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Monday, December 15, 2008

Pioneer Farms

What a crazy day! I had a face painting job early in the morning so I picked up a baby sitter before breakfast and ran straight to my job at a fitness center. I've never seen such a posh place for people to sweat. It actually bothered me. It was literally a mall full of shops and spas and restaurants all centered around fitness ideals. It was HUGE. I worked there for 3 hours, it was a nice gig.

Heading straight to tithing settlement, where Nathan had been all day, we spent the afternoon waiting for our turn to see the bishop. I could barely stay awake. The kids enjoyed talking to our bishop and getting to pick candy out of his candy jar. They were so proud of their tithing invoices and they were pleased when the bishop proclaimed them to be full tithe-payers.

Next stop, our friends house. We keep most of our chickens on their farm due to city restrictions for our property. It's time to slaughter some of them. The roosters are mature and the rooster we keep in our yard is a public nuisance promptly at 5:30am each morning. I don't mind his crowing, in fact I really like it. I am worried that our neighbors will hate us, so I had to chase him around the yard each morning so I could put him in a box to shut him up. If he can't stand up all the way and stretch out his neck, he can't crow. So we'd put him in a box until later in the day. That really had to stop. We planned on butchering him today, so we stopped by to pick up our other birds scheduled for butchering. That was fun, chasing around the coop catching 8 chickens. The real fun part was opening the box to add more birds without letting the other birds out. I couldn't help myself from proclaiming our boxed birds as "Dinner in a box". Perfect for any family!

Nathan and I culled the roosters together. That is a true bonding experience. :) I think everyone should do that with their sweetheart. Actually, it is a surprisingly humbling experience. I don't like taking the life of an animal, but since we eat the meat and really can't keep the roosters anyway, I can handle it. I think the commercial meat-processing system of America has hundreds of problems on ethical and health levels. I really prefer producing our own meat for many reasons. That's a whole discussion in itself for another time.

We love our chickens and respect them as creatures of God. I really appreciate the kind of man Nate is. Each time we caught a rooster, he'd hold it and stroke it, talking to it softly and thanking it for being such a good bird. Then he'd kill it so it died quickly with minimal trauma. I really respect that. I think it's a rare thing to have a man that respects an animal's life and can be so gentle in it's death.

I had never been so involved with the butchering process in the past. Usually Nathan did it with a friend. This time I was there from start to finish. Processing each bird really doesn't take long. It takes about 15 minutes per bird to go from slitting the throat to putting it in the freezer. Surprisingly, our hen Cinderella came and watched the entire process, eagerly eating the entrails that were thrown aside. She wasn't bothered at all, and even became impatient with us. She came up to the carcass we were working on and tried to take a peck of it right on the chopping block! What a lady.

I love the results of our experience...I always am humbled and increasingly thankful for our blessings. I am so thankful for our food and I am more careful with how I use meat, regardless of it's animal of origin. I think people are so often wasteful with our food in America, and I really cherish every morsel after going through this experience. I realize what a sacrifice animals make for our diets and feel compelled to eat the meat with reverence and appreciation. It's almost a spiritual experience for me to partake of the meat afterwards.

On a side note, when the feet are severed from the body, the tendons often protrude a little bit from the end. You can tug on the tendons and make the toes curl up. I took a foot inside to show the children and explain how tendons work. Nathan was sure the kids would be disgusted. Much to my surprise, they were delighted and each one wanted a turn to tug a tendon. They laughed and delighted, especially Matthew. I think they would have loved to play with it for much longer if I had let them. If you ever butcher a chicken, give it a try. It's really fun! Really.

Literally 5 minutes after finishing up the third bird, we headed off the the next activity.

We volunteered to be historical actors for a pioneer log cabin in a historical park. It was so fun! We arrived and dug through period costumes to find things that fit. We all had on pioneer costumes except Daniel...they didn't have sizes that small.

We were supposed to start and maintain a pit fire all night so visitors could sit by the fire and sing carols as they passed through. Sarah and I were in charge of cocoa and cookies. We had crock pitchers to haul water in. The well was 50 yards into the woods behind the house. She was such a great help, lugging the heavy pitchers back and forth. They didn't carry much water, less than 2 quarts, so we had to make many trips throughout the night. We'd pour the water in a big dutch oven suspended above the fire so we could heat it for cocoa.As darkness fell, it was harder and harder for me to venture out to the well. The woods were extremely dark and we had no lights for me to take. The candles and gas lamps stayed with the guests to light the cabin. I wouldn't be able to carry the light anyway, since both hands carried pitchers. I was so scared that I'd only be able to force myself to stay at the well until the pitchers were half full, then I'd run as fast as I could back to the fire. I didn't care that this meant I had to go back twice as often.....I'm a real baby in the dark. Nathan can tell lots of stories about that, I'm sure.

The cabin was so fun. There were rag dolls and a cradle to play with and wooden toys for the kids to enjoy. We played in there by candlelight and had a great time. Nathan brought his harmonica, so his beautiful music filled the air, mingling with the crackling sounds from the fire. It was so adventurous and peaceful and fulfilling. Sarah really enjoyed playing hostess, arranging cookies on wooden platters for the visitors. I took Sarah and Daniel around the village on the hayride during the night to visit the other houses. The Victorian house was hosting a party for a group of Civil War-Ear historical re-enactors. The men were in military uniforms and the women had hoop skirts and beautiful ball gowns. There was a music group playing period music on a dulcimer and fiddle and everyone was dancing and chatting. It was like I stepped into a movie! It was SO beautiful and so much fun. Sarah and I went around the house peeking in all the rooms admiring all the dresses. The women all made the dresses themselves. We also let Sarah play a pump organ in the house. She really enjoyed that. We saw several shooting stars during the hay ride. It was so neat!

When the children became tired around 9:30, they were able to crawl into the feather bed in the cabin. They were so delighted to sleep on straw pillows. Matthew couldn't stop giggling about his pillow. It was such a novelty for him. They burrowed under the quilts and I told them stories until they fell asleep. They were so filthy at the end of the night! Dirt and soot covered their hands, but they had so much fun it was worth it. We had so much fun the entire night, we decided to become regular volunteers for the park. I'm really looking forward to going back, and so are the children. They've already asked me how soon we get to go back.

This is Matthew stringing popcorn for the tree in one of the homestead cabins. They had lots of fun...we do this activity at home every year, but for some reason it's more fun by candlelight.

He also tried his hand at pumping water for hot cocoa. He's not in costume in this picture because we went as visitors to the park the night before we volunteered.

Daniel enjoying the hay ride between houses. This was his favorite part. He kept begging me to take him repeatedly. Each time it came around to our property, Daniel could hear it around the corner in the woods and he'd run up to me screaming, "Hayride is coming! Hayride is coming!"

Nathan played his harmonica much of the evening and I still wanted more. He really looked the part in his costume. Most of the pictures I took of him didn't turn out since the firelight didn't give enough lighting. This was a rare shot I caught with the flash when there were no visitors.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sarah's first ballet

We went on a home school field trip to the Nutcracker Ballet performed by Ballet Austin. It was such a fun experience to share! The boys were too young to be admitted, so they spent the day with friends in the country and I took our friends' two daughters with us.

I love the ballet and it's my personal favorite way to spend a date night. Unfortunately, it's out of my regular budgeting range for dates, so we do it only once a year or so. This trip was specifically for schools and home schoolers, so tickets for children were only $4 and mine was half-price. What a treat!

The performance was astounding and I always feel an intense thrill and exhilaration when I watch ballet dancers and feel the beauty of the classical music swell around me. It's such a high for me and I get emotionally involved in the performance every time. It was a priceless experience to watch Sarah's face as the performance progressed. She was giddy and smiling huge grins in delight. She'd glance at me sideways frequently and smile, just happy to share the moment. Her favorite part of the ballet was the end, where Clara wakes up in bed and finds the nutcracker there on her pillow.

I always feel such amazement at the ballet. It's incredible that the human body can create such beautiful always makes me so in awe of the creation a human body is. I feel increased gratitude for my own body, and I'm very humbled at the thought that Heavenly Father would grant me my very own body. It's such an intricate creation and so beautiful.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas letter

This is for all you who I don't have addresses for. I love reading other people's Christmas letters. If you don't enjoy it, then skip this post. :)

Dear family and friends,

Well, Nathan quit his job of 6 years at National Instruments, we sold our house and are moving to a commune in Texas to grow organic food, raise animals, and live in peace with the universe. Ok, maybe not . . . changed our minds once we realized there was no indoor plumbing. Anyway we wanted to start this letter with something more interesting than the obligatory "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!" (Oops! It still got in!).

For those of you thinking, “Renae, your Christmas letter is the most exciting part of our Christmas and we look forward to it with glee and anticipation”--you flatter me too much! Ok, this section's for you, the usual facts of the kids, animals, highlights of the year- or as Nathan says, “the blah blah blah part”. You're welcome to skip this part and jump to the “with love” part if you like.

Sarah- turned six and chose to go to the Children's Museum for her birthday. She's doing home school and piano lessons this year. Her first recital was this year, she played 'O Come All Ye Faithful'. She loves reading and art, and is always begging me to give her art lessons. She's been very responsible this year. An example was when I left the family for a 2 week vacation. She very seriously told Nathan “Well, I packed you lunch for you. Someone has to be the Mom, so I did it. I also fed and dressed the boys.” She loves reading the American Girls and Pony Pals series.

Matthew- turned four this year and discovered that he loves math. A favorite part of the holidays for him was helping Nathan put together a 1000 piece puzzle. He was surprisingly good. He's also really developed his compassionate side this year, as shown by the number of times he's given away his toys to someone sad or given all his candy away when someone else didn't have any.

Daniel- turned two this year and cares only about trains and sugar. He's very social and is definitely a comedian. He loves the center of attention and will do anything to make people laugh. He knows he's cute, as shown recently when Nathan told Sarah that she's the cutest girl around. He replied, “No! Me cutest! Me cutest!”

Nathan- discovered talents for playing the guitar and harmonica this year. He shaved his head for Halloween so I could paint the entire surface. That was a big deal. ;) He's been so supportive of me this year, I'd be lost without him. He made a Thanksgiving meal for 20 guests this year almost single-handedly.

Renae- I started Nursing school this year and am immersed with homework and studies. I'm currently scoring straight A's. That about sums it up for me!

Animals- the count is 1 huge dog, 6 chickens, 3 giant rabbits.

Garden- dead. There wasn't time left for 'extra' hobbies after home school and my own homework.

Year highlights- Family trip to Georgia, my trip to Nauvoo and Idaho, visiting relatives, home school field trips to Sea World and Pioneer Heritage Farm.My sister lived with us for the past year before going on her mission to Japan; that was priceless.

We love you all very much! Merry Christmas!!

With love, Nathan, Renae, Sarah, Matthew, Daniel