Tuesday, June 30, 2015

farm chores, beach pictures

*Photos by Maureen of Twig and Toadstool

My dear husband faithfully tends to our animals during the winter when I tend to stick a bit close to the wood stove and my knitting. I am so appreciative of that gesture! So, in the summer when I'm home and he continues to go out to work, I take over the chores. 

I set out at dawn because I have a toddler who makes sure I never miss the sunrise. She is usually with me and helps out by filling the water buckets for the animals. I scoop hog grower into a bucket then mix it with water. We have a quirky entrance to the pig pen which means that I have to climb up on a stump and over the fence onto a rock, precariously balancing the (heavy) bucket of provender while warding off the hungry beasts who tug at my pant-legs with their rubbery mouths. 

A delighted orgy of mastication ensues as they chow down on discarded fruit peels, vegetable scraps, egg shells, leftover bread crusts and the milk and cereal the kids leave behind in their bowls. The rooster and his hen, plus our new hen and her three chicks wander and cluck, venturing in closer to see if any tidbits might have fallen to the side. I scatter some corn for them, then refresh their water.

I give the heavy plastic trough we use for watering the pigs each morning; yesterday's water becomes the day's mud pit. The intent was to put their water in a vessel that they couldn't easily tip. They can't tip this one and don't want to, because they use it as a bathtub. It is both annoying and hilarious to watch them take a sip of the cold, clean well water, then step right in and roll around in it. By the end of the day it is more mud than water. But they love it, so how can I say no? 

The sheep often need to be moved from the barnyard where they spend the night to a pasture that has enough grass to sustain their incessant grazing. We will be looking into buying some portable electric fencing soon as they have made short work of our available pasture and we have plenty of grass that we'd rather not mow. The puppy has been bravely venturing in to the sheep's sphere with me but has been rewarded for his courage with head butts and hoof-stamping galore. Just wait about six months, I tell him. You'll be big enough then to show them who's boss.

I bring some apple slices in my apron to greet the ponies who remind me of the older sibling once a baby is born. The sheep, pigs, and puppy are new arrivals and have taken up a lot of the time we used to spend with the equine members of the farm. I rest my forehead against a warm neck for a moment and whisper kind words to these quiet, beautiful animals. A peaceful feeling settles over me. I make a mental note to trim their hooves this weekend.

There is a rhythm and a meditation to taking care of animals. When I know that all are fed, watered, and have all the elements for healthy, happy living in place (shade, pasture, fresh straw), I feel peaceful and satisfied. It's like the feeling when the kids are all bathed and asleep, the floor is swept, and the dishes are done. It's a feeling of order, that everything is right in the world, that earth will keep turning for another 12 hours and that at least in my corner of the planet, all are safe and well.

I pause to lean on the fence. I listen to the pigs grunting their greedy satisfaction while the chickens cluck and scratch happily. The sheep are just behind the fence; they raise their heads to see what I'm up to. The sun is getting higher and warmer and I know that a beautiful summer day lies ahead.

It is not surprising for me to find that 45 minutes have passed since I told the kids I'd be right back. I scoop out some kibble for the cats (and kittens!) and for the pup and make sure their water bowls are replenished, then step inside.

I pack food, towels, hats, and a quilt, and we set off to enjoy the rest of the day at the beach. Kayuk joins us for his first big outing and he wins all hearts with his calm, goofy nature and his beautiful freckles. I bring a bit of knitting to occupy my hands in those rare moments when there is no one asking me for food, and Norah uses the watermelon as a chair.

Summer...work and fun, beautifully balanced to bring peace and joy into each day.

Monday, June 29, 2015

summer holidays, at last

Tired faces, ready to be done school!

Pioneer costumes optional for summer fun.

Exploring culinary variety.

Hands full of wonder.

The school year passes in a blur of busyness: pulling kids from sleep, rushing them through breakfast, hustling them out the door, then repeating it all in reverse in the evening till everyone is asleep again. And repeat. I fantasize about the flexible rhythms of a family that can stay at home, and remember with fondness the days when I was home with my toddlers to enjoy the many little moments that make up their days. I have missed Norah terribly this past year, as she has missed me. 

The last week of school was tough on us both; she was home from her daycare and was here in the care of my mom and my mother-in-law. She cried every morning when we left, and we literally counted down the days. When I got home on Wednesday I noticed a curious spotty rash all over her torso. 

On the last day of school I snapped the requisite photo then paced my phone on the hood of the car to take a picture with my Canon. I drove off and forgot about the phone...until I saw it fly through the air then hit the road HARD. I had to wander the road before I found it in the ditch, screen smashed to smithereens. Sigh. It was a fitting symbol of the many balls I've been juggling all year; it stands to reason that I should drop one on the last day of the school year.

We ended the week with a case of the chicken pox. The older three went through it all at once six years ago (at exactly this time of year), so Norah suffered the itching alone. Calamine, baking soda baths, and Benadryl got her through without too much trouble. She is coming out on the other side now, covered in scabs. We've watched lots of movies and cuddled our way through the worst of it.

Having TIME is such a gift. Time to sit in the early morning light and play with barns and animals. The teacher in me marvels at her cognitive development, how she works to find the barn that fits the each animal best, how she stacks and balances and problem solves. Mostly I just marvel at her: her skin, her messy hair, her dexterous hands, her many sweet and funny words. 

I have time to make healthy food again. That was one of the biggest challenges this past year: coming home and having to figure out what to feed everyone. I had time to make spring rolls the other night, and last night made a yummy chicken curry. Jude has expressed an interest in trying spicy, "different" foods which has me jumping for joy. Years of plain chicken, potatoes, and steamed veggies (the girls' favourite meal) has me pining for flavour.

Aside from a trip to France in July and our camping trip in August, summer will be spent caring for our increasing population of critters and hopefully spinning lots as I've joined Ravelry's Tour de Fleece!

I'll drop by here now and then when I have fun stuff to share. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

white dress

I'm wrestling with my feelings of ambivalence about my faith at the moment. Faith has been a challenge for me since my teens. I struggle daily with my memories of a happily religious childhood and the many harsh realities of the Catholic Church. Particularly as a young woman, the restrictions and expectations placed on me jarred me to the point of swearing off religion of all kinds. 

I slowly ventured back when I moved home and eventually found myself as a teacher in the Catholic School Board. With maturity came an uneasy kind of peace, and I am able to find some of the joy I knew as a child. It's still a struggle, daily. I was once told that as long as I am on the journey, it's all good.

In spite of my ambivalence, it was beautiful to celebrate Violet's First Communion with our family this past weekend. She has been preparing all year with her Grade Two class, under the faithful tutelage of her classroom teacher and our school/parish priest. She has looked forward to this day with much reflection and anticipation. Her pure, innocent approach to faith is beautiful and inspiring, and calls up nostalgia in me when I remember how I felt about the Catholic Church when I was a little girl. 

And while my own path is a long and winding one, I believe that children should be set on a path, any path, to see where it takes them. I believe that this path may be one they follow forever if it brings them joy, but that it also might be just the starting point, that perhaps they may step off into the unknown someday to find their own path. It's all good.

Keeping with tradition, my mom made Violet's dress (she made mine, too!), and I embellished it with some simple embroidery. She couldn't wait to get out into the pasture with the sheep and ponies as soon as we got home, and I quietly followed with the camera. 

This is my farm girl, the little girl I was in so many ways! I always say that I don't see myself in her physically (although I know she's mine!). She has beautiful, long, tapered fingers whereas my hands are like a pioneer woman's: square, blunt fingers, built for digging tubers and smacking bottoms (haha). She is a nut-brown maid, while I am all peaches and cream. 

But her fondness for animals, the outdoors, reading, and a quirky mix of logic and romanticism...that's all me. Oh, she has plenty of herself in her too, mysterious dashes of qualities that don't echo mine or her father's.

My beautiful daughter! She takes my breath away, whether she is a pure-white Lamb of God or a tangle-haired, shirtless wild thing in jeans and rubber boots. I cannot claim her as mine, as she belongs to herself. I pray that she will always love and respect herself as she does today.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

backwoods auction

It's been years since I went to a rural auction. I'd forgotten how exciting it is to bid on any silly little item, to feel your heart race as your hand seems to bid (unbidden!) against your adversary, driving the price up to the ridiculous. But one person's junk is another person's treasure, and although I didn't come home with the item I most desired, I didn't leave empty handed.

The ad for the auction listed a spinning wheel, so how could I say no? My friend Maureen and I arrived and signed in at the auction "office" (a trailer), receiving our numbers that would allow us to bid. We wandered the farmyard, perusing the many items laid across tables. It's best to play these things cool, because chances are if you were attracted to a particular item, others were too.

We were amazed at the stuff people were buying: an old can of Ajax, rusted jackknives, a dual-cassette tape player, and a box of horrible Christmas decorations. I finally made my way over to where the object of my desire sat.

I'd had the foresight to bring some Corriedale roving with me to test out the wheel. I hated the idea of it being bought by someone who wanted to set it in a corner of their living room as a decorative item. A spinning wheel or musical instrument is a work of art, beautiful to the eye. But they are also tools, created to serve a purpose. If this wheel could spin, I was going to do my best to bring it home with me.

As soon as I sat down and started fiddling with it, this old fellow approached me and asked me if it worked. I drew a little crowd as I worked to pull the fibre through the orifice (using my earring as a hook!). The bobbin wasn't spinning freely so I took "the mother" off and investigated. There was a lot of built up grease (lanolin?) inside the bobbin, and it was stuck fast. 

I knew with some work, it could be a decent spinning wheel. I have a beautiful wheel at home so I didn't really need another, but like my husband with his musical instruments, I like to gather spinning materials around me like children. 

This elderly gentleman kept a close eye on me, then told me he was going to buy it. I wouldn't bid against him, would I? Now, some people would be gullible enough to fall for those twinkly blue eyes and the puppy dog look in them when he expressed his desire for this wheel. I wasn't buying it. I waved him away with a smile, and thus began a day-long interaction with a wonderful, funny, and smart man. I found out through an acquaintance that his name was Henry.

All through the day our paths crossed, till we were bumping shoulders, nudging each other, and teasing about who would get that wheel. He joined me on a bench and asked about our sheep and our children. It turns out he also has a son and three daughters. We talked about the hard work involved in raising children, and the passage of time. He's been married for 57 years and although his wife is now sick and dependent on him, he declared that she was a good wife, a hard worker.

The conversation always returned to the reason we'd both come to this auction: the spinning wheel. His refrain was, "You're not going to bid against me, are you?" I told him I knew what he was up to, that I wasn't born yesterday, and that I wasn't going to budge. 

Then the Mennonites arrived.

As one, our heads swiveled towards this quaint family as they inspected the wheel. It seemed to belong to them, both reminiscent of the simple style of the late 1800s. He looked at me as I looked at him, and we wordlessly agreed: we'd have to form an alliance to beat the Mennonites. We quickly agreed that if he got it, he'd will it to me, and if I got it, I'd teach him to spin on it. We'd have joint custody, and Maureen agreed to be the wheel manager. Henry couldn't have been more delighted by this turn of events if he was a five year old in a candy store.

I had a limit in my mind of how much I'd be willing to spend, but there was clearly a lot of interest in the wheel. As the auctioneer got closer to it, the crown got larger. Henry and I wandered over to where I'd put my bag so that I could show him the roving I'd brought. A woman in a purple shirt who was standing nearby said, "Oh, you're here about the wheel? So are we. We're going to go up to at least $500."

Henry gave me a look that said, "She's bluffing". Still, I knew I'd be out of the running early in the game. Henry looked at her shrewdly, but kept mum and I wondered what he was thinking.

When the bidding began, the Mennonites didn't bite. I wondered if they had noticed something I hadn't. I put up my card every few bids, and as the price rose, Henry stood with his head lowered and his arms firmly crossed across his chest. It was between another woman (not the one in the purple shirt) and me. As the price rose past $100, I shook my head to indicate to the auctioneer that I was out.

Suddenly, Henry raised his card. 

A bit of a collective gasp went up. He continued to stand in his casual posture, head bowed and arms crossed, and as the price rose and the auctioneer would be about to say, "SOLD!", his hand would rise up almost imperceptibly. 

When I finally registered what he was up to, the price was up past $400! I realised then that I was in the presence of a master.

At $450 the tension in the crowd was an almost physical presence; suspense and adrenaline hung like fog in the air. Finally, the wheel went to the woman in the orange shirt for $460.

Henry turned to me with a smile and a wink and I was left to wonder if he ever wanted the wheel at all, or if it was just a game he played to drive the price up. We both threw our heads back and laughed at the joy of attending an auction on a Saturday afternoon, and of meeting a kindred spirit.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Living the Dream

It's funny how a farm just kind of happens, if you have a blithe and open soul and a tendency to say yes. We see our farm as an organic farm, not in the modern sense, but in that it grows spontaneously and naturally, free of our interventions. The universe seems to hear my thoughts, and animals just arrive. Sometimes they aren't with us for long, but we're adding to our bank of knowledge with each arrival and departure.

When we first moved here, the previous owners left us their small flock of Indian Runner ducks. We played farmer for awhile, enjoying the novelty of seeing our ducks running across the lawn to the pond. 

It stood to reason that we should have a farm dog. I was in the deep hormonal throes of my pregnancy with Margot, and Jude and Violet were three and one respectively. I was also working full time. 

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? It was. 

The dog was blameless (as dogs often are). I didn't have the time to work with him as I should have and made the very common mistake of taking on a task for which I had little experience AND for which I did no research. I followed my heart, which in most cases only results in pain for me, but in this case, affected the pup as well. 

By the time Margot was born with a heart defect, the pup had grown into a dog, a very unruly dog (again, I take full responsibility, with forgiveness for my loving, open-hearted self). We put a detailed ad in the paper, and a nice bachelor who lived on a horse farm was happy to take our very active dog. We bid farewell to Oscar and wished him a better life than we could give him at that time.

Since then, we've inherited or acquired a flock of hens (see my very first blog post!), various ducks and roosters, a couple of ponies, chicks to raise as layers or as meat, and this Spring, our first piglets. 

When people ask me how we do it, I reflect on the task of raising four children. If, as a single woman, I was landed with four children all at once, I would not have been able to easily adjust. Because my children arrived one at a time, it was a gradual adjustment to the full busyness we experience every day. 

Similarly, our homestead has grown slowly over the years, and we adjust to the various levels of work and expertise involved with animal husbandry gradually. We ask lots of questions, call on those more experienced than us, try home remedies, and trust our guts. We involve our children with shoveling manure, feeding the critters, collecting eggs, and with the eventual demise of our meat birds. 

A few weeks ago a wee Canada Goose gosling crossed my path. It was all alone, with no parents in sight, and I know its sibling had been killed by my friend's dog earlier in the day. I nestled it in my favourite yellow sweater, and brought it home. The next day my sister delivered it to the Wild Bird Care Centre, and the most recent report is that it has been adopted by goose parents! 

As my child-bearing years drew to a close, I still felt that biennial longing that signaled that it was "time" for another baby. For the past year I've been hounding, hinting, and cajoling my husband into the idea that it might be time for us to get a puppy. Our life is drastically different now than it was six years ago. We have three children who are older now, and a toddler who follows the pack. 

I kept my eye on Kijiji but was not attracted to the many strange mixes of dogs that pass as glamour breeds (Rottlabradoodle, anyone?) and cost more than my monthly mortgage. I trusted that the "right" pup would appear when it was, well, right.

Last week a friend on Facebook posted an ad for pups, from just down the road from us. The breed was right, the price was right, and when I called to discover that they were on the farm of some local food-producers I've met at our Farmer's Market, I knew we'd found our pup. I met our pup's parents, and know the people who care for them to be conscientious, respectful, kind people. He's a Great Pyrenees/Retriever/Collie/Lab mix, and I'm about as excited as an expectant mother. I'm giddily reading every dog-training book I can get my hands on, determined to do things right this time.

I am finding the recurrent theme that dogs are happiest when they're allowed to follow the behaviours for which they were bred. Seeing as how our pup comes from guarding/herding stock, I wondered if he would be content with circling the kids and the ponies. I worried about what might happen in September when his herd (the humans) go back to work/school.

A few days later, I got an email from my midwife. It was what she referred to as a "Hail Mary" request. To make a long story short, she wanted to know if we'd take four of her British Milk Sheep to save them from an untimely end. After a quick text to my husband, I was able to answer, "Of course!"

Our latest flock arrived yesterday in the midst of Violet's 8th birthday, and right away my husband went out to buy a new drill to ensure that our fencing is in good order. We feel that we spend as much time worrying about fencing and broken barn doors as we do about the well-being of our many critters. The old maxim about good fences and happy neighbours is a maxim for a reason. 

This little farm is almost full to capacity now. The lawnmower is on the fritz, so the moveable pen that came with the sheep will come in handy. Our ewes adapted quickly to their new home, and endured the curiosity of their new equine herd-mates. The man who delivered them has invited us to learn to shear in the next few weeks and has promised the fleeces to ME (insert giddy squeals of delight). 

I'm a shepherdess! And in a few weeks we'll have a little sheep dog to keep us company and keep our herd safe and together. I have broken fingernails and I need new shoes. The work never ends and our farm is looking less like the picture postcard it did when we bought it and more like a place where people and animals live and work. 

I couldn't be happier. I'm living my dream.

Friday, April 24, 2015

four, three, two, one

I like to knit whimsical things. I also just like the word "whimsical". 

There is no more whimsical place that I know of than the home of the Wabi Sabi Wanderer, to photograph whimsical knitting. Could it be more perfect that she found her women folk lined up on a shelf with a wonderful backdrop? My Wabi Sabi friend exclaimed ,"She looks like YOU!" which delighted me because I was actually inspired by old photos of my grandmother Pearl. I'll take the compliment, thank you!

You can find a free pattern here!

These are so cute, too! And what about these ones? Or, oh my goodness, THIS!!

Watch this space...clearly it will soon be littered with photos of Matryoshkas! They're pretty hard to resist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

a time capsule

I have had the profound blessing in my life of having a lifelong friend. Chanda moved in next door to us in 1977 or thereabouts, when we were both around the age of three. She was the oldest of two girls, I was third in a family of four. She lived in a brand new bungalow, and I lived in a century-old brick farmhouse. She was athletic and driven, I was a book-loving day-dreamer. There were many reasons that we might not have been friends, but somehow, we were.

Each day before school, I'd walk to her house and wait for her to finish her stepdancing practice (this is her in the red top, bringing the house down in performance with her husband (on drums), and sisters- and brothers-in-law), and we'd walk to school together. Our evenings were spent outside, imagining that the snowflakes were fairies twirling in the streetlight glow, running in the woods, and riding our bikes around town the way kids in the 70s and 80s could.

When we were 12, Chanda created a time capsule for us. The note on the box forbade us to open it until the far and distant future: 2014 to be exact, when we'd both be FORTY (and therefore too ancient to imagine). I tucked it into a trunk and carted it from house to house until it came to rest in our old garage at the homestead.

The other day Chanda landed in at my house with her six children in tow. Our gang of ten children (altogether) disappeared outside, and we enjoyed a rare quiet cup of tea. Suddenly, I remembered the time capsule, hidden in the old trunk that is itself a time capsule. More accurately, it's an archaeological site, with layers of pictures, mementoes, notes, and boxes representing my youth. The more recent years give way to my old journals from high school.

Then, right at the bottom, I found it. The time capsule. 

For 28 years I have pondered what might be hidden within, and we'd finally arrived in the future. Here we are! I'm 41 now, and she's 40. She home-schools and runs a dance studio, and I'm a school teacher. She's still athletic and I still prefer a book and knitting over running around.

After laughing at the note on the box, we admired her handiwork from long ago, then I slowly uncovered the treasure within. What did we find?

A penny from the year 1974, the year we were both born.

Perhaps it was a lucky penny. As our children poured in the door for a slap-together meal on paper plates, the house filled with their laughter and coversations. They are all friends now, too, and we get to watch their relationships blossom. 

Lucky? You bet.