(Because they are my true-blue summer purchase favorites, I want to tell you that my dress is from Ace & Jig and my bee necklace is from my good friend Jess Teesdale. The hat? It was $12 at my local feed store, a very fine place for high fashion shopping.)
Last weekend we soaked up a bit of the newest of the new cousins on the block, baby Leo. He brings the total to fourteen on my side of the family, the most of them under the age of eight. Oh my. And, oh gosh, he's a love. Is there anything better than the weight of a newborn baby in your arms? I don't know that there is. It's precious. And grounding. And beautiful. And yet....so is handing him back to his Mama to soothe when he starts to fuss. Ah....I love being an auntie.
A scene from this weekend's performance of The Harvest Day, a play in three acts. Showing throughout the weekend, in the library, at 11am, 2 pm, 5 pm and 7 pm, or anytime upon request.
We are enjoying the lingering feeling of a long weekend, and hope you're doing the same! See you back here on Tuesday...
There are potatoes that are in serious need of being harvested, tomatoes that need roasting and freezing, grass that needs mowing, and if I'm being honest with myself, a house that is in serious need of some cleaning. And you know I want to paint those benches.
But this time of year? As the August days are winding down, and I'm spying surprising shocks of red on the trees (really, so soon?)....now is the time to say yes. Yes to the beach. Yes to the lake. Yes to the ocean. Yes to picnics in the park. Yes, yes, yes.
And so we did, yesterday.
And today, I woke up early to harvest the potatoes and roast the tomatoes. The grass and the house can wait. For now, we're going back to the beach.
Yes, yes, yes....to summer.
These pictures, I think, summarize my world these days. There is ballet (always), and new additions to the farm (kittens!), and flowers - oh so many flowers. Gladiolas and sunflowers and calendula and zinnias and oh my goodness, did you see that the tansy is blooming? Right outside my kitchen door. It's my favorite.
This weekend I put together our fall schedule of classes and activities. It's a full schedule, as seems impossible to avoid these days. As they grow, so do their passions and the time needed to commit to those passions. It's all good - a pleasure, really - to watch it all unfold, to watch them become more of themselves with each passing year. But the days and nights will be full, and I'm not quite ready for that. There is a whole lot more summer to be had. With the last weeks of this season upon us, we are all diving into summer as best we can. Summer camps continue, backyard summer fun is the agenda for each day, and I have vowed to say yes to the lake and the ocean whenever it's even remotely possible. We are all truly loving every moment of these August days.
I wish you a lovely start to your week, friends!
Oh my goodness. This one. She gives us a run for our money, as they say. I was worried a bit, in my pregnancy with her, about how she'd fit into the mix. About how she'd find her way in an already full family of characters and personality and energy. But of course she did, just perfectly, in a way that's all her own. She is a spitfire (I never understood that term until I met her), an absolutely sensitive sweetheart, and most definitely....In Charge (and a wee bit loud). I suppose that is what it's like to be the youngest of five.
She gets a little stuck these days, in a three year old way, on what she's wearing. For a while, it was bathing suits. Then as soon as she had an ample supply of bathing suits gifted to her, she moved onto other things. For now, it is this vintage dress (picked up for her older sister at Brimfield a few years ago), a rainbow cape (from Sarah's Silk's) that trails behind her everywhere she goes, and wellies for outside. And for inside...tap shoes (cast off from her older brothers). She keeps them by her bed when she goes to sleep at night. And when she wakes in the middle of the night, she slips into her tap shoes to walk the twenty yards to our bedroom, or to the bathroom, tap shoes then placed there and at the ready for when she wakes. It isn't that she wants to dance necessarily, as the boys have certainly tried (with every one of their siblings) to nurture another dancer in the family - and to no avail thus far. It's more, I think, that she wants to amplify the sounds she makes when walking. Did I mention she's a loud one? Fantastically loud.
Three is amazing. She is amazing. It's really all just so much fun, isn't it?
Weeks ago, when Steve started planning this past weekend's summertime adventure for the kids, we knew right away that it made the most sense for me to stay home. The farm, as it is at this very moment, is quite high maintenance in its needs. There are some electric fencing troubles that we've been having, the meat birds are at their peak - meaning they need watering and feeding and moving so as not to destroy the ground they're on several times a day, and well, there's just a whole mess of other things. Besides, with all the shuffling about of kids to camps and other summer adventures, and all the time I've been spending in the garden, I was feeling a bit behind on the work I needed to get done. Three days alone would be a perfect chance to play a bit of catch up.
Like any Mama with the promise of time alone, I fantasized for a good long while about how the weekend would go. I imagined I would efficiently crank out all of my work, and then get to what I perceived to be the real pleasure of the time alone. I thought about leisurely hammock-sits with a poetry book. I thought I'd bring my spinning wheel out into the garden and spin. I planned to sleep in. And eat ice cream...in bed. I even thought about watching a movie - in the middle of the day. Oh, the wild and crazy ideas of a mom left to her own devices!
I told a friend that I'd be home alone for the weekend and she laughed at me. "Amanda. Your idea of alone is most people's idea of a zoo!" And well, she's right. For when I say 'home alone" what I really meant was home with...a mother-in-law, ten sheep, approximately eighty chickens, four ducks, two goats, two pigs, two cats, three newly acquired kittens (oh yes), and what I think can still be fairly classified as a (giant) puppy. So, yeah. Not exactly alone. And perhaps not very leisurely at all.
I never did exactly have a sit with poetry in the hammock. And never did touch that spinning wheel. I fell asleep at 8pm watching a movie in bed before I could even remember to go get the ice cream, and my body - forever changed by children - woke up at 6am on the dot, ready to start the day.
Instead of all that, I cleaned the entire game cabinet in the library and sorted all the missing parts and pieces into where they belong. I spent an entire afternoon pulling thistle from the back pasture. I got on my hands and knees and scrubbed the hearth and every square inch of the woodstove. I washed every floor in this house. I cleaned my closet. I fussed over a vase full of garlic scapes and queen anne's lace for a good twenty minutes until it was just precisely arranged how I wanted it to be. I lingered with the sheep at chore time.
Glamorous, isn't it? But you know what? It felt soooo good. Because all the while...my thoughts were my very own. And turns out, that's what I needed. To move at my own pace, to think, to get some house chores done that have been pestering me for a while. And to do so without interruption. All in the silence and calm of my house. Ah...
Of course, as it goes, several hours before they were all ready to come home, I was ready for them. More than ready. I sat anxiously waiting on the porch, eager to embrace each and every one of them. Ready for the noise. Ready for the fullness of it all. And that's precisely what I got - at dinnertime with everyone all together at the table for the first time in a long time (the boys are home from camp), there were all the sounds I've come to know deep in my bones as my family. We took a breath together, said our peaceful blessing...and then the everyday chaos began. There was some bickering over a sneaky switching of chairs that someone had done, a mild argument about dividing the beets evenly and fairly, a tumbled over glass of water, the tears of an overtired little girl....and stories of time away shared, new jokes told, and a whole lot of laughter. Loud, messy, and most definitely - a very full house. Just exactly how I like it best of all.
(Thanks to Papa for following us around with a camera! And because I know you well, dear readers, let me tell you that Adelaide is wearing this dress in liberty fabric, Annabel has a vintage one on, and mine is a new favorite just picked up recently at an end-of-season Ace & Jig sale. And that rabbit vase that you all love each time I post it - I love it too - is from Portland artist Patti Sandberg.)
We are all having so much fun with the flowers this year. I've always loved bringing them in to enjoy in the summer. But this season, with a few more years here under our belt and the accompanying plantings that have gone in each year, there is so much growing to choose from! Plus I've got the wonderful addition of a cut flower garden bed in the vegetable garden, at the urging of my friend, a flower goddess (well, that's what Adelaide and I call her anyway), and her wisdom shared in our SEED issue of Taproot. I love especially the permission that she gave me to just 'cut and enjoy'. And we're doing just that - with many helpers, and many baskets, and many vessels for filling and arranging and spreading throughout the house - in every room of the house. It's a joy to see what they come up with for their own bouquets, and those they give. The colors, the vases, the style. And just as much a joy, I think, to wander the gardens and the yard and the woods on our searches together. For there is something new growing each time, something they've never seen before or something they remember from another year. Questions, conversations, knowledge shared (from them to me just as much as me to them). Truly, these are summer moments I treasure with all my heart. And judging by the peace on our gathering walks, the creativity expressed, and the pride in what they've made - I think they might love it too.
Ah, photo albums. Those much-loved records of our years together, invokers of good memory, and such a pleasure to peruse the pages of. And also...dare I say....sometimes impossibly hard to keep up with. Especially these days in the age of just so many photos at our fingertips, and days so full. I've been working on getting caught up - and staying on top of - our photographs a lot this past year, and as I've shared snippets of that here and on Instagram, always get so many questions about the process I'm using. And so, today...the nitty gritty details of how I do it. I do hope there is something helpful here to someone and that I am not just boring you to tears today with this talk! (And of course there are a million ways and a gazillion products, so this is just me and what's working for my little system of photo preservation here.)
It all starts, I suppose on the camera, yes? I take very few photographs that I'd want to print with my iPhone, so it's all coming off my SLR (I'm shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III these days), and headed directly onto external hard drives (which get backed up regularly by Carbonite). From there, I use Lightroom to sort, tag, rate, and edit images....as well as to delete them! Deleting ruthlessly has been a huge help for me in not feeling overwhelmed by so many digital images to sort through. Though they are adorable, I do not need all forty of the shots I took of Annabel sleeping (or whatever the case may be). Sometimes too much is too much - and can turn into a burden and a sea of images in which you can't find the one you really want.
I do a bit of tagging and rating of the photos at each upload, but at the end of every month is when it really happens. I fine-tune my ratings and tags, and delete even more. And then, using my rating system (two stars means print!), export a batch of photos for that month. Those get uploaded to an online printing service (I've been using Adoramapix of late), where I print them all as 4x6 images, matte finish, with white borders. Though it changes based on the time of year, I'm printing an average of eighty to a hundred and fifty photographs per month.
Once home, the prints go into the albums. I've fallen quite in love with the ease and look of the American Crafts 12x12 D-Ring cloth album, as well as the durability to frequent handling by little hands. Inside, I'm using We R Memory Keepers 6 up page protectors. After years of stickers falling off the cloth albums, I finally started using Martha Stewart adhesive metal bookplates on the albums to identify the year on the binding, and those are working wonderfully. These albums are our 'family' albums - meaning that I envision them staying with Steve and I in our house long after the kids have ventured out on their own. And though some years I've gone over, my goal really is to just do one album per year. So I try to be selective as I'm putting images in the albums, sorted by month and then by event or activity. Sometimes I'll add in a 4x6 piece of paper or note about what's going on if there are some words I want to accompany the images. About one half of the printed images make their way into this family album, and the rest get sorted out amongst the kids. For now, those are put inside an envelope labeled with the month/year, and stored in their individual photo boxes. My hope, of course, is to make them each their own albums at some point, but for now, I feel satisfied with labeling and storing.
There was a bit of catch-up that I had to do with some of our images. Somehow the years 2010 and 2011 were entirely not printed. Imagine that! Moving into a new farm, having a fifth baby and I couldn't keep up with the photo albums? (wink, wink) So getting caught up took a bit of work, and I found that creating a spreadsheet (yes!) was essential. By month with a checklist of whether images were edited, backed up, printed, and albumed (it's a word). And I just plugged away at it, one month at a time, until caught up.
I have to say, it feels so good to have a system that is working well for me. I treasure our photographs and believe them to be so important in keeping - and visiting - the story of our family. But I know that keeping up with all of that can sometimes feel overwhelming and even burdensome. And the plethora of products and tools out there to memory-keep can both inspire and intimidate! Finding what works for me, being realistic about the time and energy I want to dedicate to this project, and keeping things organized and simple has helped enormously in finding my rhythm with these photographs. And perhaps most importantly - letting go of any expectation or pressure that I print/save/see "every" image I take of these babes of mine. I want them to have so many photographs of their childhood, but not so many that they feel burdened by the thousands of them that will likely exist by the time they reach adulthood. And not so many that they aren't stretched once in a while to summon an image in their minds - to try and remember something that we just don't have a photograph for.
And that, my friends, is the very long story of how we keep our story.
There are a series of goodbyes and hellos and goodbyes again happening here in our world of late, and it's leaving me feeling rather on the sentimental side. This summer feels more full of those goodbyes than ever before....and yet, when I think about it, I know the goodbyes stared the moment they left the bed, the breast, the sling. Or the womb? Of course. It continues to be a slow and perfectly-paced dance, though sometimes it stretches me, sometimes it stretches them, sometimes it stretches us all. But here we are - growing alongside each other, trying new things, and falling back into the arms of each other to rejoice in the glory, the mistakes, and mostly, the adventure of it all. A lot of adventure.
I just picked one up at sleepaway camp who was, as it happens at summer camp, so very sad to leave behind his summer camp friends (and one special girl). He told me that he requested Joni Mitchell at the end-of-camp dance, and that when that played, a sing-a-long commenced (Big Yellow Taxi, of course). And my heart nearly burst at that.
This weekend, I dropped another off at his own sleepaway camp - separate this year, the two boys - and was shocked at the man-children that filled his cabin (perhaps young men is a better phrase, for they hardly seem children when they tower over me). Is he really that old? Was that cabin really full of razors and shaving cream and oh, that cologne!? Yes, he is and it was indeed. And he will do so well, and have so much fun, and I can't wait to hear some (but not all) of it.
And another, preparing for her very first adventure of the sort, complete with Breyer horses, stuffed animals, and the declaration that her vintage suitcase needed some decoration in the form of marker-drawn dahlias. Yes, yes, yes. Oh my girl. Always be you, my love.
That's what's going on these days. Growing. Saying goodbye and greeting change. Practicing - in not-so-baby-steps anymore - for what is to come, and finding comfort in what is, always has been, and always will be - family. Each year, and each new season, another layer of adventure is added onto the story of their life and the growth of who they are. And each time I think my heart might break a little from letting them go even further out of my arms, I pause and see their delight in the adventures that are all their own. And so I celebrate with them. Oh, what aching joy to watch them grow, and what a real pleasure it is to be their Mama.
As of last week (welcome, baby Leo!) there are fourteen children between my sisters and me, most of them under the age of eight. Family gatherings? A madhouse! A fabulous, wild, zany, drooly, crawly love of a madhouse. Each time the gaggle of them are together, I remember my own childhood days spent with cousins....especially in the summertime. When we ran free and wild and swam all day and made our own world, separate from the adults (who surely were enjoying their own time). This weekend we hosted a few cousins for a farm sleepover and I found myself flooded with those memories at every turn, grateful for their close connections, and looking forward to watching them pick right up again where they left off next time they gather.
The work of magazine making and blog writing that I do fits into all sorts of puzzle-like configurations in our days. I love that about it - it is the very thing that makes it possible. Sitting outside ballet class? Edit some pages! Kids are sleeping in? Write a blog post! But there are also regular long stretches of time in my studio where I can fully concentrate on what needs to be done. My efficiency goes off the charts on days like that, and for a long time, I found myself nose to the grindstone, hardly looking up, and certainly not breathing very well. I'd get a lot done, but perhaps not my best work, low blood sugar, hunched shoulders and all. And by the time my time was up, or the kids arrived home, I was a fragile flower, as we say around here. In no shape to open arms to kids or the husband who had just soloed for the day.
It only took me a few years (only! ha!) to change those patterns. To take a moment or two for myself on those days. To breathe deeply and walk frequently and goodness - feed myself! And not just tea and chocolate and whatever else could be grabbed on the run. But a real lunch for one. And when that is through? To knit just a row. Or read a page.
Of course, the results of such things are entirely obvious, are they not? So maybe one less thing will get crossed off my to do list. But I will feel better, and be so much better able to care for my family. And the work I do? It will be more thoughtful. We all know this to be true. And yet - when a Mama finds herself alone for a moment or two, with so much always to be done, it is hard to remember these things sometimes, is it not? So let me gently remind you today, if I may be so bold, to feed yourself. (Feed yourself, I dare say, as well as you would feed the precious loves of your life.) Slowly, thoughtfully, and well. And then maybe knit a row or two.
Have a lovely day, friends.
Three years ago, in the month of June, I decided to do something a little crazy. A little crazy but very much longed for. It happened at a time when we were coming off a stretch of new house renovations and heading into our first summer season on this farm, with a brand new baby - the fifth no less - in arms, and a husband hobbling (quite well, I might add) after a hip replacement. With all of that going on, I declared June "Family Month". 'Nobody in, nobody out' was kind of the motto. We needed to unite as a family of seven, we needed to root ourselves to this new place we were calling home, and we needed to s l o w d o w n.
That June was without a doubt one of the most beautiful months of my life, and I think everyone here might share that sentiment. Here, with all of us, at home. If you've been around that long, you might even remember that I took time off from this space - turning it over to some generous friends and fellow Mamas for beautiful guest posting. The computer was off. The smartphone was in a dummified state of being off. And we were - quite happily - just the seven of us. Gardening, swimming, reading, and mostly just moving slowly, together. Bliss.
It is true that we try in our everyday to live a slowed down, simplified and peaceful existence. We say no to a lot of wonderful things that just don't fit, we craft our activities and our passions in a delicate balance that keeps family time as a priority. The older our children get, the harder that is to do - each and every year. But we try. Sometimes we fail miserably, sometimes the pendulum swings and we soar, and most of the time we just do the best we can and hope it's enough. Keeping that balance.
But there's something really quite special about giving these family goals their own dedicated time and space and energy. I've kept the tradition up each June since, though we've been a little less strict about the 'nobody in, nobody out' policy - that seemed important that first year but not since. Instead, we've tried to stay put as much as we can, stay together as a family, and give a pass to the things that pull us away from that goal, as lovely as they might be. June nesting, I call it. It's no wonder that June has become my favorite month of the year.
This weekend, while working in my garden, I was feeling a bit melancholic realizing the month was coming to a close. That next week we drop one boy off at summer camp, and another after that, and then she has a trip there, and we've got this going on over here.... the summer in full swing. All good wonderful and important things in the life of the people of this family. But full. It was just as I was thinking of all of those things that I stumbled upon this beauty of a wee little nest, on the ground in front of me. Birch bark, wasp paper nest, pine needles - a tiny little thing so delicately crafted to hold a family, for a while anyway.
As each of my children grow and stretch and reach further away from here in their lives and their days, I am comforted by the reminder that they carry with them these months of June we have shared. And all the other days of the year where we've tried our best to create a sense of place, a sense of family, and a sense of self in relation to those things. This nest of ours - may they carry it with them wherever they go and always find comfort in coming back to it - either in heart or in place. That's my Mama hope as another wonderful month of June comes to a close an an adventurous July begins.
Oh these long hours of daylight as we get closer to the summer solstice! I am falling into bed before at least three of my children these days, just as soon as the sun sets, feeling so satisfied but so tired from the day. Good tired - the kind of tired that leaves me marveling at just how much happens in a single day. We are doing our best to live them fully, soaking up this time of year and all it offers us.
Last night's dinner preparation brought a momentous 'first of the season' when the garden harvest contribution to dinner was just enough to warrant the basket. The basket that will now be used every day and soon overflow with the fullness coming in from the garden. I hung it on the hook right by the kitchen door where it will stay all season. And placing it on the kitchen table after coming in from the garden, pulling things out as I needed it while making dinner, felt like being with a friend I haven't seen in a while.
Adelaide and Harper spent some time in the kitchen yesterday making a cupcake concoction of their own invention. They're getting quite good at it, and this batch was amazingly edible. After they cleaned the kitchen up and while they waited for the cupcakes to bake, I watched them gather a handful of spoons and the mixing bowl. Without many words, there was soon a crowd of little hands gathered around the bowl, enjoying in silence the treat on the back porch as they listened to the frogs by the pond and the sheep in the pasture. When the bowl was empty, there was butterfly chasing and hide and seek - all before the cupcakes were even done.
So many moments in a day.
Oh, I am so in love with June! It's always my favorite month here in Maine - when the garden is at its hopeful beginnings (before all the weeds and heat overwhelm!), when our days are more free and open than during the academic year, when we entertain more, when the beaches are still free from the summer crowds. We're all just so thrilled to be in a new season - out of doors all day long after the winter and spring. I want to bottle that up - all the goodness of June. But of course, I can't do that. And living in a year round June wouldn't be as magical, now would it? And so, I am trying with all my heart to breathe deeply right now. To walk slowly. To notice and to treasure. These days are so good.
Right now, this morning? I am feeling especially good about...
:: With more time on his hands, watching my oldest discover a passion (and talent, I dare say) for photography.
:: Open doors and windows.
:: The popping poppies - they're really such a fascinating flower, I love them so.
:: The memory of a lovely evening spent here with friends and the promise of another in a day or two, wherein I can play bartender again (a favorite role of mine).
:: Flowers brought into every room, every day.
:: Finding three kids nestled into the crook of a tree - halfway up, and with a book.
:: The anticipation of the first salad from the garden for dinner tonight.
:: The promise of a book, a (three year old) baby, and the hammock this afternoon after I finish up some work.
:: The feeling of seeing that something new has grown each and every time I walk out that door.
:: The swim I have a feeling these kids are going to talk us into later today. I'm in.
. . .
There, that's ten. And just the right way for me to start this June day. And you? Do you have ten this morning? Share them in the comments if you'd like. And I wish you a lovely day!
It's usually about noontime these days when the requests begin. There are gentle pleas and persistent questions that stop just short of nagging (at which point the deal is off). Generally that means I hear a lot of "What needs to be done before we can go for a swim? How can I help?" Clever kids, these ones. Helpful too. And so we do the work that's needed in the moment. Adding mulch to the garden, feeding the animals, stacking wood for next year's fires and on and on.
Early dinner prep gets started, towels have quietly already been gathered next to the bathing suits piled up, and eventually we gather from all our different directions for the journey to our swimming spot. There's always a race to see who can run there the fastest, and who jumps in first. Everyone settles into their comfortable way of being in the water. Some deep out and under, some at the shoreline, some picking daisies, and some on the dock, soaking it all in. Together, all of us.
In my own day, this is a slow moment so much appreciated - watching and loving up this family of mine. I know it is a short window of time in so many ways. A few weeks ago it was far too cold for such things (and some might argue - ahem - that it still is too cold!) and we were all busy in the evenings with our academic year shuffle of classes and groups. In a few weeks, summer camps will begin with someone gone nearly every week here or there, and it will be rare that all seven of us make this trek together. Then of course, the autumn breeze will come and we'll find ourselves not so interested in swimming, and busy with other things. But for right now, for this moment, this is what we do and this is who we are as a family in the evenings...after a long day of work and just before our dinner and bed.
"Mama, can we go swimming later today?"
Yes, my loves. Absolutely, yes.
My baby girl turned three last week. (I know. Three!) Third birthdays are so fun, aren't they? It might be the first time they really understand that the day is all about them...and my little Annabel Edrie soaked every last bit of that special love and attention up. Not that she doesn't get it everyday, she certainly does. After all, this youngest one has seven people in the house to dote up on her. Anytime someone says no, surely one of the six remaining will say yes, right? Oh, it's a dangerous and wonderful thing, the youngest babe and all her fans in the house!
I came home from New York to a 'top secret' project in the works. Under the woodshed, and under some tarps, with saws and screws and drills and hammers everywhere, Adelaide had begun a birthday gift for her sister. A House For Annabel. Made out of leftover barn shingles, a pallet, and scraps of wood from last fall's construction project, she pieced together this little getaway for Annabel, complete with window trim, benches and chairs. We've hardly seen her for days for all the work she's been up to - fabric strips for the window, potted pink flowers for the entrance. After construction, it was moved to a corner of the garden, tucked under the trees, and presented to the little miss, who of course loves this little house that's all her own.
Oh this gifting they do for each other sure does make a Mama's heart swell with pride and joy. And so do growing, funny, confident, and loving babies turning three. I suppose I really do need to stop calling her a baby. Oh, but must I really? Right now she is still happy to declare herself Mama's Baby, and so I'll roll with that as long as I can. Oh my girl. S'mores, apple pie, tadpole catching, lamb snuggling, pink bathing suits, cousins, a house of her own, and sunshine? I'd say we've officially greeted 'three' in a way just right for our Annabel.
A sure sign of the season - that early morning phone call from the post office declaring, "Your chicks are here!" Or more accurately, "Please, oh please, come get these chicks out of our office before all this chirping drives us all batty!" Something like that is I think what they usually say, and we get right to it.
Sixty-five broiler birds joined us in that way a few days ago. Though we're still figuring out the numbers that work best for us, and that keeps growing as these kids of ours keep growing, this is about the number we had last year and it's worked out perfectly. I generally cook two chickens at a time when I do so, and we eat a lot less meat in the summer, so all of that works out to about a once a week cooking (with enough leftovers for a second meal). We've gone with Freedom Rangers again - this is our third year raising this breed and we're very happy with them. They're always healthy, great foragers, and reach their peak weight - about 5 to 6 pounds - in eleven weeks or so. We'll move these out to pasture in the portable pen in a week or two so they can get to all that ranging and foraging...but for now they still need a bit of warmth in the brooder of the barn. It's there that they're visited many times a day, by children eager to feed, water, hold, and watch these little fluff balls. They get taken on 'field trips' to the garden, to the fairy houses in the woods and to the swings. Adelaide is always there to make sure the trips are short ones, gentle on the birds, and that they're returned 'home' to the brooder promptly.
A lot of you have asked and are wondering about what it's like, particularly for the children, to raise and connect with the animals that eventually are on the dinner table. I've wanted to address that here, but for one, it isn't fully my story to tell. It is theirs, and one that won't be ready for telling, I would imagine, until they're much older, having had more life experience when they're able to reflect back. Sometimes we talk a lot about the whole picture, and sometimes we don't. More often, lately, it feels very normal for us all, even more so for those who don't remember a life before we raised our own meat. It all feels natural, even. I'm not saying that's good or bad - it just is. I do know that for the choice that we've made as a family, to eat meat (and yes, everyone is aware that's a choice, and is free to make their own), that what we do - from beginning to end - feels honest. So there's that. The kids are as involved - or not - as they want to be with the daily care, and ultimately the harvesting. Some are more interested than others, and that changes from year to year. But for all of us ... I can say that we enjoy so much sharing our days with these little critters, we are grateful to them for the work they do on our land while they are with us, and most definitely appreciative and pleased with the nourishment we receive from them as we gather around the table.
But for now...we are all focused on the adorableness of baby chicks. They're hard to resist.
I haven't always felt the way that I do now about Mother's Day. I remember my first few years as a mother just feeling a little puzzled about the day - it was, for all the years prior, meant for MY mother. It felt strange to have it be mine, and I was hesitant to claim it as such, and put my own spin on it different than the one I'd grown up with. Then for a few years, I really struggled with the commercialization of it all, and the pressure and expectation that it put upon everyone involved. But somewhere along the way, all of that went away and was replaced by comfort and ease. That comfort arrived in the form of handmade cards, and bead necklaces, and single daffodils in large mason jars. In my morning tea (extra sweetened) being delivered by five excited children and one loving husband. And more hugs in a day than I can count. In a day spent in the garden with the whole lot of us. And the yearly video they all collaborate to make for me (a project taken over entirely by the kids this year). Yes, I suppose our own traditions have taken strong enough root to make this day feel like mine, and this weekend now one of my favorite weekends of the year. It was a full one - with all the ingredients that make up a happy mama, most of all being the love and time that we share together as a family.
Wishing all of you - in all the many different ways that every one of us 'mothers' in our lives - a beautiful start to your week!
As a new season of outdoor work begins in earnest, with so much to be done that we are excited about, it is tempting at times to make a big to do list and dive deep into it. With energy, swiftly, and efficiently. Not just because I want to get the work done, but because I enjoy doing the work itself. I have quite fallen in love with the work that this land requires of us. My garden. The animals. The woods.
But with a small child at my side (or two or three or more), it is so important that especially now, I quiet that voice of efficiency in my head that occasionally whispers "it would be easier/faster/tidier if you just did it yourself!"
Yes, perhaps it would be easier/faster/tidier if I just did it myself. But "easier" and "faster," I remind myself and that distracting voice, are not exactly the goals I've set out to master in this little life of ours. And so I lean on "of course you can help me!" and "why don't you try it yourself!" Because I know with certainty that they will not always be at my side, in this pasture, in this home. That soon they will be surpassing me in height and strength and the speed at which the work is done. That when we work in this way, they grow capable and confident before my eyes. For this moment in time, things might get done just a bit slower. There may be a broken egg or two. The seeds might get a little too much watering. But I don't want them to be rushed through this fleeting age of eagerness curiousity and wonder, nor do I want to miss experiencing it alongside them.
Do you know how warm an egg is just after the moment it comes out of the chicken? If you watch and wait for it and grab it the very moment it emerges? It is so very warm - so warm that it is best felt by rubbing it on your cheeks, and turning your face to the sun. I had never done that last part before until yesterday when Annabel showed me. Oh thank you, my little ones. I have so much to learn.
April showers bring .... snow? Well, yes, sometimes they do. We woke up to just a couple of inches on the ground, enough to cover everything in a layer of white. It doesn't feel so dire though, after having a few warmish days prior. Just enough warmth and sunshine and hours spent stretching ourselves outside to give us faith that spring really does arrive soon enough, even if there are a few more dustings of snow likely to come. Of course we know that spring is coming eventually - at least in our minds. But come March, I do wonder if our bodies doubt that truth. It feels so good to be reminded - on our skin and in our bones - before coming back in to wait for the last of winter to be over.
Inside the same thing is happening. We've had enough of a hint of what's to come that we don't feel so cooped up anymore with cabin fever. And so, on days like today, when the wind is howling and the temperatures chilly and more rain (or snow?) coming...we don't mind too terribly staying in. There's a lot of music happening these days - Ezra got a lovely new tenor ukulele for his eleventh birthday last week, an upgrade from his fourth birthday gift (fourth!). The sound is so nice. And a few days later, we were so pleased to welcome a piano to the family. We had been waiting for a time when all the children were past the banging-on-things stage, and I think we might (almost) be there. Oh, it's so nice to have a piano in the house. Such joy. Though I do wish it were a bit more like riding a bicycle (I don't want to think about all the years and dollars my parents spent on my piano lessons), as I fumble my way back to playing.
But that's just the very thing these kinds of days are perfect for. There is no garden ready to plant. No ground firm enough for digging fencepost holes. It's too slippery for riding bicycles, and not enough snow for sledding. But there is music, and craft, and books, and each other. That's just what we'll do today.
I set out on Sunday to document a bit of everyday family life for both you and me. The fleeting little moment that are so normal, so representative of our life as it is right now, and so comforting. What I found on my camera surprised me a little bit. Sure there was sewing and popcorn, ukulele and wooden farm toys, paint brushes and a (growing) puppy. But in nearly every other photo, I accidentally captured what I now am referring to as the 'huddle' - two or three or even four or five of my children's heads joined nearby, nearly touching each other. As they did a puzzle, worked on a craft project, read a book, listened to a story, or otherwise engaged with each other on a normal day.
The thing is, if you had asked me - at the end of that day - how it had been, I quite likely could have welled up with tears at thought of all the bickering and sibling squabbles I remember from the day. And I may have spoken of my worry that surely we all have, as parents, about the state of things. About how they are with one another sometimes. It's been a long winter. And no one knows how to push your buttons like a brother or a sister.
But there, in the camera and in front of me on the screen, I find evidence of the opposite. And being reminded of this, I now see all over my house the remains of those huddles - cards left mid-game as they decided to abandon it all for showing the other the latest skateboarding instead, the piles and piles (and piles) of collaborative paintings left drying, the book reading that led to another that led to just one more for her little sister piled up beside the wood stove. Yes. All is well. They have each other - for better or worse. Mostly, I am reminded, for the better.
There is one (literally) tiny but (fundamentally) huge project we want to finish around here before spring arrives. And while the falling (again) snow outside may fool us into believing we still have a great deal of time before that happens...the coming lambs, and the soon-to-be-tapped trees, and the seed order placed yesterday all tell us that spring really is just right around the corner. So we're getting right to work on this family priority - and that is making a special space for Annabel. A space all her own, in well enough time before her third birthday (I know, I can't believe it either). We don't have any hard and fast rules about it, and certainly it is never the 'plan', but it always seems to be that 'round about the third birthday, it feels time - in the experience of our five little ones, at least - for a little bit of space of one's own. Even if that little one doesn't spend the whole night there, or much of the day. There's something really special for them in saying that this room, or this corner of the room, or just this bed, is 'mine'. And so, that's precisely what we're creating for the little miss right now. She seems ready.
Trouble is, we've kind of run out of rooms in this rambly old farmhouse of ours! And we've run out of shared room options too. But we've been thinking....and measuring...and strategizing...and I think we may be onto something in creating a room for her out of a little nook - just big enough for a bed, a dresser, her dolls, and everything that is all her own. We've got our work cut our for us before it's done - flooring, trim, paint, a new bed, a quilt to be finished, curtains, oh, and a door. Little (big) details. But we're on it, and excited to be doing so. So is the director, who is moving things along at a rather rapid pace with her charming demands. Pink, please. Pink, it will be.
Another six to ten inches was called for this weekend (though I don't think that's what we got). It's late February in Maine, and we're all quite a bit used to this gig by now, I'd say. Ready - we hope - for whatever may come our way at any given time. But nevertheless, there were some preparations to be made this weekend before the storm arrived. First, a quick trip to the yarn store for new project supplies. And secondly, but equally important, was steeping some rosemary in simple syrup for our Rosemary Gin Fizz. Essential storm preparations for this late in the season.
Hoping you're enjoying your weekend - hunkered down or otherwise!
My favorite Sundays are spent at home, and with friends. A leisurely walk in the woods, soaking up the late winter sun, crunchy snow underfoot. Children here, there and everywhere. Some homemade music around the woodstove. A simple, hearty meal served early, with even this big long table busting at the seams to hold us all. We slow it down, we gather, we connect. And hopefully, if we've done it well, if we've really lived the day, we carry that spirit with us as we start another week.
Wishing you a gentle start to your week, friends!
Years ago, I wrote ourselves a little Winter's Manifesto. It was enormously helpful at the time, in reminding myself of all the things that mattered, and that helped me find joy in the darker days of winter. I don't know if it's busier days, or our move to this farm, or just plain age and time, but February doesn't carry the same weight on my mind that it once did. Lambing season and tapping trees for syrup are right around the corner. I know that our seed orders are being packed, and I've chosen the new trees we'll plant in the spring. I know that it will only be a matter of short weeks before the flurry of springtime activity keeps us busy from the moment we wake up until we fall exhausted into bed at night. I'm excited and ready for those days, but a part of me is quite glad to sit for just a moment longer. February gives us that. The fire going, puzzles and games, yarn in my hands, and all the layers of comfort.
Still, I could use with a bit of color around me these days, I really could. And I've made it a point to do just that - not only with the yarn on my needles (oh, but that is colorful!), but in my work, and in the little bits and pieces around us in the house too. The sight of such color most certainly helps to remind me about what's around the corner, and what's here right now. And I think I'll be able to enjoy winter for as long as she decides to stick around. Judging by this morning's snowfall....well, it might just be a while.
Yesterday, on a walk in the woods with Greta, Annabel and I - and Piper, the cat that always escorts us into the woods - I broke my own no nap rule. We are in that stretch of toddler hood when a daytime nap is no longer a part of the regular rhythm - and where the occassional inclination to do so is best avoided, if possible. All too often, it makes for a funky afternoon wake up and a bedtime far too late for these two tired parents, anyway. But oh, the woods were quiet, the sun was warm - it felt so good on our faces. There are exceptions to every rule. Thank goodness.
"I tired, Mama" she declared from her cozy spot in the sled, halfway into our intended journey to the back of our land. "Close your eyes, baby girl," I replied. She squeezed her eyes tight in silliness, "I sleepin!". But then, just a minute later she really had fallen asleep. I stopped the sled. I sat myself right next to her, and leaned against a maple tree. Dog and cat hovered nearby - both playing but keeping a watchful eye on where we were. And then, well, I may have just closed my eyes for a moment there in those woods, in that sunshine, right next to my baby girl. And I have to say, it really was the perfect nap.
Tuesdays - in the winter, in our family, for many years - is ski day. Papa and the older kids head up to the mountain where they join their friends, practice their turns and pizza wedges, barrel down the slope on boards and skis both, and sometimes send me pictures like the one above - which simultaneously scare the daylights out of me and make me laugh. Though they may go a few times before, five is the magic family age at which one joins the crowd full time, and oh, that first year is always an exciting one. They all come home exhausted and elated but none more than the latest recruit who is having the time of his life out there, and feeling so big and grown up as this winter ritual becomes his own too.
There's another side to ski day looks that quite different from the scene above, and that's my own winter Tuesday ritual. I visit a few times each season to watch from the base of the mountain, but for the most part, it's a very different day for me - at home, quietly, with just the little one(s). There was a time when it was just Adelaide while her big brothers went alone, and a time when it was just Harper, a few years of overlap, and now it is just Annabel and l. In a family of five little ones, it's a special treat to have time alone together like we do on this day. And most especially with this youngest one of ours, I'm even more mindful of just how special it is. How fleeting it is. How quickly the years will fly by and how soon it will be that she herself wakes up early with the crowd on a winter Tuesday, packs her lunch and heads out the door. The older kids talk about that day all the time now - that's part of the ritual, I think - coming home with tales from the mountain and getting the next little one excited to join them. But they also include me in that line of questioning around the dinner table, late every Tuesday night - When the youngest goes, Will Mama start downhill skiing? (No, thank you! I prefer level ground.) and the greatest mystery of all to them - What on earth would Mama do all day alone if we're gone? (Somehow, I shall manage a day of silence, as hard as it is to believe.)
But we're not there yet and I'm not in a hurry to get there. I've got nearly three winters (really, just three?) with my baby girl at home with me this day, and we are enjoying ourselves very much. She's got the added bonus, this one, of Gram in the house too. Gram and Mama doting upon her all day long? Stories and songs, books and dancing, snuggles and play....and a constant stream of nearly three year old dialogue running all day long with undivided attention and no interruptions. It's always been tempting, on these quieter days, to crank out housework, or squeeze in a bit of work, but I've realized that then I miss out on the goodness of this kind of a day - the connection and joy to be found in solo time like this. Our day, instead, moves slowly and quite pleasantly...at her very own two and a half year old pace all day. It is no wonder she so merrily ushers them all out the door in the morning, turning around to face us, hands on hips, and says with a smile on her face "what we gonna do?"
I love my Tuesdays with Annabel.
I had saved this day open for writing about Calvin. (Yes, yes...I "schedule" blog posts - I always have.) I have so much I want to say about him and who he is. About parenting this age - how much fun it is, how hard it is. About the changes - and the similarities - between those baby years and now. And so many questions and wondering too, about what comes next. Or I thought maybe I'd write about the symbolism in his finally outgrowing that felt birthday crown this year. Or...oh so many other things. But the closer it got to this day, the fewer words I've been able to find. And not to make it all about me (really, I don't mean to do that), but I just can't believe that I'm the Mom of a teenager. How can that be? This is the boy that brought me out of my own teen years and into motherhood. Practically, anyhow. And here he is - in it himself, and beautifully so. My words stop there. And because he's now a blog reader himself, I say to him directly and wholeheartedly...Happy Birthday, Calvin!
I'm Amanda Blake Soule. Mama of five, blog and book writer, magazine editor, and maker of all kinds of things. It's a pleasure to share here our family homesteading adventures, the things we make, and what inspires our days. Read more about my family and work here. I thank you for visiting!