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.

Winter Adventuring

January 2012 was, perhaps, the strangest January I have experienced yet. We were inundated with more rain than I thought possible for mid-winter, with only a few snowy days. What a surprise to wake up on the final day of January to a forecasted 13 degrees Celsius!

We took advantage of the warm, sunny day and headed out to our local conservation area with my dad. The kids brought their bikes; it thrilled them to no end to be bike riding in January. It was Raina’s first time riding her two-wheeler (with training wheels!) outdoors.

(You’ll have to excuse the quality of the photos. My camera is out of commission and I’ve had to rely on my phone for pictures.)

My dad pushed Robin in the stroller, so all this pregnant mama had to do was walk leisurely along and enjoy the sunshine!

We came upon a swan who was being forcibly outcast from the rest of the flock. Two other large swans would attack it whenever it tried to rejoin the flock, and drive it toward the boardwalk. At one point, the outcast swan was a mere three feet away from Lynden – if he had stretched out his hand, he would have touched it. We spent quite a while marveling at the swan, watching it closely and appreciating its magnificence and beauty. It didn’t seem frightened of us at all, and completely ignored our dogs.

In his younger days, Oddler would run off into the woods and have grand adventures while we slow, two-legged folk ambled along. Now, at 11 years old, he is going deaf and losing his sight. Now he prefers to stay close by, and we sure do appreciate his company. I can’t help but wonder how many nature walks we have left with the old boy. He’s been a central part of our family for so long…

Robin was pretty thrilled by the beach. As soon as his feet hit the sand, he was digging and collecting shells. Each new shell was held high in the air with an excited exclamation. (Although he rode in the stroller, Robin insisted on wearing his bicycle helmet because his older siblings were each wearing theirs – a warm woolly hat just wouldn’t do.)

Despite the balmy, early-spring-like weather, the shore of Lake Erie was still a mass of ice. The wind had created incredible ice hills and caverns, which made for some totally awesome exploration.

In total, we spent about three hours at the conservation area. By the time we returned, we were muddy, hungry, and thoroughly happy – proof of a day well spent!

And to think, we would have missed the glorious sunshine and the wonders of Nature if the kids weren’t homeschooled. How blessed we are to have our days open and free!

Fruit of the Land

August has been a tumultuous month.  In the middle of horrible pregnancy sickness, I took the kids on a week-long camping adventure, while my dear husband stayed home and quit his job.  Yes, that’s right, he quit his job.  After years of working in an office, Jae and I decided it was time for him to break free so that we can live the life of our dreams.  No more schedules! Two adults to run the farm! Both parents home full-time with the kids! And, a lot less money.

I could write a very long essay on all the reasons Jae quit his job, but I’ll hold myself back.  The long and short of it is that having the majority of his daylight hours sucked away in an office has meant that Jae has not been able to do the things with his life that he truly wants to do.  His family time was limited to a few hours in the evening before putting the kids to bed, and we never seemed to have enough money anyway.  Why sell the hours of your life away when the money’s  not enough?  Now we are free and all of our options are wide open.  It’s the dawning of a new age for our family.

We’ve had to think long and hard about how our money gets spent, over these last few weeks.  Our feeling has been that being jobless is the kick we need to REALLY live off the land.  Sure, we’ve kept a garden and a flock of hens, we’ve eaten local food, we’ve tried to provide for ourselves, but at best it has been a practice round.  We still shop at the grocery store on a regular basis, eating food that has been trucked in from lands far away (yeah, so what if it’s organic? It still traveled far too long and gobbled up far too many resources getting to us!).  Our grocery store dependence needs to end.

Jae and I have been vegetarians for a great many years.  Our children were born vegetarians.  Now, our diets are changing.  In an effort to live off the land, we’ve decided to do some fishing in the local creeks, marshes and rivers.  We are blessed to live in an area with an abundance of waterways – why not make use of them?  Our goal is to fill the freezer with fish to eat throughout the winter.  So, today we set out with the kids in the canoe for our first attempt at fishing.


Our oldest son, Lynden, was very hesitant when we told him what our plans were.  Being a lifelong vegetarian, the idea of killing a fish was upsetting for him.  I had a good long talk with him, explaining that we are trying to have a small footprint on the Earth, and that after lots of thought and discussion, Daddy and I thought the Earth would be happier if we caught our own fish down the road than if we bought avocados from South America.  By the time we were out on the water, Lynden was brimming with enthusiasm.

We enjoyed the canoeing (as we always do!) and were treated to plenty of wildlife encounters – ducks, geese, Great Blue Herons, swans, egrets, water snakes, frogs, snails – and we felt so at home on the water that any doubts I had started out with simply vanished away.

Swans, keeping a safe distance.

American Egret doing some fishing of her own.

After a time, we realised how silly we had been to do our fishing from within the canoe, while trying to manage three small children and keep our lines from getting tangled.  When over an hour passed without anything more than snag after snag, our toddler screaming between my knees and trying to throw himself overboard, we decided to head back to shore and fish from the banks instead.

Instant success! Jae and I each caught a fish almost immediately.  Mine was a small sun fish, his, a small catfish.  They were both too small to eat, so we threw them back and kept trying.

Before long, Lynden caught a catfish.  He reeled it in all by himself, pulled it up out of the water, and started hollering to me that he had caught a fish.  His excitement was enormous!

Granted, the catfish wasn’t very big, but Lynden was so thrilled with himself and couldn’t wait to eat it.  A far cry from the nervous boy who didn’t want to kill a fish earlier this morning!

We took the fish back to Jae’s parents’ house, where “Papa” knew just what to do (Papa is an expert fisherman!).  Lynden got hands-on lessons on how to clean a fish.

Papa fried up the little catfish filets, and added a bit of pickerel that he had caught.  I never thought I’d enjoy fish as much as I did this evening.

There is much to say about sustaining a family of five (almost six!) on the land, divorcing the system we’ve been raised in and slave to for so long, living without regular employment, and having the life of our dreams.  There’s not room in one post for all the thoughts that are swirling through my head – you’ll have to bear with me as I sort through this new stretch of our life’s adventure!

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!)

On a Hot Day in July

Oh boy, is it ever hot out there!  When I step outside, I feel like I’m melting!  Nevertheless, today’s been a day of getting things done (despite the many times I’m interrupted by a baby who’s decided he needs to nurse).  We enjoyed fresh cucumbers from the garden, played in the shade, hung clothes on the line, and tried our hardest not to make ourselves hotter than we needed to be.

Raina’s got it made in the shade.  This child loves to sit up in trees, as high as she can get.  Her beloved kitty usually follows her up.  Today she was higher than I could reach!

 

Sunflower has settled in well here.  She grazes on a lot of the plants the goats leave behind, which makes them perfect companions.  Sunflower is a sweet, gentle soul with bright & curious eyes.  And guess what?……

Sunflower has a new friend!  This is Day Lily (“Lily” for short), who arrived here on Sunday afternoon.  The two sheep immediately became chums.

Quail eggs – aren’t they lovely?  They are so small and beautiful, each one uniquely speckled.  Our quail flock has been laying like crazy, much to our delight.

Look how little those yolks are!  We enjoyed a lunch of scrambled quail eggs today.

 

 

I hope you are staying cool on this hot day in July!

 

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.

Friday on the Farm

Our days are filled with wonder and beauty.  There is much to be grateful for!  Today was particularly lovely.

Will I ever tire of hanging laundry on the line, or of taking laundry photos? Doubtful.

These beautiful flowers are coming up all over the place in so many different colours. I can't get enough!

Spinning......

...........and spinning!

Spin Crazy

Wow, it’s June already! Spring just sort of disappeared in a never-ending rain, and now here we are rushing full speed ahead into a very hot summer.

These days, I seem to have an abundance of spinning fibre, coming at me from every which way.  Of course this means that I am spinning like a madwoman, unable to stop myself from sitting down at the wheel every time I walk past.  I’ve got a million projects in mind for my finished results…

Look at the beautiful fibre, just waiting to be spun. Who could resist?

Yes, that's a homemade niddy noddy. Cost? Less than $3.

I so love new yarn hanging to dry after first washing. It makes me smile.

 

Oh yes, I love to spin!!

 

As an aside… take a look at the world’s best laundry partner:

This is the sweet face I see grinning at me each day as I hang the clothes. My favourite time of day!