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Author: emmalina

Snowfall

Snowfall

In the heat of summer, when just moving around sets the sweat dripping down your back, we are thinking about winter.  From the first leaf of green peeking up through the mud and snow, to the last red and gold leaves that cover the ground with a luminous carpet, there is another colour that is always on our minds.

White.

Everything we work on, every project, everything we build is centred around the coming season.  From the seeds we plant to put food in the pantry for the colder days, to the wood we chop for the fire and furnace.  Even the animals we raise are there to help see us, and other families, through the long cold months where the earth is buried under a blanket of snow.  Well less of a blanket and more of a duvet 4 ft think.  With a few inches of ice on it just for safe measure.  So a very cold duvet.

We plan for it, we work at it, we build and chop and grow and never stop for months and months; but we are never, ever ready for it.  This year in particular, our wedding took up the month of September and we’ve been trying to catch up on the work every since.  Neither of us regret a moment of that joy, of course, some things are worth getting cold and snowy for.

Over the last few weeks we have finally started to feel that we are ready to head into winter mode.  We’ve had a few trial runs of heavy frosts, cold nights and some snowfalls, but we are used to these slightly faltering starts to the season.  We’ve started to view them as a chance to trouble shoot the farm for the several cold, cold months ahead.  Are there things that aren’t working?  Have the cows eaten through the pipe insulation again?  Will that roof leak when rained on?

Stephen has worked tirelessly since October on the farm infrastructure, resetting power supplies, building new accommodations and setting up new areas for the animals to live in.  We’ve learned to lay the foundations for next year in the fall of the previous year, allowing us to be up and running as soon as the weather allows.


This year we are carrying more animals than ever through the winter, meaning we needed more accommodations than ever before too.  Stephen repurposed a summer chicken tractor as a cosy duck house for the winter, they are happily snuggled in there with easy access to the pond on unfrozen days.  The cows have a new concrete platform for the wet and cold months making it safer for them and easier for us.  The farrowing barn is full with two piglets for spring meat and our lovely Pip (seen above) who will be bred for the first time this winter.

And the piece de resistance is the hay bale pig house that Stephen built for Mrs B. and Arthur the boar.  Using old bales that were no longer eating standard, he used the dance floor from our wedding as a roof and created the cosy hobbit house seen above.  The bales keep it incredibly warm with plenty of room for snuggling, hanging out and grown up piggy time that happens when a Mummy pig and a Daddy pig love each other very much.

This year, though I welcome the quietening snow and the lighter schedule the winter months bring, I feel a sense of melancholy too.  Perhaps it is that when I look at the tent frame or the wooden archway built for our wedding, I hear and feel the echoes of family and friends surrounding us.  I remember the bonfires and laughter as we joined together to celebrate not just our relationship, but all the elements that make our life what it is. The farm, our family, our friends, our own children, it’s all part of a puzzle that makes us what we are.

But some of those pieces are far away, not near enough to snuggle or share a joke with.  And I miss them so very deeply.  As the snow falls in a deep, plump carpet over the farm I wish I could share it all with them.  I suppose that is why I am writing this instead, to show them what today looks like, so different from only a short time ago.

But the beauty of this day wasn’t patient with my melancholy moment, it insisted I notice how the snow was so light and fluffy as it can only be in the early part of the season.  It pointed out to me that the piles of flakes building up on branches and buildings were just so delightful, that to be gloomy would be churlish and bad tempered.  As the soft icicles touched my face, one after the other, this day insisted that I notice the now.  That I notice how much this day intends to snow all over us; that I go out and turn my face up to falling flakes and feel lucky as the tiny dabs of silence touch my eyelashes and my house warmed skin.

And so I did.

Dig for Victory

Dig for Victory

It’s hard to know where to begin isn’t it?  The onslaught that has been the last week has blindsided so many of us that it’s hard to know how to have a reaction.  How do you react to an entire country being given over to hatred and oppression?  How do we react to our neighbours advocating for behaviour that taints and diminishes us all?  How should we react to individuals and institutions that threaten people we know and love?

That is a lot for one person to take on, that’s a lot for one person to absorb.  It’s a lot of anger, a lot of disappointment, a lot of fear.  An honest reaction is to want to turn away, to want to take a break, to breathe in the midst of the storm of noise and nastiness.  We want to take refuge, we want to let our hearts heal.  We want to believe that people are essentially good and will do the right thing; it’ll all be ok in the end.

I don’t believe that.

I no longer believe that people are essentially good and will do the right thing if given the chance.  I believe those people exist, I believe there are a lot of them, I know a lot of them.  But the truth is, there are a lot of people who just want what’s right for them and aren’t really that bothered about what happens to those affected by those needs or desires.  It’s easy to forget about them when they don’t live near us, they don’t work alongside us, they are not our neighbours.  When they are workers in fields far away, it’s easy to forget who grows and harvests our food.  When they are picking over mountains of refuse on another continent it’s easy to forget who deals with our waste and excess.

We live in a society that tells us more is better.  More stuff, more food, more entitlements, more land, more entertainment, more me.  More.  We are saturated with what we should have, how we can get it and who’s stopping us from getting it.  This isn’t about meeting basic needs for most people, it’s about meeting a standard that we’ve been told is important.  It’s about getting ahead, pushing past other people and winning.  Whatever the cost.  We’re not going to be told we can’t have what we want, even when it’s our planet telling us enough is enough.  Instead we elect leaders who tell us we can have what we want and don’t worry about the planet, or the workers, or the person who belongs to a different religion to you.

Except.

Those people are my friends.  And they are probably your friends too.  People who happen to believe that covering their bodies modestly is an act of self worth, we are told should be denigrated.  I guess we can’t sell self worth, we can’t plaster it on a billboard and use it to push purchases of beer or fast food.  And people from other countries?  Well they are just weird and don’t deserve to be here.  Unlike you and me.  Except I’m an immigrant aren’t I?  I may be white and educated but I’m a stranger in a strange land as much as anyone else who moved here.  Plus, guess what!  Anyone who isn’t native to this country is an immigrant too!  So while we look at this group and say they don’t belong, there are native people looking at us and saying ‘Seriously?’.

Also women aren’t a minority group, and feminism isn’t a dirty word.  We are half of the population and we don’t like it when people tell us who we are and what we should look like and that we don’t deserve to be safe.  That we don’t deserve to own ourselves.  I get cross about that stuff and I carry a pitchfork around sometimes so just watch it, ok?  Because I decide for me, I decide what goes where and who gets to be around me.  I decided what I’m worth and I decided a long time ago that what goes in my brain and the words that come out of my mouth matter more to me than anything else.  I like messing around with my hair and love me some vintage style but never confuse that for a brain on go slow.  I’ve never met a man who impressed me enough to make me think I’m less than him.  No one has managed that yet.

When I birth an animal or dig a garden or grow my own food or teach or drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night or at dawn because I’m needed, my uterus doesn’t get in the way.  I see things differently, I see things Stephen doesn’t see and vice versa. We are different so we are a good team.  My animals don’t care much that I’m female, they don’t care that it is female hands serving breakfast.  When they are sick they are glad for the help I offer, when they are naughty they run away as I chase them.  The farm is a great leveller like that, it’ll screw with you no matter what apparatus you carry around in your jeans.  That’s equality I suppose.

If I need medical help I’m going to ask my friend who’s a paramedic.  A woman who goes out day after day and deals with crap I can’t even imagine.  Luckily she has a wife at home who loves her more than sunshine, so I think that’s what keeps her strong.  But don’t be trying to tell me their marriage isn’t important or good or valid.  That woman would save your life, even if you did think that, but don’t think it anyway.  It’s a stupid thing to think.  It’s a hateful thing to think.  Don’t do it.

But what’s that got to do with growing carrots anyway?  What’s the point farm lady?

Well the point is this.  During the Second World War Britain was cut off from food supplies from other countries and had to figure out how to feed several million people when 60% of her food was imported.  Britain figured it out.  There are some issues with that legacy (hello factory farming) but one of the big things that happened was that people got back to growing their own.  When food is rationed but your garden isn’t, you are very motivated to grow something for the table.  My parents were born during rationing and I’ve grown up fascinated by the resilience and determination of people at that time.  When I grow my own food it isn’t just to add a sprinkle to the table, it is an act of defiance.  I am showing that I am strong, that I can grow things, that I can make something out of almost nothing.  It makes me proud, it feeds my family and it’s a little less I have to buy from companies I don’t like.

When I raise animals for my family and to sell to other families, I’m diverting a little bit of money away from factory farming and towards animals who live in sunshine and fields.  We are a drop in the ocean but we are keeping our animals out of a system we believe is inhumane and producing healthy food and healthy land.  We spend an insane amount of time and money to do it but it feels like the right thing to do.  Maybe that’s why we can’t stop even when it feels like too much.  Doing the right thing is addictive.  It gets under your skin and then you don’t want it any other way.

But it isn’t enough, not even close.  It’s not enough to create something beautiful and wonderful and difficult and hard.  It’s not enough to sit back in our corner of the world and shake our heads and say “Oh that’s terrible. They shouldn’t do that.”  Not nearly enough.  We can’t turn inwards and say “I can’t look at that.” We can’t pretend it isn’t happening and keep on keeping on.  It’ll take more than that.

We have to dig in.  We have to be louder and stronger and more determined.  We have to get knocked down and get back up again.  Because there are plenty of people on the front lines who can’t look away, who are genuinely afraid and at risk.  There are people who are being harassed and harmed and even killed because of the colour of their skin.  And that was before a sickening orange demagogue won an election and told the world that being a sleazy hate monger bag of filth, that makes anything that comes out of my animals look like a tasty milkshake, is the way to go.  Today a rabbi in my home city woke up to a swastika on her door and ugly words painted across it.  No it’s really not enough, but we have to throw everything we’ve got as this problem and we have to never give up.

So this is what  I am going to do, this is how I will fight.  This may change, this may evolve but for now it’s what I’ve got and so I’m going with it.

My farm is a place where all are welcome and if you disagree feel free not to come here.  This is a zone of safety where you are accepted whatever your race, ethnicity, religion, orientation or gender.  You may have a hard time if you are allergic to chickens but you are welcome anyway.  My own person is a zone of safety too.  I will advocate for tolerance, acceptance and normality whenever I can.  I will argue, push, cajole and persuade; I will not let things go or be polite, I will challenge and disagree even when it’s uncomfortable.  I will never give up, I will never give in.

More than that I will advocate in our society, I will invest more of my time in online and in person work.  I will strive towards a safe society for all, because I no longer believe that we’ve achieved that.  There is a lot of work to do and I’m going to have to do some of it.  Those of us who believe in justice and fairness need to raise our voices and actions to push back those who would oppress, suppress and repress.  We need to listen to people of other races and religions and find out what they need us to do, we need to use our privilege (whatever form that takes) to make things better for other people.  I will try and do that, I will try to learn and listen and change things.

I will continue to teach my children about their role in the world. I will continue to teach them that they have a duty to help, to improve things, to work towards a better world.  I have explained to them that as white males they are already valued more than their mother, more than some of their friends.  I hope they will use that to speak out for people with less of a voice, that they will react against injustice with the same honesty of heart as they do now.  I’ll be right behind them if they do.  I’ll be right behind them if they don’t.  But I think they will because when I try to explain the world to them they are furious, outraged and horrified.  When I explain that friends of ours are at risk they want to help and do what they can.  I trust they they will be good men, I will keep doing my part to make it so.

Last, but not least, I will stay angry.  I will light a fire inside myself and I will not let it go out.  I will read things that make me uncomfortable and I will not look away.  I will use it to fuel my actions, to keep me strong and to give strength to my compassion and determination.  I will not hate but I will not yield.  I will not shrug my shoulders at casual misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia.  I will not let remarks slide by for the sake of decorum, I will ask questions and bring into the light the low lying prejudices that we all possess.  That is my job and I will do it.

I will dig inside and find the resources I need to send out something good into the world.  I will share the knowledge I have about literature and books and words; I will share what I know about the land and protecting the earth as much as we can.  I will teach people that they can do things they didn’t think they could, I will show them that they are capable of wonderful things.  I will try to be fair, I will try to be good, I will do my best even though I know I am so terribly, terribly flawed.  I will remember this when I look at the flaws of others and feel angry with them.

Let’s take a deep breath and here we go.  I hope you are with me my friends, I don’t doubt that you are.  But no matter what we’ll keep moving forward and pushing back against the darkness.  So if you’re with me let’s get digging, apparently there is a hell of a lot to do.

Long Hot Summer

Long Hot Summer

It would be impossible to sum up a season in just a few words, but given that I’ve not written here for months I find myself trying to do just that.  Of course that is partly why I haven’t written in months because every time I try to encapsulate our life neatly, succinctly, I come up with nothing.  But then who has a neat life?  Certainly not me.

So I’ll probably write about different aspects of the last few months as I write about what is happening now and in future posts, but for now I suppose the easiest way to summarise our season so far is intense.  The weather, the work, the projects…it’s all been very intense.  Here in Eastern Ontario we’ve experience a severe drought this summer, leading to challenges we’ve not faced before.  From crispy pasture that doesn’t feed our cows to deciding which plants to water and which will have to fend for themselves.  Suffice to say a lot of our grass is looking the worse for wear.

This year reminds me a lot of 2011.  That was the year we built the house and there was a drought/heatwave that year too; but really it’s the work and intensity of focus needed that feels the same.  This year we have had to decide whether to scale the farm back to allow our current infrastructure to be enough, or to restructure to allow for future expansion.  We chose the latter, to the surprise of no one who has ever met either of us.  But this year we decided to get smart about it, we planned carefully, took a deep breath and gave all our money to people with diggers and trucks full of gravel.  Not what most people choose to spend their savings on, but then conforming to the norm is really not our strong suit.

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I will try to write more about the details of our restructure another time, but the brief list is that we’ve drained the cow field and created a safe concrete pad for them and us to work on, we’ve built new pig barns for safer farrowing of piglets, we’ve added a new gilt pig, we’ve gravelled the garden, extended the driveway, cleared out building debris and made a new garden where only crap stood before.  We’ve also done the usual fencing, moving and feeding of animals as well as the plethora of other chores that go along with the farm.  And I promise I wasn’t being sarcastic when I said that is the brief list, it really has been a bit bonkers.

When I say ‘we’ of course, I mean mostly Stephen when it comes to the building and infrastructure parts.  We plan and organise together, but when it comes to putting nails in things or moving tonnes of gravel (not a metaphor) by hand in the boiling sun of a heatwave, I can take no credit.  Stephen is the engine that powers the farm and I’ve never seen him work harder than he has this year.  My job is basically to do everything else and stop him from falling over from heat exhaustion.  Or regular exhaustion.  Both are entirely possible.  DSC_0113 DSC_0116 DSC_0126

This summer has felt to me like pushing against a really big boulder until it shifts a few feet.  On the surface the changes may not seem huge to the casual bystander, but to us they are massive.  To walk across a field without being calf deep in mud after a rainstorm is practically miraculous.  To have a purpose built barn where little pigs can be born brings us nothing but joy.  The work has been hard and seemed endless at times, but this work will lay a foundation that the next 5 years will be built upon.  It will allow us to add more cows, breed more pigs and do a better job of it while we’re about it.  It’s not sexy but to us it’s the most important work we could have done.

While Stephen was building farm infrastructure I made a garden.  I sowed, hoed and weeded my way through the spring and summer and now we are starting to bring in buckets of produce that must be canned, dried, bagged and stored.  It can seem a bit endless at times, but I am anticipating the joy of pulling frozen vegetables out of the freezer mid winter or the sharp tang of currant jam while the snow falls.  It’s what keeps me going when my feet, back and every other muscle I have hurts, complains and generally acts like a big baby.  It’s work I could avoid, yet it’s work that needs doing.  Perhaps I can sum it up by saying I don’t always enjoy canning but I enjoy having canned.

Yesterday, while I picked tomatoes, the boys picked marrows (overgrown zucchini) from the summer squash bed.  They were delighted with themselves and generally acted as though they had discovered buried treasure with each one.  They stacked them like logs and said things like “Look at this badboy!” whenever they dragged another hugely striped squash out onto the gravel that now surrounds the beds so neatly.  Many of the squash will go to feeding animals, giving pigs and chickens a welcome treat.  But the real gift is when I remember sitting on the front step with the seed packet in my hand wondering if it was a bit late to get them started, I decided not and in they went.  A few months, some weeding, watering and loving care later and there is a pile of 16 marrows basking in the sunshine.  I don’t know if that’s a metaphor for something or not, but it seems like a very good use of my time.  DSC_0129 DSC_0131 DSC_0132

This week I’ve processed a couple of buckets of tomatoes (9 jars in the pantry thank you) and our second bucket of elderberries from the trees we planted 3 years ago.  Last year I got a small jar of berries, this year it’s been 2 buckets full.  They are currently drying in my new (to me) snazzy dehydrator that I bought from a very nice lady earlier in the year.  I was nervous about such a big purchase but even Stephen has commented on how much it is being used.  Sage and calendula, mint, lemon balm, berries and leaves have all found their way onto those screens and into jars.  My pantry is slowly beginning to fill again, with food and medicine from our own gardens, from the land around us; we are doing our best to make the most of what we have and build what needs to be built.

It hasn’t been the season I had imagined it would be, it hasn’t been what I expected.  But I think it’s been what it had to be, a foundation year that will allow us to build a future.  In the meantime I’m enjoying the chance to breath again now that the hottest of the weather has broken and I’m trying to make sure that every day isn’t too full as we enjoy that last weeks of a long hot summer.   I think it will be one we remember for a good while.

Signs of Life

Signs of Life

First of all thank you to everyone who said such nice things to us after I wrote about Morag.  In person, on facebook, in the comments section we were met with kindness and understanding.  Thank you.  

Well last week was a bit of a funny one.  We are used to death in some ways on the farm, we are used to being in control of the lives of animals and part of that is deciding when the end should come.  But when a death is sudden and unexpected it feels very different, especially when we lost a favourite girl.  But life goes on, whizzing along whether you like it or not.  In my experience its best to grab onto it and hold on tight, joy is always worth having.

All around us now are the signs of new life, there will be more as the spring progresses with new chicks arriving this week and more gardening planned too.  The grass is greening, trees are budding, herbs are coming back to life and there are babies everywhere.

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The pastures are greening up as the morass of mud slowly recedes, giving hope to the possibility of being able to walk across a field without being ankle deep in mud.  I mean really, just imagine. We have plans afoot for new infrastructure on the farm this year that will help us combat the spring mud season (and the winter snow season) but right now we are grateful for being able to walk across the cow field without actually getting stuck.

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Planting from years past and natures own goodness is all starting to come into leaf, making my thoughts drift forward to warmer days of harvesting and storing.  Right now the wind still holds a pinch of winter, but we’ve had some tasters of jacket free days…dare I even dream of sandals?

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Inside the seed trays are simply full of leaf and life, though the prospect of having to pot on around 250 tomato plants caused me to declare this week a Farm Week, a week where we focus on the tasks that really need to happen now but can’t be packed into an already packed weekend.  What with classes, friends, chores, chicken moving, calf feeding….the hours just seem to run away with us.  So this week I’m enslaving my children, giving my children an invaluable hands on educational experience,  and really trying to catch the tail of spring as she whizzes past us, greening everything in sight.

But really the main preoccupation this week has been a beautiful baby calf, one week old yesterday, who’s beauty just astounds us.  There really is something utterly magical about a newborn anything, they hold such perfection and such promise; she is certainly no different and we admire her to anyone who’ll listen.  Frankly if they’re not listening we’ll still go on about her.

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Every six hours she’s fed by hand, stroked and admired, cuddled and fussed.  Stephen has robbed himself of sleep to keep her on the perfect schedule, plodding out there as the moon rises and shortly after as the sun chases her to the horizon.  Wee Morag stumbles around like a drunken Bambi, making you laugh as she tries to head butt you in the face for more milk while the bottle is held an inch from her mouth.  There really is nothing so bonkers as a cow’s face looming at you.  I’m learning to wear a second layer when it’s my turn because between frothy milk mouth and shiny cow bogeys, clothing doesn’t stand much of a chance.  She’s learning a little about the world and meeting the other cows from the safety of a leash so that she can’t be accidentally stood on.  She’s received some licks from her sister and they’ve all had a good sniff.  I think they’ll all get along very well.

But for now she still occupies the deluxe suite, the barn set aside just for her with a corral that she can boing around in without risk of harm.  The boys go down every day and spend time with her, enjoying her enjoyment of strokes and scratches and hugs.  We can’t replace her lovely Mama, the devoted attention she would have received as they roamed together each day.  But we can give it all we’ve got and hope it’s enough.

So far, she’s doing wonderfully.  She is wonderful.

Morag, the cow who lost her moo.

Morag, the cow who lost her moo.

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3 years ago, when I was in the UK visiting my Dad with the boys, I got a message from Stephen saying “I just bought a cow!”.  My response was something supportive like “You bought a what?!” until I eventually established that no he wasn’t kidding and yes he’d bought a cow.  A real one.  Granted the messages had been preceded by ones like “I’m at an auction!” and “They have cows here!” so I really should have seen it coming.  When I told my Dad and he expressed surprise I said “Are you really surprised?  Doesn’t this seem exactly like the kind of thing we do?”.  He conceded this was the case.

I’ll admit to being unimpressed by Stephen’s mystery purchase and when he sent me a picture of a scraggly, skinny and frankly hacked off looking cow my spirits didn’t lift massively.  It was when he told me that she was a bit underweight, a bit unloved and pregnant that the tide started to turn for me.  I have a bit of a thing for bringing neglected things back to life (hence the purchase of 100 acres of derelict land) and she was just that; neglected, unwanted and now all ours.

A couple of weeks later our second hand cow calved out a still born calf, a truly sad outcome that hit us quite hard.  She was boarding with our kind neighbour who looked after her perfectly, but he told us that with her being underweight and a bit neglected she was at a higher risk of losing her calf.  On most farms that would have been the end for her, she wasn’t calving healthy calves so the road would have firmly ended.  But not with us.  That summer she ran with our neighbour’s bull and the following spring she calved out a beautiful bull calf for us.  Quietly and without fuss she proved her Mama skills.

Devoted Mama that she was we bred her again and last spring she gave us Daisy, a beautiful Angus/Simmental cross, born in the pasture on a warm day in May.  Again she showed what a devoted mother she was and raised up a strong and healthy girl.  Our herd was growing and Morag was its centre, the others followed her lead and were kept in line by her firm but fair direction.  She was the Queen Cow and, frankly, she was our favourite.  Extra oats for Morag all winter?  No problem.  Someone wants their head scratched?  Morag is first in line.  She let us fuss her, for as long as she wanted and no longer, and had a judgmental stare a 17th century nun would have been proud of.  We adored her.

 

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When Morag first came to live with us we noticed that she never mooed.  Now contented cows don’t have that much to moo about, but our other cow would occasionally let out a moo or two, maybe of greeting, maybe to alert us to the fact that a few more oats would be quite welcome thank you.  But Morag never made a sound.  Sometimes a raspy cough but that is it.  But when her first calf came along that changed, a Mama needs to be able to call to her baby and that’s what she tried to do.  At first her moo was harsh, like a voice that has gone unused for a really long time; but one day, when her little guy had strayed just that bit too far she let out a true Mama bellow.  After that she could moo like a champ, like a lot of us she found her voice when she was a Mum.

Last summer we bred our top girl up to some primo Angus love juice.  We were hoping for a lovely heifer to finally succeed her mother to the crown, years down the line we’d have Morag’s daughter to continue her proud heritage.  She duly fell pregnant on the first try and munched her way healthily through summer, fall and winter emerging wide and very, very pregnant when spring finally dawned.  With just two weeks to go we were excited about her calving out and enjoying the warmer weather that had finally arrived.

On Saturday morning we went out to find her ‘cast’, stuck on her side and unable to get up.  We called our neighbour and then the vet to check the calf and help us get her up.  We determined that she couldn’t stand, that her hip was either dislocated or broken, but either way things weren’t good.  We managed, after much work and a very long day, to get her in a comfy warm spot where she could eat and drink and be warmed by the sun.  The vet induced the calf as she was less that two weeks before her due date and we watched and waited.  Stephen didn’t sleep that night, going out every hour to check that she hadn’t rolled back onto her side and managing to get her back over when she did.  It was a real act of devotion on his part.

The next day, the hottest of the year, we waited and watched again.  We hoped she would calve out naturally and perhaps the reduced load on her body would free her hip up to get back into place.  We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.  As her labour progressed we had great hope, she’d birthed her last two with relative ease and calm; but time dragged on and even our neighbour began to be concerned.  We called the vet again, hoping he could help to pull the calf or give her a jab to help strengthen her contractions.  She was clearly worn out and the calf was at grave risk.

Within moments the vet pronounced that we had two choices, lose Morag or lose them both.  Her pelvis had shattered as a result of what can only be described as a freak accident, and possibly compounded by her not being a young cow (we think somewhere between 11 and 16 at the outside), there was no possibility of recovery.  We agreed to a c-section to bring out her calf and then he would end her life as quickly as possible.

I sat by her head as the vet worked, I stroked her neck and told her how brave she was.  I promised that we would look after her baby for her, I told her what a good girl she was.  Stephen helped to pull the calf out and clear her of mucus while I tried to keep Morag calm.  She was not in pain but she was scared, I tried to help her feel better.  I remembered how I had felt when my first boy came into the world via c-section; I cried while I did it and for a while after too.  She saw her little baby girl come into the world, the girl we had so hoped for, but had never imagined she would be born like this.  Born to trade places with her own Mama within moments.  And then Morag was gone.

We tended to calf in the sunshine, rubbing her with towels and cuddling her.  We sat with Morag while our neighbour dug a place for her in our woods, a peaceful spot under a break in the trees.  The vet went off to get colostrum from a nearby dairy for us and so we sat together with our new girl and our old girl.  I couldn’t seem to stop crying and even Stephen, my tough northern chap, had a suspiciously husky tone to his voice.  It had all been so quick, so sudden and so terribly, terribly sad.

At that moment our sow, basking blissfully in the sun a few feet away, broke wind in a long and pleasingly full bodied parp.  It went on for some time and seemed to make her even more satisfied.  We turned and looked at her, laughing at the timing and watched her piglets bouncing around her, enjoying the sun alongside their Mummy.  We laughed because it was funny and because, as the saying goes, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry.

Morag has stayed on the farm, she’ll always be here with us.  We didn’t want her life to end this way but I’m glad her final years were spent as Queen of the Herd, pampered, adored, praised and loved.  Her baby girl will grow up to be the rightful heiress to her kingdom I’m sure, we are already devoted to her, feeding, stroking, fussing and spoiling her.  We decided to call her Wee Morag Silver Linings, because she is the gift her Mama gave us.

I told my neighbour, a kind but laconic fellow, a man of few words to say the least, that I could see she would be spoiled rotten in no time at all.

“Well,” he replied “Better spoiled than not I’d say.”

I agree.

Spring Starts

Spring Starts

Today I have actually reached the point of feeling that I can actually use the word ‘spring’ officially without a) crying at the same time b) using some kind of prefix like “what the $&@#$ is up with….” and c) expecting there to be some kind of weather related retribution that will bring at least 10 cms of snow in the next 24 hours.  It’s been that kind of spring.

A few times in the last couple of months I have wandered outside, my face turned up to the sky and basked in the warm spring-like sunshine and thought to myself ‘this is it’.  Of course the next day my face was firmly inside because I didn’t want a foot of snow all over it.  Seriously.  There was a lot of snow this spring.  A lot.  Enough to bury my soul in.  Science fact.

But the weather forecast is finally releasing us from our wintery gloom and predicting 20 degrees on the weekend.  20 degrees!  20!!!  Degrees!!!!  Sorry I know that is an irrational amount of exclamation marks but holy cow, I’m ready for spring.  I know I say that every spring and I mean it every spring but this year I really, really mean it.  A lot.

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Despite the mildness of this winter past, especially when compared with the face peeling cold of the previous two winters, it has still felt long and dreary and long.  Did I say long?  Because it felt long.  And, as it does every year, my foolish British soul peeks it’s head from behind it’s metaphorical spiritual duvet sometime in March and starts saying annoying things like “Isn’t it time for the children to be outside yet?”  And I, of course, reply “Shut up soul!  You do this every year!  It’s going to suck for at least another 6 weeks and look now it’s snowing again.”  Usually I weep at that point, or face plant into a cake.  Or both if I’m honest; this year was no different.

But some desperate optimism about the weather must have caught on because Stephen and I spent some time on the weekend starting seeds, little brown packages of hope that they are; plopping them into warm, moist soil and nurturing them, just as they will sustain us through the coming months.  Over the last few days we’ve watched and marvelled as the first sparks of life emerge in plastic trays in the dining room of our house.  I love how life works that way, miraculous and utterly mundane.

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We’ve had increasingly warm days this week, slightly stymied by my littlest bean coming down with a yucky tummy bug, but we are all emerging into the sunlight a little mystified and a lot happier.  There have been moments where the house has fallen silent as the boys run off outside for a bit (Sometimes with some encouragement from Mummy.  Or a lot of encouragement.  Some people would use the word threats but it’s such an ugly term.)  I’ve looked around a little, momentarily unoccupied and been a little unsure what to do.  We are coming into a new season not just of the year but of life, but that’s a post for another day and thoughts for another hour.

So as I peek underneath the condensation clouded lids of my seeds trays and as I wander, oh so casually, out to the polytunnel so recently cleared out by the lovely men in my life, my inner eye is beginning to dream of abundance.  Though there are only specks here and there and the memory of snow is a starkly recent one, my dreaming life is painted with green.  Green and the scent of honey on the air.

Just A Mum

Just A Mum

According the the larger world, the world that includes mythical things such as the economy, I am unemployed.  I do not bring in an income, I do not pay taxes on that income, I do not exist.

That’s cool with me frankly, as I can’t remember the last time I gave a rodent’s rear end about what the wider world thought of me.  It was definitely pre 2008.  Definitely.  However, that is not really the issue in hand, the issue I’d like to write about today.  What I’d like to write about is what I do do, not what I don’t do.  For example earn cash.

My ‘job’, for want of a better description is Mum.  I suppose it would be more accurate to say my occupation is being a Full Time Parent.  This has been my job since (coincidentally) 2008, when I left my previous occupation (teacher) in order to bring life once more into the world.  To be fair I think that’s a pretty good reason to change track.  I was creating and inventing an entire human being.  If a man did that he’d be awarded the Nobel Prize; but women do it ever hour of every minute of every day and the world shrugs it’s shoulders and generally makes us feel like we should not be making too much of a fuss about it, if you don’t mind.

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I had, in fact, already created a human being.  So my resume had previous experience in my chosen field.  I had made a person and even managed to keep him alive for 3 years, before embarking on a 100% expansion of the amount of humans I had produced.  Which is a long was of saying I got pregnant again.  But the first way sounds better.

Once I had 2 human beings under my charge I started to notice how this parenting can be a very full time gig.  Between the two boys they kept my pretty busy and, weirdly, I actually enjoyed being around the human beings I had created.  Not all the time, I’ll grant that, but in general it was a good thing.  I liked it.  I decided to stick with it.

When Huwyl was 5 (at the end of a successful year of Kindergarten) I gave him the option to homeschool.  He accepted without hesitation and so we began.  I seemed a natural step for me, education being kind of my thing pre-human creation, to work alongside one of my favourite humans each day.  I couldn’t quite imagine giving up those learning moments, those light bulb moments, those special moments in favour of teaching other people’s children.  I decided to simply cut out the middle woman and teach my own.

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That journey didn’t end up being quite as I expected, and as the twists and turns of life created new challenges and issues to deal with, I confess to doubting my ability to manage.  Well manage and be sane.  Sane-ish.  I’ve often wondered if I can really pull it off, if I can get my kids through this crazy business we call Education, without literally chewing off someone’s head on a rogue Tuesday morning sometime in November.

Yet here we are, 6 years later with everyone’s head demonstrably in tact and our journey continuing pleasantly.  In fact each year it has become a lot more pleasant.  Now that I have 2 literate children who can count and are able to put on their own clothing, I would count my chosen profession to be positively enjoyable.  That might not seem like a dramatic statement but often, more often than not I think, we see motherhood depicted as drudgery, something to escape from.  A constant cycle of dirty laundry and ungrateful children, which is part of the picture but only part.  Try and think of any depictions of motherhood that an not either a) excessively sugar coated or b) made to seem like a sort of torture.  There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

Which ignores the many millions of women who are Just A Mum every day.  The women who’ve chosen to be at home, who like it, who feel that it is the most important work they can be doing.  I’m one of those women.  I have a degree, Post grad qualifications, I had a career and I set it aside to be Just A Mum.  It was a decision that I made.  I didn’t always know that, I didn’t always feel that way, but I’ve come to understand that if this is all I do with my life, it’s a pretty great choice to have made.

I see that times have changed around me.  When I was a kid it was the norm for your Mum to be at home.  Ignoring the fact that she may well work during the hours of school, or before you even lifted your head off the pillow, or long after you were asleep (my Mum did job’s in all those categories) their primary tie was to the home.  It wasn’t until I had my own kids, in fact until I had my second child, when I really came to understand that I didn’t really know how to be a mother any other way.  All in.  That’s sort of how I am.  So that’s what I did.

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My mother-in-law says that she hates the phrase Just A Mum.  She’s right of course.  It implies an absence of something, that what we are doing is easy or negligible.  That designing the life and well being of other human beings is something that should be seen as more of a hobby than a profession. My Dad points out that in his day, back when Dickens was a lad, disparaging the role of ‘mother’ would get you very short shrift indeed.  Shortly following by an axe to the head.  It was not something women were ashamed to be, much as there were many limitations and frustrations for those who wanted to do something else.  Note I didn’t say something more.

Because that’s what it comes down to really.  Valuing one thing over another.  If I say I’m proud to be a stay at home parent, a homeschooling parent, a Mum, then I’m saying women who work outside their homes, who juggle careers, jobs, work and family, just suck.  But of course I’m not.  The very point of feminism, something I’ve identified with since I was born I think, is to allow women choices and to see that women are varied, different, even unique.  That we can be a multitude of things, many of them at the same time, and not be defined by any one of them.  I look at women who work outside their home with admiration and respect, just as I do those who do the same work as me.  We are all different, we are all the same.  We are all doing our best, worried it isn’t good enough and pretty much just so knackered most of the time that remembering the names of the human beings who used to live inside you seems impossibly difficult.  Pointing comes in handy around then.

But we know all that.  I know all that and I am no longer in a place where I feel the need to examine or explain myself. Apart from writing this blog post which totally doesn’t count.  Celebrating my choices doesn’t mean denigrating any one else’s.   We can all be great, we can all be amazing.  We are all amazing.  What I really want to say is that this life really is enough for me.  It is full and busy and challenging: I am self employed, I am my own boss, I set my own life.  I enjoy having my family as the focus of my work, I love knowing that my efforts benefit them directly, I love thinking about what is coming next.

I have the same sense of value as I did when I worked as a teacher when Huwyl was small.  I taught for 2 years and then stopped when I was pregnant with Neirin.  Someone I knew at that time talked about Mummy guilt to me one day, when I was working outside our home.  I told her I had absolutely no guilt and it was true.  I was working to benefit my family, I was working to keep myself sane, I was working because we needed the cash.  Why would I feel guilty?  There are lots of different ways to support the people you love, there are many ways a life can look and be a good life.  This is the version I’ve come up with.

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So yes, I help to run a small farm and a small business.  I am a homemaker (I laughed at that phrase so much when I first heard it, it seemed like using the phrase ‘sanitation expert’ instead of ‘dustbin man’. Clearly I’ve embraced it since then).  I am a homeschooler, effectively running an independent educational institution for two.  I am a teacher.  I am the head of our little school.  I am a partner, daughter, friend and parent.  I’m other things too.  I cook, I make, I bake, I walk, I read, I write, I do all the things that make my life what it is.  The grains of sand that make, in the end, a beach; grains on the ever expanding coastal stretch we call human existence.  A beach upon which there is sometimes poo.

But in the end, when it all comes right down to it thank you very much, I am proud, very proud, to be Just A Mum.  And when my life changes and the world turns me into something else entirely, I’ll be proud of that too.

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.