new adventures

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We have a new housemate.

I’ve been thinking about what to call him, and that’s about as close as I can get. He’s not a guest, nor is he a renter. He’s my youngest brother, and he has joined us here in Maine after a four-year enlistment in the Army. Knowing he’d need a place to stay until he got his civilian feet under him again, we kept him in mind as we were house hunting last spring – along with all of the friends and family who live out of state.

Where I grew up, it was common to have a finished basement, and so that just seems normal. In this home, we have a finished third floor, which seems somewhat ostentatious to me, but in thinking about housing guests and family, makes better sense than finishing the basement. Our upstairs is almost like a studio apartment, having a sink, stove and fridge. It’s heated, and the bathroom is right at the bottom of the stairs. And rather than having a basement room with little light and people walking over your head, this space is above all of the daytime noise and has a beautiful view.

The Army shipped all of his “household goods” to us a few days after he arrived. I was expecting a television and some clothes, video games, a couple of books. But Little Brother had a whole shipping crate filled with area rugs, a coffee table and a love seat, pots and pans. We left it bare-bones for him, but he’s got his space set up like a little bachelor pad now. It’s certainly a cozy place to start his new adventure in Maine.

It’s always an adjustment when there’s someone new in your space, but I think we’re finding our stride, and we’re all glad to have him home.

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The sunrises have been really beautiful lately, and though I haven’t noticed the sky brightening earlier in the morning, it’s definitely staying light out longer. Today however, there is no sunshine as we’re in the middle of a huge storm system, slowly moving its way up the coast. Little Brother ran out last night for milk in anticipation of up to 18″ of snow. He’s learning his way around pretty quickly, and practically speaking, it is very nice to have another adult here to do the running for things like that, especially as J moves into a new term of nursing school. He’s got two classes, each with their own clinical, and he needs to pick up shifts in the ED as they become available, so our juggling act continues.

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Adding to the other changes in the house, my Swee is following in her mama’s footsteps, and has joined the local Girl Scout troop as a Daisy…and I’ve joined as her leader. She got a real kick out of selling cookies for a couple of days last week, adding up the money she will be collecting, and talking about her sales tactics. I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the evenings, re-familiarizing myself with things I remember from my own Scouting experiences 20-some years ago, and a few that I don’t. Another new adventure, for sure.

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it’s winter. eat the fruit.

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I took dozens of gorgeous shots in the early morning light…without a card in the camera. So you’re stuck with a picture from the balcony.

As our girls have grown older and more capable, J and I have gotten into the habit of letting them play independently in the mornings. No longer do we launch ourselves out of the covers at whatever ungodly hour they begin to wail. Instead, we stay snuggled in, sometimes with little legs and arms tangled among us, and sometimes just listening to big imaginations running wild in the reading nook or down in the living room until we either need to be up or someone comes to plead for breakfast – 6:30 or 7am on average. On one hand, it’s nice to feel somewhat autonomous again; on the other, I have a vague sense of irresponsibility for leaving them to their own devices.

I helped the girls get dressed, and sat with them as they ate leftover pancakes I’d frozen after a breakfast-for-dinner. J needed a haircut so he managed the nursery school run, taking Swee with him. Off they went, and my coffee and I sat down to answer some email before doing chores. Wood in the stove, scrubs in the dryer, feet in my boots to open the coop.

The chickens were glad to see me today. They came tumbling out the door as soon as I lifted it, pushing and shoving to get at the bits of salad and sandwich crust and apple peel I’d brought to them. Pretty Boy crowed over and over, his frostbitten comb trembling with the effort. He’s a sorry sight to see, and I feel badly that we couldn’t do more for him, but he otherwise doesn’t seem much worse for the wear. I emptied the ash bucket over the section of the run not protected by the overhang, just to give them all more space to move. Silly birds won’t walk on the white stuff, but at least they’re laying more: two eggs today, and yesterday, and the day before.

And then I went for a short walk up the road. Our driveway is a sheet of glass under this new dusting, but once you’re out on the dirt, there’s plenty of traction. I walked past the empty cornfields, not yet crisscrossed with snowmobile tracks, and past several quiet houses. A neighbor we’ve not yet met raised one hand in a country salute as he cleared his front path with the snowblower. I turned around at the white mailbox, just before the road goes downhill and headed back into the morning sun, unzipping my coat and losing the hat on the way. Time for breakfast.

I’ve stopped simply admiring our food stores, and have started actually eating them. Groundbreaking, I know. I worked so hard at tucking things away “for winter,” and somewhere around the third or fourth snowfall, it hit me that it is now “winter” and yes, we can eat these yummy stores! We’ve been working away at the half a pig downstairs, but hadn’t broken into the frozen fruits or jars of preserved goodies. No more! I’ve got a bag of peaches that may wind up as cobbler this weekend, and when I transfer the next load of laundry, a jug of cider is coming up too. Time to enjoy the literal fruits of our labor!

1.5.2018

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We’re still here!

In the end, it was just a big, noisy snowstorm, but it was a little disconcerting to look out the window when we were in the thick of it. It was a mess of swirling whiteness. The wind was howling so loudly, I couldn’t hear the snowblower going up and down the driveway as J attempted to get a jump on the cleanup. It got worse as it started to get dark, because then we really couldn’t see anything and were left just listening to the creaks and groans as the house and surrounding trees took a beating. The power flickered once in the late afternoon, but never went out completely. I am so grateful for that. The girls did lots of painting at the dinner table, and after bedtime, I sat down and sorted my seeds by the fire. Because what else do you do during a snowstorm but dream of warmer days to come?

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It’s cold out there today: a flat 0*F right now with a “feels like” of -18*. Tomorrow will be worse with a high of -2*, but we’ll be back up into the 20s and 30s next week. I can’t really tell how much snow we got because it was blowing around in great clouds, but there is certainly plenty of it.

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The flock hung out in the shed today. We didn’t even open the door to their run, and instead opened the main door of their coop so they could wander around inside. It means some cleanup for us next week, but it shouldn’t be too bad to scoop once it’s frozen. I went out to visit them and they came running when I shook the scratch bucket, happy to see the hand that feeds. I shared on Instagram the other day that we’ve welcomed seven new ladies into our little flock, bringing the grand total to sixteen chickens: fourteen layers and two roosters. A friend of ours found that she was too busy to give them the attention she felt they deserved, and we definitely have the space – we actually had too much space for the number of birds we had, and they were cold at night – so they came to live with us on New Year’s Eve Eve. We’ve now got four new Barred Rocks, with Biggie making five, and three new Araucaunas (light blue-green eggs!) to go with our three Golden Comets, one Australorp, and four Salmon Faverolles. It’s definitely a mixed flock. I’d be excited for some “barnyard mutt” baby chicks this spring, but my bigger girls don’t take any crap from the roosters, despite the fellas’ advances. I think we’ll still add half a dozen chicks this year to refresh the laying population, and J has been brainstorming a design for a basement brooder box. It’s almost time to start building!

easing into the next right thing

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More than a foot of snow fell on Christmas morning, light and fluffy, coming down in an officially-declared blizzard. Our girls slept til 7am, to our amazement, and we took our time around the tree, pausing to have hashbrown casserole and fruit salad before heading back to our gifts. I didn’t even take many pictures, capturing only the joy on a big sister’s face as little sister opened her handmade bauble. The sun came out in time to welcome our family for dinner: my aunt and uncle were in from Phoenix, making the snow that much more of an experience.

And from there, our break is a bit of a blur. There was a lot of playing with new toys and games, a lot of lounging on the couch, and a lot of being close and getting cozy. I haven’t seen the thermometer make it into the double digits in…a while. Our days melted together, stocking the woodstove and refilling the chicken’s water bowl. My office was closed all week, and I didn’t check my work email, not at all. I even managed to avoid the grocery store for ten whole days. I felt a deep need to just rest, and so I did, going so far as to doze on the couch while the girls played around me. I’m not sure if I was coming down with something, or really just recovering from a very intense year. Definitely the latter; maybe both.

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I feel lighter today, awake, though moving slowly. We’re easing into the freshness of a new year and a blank slate. It was still too cold to spend much time outside, though warmer than it has been at a full 9* with no wind. We bundled up, and then trudged down to the tiniest tree in our lower orchard to decorate it for the deer and other critters. I’ve been meaning to do this with the girls for weeks now, ever since reading Night TreeWe made the birdseed treats as gifts, and then my mom strung the popcorn and cranberries with them this weekend (while J and I went snowmobiling with the neighbors – my first experience!). The snow has a crust of ice about 6″ below the surface, strong enough to hold you for several steps but giving way when you least expect it. When you’re only three and your legs are still little, that means you fall down a lot. Not the most fun trip out in the snow, and we didn’t last very long in the yard. But the sun was shining on the back porch, and it was fairly pleasant to play in the protection of the house, so we got some fresh air and vitamin D late this afternoon.

I’ve been watching as Instagram fills with Best Nine collages and Words of the Year, reading as people share their resolutions, intentions, what have you. Wondering if I will do the same, and thinking that the answer is no. That just doesn’t feel authentic for me this time around the sun. I have a few personal thoughts for my personal journal, and they’re too personal to share here, but beyond that, I think I will just keep doing the next right thing. A year is so long, and so much can change. I will just try my best to do the next right thing, whenever and whatever that may be.

Wishing you rest and courage for that which you may be facing in the days ahead, and strength to do your own next right thing.

 

raising bookworms (our Christmas reading list)

We didn’t buy many books growing up. Sure, we had a lot of books in the house, but most of them were older, from my parents’ childhood or childless years. There just wasn’t the money to purchase anything and everything all of us wanted to read throughout the year.

But on birthdays and Christmas? There were always books to open, and I always looked forward to the new worlds I’d get to explore. One year, my great-grandmother gave me a copy of The Secret Garden with gorgeous illustrations by Tasha Tudor, and I learned about life as a child in a time long ago and a country far away. When I was a little older, paperback copies of Dragonsong and Dragonsinger from my uncle sparked a lifelong love of fantasy. And I’d wager that reading about pioneers like Kirsten Larson and Laura Ingalls is what set me on this eventual path of homesteading and living simply. I have my original copies of all of those books, waiting to be shared with my own little ones, though I’m sure they will have their own list of influential titles someday.

I still don’t buy many books, unless I’ve already read something several times and would like to have it for my own. Most of what we purchase anymore is for the girls, or as a reference tool around the house. Instead, we prefer to use our library, placing reserves online on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and picking them up on Friday when we go to story hour. This way I’m able to sit down when it’s quiet, plan out our week and check out the reading lists other homeschooling families post. I’ve found wonderful stories this way, many that were completely new to me beforehand.

This month, we’ve found ourselves doing something I’ve recently seen termed as “Christmas-schooling.” We’ve unintentionally abandoned our practice of week-long unit studies in favor of making merry: counting down with our Advent calendar, practicing fractions while baking cookies, getting exercise through sledding and snow play, and reading many, many Christmas books. Again, we’ve found more than a handful that were new to me, titles going far beyond the Grinch and his sad little dog. Several have even brought me to tears (not really a difficult feat anymore, truly).

So I thought I’d share what has been in our library bag lately. Whether you’re looking for something to put under the tree, or add to your personal collection, or just put on reserve at your own library, here are some we’ve been enjoying.

Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve, Christmas Trolls, The Wild Christmas Reindeer – We really like Jan Brett’s work, and her Christmas titles were no exception. The girls love to predict what will happen next in the story based on the pictures in the borders, and these three have such beautiful Scandinavian patterns.

The Story of Holly and Ivy, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree – These are the three that pulled so hard at my mama heart. All of them opened conversations about topics that are a little sad and difficult, and that deal with loss: orphans, widows and widowers, soldiers away at war. And all of them have such a humanity to them, you can’t help but feel for the characters.

Wolf Christmas, A Christmas Tree in the White House, How Santa Got His Job, An Otis Christmas – Some lighter selections for balance. These were fun, and Wolf Christmas and Otis were read several times before being returned. They’re cute stories, and made all of us smile.

Night Tree, The Nutcracker – These are the two that I’ve purchased for our own collection. We’ve read Night Tree five or six times already, and someone will find The Nutcracker under the tree next week. Both will become family favorites, I hope.

What are you reading at your house? Any suggestions for me to add to our list of reserves?

we’re cozy

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It’s late afternoon now, and the flakes have been falling since shortly after Beanie dragged me out of bed. That was before the sun, if you were wondering, and we had to turn lights on to make coffee. I walked out the back door, and despite the duration of the snowfall, it doesn’t seem to have amounted to much. It’s powdery, and swirled around my boots as I scuffed down the driveway to the mailbox with my trusty mutt. I stalk the mail carrier this time of year, eager for the cards carrying love and good wishes from across the map. The box had one card inside, and with it in hand, we shuffled back to visit the chickens and check for eggs. Our sleds are lined up along the front of the shed, but they won’t see much use until the snow’s a bit heavier.

My little flock hasn’t ventured outside today, despite half of their run being covered. They were hanging out just inside the door when I opened it to check for eggs, and craned their necks to peer at me with their beady little eyes. I should have taken treats with me. Can you see poor bedraggled Buttercup on the right? She’s the black Australorp, and she is in the middle of a bad, late molt. She’s also at the bottom of the pecking order, and receives a strike to the back anytime she passes another bird too closely. I’ve been sprinkling extra sunflower seeds right below her beak when the others are distracted. We’re already talking about preparing for spring chicks, figuring out how to build a brooder box in the basement since we no longer have an extra bathtub. I’ve got my sights set on a dozen sexed chicks, and may even go the mail order route. That beautiful Lavender Orpington from the Fair is dancing in my dreams. And I’d love to get a couple Aracaunas and have blue eggsin my nesting boxes… ah. Such are the things that make up my wishlist.

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We’ve got a real tree in the living room, dressed in ornaments from our childhoods, and a few from adulthood too. Hanging together on the left side are photos of five-year-old me facing five-year-old J. I need to craft some of our girls to join them, I think – a craft that absolutely needs to be done NOW and not someday. A tree skirt has been on my someday list for at least ten years now, and I’m still wrapping an old white bedsheet around the stand. I’ve set my little faux tree in the upstairs hallway to shine out the front window. I paid $30 for it after Christmas at a Joann Fabrics back in 2005, and it’s starting to look a little squished…and some of the lights on the back don’t work…but it’s lovely from the road. This is certainly not an Instagram- or Pinterest-perfect Christmas family, and I think that’s ok. We’re cozy.

Tonight I’m working on some little gifties for friends and neighbors, and finally getting my Christmas cards prepped (after a reprint and then a refund from another discount company, this batch from AmazonPrints looks perfect). J is home tonight, and I’m looking forward to sitting by the fire with him. Even if we’re both working independently on homework and projects, we’ll be together.

making merry

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Before our Thanksgiving guests even left, I was on a plane to Atlanta for several days of training and team-building with my colleagues. I’m a high-strung traveler, and I can admit it now. I used to try and play it cool, outwardly rolling with the punches while having an internal meltdown, but I’ve decided that this is me, and if I need to arrive at an airport the full two hours before my scheduled departure in order to maintain my sanity, so be it. Sadly, I live quite a ways from the airport and so I found myself pulling out of the driveway at 2:30am the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

It was a solid trip. I experienced minimal delay on the way out, and got to have dinner with my aunt and uncle and cousin the first night there. I honestly enjoy my colleagues – we’re blessed to have such a great staff, and it’s nice to talk to people in person when they’re usually a floating head on a web call. So it was a good trip. And it kicked my butt.

I didn’t bounce back this time. I made a conscious effort to be in bed before 10pm every night I was away, and it was still a slow crawl back into real life. I shared on Instagram a little bit of my struggle to readjust, and I think I’m finally back to normal today, a full week after coming home.

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It was a week of making merry, of diving fully into the new holiday season. We cut our tree the day after I got home, choosing to frequent the same place we’ve gone the past two years. The proprietor greeted us by name when we pulled in, and we had the place to ourselves as we inspected each tree. The girls each took a turn at the saw, and an eight foot tree found its way into the bed of the truck. We do not quite have eight foot ceilings, but we do now have a green scrape in the paint over our heads, and a tree with no topper.

We enjoyed a teeny homegrown Christmas fair at Beanie’s nursery school. I made blondies for the bake sale, and we shopped the used toy collection, coming home with a big bag of Duplos and two like-new puzzles for a small donation – a Dr. Seuss alphabet and a Scholastic beginning sounds (this one is pretty great, and both girls worked really hard on it without getting frustrated).

We made an attempt at spritz cookies, finally using the electric cookie press my mom had given me quite a few years back, and took a huge plate of them along with us to the tree lighting at the community center. It was a community-wide event, with multiple groups taking charge of various parts. Our librarians read a story and organized a craft. My fellow board members organized the cookie donations and served hot chocolate. The fire department and events committee set up a campfire and roasted marshmallows on the beach, and some of the local men strung the lights and flipped the switch at the appointed hour. Santa himself arrived in his SmartCar and had a present for each child. Truly, one of my favorite events of the year.

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I’m finishing up teacher gifts, one for each of Beanie’s nursery school teachers, and one for Sweebee’s piano instructor. I’ve got three dishcloths finished, and need to cast on the fourth tomorrow. I had thought I would wrap them around a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s dish soap, but was cautioned by a scent-sensitive former colleague, and went for fancy chocolate instead (and these Dagoba bars are under $2 each at Target right now with your Cartwheel!).

Swee and I did a little shopping to fulfill a request from the town’s Giving Tree, choosing warm socks and a simple fleece and shirt for a neighbor in need. My girls are such kind little souls, it’s not taken much reminding at all to get them thinking of others. It’s enough to bring me to tears.

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**Speaking of tears, several of these Christmas books have been real tear-jerkers, like The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree and The Story of Holly and Ivy. I’ll be sharing more of our reading selections in the side bar on the right, as well as in posts here and there using affiliate links, and would appreciate your clicks, if you’re so inclined.

Why affiliate links? By clicking a blogger’s Amazon affiliate link, they will receive a tiny portion of anything you buy at Amazon during the 24 hours after clicking – even your normal household goods. It’s a small way to help my family on this adventure, so thank you for clicking!