While They Sleep

In the early morning hours, while the house is quiet and my four children are still snoring, I get up and pull on thick long underwear. Hearing my feet on the floor, the dogs start making soft whining noises in their crates. They know what’s coming.

The sun is not up yet. Sometimes we can hardly see where we are going. The sky is dusty and the ground is crunchy with frost. The goats are sleeping in the barn, the chickens are still in the coop, and the sparrows are just beginning to chirp. In these moments, I can feel the pulse of the Earth. I can feel how we are all connected.

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The dogs race to the field, then look at me expectantly. They’ve been waiting all night for this. It’s time to play fetch!

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They would chase the ball all day, if I let them. Most mornings I’ll throw for 15 minutes or so, and then we take our walk.

We cross the field to say hello & good morning to the old oak trees. At this time of year, the leaves carpet the ground and make a delightful swooshing sound as we walk through them. I often wonder about these trees. If they could talk, what stories would they tell? What have they been witness to all these years? How has the landscape changed?

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We walk the perimeter of the field closest to the house. The dogs race ahead, then race back to me at full speed. They tumble over each other, wrestle, and come back for pats and belly rubs. When we’ve finished our walk, they’re all panting and thirsty. They have a good, long drink while I take care of the farm chores.

The goats are awake now and have come out of the barn. They’re pacing by the gate, waiting for their breakfast. With this year’s shortage of hay, I was very lucky to find some bales from a nearby woman who had more than her horses needed.

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(See that handsome buck on the left? That’s Boots, our springtime babe, now full grown!)

The chickens have heard the goats’ happy bleats and have come running for their share.  They swarm around me, clucking and hopping, eager for their morning crumble & kitchen scraps.

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When everyone is fed and happy, I gather some eggs and head for the house. By now the sun hangs just above the horizon, and my kids are stirring in the family bed. The dogs and I make our way inside to welcome the children into the day. We snuggle and I listen to the kids tell me about their dreams, with sleepy eyes and creaky voices. They start their day softly, totally oblivious to the life I live while they sleep.

Swinging into Summer

“Swinging” into Summer is hardly accurate. It feels more like we’re on a speeding train and Summer is a brick wall directly ahead of us! The days are passing way faster than I care for (but isn’t that always how it goes?). Life is bursting forth everywhere I turn, the baby is growing way too quickly, and my older children are more incredible with each passing day.

Summer on the farm is such a busy, hectic time. There are so many demands! At the end of the day, though, it’s all worth it, and there are an abundance of little rewards.

The chicks, who one month ago looked like this –

- now reside outside and look like this -
How quickly they change!

The rabbits are thriving on grass. They’ve escaped a couple of times, and so we’ve been playing around with various modifications to the rabbit tractor to prevent escape but still allow for grass-eating. (Stay tuned for an update on our rabbits!)

The farmers’ market opened on June 9th, and I was so happy to be back! We had a fabulous opening day, with way more sales than we anticipated and lots of folks from last year stopping by to say hello. The feelings of community and camaraderie that come out at the farmers’ market are so uplifting.

Here’s my market partner – her name is Juno. She’s a 12-week-old Border Collie, and absolutely fabulous!

We’ve also had a few births around this little farm over the past month -


Dinosaur finally birthed her kid, a beautiful little buckling whose name is Boots.


Platypus the duck went broody and sat on a rather large nest of eggs. Eight of them hatched last week, much to the delight of my children.

Yes, Summer is a busy time on this farm: chicks, bunnies, goat kids, ducklings, puppies, gardens, children…….. I feel as though I’m busy and working my butt off nearly every moment of the day. It’s good work, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Morning Rituals

For most of my life, I was not a morning person. It was really, really hard for me to get my butt out of bed. But living on a farm means getting up each morning and getting right to it – there’s no time for easing slowly into the day! There are things that must to be done before breakfast is made, animals waiting to be fed, goats waiting to be milked, eggs needing to be collected. These days, I love mornings and the routines we start our days with. Take a peek at a morning on the farm!

Some Days

If I am to be honest, there are days when I am overwhelmed by the tasks that lay ahead of me. There are days when mopping the floors or washing the dishes or folding laundry seems so insanely futile, when I feel like it’s pointless to pick up the toys scattered about the living room, when I wonder why I ever bother making the bed. I know that when I wake up tomorrow, there will be absolutely no evidence that I did any of these things today. There will be more toys on the floor. There will be muddy footprints leading from the back door to the bathroom. There will be a heaping hamper of dirty laundry waiting to be washed, and the sink will be full of dishes. Tomorrow I will spend my day going through the motions – again – cleaning the same messes that were cleaned today & wondering how I will fit the gardening and the meal-making and the child-loving in around the endless housework.

Most days, it’s ok. It’s life. It’s just the way things are. But some days, some days it’s enough to make this mama feel a little more than crazy. Some days it’s enough to make me want to stay in bed all day with the blankets pulled up over my head. But I know all too well that avoiding the dishes only makes it harder to face the task, when every last dish has disappeared from the cupboard and made its way, filthy, to the sink. Avoiding the laundry means I’m stuck with a pile that I can never get to the bottom of. And I can’t relax in bed, anyway, when there’s laundry on my bedroom floor and the bed sheets are crinkled & begging to be washed.

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When these days of overwhelm hit me, I force myself to find little things to appreciate. It doesn’t always work, but dang, I do so enjoy hanging laundry on the line when the sun is shining and a soft breeze is blowing. And I do so love the satisfaction I feel when I gaze upon a basket of freshly-folded towels, crisp and smelling of the sun, just taken off the line.

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Some days little moments of beauty are in greater abundance than one could ever expect.

The Swing of Things

My recent pregnancy and birth took a lot more out of me than I anticipated it would, and Jae has shouldered the vast majority of the farm work for many months now.  Today I woke feeling much more like my normal old self than I have in a long time. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and I really wanted to get back into the swing of taking care of this little farm.  After getting appointments (for mama and baby), speech therapy (for Raina) and grocery shopping out of the way, the kidlets and I spent our evening out in the yard, getting things back in order.

ImageLynden and Raina had picked out some bird houses from the dollar store a little while back, and today we finally found some places for them. (This one is sitting on a slab of concrete that protrudes from the tree – the tree actually grew around the concrete over the years and engulfed almost half of it!) It puts a smile on my face to see these cute little bird houses nestled in our trees. Whether the birds make use of them or not, they sure look sweet, and the kids were so excited to put them out there.

ImageGaia spent some time swinging in the shade of an old maple tree, which was just fine by her. She gazed around the yard, watched shadows dance on the blanket next to her face, and stared for a good long while at her brothers & sister playing nearby. Indoors, Gaia doesn’t usually want to spend time in her swing, but out in the yard it was another story altogether. I enjoyed having my body to myself for a little while!

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Dinosaur and the sheep were tethered in the front yard for a while to graze down the grass that is already becoming pretty darned long! They seemed to enjoy the fresh greenery and the shade of the maple. Dinosaur’s winter coat is shedding out, and she’s pretty patchy looking these days. I really ought to shave her, but the memory of Daisy’s recent shaving and all of the tiny bits of goat hair that stuck to me for days is a bit of a deterrent.

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Because the gardens were put to sleep for the winter and it wasn’t necessary to keep chickens out, our chicken tractor was out of use. Now that we’re almost ready to start putting some things in the ground, it’s time to confine the chickens. They can tear up a garden pretty fast! Jae and I filled the top of the tractor with fresh straw and moved it to a shady, thickly grassed area. The tractor doesn’t have wheels yet, so moving it is quite the labour-intensive task. That thing is heavy! We put six birds in for the time being. A second tractor is in the works, almost finished and soon to be filled.

I got a lot of debris raked up around the yard – twigs, branches, stray bits of straw, chicken poop – and we had a roaring fire going. The kids sat around on their little chairs, making plans for camping this Summer and having sleepovers. I managed to nearly fill the compster with chicken waste, which I’m sure the gardens will love in a few months’ time.

It was an unremarkable evening, much like other Spring evenings past, but it felt superb to be outside & working again. I haven’t moved my body this much in many months, and my limbs & back were rejoicing to be bending and lifting and working again. Physical activity sure does feel good.

Life & Living

Once upon a time, I was waiting for “life’s grand adventure” to begin, something thrilling that would free me from the monotony and boredom of everyday life. I realised, not too long ago, that somewhere along the line “life’s grand adventure” ceased to hold any importance, and I contentedly settled in to the joys and pleasures that everyday life brings. Each new day holds little miracles and wonders! Each new day is a grand adventure!

Every now and then I come across a poem or a photo or a book that sums up my feelings more eloquently and beautifully than I seem able to do. There’s a poem on the very first page of my Encyclopedia of Country Living  (a fantastic resource by Carla Emery) that I return to again and again. It confirms for me that I’m on the right path and reminds me to rejoice in life’s little pleasures.

Mama’s Mama

Mama’s Mama, on a winter’s day,
Milked the cows and fed them hay,
Slopped the hogs, saddled the mule,
Got the children off to school.
She did a washing, mopped the floors,
Washed the windows and did some chores.
Cooked a dish of home-dried fruit,
Pressed her husband’s Sunday suit,
Swept the parlour, made the beds,
Baked a dozen loaves of bread.
She split some wood and lugged it in,
Enough to fill the kitchen bin,
Cleaned the lamps and put in oil,
Stewed some apples she thought might spoil,
Churned the butter, baked a cake,
Then exclaimed, “For Mercy’s sake,
The calves have got out of the pen!”
Went out and chased them in again,
Gathered the eggs and locked the stable,
Returned to the house and set the table,
Cooked a supper that was delicious,
And afterwards washed all the dishes,
Fed the cat, sprinkled the clothes,
Mended a basket full of hose,
Then opened the organ and began to play,
“When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day”.

- Anna Rees Henton, age 85, 1953

 

Of course, my life is not nearly so chore-filled as our poem mama’s is, and I have a few modern appliances that simplify things for me quite a bit. The sentiment, however, touches me deeply – life is a series of days, each day a series of fairly predictable events, and each day perfect with its chores, child rearing and meal preparation.

Awakening

Oh, dear! We’re almost in mid-February! It occurred to me this morning that it’s time to start planning the gardens for Spring, time to decide which seeds to order, time to plot out which plants will grow where. It’s time to start looking at incubators and decide how much we want to spend to hatch our own eggs again this year (last year’s homemade incubator, while it did give us chicks, didn’t have the hatch rate we had hoped for).

I love this part of Winter, when suddenly it feels like it’s time to come out of hibernation and start living again. It’s not quite Spring, we can’t feel Spring in the air just yet, but I do feel a restlessness and a tug to start preparing. It feels wonderful.

This year, Spring will be extra special. We’re only about seven weeks away from the birth of our newest family member, and my nesting instincts are hitting hard! I am driven to mop the floors every day, almost compulsively, though I only seem to manage mopping twice a week or so. I wash the dishes a few times a day. I am becoming neurotic about the laundry. My house is still a mess (my children have a funny way of creating chaos in a room I’ve just finished cleaning), but I’m busier than ever with chores and preparations. It’s funny what an impending birth will do to a mama.

Yes, mid-February. A glorious time of year, a time of renewal and awakening. Thank goodness it’s here.

Reflections on Our First Year

I realised something fairly monumental the other day: we have lived here on the farm for a year now!  Holy smokes, I can’t believe it’s been that long (and yet not very long at all).  Time sure has flown past and we have been busier here than ever before in our lives.  The past year has held so many amazing moments, challenging moments, stressful moments, exhausting moments, joyous moments – tears, laughter, more tears, more laughter.

I have learned so much in the past year, I don’t even know where to begin.  What immediately comes to mind is the ways in which our family rhythm has changed.  We now flow with the sun & the moon and the weather.  I do my laundry on sunny days.  My kids tend to sleep when the sun is preparing to set, and as time passes we get farther and farther away from an established bed time.  I weed the gardens during the coolest moments of the day, which is generally in the morning but sometimes in the afternoon when a cool breeze sets in, and sometimes at dusk.  Our prepared foods are more seasonally appropriate, too.

I’ve learned to really go with the flow, especially with our animals.  The books will tell you that if you do this, this and this, you will have more eggs, you will get more milk.  But you know, our animals are not production machines and I find they are happier when they live their true nature.  Sometimes that means that we don’t have many eggs, or that the milk pail isn’t very full – and that’s ok! We do our best and treat our animals well, and they are happy creatures.  And most of the time, they give us an abundance of good, healthy food.

I’ve learned that much of what we thought was essential when we lived in the city, really is not.  I’ve happily and joyfully hung the laundry on the line each day – who needs a dryer?  Never once has laundry felt like a chore when it gets hung on the line.  Instead it is a peaceful and meditative task that calms me.  And who needs a lawnmower? A dishwasher? A bread machine? Who needs a television? We’ve happily gone without these things, and life is better for it.

 

Remember this one? The best of everything - sweet baby, laundry on the line, long grass, blue skies - bliss

 

I’ve learned that sometimes, the best thing to do on a snowy day is just stay put.  Cancel plans, get the animals fed, and bunker down inside with some hot soup and lots of art supplies for the kids.  We didn’t have this luxury in the city – snow or not, there were places to be and things to do, and no time to worry about the weather.  I have a whole new appreciation for winter, now.  This past winter certainly was much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be, but there were many wonderful aspects to it, too.  I had moments of desperation in which I wondered how the heck I would feed all the animals when I had three very small children in the house and no other adults around to keep an eye on them for half an hour.  Somehow I managed, and I realised that I’m stronger and more resourceful than I previously thought.

Despite the challenges, there is so much beauty in winter, isn't there?

 

I’ve learned that there is nothing more satisfying or more delicious than producing your own food.  One of my greatest joys in life is collecting eggs and gathering produce from the garden.  I feel really good feeding the products of my labours to my children, watching them grow and thrive on healthful, real foods that were grown right here at home.  When I read about GMO’s, or wood pulp filler in foods, E-coli and salmonella poisonings, pesticide poisoning, birth defects caused by Roundup, rising rates of obesity & diabetes and other food woes, I am so grateful that we are able to produce at least some of our own food and that I am able to provide good, nourishing meals to my children.  What a  blessing!

So much more than just an egg - a promise of health & nourishment, a delicious meal...

 

I’ve learned that sometimes I need to stop carrying the world on my shoulders and rely on others a little bit more.  Jae and I have grown so much together over the past year, and I’ve learned what it means to really rely on another person.  I’m impressed by how much Jae has done around here – from thatching the roof  of the chicken coop to fencing in the gardens – there is no way I’d be able to do it all myself, and sometimes just having another brain to think on a problem means that the solution is so much greater.

And, of course, I’ve learned so many skills – milking a goat, trimming hooves, pitching straw, storing hay, eliminating tomato hornworms & cabbage moth caterpillars, growing a garden without needing to water, the best way to hang laundry, how to use power tools, basic carpentry, how to contain goats, how to can peaches, how to make mulberry jam, what to do with frozen eggs, how to tap maple trees & make syrup, how to hatch chicks, how to keep a baby happy while mama works in the garden (babywearing is a mama’s best friend!), spinning great yarn… and that’s the shortlist.  There really is so much more.

I feel so blessed, so lucky, so full of gratitude when I think on the past year of farm life.  My children have grown and thrived and we’ve all settled into country living beautifully.  I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

To farm life!

 

Friday on the Farm

Today has been a glorious day – and it’s only noon!  We’ve still got plenty of this amazing day left ahead of us!

Early this morning, while the dew was still hanging like diamonds from the leaves, we ventured into the garden to do some weeding.  Look what we found!

Cucumbers! Lots and lots of cucumbers!

Nice, big, succulent cucumbers!

We couldn’t resist chomping into a few.  Mmmm… there’s nothing better than food fresh off the plant.  The taste is unbeatable!

While we were weeding, we found something else in the garden – something we’d rather not have found.

Cabbage moth caterpillars, all over our Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kholi rabi plants.  Argh!  Luckily, my children found great fun in plucking the caterpillars off of our plants, and happily spent over half an hour carefully examining each leaf on every plant, and dropping the caterpillars into a bucket.  By the time they were finished, they had over one hundred cabbage moth caterpillars in their bucket.  EWW!

So, what to do with all these garden peskies?

Feed them to the chickens!  Now THAT is natural pest control!

While we were busy plucking cabbage moth caterpillars off our plants, wee Robin was doing what he loves best -

- hanging with the goats!  This child loves, LOVES to be with the goats.  They are his favourite creatures, and he will spend hours following them around the yard as they graze.  They seem to love him too.  Maybe it’s the treats he happily hands over – apple cores, carrot stubs, melon rinds – or maybe they just sense how much he cares for them.  Whatever the connection, I’m glad they have it.

As I went about my farm chores this morning, I thought to myself that “chores” is really the wrong word to describe what I’m doing out there.  None of it feels like a chore, none of it is work.  It’s a daily dose of connection to the Earth, connection to our animals, fresh air, glorious sun.  It’s invigorating, uplifting, fulfilling, and all-around enjoyable.  The farm work grounds me, calms me, and fills me with purpose.  There is no place I’d rather be than out there in the yard taking care of this place.

Where Does the Time Go?

Wow, has life ever been busy lately!  The past week seems to have just slipped away in a blur of activity – gardening, violin teaching, concert organising, gardening, gardening, gardening – and of course there’s always the usual household chores, laundry, animals to feed, stalls to clean, yarn to spin, clothes to be knit & sewn.  Plus the children, my sweet, amazing children, who are the centre of everything and the reason for it all, who need to be read to, pushed on swings, splashed with in the wading pool, tickled, baked with in the kitchen, snuggled on the couch, taken on adventures, bathed, fed, and constantly adored.  Yes, life has been full and rich and busy.  Every day I am finding so much to be grateful for, and so happy to be alive.

The gardens are coming along well, after a super-wet Spring and a late planting start.  We have some tiny tomatoes starting to grow, sweet little green balls hanging delicately from the plants. I can’t help but grin when I look at them.  The cucumber plants are covered in beautiful flowers (won’t be long now!).  We’ve had some delicious garden salads with kale, lettuce, spinach, chard.  Radishes are almost ready, carrots are coming along beautifully.  Our beans look amazing!  Squash plants flourishing, Brussels sprouts growing, broccoli heads beginning to form.  After many farm animal mishaps in the gardens, we’ve finally got our garden fence properly goat-proofed and chicken-proofed.  No more tears over plants being eaten!  The gardens seem grateful indeed, to no longer be living in fear.

Our chicks are thriving and growing so fast.  Can it really be only last month that I hatched those eggs in the incubator?  Really!?  Those sweet little chickies run around with the big girls these days, darting in and out of the tall grass, eating bugs and testing their wings.  They are incredibly amusing to watch, so little and dear, and there’s something all the more special about them because I hatched them here, in my dining room, after turning those eggs three times a day, every day, for three solid weeks.

The goats are growing fast, too.  Alice’s kids are already almost as big as Daisy (our bottle-fed kid, who, admittedly, is really on the small side – really), and Mazie is almost full grown!  She’s catching up to Alice, fast.  With the grass being so long around here, there’s been an endless supply of grazing land for the goats, who are almost always tethered in the front yard, or under the laundry line, or along the bushy side of the driveway.  They keep things somewhat in check and there’s a never-ending source of free food!

And speaking of long grass, we’ve seen many amazing snakes in the yard.  An incredible thing happens when you stop mowing the lawn – it becomes a habitat!  Garter snakes, fox snakes, a wide array of birds (many, MANY of whom have chosen to nest in our trees!), a huge variety of beautiful butterflies, all have been attracted to the yard this summer, due mostly to the lush and diverse plant life covering the property.  I love it!  Every day there is something new to discover.  Now, if only people would stop making snide remarks about our lawn needing cutting!

Yes, these days are busy.  Soon we will be at the farmers’ market on weekends, too, which will add a whole new dimension to life.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.