baby holding, swinging, cushioned-sword fighting, horsey riding, family walk/talks, singing, candle making, game playing, feasting, and did I mention baby holding? You will see some visuals below of our time together, but the best view I had in the few days we were there was the first photo here - I don't hold a sleeping baby in my arms very often any more and especially away from home with no to do lists looming. It was luxurious!! So we soaked up time all together and then we all departed and since that time are all exchanging notes on the pathways the various viruses we all shared with each other are taking as they make their ways through our bodies. I think there are a precious few from the family that have been spared illness. But despite it being a long time since I've had a good night's sleep (Terah is no less dramatic now with a cold than she was before), it was worth it!
Upon our return home, our chief task this week was to finish collecting leaves for the year. We had self-imposed an end of November deadline for ourselves. We decided by that time we should have enough for the year and we need to move on to other projects/tasks. So we hit it hard on the days I was not in the office this week - most of Tuesday and Thursday and then this morning. The pile has been above the wire numerous times and then we "worked" (ok, played) hard to compact it to add more. What satisfying work - fresh air, good exercise, fun family times. I'm in!!

Below we will share some instructional videos on the proper technique for compacting an enormous leaf pile. :)

#1 The dive:

#2 The face plant:

#3 The child drop:

If you are needing some additional tips and suggestions there are more where those came from! Jason and I make a really good raking/hauling team. And Jason knows all he has to do is mention how many leaf bundles he was able to take on one trip, and I'll be working hard to rise to the challenge. Our top number was 5! Thankfully the back injuries triggered by a previous virus seem to be healing up pretty well such that we both felt pretty good (in our backs if not our noses and throats) for our final day! We are grateful to our neighbors for allowing us to rake and haul away their leaf and pine needle crops. They seem equally glad to have us do it for them! The added benefit is that their massive yard of trees is also equipped with a play house, a swing, a slide and a trampoline. So we have built in kiddo entertainment when the thrill of raking leaves wears off. So I'm not sad to see this "season" come to a close, but I will also eagerly anticipate it when it comes around again next year! We are sure this is more than we have ever collected in a year and should keep us stocked for our humanure composting, chicken and duck bedding, paths and garden mulching, etc... 
Our outdoor work time is greatly curtailed during this time of year by the hours of available light. This often means we are racing the sun at the end of the day to get the evening outdoor chores wrapped up, but it also means longer evenings for indoor things. Jason has been noting the length of his hair for awhile now. Last evening, kind of spur of the moment, I noted that he has just showered (clean hair is a must for donating) and we were home "early" (before 9 p.m.) from dinner and visiting with Emily, Jonas and Ivy. So we sprung on the opportunity for a hair chop!! What we didn't realize was that our middle daughter was going to really struggle with this - it's a change after all and we had not given her sufficient time to adjust to the idea of a shorter-haired father. So while Terah happily went off to find her scissors to practice cutting daddy's hair and Jason worked to get his hair dry in front of the fire and to keep Terah from chewing on it (?!), Alida mourned the pending change. And she didn't do it all that quietly! Kali had faded again (the viruses taking their toll) and missed the whole thing. The ending was as we suspected it would be. Alida had an excellent frump session, I gave a useless lecture, we cut Jason's hair, and she couldn't even remember being upset about it this morning and loves her daddy just as much with short hair. I've got four long locks of hair to send off on Monday!
 Jason and I have had our share of exasperating moments lately as parents of three vibrant, creative, fun, loud, insistent, interesting gals! Terah, especially, keeps us on our toes and this week she is a bit extra demanding (and squeaky) due to her cold. Her wants and needs are completely indistinguishable to her at this age and there's no use trying to help her see the difference. She's also really cute right now in identifying when she just needs a little point of connection and then is ready to move on. Each day and sometimes several times a day she will come and announce that she needs a hug. Upon receiving one, she is off again to whatever she was doing. I feel like it is replacing the comfort and connection she once received from nursing (at least in part). Well it seems that ouchies need that extra touch too and last evening as Kali was sacked out sick and Alida was mourning Jason's loss of hair, Terah was needing some attention for a minute ouchie on her baby toe. I was trying to finish cleaning up the hair all over the floor and deal with Alida's emotions and Terah finally was loud enough to get my full attention and announce that what her baby toe ouchie really needed was a kiss. I obliged and Jason grabbed the camera!
If you have made it this far, congratulations! The best part is about to come. I want to close with a brief reflection from our morning reading/coffee time today. Jason and I are reading together Philip Ackerman-Leist's Up Tunket Road and it's another book that we feel inclined to underline about half of. It's so nice when we find a book that we no longer need to try to write because someone else already has. He articulates so many of the challenges, dilemmas, joys, questions, successes, failures, and musings about the homesteading journey that we resonate so deeply with! In this morning's reading, I was calling out "Amen" in some instances and feeling so grateful to him for articulating the connection that I feel with what we are trying (no matter how flawed) to do at Tangly Woods with my undergraduate studies in peacebuilding and liberation theology. I have sensed in my core the connections all along but at times struggle to put words to it. Thanks Philip! Here's one snippet: "Latin American liberation theologians - faced with death, economic oppression, and even opposition from their superiors in Rome - saw faith as a way to help their communities find their way out of seemingly impossible situations...This moment of doubt, confusion and uncertainty is what liberation theologians would call aporia, an ancient Greek word meaning 'without a door.' Aporia became not an impasse but rather the beginning point for new vision and understanding...In the face of so many global challenges, I find the minuteness of any given homesteading venture to be much the same, as we humans work to navigate our way through some of the biggest challenges that we have ever posed for ourselves. We are groping for a door, trying to determine where to put our faith and, subsequently, our energies...I believe that our best chance of dismantling our current ecological aporia will come not so much from our ability to harness the wind, sun, and tides as from our willingness to harness our wants and whims...and to find joy not so much in simplicity as in simple pleasures."  Yay for leaf raking together!!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Soccer's over, leaves have fallen, and our first snow and ice!

Cold weather has arrived! I'm typing this having now thawed from this evening's soccer game and in the front room near the woodstove! This week we had our first ice/snow/sleet, which didn't amount to much but enough to make the outdoors a winter wonderland and to take out our power for over 24 hours. It was not a planned vacation day, but it was amazing how the loss of electricity slowed down life considerably (and I kind of enjoyed it). Yes I was eager for the water to come back on so I could wash a day's accumulation of dishes. But I was dismayed by how within a moment of the power coming back on, I felt anxious and a flood of all the things I could (and should) now do. It reminded me a bit of dropping my cell phone and deciding not to replace it. No, we are not giving up electricity...yet. BUT it was a shocking reminder to me again how much we rely on it and how much it controls our lives. I don't like that! I did enjoy heating lunch on the woodstove and making buttermilk cheese there as well!

The power outage also made for a memorable first sleepover for ALL of our gals at Emily, Jonas and Ivy's home. The older girls had multiple times in the past, but this was Terah's first time and she was excited! I hoped the power outage would not be unnerving for her especially, and some texted photos of them making shadow puppets and Terah with her little headlamp on helped me fully relax knowing they were having a grand time. We enjoyed a rare evening with my parents (with the ability to finish our sentences without interruption) and savored sleeping side by side without our littlest in between us. That said, I was excited to be reunited with them the next morning!
We got one day of leaf raking in before the winter weather. We hope to get back to it, maybe as soon as tomorrow. Jason and I are still nursing sore backs and so we were both trying to be careful with our leaf loads. It was about as fun as we remembered it! The only part of the morning that was unsettling for me was when I raked up a bunch and heard some kind of hissing/squeaking sound. I didn't think it was a snake but couldn't place the sound and then I saw something that was clearly not a leaf. It ended up being a red bat. We aren't sure if it was well or not, but we put it into the woods and put some leaves over it for warmth and hoped for the best!
The biggest news is that this year we have two additional leaf haulers - mighty cute ones at that!

See for yourselves. Here's Alida at it:

Of course Terah didn't want to be left out of the fun. She made it all the way down the hill to the leaf pile with her load. I love that working together as a family is one of our favorite ways to spend a day!

And here's the rest of us at it - yes, lots of smiles that day! 
 As of this evening, another fall transition is upon us. After a soccer season full of rain cancellations, the season came to a chilly end! Last week and this week the league gave up on the soccer complex where they normally play and utilized the EMU turf field. Both weeks were COLD but this morning Alida had the added adventure of playing on a field covered in ice and snow. For some of the kids, they were clearly DONE with soccer for the year and READY for snow play. It was rather entertaining to watch the focus be diverted over and over again from the soccer ball to snow ball material. By this evening, the fields were clear for Kali's last game. For all of our girls the next season will bring changes - Kali will need to move up to the high school teams, Alida is very ready to move up a level too and Terah will be old enough to start if she wants (and her parents can handle a third soccer player in the family). In the meantime, I've been trying to explore if there are any options in the area for youth to play field hockey. I recently got my sticks out and Alida clearly has a natural affinity for the sport and seems to really enjoy it. So we'll see where that leads, if anywhere.
So here's how our trio feels at the end of the season. Terah was sticking her belly out as far as she could and we all had a good laugh at it so figured it was worth sharing:
In other news, the corn is all shelled (thanks to lots of helping hands and the power outage and bad weather for working out doors). We are now in the midst of sorting through our black bean harvest - it was hard to know if it was worth it to spend the time sorting them as up to 1/2 are spouted/molding. It was just that kind of year for some crops. But after enjoying them last evening with dinner and refried for lunch today, we'll be completing the sorting job. Yes, we can buy black beans but we can't buy these black beans. Yum!

I'm still having fun making cheese and right now am just 1 cheddar block shy of having my whole shelf full in my makeshift "cheese cave." Two weeks ago three women connected to Allegheny Mountain Institute came for a cheese making day. One of them has successfully made feta, which I really wanted to learn! I have a gallon jar of feta in brine in the fridge that will be ready to try shortly. Fingers crossed, as my one and only other try did not end in feta. The good news is that this time the blocks of feta are still well defined, whereas last time they all dissolved back into a cheesy glop! We were even able to finish up our cheesemaking in time to enjoy a hike to the lake (it was gorgeous with the leaves at the peak of their colors - though I must say I'm enjoying the photo now more than I enjoyed the scene then - since we had lost one of our fellow hikers by the time we got to the lake and I wasn't really able to relax until we were reunited!)
And, finally, we are enjoying a stint with my folks in their quarters upstairs and the Christmas music is floating down the stairs. There's a festive feeling in the air and the train is now set up in the common room again. The excitement was palpable when the train started going up. Terah and Alida were practically jumping up and down and Terah kept shrieking, "I so 'cited...I so 'cited..." That she was!
In closing I will say that I continue to feel mixed emotions about this blog. I feel like I am normally trying to put up posts in haste and with multiple distractions, and so it seldom includes the things that I'm feeling, pondering and wrestling with deeply. It might name from time to time some of the hard stuff but it clearly emphasizes the fun, beautiful, exciting things. But just this evening I was talking with a friend staying with us who is teaching a weekend class at CJP. She noted that the class reflected in a circle process something that is bringing them joy right now. A number of them expressed gratitude for the question - noting that it's been such a painful and difficult time that they have not taken time to reflect on what brings them joy. So maybe that could be a helpful way for me to think about this blog - it often gets me in touch with the people, activities and things that bring me joy in life!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Nora's 11th birthday and Halloween

Brief announcement: Last Saturday we said goodbye to Sara and saw her off for her next adventures! We fit a lot into the month together... We have no idea of apprenticeships are in our future here at Tangly Woods, but we were glad to give it a try to I think we all learned a lot! It hasn't yet been "just us" since there were Airbnb guests here the whole weekend until hours before Mom and Dad arrived. They leave this evening and then the next Airbnb guests arrive tomorrow. This place has been hopping with activity and people! Now to the subject matter for this post:

Other than trick-or-treating up the stairs to Grandma and Grandpa's last night, our actual Halloween day was very un-Halloween like. But we did enjoy a Halloween party with neighbors and friends last weekend. We had a panda, a princess and triplets! Not having any grand ideas, Kali, Jason and I decided to dress up as each other. We do not have a picture of us becoming quadruplets, but the best part of our costume ended up being having a friend arrive at the party dressed in brown shoes, jeans and the same Virginia Blood Services t-shirt (without being in on our plan). It was a fun moment! We enjoyed a lovely hay ride, with the added treat of seeing a flock of wild turkeys and some deer. They didn't seem too bothered by us riding near them and Jason enjoyed thinking of them saying to each other, "don't worry, they are in a cage."

This Tuesday then was Nora's 11th birthday. We decided to go to Storybook Trail. We had only been there one other time. We learned about the trail from Samuel and Margaret, as it was a favorite spot to take their family. It was also the last hiking spot Samuel went before he died, as the trail is handicap accessible. It felt like the right spot to go to remember Nora on her birthday. It was a gorgeous, cool and clear day! Just days before, we had discovered that Terah was now tall enough to ride the tricycle so all three girls had bikes. What a hit! I don't know how many times Alida commented on how fun this was and how we should come back more often!
We enjoyed a picnic atop one of the large rocks along the trail. We got to watch various hikers go by, and my favorite was two men hiking with a small dog on one leash and a large cat on the other. Only one of us got a very short post-lunch snooze (actually, I think it was not a successful snooze but it was a good spot to try for one).
It was fun to take the back road to and from - though the ride home was less fun since Terah was tired but is not, and never has been, a car sleeper! Thanks to Terah being more interested in being upstairs than with me during this short visit from my folks, and thanks to them being willing to have her hang out with them, I got in on a short gardening stint with Jason upon our return home (and that was after getting to go for a walk with Mom) - yes, the day had lots of meaningful times of connecting with those closest to me, which is always my top goal for Nora's birthday!

In the evening we made an outdoor fire - as it was too beautiful to stay inside - and made pizza pockets over the fire. I got to sit for a few minutes in Nora's garden as the fire got going and enjoyed the few flowers (mostly orange!) not yet killed entirely by the frosts we have had to date. It was a good day!
The two most touching moments around Nora's birthday came on the eve of her birth and then the morning of her birth. When I got home from work Monday, I was snuggling with Terah and catching up a bit. We were having a late 3rd birthday celebration with my folks and so she was eager for her birthday meal and to be sung to. I mentioned that the next day was Nora's birthday. She looked at me with the quizzical look she is so good at and asked, "Are we going to sing Happy Birthday to her?" We talked about it and in the end she noted that Nora had died but she was still here (and definitely wanted us to sing to her - which we did!).

Then the morning of Nora's birth, we were all able to enjoy breakfast together (thanks to my dad helping us with the chore routines!). We sat down to eat and looked at our pre-meal blessing card for that day. It was the only meal we ate at home around our table all day and the card up next was the song "When the Rain Comes Down." This is the only song in the stack of cards from the lullaby CD that we played 24/7 in Nora's room before she died, and it happened to be the one we started Nora's birthday singing together. Of course we included the verse, "When a baby smiles, she's smiling for everyone!"