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.

Nightmare on Winter Farm

Our little princess farmer awoke crying and screaming this morning. She was distraught as tears streamed down her face, wetting her tangled hair. I struggled to understand what she was saying through the sobs.

She must have had a nightmare, her first nightmare. Stupid Halloween with all its witches and scary pumpkins and ghosts at every store and every house. We’d driven by a yard last week with bloody skeletons and zombies made to look like they were crawling out of graves in the grass. I hadn’t thought she’d seen it, but maybe she had.

I sat on the bed and lay her chubby, raspberry-blowing baby brother next to her on the pillow. He rolled towards her sobs and began pulling on her hair (clearly out of concern). I scooped her up and asked her what was wrong.

She took a few deep breaths and looked up at me. Then with desperate, terrified eyes she cried, “Ma took my chickens!”.

“What!?”

“Ma took my chickens,” she insisted and buried her face in my arms.

“Ma” is my mother. You know, the one who slaved over the beautiful Frozen cake for my little princess’s birthday. Who knows how my daughter’s subconcious had mixed and mashed chickens and a loving grandma and poultry theft into an early morning nightmare, but it had.

Not having ever had a nightmare before, she thought the dream was real, a memory from an actual event. I tried to comfort her, explaining that the chicken thievery had not actually ocurred.

“It’s just something that happened in your head, honey.”

“No, mommy, it happened in the barn!”

Hmmm…

“Let’s go out to the barn right now and you’ll see, your chickens are just fine.”

“OK.”

I picked up her brother from the bed and went to her dresser for some clothes she could wear outside. As I pulled a pair of jeans and a T-shirt from the drawer, I heard the front door open. She had pulled her rubber ladybug boots over her footed Christmas pajamas and was halfway down the front walk towards the barn by the time I caught up with her.

So, before coffee or bathroom breaks or getting dressed, we headed out to the barn.

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For late October, it was a warm morning.

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As she stretched to open a latch on the gate, her much-loved and supposedly stolen chickens scampered out of the coop to greet her.

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“See!,” I told her, “your chickens are just fine.”

Relieved, she set about her chores cheerfully. She fed them and after finding 2 eggs on the coop floor instead of in the nesting boxes, she lectured our largest Buff Orpington on proper egg-laying practice.

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And then, eggs in hand, headed back outside to chat with the other ladies.

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She picked them little pink flowers to eat and the hens were good sports as she chased them around trying to feed them her finds.

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And then we headed back towards the house, chickens racing us through the grass.

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“What do you want for breakfast?” I asked her.

“Eggs,” she answered.

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Winter Farm (Finally) Writes

“The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment–to put things down without deliberation–without worrying about their style–without waiting for a fit time or place.” – Walt Whitman 

Finally, I have stopped waiting. The perfect story, the perfect timing, the perfect writing desk or journal or blog theme or pen… they don’t exist. The trick, according to Whitman, is to just write and so, I am.

I hope Winter Farm Writes will help me exercise my story-telling muscles again. I imagine the posts as rough sketches in which I can write about anything or about nothing, about the profound or the mundane, just so long as I keep writing.

Get ready. Get set. Get writing.


 Chickens in the mist

Hidden Eggs

After a quick debate in my mind about the dangers of opening the front door, I carefully turned the handle and ever so slowly eased myself onto the front porch, careful not to let a single sound destroy the miracle of 2 small children napping simultaneously in their beds. Waking them would result in curses under my breath and in tired, needy children. Feeling rather tired and needy myself, I was hoping to make it out to the barn to let our chickens out of their coop before the heavy rains that had fallen all morning returned.

 

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A little time outside always helped me shake my mid-afternoon slump in energy and mood and as I walked the wet, grassy path to our barn, I could feel the clouds lift from my mind. After the morning’s downpour, the ground outside the coop door sounded like a sponge underneath my feet. Hearing my waterlogged approach, the chickens crowded around the door while I unscrewed the bolt that keeps them safe each night from raccoons and bobcats, coyotes and stray dogs.

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If you’ve never watched a chicken released from its coop onto fresh grass, you are missing out. They run and skip and dive in every direction, fanning out over the pasture in pursuit of fleeing crickets and startled moths.

Discovering the pile of windfall pears I’d dumped nearby, one chicken started clucking and cooing approvingly, immediately attracting the attention of her sisters. They came running, each one greedily pecking at pieces of bruised fruit and at one another in her excitement for the sweet treat. They looked just like a pack of kids scrambling for candy under a broken piñata. Eventually, the dominant hens assert their claim over the pile and the others spread out in search of other options.

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Our chickens have not been laying well lately. We recently rearranged their coop and moved their nesting boxes which, we assume, had unsettled them a bit. Chickens are easily flustered. Whatever the cause, we were barely getting enough eggs for our 2 paying customers, both coworkers of my husband. It had gotten so bad, that we no longer had enough eggs for ourselves and I had, with great frustration, broken down and bought a dozen eggs from the store. Buying eggs when we have 20 perfectly good laying hens in the barn felt a bit ridiculous, not to mention expensive.

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I decided to look around the barn again in case I had missed some hidden stash of eggs previously. Afterall, free range chickens are notorious for building nests in odd places. Right away, I spotted a cache of 5 eggs in a dark corner of the coop, covered almost completely in leaves and straw. Encouraged by my find, I started searching other dark and hard-to-reach places in our small barn. Three eggs lay hidden between the barn wall and a pile of old lumber. Four eggs were buried deep in a pile of hay behind the plow. And finally, two more were nestled in the dust below the garden tools. Fourteen eggs in all.

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Returning to the house as the clouds started to gather again, I slipped quietly back inside the front door and, holding my breath, listened for the sound of one or both children awake from their naps. Sweet, sweet silence greeted me.

I put the eggs in the refrigerator and made a pot of coffee, my second for the day, to give me a quick lift before heading into the afternoon’s activities: laundry, putting away toys from the morning’s chaos, and then more laundry. But tonight, dinner would not be the troubling question mark it often is. Tonight, we would have eggs.

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