In Pursuit of Light Enough

In my second to last post, from only…say…six months ago. I wrote about stuff and the need to keep it light enough to travel. My mantra today is: Stay Light Enough to Travel and to Be a Blessing to Others. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Since that post a number of significant things have happened. My mama did die, just a few weeks after the last blog post. That merits a series of blog posts in itself, and I kept writing them in my head, but time to sit and write was fleeting. Maybe they will stay there and ferment for awhile and then appear.  My husband also got a job, which is rather life changing in a good kind of way — Hooray income! And we also bought a new house and moved into it. With our stuff. And the stuff we shipped from Switzerland. And the stuff that waited patiently in our storage unit for three and a half years.  It was fun to open boxes not sure which group this stuff would be from, find homes for things and then to see our old stuff sitting right next to our new old stuff. I was quite pleased to see how well it all blended — like maybe I have an intrinsic decorating style after all!

But still I thought often…Why did we keep all this stuff? For some things there’s a good reason. I kept the crib my babies all slept in in hopes that one day I’ll have a grandchild who can sleep in it and I can tell them stories of their mother or father. Other things I kept but in three years kids grow up. The toys that you play with when you are four aren’t the same ones you play with when you are eight. Except for Duplos of course. We have a huuuuuge box full, and nothing one might say can convince the Papa that we shouldn’t keep those for the grandchildren, too.  So I kept thinking, well, in this large house that God has given us for now, there’s room enough to get it all out and see what we’re dealing with and then we can sort and move along.

And then we added Grandma’s stuff. Brother and his wife had been keeping it for the time being, but now they are preparing for a remodel. And we have the space. Woe betide those who have the space! So we have lots of boxes of rather vague contents. Lots of old family photographs and yearbooks. Some lovely old books. Lots of not lovely books. Family heirlooms and knick-knacks. Business correspondence from my great grandfather, the patriarch who got his entire family to move out from Vermont and set them up homesteading out in the San Juan Islands.

Some of it is quite interesting, and I keep wondering if the germs for another novel are hidden there somewhere. I’m sure they are, but I also wonder, is that the novel I want to write? I’m not sure. Maybe I want to clear out this space in my storage room and in my head so I can finish and sell the novel I have written. Again, it’s that feeling of gratitude just riding the edge of feeling bogged down by all the family history.

In one box, there were some letters and papers all neatly tied together with string and with a label in my Grandma Leda’s handwriting:  “little red table.” As they were letters addressed to her mother and given the date, I deduce that when her mother passed away, she tidied up and put those letters, neatly labeled into a box to sort later. Hmmm. As my husband said, “Well, now it’s later.” I can’t help being a little miffed at the two generations before me who could have dealt with this sooner. It’s not like I don’t have more children than either of them did. What shall I do? I could just rewrap them up with another neatly written label, “From Grandma’s Stuff — to sort later — like in 2050.” But that just doesn’t seem like the kindest thing to do if I love my children. And I do.

So slowly and surely I will try to work my way through. It’s hard though. Some things are museum worthy. Many are not. How to tell the difference and how much time to spend on it.

But this afternoon I did manage to take four boxes to donation. Unless I’m mistaken, nothing museum-worthy there, but possibly real -ife-worthy to an intrepid thrift shopper. And that little accomplishment feels wonderful and makes me ready to sort some more.

Thanksgiving Tree version 2013

I think maybe I need to take pictures with a better camera. 

Voila, the 2013 version of our Tree of Thankfulness! Isn’t it getting fancy? Dear People, long gone are the days of the taped construction paper brown tree with wonky leaves of all sizes.

We almost didn’t have a Tree of Thankfulness this year, because…to tell the truth…I was tired. And didn’t think I could muster the leaves. But this curly-cue tree was one of the few items of decor that somehow wasn’t trapped at the back of the storage unit, and it was already on the apartment wall. Because I like trees. Especially curly-cue ones.

So the tree was already there. We just needed the leaves — but as I say, I just wasn’t sure that this year I could do all that tracing and cutting. Or at least the convincing of my minions to do it. And anyway, I thought, we we’re not in our real house. Our apartment doesn’t feel like home. One year without this tradition. Maybe it won’t really matter.

But I realized that it does. It does really matter. And when you are in transition — and transition is one thing we seem to be getting a lot of practice at — little traditions can really matter. A little tradition can remind you that even though circumstances around you are in a whirlwind, you — and your family — are this kind of people, who do this kind of thing. And so our Tree of Thankfulness is a reminder that our family is the kind of people who write little things they are grateful for on leaves through the month of November to remind ourselves of all we’ve been given.

And in my opinion a tradition of thankfulness is an extremely important one! Studies have shown (now doesn’t that sound official! — don’t ask me which ones) that people who are habitually thankful are generally happier. There is so much complaining all around everywhere. What if we were the people who could find something in every situation about which to be grateful? So the Tree of Thankfulness would have a 2013 incarnation.

But there was still the problem of the leaves. With six leaves per day times thirty days plus extras for guests and extra thankful people, that adds up to a lot of tracing and cutting! But then…an inspiration. A leaf shaped punch! Why did it take me so long to figure that one out? It arrived like a flash and away we punched and thankful we were. These die-punched leaves aren’t enormous, so we can’t be super-duper thankful at a time, but we can always be thankful serially. And boy, doesn’t it look together?

I took the picture earlier in the month — don’t worry, it’s filled in quite a bit since. And at the end of Thanksgiving weekend we’ll take the leaves off and read them one by one before throwing them into the fire. And on the foundation of gratitude we can begin Advent.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Late Nights with the Puzzle

Since Christmas an enormous jigsaw puzzle has resided on our
dining room table. 3008 piece enormous. On the box it says 3000 pieces, but
when I opened it up, sitting on top of the jumble of minute jigsaw shapes was a
small notice reading in several languages: Note: due to technical reasons this 3000 piece puzzle actually contains 3008 pieces. I considered
returning it right then and there. 3000 pieces, yes, but 3008? That’s pushing
some limits, I’m telling you!

We began the puzzle early in January in those hazy post-Christmas
days. I like a jigsaw puzzle going in the winter to gather the family ‘round
and promote camaraderie ‘gainst the dark nights of winter. Or at least I like
the concept. The fact is, despite the strong efforts of the more dedicated
puzzle do-ers of the family, a 3008 puzzle is just really big. And full of pieces. And takes a loooong time to finish.
But…piece by piece, the picture began to take shape. It’s a
picture of an old map of the world, back in the days of exploration when things
like Canada were still a bit sketchy and over the general area of Australia and
Antarctica is written in large black type “UKNOWNE LAND.” I love old maps –
what promise and danger those days and maps held!
So anyway, every day a few more pieces. And remarkable as it
seemed, slowly the pieces added on tipped the balance and there were more
pieces on the table than there were left in the box.
And somewhere along the way it seemed that the puzzle was a
metaphor for a year of homeschooling. Round about late January, a year of
homeschooling also seems like an insurmountable puzzle. Will our efforts ever
take us anywhere? Will it really amount to something if we do spelling lesson
12 today? And I thought. Yes. It does matter. Everyday a couple more pieces in
the puzzle and eventually the pieces add up. Bits of learning, however small
for each day, add up to the point where the pieces on the table, or already
under the bridge, to mix lots of metaphors, are more than those left to go.
So this morning I prayed with the boys for courage for the
day, for motivation to put a few more pieces into our education, and mid-prayer
it occurred to me that maybe at the end of our homeschooling year, when all the
pieces are placed, we’ll finish with a beautiful map of the world! And all the
confusing bits that confounded us, like the piece with a top of a capital ‘A’
that turned out to actually be the top of a ‘U’ will make sense. Wouldn’t that
be wonderful?
Or maybe we just get that map when we’ve put in all the
pieces into the puzzle of our lives. Or maybe we don’t get to see the map at
all. Maybe we’ll only see the big map when we get to heaven. Maybe when we take
our leave of God’s green earth all the puzzle pieces will still look like a big
jumbly mess in the box. I seem to be living long enough to see that things here
don’t always finish up tidily. Not everyone gets the time to place all the
puzzle pieces. 
Or even if they do, maybe they got the puzzle that isn’t a cool map,
just a kitchy picture of horses and flowers. (Why are there always so many
puzzles of horses?)
I don’t know. But I find that I can’t help always looking
and hoping and trying to understand the metaphor.
In the meantime…we are almost done and I’ll get soon my dining
room table back, and we’re also almost to the point where we can see the end of
the homeschool year, off there in the golden hazy distance. So until then…as Noelle’s auntie would say, it’s
Late Nights with the Puzzle. 

Somebody’s getting a little OCD with the remaining pieces.

Almost there.

Apple Cider

Perhaps it is fitting that while my last post (not counting the one by my guest poster) was about cherries, this one is about apples. Our rental house comes with a large orchard of about 15 trees, 6 (or seven?) of which are apple trees. Last year we ate plenty, but the huge rush of ripe apples came when the kids were in the throes of starting school and the combination of that and the lack of a good way to preserve them meant that most of the apples fell to the ground and became yellow jacket and birdie food.

I especially liked to think about the well fed birdies — it kept me from feeling guilty about not using the apples.

But this year! This year we determined to make use of the communal pressoir – the village cider press. It’s something I find absolutely charming, that the community organizes a cider press in the autumn and that you have to call the town hall to make your appointment. More specifically, you call the town hall on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 9 and 10 a.m. It also tells you something about how many apple trees are in the fields and backyards here.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo of all these crates and bins full of apples and crammed into the back of our Mazda! When I called for my appointment and explained that I’d never done this before and how many apples would I need anyway? the nice man told me that 100 kilos of apples would be ideal and would produce 60-70 liters of juice.  I wasn’t quite sure how many crates 100 kilos would be, but when I left I was sure we had more than that.

Last Thursday evening was our appointment. We drove them down to the community building next to the bank where a lot of people were milling about. It was hard to tell who was or wasn’t in charge. There was one truck with a trailer full of apples and I felt slightly silly with mine all packed into the car with the seats down — like a real amateur. But then I saw that there was also a very bent old lady who was frail-ly loading up her finished cider into her car with the help of her children.

We loaded our apples into this VERY LOUD room and dumped them into the hopper on the left. HORRIBLE chomping noises came from the machine as it schlurped up the apples and squished them to a pulp. The boys were fascinated. Then it rolled the squished apples on the squishing bands and out squeezed the cider. The hose in the middle of the photo sucked up the fresh juice and pumped it over to…

A big blue barrel marked for us!! The nice cider pressing man gave us little cups of the fresh juice — mmm, good!!

 After a waiting interval, our juice was pumped by hose into the next room where the apparatus for pasturization is set up. A bunch of guys were working non-stop to fill bottle after bottle and carton after carton. We had ours put into cartons and then there were 20 liters left over that we took home to drink fresh in the next couple days. We also shared with friends and neighbors as 20 liters is a lot of fresh cider to drink in 3 days. It was delicious!

 The next morning I had the kids unload the car and stack up our wares. We had 25 cartons of 5 liters each! 125 liters of juice ~ that might last us through the winter!

Since the total amount of liters (before pasturization) was 160 liters, and since we are curious about exactly how many apples I lugged down to the car (with the help of the workers, of course), we can use what the appointment man told us in the following equation:

               60 liters                    =                              160 liters
          100 kilos of apples                       Number of kilos of apples we picked

I tried to get people interested in this equation as in “Real Life Homeschool Math” but no one fell for it and I ended up doing it myself. We picked 267 kilos of apples!! Gracious! And translating to kilos by multiplying by 2.2 we discover that that is 586 pounds.

 Yummy delicous fresh pressed organic apple cider. Wish you could come by and share some!!

Five year old Hermes

Guest post by Athena image Hermes turned five! We celebrated the Saturday before his birthday. He invited five of his school friends over. image Welcome to the party! Apollo was the greeter. image We played Duck Duck Goose, and the Clothespin Game, which involves dropping a clothespin into a jar while standing on a bench. They were both a hit.  image Then we blew up some balloon swords. image  image Hermes requested a train cake, so we made an engine, and hooked it up with some train cars. image Apollo and Hermes quickly started putting together all the presents that Hermes received. That evening we had a little family party, so we reloaded up the train with extra cars. image Happy Birthday Hermes!