The good, the bad, and the funny (Part 2)

Welcome to part 2 (the Bad) of this little series about our life here on Winter Farm. In case you missed part 1 (the Good), you can read it here.


Generally, people have one of two reactions when browsing through my photos of Winter Farm:

  • “Wow! They live such a lucky life in the country. It’s so beautiful.” OR
  • “Oh great, another #blessed Instagram addict bragging about her seemingly perfect life.”

Both are legitimate responses to the stream of information and images that I cultivate to share with the online world. Both responses are also true. As I mentioned in my previous post, life in the country is beautiful and rewarding and productive on so many levels, but I’d be lying to say it’s beautiful or easy or even enjoyable all of the time. So, to balance out my too-good-to-be-true stream of picturesque photos, today I’m sharing 10 not-so-lovely photos about the not-so-lovely aspects of life on Winter Farm.

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1. That is the dashboard of my husband’s car. Not too scenic, is it? He works in the heart of the city, which is just shy of an hour drive from our farm. For much of the year, instead of watching sunrises and sunsets over our beautiful fields, he’s watching them over the hood of his car. Each morning he drives about 30 minutes from our farm to a bus stop in the suburbs and then takes an hour bus ride from there to his job downtown. Add in the return commute home and that’s THREE HOURS of his day spent on the road. Not fun. But for now, this is just a part of our lives because though we love our farm, he also likes his job and we won’t be abandoning either anytime soon.

IMG_20141110_1124312. If you have chickens, you have chicken poop. And if you let your chickens free-range (i.e. wander to their curious hearts content), you will have chicken poop not just in your coop, but on your tractor, in your garden, on your front porch, and, ultimately, on your shoes. In addition to pooping on everything, chickens also love to dig and scratch–and it appears their favorite places to scratch are in my freshly planted garden and anywhere I’ve carefully landscaped with mulch and pretty flowers.

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3. Not to pick on the chickens again, but they aren’t exactly cost-effective. Though we do let our chickens free range, for part of the year they still need supplemental feed. And because we buy quality feed, it’s not cheap. But it’s not just the chickens. Living in the country can be expensive. The equipment needed to mow fields and maintain fences and repair outbuildings is not cheap and neither is the gas and oil needed to run that equipment. What’s more, country roads aren’t easy on vehicles and with all the miles we have to drive, we replace tires more often than most people. Though there are ways we manage to save money living here, they are often cancelled out and then some by the special expenses we choose to bear so we can live in the country.

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4. This is a picture of our garden right now. It needs to be taken down for the winter but we haven’t got around to it yet because of the 4,692 other things on our to-do list. Living in the country can be a LOT of work. There are always so many projects underway. This year we cleared trees and brush from our pond, planted our biggest garden yet, canned hundreds of jars of food from that big garden, more than doubled the size of our flock of chickens, rebuilt a larger and more predator-proof chicken coop, and repaired and painted our barn. We tackled all of that on top of the normal activities of a young family like our 3 year-old princess farmer starting preschool and welcoming the birth of our son in March. In addition to big projects and family milestones, just the day-to-day maintenance of our animals and garden and land occupy most of our weekends and evenings. Sometimes we get tired and dream of a little house in the city where we wouldn’t have to deal with fence repairs and septic ponds and washed-out gravel driveways.

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5. In my previous post, I wrote about the beauty of wide-open spaces and about all the fun things we can do here on the farm. Those are all lovely activities but sometimes instead of fishing and wildflower picking and chicken watching, we want to eat at restaurants and go to museums and hang out with other people. During the winter months especially, things can get a little lonely and boring out here. We don’t have cable T.V. and once it gets dark, we’re pretty much homebound. All this isolation makes for pretty pictures, but it also makes for feelings of… well, isolation.

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6. Living in the country, I feel like the weather has a stronger impact on our daily lives. If it’s snowing, we need 4-wheel drive to get out of our extra long driveway. If it’s blazing hot, we keep our chickens from overheating by setting up shade structures in the fields and making multiple trips to the barn to refill their water. Extra cold temperatures require setting up heaters to keep their water from freezing and, if it gets cold enough, heat lamps to keep the chickens from freezing. This is just part of country life and it means doing chores outdoors every single day, which can often leave us vulnerable to Mother Nature’s mood swings.

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7. If I could somehow attach sound to my pictures, serene sunsets like the one above would be accompanied by the sounds of dogs barking and donkeys braying and roosters crowing. And if you were to take an evening walk to the barn, it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear the sound of gunshots as some of our neighbors ready themselves for hunting season with seemingly endless target practice. All this noise combined with the crickets chirping and the birds calling forms the soundtrack to Winter Farm and it’s not as serene as you might expect.

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8. It bears repeating: we spend a lot of time in our cars. Not only does my husband have a long commute, but we live farther than the average city or suburban dweller from just about everything and everyone. While we do live in the same metro area as my family, it’s still a trek to get to any of their houses. We can’t just drop by to visit on a weeknight because it takes us around an hour to drive there and another hour to drive back. Because of the time it takes to get anywhere and because my husband has already spent a large portion of his day in the car commuting, every trip is carefully considered and more often than not, we decide that the trip isn’t worth the hastle or time or gas money.

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9. In the above picture, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning canning. I had picked the veggies that day at peak ripeness before the raccoons and rabbits and bugs got to them. Then, I needed to get them canned quickly before they lost their flavor and began to go bad. This sense of urgency requiring obedience to Mother Nature’s timing is a part of country life. Many activities we do here are very time sensitive. We have to plant the garden, harvest the veggies, hay our fields and many other farm tasks when the time is right, not when it might be more convenient for us.

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10.Related to #2 and all that chicken poop are the mountains of laundry I do each week. Living in the country is messy and dirty. We each go through at least 2 outfits a day doing chores or playing outside. I clean out straw and stick-tights, chicken feathers and gravel bits from my washing machine everyday. And all the debris of farm life gets tracked into the house on floors and carpets as well, keeping us just as busy on the inside of the house as we are on the outside.

So, there it is: the other side of country life. It’s not all pretty scenery and nature walks. But do you know what? Living on Winter Farm is still worth it. Despite all its challenges, we still go to bed most nights thankful for this beautiful place to call home.

Is it hard work? Yes. Do we sometimes dream of “city life”? Sure. Is there chicken poop everywhere we step? Absolutely. But are we planning on leaving Winter Farm anytime soon? No way! Because you know what? Our lives here ARE #blessed. 🙂


Watch for my next and last post in this series, Part 3 (the Funny), for a particularly entertaining story from life here at Winter Farm. Let’s just say that EWE don’t want to miss it.

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The good, the bad, and the funny (Part 1)

In my last post, I mentioned that life on Winter Farm is a combination of Thoreau’s Walden and the t.v. show Green Acres. It’s true. Life here is a mix of the good, the bad, and the funny. So, welcome to Part 1 (the Good) of this 3 part post.


Here at Winter Farm we live a charmed life, no doubt. There are heritage breed chickens pecking around our freshly painted red barn. Does it get any better than that?!

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Why, yes, it does get better. The sunrises over our fields and pond are spectacular, no matter the season.

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And, not to rub it in, but the veggies and herbs in our garden are fun to plant…

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…and harvest.

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…and eat.

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…and save for later.

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We feel so fortunate to have found this place and our lives here are beautiful and fun and productive. Since moving in 5 years ago, we have lots of successes to record. Here are a few that have made living in the country one of the best decisions of our lives.

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Chickens

We first bought chicks during our third spring on Winter Farm. I still remember the day they laid our first egg. It was like a tiny miracle nestled there in the straw (and it WAS tiny… the first eggs hens lay are sometimes only a third the size of a normal egg). I think we scrambled it up and shared it as a family.

These days, we have 20 chickens and we get anywhere from 8-12 eggs a day. We eat a LOT of eggs around here–poached or scrambled for breakfast and baked into quiches and burritos for dinner. There’s always a bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge for snacks and my husband sells and delivers the excess eggs to his coworkers.

In addition to giving us eggs, chickens are great little entertainers. They preen and prance and jump around, clucking and squawking at one another and at us. When we throw them an apple core, they bicker over it like siblings. When we work in the garden, they scurry around underfoot chasing bugs and fallen cherry tomatoes. And each evening, after I collect eggs, they join me in an impromptu parade like the one in the video below.

So, yeah, we love our chickens. They are probably our favorite part of living on a farm.

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Canning

When we moved in that first fall, we were thrilled to find the pear tree full of fruit. Eager to begin our self-sufficient life, we picked them and after eating our fill, decided to can the rest.

About 14 hours of washing, peeling, coring, and canning later, we had these 6 jars.

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Six puny quarts from what had seemed a mountain of fruit! But we were still excited, and we shared our precious first harvest with family during the holidays.

Since those first 6 jars, I’ve canned hundreds more. We’ve enjoyed sliced pears and puréed pears and pear syrup. We’ve shared salsas and pickles and pasta sauce. We’ve given gifts of carrot cake preserves and blackberry jam, apple butter and jalapeño jelly. Our basement shelves have held our own green beans and venison stew meat, pickled peppers and pickled eggs. Most of it has been delicious and it has been a consistent thrill since moving to the country to eat food that we’ve grown or foraged or hunted ourselves.

I still marvel at the magic of every jar. Food that just hours before was growing in my late July garden is, by the magic of chemistry, transformed into a wonderful treasure for a snowy January night. What a fun piece of magic to perform every growing season!

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Space

Last winter, in a fit of pregnancy-induced panic (obviously on my part) about the time and work that farm life required, we considered selling the farm and moving back to town. We went to a few open houses and, after about 5 minutes of staring out of windows to see nothing but houses and cars and other people’s windows, we returned home with grateful hearts and a new appreciation of the space that Winter Farm affords us.

When I look out my kitchen window, I see this.

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For me, that view is important and it’s salve to my soul when I get overwhelmed by the kids or by housework or by obligations. In the flurry and rush of modern life (and even living in the country, there’s plenty of that), I am fortunate to have space around me to breath and center myself and rest. And all this space is not only good for me. It’s good for my kids.

They can catch crawdads in our creeks and fish in our ponds, pick wildflowers in our fields and wild persimmons in our woods. They can gather eggs from the chickens and vegetables from the garden, watch deer from the kitchen and wild turkeys from the barn. They can walk outside without worrying about what they’re wearing or if someone will see them when they haven’t yet brushed their hair for the day. As babies, they can run naked in the back yard. And as teenagers, they can wander off for time alone to watch the stars and gather their thoughts. They can do all these things without ever leaving home or spending money.

I really believe that these open, beautiful spaces that we call Winter Farm will help to make me a calmer, more peaceful person, and I hope they will help my children to grow into independent, adventurous adults with peaceful minds and kind hearts.

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Isn’t our life just so good?

Yeah, it is, but don’t get too annoyed by my Pollyanna point of view. Life on Winter Farm is not all sunrises and chicken parades and cute kids.

Check back for Part 2 (the Bad) in this series about our life here at Winter Farm. We’ve certainly had our fair share of foibles and failures in between all the beautiful pictures and I’m just as eager to share those with you as I am the lovely bits.

Finding Winter Farm

The first time we saw the land that is now Winter Farm, we were newly married and living in Des Moines. At the time, my husband spent the occasional Saturday playing baseball with an historic 1880’s team and each year they travelled to Missouri to play against another team at Watkins Mill State Park and Historic Site. We decided to make the trip with the team and afterwards, to visit my parents who lived in nearby Kansas City.

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My husband readies for a pitch in the same field from which we first saw Winter Farm.

The trip went well and though I can’t remember who won the game that year, I do remember admiring the view of the surrounding countryside with my husband. The shady field where they played sits atop a hill, and from there, rolling green hills of woods and pastures and horse farms stretched to the horizon. Though we didn’t know it yet, the future Winter Farm lay nestled in those hills.

After the game, we returned to our tiny 2 bedroom apartment in the heart of Des Moines. Our building was crammed between another apartment complex and a small shopping center with a dry-cleaner, grocery store, coffee shop, and Chinese restaurant. We had everything we needed within walking distance, but we still dreamed of owning our own place and of having more space.

We were reading lots of history and philosophy at the time and longed for what we perceived were simpler times. At a used bookstore we found a copy of Back to Basics, which is essentially a Readers’ Digest guide to homesteading. We studied illustrations of how to build barns and fences and fire-heated hot tubs (no joke). We tried out recipes for canning homemade jams and jellies and pickles. And we read directions about composting and companion planting. The fruits of self-sufficiency called to us in our little city apartment and we dreamed of a place in the country where we could practice all that building and canning and hot tub sitting.

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The book that inspired many of our farming dreams.

A few years later, after both accepting jobs in the Kansas City area, the land now known as Winter Farm came up for sale. It was during the economic crisis of 2009 and the sellers had just drastically lowered the price. We knew that it was close to the site of that baseball game years before and, recalling the beauty of the area, decided to visit the house along with 2 others.

The first property we saw with our realtor was a tiny house that sat on 10 acres. It also sat at the top of our price range. The land was well-fenced but it lacked any sort of character and the house, though recently remodeled, felt cramped and awkward. There was no barn, only a very small pond, and the detached garage looked as if it might blow over during the next storm. In addition, it shared a driveway with the neighbors, who had broken-down cars and trash littering their yard. One of their dogs barked ferociously at us as we left the house.

The second property was an old farmhouse on a quiet 8 acres and it was the most affordable of the homes we would visit that day. The house was surrounded by beautiful old oak and maple trees. From the outside, it was a cute blue farmhouse. On the inside, however, it was dated and dark. The floor plan was haphazard and revealed the slapdash efforts of some long-ago family who added a room each time a baby was born. It was clear that it would require major remodeling. We liked the land though and considered that we might have to put in more work than we’d planned to make our dream home a reality.

Finally, we arrived at the third property. As we drove up the long driveway, we admired the faded red barn (with which you are already familiar if you’ve read this post) and a pear tree heavy with fruit. The house, however, was not necessarily attractive to us from the outside. It was a 1960s raised ranch and lacked the farmhouse charm of the previous two homes.

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The view from the kitchen when we first moved in. It looked a little ragged but we thought it was the most beautiful place we’d ever seen. We’ve since cleaned up the weeds and taken down the crumbling fences and, of course, painted the barn.

However, after a quick tour we were pleased to find that its uninspiring exterior betrayed a warm and inviting interior. A combination of real hardwood floors, a bright and cheery window seat, and a family room with wall to wall built-in bookshelves convinced us that this house, though not what we’d been picturing, would do just fine.

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Putting Christmas lights on the house during that first year on the farm.

We headed outside to explore the 20 acres around the house. The front half of the property sloped gently to a small creek where tall trees blocked the view of the road and separated it from the recently hayed pastures. The back half of the property, starting just behind the barn, dropped towards a secluded lower field surrounded by trees on three sides. Another creek crossed the back corner of the property and a large pond sat on a terrace between the barn and the field. We could see fish swimming underneath the clear water.

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The view of the pond 5 years ago.

My husband and I stood on the hill next to the barn that day and decided to make an offer on the house. It was the perfect place for us to start our life in the country and we held hands and said it prayer that it would be ours.

Two kids, 23 chickens, and 5 growing seasons later, we’ve learned a lot about the “simple” life we envisioned for ourselves here. Most days, our life here on Winter Farm resembles something between Thoreau’s Walden and the T.V. show Green Acres. In my next post I’ll share some of the triumphs and trials we’ve faced since moving to the country.

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Learning how to drive our hand-me-down tractor to tackle the weeds that were choking the farm that first year.