May.

 

The grass is growing. The pastures we left to rest last year are coming alive. After going to a conference on mob grazing last summer, P. opted to ask the seed salespeople if they’d take our order back and proposed that we instead leave the pastures be for a season and start mob grazing and winter bale grazing there. The results have been solid (and affordable to boot).

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Our tractor broke down early May. Instead of trying to borrow a tractor to feed the herd (hay), the team started the rotations. The animals were more than happy to start grazing. The 140+ strong herd rotates through 350+ acres, which includes crossing the highway.

 

Despite being stressful, and despite a small handful of calves (who can easily walk under the temporary fences put up to keep them to a narrow path over the culverts) and the sheer size of the herd, these moves have gone well.

 

 

The hens are now also happily back on pasture and their eggs’ yolks have already turned a deeper yellow.

 

 

Sixty piglets have joined us. They’re being fed soaked organic pig feed, mixed in tubs, until we sort out our cheese whey situation.  For the time being, they’re hanging out in a cathedral-sized barn space. Once the pasture rotations and fencing are planned and built, and once the piglets are fence trained, they’ll be brought out of doors.

 

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It’s been a bit of a shock to the system to hit the ground running (as springtime farming requires), but our bodies had craved the warmth, the crispness, the movement.

 

 

We’ve also been blessed to have friends come spend time with us. Seeing our rolling hills, our herds and our days through their (urban) eyes is always a solid reminder (of the beauty, the luck, the opportunity). And knowing that our community is more vast than these acres and acres of pasture grounds me to no end.

 

 

On the construction front, I’ve been flabbergasted by the amount of waste, the sheer volume of garbage that’s created during home renovations. Sorting through it to recycle and keep as much as we can from the landfill has been a depressing task. Luckily our co-farmer friends at Rooted Oak Farm have been getting their gardens ready, and the juxtaposition of garbage to future beds of luscious organic vegetables has tipped the hope scale.

 

And since good friends were coming our way, the impetus to get it done was real. Having a warm, dry, welcoming living space has been a good culmination of a long autumn and winter of construction.

 

The yard space is still quite unfinished but the kids are making the most of it–appreciating that it’s all one big sandbox, and that some of the rubbish is actually quite good for making small catapults and starting collections.

 

 

Finally, the four (sterilised!) cats are doing well and have decided to stay put and be our barn cats. They don’t all show up every day, but they’re around and might one day be pettable.

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Here’s hoping.

early april.

Our snowbank pastures are almost no more. The puddle play is going full force. The frozen ground is letting up and making it possible to use temporary fencing again.

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Given the shoddy spring/winter infrastructure, the hens have been pretty free range as of late as has been their laying, which got old pretty fast. Now I’m just waiting for the ground to dry up and firm up some to wheel the coop out on pasture.

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The big news around here is that two vegetable growers have joined us on the farm as part of our Incubator Farm Project, and that a third farmer is arriving soon to work with us. Not only does this mean that I got to end and delete the airbnb at our second farm house–which was celebrated, to be sure (Take that endless laundry! Take that random broken things I kept stumbling upon!), but it also means more people, more elbow grease, more projects, more ideas, more diverse and integrated land use. It’s very exciting for us. I’m hoping the land and seasons will be good to them, and that the landscape–paired with our stunning summer sun downs–will sustain them through the harder days. If you’re in the Ottawa area and looking for a vegetable CSA, check out Rooted Oak Farm.

 

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After years of inner turmoil, we’ve managed to put an end to the endless cycle of cat reproduction, abandoned kittens, and frail/unwell cat population. With the support of the SPCA, we managed to trap them all, to bring them in to the SPCA in the city, and to adopt four of them once they were spayed/neutered and were given basic immunisations. I managed to keep a descendant of our beloved Olga (whom I named Helga), our eldest named two others Spaghetti and Migrak, and one (pictured above) is awaiting a poetic name. They’re still fairly wild and unapproachable, but I hope we’ll get to a friendly place with them. They’ve been back a week now, and we cross paths every other day at least, so I hope this means they’re still interested in being our resident barn cats. This place sure felt eery without them.

 

The melting snow means we finally found our wood pile (insulation for the win–those face cords sure last longer than they used to). We also sadly found that a bunch of the fruit trees we planted were damaged beyond repair by rodents over the winter. As we were originally going to be planting the fruit trees here and there in a windbreak with many other tree species, we didn’t take the time to read up about how to help fruit trees make it through the winter–a devastating oversight given that 90% of the trees were planted together in one field. They were clearly a quick and easy snack.

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Despite the mud and manure, and the febrile work of trying to get all of the web and newsletter and computer tasks done before outdoor spring work starts anew, I am savouring this hopeful time of year.

 

spring and snow and slowness.

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The first calf of the season was born. After spending a day trying to coax the mama and calf up to the barn from the back pastures (instead of say going to a cool local farming event, or doing any family day activities), this healthy, strapping calf was called Dimanche. A good early-in-the-season reminder that weekends are not guaranteed.

 

 

A week later, he’s still in top form. He still disregards fencing to hang out in the hay shed, but is venturing out further with his mama and is gaining well.

 

 

Thanks to three wily calves forcing their way through the flock’s netting repeatedly last week, the coop area’s fencing kind of screams « optional » at this point and they’re often out exploring.

 

 

The new snow, covering the deep mud field around our (construction zone) house and putting a pause on the Manure Smell of the spring thaw, made this place gorgeous for a slow weekend.

 

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Proof. The quick-sand-like mud was (and will be) real. But on that note, we made the decision to move our driveway to the back of the garden this year, between the garden and the corral in front of the barn, so this will be grass and play area later this spring-summer. It’ll up our safety game ten-fold to not have large farm machinery/farm traffic/any traffic so close to the house.

 

 

Sun times and pasture play. Complete with my 1.5 year old walking away from me to (try to) go hang out with our dairy cow.

 

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« C’est un soleil qui fait plisser les yeux, maman. »

Indeed, mon coeur. Indeed.

 

trauma and p.o. boxes

 

A few days ago, a three year old was found in a second story apartment with the corpses of his caregivers, his father and his father’s girlfriend. They had been dead for at least two days, according to reports. The cause of death appears to be overdose.

I can’t stop thinking about that three year old. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma inside that little body. Walking around that apartment alone for so long. Dark overnights by himself. Distress I can’t even fathom. The whole thing is just so tragic.

 

I wish there was a way to store all the warmth and thoughts people are feeling for that little person right now. Wish there was a way for that care to be bottled and saved for him, so that he knows down the road, when things get hard(er), that so many of us just wanted to hug him to safety, to bring him to the people who love him and to support those individuals as they mourn and struggle too. Or to be those loving people should he need them.

I wish Canada Post had p.o. boxes for stuff like this. To hold those messages for 5 or 10 years. Prayers. Words of solace. Drawings from other kids. Cheques for post-secondary education. Whatever people felt compelled to send.

I wish we, as a society, were better at dealing with trauma and addiction. I wish so many didn’t have to go it alone.

 

Dear world, please look out for that kid.

 

 

 

 

winter number three.

I still remember bracing myself when the first snows started at the end of our first autumn on the farm. A friend who grew up on a farm had told me, every season brings its own, and winter is a special kind of desolate. And it was.

It’s gotten better. We have the ropes down a bit better. We’re anchored in this place a bit more. My winter driving confidence has grown. But it still feels like a feat some days.

Waterers freeze. Electrical fencing in snowbank pastures is sometimes a bust. Doing a bunch of book keeping and accounting at a time of year when there are many bills to be paid and just about zero money coming in. It can wear on me.

I try to take in the landscape as often as I can.

 

The biggest winter challenge has been twofold. The number of freezing rain days and the degree and length of kid sickness this winter. The youngest was ill for 43 consecutive days with 3 different viruses/illnesses and there was, much to my dismay, a fair amount of in-house sickness sharing. While book keeping and hen tending isn’t a piece of cake with a feverish or barfing kid on your back/in your arms, my heart goes out to parents of young kids who work outside the home. How you all manage to keep your jobs when you have to stay home So. Much. with ill kids is impressive.

I drove one too many times on our (undivided, two lane) highway during freezing rain and decided that it wasn’t worth the ulcers I was giving myself or the nail prints dug through the steering wheel.

I drafted many a haiku about the very isolating qualities of barfing children and freezing rain.

 

Much of the season felt like an exercise in letting go and making peace.

Just like I let go and let all of the kids mix all of the play dough. (which just confirms my good sense in having my own secret stash of felt tip markers).

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My wood working project this winter was to up the perch to bird ratio in the coop. A number of the hens had been intent on sleeping on the straw and I wondered if it was because of the terrible criss cross perch pattern we had going on. That perch motif also made gathering eggs like playing the game Operation–the terrible buzzing game we played as kids. No fun.

I wanted to build this contraption with hinges to be able to fold it in to clean out the coop, which more or less worked. That is, it worked but it’d be too high up off the ground and would take up 3/4 of the coop. I ended up folding up the legs and just letting it rest on the straw bedding. Onward (for me) and upward (for the hens).

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I read that, for winter, rounded perches were less desirable. Apparently, a flat perch allows hens to warm their feet with their feathers as they sleep. I hope that isn’t hogwash.

 

I had been wanting to launch into a carpentry project of my own and on my own for a while. There always seemed to be something in the way. Too small of a car to bring the 2x4s home, space in the shop, consecutive hours sans kid.

I totally appreciate that so many of these challenges are my own mental blocks.

I thought about the wood projects as I would a wool project–which I typically have a much easier time to just plunge into. It takes a fair amount of time to find the wools, the needles, other assorted supplies : stitch markers, cable needles, pencils, etc.; to choose the right pattern, to make sure you have all the abbreviations down, that your sizing is correct. But once you do, it’s fairly smooth sailing. And often just the meditative hand work you need.

That being said, I started this knitting project back up as a way to deal with the stress of the sickness. I started it when I was pregnant with my eldest as a way to force myself to slow down. I was working and biking a lot then and was too exhausted at the day’s end. I bought the supplies and started knitting it four weeks before his due date. He was born a week later.

It feels very lovely and historical to get back into it. Thinking about what I was weaving through those threads then. The hopes, the unknowns, the energy too.

 

Here the hens pecked through a raw milk puck, preferring the fat content of the Jersey milk.

Our snow mountains are (surely) the envy of the land. And the warmth from our wood stove, post insulation renos, is remarkable.

 

 

In other news, the accounting work allowed me to see that the egg CSA business did actually make some money this year. I am grossly underpaid for my time, of course, but it is not the money sink and expensive hobby I feared it would be. The flock’s lay rate is still quite high despite the cold (around 80%), to boot. I really look forward to wheeling their mobile coop back out on pasture. Wet, damp, frosty spring is the worst for them. I’d bring them all in the house during the thaw if it wouldn’t be just 50 more (non-house trained) beings to clean up after.

 

Now the kids are healthier. The ice is starting to give way to the sun rays. The hens seem to know that soon they’ll get to exit the hay shed to pastured freedom. And thinking about seed catalogues and fruit trees hiding in the snow is fostering hope.

Dear creators of Paw Patrol

 

My children love the characters and stories you’ve created. They watch the show in English, which isn’t their mother tongue, and hearing them retell the plot lines in our family’s main languages is a really interesting and adorable time for all of us.

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That being said, we’re working hard to raise our boys to know that girls and boys have the same value, are capable of the same feats, can be interested in anything and everything independently of their sex, and that gender stereotypes limit everyone.

 

When I read the recent study by Andrei Cimpian out of New York University that showcases that girls as young as 6 doubt that women can be brilliant, I took a long hard look at the books and media that we have in our home. Countless studies have shown that representation is key—that Black children, Indigenous children, children with disabilities (etc) need to see themselves and their realities reflected in books, in movies, in songs. Historically, girls have not seen women excelling as super heroes, as engineers, as politicians to the same degree boys have. In fact, I say historically, but looking at recent programs and characters created for kids, I’m left wondering why the writers/illustrators/creators have shown no signs of moving away from casting almost exclusively boy or male characters as leads and of keeping up the practice of including a single token girl/pink/eye lashed character.

 

There appears to be a lasting, and I believe very destructive, belief that while girls can and will be interested in boy characters, that boys cannot possibly be expected to be interested in girl characters. I know from experience that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

 

My boys know that half of their classmates at school and at daycare are girls, that half of people, of dinosaurs, of animals on our farm (give or take) are or were female. I’m having a really hard time explaining to them why girls are so absent from Paw Patrol.

 

You have it within your power to help teach a new generation of boys and girls that girls are equally interesting, equally capable of saving the day, equally capable of being brilliant. I think it’s high time Ryder, Sky and the whole gang had some more girl company on your show.

 

Kind regards,

 

Josée Madéia.

 

 

 

 

le marcheur de la 321

Chaque mercredi matin, je quitte mon rang et le village pour livrer ma vingtaine de douzaines d’oeufs en ville.

Chaque mercredi, je voyais un homme marcher le long de l’autoroute avec son petit chien. On roule vite sur la 321 quand même. 90 kilomètres à l’heure. Et autant la marche est une activité et un mode de transport qui me parle énormément, autant mes quelques petites excursions sur mon rang m’ont convaincu que c’n’est pas ici que je vais reprendre l’habitude de marcher de longues distances.

Le transport actif c’est dans mon top trois de choses qui me manquent le plus depuis qu’on s’est installés en milieu rural. Je pense à mes vélos adorés dans le vieux garage ici et j’en ai la larme à l’oeil. C’est identitaire pour moi.

Donc quand je voyais ce monsieur, qui marchait malgré tout–malgré les camions de transport, malgré la pluie, malgré les vitesses, malgré le bruit–ça me donnait espoir. Espoir que l’être humain peut trouver des solutions, bien qu’imparfaites, à ses dilemmes, ses déchirements. Espoir que non, on se fait pas nécessairement rouler sur le corps si on tente notre chance à pied sur les routes du coin. Espoir aussi qu’on peut se faire à une routine exigeante si on y travaille, si on le veut.

J’ai lu, y’a trois jours, que cet homme s’appelait Gérald Laviolette et qu’il est décédé le 1er janvier. Il était atteint de cancer des poumons, a vécu plus longtemps que ces docteurs l’escomptaient et il marchait pour sa santé.

Merci M.Laviolette d’avoir susciter ces réflexions en moi. Tes kilomètres quotidiens m’ont aidé à penser ma vie ici dans la Petite-Nation.

early december renovations.

 

Our house is wearing a winter coat, finally. Insulation is up, and it’s now all been wrapped. Ready to weather the storms. Made patient for its eventual wood siding.

 

After we demolished the last room in the basement and washed the previously styrofoam and wood covered walls with bleach (because they needed it badly), it became pretty clear that (a) our dishwasher leaks and (b) that while these renovations seem a bit over the top at times (both in terms of scope and affordability), we’re giving ourselves the gift of health by getting rid of the mould and mildew caused by diverse and multiple water infiltration spots, and insulation + energy conservation is a pretty sound investment.

The basement walls, formally bare cinder block, have also been insulated, as has the cement floor. The tubing for in-floor heating has been laid, and some openings for a bathroom have been prepared.

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Then, the cement truck came (for Youngest Child, this has been a most interesting sick week. For the mama, it’s been a bit fraught).

 

After all the noxious smoothing, the end result is totally lunar looking and making me want to run out to buy roller skates for the whole fam.

 

Other wonderful things to come: bigger windows (think easy fire escapes!)

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And moving the wood stove closer to the centre of the house so that it heats more than the back entrance/laundry room. Entre temps on dirait un scaphandre à même le plafond : dreamy.

 

The downside to future heat : going without a sink in the bathroom for a bit.

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Speaking of heat, we’re adding twenty inches of insulation in the attic (to the existing four). May our days of massive heat loss and energy squandering be over.

 

As cool as it is to see the transformation, it’ll be good to have the bulk of this work done, hopefully before year’s end. We’re all running out of clean/dry socks from living in a construction zone and the required vigilance (given wee ones) is wearing me down. But I will admit that there is something quite profound about realizing that you can just saw through floors and ceilings to put chimneys in. As though anything is possible.

 

 

for heat’s sake.

Yesterday, the good people working on our house finished smashing all of the cement brick off. Seeing the brick gone makes me very happy. Pretending we have a cute little black house is a bonus.

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Two cool things about this. One : the contractors we’re working with found a cement recycling place nearby so instead of trucking and landfilling these bricks, or of hiding them somewhere on the farm, the bricks are going to be ground up and turned into a road (hit the road, brick!). Two : tearing off the brick allowed us to discover that, at the south east corner of the house, termites had eaten their way to the gyprock. Eek. Also, there was exactly zero insulation in the walls. Which explains us being cold after burning, say, 16 cords of wood.

 

 

Which brings us to this ! The gift of warmth and lower hydro bills. (It felt like supreme adulting to write a cheque for thousands of dollars’ worth of insulation, let me tell you).

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Other fun surprises: the pints of pistachio shells found all around the walls, the handfuls of straw and bird faeces along the roof overhang, and the missing wool insulation along the windows. The insects, mice and birds have been well fed and well housed in and by this home.

 

The plan now is to finish the outer insulation, seal it well, and get started on insulating the basement. This means pouring a new floor with tubing for eventual in-floor heating, insulating the walls,  and drywalling (drywall is pretty fascinating). We’ve had to empty the basement of its contents to make this happen, which I’m framing as a good opportunity to get rid of our surplus stuffs.

We looked into renting one of those pods for storage (given that barn cats get into everything) but, given costs, we ended up deciding to put it all in our cattle trailer. If you had told me years ago that my boxes of childhood memorabilia would be stored in a cattle trailer, parked just outside my door, I’d’ve chuckled.

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Olga.

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Olga passed away tonight.

That fateful Friday morning when it was confirmed that Trump had won the presidency, my dear Olga, scrambled to our front door as I was setting off for the coop. She looked so battered, tripping and tumbling, her paws darkened. I brought her into the house, kept her warm in a basket. It was the worst day. The pinnacle of political and personal powerlessness paired with too much farm work to do.

Two days later, this survivor of a cat jumps out of the basket and starts eating turkey like it’s going out of style. It gave me a ridiculous amount of hope, her coming around. As though it confirmed that small gestures, smalls proofs of love and caring could turn ships around. Maybe not a big U.S. political machine ship, but still, an everyday, caring for diverse one anothers kind of ship.

 

Given how much time we spend walking in/around manure, and how soiled our farm clothes usually are, we have a pretty strict rule about no animals in the house. It was really such a lovely presence, though, having her in our home. Lovely too to see how gentle the children were, how interested and tender they can be with living things needing rest.

I was sure she’d make it.

She’d even hide when the kids got home from daycare, just to reclaim her space in the foyer the minute they were both in bed. Ces moments de complicité.

 

Olga had been on the farm since we moved here. She was the barn cat ring leader. She could look so mangy, too lean, but she bounced back every spring. She was by far the most prolific reproducer, so she was the one we ended up having spayed. Afterward, her coat got thicker, her body healthier. She was beautiful.

 

Friday she stopped eating and moving. She just wanted to hide and lay. My only regret is that I waited so long to call our vet.

 

(Blessed be the rural (large animal) vets who’ll do house calls late on a Sunday, during the first big snow of the season, to end an animal’s suffering.)