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.

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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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