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.

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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!

Long, Long Winter

Oh, dear readers, I am sick and tired of winter.  We’re not even halfway through and I normally don’t get fed up with winter this early, but man, this year I seem to just be done with it already.

To compensate, I am busy making plans for spring.  I’ve decided that this is the year to do the things I’ve always wanted to do but just haven’t gotten around to yet.  So far, here is my list:

– Maple Tapping.  Last year and the year before I had planned to tap maples and make syrup, but I never ended up making it happen.  Perhaps it had something to do with being 8 months pregnant at tapping time last year, and holed up in the house with baby Raina the year before… at any rate, this year I will tap maples, gosh darnit, and I will make syrup.  I’ve read all about it in my handy book, The Backyard Homestead, and now all that remains is to actually do it.

– Raising Fiber Animals.  Yes, I’ve wanted fiber animals for a long time now.  Sheep and angora rabbits seem most plausible at this point, and now that I finally have a spinning wheel it makes sense to have fiber animals.  I’ve used up all the roving I got for Christmas and I’m just itching to have something else to spin.  Roving can get pricey!  What better solution than to produce my own – angora rabbits are easy enough to keep, and now that the barn stalls are finished and the fence is up, a pair of sheep should be no problem.  However, I am not the only decision-making adult around here, and my dear partner may not agree that adding more animals to this farm is a good idea…

– Goat Milking.  Here’s hoping that Edward successfully did his job and Bella & Alice are pregnant by now.  If all goes well, we will have a couple of little goat kids in the spring and our girls will be at full milk production for the summer.  I am determined to become a great milker!  My dabbles in goat milking this past Autumn have only strengthened my resolve to become a master of the milk pail.

– Gardening.  These cold, dark January evenings are perfect for sitting around dreaming about the garden.  It will be time to start seeds before you know it, and I’m really enjoying the planning stages.  What to plant, and where?  How many of each plant?  Which plants for the market garden?  Which plants for the kids’ garden?  Oh, I do love digging in the dirt and I can’t wait to get those first seeds into their little pods of soil.  Life feels so hopeful and full of promise when there are little green shoots bursting alive all around the house.

– Hatching Chicks.  Have I mentioned that I evaluated my options for replenishing my flock and determined that purchasing chicks from a hatchery doesn’t feel like a good thing to be doing?  I am hoping that Casper will be a good little rooster this spring and fertilise some eggs.  The fellow we got our ducks from has a few broody hens that hatched and raised chicks last spring, and he will sell us one or two for cheap.  My hope is that between Casper and a couple of broody hens, we’ll be able to have some farm-hatched chicks raised by a real mama this spring.

 

There is more I could add to my list, but these are the things that seem most likely to be accomplished, and if the list gets too long I’ll end up feeling like I’ve taken on more than I can handle.  I’m extremely excited for this spring – the first time in years that I won’t have a babe in arms or a pregnancy limiting what I’m able to do outdoors!

In the meantime, I’m going to make the best of the snow.  Lynden got a super sled from his grandparents last Autumn, and I’ve purchased a harness for the dog.  Sometime in the next couple of days, we’re going to take that sled out into the fields and let Oddler pull the kids around – something the dog loves perhaps more than the children do!

Fresh Start

Wow, what an amazing and crazy and busy holiday season! We had a fabulous Christmastime – a beautiful Winter Solstice celebration with friends, a gathering of family for nearly a solid week’s worth of togetherness and cheer, and some special time as a wee family unit of our own. We were so busy that we didn’t get our tree until three days before Christmas, and then didn’t manage to get it put up in the living room until Christmas Eve! We’ve never been so late in putting up our tree before, but we got it decorated just in time for our Christmas Eve dinner with my parents and siblings.

As much as I would have like to have made most of my gifts this year, I just didn’t start soon enough. I did knit a shawl for my grandmother and crocheted a little something for my brother-in-law, but otherwise I didn’t finish the gifts I had intended to give the children and ended up buying them a few things instead. I suppose their mama-made gifts will be special surprises on some random snowy day, sometime soon.

I was incredibly blessed this Christmas. Jae surprised me with a Kromski Sonata spinning wheel and 8oz of roving! Oh, how I have dreamed of owning a spinning wheel, and for so long! My new wheel is absolutely gorgeous and better than anything I could have hoped for. I spent half a day spinning up the roving and crocheted myself a hat – my very first article made from scratch, start to finish.

After crocheting the hat, I still have nearly a full bobbin of my handspun yarn remaining. Perhaps enough to make a matching hat for Lynden…?

Spinning my own yarn was absolutely the most satisfying thing I have done in a very long time, topping milking the goat and collecting farm fresh eggs! Now I’ll have to purchase hand carders so I can get to work on the three big bags of wool a friend gave me – they’ve been sitting in the closet for far too long!

This Christmas also saw a slew of new books enter the house. Some of my favourites include The Backyard Homestead, a guide to producing all the food you need on a quarter of an acre; Self-sufficiency for the 21st Century, a lovely photo-heavy guide to everything you can think of; Possum Living, a book about how to live well with almost no money; One Tree, a lovely little children’s book printed on recycled paper that talks about the importance of one little tree; and Grandfather Twilight, a beautiful bedtime tale for the kidlets.

So after a wonderful Christmas season, here we are in 2011. A fresh start, a clean page. I am determined to be more organised this year, and got started by making a colour-coded chart to post on my fridge listing each day’s tasks and the time frame in which to complete them. Monday is laundry day, Tuesday is cleaning day, Friday is baking day. And every day has time allotted for stories and crafts and free play with the kids. I’m hoping that this new chart on the fridge will help me stay on track without feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of things needing to be done around the farm.

And of course, I’ve resolved to be more present in the little day-to-day things with my children. This year I will find more moments of joy, more moments to laugh in, more moments of silliness and carefree abandon. And I will find a multitude of new ways to show my family how much I love them.

Happy new year, dear friends and readers!

So Much Stuff

All this packing and purging in preparation for our move has made me realise just how much stuff we have.  My donation pile keeps growing and growing.  It’s mostly clothing that the kids have outgrown, books we no longer want in our library, old movies that we still have tucked away on a shelf (even though we don’t own a television).  Jae and I have been talking a lot lately about STUFF and cutting down so that we are only living with the necessities and not all this extra clutter.

And in the midst of all this thinking about stuff, my dear friend Anita (who owns ShopEco) sent out a newsletter that contained a link to The Story of Bottled Water, from the same team who did The Story of Stuff.  So, I watched The Story of Bottled Water, felt a little bit angry, and then watched The Story of Stuff and felt a little bit sickened.  Then I thought, what’s the use in feeling angry and sickened?  That doesn’t help anything – I need to change the way I live!

Jae and I have already spent our entire relationship trying to live mindfully and reduce our consumption, but it’s just not enough.  We still buy groceries packaged in plastic when we can’t find a good alternative.  We still take home restaurant leftovers in styrofoam when we forget to bring our glass containers.  We still buy things that we really don’t  need.

I’m formulating an action plan for our family in order to continue reducing our consumption.  So far, it’s looking like this:

  • Make do, or do without.  Use what we have, find ways to re-purpose what we already own to meet our needs.
  • DIY.  Sew it, knit it, build it, make it ourselves.  Don’t buy what we are perfectly capable of creating with our own two hands.
  • Shop secondhand.  Visit thrift stores and yardsales for clothing, pieces of furniture, etc.  Make use of the perfectly good things that others have tossed.
  • Swap, trade and barter.  Invite friends and family over for clothing swaps.  Offer services in exchange for needed items.
  • Buy local.  Seek out local produce, locally made soaps and jams and yarns, etc.
  • Re-use.  So much stuff is just thrown away when it’s perfectly good.  Find scrap building materials instead of buying new.  Use old clothes to make new outfits for the kids.

We have to be more diligent in our efforts to reduce our consumption if we ever hope to live sustainably and self-sufficiently.  I feel like our upcoming move is giving us the extra kick in the pants that we need, making us realise just how much stuff we already own and how much of it we can do without entirely.  It feels really good to see that donation pile grow, to cut down the amount of clutter in my life and get a fresh, minimalist start.