When Dreams Meet Reality

Two-and-a-half years ago, my family moved to this little farm with dream – to produce some food and work toward self-sufficiency.

Needless to say, it has been a bumpy ride. There has been a huge learning curve, both in the gardens and with our livestock. There have been deaths (goats and chickens don’t live forever!) and there have been successes. Our gardens have thrived at times and failed at times. Sometimes things flow smoothly and it feels great, and other times everything is a struggle and I wonder what the heck we are doing here.

I never thought this homesteading life would be easy, and I had no delusions of grandeur – just a simple dream and some determination. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always co-operate. I recently became a single mother, and had to make some tough decisions about how to go forward with this little farm.

When my husband made the decision to move out, I felt my dreams slipping away. How could I homestead by myself, with four very young children underfoot? It felt impossible.

Having my fourth baby strapped to my back while I go about my farm chores in frosty winds and stinging rains is less than ideal, so I’ve given up on milking our sweet goat, Daisy. She’s drying off, and our fridge is emptying as the steady stream of goat’s milk stops flowing. My first choice was to sell the goats and sheep, but my children put up such a (very loud) fuss when I raised the subject, that I changed my mind and figured out how to make it work to keep them here.

As my oldest son wailed about how much he loves Daisy & Dinosaur – how he raised them, how he fed Daisy her bottles (he calls himself her surrogate mother), how Dinosaur was our first goat born here – memories of the past two years filled my head. I saw my younger son, just starting to crawl, approaching baby Dinosaur in the lush grass of our front yard on a beautiful Summer’s day. I saw my older son with a huge grin on his face, snuggling baby Daisy on our living room couch as he fed her a bottle. I saw my daughter, shy and reserved, speaking sweetly to the little goat whose mama wouldn’t love her. I saw that I couldn’t give these animals away. Somewhere along the line, my dream became my children’s reality.

The next couple of years may not unfold how I had imagined they would – I’m reducing my flock of chickens to 8 laying hens, ditching the rabbit idea, and giving up goat milking, among other things – but I refuse to let my dreams die. Before I know it, I won’t have a little baby anymore. I’ll have four bigger kids, who won’t require such intense attention as they do now. I’ll have four sets of helping hands in the gardens, four sets of helping hands to milk the goats, four sets of helping hands to gather eggs. In a few years, we can dive back into homesteading with fervour.

For now, I’ll do what I can with what I have available and take what life brings. It may not be what I had originally dreamed of and I may not be self-sufficient, but sometimes reality ends up being better than a dream. I know I’ve got great things coming.

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!

A Day Outdoors

After two rainy days, the sun came out today and shone brilliantly all the day long. A perfect day for working outside! With everything that’s been going on around here the last few months, we’re horribly behind on our farm work. So, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze keeping us cool, the children and I spent the day getting things caught up.

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Lynden helped me prepare the onion bed for planting. Who would have thought rolling spikes along the ground could be so fun and exciting? Little clumps of grass became “monsters” that needed to be eliminated, with Lynden the Brave coming to the rescue.

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Robin carefully dropped each little onion-in-waiting into its hole in the ground. He took this task very seriously indeed, hollering at anyone who came near the bed.  Our little green thumb was totally delighted when I raked the soil over and tucked the onions in to grow.

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Later, when it was time to put the trowel and rake away, we discovered a broody hen in the garage! Well, well, well – a torn old bag for a nest! And in the corner of a damp, dark garage, to boot. What a silly lady! It looked like she was sitting on eight eggs or so. Now we wait. How many will she hatch?

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For a while I tried to get some pasture seed sown in the goat/sheep yard, but quickly realised it was an exercise in futility. The chickens gobbled up every seed they could find. Pasture seed is not inexpensive! The seeding of the goat/sheep yard is going to have to wait until the rest of the chickens are confined in the almost-finished chicken tractor (the finishing of which will have to take priority this weekend!).  I did get lots of peas in the ground, as well as a large bed of beans (this year we planted Cherokee Trail of Tears, Aunt Emma’s, and Cranberry). The chickens don’t dig up the legumes like they do with smaller seeds, thank goodness.

ImageThe goats and sheep got a new salt lick today. This wouldn’t be an event worth mentioning, if not for Day Lily’s reaction. Apparently this was something to be excited over – Day Lily pranced around like it was Christmas morning, and kept returning to the salt lick to have a little nibble. You’d think the silly gal had never had a salt lick before.

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While I worked in the garden, Robin followed me around with the leftover onion starters. He refused to believe that I didn’t need to plant another onion bed, and was pretty mad at me when I said “No, thank you,” as he attempted to put onions in the bean bed. He brought this bag of leftover onion starters into the house with him, and sat down to dinner with the bag still clutched in one hand. When he realised that it would be difficult to eat with only one hand free, Robin sat on the onion bag. Oddler got quite a surprise when he sniffed at the bag and received a whack on the nose!

ImageRaina quite adamantly did not want to help in the garden today, which is quite unusual for her. Instead, she took her shirt off and ran through the fields, then spent much of her afternoon swinging and climbing. She scaled a tree, then cried for me to help her get down. She spun herself silly on the tire swing. She found a muddy place and squished her feet in, getting nice and dirty. I think it’s safe to say that Raina enjoyed her day.

So, while we’re still behind in the garden department, I did get onions, peas and beans into the ground. I got several beds weeded and ready for planting. And while it’s not as much as I would have liked, I have to remind myself that I did all of this with a month-old baby slung on the front of me and had to accommodate for several nursing breaks throughout the day. I’ll count this day as a success, however small my accomplishments.

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Digging In

What greater joy is there in early Spring than seed starting? Normally, our family starts seeds in the early days of March, but this year we were busy looking for a new  home – and not finding one. I felt antsy as the days grew longer & warmer, wishing I had a garden to prepare for. Finally, we gave up on looking for a new place to live, and decided we’d stay put right here.

Staying here on this farm means it’s time to get the gardens ready for planting, and time to get some seeds started!

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The kids were so excited when I got out our seed packets and growing supplies! They had been disappointed at the prospect of not having a garden this year, and were quite happy when I told them we’d be staying in our current home and planting in the gardens we’ve worked so hard on the past two summers.

ImageLynden declared that he was old enough to plant his own seeds without any help this year, and quite proudly planted a tray of zucchini before losing interest and running outside.

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Robin wanted to touch everything. He thought the seed packets were great fun to shake, and pulled them off the grow table repeatedly. This was distressing to Raina, who wanted everything just so, and she hollered at her brother very loudly.

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Gaia watched intently from the comfort of the sling (thanks, Laura!), calm and quiet the entire time. She may only be four weeks old, but I swear she was enjoying seed day as much as her older siblings were!

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Robin started getting cranky, even though he had napped only a short while before. I held him close on the rocking chair, and noticed that his forehead was pretty warm. Within another ten minutes or so, he had a full-on fever going, and fell fast asleep.  The poor little guy slept the rest of the afternoon away on the couch.

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After Robin fell asleep and the rest of the seeds got planted, we headed outside to start preparing a new onion bed in the front of the house. I had dug up this space last Spring with the intention of growing carrots, but never ended up using it. The grass and weeds moved in on the freshly-turned and conveniently neglected soil, so now we’re starting all over again. Lynden and Raina thought it was great fun to pull the weeds and grass out of the soil (with their new garden gloves, hooray!) as I turned it over with a shovel. Turning soil is not so easy with a newborn baby in the sling!  Garden work will be much easier when Gaia gains some head control and can hold herself steady.

All in all, a tiring but extremely satisfying day. It felt so good to get my hands in some dirt! There is such promise in a packet of seeds and a patch of soil. We may have gotten a late start, but it’s going to be a fantastic growing season!

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.

Sisterhood

What a joy this weekend to have my sisters home. They live several hours away, and I don’t get to see them nearly as often as I’d like. It warmed my heart to see them holding our sweet baby Gaia, and the children had such fun with their aunties.

I’m grateful to have so many people to love in my life. Sisters are one of life’s greatest blessings.

She’s Here!

It’s been six days of wonder and awe for this lovestruck mama. Our sweet fourth baby, Gaia Claire, was born at home on March 28 in the early hours of the morning.

Since Wednesday, life has been a bit of a roller coaster, but we are well and happy and the kids are totally in love with their new baby sister. Read on for her full birth story, with photos.

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Spring Has Sprung

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, warm and bright March day – a perfect day for Spring Equinox, and a perfect day for being outside.

The goats and sheep have REALLY been enjoying the fresh, young grass that is coming up all over the yard. They’ve spent the past few days grazing in front of the house, while Oddler seems to have made it his personal duty to keep an eye on them as he lazes in the sun.

Aren’t they so delightfully shaggy with their winter coats on? These ladies will soon be first-time mamas. I wonder who will give birth first, me or them?

We took advantage of the beautiful weather and spent the day together as a family at our local conservation area. The place was humming and buzzing with life! It was a noisy symphony of croaks and birdsong, chattering squirrels, honking geese, insects and more. What a glorious treat for the ears!

We were able to get very close to a pair of swans, who looked at us calmly and went about feeding on the bottom of the creek. The kids watched the swans for some time, then realised that there were bullfrogs croaking very loudly right behind them!

Lynden spotted dozens of very large – HUGE! – frogs sunbathing along the water’s edge. We photographed at least 14 of them within the span of a few feet. For a boy who loves amphibians almost as much as he loves dinosaurs, this was extremely exciting.

This is Echo’s first Spring, and her first time really experiencing the wonders of the wild world. She was as excited about the frogs as Lynden was, and tried repeatedly to catch one. Of course, before she got anywhere near close enough to grab a frog, every last one had jumped far out of reach into the water (which only served to make Echo even more excited!).

Frogs were not the only exciting creatures to be found. Lynden discovered many snakes along the way, some at the water’s edge who were obviously after the frogs, and some in sunny spots along the edge of the trail. Imagine his delight when he quietly approached a sun-bathing garter snake and got close enough to stroke his fingers down its back before it slid away!

We came across a tree growing some lovely fungi on its trunk, and the children decided that this must be a gnome’s ladder – perfect for a wee person to climb.

Indeed, it was a perfect day, a perfect Spring Equinox. We all felt so free, being outside without coats, without leggings, without hats & gloves. My heart soared as I watched my children run amongst the trees, laughing and discovering, slowing down to marvel over little miracles of Nature.

Somehow I didn’t end up with any photos of Robin, who is old enough this year to run and discover with the bigger kids, and to whom everything is so very fresh and new, never before experienced. He was totally amazed by everything he came across, and marched along with such purpose and pride. It was a joy to watch him, blossoming into a big kid.

Happy Spring to you, my dear readers. I hope you are enjoying your days as thoroughly as we are, for life is so very beautiful.

Chicken Dinner

You may recall that some time ago, our long-time vegetarian family made the decision to eat some of our chickens. We love our birds, and are so grateful for the eggs they provide our family, but the truth is that sometimes some of the birds have to go. It’s not possible to maintain a closed-loop system without eliminating some of your animals from time to time, and after a lot of discussion we concluded that it would be easier on our consciences to slaughter our chickens here at home as humanely as possible than to sell them and have no idea what their fates would be.

I will admit it was hard for me to come to terms with slaughtering our chickens, at first. Equally hard to come to terms with was how much I loved that first chicken dinner we had. I was not expecting to enjoy chicken so much! Now that chicken has become a somewhat regular part of our diet, I decided it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughtering process, to take responsibility for the birds I raised and the food on my plate. Until now, Jae has done the “dirty work” without me, often with a friend lending a hand. This was weighing heavily on my conscience.

So, with rations dwindling in the kitchen and a rather tight budget for the week, it became apparent that it was time for another chicken dinner – and it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughter.

When I first stepped outside and saw the chosen hen sitting calmly on the porch, I nearly lost my nerve. A panicky feeling settled in on me and I thought, “I can’t do this! I’ll have to go back to being veg!” I took a deep breath and held the chicken in my arms. She looked at me, calm as can be, and I stroked her feathers. I thanked her for the eggs she’s given, spoke words of gratitude to her, and as I looked into her eyes I felt myself calming down. The hen wasn’t panicking, why was I?

I held the hen out in front of me, her head resting lightly on the chopping block. Still she was calm; I could feel her heart beating steadily, not racing, not alarmed. A split second later, Jae’s axe came down on her neck and it was done. No squawking, no panic, no distress. Just a calm bird who was with us one moment and gone the next.

Jae told me he’d be alright to finish the job if I felt I needed to go back into the house, but I wanted to see the whole process through from start to finish. I was surprised by how very OK I felt about what had just happened (truthfully, I had thought I’d be a mess of tears). It felt good to take responsibility for my dinner, and I was so relieved to see first-hand that the hen had not had one moment of distress or suffering.

So now I know how to slaughter, clean, gut and butcher a chicken – and if you have the stomach for it, you can see the process for yourself.  If you’re a staunch vegetarian or someone who hasn’t faced the reality of what it means to eat animals, you might want to skip past the following photos.

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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.