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.

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.

On Living with Less

You may recall that Jae quit his job over the course of the summer in order to be free, in order to live the life of our dreams.  What, exactly, does that mean?

It means we are living on a lot less money, but that we have a lot more time together as a family and a lot more time to do for ourselves on our farm.

It means we are making a casual income. I teach violin lessons a few hours per week. We sell eggs our hens have laid, I knit hats that folks have ordered, I spin yarn to sell. We are fortunate to live in a country that gives mamas a child tax benefit, and that helps to pay for our car.

Beyond that, being jobless means we have much more time to take care of life for ourselves instead of buying things. I’m knitting the kids some winter sweaters, instead of working to buy them, with yarn that I’ve spun instead of purchased. We’re preserving food from our garden, instead of working to buy groceries. We’re foraging for wild edibles, and even ate one of our chickens the other day – a decision that I was completely comfortable with after nearly an entire lifetime of vegetarianism (stay tuned for a post on slaughtering your own animals – it may not be what you think!). We are doing what we can for ourselves instead of paying corporations to do it for us.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, we’ve got produce coming out of the garden, ready to be canned and enjoyed on a cold winter’s day.

Hot peppers - salsa in waiting.

Tomatillos, soon to be salsa verde.

Living on less also means living with less – and we’re ok with that. In fact, a life with less is a freer life. It is liberating to free oneself from STUFF, to deny the urge to spend money, to appreciate what you have and find new uses for old things. We’ve also realised how much of what we do have, we don’t really need. A large-scale purge is in process, and soon bags full of things will be donated to the local thrift store.

Living on less means working with your friends and neighbours to get things done. It means exchanging a helping hand on a friend’s farm for some bales of hay to get your livestock through the winter. It means trading a hand-knit hat & mitts for some cloth diapers. It means giving some eggs for basket of produce. It means forming lasting bonds & friendships and creating community.

Living on less also means having plenty of time to enjoy life’s beauties and wonders. How amazing the little things can be! So much to marvel at in something as small as a bouquet of wildflowers.

For our family, living on less means more togetherness, and there’s nothing I cherish more than the time I have with my loved ones. These are the best days of our lives.

A Sheep is Shorn

Thursday, July 21, 2011: a record-breaking hot day with temperatures of about 37 degrees Celcius.  Ridiculously hot.  Oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-breathe hot.  Dangerously hot.

While most of our animals found breezy, shady places in which to lay half-comatose, and drank plenty of water from the various pools and tubs we filled up, I worried about Lily the sheep under her incredibly thick coat of wool.  The poor girl was panting and bothered (though the smaller and less-wooly Sunflower seemed to fare better), and it was decided that we’d have to go ahead and shear her.  I had read about unshorn sheep dying of heat stroke in this kind of weather and felt a little panicked at the thought of anything bad happening to Lily, and I just really wanted the sweet lady to be a bit more comfortable.

Here begins the hilarity.  Catching Lily was a sport in itself.  Imagine, if you will, this farm mama and her husband in a hot barn, trying to corner a panicked sheep who is still getting used to the place.  The sheep runs nose-first into the corner in an attempt to escape, giving herself a nosebleed.  Finally she is caught, and we place a collar on her in order to bring her out into the yard.  (Have you ever tried leading a sheep on a collar?  Goodness me, what a farce! A head halter is the way to go with these lovely beasts.) Once in the yard, this farm mama and her husband wrangle with the sheep until she is sitting on her rump with all four feet in the air, looking perplexed.  Time to begin!

Do you think we have sheep shearing equipment?  Heck no, we do not!  We have pet clippers that we use to shave down the goats in the Spring.  It quickly became apparent that the pet clippers would not do the trick, and so we resorted to the next thing we could think of – fabric scissors.  Yes, that’s right, my brand new, very sharp fabric scissors.  The ones I have not even had a chance to use for cutting fabric, yet.

Now let me just say that going into this, I had never sheared a sheep before.  Ever.  I went up to Thistlecroft Farm for their shearing day (where I sat aside and watched in fascination), but beyond that my only experience has been watching YouTube how-to’s.  Even with proper equipment, the job would have been tough.  With fabric scissors, it was a joke.

Lily escaped twice and had to be caught and wrangled back into position, causing mayhem in the barnyard.  Miss Molly the Border Collie went crazy with herding lust (she’s not yet trained), while the goats and Sunflower the sheep came running to see what was going on.  The kids all woke up from their naps around this time, coming out into the yard to cry about the heat.  Jae and I were sweaty and covered in tufts of wool.  It was the stuff of movies, I tell ya.

In the end, after over an hour of clip, clip, clipping with my fabric scissors, I had most of Lily’s wool off.  It was not in one piece, it was not even, and it will not be usable for spinning.  It is headed for the manure pile.  I’m ok with this! Lily is much more comfortable now, and that was the goal.  I didn’t go in with the scissors today hoping for a fleece to spin.  I went in with the intention of saving my sheep from the heat.  I think I succeeded!

Yes, yes, go ahead and laugh – I still haven’t stopped, myself.  She has a mane, it’s true!  Jae was holding her head & neck and so we decided to just get the job done and forget about her head for now.  The rest of her is shorn and Lily is much cooler now, and that’s what really matters at this point. (See the ridiculous collar?  Oh, my!)

Sunflower was so happy to have her dear Lily return to graze beside her, though paused to sniff at her again and again, as though slightly confused about her lack of wool coat. I was happy to get the thick and sticky lanolin washed off my hands, the sweaty shirt off my back, and enjoy a cool shower.

I think I’ll need more practice before I really get serious about shearing my own sheep…(Though I must say that I’m pretty impressed with how even I was able to cut with those fabric scissors!)

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!

 

Tomato Woe

Remember the other day when I planted out plenty of lovely little things in one of our garden beds?  At the end of that day I felt so accomplished and satisfied.  There was some rain overnight to nourish everything I had put in the ground.  All was well.

And then…

The next morning, several of my chickens hopped the fence and feasted on everything in that fresh, new garden bed.  All that remained were the chives and two scrawny little tomato plants.  The rest, gone.

When I discovered the catastrophe, I sat down right there in the garden and cried.  You see, it had been a feat to get that garden bed planted.  The entire time I worked, I had a 27-lbs baby strapped to my back.  Squatting and standing, squatting and standing, bending over and digging with all of that extra weight on me, was a major workout.  My thigh muscles are still burning.  Spending all that time in the garden meant that my household chores were neglected, and I have some major catching-up to do.  I got only a portion of my laundry mountain chiseled away, and never mind the dishes.

All that work aside, the tomato starters I had planted were the salvaged remains that Henry the rabbit left behind.  The kids had let Henry out of his cage one afternoon (without telling me), and shortly afterward we left the house.  In our absence, Henry took it upon himself to feast on my flats of veggie starters that I had been carefully tending to for two months.  Heirloom tomato starters – 90% gone.  Cucumbers – gone.  Organic squash – gone.  Herbs – gone.  The few plants I was able to save went into the garden bed I planted on Monday, only to be promptly eaten by the chickens.

So, you see, after the work that was put into the garden and the tragedy of losing almost all of my starters to Henry the rabbit, those chickens dealt me a horrible blow.  I couldn’t help myself, the tears had to flow.

Now that I’ve regained my composure and have had some time to cool off a little, I’ve decided that we need to make some major changes to the way we do things around here.  Things are too chaotic, and I need to be able to put the bulk of my farm focus on the gardens.  The chickens can no longer be completely free-ranging – on Sunday I’ll be building a chicken tractor, in which those ladies will be enclosed.  I’ll also be selling most of the goats, keeping only Caprice and Daisy.   The ducks will have their own pen as well, at the ditch, and will no longer be able to hide their eggs from me.

As much as I love the idea of happy creatures roaming free, the reality is that it is just not working.  We don’t have enough space on this little farm, and I have to set some limits and structure things more effectively if I have any hope of making this work.  My ravaged garden held a message and a perfect opportunity to make changes and get things back on track.  Here we go!

Adventures in Milking a Goat

Our goats arrived on Tuesday evening, and we are LOVING them!!  Bella is a wonderful, beautiful momma and Alice is such a sweet little kid.  They are quickly settling in here.


Yesterday  morning (the goats’ first morning here), I went into the barn bright and early with the intention of milking Bella.  I had never milked a goat before.  But, I had read some books and milked a cow when I was a child, so how hard could it be?  I had all three of my children with me, the older two eager to see the goat’s milk in the bucket and the baby on my back in a mei tai carrier.

Bella looked at us with great suspicion.  She had only spent a brief time with us the night before and was in a totally new place for the first time in her life.  I led her out of her stall and tied her to a post with some hay in front of her.  Then I got out my warm wash cloth to wash her udder (just like I had read, oh I felt smart!), and as soon as I touched her, Bella gave a little kick and moved her rear end away from me.  I tried again, and again, but Bella wanted nothing to do with me.

The kids were sitting on a bale of straw, getting impatient and wanting to see some action.  Lynden started chanting, “Goat’s milk! Goat’s milk!  Goat’s milk!” and Raina kept repeating, “Want goat milk, mama!”  Bella didn’t seem too pleased with the noisy little kids sitting on the straw bale, staring at her.  Within another moment, the baby on my back started wailing, and that was the end of my first attempt at milking.  Bella was clearly unimpressed.

This morning I tried again.  The baby was sleeping and the older children had lost interest, so Bella and I were alone in the barn while I made my feeble attempt at milking.  The situation was much improved from the day before – Bella actually let me touch her and squeeze her teats for a few moments before becoming impatient and putting a quick end to things.  Progress!  I fed her some carrots and an apple from the tree, and she quickly decided that she might actually like me.  I tried again, and got a few more squeezes in.

Nothing came out.

Obviously I failed to trigger a let-down reflex, and didn’t spend even a fraction of enough time working at milking Bella.  Clearly I needed more goat-milking education than a book could provide.  I called my Gramma, who grew up on a farm.  Surely she would help me!

Turns out Gramma had never milked a goat before, but had milked plenty of cows in her day and figured it couldn’t be much different.  She came on over and got to work on Bella, who stood nice and still for my 80-year-old Gramma and didn’t fuss or kick.  Within two squeezes, there was milk squirting out of Bella’s teats!  Hoorah!

Gramma didn’t get much milk, because she didn’t milk for long – just long enough to show me what to do.  I tell ya, seeing milking in action made a world of difference for me!  Some things just can’t be conveyed very well in a book.  Goat milking is one of them.

This evening I went into the barn again for my third attempt at milking Bella.  Jae held her nice and still for me (oh boy, do we ever need to build a milking stand!)  and I got to work trying to imitate the motions Gramma showed me.  Suddenly, a glorious thing happened: milk squirted into my bucket!  I got a good ten or twelve squirts in there before Bella decided she had had enough – not more than a tablespoon of milk, but enough to boost my spirits and give me hope for the future!

Tomorrow morning, I try again.  Bella and I will make a rockin’ milking team yet!

On a totally unrelated note, our chickens have been enjoying the roof of their coop quite a lot lately:

Improvements!

Yesterday I went back to the yarn shoppe to practice my spinning.  What a difference!  This time I got two bobbins full of something that resembles yarn (instead of an uneven mess of wool).  It was mostly even, and I only broke the yarn once.  My joins are getting better and better, and in some places you couldn’t even tell I had joined.  I walked out of that shoppe feeling pretty damned good.

On Wednesday I have my next spinning lesson – plying.  We’ll take those two bobbins full of something resembling yarn, and we’ll spin them together to create a two-ply.  If all goes well, my friends, I may have a skein of usable yarn by the time I’m finished these lessons!

My exciting news for the week: I bought myself a spinning wheel!  I haven’t paid for the entire thing yet, so it sits at the yarn shoppe waiting for me to take it home.  But I did put down a deposit, and very soon that beautiful little wheel will be mine!

Spinning Some Yarn

I had my very first spinning lesson yesterday evening.  It was… interesting.  Spinning is much more difficult than I had anticipated, and I was very frustrated.  This can only be a good thing, because I’ve not yet encountered anything that didn’t come easily to me, and having this challenge and frustration will do me some good.

It took me a good 45 minutes just to get the danged wheel spinning in one direction!  Several times I thought I had it going, moving along clockwise and making a lovely whirring noise, and suddenly the wheel was going counterclockwise.  ARGH!  I did end up getting the hang of it, but adding some roving to spin into yarn was a whole different ballgame.

I snapped my yarn on nearly every attempt, spinning it much too tight.  I had more hills and valleys than I’d like to admit – big thick spots followed by tiny thin sections.  It was laughable.  I don’t recall the last time I felt so very frustrated.

“It’s like learning to ride your bike,” my teacher told me.  “Once you get the hang of it, you’ve got it for life.”   Yes, well, that’s all good.  But learning to ride my bike was not nearly so difficult!

So now I’m in determined persistence mode.  I WILL spin beautiful yarn.  I WILL spin beautiful yarn.  I WILL spin beautiful yarn!

I have two lessons left, and unlimited free practice time at the yarn shoppe.  I haven’t purchased a wheel yet, so I can’t practice at home, and this is driving me insane.  Spinning is now all I can think about.  I must master this craft if it’s the last thing I do!