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Category: Family Life

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.

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.

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?

 

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.

Outside

Outside

Sometimes there is so much to say it is paralysing.  The last couple of weeks have been like that, so full and intense that I don’t really know where to begin in recording it.  But it would seem strange to not write about something that has been quite transformative, in my mind at least.  I’ll have a stab and see how I do.

First of all, thank you to everyone who wrote such nice things about my last post, it was lovely to receive such kindness here and on Facebook, I really don’t have words.  Thank you for thinking of us and sharing your thoughts and hearts.

When we found out that Stephen’s Dad had passed away we were getting him ready to go the airport on a business trip to the UK.  The irony of this is far from lost on us.  He hadn’t been back for over 8 years and was booked on a flight the day his Dad left this world; it meant he was able to be with his loving Mum within 24hours which was, I think, a godsend for all concerned.

What this meant was that Stephen had prepped the farm for his absence; we knew he’d be gone for a week and he’d done everything he could to get us more than ready.  As it turned out all of his hard work meant that I only had to shift one bag of feed in a two week period, a blessing I was eternally grateful for.  I’m not sure how things would have gone for us if events had been different but I know that we couldn’t haven’t managed for 2 weeks alone without the work he put in before hand.

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So, Stephen left and it was me and the boys, for two weeks.  Or should I say me and the boys and the farm for two weeks.  If you had asked me before our little adventure if I was up for managing the farm and the boys and school and the house, in February, the answer would have been a resounding bugger off.  But, as it turns out, we managed, survived and, in our own way, even thrived.  It was hard, really hard at times, but we worked as a team and got through together.

First of all, I have to say, I would not have done this with younger kids.  Huwyl is 9 1/2 and Neirin nearly 6, this made a massive difference and was a lifesaver for me.  Both boys were able to chip in on the farm and around the house (well Neirin was mainly able to not set fire to things and occasionally stay inside alone) and I was very grateful for that help.  Huwyl in particular worked so hard alongside me, and extra set of hands when needed and maintaining the positive perspective he has on life.  He never grumbled, even when I did, and slogged through cold mornings and snowy afternoons right by my side.  He’s a pretty special lad.

While Stephen was away the weather really sucked.  It was down at -39C that first lonely weekend which felt something akin to having every ounce of energy or joy sucked right out through my face whilst beings sand blasted with ice.  It was cold.  Not only does the cold make extra work (Huwyl and I became experts at whacking ice blocks out of pig troughs with a mallet) but it makes everything you do that bit harder.  We wrapped up in our crazy cold ninja ensembles each morning, hiding our mouths and heads and every other bit of us before we ventured out into the deep freeze that was outside.  Those morning chores are the worst, the assault of cold against a still tired body would send anyone back to bed with an extra duvet.  But the thing is, the real thing is, we had no choice.  The furnace needed filling, the animals needed food and water and that was that.  So we did it.

We did it when it felt like the air itself was going to freeze you from the inside out.  We did it when the snow was coming down, covering paths and turning the world into one big snow drift.  Again.  We did it when we were tired and would rather stay inside.  We did it because it had to be done.

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But, and this is the perverse bit, there was joy in that.  Even though it was work I didn’t want to do at a time I didn’t want to do it, when it was done I felt really filled with joy.  Partly it was because it was done and didn’t have to be done again for several hours, but mainly it was pride.  It was that feeling you get when you do something way beyond your boundaries, when you feel like an elastic band being stretched to the point of breaking, and then it’s done.  You look up, breathe and take in what you’ve achieved.  It’s an amazing feeling, one worth slogging and working hard for, that feeling of pride at work well done.

The thing is though, when you stretch something that far it doesn’t return to the same shape, it becomes something new.  I’ve experienced this sensation before, this feeling of expansion after hardship; travelling in Nepal was one of them, parenthood another!  But I didn’t expect the simple act of doing chores in winter to have that same effect, to shift not only my body but my mind too.  That feeling of capability, of pride, of the sheer joy and having done something when normally I would have caved in and called in the man of the house, was wonderful.  I got addicted to Huwyl saying “Mum, you are amazing!” when I would beat the crap out of a foot and a half of ice or when I dug a 2 ft deep 20 ft long trench through a snow drift so that we could reach the cows without going down to our hips in the snow.  He’s a pretty amazing motivator that lad.

So we got through.  Hour by hour, day by day.  I obsessed over the weather report, hauled wood and filled the furnace to keep the house warm.  We used the kids’ sled to move gallons of water and load after load of wood.  Our outside time was doing the chores, morning and afternoon, snow or…more snow.  We ticked off the days, I looked forward to not having to do the late shift on the furnace any  more (turns out I can do heavy lifting only if I can have early nights too) and we moved through our fortnight.

I can’t say I enjoyed each day, that it’s something I would choose to do again.  But there were moments of such triumph that I can’t say I wouldn’t either.  The feeling of working along side my boys, of doing important and necessary work together was amazing.  I gained new respect for them and saw what they were capable of.  I also gained new respect for myself, I saw what I could do when I needed to. I also gained new gratitude for the work that Stephen was doing alone, unfailing and uncomplaining while working full time, to spare me the slog in the cold each day.    I think because he does so much of the big work on the farm I have always half seen it as Stephen’s endeavour, seen myself as more of a side kick.  Not now.  Over those two weeks I realised that I too was willing to fight for this life we’ve made, that I would slog and work when it was needed.  Over the course of each of those days I became more invested in our life here, in this small holding we’ve built.  It became ‘ours’ in a way it hadn’t before.

And it occurred to me that this is probably true for all of us.  It’s through our work that we gain ownership of things.  When we are invested, through creativity, through determination and diligence, through pure slog, we make it ours.  As I explained to Huwyl, many kids in this city we live in don’t face real challenges, they face challenges someone has made up for them, and they know it.  They know the work they do isn’t necessary or needed and so they don’t care about it.  I saw the pride the boys felt in their work, I know it felt good to them to actually contribute something to the people they love the most.  Day after day I’d offer Huwyl the chance to stay inside, warm and cosy, while I did chores.  Day after day he refused, instead walking alongside me, helping me with my work each step of the way.

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The photos I’ve added here aren’t from those two weeks, but from a walk we took in January, before the deep freeze hit.  It was a good day, the three of us enjoying the freedom of sunshine and still air, no responsibilities or worries for that short while.  I look forward to the spring when we’ll have the chance to roam more easily again, when the sun will warm our faces and the ice will melt away.  I look forward to the leisure of sitting outside, not rushing in on the heels of a freezing blast of wind, not slipping into snow drifts with buckets in my hands.  But I’m also looking forward to the work of building gardens and pastures, of raising the animals, of days falling into bed already half asleep.  It’s good to rest, but it’s good to earn it too.

 

And then the snow fell

And then the snow fell

We have been asking ourselves for the last few weeks, When, when will it come?  By that, of course, we mean the snow.  It defines so much for us, defines what the activity will be on the farm, what we’ll need to focus on, what we’ll need to do.

We’ve rushed and chopped and stacked and cleaned out.  The barn has been shovelled to the earth and repacked with fresh hay, the wood is being split and stacked, the furnace has been cleaned out and turned on.  With King Winter whispering across the backs of our necks we’ve tried to get it all done before the snow fell.  Surely we did try.

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Yesterday the snow began to fall, flurries they called it but it looked like snow to me.  It came and went throughout the day but didn’t look set to stay, much of it was melted not long after it had fallen.  But when we went outside to check on the cows and settle the dog, there was a firm dusting over the ground covering blades of grass with fluffy determination.

Today the world is turning increasingly white, the blanket of snow falling consistently in tingling sharp diamonds that coat my hair within moments.  We did our chores in the snow and we’ve watched as it continued through the morning, hiding away the land beneath it and with it all hopes of getting our chores completed fully.

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There may be time yet, it is possible, I think to myself.  I know this snow may yet fall away and a small renaissance of fall return; after all this is Canada and this kind of weather is what is known as Winter clearing his throat.  It’s only mid-November, I remind myself, it could all go away and the land could return to give us that last and final chance to….insert chore here.

But with more snow on the forecast for the weekend and memories of last winter still achingly fresh in my mind, we are ceding to the inevitable and tucking the farm up for winter.  The last of our meat animals went today, the ducks that were given to us this summer have mostly gone to slaughter.  The pigs need to be re-sited to the main barn as their winter home and there is wood to be split as there always seems to be.  But all these tasks can (and it seems will) be achieved in the snow, with some hurry up needed before Winter decides to fully sing the song of his people.

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But an idea has been forming in my mind, an idea that became gained clarity when I read this article about the Danish concept of Hygge.  Though there is no direct translation into English I feel as though I understand it, deep down inside I think we all do.   To me it is the process of letting go and embracing what is; not just accepting what is in front of us though, but working on making it as lovely as possible.  I am embracing too the Norwegian word Koselig, which roughly means ‘cosy’ but truly means so much more.

Both these ideas, overlapping as they do, share with us the importance of making the best of where we are.  It’s cold and snowy?  Make a fire, light the candles, make it the best possible snowy day it can be.  A season of ice and storms?  Invite over friends, drink, eat and share stories late into the night.   Plans interrupted by weather?  Reach for a blanket or two, break out the biscuits and cosy up with those you love best.  Make it your aim to spread as much warmth and koselig as possible, let them know they are welcome, let them feel cherished.

Winter brings with it many challenges, not the least of which is keeping everyone safe and cosy through the seemingly endless months of cold and snow.  It can feel harsh and unforgiving after the seasons of freedom and openness preceding them.

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But when I see my boys rushing out to enjoy the excitement of the white stuff falling, when I laugh at their creations in the snow and suspend our maths lesson until this afternoon to let them enjoy it even more; when I revel in this brief quiet settling easily upon the house much like the snow outside, I know there is so much joy to be had.

We didn’t get it all done, we just didn’t.  But there is always next year, that alone is a gift that warms my heart.  There is the fire, the sofa, the blankets.  There is the work of hearth and home and the rest of months that demand you stay inside and keep warm.  There will be blue skies and iced rivers to skate on, there will be cancelled plans and illness that can only be mended by days in bed and purple berry medicine.  More than anything there will be us, seeking hygge together.  This winter my mission is to make life as koselig as possible for everyone who crosses my threshold; my family, my friends and the new friends I’ve yet to make. Oh and also the cows, they like a snuggle as much as anyone.