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 times. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? It was. The dog was blameless. 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 involved 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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

rural chic

Rural chic is the term I use to describe how my kids dress. It usually includes either rubber boots or cowboy boots. Requisite for this style is the mixing of patterns. Holes and dirt are good, too.

As all good two year olds do, Norah has taken to dressing herself. She starts the day in pajamas, then changes to chase her big siblings outside. She comes in if any part of her gets wet, and changes again. But wait...she hears her jam in the kitchen and must change now into a dress and some dancing shoes. After a few twirls she's ready to transform this party look into rural chic by adding leggings, a sweater, and some rubbers. 

We also mustn't forget the hat: hunter orange and belonging to her cool older brother does the trick.

She trots along after whichever sibling is closest, visits the ponies, pokes a stick in the dirt, then comes into the potting shed because she knew I was in there with Jude. She grabbed his sunglasses and decided that she needed a quick nurse.

She hops off my lap and off she goes again, wherever her rubber boots will take her. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

sweet life

Margot skims the "sludge" off the boiling sap.

The fruits of the morning's labour.

Margot finds a friend.

Plink, plink, plink...the drops get faster as the day warms up.

My view from the open-air outhouse...see my Dala horse mitts?

Sleepy toddler finds a place to lay her head.

This one wasn't feeling so well.

...and this one was just crabby.

It hurts a lot when your feet start to thaw after a dip in ice-cold meltwater.

We have had seasons where the sap is running and done in February. This year, the sap is just starting to run and it's almost April. We don't tap trees of our own but the next best thing is having friends who generously invite us to join in the sugaring off.  They graciously welcome us year after year: a gaggle of soon-to-be-muddy kids, two parents who always seem to be chasing a toddler or wearing a baby, and piles of food to share outside.

Sugaring off season is beautiful for so many reasons. There is the quiet hush of sweet-scented sap that rises from the evaporators. Hot, strong coffee softened with this year's syrup, or simply, a mugful of hot sap for the children. The wind in the trees, the squelch of mud on our boots, the absolutely riotous mess-making of children who have finally been set loose on Spring.

The stories that people tell when they are away from screens and telephones and deadlines have a focus and depth that is rich. There are layers of clothes that are taken off then put back on depending on what the sun is doing in relation to the occasional clouds that pass by. The women and some of the medium children head off on a walk across the fields, following the trails of skidoos that are slowly melting away. We notice the paths the deer take, different from ours, and marvel at the miles of stone fences that cross this region.

The toddler stays at the "cabane" (sugar shack), and when I get back, she is fast asleep against daddy's chest. The big boy went for a ride that has no name: a sled tied to the back of a skidoo. His feet are soaked and we have a few tense moments where the cold begins to seep into, then out of them as he warms them by the woodstove. My biggest girl has had a tummy ache all weekend so lays low on the old couch, nibbling whatever is set out on the old table that groans under the weight of food we all bring.

There is always a pot of something heating, and lots of laughter as we look back on how the children have grown, and how this operation has grown since the earliest days when they used to boil the sap in an old filing cabinet drawer over an open fire.

When everyone is full of sap and has a bit of a chill, we head home: filthy, exhausted, cheeks pink from sun and wind, hair sticky from syrup, dried sap caked on the kids' cheeks where they lifted the pails off their spiles for a sip. We bathe them in batches, tuck everyone into cozy pyjamas, and marvel once again at the ease with which they settle into sleep after a day of mud and sunshine.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

some handmade {with love} things

The braids!

The eyelashes!

I'm not sure when or why I started loving hand made things. Actually, that's a lie. My mom knit sweaters and made clothes for us. Dresses were perfectly fitted in fabric we chose ourselves. I always felt so special wearing those one-of-a-kind garments to school. I can remember sitting on my mom's lap at the sewing machine, visiting the local fabric shop, and as I grew older, learning the skills of creating by hand from her. My mother always said yes to me when I wanted to learn something new. She'd find the materials I needed and would patiently guide me till I'd mastered each skill. I have been a maker since childhood, and no few greater joys than that of whiling away the time with some little project in the works.

Working full time has curtailed the amount of time I can spend creating, but the juices still flow prolifically. I have learned to carry a notebook with me always, to jot down any fanciful little thought that pops into my head. That way, I can come back to it later when my children are all past the age of 15.

I've become a maker of little things (I confess, I kind of always was) because I can get the satisfaction of finishing something on a regular basis.

This post is a shameless display of things I've been making lately and other handmade things made by other people. 

I spent a bit of time in early March creating an elephant hat for Norah. I've always loved elephants since I did a project about them in Grade Two. I used soft, locally-raised alpaca and love the natural colours! It JUST fits, more as a cap or beanie and is fine for Spring. If I were to make it again I might add an extra inch or so to make it fit more deeply (over the ears a bit more). The pattern is a free one that you can find here! I'm thinking I'll add an extra elephant to increase the size, as Margot is clamouring for her own elephant hat.

The little smocked dress was a gift for Violet when she was born, from my dear Grandma. Her friend Mrs. Florence Nesbitt made it. She was in her late eighties when she carefully stitched this beautiful garment for my little girl. The trouble was, I was so afraid to ruin it that I never put it on her! It hung in my closet for years until I finally realised recently that no one could enjoy it there. I took a deep breath and have been putting it on Norah for every special occasion. I'm so glad I did. It fits her perfectly and sets off her dark beauty so well. It makes me think of my Grandma every time I see it.

Norah has taken to being Queen Elsa at every chance. She found this little crown in our toy box, a gift from our dear friend, the Wabi Sabi Wanderer. It fits so beautifully and is the perfect little accessory for play. And for eating homemade pea soup.

Now, lest you think I've forgotten my three big kids, I wanted to share their favourite handmade with you. That would be handmade adventures. On weekends they pack up their backpacks with snacks, Thermoses full of hot chocolate, jack knives and compasses, flash lights and band-aids, and off they go on quests into the woods. We don't see them for hours, and when they return they have rosy cheeks, scratches, tears in their clothes, and many stories to tell. This might be the best handmade thing in this post.

Finally, I wanted to share my latest obsession with you. Inspired by this beautiful artist, I have taken up my needle and thread and have been stitching fabric buttons. They're perfect for my nightly creative time (after 9 pm when everyone is in bed, a load of laundry is in, the dishes are washed, and the lunches are made) because they are small and quick to make. I love the open-endedness of making little things like this. Now I have to figure out where to sew them. The little patches were prototypes because I had no button blanks at home! Now I want to get all sizes so I can create tiny artworks with tiny stitches.

What have you been putting your hands to lately? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

pony photobomb and other stuff

It was the dripping icicles that told me it was finally safe to go outside.

The kids made a snow-friend with pine cone eyes and an icicle nose. Norah and I doffed our mittens, and we brought our one remaining hen outside. She seemed shaky and stunned by the air and the warm sunshine, and tolerated our strokes and coos. She has now taken up residence on the porch, and shares the kibble with our cats. 

It's near-impossible to get a photo of my older kids when we're outside now, so vast is their roaming area. A giddy feeling passes over me at the thought that for the next eight months (or so) we'll be free to wander outside without risk of frostbite. The sun hints of warmer days to come and I couldn't help but pose for a selfie. We survived another winter! And I was photobombed by our pony. He's pretty happy that Spring is coming, too.