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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Facebook-20140427-075750 (2)

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

My muse

My muse sits in the cloverfield behind our house, exactly at the center, the heart, of our farm. Her weathered, pock-marked skin covers the thick bones of her wide hips. Beneath her there is shelter from the sun and the snow, the wind and the rain. She watches over us, her dark eyes following the comings and goings of Winter Farm through the seasons. She does not speak, but she tells stories in countless portraits I make of her solid, ruddy frame.

Here she is, wrapped in a blanket of snow the first winter we met.


And here she stands with her back turned to gather the warm sun on a cold September morning.

barn with path

And this one, where I caught her dripping with dew in the morning mist.


I am shameless about my obsession with her and I can not stop sharing her pictures. She pulls a story from me every time I see her and though it ought to be my children in their innocence or my husband in his devotion, it is she who makes me want to write. She is my muse. And for the inspiration she has awakened in me, I am determined to care for her and repair where the years have bruised and wounded her tired face. She will stand bright and clean once again. She will be made young by my hands and I will rescue her from ruin.

That’s right, our little barn is my muse and for those of you who know me, you are regularly subjected to picture after picture of its squat, red frame. When my husband and I first looked at this property in our search for a home, we were happy with the house, but we were delighted by the barn. Its red doors with white trim symbolized for us that this was not just an acreage, this was a farm. And if we had a farm, we were farmers. We really liked the idea of being farmers. This was one of the first pictures we took in front of the barn.


Yes, that’s a pitchfork–very American Gothic (and original) of us, I know. Note the plaid shirts and rubber boots. We were officially farmers now, time to dress the part!

We had been married for 4 years at that point and had just returned from an extended stay overseas. We had no children and our dog, Gus, had only been with us for a week or so. We were so excited to own our dream home, so proud of the land and the house and especially of the faded little barn choked by weeds. We saw in that barn all our dreams of owning chickens and growing our own food and raising children.

We still love that barn and though we’ve made lots of improvements on our land and home since moving in five years ago, until now we had yet to help it regain its original charm.

The little paint that remained on the barn was faded to a dull orange and one of its windows was missing. The previous owner’s horses had chewed up or torn off batten boards and where there had once been bright, white paint, there was now only the weathered gray of bare wood. We were sad to see the heart of our farm falling apart.


In its state of severe disrepair, we thought we would have to completely replace the siding. But due to a lack of funds, we decided to just paint it instead. Our reasoning was that a fresh coat of paint would protect the barn’s structure from further deterioration until we could afford to fix it properly.

Well, let me tell you, a couple coats of paint later and a few new batten boards and our barn looks like a new building! Here is a before picture of the north side of the barn with its crumbling windowsills, vines clawing their way up the walls, and paint peeling from its boards.

Barn side view

Take a look at that same side now.


It’s such an improvement. (Don’t mind that paint on the window panes. We ran out of daylight before we finished scraping them clean.) The color we settled on is called “Moroccan Red” and I thought, “What a fun international touch for our little Missouri farm!” But no, put almost any shade of red on a barn and do you know what happens? It looks like plain old Midwestern “Barn Red”. And I’m OK with that. Doesn’t it look great?!


Finally, before wrapping up this session of barn adoration, I want to thank my husband’s parents for traveling more than 4 hours each way for 2 consecutive weekends to help us. My father-in-law toiled away making repairs and painting while my mother-in-law handled the kids inside, allowing me to help out at the barn. They were so generous to give up their time to help us and we can’t thank them enough (though we did try by loading them down with home-canned goods and fresh pears from Winter Farm). Thank goodness for good family!

And now I’m off to design a gift for my muse, a barn quilt! In the meantime, enjoy a few more pictures of our barn restoration project.


Proud of a job well-done.


The early morning paint crew busy priming and patching.

The chickens were a bit annoyed with all the noise in their barn.

The chickens were a bit annoyed with all the noise in their barn.

Farm fashion's finest, yours truly.

Farm fashion’s finest, yours truly.

My father-in-law and his new lady friends.

My father-in-law and his new lady friends.