So this is the hodgepodge post and then I'll do one for our biochar solstice party!
We did have our first "significant" snow of the year - not significant in inches accumulated but significant in that it allowed for some great sledding fun! While the girls and Grandma were engaged in some great snow play, Jason and I got the remaining two pigs moved to their winter quarters. They have since been joined by a borrowed boar so fingers crossed on piglets next spring! We have reason to hope that maybe the red pig is pregnant but only time will tell. Right now my biggest concern regarding the pigs is trying to keep up with bedding so they aren't living in one large mud puddle! If we could get a long stretch of sunny days, we'd have an easier time of it. But every since that snow fall, it seems we haven't had a time without puddles around!
For me one of the biggest markers of the holiday season is that we spend a lot more family time together (or more time that is less "productive" in nature - more game playing, movie watching, dance parties, gatherings with friends and family). The last few weeks have had a lot of all of those things! Kali chose our December family night and not surprisingly chose ice skating at the local outdoor rink. The main change this year was that Terah got ice skates for the first time and all 5 of us skated. I was more than a little rusty but was getting it by the end. However, I was not fast enough for Terah and it was a unique situation where she had no interest in being with me and wanted her daddy as her right hand man! As in winters past, the rink just had a really good feel to it - folks in good moods, various ages and abilities on the ice, everyone being kind and considerate to each other... Here's a taste:
On the home front we continue to have semi-regular semi-successful family meetings. The semi- parts of that are related - it's hard to want to do them all that often when we have at least one family member that adds flair and frustration to most meetings - that would be Terah! Alida also waxes and wanes in her interest and ability to focus in on the agenda and be patient with the process. But it seems that for us all they are still a worthwhile expenditure of time - as long as we get enough of a break between them to look forward to the next one!
Alida recently wanted us to talk about having a family president. We all were quite clear that what Alida actually wanted was a dictatorship in which she was the dictator for the purpose of being able to order her subjects to play lots of long games with her. But, as we try to do with all agenda items, it received a fair hearing and over the course of multiple interesting conversations we decided to have a "family president day." I will admit for me the idea of a president is a bit complicated, emotional and distressing at present, so I was glad for Jason's ability to take more of a lead in the conversations with the girls. In the end we agreed the parameters for the office, planned to have a morning president and an afternoon one, and then held an election!
Kali and Alida won the election and determined that Kali would hold the office from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and Alida from 3-9 p.m. Kali, of course, had to be woken for her inauguration. In the end, the day was not a lot different from most days. In many ways it was an affirmation of the healthy functioning of our family system - no new laws were proposed, no one attempted to overthrow the president, and both president and family members seem to feel positive about the day. And I think it was a great unschooling activity - at least in helping our gals get a sense of the role a president can and should play. Here is Kali being sworn in:
One of the activities on our family president's day was cookie baking and decorating with a bunch of neighbor friends. It was their second opportunity to decorate gingerbread cookies as we also had a holiday gathering with some of my family where that was one of the chosen activities! It seems once again there will be no need for us to bake any Christmas cookies as they seem to find their way onto our counter every year from a variety of sources. So we are happily focusing on some other food traditions! The girls are at stages and ages where we can actually enjoy a cooking project all together!
One of our most recent food experiments was making cheddar crackers with homemade butter and homemade cheddar cheese. We made them for the girls' final art class (they loved this class as they have all the others - below is them on their final day) since they were having a little party and were invited to bring along snacks to share. Let's just say that we have already made them once more since that time! It's pretty thrilling for me to have enough cheddar aging now to feel generous with it and for us to be able to experiment using it in different ways. My current "cheese cave" is just one short of full capacity so we may have to look at expanding storage!
While we are on the food theme, our larder is full! As we enter winter, we are at the peak of our stores. The weekend after the hog butchering, Jason did the final round of chicken butchering for 2018. Most of that was made into sausage (it takes up less space in the freezer and we were almost out) and then stock to can. While we were still working on finishing up that project, we accepted a final offering of part of a deer and bones for stock. So for a few days, we were deep in food processing mode (just not the summer veggie kind). I will admit that I was VERY "done" sorting through bones/meat/scraps once I finished off doing so for 14 chicken carcasses and several loads of venison scraps (Jason bailed me out on the last load of that for which I was grateful!).
Our freezers are both full (though I say you can always fit one more thing in), and they have more meat than I ever thought I would have in my own. It's crazy for us to realize that we still eat way less meat than the "average" person in our country. It is our year's supply but still!
We are all very excited to be done taste testing our Delicata squash. We have plenty of seed for next year and this year provided an opportunity for some pretty intense selection. It was a pathetic Delicata squash year for us - the rain, the lack of sun, our still somewhat degraded soils... So to have any good squashes to keep seeds from felt like a success. And now that all those squashes are tested and either consumed by us or the pigs, we get to move on to the PA Dutch, which, while still not a stellar harvest, has been delightful by comparison! So we are not only entering meat season but the time of year where we have some winter squash in at least one of our meals most days. And Terah would like if I had a container of pureed squash available all the time in the fridge. Pretty much anytime the oven gets turned on, we bake a squash!
Ok, let's wrap this one up before dark! I've had multiple interruptions since the peace in our home is somewhat tentative (between the two younger gals). It's been a very full weekend without naps, with lots of activity, and it's the holiday season where expectations and hopes are high and fun times abound but kiddos still get overstimulated and tired (at least in this household!!).
We have enjoyed two white elephant gift exchanges so far and two more to come! The first was accompanied by a gathering where we debuted our first sausage gravy over sweet potatoes for the year - we were not disappointed! The white elephant game is a semi-risky thing with kids as the whole point of the game is to have a fun time and steal each other's presents. Terah had a mini-meltdown after the first one when she didn't end up with the magnetic tablet (one of those little shopping list ones that often go on the fridge). Of course, she hadn't even stolen it when she could have during the game, but she was still getting the hang of it and her wishes and desires are about as changeable as the weather! So as we prepared for the second one she was very excited but she also nonchalantly informed me, "I might cry." She didn't, but she did hold her box of sidewalk chalks close to her until the game came to a close and it was hers!
One of Terah's favorite places in our home right now is the stuffed animal bin below the stockings. At some point in most meals, she gets up from the table and climbs in. She will then accept bites from her comfy bin surrounded by stuffed friends! I guess she might as well enjoy it while she still fits, as it sure seems like these kiddos aren't staying little long! Jason asked the other day if Kali was taller than me. I was relieved to know I still have about an inch on her, but that likely won't last long! As discombobulated as I have felt emotionally lately, I have had so many surges of being completely in awe of our girls. I can't even articulate with words how privileged I feel to be their mom and to be a part of their growing up and discovering the world and their place in it! I mean, who wouldn't melt when you come upon a scene as sweet as this?
This sometimes can feel like a pretty bleak time of year, but I have been surprised by mystery and beauty all around me even in this season. Recently I enjoyed a reconnecting and beautiful (muddy) hike with a friend who has been journeying with cancer this past year. Along the mountain trail, we stopped to take in this little puddle with bubbles. We were never able to figure out what caused them, so we just savored the moment. I look forward to more hikes together and hope I can not only focus on our meaningful conversations but can be literally stopped in my tracks by things we notice in the natural world around us!
Jason just took a break from his design work to do the evening chores, but most of the time I've been working on this post, he has been designing the work room cabinets. In November, we noted that we just needed to focus on finishing harvesting leaves. In December, we had the hog butchering, then chicken butchering, then biochar weekend. Next up is Jason's conference workshop in January, but we are also ready to finalize our winter indoor project. After weighing our various project options, we have circled back around to the work room cabinets (something on the wish list more or less since we moved in). Thanks for the rain and now the gooshy soils, he's had a nice block of dedicated design time and before long we'll work at plotting out the project and together assessing its feasibility. It's really hard to believe we'll be starting our first seeds in just over a week!