Enjoying the Season

47345720_1154511974723742_810125995615977472_n[1]I recently saw this meme on my Facebook feed and it resonated deeply with me. A few years ago we made a conscience effort to try to live with the seasons, rather than fighting against them as I had done most of my life. The result was to feel a sense of peace settle over me.

For most of my life I’ve felt hurried. I was either wishing away the winter so I could get outside and work on projects that I had fallen behind on or I was wishing summer get here quicker so I could finally harvest the garden. Rather than living my life to the fullest and enjoying it, I was actually wishing it away. Being the typical farmer/homesteader I always have a list of to-do projects that are about a mile long. Also being the typical farmer I never seem to get to the bottom of the list. As soon as I cross off an item, 2-3 more get added to the list. It’s the farming version of Sisyphus’s hell. When you also have to take the weather into consideration when planning your projects, meaning you can’t drive fence posts when the ground it too soggy or frozen and roofing repairs needs to happen to structures before the heavy rains hit, planting needs to occur when the temperatures are right for that particular plant, etc… it just adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult task. Trying to coordinate with mother nature, who is a fickled team player at best, can make even the most patient person sizzle with frustration.

thumbnail_IMG_1849[1]I’ve been told that I am incredibly stubborn, but even I had to admit that I would never win in my ongoing war against mother nature. Remember that old saying, “if you can’t beat them join them.” I decided to take it to heart and in an effort to simplify my life I decided to give up the war and join her team. Once I stopped fighting mother nature and aligned myself to her schedule, however wild and unpredictable that may be, I finally felt peace. I stopped feeling as though I was running as fast as I could and still falling behind. Suddenly, I was able to appreciate the present.  I wasn’t late or playing catch up. I was exactly where I was meant to be for that moment.

We were blessed with a abnormally dry and warm fall this year and that helped us get a few lingering summer projects completed, but there are always more that didn’t get done. So when I woke to the hard frost this morning I felt the old apprehension set in for just a moment. I thought about the roof and walls that hadn’t been put on the new temporary shelter, the trees that hadn’t been  planted yet, the gate that hadn’t been hung, the cabbage that I still needed to harvest and so many other things that needed my attention, and then I took a breath. I reminded myself that mother nature and I now played for the same team. Apparently she felt those things could wait and so I took my lead from her. Things would get done whenever they got done and there was nothing I could do to change that timeline. After a sigh of acceptance, I built a fire, set some butter chicken simmering on the stove (with extra garlic of course) and settled in to do some computer work, all while enjoying the best view in the world, because this is exactly where I am meant to be right now.

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Firewood that Fights Back

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It’s still a busy time on the farm, we have almost finished getting the garden cleaned up and put to bed for winter,  the garlic has been planted and is resting and preparing for spring and now we’re working on planting trees. I know most people plant trees and shrubs in the spring but I prefer fall. Planting trees in the fall when the roots have gone dormant allows them to be naturally watered by rain and they have a whole fall and winter to get settled before the stress of growing season. The only downfall is that most nurseries don’t have a great selection at this time of year.

 The other big project is firewood. We try to heat by wood as much as possible. We do this for two reasons, mostly because it’s cheaper but also because wood heat seems to chase the damp chill off my achy joints much better than electric heat. In our rainy winter weather that’s a big deal. Plus, I confess a true love of wood smoke. The hint of wood smoke in the air is one of the most comforting scents I know.

 We had quite a bit of windfall wood from the past couple of years that had fallen in our hillside pastures and we figured this was the year to get it cut  or it would go to rot. Hubs took the tractor and chains and we began the careful work of getting the tractor into the slippery and sloped hills, chaining the logs and then slowly dragging them out of the pasture. This last part was done while we prayed like crazy that the log wouldn’t develop a mind of its own and go rogue, rolling down the hill, taking out fences, shelters or us. fred tractor 1018

Once the logs were brought in from the pasture we began one of the worst chores on the farm, in my humble opinion. The splitting, cutting and stacking. It’s not the backbreaking, never ending labor part I hate, it’s the splinters. It’s like the wood is fighting back with little, invisible weapons of warfare. They get EVERYWHERE! I’m amazed at some of the locations I seem to get them. It is impossible to pick them all out and then there’s the cold shower. I was always taught that heat opens the pores and can allow the splinter to settle further into the skin, so cold was necessary if you have splinters. It’s just adding insult to injury.

 Last weekend I was determined to walk away with fewer splinters. I usually wear heavy pants and boots. I also usually added a windbreaker type jacket (a heavy duty one is just too warm for this work). The material on a windbreaker or rain slicker is usually provides a good barrier to protect from the miniscule needles attempting to take residence on my body. Anyway, I digress, I was determined to up my game and keep myself adopting any orphaned wood products so I wore my usual jeans and boots, two layers on top, covered by the windbreaker (of course) and then, the final touch, was to add latex gloves under my work gloves. The tiny splinters seems to always work their way through the leather gloves and imbed themselves into my palm, fingers and wrists. The latex was long enough to also cover my wrists, a usual splinter magnet, so I was set!

logs for firewood A couple hours into the process my hands and wrists were relatively splinter free. You would think I would be ecstatic….. but I wasn’t. Apparently in my careful wardrobe planning I had neglected one very, very important item. A belt. I was doing what I think city kids call “sagging”. This would have been just been a slight inconvenience, if not for the fact that when I went to hitch up my pants with my leather gloved hands……I apparently was shedding wooden shives down my drawers. You’ve heard of ants in your pants? This was kinda like that. I now had splinters on a part of my body that until this year, had remained unscathed. They were also in an area that I couldn’t remove by myself, giving Hubs and I a whole new relational challenge in the marriage game.

 Anyway, all this to say, I’m definitely going to remember my belt during next year’s firewood work. Also I’m pretty sure I’ll be filled with a tiny amount of vindictive glee, giving me an extra special warmth, as I pitch each log into the fire.

Stay warm my friends.

Ramblings: Heart Attack Farming Style

I was working from home, minding my own business when I suddenly heard a loud commotion coming from the goat pasture out behind the house. I went to the window and took a peek out. The goats had all run for the safety of their barn and the dogs were frantically running back and forth on the perimeter fence in that area. I watched for a bit to see if I was needed but nothing else appeared out of the ordinary so I turned to head back to my computer and the awaiting pile of work. As I was turning away my eyes happened to fall on a lump leaned against the fence. Upon closer look, I discovered the lump turned was one of my goats, sprawled against the fence, eyes closed and not moving. I yelled to her, “hey Sadie….”, nothing. I clapped my hands and whistled, hoping against hope that she was just resting, but there was no response. The rest of the goats had all run off in a panic and Sadie wasn’t moving. This wasn’t good.

My heart was in my throat as I ran for some shoes and raced out back. As soon as I was within eyesight of the pasture I started yelling for the goats. The entire herd rushed over to greet me at the gate, except Sadie. By now I was muttering under my breath as I opened the gate and made my way across the pasture. My mutters went something like this, “oh crap, please don’t be dead, please don’t be dead, oh crap!”. There might have also been a few, “What the *%#*!” mixed in for good measure. All I could think was that if I got there in time and she wasn’t dead, I would somehow be able to save her (apparently, I have a totally misplaced sense of confidence in my vetting abilities). My mind was racing with possibilities, did something get through the fence and attack her? Is that what sent the herd running and the dogs barking? She’s one of the friendliest girls and I could see her being more trusting of predators, but could it really have happened so quickly when I was only a few hundred yards away?

 As I stumbled down the hillside in Hub’s shoes (they were the closest ones to the door and the first pair I grabbed in my hurry) I continued yelling, whistling and clapping my hands, but not even an ear twitched. By now, sensing my anxiety, the dogs had given up on whatever held their fascination at the perimeter fence and sat just outside the goat fence that Sadie was leaning on, watching with some concern. I reached her and gave her a quick visual once over. There were no signs of trauma. No blood on the ground or on Sadie. I started wondering if she had a heart attack or choked. I gently nudged her in her ribs. But got no reaction. Nothing. Damn! Sighing heavily and facing my fears, I leaned down to roll her over so I could thoroughly inspect her and figure out what had happened. As I placed my hands on her head and shoulder to roll her over, Sadie opened her eyes, lifted her head a tiny bit and gave me a look of utter disgust. I nearly fell over from surprise, but caught myself and instead just sat down rather ungracefully in the dirt. Apparently when Sadie sleeps, she REALLY sleeps and nothing is going to wake her until she is ready. Not barking dogs, the herd running off in a panic, me yelling, whistling, screaming and clapping, or even a nudge or two to the ribs. To be honest, after recovering from my initial heart attack, my first coherent thought was to be a bit jealous of how soundly Sadie can sleep.  I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, a problem that apparently doesn’t bother Sadie in the slightest.

 By this time the rest of the herd had wandered down the hillside to see what all the fun was about. The dogs were still looking at me with puzzlement, as if they didn’t get the joke, and Sadie had wandered off, looking backward long enough to shoot me the stink eye capture in this picture.  As anyone with goats will tell you, they have tons of personality and can communicate their feelings quite effectively. Unlike the other goats she wasn’t happy to see me, in fact she didn’t seem at all appreciative of my efforts to save her life. It fact, it was clear that she was downright irritated that I interrupted her restful beauty sleep.

I took another minute or two to rest my racing heart before the other goats trying to climb in my lap, forced me back on my feet. Thanks Sadie for helping me get the old pumper thumping this morning.  I’m the first to admit that farming has a lot of heartache and loss, it also has a lot of mini- eart attacks, anxiety and downright comical moments.  I’m so glad this moment turned out to be one of the latter.

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Winter Prep Ramblings

Winter Prep Ramblings

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASummer is a time of plenty and replenishment. Anyone who’s familiar with the fable of the grasshopper and the ant knows summer is when there is an abundance of food but it’s also a time to prepare for the coming winter. People prepare for the coming season in a variety of ways from simply doing some back to school shopping to the more comprehensive preparation of canning, freezing and dehydrating their home grown foods.  

Here on our farm, we are like the ant. We start drying herbs early in summer, move to canning and freezing vegetables and fruits in mid and late summer and of course do our meat harvest in early fall to fill our freezers. Aside from food there are other items that need replenishing, such as the firewood shed. I also start making fire starters in the early fall, make sure my candle stock is sufficient for any long term power outages and of course do basic home winter prepping like cleaning out gutters, making sure rain barrels are ready, weather stripping is still in good shape, etc…  But aside from all these practical needs, there is one that I also consider fundamental to having a well stocked winter home…..it’s items for my mental health and entertainment.  reason firewood EDIT

In some ways we’re like the grasshopper, we enjoy our down time, but unlike the grasshopper, we just plan for it. Winter can mean some much needed down time. While chores still need to be done and animals cared for, the garden work is minimal and most large construction or repair projects are put on hold till the weather is better. This means I have some time for me. Time to rest after the craziness of summer and time to rest and replenish my weary self. We have given up our Direct TV services since we found we only watched a few hours a month and it just wasn’t worth the amount we were paying for it. What we found instead was that we read. In fact we read A LOT. We also spend winter hours learning and trying our hand at new skills. This is part of our summer replenishment planning too.

During summer we visit as many yard sales as we can building our collection of winter reading material. As we finish reading these books we take them to our favorite used book store and then trade them in other reading materials. We also pick up books and supplies for our winter crafts and skill building. For example I’m also looking for good sheets that I can use to make fabric yarn for my rugs and baskets. I also pick up supplies to make new molds, curing racks or storage for soap making, wine making supplies and also materials for paper making.  

While the winter preparation for food, heat and shelter may make our physical lives more comfortable, these additional preparations make our emotional lives more satisfying. I would encourage you to embrace both your inner ant and grasshopper and plan for both to make for a enjoyable winter.

Happy Prepping!

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The Distracted Farmer

tomatoes 0816It’s another sweltering evening and I was debating turning on the air conditioning but was trying to hold off on general principle (I’m always trying to compete with Mother Nature to see who’s more stubborn) and also to save myself from heart failure when I get the electric bill. Anyway, I digress, I was busy trimming soap and getting them ready to package for a special order and I needed to go get my recipe book so I could list the ingredients on the labels…as I headed into the kitchen to grab the book I realized I was starving.

Hubs is at an agriculture board meeting tonight so I figured it would be a pistachio and beer kinda night (dinner of champions right there). I grabbed the bag of pistachios and happened to glance out the window and see the horses. I’d been working from home all day but hadn’t had a spare minute to spend time with Shasta so I decided to rectify that. I put down the bag of pistachios and headed down the hill to spend some time with my girl.

Once I got down there I saw that Gia had several new insect bites on her back. I went tothumbnail_IMG_5040[1] get the fly spray to offer them some relief but apparently Gia wasn’t appreciative of this idea. In fact we had what we call in the horse world, ‘an excellent training opportunity’. Once that was finished convincing Gia that all spray bottles weren’t demons in disguise and had sprayed both horses I did a brief walk through the garden and saw that the tomatoes were looking beautiful, heavily drooping on the vines and begging to be picked, and just like that my dinner plans changed.

I grabbed a couple of the tomatoes, a handful of herbs and a garlic bulb. On the way past the chickens I grabbed a couple of eggs and almost ran to the house, my mouth watering in anticipation. I love homemade tomato soup with a couple of eggs dropped into it and as a bonus I have some homemade soft cheese to dollop over the top. I was practically drooling just thinking about it. It would be totally worth turning on the air conditioner to enjoy this soup.

garden 072818As I waited for the tomatoes to cook down I decided I really needed to sit down and type out the labels for the soap, except I really needed a beer to wet my parched throat as I worked and as I wandered past the laundry room, on my way to the garage to get a beer, I realized that there were two loads of laundry that needed to be folded. So I got to work folding laundry and then put it up. Finally, I headed out to get my beer and about that time I realized someone had taken my beer out of the fridge when the fridge stopped working last week and failed to move it into the other fridge. All my beer was warm. Sacrilege! I put some beer in the freezer to hurry along the process and went to work pureeing my soup and impatiently waiting for the beer to chill.

Now I’m sitting here sipping beer and enjoying my soup and thinking I need to work on those soap labels and wondering how anything gets done around here. Ok, time to get serious, I’m going to work on the labels, nobody say squirrel or otherwise distract me….. hey, I wonder what’s on FB this evening….

The Relentlessness of Farm Life

 

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I often talk about how farm life is relentless. It’s got all the ups and downs of a real life soap opera with all the drama of a Greek tragedy. It can be physically and emotionally brutal and there is no mercy given for the weak. My best example of this was the most recent April 13th, also known as the dreaded Friday the 13th.

I woke in the early hours of the morning with the worst stomach flu I think I’ve ever experienced. It knocked me completely on my keester for over 24 hours. The first day I was bed-ridden and struggled to just keep down ice chips so I could stay dehydrated. The whole mess left me weaker than a new born kitten.

So of course during this brief moment in time when I was completely incapacitated….Vessie decided to kid. I think she hates me. Hubs had just crawled into bed (I had never left it) and turned out the light. Less than a minute had passed before we both heard it.

The light flipped back on and he rolled over to look at me, “Did you just hear a baby goat?”.

I so desperately wanted to say no, the struggle was real, but responsibility called. I sighed heavily, “Yes, that was a baby goat.” My next offer was born of the good manners my mother worked so hard to instill in me, and also some measure of desperation, “Can you handle this yourself or do you REALLLLY need me?”

Hubs didn’t respond to my question, which was an answer in itself. I gave another sigh, “Ok, give me a bit and I’ll meet you out there.”

She had a buck and a doe and thankfully, Vessie is a phenomenal mother and managed just fine without our interference. We simply tied, trimmed and dipped cords, ensured they had nursed and then headed back to bed.

A couple hours after that I woke and forced myself to get up and put Dom out to potty. 30726462_10215495165749700_8650755276221787638_n[1] He’s been having health issues for the last 7 months and after tests with no definitive answers and trying a veritable cocktail of different drugs we had finally gotten him somewhat stable on steroids. The side effect of the meds were his ravenous appetite and drinking water like a camel with a hollow leg……which means I had to get up every few hours to let him outside or suffer the consequence.

He went outside but seemed confused and then couldn’t seem to navigate the single step to come back into the house. I went outside to try to help him but in my weakened state I wasn’t much better than him. Rather than try to pick him up and risk dropping him I stumbled down the hall to get Hubs. Hubs went out to help, but when he got to the porch, Dom had disappeared. Hubs called and called for him but there was no response. He then drove down by the chickens (one of Dom’s favorite spots) and then came back up by the house to search some more. I kept asking, “he could barely walk, how far could he have gone?”

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We finally found him behind the house laying on the rain soaked hillside, confused and not responding to our calls. Hubs carried him inside and dried him off. We tried to go back to sleep….again.

A couple hours after that I woke to a horrible crying. I shoved Hubs off the bed saying, “go check on Dom!” knowing that it would take me way too long to get vertical without losing my stomach. He came back saying Dom was laying down and seemed fine. It seemed odd because Domino is stoic and I can’t recall him ever crying out, no matter the circumstances (and he’s had some significant ‘circumstances’) but there was nothing else to do. We heard him cry a couple more times over the night and finally gave up the idea of sleeping around 4:00am.

As I sat on the floor next to Dom I finally observed him during one of his crying spells. He appeared to be having small seizures. Hubs and I looked at each other and knew, it was time. We sat with him on and off for the next few hours waiting for the vet to open, reminiscing about better days with Dom.

As I shakily dressed for the trip, I briefly wanted to skip the whole thing and ask Hubs to take him. I had a legitimate reason. I was still horribly sick, shaky and slightly feverish….. but he was my best friend. How could I not be there when he needed me most? I dragged myself to the car and we made the silent drive to say goodbye.

I don’t know how to say goodbye to the one that loves you more than anyone else in the world. He was my shadow, my constant companion and my best friend. He was better than most people I know cheerful, loyal and loving. I’m going to miss him tremendously.

So you see, farming really is as dramatic as a soap opera. In just this 24 hour period we had sickness, new life and heart-breaking loss. As I’ve said before, hold your loved ones close (2 and 4 legged) and count your blessings every chance you get. They aren’t guaranteed.

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Filling Your Basket

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Friday mornings are supposed to be my me time. I don’t get much time for just me on the farm and I’m mostly ok with that. We chose this lifestyle and I love it with all my heart. However, I’m also a big advocate of self-care, or ‘filling my basket”. One of my friends described it like this, “we all have an inner basket and when we constantly give and do for others, we empty our basket and fill theirs, which is a good thing but it’s important to fill your own basket too.” My friend is a very wise woman!
 
Back to Friday mornings, I look forward to my 2-3 hours every Friday morning all week long. I love working on the farm, but during the week I dream of working on my writing, crafts, playing with the horses and goats, or sometimes I plan to just read and sip my coffee. It doesn’t really matter what I do the most important part is that I give myself a permission to do it guilt free. It is a time set aside just for me!
 
Lately my Friday mornings have been getting swallowed up by life. Some of you know 2018 has been a difficult year for us and we seem to constantly be running behind with everything. As a result my me time has gotten sucked into the black hole that is our life during spring. This morning I woke excited at all the things that I planned to do …..but once again it didn’t happen. Instead I found myself paying bills, catching up the budget sheet, sending out invoices, making cheese, and doing a lot of backlogged goat paperwork.
 
I admit I didn’t handle losing my special time once again very well. I was feeling overwhelmed, sorry for myself and maybe just a bit cranky. During of all of this I caught a glimpse of something large flying right past my office window. I looked up and saw this beautiful bald eagle. He landed in a tree right outside our house and as I sat working on the computer if I shifted my view from the computer screen 4 inches to the left I could see this most majestic bird watching over the house and farm. I was spellbound. He stayed in the tree for several hours and left just after I finished all my paperwork.
 
Some people may call me a weirdo (ok, lots of people do) but I saw this visiting eagle as a gift. In the midst of all the trials I always look for the gifts. If I didn’t look for the gifts, I think I would fall into such a well of despair I might never find my way to the surface. Instead I try to find and focus on the good stuff, my family, my friends, the amazing lifestyle we get to live and random acts of kindness. These things fill my basket too. This eagle sitting outside the window while I finished all my paperwork was a pretty amazing gift from nature and while I didn’t get to indulge in play time just for me, I had some amazing company while I worked.
#fillingmybasket