if it’s not working…

Change it!

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The new garden plot.

Well the last couple weeks have been all about reconfiguring. Reconfiguring our plans, our wants, the things that we truly need and, most of all, our (often times unrealistic) expectations.

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Kevin preparing the soon to be potato patch.

Truth is, things had gotten a little out of hand; stuff on the homestead had seemed to take on a mind of its own. We were trying to do so many different things, in the hopes of being guided toward that which fulfilled us and that we honestly enjoyed. On the contrary, we were each being pulled in so many different directions that we were all suffering. Oh, the perks of restructuring you life and mindset all while in your 30s, raising two kiddlets and completely overhauling one’s living arrangements. We also found ourselves drifting away from some of our original intentions which had, of course, led us to this lifestyle in the first place. We were so busy everyday that Kevin and I found ourselves with little time and, unfortunately, sometimes even less energy and patience to really engage with the kids, what with constant farm chores, three meals a day to prepare (often times from scratch), businesses to attend to and any other general tasks all of us have to do in our daily lives. We also found that we all had little time left to pursue our individual creative endeavors, those things that refill each of our respective cups, allowing us to return to the group refreshed and recharged. The environment that we were unintentionally generating was in direct contrast to how we so badly wanted to live.

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Last year’s garden partially turned back into pasture.

Late this winter while discussing this season’s upcoming pasture rotation schedule we came to realize that the front pasture we used for our garden last year would need to be reseeded and transitioned back into grazeable land. I officially started off spring feeling deflated and firmly planted behind the proverbial eight ball. After all the work and soil amending we had done on the space, with tremendous help from the pigs no less, we faced the 2013 gardening season back at square one. We also sat down and discussed which livestock groups were working here, which we would like to possible add, and those that we would rather transition away from. Taking into consideration ease of keep (especially during the winter months), upfront and subsequent feed costs, resale value and whether or not the products that each inevitably provided could be purchased from other farming friends at a reasonable price, we started laying out slightly adjusted plans for the future.

I hope these guys get to stay!

I hope these guys get to stay!

As is usually the case, the further we move forward with these new plans of ours, the more the resulting benefits become apparent. We have scaled back the vegetable garden, finally convincing my father that we would never be able to make a living from market gardening if Kevin and I were the only two working at it. However, we can save quite a bit of money if we focus our efforts on the produce that we eat all year and put our energy into growing those crops well, then preserving them for winter. The garden is now much closer to the house which makes taking the kids out with me to tend to it much easier and tremendously more productive for me (this girl of ours is a runner, a daredevil and a huge majority of my days seem dedicated to keeping her from mortally wounding herself during one of her stunts). It also seems to be much more enjoyable for the kids, thanks to their play set and other toys soon being moved near by and a new picket fence that is being erected, allowing them to play safely within its confines, without me having to chase after the littlest every two minutes (that two minutes is not an exaggeration, by the way). We have already established various fruit trees and bushes, including a large strawberry patch that Kevin and I planted on the slope of a small hill, near the new garden area. As the new layout and design unfolds before us, my creative heart is happy with the aesthetic we are achieving, as well as the resulting increase in efficiency and more realistic goals we have set for ourselves.

It's a work in progress...

It’s a work in progress…

All of this reconfiguring has also allowed Kevin and I to begin focusing on creative endeavors that before had only received a fraction of our attention while we worked mainstream jobs and before we began cohabiting and pooling all of our respective resources. Our move here was supposed to allow for pockets of time, and interpersonal support for each of us, to rekindle these talents. I am so thankful that we were able to step back, re-evaluate where we wanted to end up, accepting where we currently were and having the courage to say “this is no longer working for us, we need to change it.” Sometimes the choices are tough, other times the decisions are a no brainer, what’s important is that we realize when things are heading in the wrong directions and have the strength and confidence to turn the train around. Granted, admitting that I can’t accomplish everything on my list(s) is certainly not my strongest quality but that is why I have Kevin. He, thankfully, plays the part of my brain (which I dreadfully lack) that tells me when I have reached the reasonable limit of things that can be accomplished, figures out which of my “to dos” really do not matter in the grand scheme of things and identifies those that will need to be left until another day.

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Sunset over the apple orchard down the road from us.

I have a feeling that exciting things are on the horizon and I think we will now have the time and energy to enjoy them.

What’s new with you? Has Spring’s arrival inspired exciting changes in your neck of the woods?

December 11th

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Our tree being delivered right to the front door.

I think this might be my favorite yet. Harvested from our land (it’s actually the top of a 20 foot tree that needed to be cut down to thin out a tree line by our middle pond) it is quite unique. Not shaped like a typical christmas tree that you would find for sale today, but reminiscent of what I imagine old German or Victorian holiday trees looking like.

When Kevin brought it in the house both kids were instantly excited as if its arrival is what officially marked the beginning of the season.

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And look, we almost guessed the measurement just right! Nothing a ladder and a quick snip off the top won’t fix. Wait until you see it all dressed up in its holiday attire.

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?

all is well here

Everyone is safe and sound here. We had high winds and a lot of rain but, thankfully, never lost power. We awoke to two overturned animal shelters, an uprooted hunting tower and a small section of shingles blown from the big barn’s roof. All the animals were wet but happy and escaped our brush with Sandy unscathed! Our thoughts are with all of those who were not as lucky as us and we hope for both their safety and a speedy return to normal.

Even though we weathered a hurricane, a mere two days ago, it’s time to get back to serious business. We have a very important holiday to attend to, at least that’s what the under 4 foot tall crew in the house has told me. Due to the storm, and the time we spent preparing for it, our Halloween activities seemed to have all been squished into the last 24 hours. Thankfully both of their costumes were completed late last week, in anticipation of a Halloween party with my in-laws. PJ’s costume request of dressing as Woody from Toy Story and his sister playing the part of Jesse felt a little to commercialized for our liking, so I decided to make as much of both costumes, from scratch, as possible. It was fun trying to recreate the outfits by repurposing things I found around the house and throwing in a few small fabric purchases (all made with coupons of course). I even went so far as to make Jesse’s hat from poster board and heavy-duty red felt. I estimate that I spent about a quarter of what store bought costumes would have cost and finished them in about three evenings, with help from my mom (she drew all those red squares you see on PJ’s shirt) and while Kevin wrangled the kids on his own giving me uninterrupted time to sew and put all the pieces together. I even went so far as to craft a wig for Shaelyn, made out of orange yarn, but she is much to terrified of it to put it on. In fact, every time we come near her with it she takes off running in the opposite direction.

It was, indeed, hard to find time for all of our usual Halloween festivities while also attending to the work here on the farm. However, looking at it now, it facilitated in me letting go. Figuring out which traditions were truly important to us as a family and letting all the extraneous things just slip away, without the worry of whether the kids were missing out. It seems, just by living a lifestyle that comes with working a farm, simplicity automatically follows. You have no choice but to let go of the unnecessary because there are always more important things to be attended to, such as animals to be moved to new pasture before they find a way to escape to it on their own, water bins to be filled, eggs to be collected, and in the case of this week, structures to be rebuilt. All of this is yet another reminder that life is good since moving to this homestead, it looks quite different and, from the outside, much simpler than the one we lived before. Truth be told, we are just as busy (if not more) than we were a year ago and we (mostly me) are learning to inhabit each moment we have together rather than getting caught up in the breakneck pace.

For now the pumpkins are carved, the seeds await roasting, the house is decorated, the apples are candied and our little monsters are ready to hit the town and gather up their treats. The mess strewn about the house, the three piles of clean laundry that need to be put away, and the bins that those decorations came out of, which are still sitting in the middle of the dining room, will have to wait until tomorrow. After all, there is more important business to attend to.

We wish you all the most frighting of Halloweens filled with only the most adorable ghosts and goblins!

Autumn Surprises

Here are some beautiful sights we stumbled upon on the farm this week. A week that started off wet and dreary, then morphed into a replay of summer. Before we were done in the garden Friday afternoon, a cold wind started to blow in from the west and the mercury dropped 20 degrees within an hour. All standard operating procedure for autumn in Western New York.

We are now settling in and waiting to see what the hurricane might possibly deliver. We have heard everything from snow with freezing temperatures to gale-force winds or just a gentle rain shower. I am actually more than willing to welcome a week of weather that keeps us inside, to be together, rather than being strewn about these forty acres, sprinting to get all of our individual chores done before darkness or winter (depending on the nature of the current chore) sets in.

I think it is safe to say that we are all feeling tired and worn from running this marathon that is the first year of starting a homestead. However, there is plenty of beauty and joy, most often in the unlikeliest of places, sneaking up and grabbing us when we need it the most, keeping us motivated, looking and moving forward.

Here’s to Sandy changing her mind at the last minute and taking a sharp right-hand turn! And if she doesn’t? Well we will pick each other up and just keep running, together, toward our future.

I hope everyone stays safe and enjoys their last weekend of October.

Catching up

I had been tossing around the idea of starting this blog for awhile, as a way to chronicle all the goings on around here. I kept coming up with reasons to put it off, “I can’t come up with a good name, I don’t have extra time to sit down and write” and many other excuse that are too numerous to count. Thanks to constant bugging prodding from Kevin and gentle nudges from other friends and family, here it is. So, I needed to find a good way to catch everyone up on what has happened here on the farm since last November and this picture post is what I came up with. My hope is to be able to focus, in more detail, on the individual aspects of our homesteading life in the coming weeks. You know, in the spare moments between preschooler requests, toddler needs, animal chores, garden weeding and harvesting, food preserving, meal making and all the other “to-dos” that come with this simple life.

I’m also slowly working on the look of the blog and have been constantly tweaking it, so, if it seems to change every time you stop back you’ll know why.

Okay, here you go, the quick version of the past 9 months here on the farm. The amount of time it will take you to look through the photos is about how fast it felt while we were actually living it. Time flies and all that, ya know?

A little bit of our little prairie, covered in a morning frost.

Not long after moving in we discovered that there were gorgeous sunsets almost every night.

The first animals to arrive at the farm were the guinea fowl (above) and 10 Cayuga ducks. (Below)

During the heat wave, in March, we were able to get a head start on tilling up the garden and Dad’s hops yard, with help from our neighbor down the street.

The veggie garden, which we calculate to be about 2/3 of an acre, plowed, tilled and ready to be planted.

Planting peas, the first seeds to go in the garden of our new homestead.

The next arrival on the farm was Lilac, our someday dairy cow. We bought her from an organic dairy farmer, her farm happens to be right around the corner from us.

Next to arrive were the heritage breed piglets who will be pasture raised to market weight and then put in the freezer. Any extra meat, exceeding what we can eat in a year, will be sold.

Here are the first three, of our now 18, Shetland sheep. From Left to right, Hershey, Dessie and Hope. They are here not only to eat grass, giving Kevin and Dad a break from constantly mowing, but to also provided me with fiber to process and spin into yarn. Hopefully, this will make feeding my knitting habit much less expensive.

The growing garden in May.

Some of our laying hens outside the mobile coop that Kevin built for them. One hen has started to lay tiny brown eggs.

Free ranging on pasture will make for tasty and healthy eggs.

The first pullet egg next to Henrietta’s pale blue egg. Henrietta is the Americauna hen we inherited from the previous owner.

Some goodies, picked from the garden just a few days ago.

What’s new in your neck of the woods?

Here we go…

A view of the house, barns and livestock shelters from the ridge in the back pasture.

This first blog post, of mine, is an invitation of sorts. We want you to come with us on this new adventure of ours and the best part is we will be doing all the heavy lifting and poo hauling while you get to sit back, relax and enjoy your daily visits to the farm!

For quite a while, it has been a dream of Kevin’s and mine to start homesteading. To get back in touch with the earth, to know where our food comes from and to be sure that it only traveled the short distance from our backyard to our kitchen, not hundreds of miles like most store-bought goods. At the same time, my maternal grandfather had decided, that at 88 years old, he was ready to sell the home that he and my late grandmother had shared for over 50 years. My parents intended to share their home with him, if he agreed. After many discussions, weighing both the challenges and joys that would lay ahead, we decided to search for a large home with individual living spaces for all of us. A home, with enough land attached, that allowed us to pursue our need for a self-sustaining lifestyle. I hope that this blog will help keep our family and friends updated on our day-to-day experiences, no matter how busy this farm life becomes. I also wish for it to serve as a reminder, to myself, when the days get perticularly hard, how beautiful and blessed this life of ours truly is and to create a written journal for our children. A journal that will remind them of one wild adventure that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparent, dove head first into, seeing the great promise that laid ahead and the wonderful memories that waited to be made.

I’m sure it’s not going to be easy but I guarantee there will be fun, moving, happy, trying, difficult and often hilarious moments. That’s life after all. So here we go…life in a big, crowded, house on our own little bit of prairie. Won’t you join us?