Oh so thankful

I have no idea where the past two weeks went! (I am beginning to think that this has become a recurring theme here.) Between a holiday that quickly snuck up on me, two littles who have seemed to hit a developmental growth spurt at exactly the same time, and just the general chores of everyday farm life, I feel as though I move from one thing to the next, at a fast pace, knowing that December, and all it brings with it, is going to be here in a blink of an eye..again.

I’m not sure how it works for others writing blogs, but for me an idea for a post usually begins with photographs I have taken and then snowballs from there. But alas, I have been so busy that my poor camera has sat lonely in the house while I have been running about. As I sat here, bemoaning my lack of photos, and trying to finish a post that had no photography to go with it, I absentmindedly began flipping through photos on my phone. I suddenly realized that I had documented a good portion of the last two weeks (except, of course, for our thanksgiving feast, apparently I was too busy then, even for Instagram) using my phone’s camera. Snippets of our busy life, caught in an instant, almost without care, and when looked at can transport me back and piece together the last couple of weeks.

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Finding the beauty in the shifting light of the season and trying to embrace the shorter days.

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We have been loving watching Bert grow bigger every day and seeing his mama turn into the wonderful and patient dairy cow that we knew she could be.

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More often than not, we have been greeted by frosty mornings. The boy awakes almost every day asking if there is snow on the ground yet.

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We pasteurized our first batch of milk…makeshift style!

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Watching the deer that hang out across the street The ones that seem to refuse to cross over onto our land.

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Making, and crafting, and making some more in anticipation of the season.

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We have been spending a lot of free time in front of our beautiful, new wood stove. It has officially erased any memory of being cold!

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Finding refuge in the van, out at a family dinner, with a toddler who has entered a developmental growth spurt. One whose patience (and mine, at moments, for that matter) has yet to catch up.

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I’m in awe of the boy my first baby is becoming, and reminding myself that he is only trying to learn who he is when his stubbornness comes out.

I just love those little red x's.

I just love those little red x’s and how, when put together, they make such a pretty picture.

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When all else fails, and the day seems like it just can’t get better, go back to bed and have a snuggle. Everything looks better after that!

For those of you who celebrated last week, I hope you had a beautiful Thanksgiving and for those who didn’t, that you were able to catch a few everyday moments of your own.

My goal for the month of December is to not get caught up in the “doing” and stress that the holidays ultimately bring. I want to stop and soak in the moments, the special traditions and this time of wonder when my babes are little. As it seems that this blog is always the first thing to be left by the wayside when things get crazy on the farm (in life?), I need to make a change for the season. Not wanting to leave this space idle for a whole month, I am going to set a goal of capturing those moments, with a picture, and hopefully post one every weekday until January! Anyone want to join me?
I am sure there will be a few full post thrown in. Or maybe not. We will just have to see. 

It’s a boy!

Yep, we now have a little bull calf in residence here at the farm.

Like any other morning, November 7th began with us crawling out of bed to the coffee pot, while the kids went about the business of rousing all the grandparents from their peaceful slumber. Two days previous, on my trip out to visit the cows, I noticed Lilac was behaving odd. She was ramped up, dancing around, running laps on the perimeter of the pasture (this was quite a peculiar sight, considering she looked like a barrel perched upon four toothpicks and was closely followed by Mum, who is very husky herself, lumbering behind her with Poppy bring up the rear.) Any other day she would have been forehead deep in her bucket of grain, getting her nightly scratch, while warding off Mum’s attempts at sharing her snack. I got back into the barn and told Kevin that I had a feeling that she would be calving soon, seeing as how she had that same frenzied demeanor that some pregnant women (myself included) get right before they go into labor.

So, the morning of the 7th I woke up and my first thought was to look outside and check on Lilac. When I got to our kitchen windows there she stood, Mum and Poppy nearby, but no calf in sight. I cooked breakfast and we all sat down and ate together. When we finished, about a half hour later, I collected up all the dirty dishes and dropped them off at the sink, quickly glancing out at the pastures again. This time there were four cows, two red and two black and white. Due to my shock, it took a second for my eyes to realize what I was actually seeing, as my brain caught up, I yelled “holy crap is that a calf?” followed promptly by me running to frantically change into my barn clothes. Kevin and I rushed out to the back of the property with Dad and PJ following up close behind. When we arrived at their pasture Lilac was sitting, chewing her cud, while Mum watched as Poppy sniff the calf.

I checked on Lilac, who is apparently a pro even though it was her first time around, and then Kevin and I checked to see the sex of the calf. We then decided to separate Lilac and the calf so they could rest and bond, for as gentle and calm as Mum and Poppy were being, they were quite nosey and overbearing. Mum spent the rest of the day bellowing about her obvious displeasure with me meddling, in what I am sure, she considered “herd business” every time I walked past her. Kevin and I took turns the rest of the day checking in on the lady and her lad hoping to see him actually nurse, so that we were sure that he received his colostrum with in the 24 hour period that his stomach was most able to absorb all of its goodness.

Looking back on it now, after both the shock and excitement have subsided, I think he was probably born right about sunrise but was out of sight when we first looked out to check on her. He was already clean, up walking and fairly dry by the time we had gotten out there and Lilac was calm and resting as well. It has been amazing to watch nature take its course (I can appreciate this, having been a first time mother myself and feeling somewhat lost and confused in those early days) and to be witness to their instincts taking over to help them both thrive in their new roles as mama and calf. Now the hard work begins (for Kevin and I anyways) of us and Lilac learning the milking process, her learning to cooperate and us figuring out the logistics of it all. All I can say is that I hope it goes as smoothly as the pregnancy and birth did.

Oh and do you see that little white N on his side there? Well that inspired PJ to name him Norbert, as long as we all agreed to call him Bert for short. Happy Birthday Bert, you are the first to be born here on the farm!

And around it goes

Right now we sit here, counting down the days until our scheduled wood stove install (7 days people-7 days), donning our wool socks, long underwear and sitting under a plethora of blankets, the wee ones running about, dressed just the same, while also modeling their mama-made wool sweaters and hats. It is hard to believe that 3 weeks ago we were running around in shorts and tee shirts planting the last crop of the 2012 gardening season.

We had aimed to plant our garlic right around Halloween but when a summer-like bit of weather hit we decided to seize the moment and plant a little early. All hands were on deck (whether they were 90 years old or 18 months old) as it was going to take a group effort to cram what was realistically a 6 hour job into the 3 hours of day light we had left.

We set up right next to the bit of garden we planed to use for our garlic plot and started separating the organic seed garlic, bought earlier in the summer, into individual cloves. Kevin had plowed up this little bit of land last spring, the pigs had worked their magic on it and then any cow, chicken or sheep manure we had collected was laid out on it to bake and compost in the sun. Kevin, every few days leading up to planting, would turn it under to mix in the compost and right before planting he rototilled 6 inches down to loosen up the soil.

While the rest sat working at separating the bulbs, eating the picnic lunch I had thrown together and sipping on lemonade , Kevin and I worked at measuring out and digging rows. We planted about 25 cloves per row and 18 rows which could result in approximately 450 garlic plants next spring, more than enough to supply us with seed garlic for next year, garlic to use ourselves, and some left over to sell, hopefully offsetting our initial investment.

As we all talked and worked in the garden I realized that we were fast approaching our one year anniversary as homesteaders. We had officially completed one gardening cycle, with quite a bit of success, a bunch of new knowledge to propel us forward into next year, and a good amount of wholesome, clean food to fill our bellies this coming winter. So, our first go could probably be filed under a win. I am struck by how fitting it is that our anniversary here so closely coincides with the end (beginning?) of the growing season. Some of us were definitely more excited about the move to the farm than others, especially at the outset, but here we all were gardening together, talking and enjoying life.

I have been told that when you plant garlic someplace new it will adapt to its new environment. It will take on characteristics of the soil, of the environment that it grows in and be changed forever. Much like grapes, those characteristics will then be detected in the way it smells and the way it tastes. Our garlic, no matter the variety, will be specific to our farm, will hold unique qualities that can’t be found any place else in the world and have a new and different character than it did before.

Like this garlic of ours, I think this homestead is transforming each of us. We are learning to adapt and change, how to peacefully live everyday with each other, to be, even more, grateful for the food on our plate. We are figuring out how to balance our day-to-day chores, to prioritize between the things that are really important and have to be done now, versus the things that can be left till later. Each day we learn how to best thrive here, where we are now planted, all the while, becoming new, unique version of ourselves and also living as an extended family unit.

We have completed one trip around the sun and we’re still here, relatively unscathed, a lot tougher, a little stronger and I think more thankful for all that we have. We are still Kevin or Laura, Phillip or Linda, but now we have a little bit of this farm encoded in us.

Can you sense the difference?

The two new men in my life.

 

Meet the newest men here on the farm, Fergus (on the left) and Zeke.

 

In late October we took a road trip to New England to pick these two handsome guys up. Kevin, the two kids and I piled into the pickup truck and hit the road. Kevin and I fueled by coffee (with a little a lot of knitting thrown in for me) and the kids passing the time with a mix of movie watching, lots of pre-packed snacks, the occasional car nap and some good old travel games.

 

In the name of full disclosure, this particular farm addition scared me a bit. I had been told scary stories of rams attacking their shepherds, hooking wrist with their horns, butting anyone who dared to turn their back on them and beating other rams until they were both bleeding, or worse. But to have our own herd, and to turn a profit, we have to sell breeding stock. The fiber is fun but it won’t pay the bills. A ram, in residence, had to be next on the list, whether I was fearful or not.

 

We had spent months searching, weeks visiting various breeders and every ram we saw was either not for sale or didn’t meet the list of traits I was looking for. I was growing more and more frustrated and we were fast approaching the time of the year for breeding that would result in spring lambs. Finally, we found Fergus, after a month of phone tag and lost emails with his breeders, and decided to buy him. They then offered Zeke for sale and we decided to bring him in as well, his bloodlines were too nice to pass up (bloodlines that were completely unrelated to Fergus) and we were told that a ram would not do well alone, so it was a no brainer. Both Fergus and Zeke are the result of artificial insemination and their fathers are rams who live on the Shetland Isles and bringing them here was a great way to get authentic, UK genetics on our farm.

 

The trip back was smooth and uneventful, they spent most of the time munching on hay. It was an important trip for the future of the farm and we managed to squeeze in an impromptu family vacation. Hurray for the happy coincidence that the only reasonably priced hotel room, in a 30 mile radius, had an indoor water park attached to it. Plus, it was only an hour drive from Kevin’s alma mater, so we got to tour that as well.

 

They’ve been here for a few weeks now. Right away it became apparent that Fergus was the more personable of the the pair and when ever I walk into their paddock he trots over to my side for a nuzzle and a good scratch under the chin. Zeke is more stoic, the dark, silent type, and will only endure a bit of loving if he absolutely must. They have very distinct personalities, almost more so than the girls. My fears subsided after a day of actual interaction with them and has now been replaced with respectful awareness. I think they are wonderful and we are very excited to see what they bring to our herd this coming spring.

 

Welcome boys! You will officially make us Shetland Sheep breeders, and for that, you will always hold a special place in my heart. Now, I have some ladies I’d like you to meet…