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Author: emmalina

Six into Seven

Six into Seven

My friend and I were chatting the other day about how our two boys will be turning 7 in the next few months.  Her eldest and my youngest, the fastest of friends, are slowly moving out of that first phase of childhood and into the next.  The boys have been friends since they were both 3 and it occurred to me that they would not be able to remember a time when they didn’t know each other.  Since there first memories were formed, the other was there.

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I feel lucky that my little chap has two best chums, friends he sees at least once a week and would probably see every day if he got his chance.  Both have very different temperaments, both bring out different aspects of his own personality and both have helped him evolve into who he is now.  Not so very long ago Neirin really lacked confidence, he’d had some ‘not so nice’ experiences with other kids and his already quiet temperament was being driven underground.  But spending time only with good friends, friends who play kindly and who never say nasty things, has given him confidence and happiness.

I’ve watched, marvelled even, at the special moments he’s shared with the other kids in his life.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing children as heartless and mean, casually cruel to one another.  But that is a learned behaviour and one that is either tolerated or not.  Kids often have to evolve a ‘thicker skin’ to deal with the unkindness that adults don’t want to deal with, but I really don’t think that is their job.  Whenever I’ve felt disheartened at the behaviour that is ‘out there’ in the world, I’m always uplifted when I see the boys spending time with their close friends; where kindness and support is pretty much a given, a baseline that is expected.

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Don’t get me wrong, our kids are learning as they go along, just like any others.  But when there are adults around willing to step in, willing to enforce standards of behaviour and kindness that are seen as essential, things tend to go pretty well.  All kids have their moments, their not so great behaviours, reasons to apologise, reasons to change sometimes.  But that is part of their journey together, something they are teaching each other.  They are learning to be frustrated, they are learning to tolerate, they are learning to speak up, they are learning to be a bit more flexible.  It’s a journey that we’re all going through really, once that never ends.

This homeschooling adventure we are on in it’s 6th year and so there are people who’ve known my kids for quite a while.  Recently we noticed that Huwyl has overtaken a very petite friend of mine who’s known him since he was 5.  When we were talking about how big he is now, how the fatal day of being taller than a grown up had finally arrived, she said something incredibly wise that really stayed with me.  My friend explained to my ever growing boy that ‘You are always changing and turning into new people, but we stay the same for you.  You think you are the same person but to us you’ve changed completely, so we grieve a little for the person that has gone.’  I admit there was a prickle in my throat as I acknowledged the truth of those words, the parent’s lot to be filled simultaneously with joy and pride, alongside a wistful sadness for a person who will never return.

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But I don’t subscribe to the notion that “it’ll never be so good again”.  That the only time you are ‘truly’ loved by your child is during that time of exhaustion and unknowing dependence that comes in the early years.  While they are wonderful, magical and to be treasured, they are also exhausting, difficult and sometimes frustrating beyond measure.  To be screamed at by a person when you are simply trying to stop them killing themselves, is an experience usually the province of medical professionals and a tad wearing to the average person.

My boys are leaving (or have left) that first flush of childhood.  Diapers and nursing is a thing of the past, we are entering the time of negotiation, of learning to be themselves, of explaining the way of things and sometimes hearing wisdom in return.  The footing of our relationships are changing as they learn skills for themselves, learn what they can do for themselves and begin to imagine themselves in the world, just a little.   Boxes of trains are packed away, clothes are passed on and books have been removed from shelves that no longer reflect who they are.

There are moments in our house when things fall quiet and no one is drawing on the walls.  I sometimes go looking, wondering if there is mischief afoot, to discover both boys reading quietly in different spots in the house.  These moments are not the norm but there are spaces developing, spaces where they, and I, can find our own thoughts.  And I love it.  I love being able to talk rationally to them and not be screamed at, I love not having to bend over until my back breaks, lifting, carrying, holding, dressing, cleaning oh so endlessly.  I love laughing at a dry remark or silly joke from one of my boys, I love being able to talk about the world we live in, about why our family lives as we do, about what I’ve learned from life.

I think part of the joy of now is that when the boys were little(er) we really lived it.  We slept, nursed, snuggled, played along side each other.  I sling carried, slept with them for years, had them very much attached for as much time as possible.  I remember keenly the joys and frustrations of the toddler years, the moments since that have challenged and uplifted.  Each phase has something wonderful about it, each phase has lessons and struggles.  To deny one is to deny the other, to my mind.

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So much as I may miss the little fellows who slept between Stephen and I, equally I appreciate uninterrupted nights and a lack of midnight kicking.  Who the boys are now is just as wonderful as who they were at 2.  There is just as much magic, just as much hilarity, just as much love as there ever was.  When it comes to it, that is the real reason I decided to homeschool, I didn’t want to miss these years.  I didn’t want the early years to be the ones with the most memories, I appreciate being able to spend each day with the boys, to walk alongside them as they learn and grow.

And when I squeeze my little chap’s cheek to my own, his skin still smooth with enough baby chubbiness to remind me of his former self, I cling tight.  I try to stop and savour the many hugs a day, I try not to get lost in the busyness of life and brush away their offers of affection.  I fail as often as I succeed, I know that to be true, but at least I’m trying and that’s all I can offer.  But I don’t want to get lost in melancholy because, for as long as I have breath, I’ll walk beside them.  When they tower above me, when they are off into the world, my arms will always be there ready to be filled up with cuddles.

Winter’s here

Winter’s here

After what seemed a very long time indeed, where fall stretched out into late November and then December, the winter finally arrived.  In the very last few days of the year, ice rain slipped slowly from the sky and left a glassy coating on everything around us.  With the temperatures finally dropping enough to freeze the ankle deep mud, we welcomed the colder weather and even dreamed of a cleansing coating of snow.

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An afternoon dog walk gave us the chance to wander through crunchy grass, revelling in solid ground beneath our feet.  While I would never claim to enjoy ice rain while it’s happening, the resulting beauty is undeniable.  The foundation was laid for snow that would come a few days later, bringing with it the comforting feeling of enclosure and restfulness.  A feeling I’ve long been waiting for.

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As we wandered the world seemed transformed, held in suspended animation by a thin cocoon of ice and frost.  Left over crab apples seemed to hover a little, as if ready to fall but unable to.  The netting we used to create a protective, chicken proof, fence around my garlic bed was transformed into a glistening thing, shimmering with a thousand points of light as misty gold flowed unctuously across our afternoon.

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Walking back up to the house, cold and cleaned out by the walk, we turned to see the world on fire.  The creamy, yellowed light was captured like a candle flame on top of each blade of grass, each twig, each tree.  You cannot help but be swept away by a moment like that, by the sheer brilliance and beauty that nature can throw down in front of you as you are casually walking home.  They happen, of course, a million times a day.  Moment after moment of something stunning happening somewhere, but it’s all outside, outside waiting for you to come and notice.

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I can’t capture with my camera the way the earth lights up as the sun sets; the way a stem of Queen Anne’s Lace, coated in ice, can shine like a beacon lighting our way home.  I can hope to show a glimpse of the show we witnessed, and hope you got to see something equally beautiful where you are instead.  I snapped a few pictures and then lowered my camera, acknowledging the hopelessness of my quest; instead I stood and looked not with a lens but my eyes.  I soaked it in, feeling as though some of the light were soaking in to me, I breathed it in on the brisk, icy air.

As the ball of gold dipped behind the trees we turned to the house, we began the work of evening chores, carrying buckets out into the twilight.  But as we closed the doors against the cold air of night, I like to think we carried a little bit of the gold in with us, staining the inside of our eyelids as we turned to the hearth and rest.

On Solstice Eve

On Solstice Eve

While I may not have chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I do have pine needles stewing in a pan of water which is still pretty darn festive if you ask me.  I’m always a bit slow to the party when it comes to yuletide cheer, I find December pretty exhausting truth be told; coupling darkness, busyness, pressure and running around does not make for a content Emmalina.

Around this time though, as Solstice Eve dawns damp and remarkably unsnowed upon, I find my cheer emerging.  We’ve done everything we need to do to prepare for this special season, shopping has been shopped (mostly), we have treats ready to be scoffed, we’ve seen friends and attended parties, we’ve laughed and made the most of it all.  Now it’s time to slow.

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I feel grateful to have lovely friends to share this season with, friends who are themselves a gift throughout the year.  I feel grateful for the friendships my boys enjoy, their delight in seeing their pals and in sharing their passions with them.  But mainly I’m grateful for hearth and home, for a place to come back to, my bolt hole of safety and security.  Now that we’ve spent a goodly portion of the last 2 weeks out and about, enjoying activities and time with friends, I’m ready to close the door and turn my focus inwards.

This year has been a busy one, I know I’ve said that before, but it really seems to have been non stop.  This year we made conscious decisions to scale back through the winter, giving ourselves some breathing space, some room for rest.  It feels like now is the time for that to begin, this Solstice Eve where the main tingle of magic is the simple fact of being able to stay at home and share an uneventful day with the boys.  We’ll be doing some chores to prepare for Nana’s arrival this evening (yay!), but mainly I would just like to snatch quiet time, peaceful moments that are meaningful only to ourselves really.

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The solstice means different things to different people, like any festival or celebration.  To me it symbolises the simple truth that people really don’t change that much, that we can stretch our fingers back through time and brush against all those that went before.  Like those who lived centuries ago we turn faces to the darkness and wish for the return of light.  Despite our knowledge, our technology, our advancement, our barbarism, we all turn our faces to that life giving ball and hope.  We all know, that we are no more than creatures of the earth, dependent on her for our survival, our life.  It’s easy to forget that, but I feel at my best when I am closer to the land and remembering that I am part of the fabric of it all.

So this morning, as I rather despondently cruised Facebook, I was inspired by a post by Amber of The Wild Garden, to switch off my screen and go out and do something less boring instead.  So I did.  With secateurs in hand I clipped branches from Cedar and Spruce trees that sit on our driveway, the scent of their needles wafting up at me and clearing my head.  I clipped fragrant Juniper and life affirming Yew from our garden, feeling connected to home as I did so.  Traditionally Yew is planted in sacred places, marking them as special; so we planted one here, in this place that is more special than any other to us, our home.

I snipped the branches and arranged them in vases to be distributed around the house (inspired by my artist friend), twisting them until they were just right, as beautiful as any flower arrangement.  The extra pieces went into a large pan of water, it’s now simmering away filling the house with the scent of fresh pine.  The air smells clean in here, it reminds me of walking through the woods with a carpet of needles under my feet, I feel that I’ve brought a little of the solstice inside for us to enjoy.

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Despite the house being warm I started a small fire this morning, onto it I threw the remaining branches of wood I’d brought in from outside.  As they burned they scented the smoke and turned the fire into something a little magical.  This afternoon I’ll read some solstice stories to the boys, sharing some thoughts about this special day.  Then we’ll clean and tidy and get things ready for Nana, she’s arriving tonight and she feels like the best solstice gift of all.

So here I am, finally able to stop and smell the pine a little.  Able to sit for some quiet moments and enjoy the thought of what’s to come.  Able to finally get in the festive groove and look forward to the family time we’ll share in the coming weeks.  Home cooked, home grown, home loved.  I know, I know how lucky I am.  Sometimes I get too tired to remember, too rushed, too sad or too worried; I never live up to my own standards, I don’t think I’ll ever really be done.  But when the peace comes, when the world slips away a little and I take the time to cook pine needles on the stove, to watch the flames licking around the wood in the fire, to listen to the boy’s laughter as they play some mad game in the basement, then I remember.  I remember and my heart is full.

Bright blessings to you all this Yuletide, wishing you a joyful and, above all, peaceful Solstice.

Season’s Turn

Season’s Turn

There is no doubt, now, that the balance of the year has indeed tipped.  While the customary snow of this northern clime has yet to show itself, the nights are dark and the mornings frosty.  Frosty is wildly preferable to snowy and, strangely, preferable to the milder weather we’ve experienced this November.  With mildness comes rain and with rain…mud.  I can’t say I’m sorry to have moved past ankle deep slop, in favour of firm and crunchy frost underfoot.

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Without too much effort we meet the sunrise each day, something I would never endeavour to accomplish in the summer.  The air is cold and fresh, increasingly I feel the need to wrap up against it, knowing that even a short delay can lead to feeling very cold indeed.  Anyone who did not know me well (or at all) might be forgiven for thinking I am the sort that likes to be up and at life, springing from beneath the duvet with bags of vim and slippers full of vigour.  They would be so wrong, so spectacularly wrong, that they would be in heavy contention for the Most Wrong You Can Be About Anything award and have full confidence of walking away with the prize.

In truth I’d happily remain in bed for around a week at a time, dining upon bed appropriate foods such as soft boiled eggs and jam tarts with tea.  I would wear bed jackets, bed socks and, not to put too fine a point on it, a sew in sleeping bag with a hood if I thought I could get away with it.  But life is not organized to accommodate by bed addiction and so, each day, I drag myself reluctantly from the joys of my memory foam mattress and head out into the world.  As I stand by the garage door I always give a little sigh to myself and a pause, a moment in which someone can cry to me “Emmalina!  There has been a mistake!  Please return to your bed, it turns out that chickens are fully able to look after themselves now.  Frankly we are all embarrassed for the misunderstanding.”  The voice has yet to come, but I pause anyway.

DSC_0306 DSC_0305  But, once I’ve trekked out to the chickens (now cosily snuggled with the Muscovy ducks we are keeping to breed from next year) the fresh air has done it’s work.  By the time I wander over to meet Stephen in the cow field I am awake enough to spend 10 minutes discussing the sex life of our pigs (I’m telling you, it never gets old) and chat about some farm related thoughts of one type or another.

The list of tasks is getting shorter now, as the cold weather has closed down the last of the garden, leaving me with garden related longing until spring.  The ducks went to slaughter last week, the pigs went a few days after that.  On Sunday the last of our piglets were sold and we took advantage of the solid ground and moved our Large Black Boar, Arthur to reunite with his lady love; unencumbered by mothering duties, she can now focus on the man in her life.  We’re hoping for a nice litter of little piggles in early spring.

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The cow field is solid underfoot for the first time in months and there was frost on their coats this morning.  Our bottle fed calf (the little guy in the pic above) is on his last month of milk before he’s old enough to enjoy just hay along with the other cows.  It’s one of the last tasks that we’ll be ticking off before Christmas as we wind down into our winter schedule, where maintenance is the goal along with minimum outside time.  With the wood all cut and split, the freezers full and the major tasks of the season completed, we can finally take a breath and begin to enjoy some leisure time.

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When Stephen designed this house, he planned that the winter solstice sun would set in the window opposite the kitchen counter.  I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen and, as the nights draw in so early, the world outside can seem far away.  But then, as I’m cooking at the stove or popping trays in the oven, I’ll look up.  The scorching display across the afternoon sky will capture my whole attention and I’ll stop.  For a moment, or a few minutes, I’ll step away from what I’m doing and look.  Perhaps I’ll step out into the cool air and snap a picture or two of the luminous clouds, of the burning disc snagged for a brief second in the branches of a leafless tree.

In that moment, I’m grateful for this season and for this special time of year.  I’m grateful for the sun burned skies, the blackened night littered with stars, the frost coating and ice cover of morning.  Soon the snow will come, turning the world monochrome until the spring reclaims it.  For now, we enjoy this chance to pause and, if we’re lucky, to rest a little.

Season’s End

Season’s End

I don’t quite know how it is that so many months have passed since I last took the time to sit and write here, but they have.  Actually, when I come to think about it I know exactly how it is that so much time has slipped by.  Between farm work and taking animals to slaughter, selling our products, running farm workshops, keeping up with the garden, harvesting what we’ve raised and grown as well as having a first grader and a fifth grader homeschooling this year…well let’s just say the plates have been pretty full around here.

This year one of our goals has been to decide what works and what doesn’t.  We’ve pared down some of the activities on the farm (no dairy, not selling eggs this winter) to try and get a better balance and give us more focus.  But no matter what, the harvest season is busy.  Between drying herbs, beans, onions and garlic, processing lots of tomatoes, freezing peas and carrots…there is kitchen work aplenty to keep me hopping for a while.

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As well as the produce from the garden, we’ve filled our freezers for the year with home raised chicken (done for the year!), beef (we took our first steer to slaughter in September) and the pork and duck that will go for ‘finishing’ next week.  We’ve worked hard and now the season is upon us to enjoy our bounty.

After the wood has been processed of course.  Only about another 6 cords to chop and split I think.  And stack.  We mustn’t forget the stacking.  But it’s worth it to have the house cosy and warm all winter, to have a hearth fire to gather around with tea and books and cosy times.  I admit the work isn’t really mine, when my Dad was here he broke the back of it with Stephen and now my beloved is continuing manfully by himself to finish the job before the snow comes and makes everything that much more difficult.  For the first year I think he’s actually going to pull it off, he’s quite a worker my chap.

I’m mostly inside now, except for bits of farm stuff and outside time with the boys; my goals are turning inwards as the weather slowly closes in and the school year really gets under way.  With two boys needing a lot of my time and attention the days feel very full, add onto that some new activities for the year and it feels non stop!  I’m grateful for this season of slowing down as the farm heads into winter mode, allowing for hearth and home to be our focus.

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As life becomes more busy and complete I find myself less and less inclined to leave my cosy bubble of domestic life.  We have our outings, and dear friends we are lucky to share time with, but as a wise and completely anonymous sage (my fabulous pal Jac on the phone this morning) once said, they fall within the circle of home.  I love that phrase and aim to pass it off as my own by repeating it continuously, with a wise and knowing smile if at all possible, because it is so true.  There are experiences that draw from us, ask of us and lower our energy; there are others that give, bolster and renew.  Some places, and people, are home whether close at hand or far away.  The glow of their presence is warming and uplifting, I feel lucky to have been given the gift of friendship and family in a world where many do without it.

So for me the season of new, of out there, of bursting into the world, is over.  For a while anyway.  It’s time to turn inwards, to bask in the circle of home (see, I’m doing it already) and enjoy the literal fruits of our labour.  I will make tea from the wild plants of my farm, eat meals we raised and grew ourselves (whenever possible) and cosy up in front of the fire as much as is legally permissible.

And as I do so, I feel grateful and hopeful for all those who’ve been driven from their homes.  For whom the circle has been broken.  I do what I can to help, knowing it is not nearly enough.  But we have to try; we have to try our best.  Because home, that’s all that matters really isn’t it?

 

Endings

Endings

We are used to the idea of endings here on the farm, as much as we can be anyway.  We coo over cute chicks, but we know that they’ll be off to slaughter in a few months.  When we welcome piglets onto the farm, it’s in the knowledge that most of them will be off to new homes once they are weaned, and the ones that stay will eventually go for meat.  It’s the cycle of life here and we accept, even embrace, those facts.

But there are animals that come to us with the intention of them staying, they are here for the long haul.  We now have cows for breeding and a breeding pair of pigs, their life here may not be long by human standards, but their tenure will still be significant.  When our milking cow Wander came onto the farm, we had no expiry date, no sense of an ending to it all.  She came, we learned to milk, we continued ad infinitum.  Until, until we decided that there needed to be an ending there too.

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This year Wander calved out a bull calf (for the second time) and began her second lactation.  She did well, producing lots of milk for us.  Every day.  Every. Single. Day.  Our fridge was full, we ran out of places to put food and I spent a lot of my already limited spare time making our dairy products.  I made cheese, I made butter, I made yoghurt and I made even more cheese.  We were rocking the cheese making train.

Then Stephen had to go away for work for a few days, at the exact time a stomach bug hit us all.  So as well as looking after two poorly boys, being ill myself and having farm animals to care for, I had to do the milking.  I remember weeping, I remember doubling over trying not to vomit as I watched the cow standing on the lines I had so carefully cleaned to make ready for milking.  Stepping them firmly into a nice ripe cow pat and contaminating the lot.  I remember having to ask my still poorly eldest boy to help push the cart with the milking equipment back from the barn to the house.  I remember shouting bad words at the cow.  Very bad words.

That was when we started talking about selling the cow.  To have a job on the farm that I can’t fully participate in on a day to day basis is a) not fair and b) very impractical.  Stephen works full time, he also has to go away for his job sometimes.  I am a full time homeschooling Mum and I need to be away from the farm on day trips and to take the boys to activities.  November loomed large in our consciousness when we’d have to start milking twice a day, hauling the kit and the abundance of milk back and forth to the house no matter what the weather, no matter what the illness or schedule.

I started to imagine my days without a 5 hour block set aside for cheese making 2-3 times a week.  I started to imagine storage space in my fridge.  I started to imagine my beloved less exhausted, less frazzled, less drained from doing milking chores every morning before driving for an hour across the city to do a full day at work.  I started to think that  it was time to make a change.

When we started the farm, in 2012, we were so excited to finally be able to try all the things we’d been reading about for so long that we wanted to do it all.  And we have.  We’ve raised chicks, meat chickens, pigs; we’ve gone from buying to breeding and from imagining to doing.  We’ve learned so many new skills in such a short time that it seems mad if we stop to think about it, but we don’t, because we are too busy.  It’s all been wonderful, it’s all been difficult, it’s all be amazing.  It’s the life we’ve chosen for ourselves and we feel lucky, every day, to have it.

But after years of adding and doing more and more each year, we’re now acknowledging the need to pull back, just a bit.  We see the need for  a bit of breathing space, a bit less exhaustion and a bit more flexibility.  In that examination, the thing that we realised had to go, was the dairy.  So with regret we put Wander up for sale.

By day 10 of the ad going up a bargain was struck, by day 13 a lovely lady had driven up from Southern Ontario to collect her and take her off to her new home on a horse farm down there.  Her calf went with her of course, to keep each other company in the new paddocks on the new farm.  She went with reasonable grace and not too much fuss, but with enough shenanigans for us to know she was the same girl we’ve been raising for 2 1/2 years now.  We patted her goodbye and breathed into the quiet that was the next morning.  No milking chores, no cheese making, no milking machine to clean, no jars to scald for milk.  Done.

Perhaps I should claim some regret, a touch of sentimental sadness, but the truth is I don’t feel it.  We made a decision, one that was best for all of us, and it has borne fruit as we’d hoped it would.  Our mornings are quieter and easier to manage, we are less stressed and tired, a burden has been lifted and we are happy with that.  Wander has gone to a lovely farm, with premium horse hay for snacks no less, a place where she’ll be pampered and treasured I have no doubt at all.  I’m proud of the work it took to bring her to this moment, I’m relieved that work is done.

So as the full moon rises over the beginning of this new season, as we contemplate the work that fall brings and the new starts that come along with it, I’m happy with this particular ending.  It’s not how we thought it would go, there have been many triumphs and frustrations along the way, we’ve learned a lot.  I wish Wander well in her new home, I’ll think of her fondly always.  And, I suppose, despite by stiff upper lip, I will miss that silly brown girl.  Just a little bit.

 

Abundance

Abundance

This is the time of year where it feels almost impossible to keep up with it all.  The garden is bountiful (but so are the weeds), we have more animals on the farm than ever before, we have more garden to maintain, pastures to create, grass to mow, trees to fertilize….the list is long.  It’s a good kind of long, the kind that I’m grateful for and dreamt of for a long time.  Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, I have to remind myself that all this work is good, when the tiredness takes over and a rest seems a long way off.

But then the work gets done, it all makes me feel so proud.  The produce we can bring in from the garden, meals made entirely with home grown and home raised food.  The chance to make ice cream with our own eggs and cream.  Sunny days that stretch on and on, giving chances for swimming and warming our bones.  After the long winter we had, with such depth of cold I thought I might never warm up, even when the heat gets oppressive it seems like more of an opportunity than it has in the past.  It’s good to soak up the heat and sun, soak it up right to the marrow.

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Right now there is a lot going on at the farm.  We have 3 piglets as well as the parent pigs; two will go to slaughter but the unrelated girl is going to stay right here and grow up to be another breeding Mama.  While she doesn’t have an official name, I always think of her as Beauty.  There’s something about her I adore already and I think she’ll be a wonderful second wife to our Arthur; I’m sure Lady B won’t mind sharing his attentions, he can be demanding.

Speaking of the Lady herself, she seems to be once more in the family way.  We’ve seen no signs of heat on her and, more importantly, neither has Arthur.  He’s a heat seeking machine is that one and wasted no time jumping all over her in June when she came into the fertile way.  Since then all has been quiet, which hopefully means little piggles come September.  We wait and watch as ever.

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The cow pasture is as full as it’s ever been, with 5 head in there now.  Our steer from last year is counting down his last weeks before we send him off to slaughter.  We are very much looking forward to the meat he will offer, a full beef steer that he is.  A cross of the two top beef breeds I have no doubt his meat will be exceptional, and it’s been quite the life for him.  Born and raised alongside his Mama, never parted and allowed to live the way a bovine should.  Munching grass, resting in the shade and enjoying the odd treat that will add a little fat to him and makes life a little bit more fun along the way.

With the two calfs in the field we are never far from entertainment, or trouble.  Those two calves are inseparable, hanging out in the shade of a tree or hedge while the Mama’s graze and make milk for them. They’ve started sampling the green stuff themselves now, chasing after tasty treats and flowers.  I’m grateful that we have plenty of hay ready for the winter ahead, we’ll be taking 4 head into the winter and want to make sure they have plenty of good stuff to eat.  The hay was taken so smoothly and successfully this year it was almost a non event, Stephen was so efficient with it all and, with the help of our good neighbour, it was under cover in record time.  We both breathed a big sigh of relief when the stack was nicely undercover; I still harbour vast buckets of pride at Stephen’s ability to take on new skills and assimilate them so quickly.  No doubt where the manpower on our farm comes from.

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DSC_0035Each morning as I stumble out into the pastures, feeding our now 3 flocks of birds, 2 fields of pigs and 5 roaming ducks, I listen for the rattle of the milk cart as Stephen heads off to milk the cow and feed the dog.  We each have our list of things to do, divided up by who can do what more easily.  But I’ve noticed this week, as the heat scorched down on us even at 7am, that the cow chores are done first as the expanding needs of chicken and pig take up more time.  This is the time for maximum capacity, the summer months of plentiful grass, sun and long days that allow us to cram in as much as possible.

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But today, driving down the motorway after picking up yet more chickens an hour East, I looked for and saw, that first hint of Autumn.  I had noticed, even driving the car, a tell tale whiff of smoke on the air, the tiniest shift that it’s coming along as it always does.  Though we are finishing up the final touches to our Late Summer/Fall garden, and I know we have months to go, I saw red leaves among the green as I sped home with chickens in the back.

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Tomorrow, though, I’ll plant peas.  Our first crop is out, replaced with beets and salad, we’ll be planting our second run of carrots too; these are the ones we’ll freeze and enjoy all winter long.  I’m beginning to harvest nettle and clover and my own herb garden will be next, yielding mint and lemon balm for cosy winter afternoons of tea by the fire.  We’ll be planting a new border of mint too, hoping that it will run rampant for a bumper crop next year; is it possible to have too much mint?  I really don’t think it is.

 

On Pig Love and Equinox Based Panicking

On Pig Love and Equinox Based Panicking

This is an odd time of year.  It’s odd every single year, yet every. single. year I am surprised by it.  I can feel the spring moving beneath my feet, feel her stirring and shifting the heavens and the earth, yet we are ice bound, cold and wintery for yet another month.  As I begin to look at the calendar I feel the panic, I start to feel for certain that there is no way, no way there is enough time for all the things we’ve planned for this season.  And as for enough money, well that’s laughable.

I keep feeling that we have arrived at a point where we stand a chance of knowing what we are doing.  Sort of.  Well at least we have a sense of the turn of the year, the tasks and the order they’ll come along in.  Booking animals into slaughter is routine and requires no agonizing, just planning.  Ordering chicks for the coming year is about ticks on the calendar, weeks counted and housing needs balanced.  We know what we are going to do, we just have to do it as well as we possibly can.

But now there are other levels of farming that we are just beginning to enter into.  We are intentionally breeding our sow Lady B with our boar Arthur; or should I say we seem to have bred them and now we are waiting to see how it all pans out.  Animal breeding is a bit like throwing cement, bricks and roof tiles in the air and hoping a house lands, that is to say it’s hit and miss.  We do our best but there are no guarantees and sometimes you just have to cross your fingers and do the best with what you get.

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Last year we successfully bred Lady B to a borrowed boar from a nearby farm.  She was a young ingenue, he an experienced older…pig, and the union was immediately successful.  Let’s just say he was enthusiastic in his attentions, so much so that her caring Farm Dad sent the boar back after just one week because he was getting pretty rough with our sweet girl.  Like a pro she farrowed out in August, allowing us to sit with her through the long night, as she brought new life into the world.

After weaning (and selling) the extra piglets, we left Mama and babies to hang out in the field together.  Being a groovy, long term breast feeding mama myself I was happy to let her piglets continue to nurse on her, assuming they’d self wean after a certain point.  They didn’t.  They ate a bunch of feed and nursed on their mama, who became increasingly fed up and aggressive towards them.  This sweet, gentle pig was being asked to do too much and it showed.  So we moved the babies over to the other field and let her get some well earned rest.  After a little while we introduced a young, virile young lad called Arthur; they seemed to get along and we hoped for the best.

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Lady B was undoubtedly keen, but poor Arthur just didn’t seem to know quite how to go about things.  This time he was the inexperienced one and she the older woman with lots to teach.  It took them some time to get their groove on.  We were concerned when, in January, she was displaying such obvious signs of heat we thought she might call a taxi and head to the nearest disco if Arthur didn’t tend to her womanly needs; after all, a girl’s gotta eat.  She displayed this with such subtle signs as mounting him, and Stephen and chasing me out of the field in case Stephen decided he fancied me more.  She was ready to go. No matter how much we watched we never saw any actual action, but pigs can be private creatures and with the cold weather we weren’t exactly hanging around outside that much.

In February, with Stephen away in the UK, I was on high alert for signs of heat.  I watched her back end with an unseemly interest, checking every day to see if she seemed to be in heat.  I watched for signs that Arthur was interested, or the two other (castrated) male pigs in the barn with her (being related doesn’t put them off one bit if she’s in heat) or that she was mounting anything that moved.  Nothing.  The only thing she cared about was eating and keeping warm, I could relate.

So here we are in March, still no signs of heat and a bit of a rounding out of the tummy that we hope means there are little squiggles in there.  I’ve also noted (this is where it gets farmy people) that Arthur’s package (ahem) is looking a bit wrinkly and under used (no judgement) unlike the full and swinging sack he had not so long ago.  Boars will stop producing mating hormones (responsible for the phenomenon known as boar taint) if they are separated from fertile females for 30 days.  I’m hoping his lack of love preparedness means that Lady B isn’t triggering him into baby making mode because she’s up the stick.  In the club.  Has several buns in her oven.  You know what I mean.

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Yes, gentle reader, this is how Stephen and I spend our mornings here on the farmstead.  Checking out our pig’s clitoris and our boar’s testicles while doing calculations on gestationcalculator.com to find out when she might farrow out, when we’ll need to wean the piglets and when she can go back with the boar for a little bit of summer lovin’.  And that’s all before we’ve even had a cup of tea.  That’s when we’re not talking about udder formation and speculating on the relative value of a female Jersey calf (lottery) vs a male (full freezer).

On one hand, in fact on about 2/3 of my whole body, I’m basically in a state of panic about when in hell I’m going to have time to educate my children, grow a big garden (with a herb bed!), raise 300 meat chickens, take on new cows to expand our herd, milk a cow, make cheese, butter and yoghurt every day, can all the produce and stop my house from falling into a quagmire of filth with me banging my head against the washing machine as laundry tumbles over my head crying “Why?  Why?!!!”.

End scene.

Instead I’ll take a breath, fill out my plan for the next term of homeschool (more history, we need more history), begin my trays of tomatoes (my goal is to can 100 quarts!) and finish reading the Wintersmith to Huwyl and some James Herriot stories to Neirin.  I can’t do it all at once, truth be told I probably can’t do it at all.  But somehow, inexplicably, it will get done anyway.

In other news Neirin wants a bunny.

Dear Mr Pratchett

Dear Mr Pratchett

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Dear Mr Pratchett,

I have been thinking of writing to you for some time now, writing to tell you how much your books mean to me and my family; but it seems like the hourglass ran out on us.  I’m not sure what the communications are like where you are (is there broadband in the silver desert?) but I will write this anyway, and hope it makes its way to you somehow.

I remember distinctly the first time I read one of your books.  I was at boarding school in the early 1990’s, I hadn’t done anything wrong in case you’re wondering, it’s just the way life goes sometimes isn’t it? So this particular weekend it seemed like everyone had gone home but me.  There were a few other girls knocking around, but no  one that I knew well or was in my year.  I was a bit adrift really, feeling lost and bored, roaming the halls of the boarding house without purpose or intent.  I can’t remember how I ran into another girl in my year (I think her name was Lane), we didn’t get on and we knew it.  We didn’t try to get on for the sake of boredom either, but she was the one who loaned me one of your books. Maybe it was just to get rid of me, but that book was the beginning of a deep love that exists to this day.

What was a desolate and lonely weekend, became hours immersed in the world you had created.  Suddenly I was glad there was no one to drag me away from the pages of Mort, I dived in and swam gloriously filled with joy.  I couldn’t believe what I had found!  Someone who’s writing really seemed just for me, just written to bring me happiness.  I still feel that way, as if I’m sharing in a secret joke known only to a few.  I know that your books are read in the millions, yet it feels like being part of a little gang who see the world the way I do.

Over the years I read all of the books you’d written and then waited with eager anticipation for the next instalment.  I had to wait for the paperback of course, it wouldn’t be until later I could afford to get the hardbacks with their earlier release date and fancy jackets.  Yours were the books I turned to when I needed a break from reading 18th century novels or 20th century poetry, I’d read them in bits promising myself another sample later on if I just did another hour of work.  They were my temptation, my treat, my peace.

When I met my beloved, 20 years ago now, we bonded over our love of Pratchett.  That’s what we call you, Pratchett, like Shakespeare or Shelley, your name is a whole category of things to us, a monolith, a titan.  Later, when we decided we should both live under the same roof on a more or less permanent basis, we merged our two Pratchett collections into one.  That seemed to outrank wedding vows in our minds; we committed to sharing something so very dear, to having only one copy of each from now on, a copy we would share and care for and keep, forever.  It was a symbol of our union, it was a sign that we we loved the same things.  We would giggle together over lines read out in the pre sleep bedtimes; sometimes we were laughing too much to read it out aloud and would have to pass the book to the other person, pointing breathlessly at the line that caused it all.

Christmas became easy during your more prolific years, the latest Pratchett from who ever wished to buy it.  Always happily received, always read with maximum relish and as quickly as possible.  I would wait, eagerly and not patiently, for my love to finish his first read, then I could tuck in.  We knew it was Christmas when we were lying on the sofa reading the new Pratchett.  It was a part of our lives, expected and enjoyed.  Each year the collection grew a little bigger, moving into the hardbacks as money became more available, the weight of the book increasing as your style evolved and grew.

When we heard you were ill, it was like hearing the news of a dear friend.  We wondered how you were doing and, selfishly, rejoiced when the books kept coming.  We dreaded doing without them but knew that they had to be rationed a little.  The books became more satirical, they went deeper and stayed with me more.  I find it is the later books, with their finesse and depth I read over and over, the chance to be with the characters that are now so familiar is like sinking into a warm bed after a long day.  They coax me into a different world and leave me better than when they found me.

This year I started to read the Wee Free Men series to my eldest boy, he fell in love just as we did.  He rolls around on the sofa, laughing and slapping his knee, crying ‘Crivens!’ and other such phrases.  Nothing could be funnier, better or more exciting to him.  He wants to create a computer game of the Wintersmith, he wants to stay in that world as long as he can every day.  We have to ration it out because we know he’s not quite ready for the older books just yet.  So we take it slowly, delighting in sharing this bit of ourselves with our boy, of sharing our secret love known to millions.

So when we heard that Death, the Death I met when I was 17 (I won’t lie, that was over 10 years ago now…) had come for you, it was a blow.  I cried out ‘Oh no!’ as the news hit the interwebs, and had to explain to my boys that a wonderful man had died.  When I read the tweets, later on by myself, I cried.  Someone we loved had died, someone who had brought so much joy and laughter into our lives was gone.  It was not abstract, nor is it now.  But as I read the tributes, as I saw how many others felt this sad loss, I was a little comforted.  It’s nice to know so many care about the things you care about.

I don’t know what your thoughts are on the afterlife, whether it’s an inn with endless quaffing, a library filled with the boundless knowledge of the ages or, perhaps, the Disc World itself, balanced on the back of the great A’tuin.  But I know that you live on here, in hearts and minds, in pages in houses in real life homes.  You are a part of our family, a part of who we are and what we’ll be down the road.  I thank you for being part of this journey with us, for sharing your vision, your boundless imagination.  I thank you for looking into the secret places and telling us what you found, with humour and kindness and no reverence what so ever.

Good luck on this next part of your journey, your adventure into the unknown.  If you don’t mind could you please pass on a message to Death, if you happen to see him?  Could you tell him, ‘You came too soon.  Way, way too soon.”

Thank you Mr Pratchett, and gods bless.

Emma

Making Landfall

Making Landfall

Today.  Today was a big day.  A momentous day.  A day of riotous joy.  And also laundry.  But mostly riotous joy. Today…I saw grass.

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The temperatures rose to a might +6c today, which felt like a balmy beach in the Bahamas compared to the -39 we were experiencing just a couple of weeks ago.  The snow, which had begun to take on that flopped over look it gets as it begins to melt, is in full retreat.  We can see the drive way, we can run around on the deck, there are rocks to climb on and grass to rejoice in.  Today feels like Mother Nature is giving us all a warm hug and saying It’s ok, you’ll get through.

Suddenly the boys want to be outside, they want to run around, climb on hay bales and, yes, take their shoes off when they visit the chickens.  Speaking of chickens they have begun to venture outside after their long confinement, scratching at the earth though I fear there are no tasty treats there for them.  They are at maximum production, giving us a tray of eggs each day in colours ranging from pinky taupe to richest brown with the occasional splash of blue green, a rainbow nation of deliciousness.

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The weather is due to drop again this week, a chilly -7 and then back up to around 0 for the next week or so.  This week, as my youngest bean turns 6 years old, we’ll begin to see the mark of spring on the world.  There will be cold and probably snow ahead of us, but the season has turned.  We may not have fully arrived at our destination, but we’ve made landfall and the end is in sight.