in the thaw

 

it’s been a really good couple of weeks. i don’t know if it’s the completion of our financial planning for the year (and our first year really using holistic resource management planning tools together, p. and i), the fact that we have a number of rad farm-based projects on the go, that i’ve been managing to spend more time with other adults, or that every family member just happens to be in a good place at the same time, but i’ll take it.

spring is coming and going. we’re making the most of it.

the hens have started venturing further from the barn, joining us in our work and play when we’re out in ‘the yard’.

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we’re making concrete plans to repair things we’ve been wanting to get to since moving here.

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and we’re soaking in our puddles. today we learned that old baking sheets make really excellent ferries.

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(in other news, while amortization and depreciation are fascinating concepts, thinking about them too much in your day to day is probably unnecessary and can make you go a bit bonkers.)

 

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infants and supports.

A few days before I gave birth to my second child, there was a story in our local paper about a father who was being detained. The police had been called to the family’s home and a six week old infant had been found unconscious. They suspected the baby had been shaken.

These stories break my heart any day, but maybe especially so when I’m nine months pregnant and am gearing up for sleepless marathons, feeding challenges, and everything else that comes with caring for an adorable ball of truly endless needs. I felt for those first time parents, for the frustrations and for how hard it is to ask for the support you need. I’m not really a praying type but I sent warm thoughts and wishes to the skies that this babe would be okay and that this father wouldn’t have to live with his child not making it.

After coming home from the birth centre with our perfect day old creature, I checked the news, thinking that there might be a way to help the family, given our solid supply of diapers and breast milk. I learned that the child had died the day before, as I was birthing mine. I can’t fathom what that father and that mother are going through.

I made the mistake of reading the comments section of the article that named the father and said he was out on bail. They were vindictive and lacked all compassion. A lot of the comments seemed to be written by parents which made me wonder if they either were all blessed with remarkable support networks or if they were being totally dishonest about how overwhelmed and despairing our screaming infants can make us feel.

If we’re going to find ways to support young parents, new parents, all parents, I suspect we need to start by admitting that children can make us lose our cool, that no one is immune to this. Otherwise, we’re shaming people instead of providing supports, which makes vulnerable families (which we all are at some point) all the more isolated.

I’m more confident the second time around (and thus ironically, more likely to ask for help) but there’s such pressure when you bring these little people into the world to do it all yourself, to try to prove that you have your shit together. This really doesn’t serve parents or children.

I was pleased to see that there were documents about the anger that hours of infant crying can cause in the stack of forms and pamphlets that we received from our midwives. One was a form to be filled out by both parents with the names and numbers of people they could/should call if they needed a breather. Given the isolation I often feel living far away from my old urban hub, I appreciate the need for this. For that conversation, those safeguards.

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I am reminded of how overwhelmed I felt when I was alone with our first for over a week in the early days. For some reason I had to bathe him (probably just to prove to myself that I could do it alone), but my wee ones hate baths and infants in water are very slippery and I just cried. Luckily I had a very friendly upstairs neighbour at the time. I didn’t know her very well but her smiling presence was always a joy to me and knowing that she was from the Maritimes made me insta-trust her all the more. I am heartened now knowing that I did ask for help. And that after washing my infant with another woman who had never washed an infant — the two of us getting just as wet as the child — I felt lighter and safer.

So here’s to knocking on a neighbour’s door, or to being the one who opens that door.

And wishing solace to those who didn’t or couldn’t.

and the cars came marching in.

Yesterday was a bit of a heartache on the ideological front.

I drove a 6 hour commute to get to a research gig and we bought a second family car.

This time last year, I was commuting to work on a bicycle, I didn’t know how to drive, we owned a car for business purposes and hid it in the garage the rest of the time (in part because we were paying to rent the garage but not a ‘parking spot’ and didn’t want our landlord knowing we had a vehicle). And here we are. A two car family. A two car family who thinks about and worries about its environmental footprint and buys fuel efficient used cars, but a two car family nonetheless.

It all makes sense : we live quite rurally on a road without a proper shoulder (not at all bike-with-kids safe), we need the car for beef deliveries which means I’m stranded at the farm with a child two Saturdays out of four, we adults have a slew of solo summer engagements on the horizon, and with a percolating fœtus in my uterus, my comfort level with being here alone with kiddo sans car whole days is growing pretty thin.

 

I know our footprint as quasi-(alt)homesteaders is offset to some extent in some ways, but having spent decades demonizing car culture, it’s quite the switch. And even though it’s the right choice for us at this point in time, oi! is it ever uncomfortable.

 

And I wonder then, is it surprising that even the ‘bébés’ go for car and bus rides all the time?

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In lighter news, the snow is melting. The frozen, sleeping garden will soon be awake and blooming again. I’m starting to feel it.

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on winter and homesickness.

 

It is cold and desolate around these parts.

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I am looking forward to the season of holiday visitors. It’ll brighten this place for me, as I remember longingly all the summer friends who shared our home and broke bread with us. The workload has yet to lighten, and the promised winter farm « cards and coffee » season has yet to really make its appearance. The novelty of heating this home with our wood stove has worn off, as has wearing long johns all the time.

I took the day yesterday and drove myself to the city. No small feat as I’ve only been driving, and driving standard, for some eight months now. It was my second time going it without another adult, and the first time sans kiddo. There were no close calls, no missed highway exits, and no overwhelmed teary traffic moments. I parked on a residential street and went to sit in a busy café, ordered a hot organic beverage without feeling like a weirdo, and took in the very pleasant and very familiar feeling of being in a crowd, unconcerned about seeming friendly enough or welcoming enough. Being both mildly interesting and uninteresting to those around is a real treat. I hadn’t realized how exhausting small town shopping was for me until yesterday. (And this begs the question : have introverted people found ways of living rurally and happily without resorting to becoming hermits?) I took in the joy of jaywalking, the pleasure of having quick friendly conversations with acquaintances, and being able to walk to cross a number of errands off a to-do list.

I realize now I’m quite city-homesick.

I think living in a mighty and in many ways unforgiving landscape requires that you either muster that same feeling of might in yourself, or that you foster a great humility of your person (ideally both). I remember feeling this as I lived near the Atlantic some years ago. But both the might and humility require much resilience, and mine feels very frayed right now.

 

 

On another note, a hen died yesterday. I was pretty devasted. One of our original four. The one that had been badly injured by a neighbour’s dog. Her feathers hadn’t really grown back, as they have on the other who was mauled. I don’t know if it was the result of the injury or the cold. I can’t seem to find authoritative information on keeping hens warm enough in our Canadian winter. Some sources seem pretty cavalier, some very unpractical.

The hens are in the barn, with plenty of straw, out of wind’s way, and with a heated waterer, but I worry it isn’t enough. I’ll add a big wooden nesting box to facilitate cozying up and try to see if there’s a way of getting a heating lamp in there without it being high up on the ceiling (and thus useless). Up until now, I haven’t used a light, because they get all the daylight we do from the coop and from what I understand it’s to stimulate egg production moreso than for hen wellbeing and really, if they need a break from production to stay warm and keep their energies, that is more than fine by me.

What sucks about all of this is, because it hasn’t been financially viable for farmers to call veterinarians about hen care (as a vet averages at 65$ an hour and most hens cost around 20$), it is hard to find vets who know about hens. If we housed cats in that coop, we’d have no problem having them seen by professionals.

Perhaps I should just knit them all ponchos to assuage this feeling of guilt.

 

hen loss.

We lost two hens today.

I spotted a neighbour’s dog in our yard as I was going back to the shop from the pasture to get another styrofoam decagone to stuff into the culvert to get the winter water pumps installed. I thought it was our dairy calf Simon at first, but there was a meaner look to him. I ran towards him, saw piles of feathers and a hen run past me. I chased the dog back to his property, completely distraught and probably wailing.

At first, I couldn’t see any of the hens. I eventually found one, unscathed, held and hugged her, and put her safely in her coop. All alone. I found another in the shop later on, this one with half of her back feathers missing and a sad looking scar on her back. I made sure she could still get up to the roosts and nesting boxes and tucked them in for the night, heavy hearted.

 

 

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These hens are the closest thing I’ve had to a pet in over a decade. They follow me around the yard and in the garden, and are such a pleasure to have, free ranging about, eating the compost, holding their own with the barn cats, playing around the sand piles with kiddo. Along with our dairy duo, the hens make this place a farm to me. More than the cattle herds which are often too far from the house to hear or see them, or the farm machinery strewn about the yard.

I am so sadenned by this loss. I know this is a cattle farm and animals die for us to make a living. But these weren’t meat birds. They were friend birds.

 

Hopefully we’ll be able to get a few guest birds to share the coop this winter. Heating a chicken coop can be a bit of a fire hazard (straw + heat + closed coop), so the best thing to do, I’ve read, is to make sure you have enough birds to produce enough heat to keep themselves warm. A duo will surely be cold in there.

womenfolk.

 

From snow and frosts (bringing with them the stress of not having completed our frost-free winter water pumps project), to t-shirt weather (bringing renewed hope that we’ll get the potatoes out of the ground before they’re frozen solid), the farm emotions roller-coaster continues.

 

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Again, we’ve been so fortunate to have had so many good friends come to spend time with us at the farm and that so many have come with a great willingness to roll up (and muddy) their sleeves.

Our latest visitor has been an inspiring femme-à-tout-faire here, a Jill-of-all-trades, if you will.

 

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It’s been great to have the help of a can-do fellow farmer, of course, and for me, it’s been especially soulful to have another woman in this home, a competent, assertive, kind soul who knows what she’s talking about and holds her own in our pipe trenches, working with P. and the male contractor. I breathe easier living with individuals who subvert stereotypes and dated social norms. I am less on edge, more able to go about my business of garden tending or child minding, knowing that someone here is pushing the boundaries, broadening the scope of what women and men can (and choose to) do here. Both in my mind and for the older neighbours, farmers and contractors around who sometimes make it so hard for me to have any hope that I’ll choose a career/project path without having my main motivator be « I’ll show them! »

Having her company this past week has confirmed for me the importance of having other women on the farm. Both for my sense of safety and to open up the realm of what is possible. To foster the alternative and progressive home base we’re both, P. and I, longing for.  And to show them, quand même.

We will miss you , A.

 

on trenches and beauty

 

we’ve been digging a lot of holes, as of late. we hired someone with an excavator to come and dig seven thousand feet of trench five feet underground, then put a wee one and a half inch pipe in, and close it back up.

 

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i convinced kiddo that watching from inside actually afforded us a better vantage point.

 

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the first thousand feet were dug, starting at the house. the pipe went through the wall and into the basement so that we can get water to the herd throughout the winter. p. ordered some great winter pasture pumps (more on those later).

 

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d. and p. also dug a trench from the barn to the house to get an insulated ethernet cable from our walk-in freezers to our wireless router. that way we’ll receive emails and text messages if the temperature doesn’t stay within range.

 

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it’s really remarkable that these projects are either under way (the water pipe project) or successfully completed (the ethernet cable/monitor solution). we’re breathing easier. but with all this turning over of sod and gravel, this place is looking very chantier-esque. and with the rain this aft, we have a pretty unfortunate mud moat around our house and most outbuildings.

 

 

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on most days, i appreciate that while this farm isn’t yet beautiful, it has sexy infrastructure and a great deal of potential.

we’ve totally cleaned up the inside of the barn, turning it into something really ‘old barn pretty’ and useable (hopefully as a store front, eventually).

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as for the barn itself, the paint job and colour scheme discourage me to no end, but it’s already proving to be a useful building, in terms of hay storage, walk-in freezer area, winter hen coop, and onion (etc.) drying area.

the shop, while hideous, is a great space for building, fixing, for tools and equipment. it’s heated, has fans, windows, and a solid concrete floor. the land that is part of the original farm is tile drained and bouncing back admirably from its GM soy days. the soil is otherwise rich and eager to grow foodstuffs.

 

but man oh man, that post-digging mud lot look sure isn’t doing very much for my feeling of home. having been blessed with quaint urban homesteads, and having taken the time to paint and fix up all of those homes, it’s hard to be in the midst of mud and building supplies and rock piles and wood stacks and tractor parts and compost and shit without it getting to me on the greyer days. and given the sheer scale of all of this, tackling these eye sores takes, if not scaffolding and special equipment, then at least considerable funds and time. both of which we’re low on at this point in time.

 

 

on a brighter note, operation harvest-the-remainder-of-the-vegetables is right on track. the carrots are done, the beets are on their way, which leaves only the potatoes.

 

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it’s probably not a year’s worth (and they’re definitely not prime carrots), but it’s really not bad, all things considered.

 

i expected to find an excellent how-to on storing vegetables, but came up with pretty wishy washy, contradictory, and unworkable advice (« only preserve the highest quality produce » good one! we didn’t do all this work to make compost). after eating some very leathery textured blanched zucchini though, i’ve decided not to put all my eggs in one basket with the rest of the crops. half the carrots went to sand buckets and the other, to bags. both in the walk-in cooler which will be equipped with a space heater when the weather gets very cold. we’ll see which fare better.

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another dumbfounding issue is drying. no matter what i try to dry the popcorn, it still won’t pop. on the cob, off the cob, in the oven, air dry. last i read, the cobs need to be cooked at low temperature for 8+ hours and then hung for a few months. we’ll see what that does. and the pumpkin seeds, i’m still unclear. i fear storing still-moist seeds and finding mason jars of mould in a few months time. given the number of seed pumpkins, i’m thinking of just roasting them and sparing myself the surprise. unless we can get our hands on a dehydrator.

 

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another week, another adventure.

farm seasons.

 

we’ve been hearing the sounds of geese heading south for the past few weeks now.  the flocks criss-cross the skies; the perfect soundtrack to these hills making their multicolour debut.

 

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a friend who visited a few weeks back stressed that every season on a farm is different. that the place feels different, the rootedness, the feeling of calm, the work, the ease of living all change with the seasons. for better, (for different) and for worse. the underlying message being that a happy summer farm person shouldn’t expect the autumn and winter to bring more of the same. the transition is constant.

 

 

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we woke up to our first dew three weeks ago. it was at once beautiful and terrifying. it is then that it dawned on me : we will be here in the dead of winter. after all the vacationers have packed up their RVs, after the geese have flown, after the herd of yearlings makes its way to the abattoir. after the lightness of summer visits and the ease of feeding hens in the summer warmth has passed and moved on. we will be here on the farm. in the snow banks and frigid winds. a little family tucked along the cold hills.

 

 

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in the last month or so, we’ve harvested the rest of the summer produce, received and covered our bales of hay, hosted our first open house, given the barn a good cleaning, built two walk-in freezers and a cooler, sent the first seven animals to the abattoir, worked on our corral, built a sandbox, found someone to combine our nine acres of oats, and celebrated a little person’s second birthday with family and friends.

it’s been busy but the mood has been light and there’s been a comfort to it all. we’ve been joking that the fall and winter will be our « cards and coffee » season, but i wonder what it will actually look like, and what i’ll need to muster to make it through.

 

in the meantime, i’ve been shelling the most beautiful beans i’ve ever seen (seeds from the awesome  ferme tournesol), i’ve been harvesting some of the fall crops (including the lovely popcorn corn !), thinking about what new farm enterprise i should start, wondering what sort of social service work could be found in this town or the next, and have been trying to devise strategies so that kiddo has more kid-company.

 

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no dénouements yet.

 

quick reflections on this farm kid.

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he’ll splash and stomp smack dab into mud puddles, but step carefully to avoid cow pies.

he’ll point to any mammal, male or female, and show you where the milk would come from (« lait! melk! ») .

he can name most of the garden crops and knows where to find them.

he thanks the resident hens whenever he sees eggs.

he has yet to touch an electric fence.

 

farms and kids. who knew.