December 13th

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My maternal grandparents, sometime in the forties.

If you look at yesterday’s post and then at the tree in the above picture they look remarkably similar, don’t they?

Everything I know about interior illumination (and christmas tree decorating in general) I learned from my grandfather, via my mother. He was the decorator, not my grandmother, and to this day is the first one, out of us all, to have his place done up for the season. He always went out and picked the tree and, from the stories I heard, spent days decorating it just so. His tinsel hanging process was epic, and required such precision that if anyone was caught “just throwing it about” they were immediately released from any decorating duties for the remainder of the season.

For the first 25 years of my life every single christmas, with the exception of two, was spent with them. All of my holiday memories are filled with the sounds, smells and sights of them and their home. The traditions that my parents and I had and, in turn, that my kids now have contain them both in every facet. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away just before PJ was born but my Pops has spent every christmas with both of my kids. He is a constant feature in both of their lives and will forever be imprinted in their memory. And many years from now, when they are decorating their own holiday tree, or come across an old family photo from holidays past, they will instantly know why their lights must be situated just so and their tinsel must hang just right.

It runs in the family.

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. 

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?