Tag Archives: family

Write It Down!

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Write It Down!

Almost exactly a year ago, my father had a series of strokes that left him physically incapacitated and confined to a hospital bed at home. He had been hard of hearing for years as the result of multiple ear infections and lanced eardrums when he was a child in the 1930s. He lost his sense of taste and smell a few years ago as the result of a virus (at least, that was the doctor’s best guess), and his vision, which had never been fantastic, had deteriorated over the last year or two and worsened rapidly after the strokes. 

In spite of all that, though, his mind was still sharp and remained that way until just before he died last November. He had always been able to answer any question I asked about his family and his childhood, and with his older brother and sister both long dead, it’s only now sinking in that there isn’t anyone left who remembers those stories anymore. I still have so many questions! I wish I’d been able to go sit with Dad sometime in his last few months and just listen to him talk, but that opportunity and all of those memories are gone.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Ancestry.com over the past few years tracing our family history. I’ve learned a lot, like the fact that we had ancestors on every side of the Salem Witch Trials — one great-grandfather (Deacon Edward Putnam) examined and testified to the persecution of his niece, Ann Putnam, and the other girls; another (Benjamin Abbott) accused his neighbor, Martha Carrier, of witchcraft (and saw her hanged); and one great-grandmother (Mary Ireson) was accused herself and found guilty (partially on the testimony of Edward Putnam!), but fortunately her conviction happened so late in the trials that she wasn’t executed before the whole thing was finally brought to a halt.

The “interesting” ancestors are always the ones that exist as more than a name and set of dates in the family tree. They’re the ones who have stories recorded and passed down, whether in the history books or in their own hand. We have a four-page letter written by my great-great-grandfather, Joshua, from Denver back to his son in Maine in 1891. No one knows what Joshua, a sailmaker by trade, was doing in Denver, but he writes about missing his wife and children, about all the happenings out there (where a boy had recently fallen off the roof of a seven-story building and landed on a horse, breaking his leg and fatally injuring the horse), about his opinion of “Western women” (which boils down to the fact that you wouldn’t want to be seen with one of them in polite New England society!), and a tantalizing bit about his resentment towards his cousin, Albert, whose treatment of Joshua was somehow responsible for his move to the West. Joshua wasn’t famous by any standard — I haven’t even been able to find out when he died or if he’s buried in Maine or Denver — but just having that glimpse into his life and personality makes him so fascinating.

So here’s the point: write things down! Write about how you met your spouse. Write about your memories from childhood. Write about your college years and what you most enjoyed studying. Write about funny things your children say and do. Write about your pets and their quirks. Write about your family traditions and your vacations. Write about weddings and funerals and maybe a scandal or two. Write about stories your parents and grandparents told you. If they’re still alive, sit down with them and ask them to tell you all of these things about their own lives, including the stories their grandparents told them! Capture as much as you can in the most permanent form possible. And please, if Cousin Albert does you wrong and permanently alters your life story, for the love of all that’s high and holy, write it down!

My mom remembers riding on a horse-drawn sleigh with her grandfather to retrieve sap buckets from his maple trees in 1940s rural Pennsylvania. My oldest son, meanwhile, can’t conceive of a world in which phones were permanently connected to the wall and Netflix didn’t exist. He’s convinced I’m pulling his leg when I tell him that I didn’t have my first cell phone until I was in college, and that when I did get one, all I could do with it was make phone calls. So much has changed in only two generations.

My paternal grandfather was born in 1893 and died in 1986 when I was five years old. I know that he served in France in World War I, I know he had a sister named Marjory who died young, and I know I inherited my freckles and the reddish tint in my hair from him, but for the most part, his life is a mystery. Again, two generations, and think of how different his world was from mine!

My grandparents and their children. My father is the little boy in the middle.

Two generations from now, life will probably have radically changed again. A few generations after that, you and I could be just another set of flat, impersonal names and dates to our descendants. But there will still be people like me who want to know where they’ve come from and who some of the thousands of people were who had a part in creating them. You could be one of the ones who comes to life for them.

Write things down. They’ll thank you for it.

Family Update

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Life is good. Life is also busy. My baby girl is six months old today, her older brother turned two-and-a-half two days ago, and her oldest brother is almost halfway through being six. It’s all flying by much too quickly!

So, The Boy and I started first grade a few weeks ago. It is a whole different kettle of fish from the kindergarten program that we did last year, but we’re starting to find a rhythm and have fun. He especially loves science — we’re studying insects right now, so what six-year-old boy wouldn’t love it? He already liked to throw around statements like, “Well, that’s my hypothesis,” so his love of science comes as no surprise.

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The Slightly Smaller Boy hurtles through life like he’s been issued a personal challenge to Carpe this Diem with all he’s got. He keeps us on our toes in a way that his brother never has, but he also makes us laugh like crazy, so it works out. He’s scary-smart like his brother, too, and any day now I’m expecting him to start piping up with the answers when I’m quizzing The Boy in school.

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And now this baby girl. Smitten doesn’t begin to describe it. She is the happiest, most roly-poly little creature you’ve ever seen. She’s also the spitting image of my mom as a baby, and at six months, she’s tipping the scales at almost 21 pounds. And of course, she has everyone in the house wrapped around her pudgy little fingers!

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So, these three keep me busy from morning till night, but there are about 45 or 50 animals counting on us for their survival as well. I’ll post an update on the homesteading part of our lives in a day or two!

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Six Busy Months

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Spring and summer have flown by this year. I’ve started a few posts without finishing any, and somehow half a year has passed since I posted anything at all.

The Baby is no longer a baby. Instead, he has morphed into an eighteen-month-old blur of energy, mischief, and fun requiring far more supervision than his brother ever has. Every obstacle must be climbed and every food must be tasted. Any cat sighting (window, television, pet store…) results in repeated and very realistic meowing. For whatever reason, his greatest ambition is to throw himself over the back of the sofa, something which I’ve managed to prevent so far. He loves to read books and wants to be just like his big brother.

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The Boy, meanwhile, started kindergarten last week. I’m homeschooling him, and he’s absolutely eating it up. Most days he does twice as many pages as projected and would keep going if I didn’t stop him. His favorite thing is cutting and pasting, and he’s very careful and conscientious with his work. He still keeps us in stitches most of the time with the crazy things he says. He loves “inventing” things, and he can build just about anything with either Legos or PVC pipes. And he is a serious people person — not always the easiest thing for this introverted mama to deal with, but I’m glad he’s so outgoing.

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And as busy as these two keep us, we’re expecting a third in March! The Boy says that it is “definitely” going to be a girl — while he adores his little brother, he also desperately wants a sister. This pregnancy is very different from my others, so maybe that means he’s right.

On the homesteading front, we built four raised beds and had a decent garden this year, but a serious lack of pollinators. The cold winter killed off a lot of honeybees around here. So our tomatoes, beans, crookneck squash, and butternut and acorn squash did pretty well, but the peppers and zucchini did nothing, and out of dozens of blossoms, my pumpkin vine only managed to set one fruit.

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The chicks we hatched are thriving and fully grown now. We lost two within two days of hatching to mushy chick disease, where the navel fails to close properly after the yolk sac is absorbed. It’s usually caused by too much humidity during the hatch or bacteria encountered in the incubator. I didn’t have a hygrometer to measure the humidity, but as far as bacteria goes, by the end of the hatch that incubator was pretty manky. Not really sure how to avoid that.

Anyway, as soon as I realized why the first one died, I immediately started applying iodine to the navels of all the rest to dry them up. One was already too sick to pull through, but the others with iffy-looking abdomens all healed up cleanly. After that, we lost one to suffocation when all of its siblings decided to pile up on it, but the rest grew up beautifully.

The only downside to hatching our own chicks was that some of the prettiest ones turned out to be cockerels, including Trouble, my funny little owl-looking baby who used to jump into my hand as soon as I reached into the brooder. My little chocolate fluffball, Godiva, did end up being a pullet, but the one that looked like its Cuckoo Marans mama and that I had hoped might lay olive eggs ended up becoming a gorgeous roo. Most of the extra cockerels will probably end up in the freezer. It’s just another way of providing for our family, of course, but you know, I couldn’t help hoping we would have a miraculous, 100% pullet hatch. ☺

We added several new rabbits: a California buck and a trio of pedigreed American Chinchillas. The oldest AmChins won’t be old enough to breed until October, but I love these rabbits! They’re huge, beautiful, and so sweet. They’re a critically endangered heritage breed, so there aren’t many of them around here.

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Add a few days in Charleston, a quick weekend trip for one of Ben’s younger brothers to get married on Pensacola Beach, several more home improvement projects, and a whole lot of laundry, and you’ve got a decent, if abbreviated, glimpse of our last six months. Hopefully it won’t be another six before I get a chance to write again!

Summertime Blues

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An unusual year we’re having. First, we had spring, a season we typically only see mentioned on the calendar. Now, here we are in late summer, when the grass is usually brown and crunchy underfoot, and we’re setting rainfall records. Fifteen inches in July alone, and we’ve had more rain in the past seven and a half months than we were projected to have for the entire year!

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful for the rain after years of drought. And like everyone keeps saying, “It’s nice to see the lakes full.” But really. Everything in moderation.

The tomatoes are spindly and growing ever taller, searching for nearly nonexistent sunlight. The mosquitoes have organized and are demanding better wages and flying conditions. And the ground is so saturated that the rain in recent weeks has just been running off in torrents, filling the ditches and damaging the roads.

Oh, and weakening the trees. Which is how we ended up with three down in our yard a few weeks ago. A weird storm came out of the northeast, and I’m guessing we were hit by a microburst. Whatever it was, it did some major localized damage. Besides our big pine tree and two tall oaks from the woods behind us, the wind took down the last of our neighbor’s three huge oak trees (all three gone within a year!), then crossed a field and felled four large trees in one yard on the other side.

Our splintered pine tree. We'll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Our splintered pine tree. We’ll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Both of the oaks behind the house landed on the power lines, and one came down smack dab in the middle of the chicken tractor, killing two hens and trapping two more, while four managed to escape from the wreckage. Because the downed power lines were draped over the whole pile, I couldn’t even rescue the Marans hen I could see, let alone search for any other survivors. Fortunately, when the power company guys (who must have been very nice) arrived the next day, they got her out unharmed and put her in with the escapees I’d already captured.

Tree on tractor

Looking at this, I’m still amazed anything survived. The Marans hen was trapped in the corner on the left in this picture.

We stayed at my parents’ house until the power was restored, so it was two days after the storm when I found my little red partridge Silkie under the splintered tractor, alive, but with one foot crushed under a 2×4 that had a lot of weight pressing down on it. We got her out, but I really didn’t know how much damage was done and what her chances of recovery were. After a few days of rest, though, she was running around with hardly a limp. Now you’d never know she had been injured.

Crushed tractor

Here it is after the tree was semi-cleared by the power company. The Silkie was sitting quietly in the corner on the right, apparently waiting for rescue.

The destruction of the chicken tractor has really exacerbated our overcrowding problem, since all of the girls from the tractor have had to move into what had been the portable extended run for the main coop. I sold my five Buff Orps last month and hope to sell the ten Silver Laced Wyandottes this weekend. At that point, we should be back down to a manageable flock size. Oddly, most of the ones I’m keeping are the older hens. They’re just still laying too well for me to get rid of them, and obviously people buying adult hens would rather have the younger ones.

In the midst of all the mayhem and losses, one of the two surviving Gold Stars from this spring has started laying. It’s amazing to see how the cycle of life carries on in spite of what must seem to those chickens like nearly apocalyptic events.

Not bad for a first egg!

Not bad for a first egg!

Life goes on inside the house, too. Ben is working an insane number of hours because of “back to school,” so we probably won’t get to see much of him until late September. The 47-mile drive tacked on to each end of his 10+ hour workday certainly doesn’t help. He’s only had three days off in the past month, so his homecoming is a big deal every evening. The Boy is always waiting to open the door for him and tell him the latest news, and The Baby lights up and starts trying to push off of me to reach him. Daddy is pretty popular in these parts.

I’m staying busy with kids, critters, and the everyday. What life might lack in excitement, it more than makes up for in cuddles, giggles, and kisses.

Once Upon a Time…

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Eight years ago today, I married my love. We stood on the Big Rock (no points for originality, but the name fits) at the edge of the woods, beside the creek that borders my parents’ land. The ceremony was at eight o’clock in the evening in an attempt to avoid the heat and humidity of a South Carolina July, but it was still hot! One of our favorite moments in our wedding video is at the start of the first prayer, when all of the groomsmen, as one, mop their foreheads with their sleeves.

Ceremony

After the ceremony, we walked across the lawn to the reception tent and spent the evening with our family and friends. When darkness finally fell, Mike, who had married Ben’s sister, Ginny, just seven days earlier, took his life in his hands setting off fireworks out in the pasture. The launching pipes were too long, so most of the fireworks went off too close to the ground, and every time one exploded, it illuminated Mike making a dash for safety.

To the reception

Looking back, I would have simplified things. Chosen cooler, more comfortable outfits for us and our attendants. Opted for cupcakes and lemonade at the reception instead of the cake that gave our baker heart palpitations because the frosting melted in the heat and the whole thing threatened to slide apart. Probably skipped the fireworks altogether, although their fizzling is one of our funnier memories of the day. But even with the complications, it was a magical evening and a beautiful start to our life together.

Wedding DayLeaving my parents’ house for pictures.

Wedding Day 2This is our best effort at being grown-ups.

All SmilesI’m so glad it was such a relaxed day! Everyone was able to enjoy themselves.

Hammock*Sigh* Wasn’t I demure? 🙂

Hammock 2

With ElizabethWith my adorable niece, Elizabeth, who was five years old and absolutely precious in her daisy crown and bare feet!

The Girls

The Boys

With Ben's FamilyBen’s family.

With my FamilyMy family. Grandma Stewart looks like she ‘s thinking of stealing Ben away!

The CreekI grew up playing in this creek and always said I wanted to get married beside it. Such crazy circumstances made that wish come true!

To the BlockAfter all of those earlier smiles, Ben had a singularly doomed expression on his face for the entire ceremony. Here in the procession, he looked like he was on his way to the block. I’m still wondering if I should take offense at this.

StephenElizabeth’s darling brother, Stephen, is front and center here, between Ben’s dad and oldest brother. Stephen got his learner’s driving permit a few weeks ago. In my mind, he’s still eight and wearing this seersucker suit.

VowsVows officiated by Pastor Yearick, who had been my pastor my whole life.

ReceptionSomeday I will learn how to photoshop the extension cord out of the foreground of this shot. But I love the lanterns glowing in the twilight.

FireworksOur photographer put together this shot using one of the only fireworks that actually made it into the sky. The end of a long, happy day.