T-Minus Three

0424 floorIt’s the final stretch now; just a few more days until the old farmhouse is gone.

We’ve been there every day, clearing out good wood and anything else worth saving.  The more we’re in the house though, the more we’re happy with our decision to build new.  This house would have been Ye Olde Money Pit for sure.  Floor joists with sections inexplicably cut out; soft floors on all three levels; the pervasive smell of rodent; missing load-bearing walls; myriad other things I’ve talked about before.

I especially felt that way when my left leg went through the rotten floor of the back porch while Jasper and I were carrying out a water heater.  Precariously balanced with half my body through the floor, praying the rest of it didn’t give way, I realized I am at peace with the approaching burn.

Guilty generational regrets be damned.

0424 holeI originally envisioned having a kind of party on Saturday, up in the fields, and having friends and family over to toast the end of the old farmhouse. An almost 3,000 square foot home is not something you ordinarily get (or want) to see burn down to ashes.  The weather report is, of course, calling for rain though, so I don’t know how that’s going to turn out.

I do know, however, that I’m not going to let the girls watch.  The truth is that fires are scary, and house fires (even the planned-for kind) can be downright terrifying.  Avery, my oldest daughter, is already anxietal about almost everything, and Iris is only four.  I think it’s probably better to keep the idea of a house fire as more of an abstract thing than for them to witness just how quickly four wooden walls can be reduced to nothing.

0425 house.jpgI’m not going to bring the dogs, either.  Juniper has a heart of gold, but not much in the brains department.  She’d be, quite literally, toast.

Nest Update

0422 tree and nest box0422 eggsAnother egg has appeared in the nest!  Is the clutch done now?

And as for what kind of eggs these are, my vote is also for baby robins.  I don’t have any real reason why, that’s just my first inclination.  I suppose I’ll know for certain in another two weeks!

April Showers and Showers

0411 gardenI checked my notes.

“April 20th, 2016: The days are mostly sunny and we’ve had a nice spate of summer weather recently.  I’ve quite often found myself sitting in the backyard in the afternoon, luxuriating in the heat and almost literally watching the garden grow.”

Well, this April has not been quite the same.  The opposite, really.  The rain never did stop for more than a day or two, and the ground remains soggy.  The onions keep getting washed out, and I’m not replanting them anymore.  The peas we planted back in February are no more than an inch high, but the weeds surrounding them are prolific and taking over.  I’m just letting them.

So, in summary, we’ve all but given up on the outside garden for now.

0418 greenhouse.jpgInstead, we’re working in the greenhouse.  It’s a nice place to be when the rain is relentlessly falling. It stays about 60-70 degrees during the day, which is downright balmy compared to what it’s like outside.

We got the tomatoes planted last week, and basil, eggplants, peppers, lettuce and carrots too.  I’d have more in there, but one side of the greenhouse is taken up by milled lumber. Hopefully we’ll be able to use it in the new house or future barn, and then next year I’ll have even more room to play with if the ever-fickle weather keeps me inside again.

0418 tomatoes.jpgWe upgraded from the soaker hose we had last year, and Jasper spent an afternoon installing a drip system.  It uses the same timer, and waters twice a day for about 7 minutes at a time.  If it ever gets warmer we’ll increase the watering, but for now the tomatoes seem quite happy.

So, all told, it’s not what I wanted my April check-in to look like, but it is what it is.  Sigh.  I’ve been moping about the weather for far too long.  I’m done, I promise.  There’s nothing to be done about it, anyway.  Except sit in my greenhouse while the rain patters softly (or loudly) on the roof and watch my tomatoes grow.

Nest Watch 2017

0412 avery at pondThere’s an old wood duck house down by our pond.  It’s been there as long as I’ve been coming to the farm; Jasper thought maybe one of his brothers or his sister made it and put it up back when they were children.

I don’t know if any wood ducks have ever used it, but certainly not in recent years.  We check it compulsively almost every time we wander by, always with the hope of finding wood duck eggs inside, but it’s always empty.

0412 duck boxThe other day the girls and I visited the pond while Jasper was burning stuff elsewhere on the farm.  We found four amphibious egg clusters clinging to the weeds, but we’ll have to wait awhile to find out whether they’re frog eggs or newt eggs.  We sent sticks and old boat floats down through the culvert pipe and watched them shoot out the waterfall on the otherside (like Poohsticks, sort of).

Almost as an afterthought I opened up the duck house:
0412 eggsEggs!

Nestled in a bed of dry grasses were two perfect blue and brown speckled eggs.  Not wood duck eggs, to be sure, but eggs nonetheless!  A perfect discovery just in time for Easter.

Now, if only I could know for certain what type of birds these eggs belong to.  Robin?  Starling?  Stellar Jay?  I guess time will tell.  Nest Watch 2017 is on!

Fires and Futures

IMG_0237We got a much-anticipated call this week – the fire department is going to burn down the old farmhouse on April 29th!

The fire chief had originally wanted to do all sorts of training exercises in the house, but when he stepped into the house the first time he immediately realized that wasn’t going to happen.  The house is basically a bunch of kindling; 1895 balloon framing with no fire breaks, dry rot and all the like.  My guess is that the group of volunteer firefighters will get enough training just trying to keep it from becoming a raging inferno once it gets going.

My feelings about all this are a mixture of elation and, surprisingly, regret.

Every time I walk into that house my eyes water and my throat constricts.  The smell of urine and feces and decomposing bodies is almost unbearable.  If you’ve never been in a house infested by rats and mice, swallows and bats, well dear god just keep it that way.  Don’t go in.  Not only does it smell terrible, it can actually be very harmful (sometimes even fatally so) to your health.  The thought of my girls living in that farmhouse, even cleaned out and fixed up, makes me feel panicky.  There is just no way.


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The farmhouse in the early ’80s.  That’s a young Jasper in the front right.

I grew up in a hundred-year-old home.  I am a fourth generation native of the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.  I like old things and I like old houses.  I like their history, I like their character, I like the quality of their materials and the craftsmanship it took to build them.  As odd as it sounds, I like the thought of being just one more in a long line of people through the decades and the centuries who have called the house their home.  Who have lived out their wildly different stories with the same backdrop.

For those reasons, I would have liked to fix up the farmhouse and had my girls grow up in the same house their dad grew up in.  I would have liked to have been able to restore her to her original charm.  To her original grace.  But I am no carpenter, and I am not rich, and honestly I am not that adventurous or adaptable either.

And so we scheduled this burn-down, and it was hard.

But!  I am so excited to build a new house here, too.  To plant our children’s roots in this place, to construct a nice, sturdy, well-built house that, god willing, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren will one day call home.  A new house for a new chapter.

Actually, let’s call this a brand new book.

March 2017 Goals Update

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March was a month.  A long, wet, cold, disappointing month.

I looked forward to it’s coming for so long and I had a whole slew of things I wanted to accomplish before it was done.  The weather ended up getting the better of us though, and very few things on that list were completed.

  1. Getting the garden ready for spring planting:  We’ve been able to get out and till some parts of the garden, but it really is a very big plot and we do only have a very small rototiller (what we really need is a small tractor, but that is a want/need for another year).  So, we need to keep tilling the garden, and adding aged manure and amendments.  Ha! Such big dreams I had!  The endless rain and spongy ground that were the hallmarks of March sure stopped this from happening.  We were able to till the strawberry patch, and the nightshade beds inside the greenhouse, and I did manage to pile some manure onto the onion beds.  But that’s it.  There’s still a quarter acre of garden to till and amend before I can plant anything else.
  2. Planting out and sowing seeds:  This one is obvious, I know, but I’m putting it here anyway because it is something that needs to keep on being done.  This is the month that the first cauliflower and onion seedlings I started will need to be hardened off and transplanted outside, and almost everything else (exceptions being cucumbers and watermelons) will get started either inside or out.  An exciting month, to be sure!  The onions and strawberries were planted, miraculously.  And the cauliflower was hardened off, but so far there is nowhere to put it.  It is just sitting out there among last year’s debris, waiting for a spot to be cleared.  I did sow more seeds inside, and now have a thriving little nursery of lettuce, squash, herbs, and all the other usual suspects.
  3. Burning stuff up:  Oh boy, my favorite!  We’ve got a couple of different slash piles started, and we’re just waiting on a nice dry stretch to put the torch to them.  Yes, thanks to generous doses of gasoline, many piles of tree limbs and old junk have been burned.
  4. Moving the big chicks outside:  Raising three baby chicks indoors is a lot different from raising 12 baby chicks indoors.  It’s much less nice with 12, I have to tell you.  They stink and they’re loud and they’re constantly tipping or clogging up their water thing with shavings and just making a general stinky mess.  The good news is that at this number, they’re less like pets and more like livestock.  So I don’t feel so bad giving them the boot to their outside pen.  Done!  The chicks have been moved outside and also integrated into the existing flock.  Well, sort of.  They all sleep together in the coop at night, but by day they’re two separate flocks.  I’m hoping that when they reach maturity and start laying Wilhelm will gather them all together into one happy family.
  5. Deconstructing a shed:  Sheds are great, don’t get me wrong.  And this particular shed that we’re going to be taking apart is very well made with tree trunk supports and hand split cedar shingles.  But for the most part it’s not very attractive; it’s long, rambling and unenclosed; our builder said it’s in the way of the trucks that will need to come in; and the fire department said it’s so close to the house that it would probably catch fire when they burn the house down.  So Jasper and I are planning on dismantling it and then putting it back together as a chicken coop.  Somewhere else.  Um, nope.  Not even close.
  6. Clear around and amend fruit trees:  We’ve already done the pruning (or tried to, anyway, being novices), but we need to keep clearing weeds, blackberries and trash away from the base of all the fruit trees.  We also need to dump some manure around their trunks.  I don’t know the last time they had any manure, and I’m sure they would appreciate it.  No, we never got to this, either.
  7. Stick to meal planning:  I always have really good intentions when it comes to meal planning.  Every week I pour through my cookbooks and Pinterest boards, make a list, make a shopping list, and usually I get the first meal cooked.  But then, life.  Sickness and ballet practices running late and suddenly we’ve eaten Chinese takeout and pesto pasta four nights in a row. So.  This month it is my goal to plan easy meals and stick to them.  We’ll see, but I have my doubts.  You guys know how much I love cooking.  Annnnd ... no.  I was certainly full of optimism at the beginning of last month, but unfortunately this was just one more of the (many) things I did not accomplish.
  8. Save more money: We’re going to need it.  Yes!  We managed to sell our rental house at long last and got to bank all the proceeds!  

Ah, well.  There’s always April, I guess.

Barnyard Happenings

0324 tillyI visit the barn at least twice a day, but most days three or four times.  To let the chickens out in the morning, and to lock them in again at night.  To check food and water.  To check for eggs.

Invariably a cat or two will follow me, since they never like to be left out of whatever’s going on.  Lulu is content to merely be with me, a cat with her person, but Matilda always gets a wild hair when she’s outside and usually ends up climbing something.  So far she’s been able to get down from whatever she’s ascended, and hasn’t fallen from anything, but I have seen her lose her footing and dangle awkwardly from the top branches of our flowering cherry tree.  She prefers that I did not see that, and will climb down with an overabundance of dignity and poise.

I love my dogs.  I love all dogs.  But I do find cats to be so much more amusing.

0328 rooster.jpgIn chicken news, Wilhelm Von Cocklespurs is all settled in and the proud head of his flock.  He’s first out of the coop in the morning, and he leads his ladies back in every evening.  They all crowd around him on the roost, and he looks as happy as can be.

I watched him find worms in the dirt the other day, but he didn’t eat them himself.  Instead, he brought them over to the hens, did a little bobbing dance and then gave the worms to the hens with much magnanimity.  I think in this way he managed to win them over, because now I see him doing that other thing roosters do, and they seem happy to let him.

And not that we need more chickens, but if Flower goes broody again this summer I might let her sit a couple of eggs.  She might just hatch them, and I would like to see that, as well.

0328 chicks 2.jpgThe young pullets are still a flock unto themselves.  They never go far from each other, and they also never go far from the door of the barn.  The wide world seems very scary when you’re a 4-month-old pullet.  Jasper threw some leftover grain from his beer brewing into the yard the other day, and it was tempting enough that they did very tentatively venture the 15 feet from the barn to eat it.  They were jumpy and nervous the entire time though.  I hope they calm down soon.

One day last week I didn’t see them outside at all, not even in the doorway.  I kept looking out the window throughout the day, but never saw them.  Finally I went out to check, and found them all huddled in the corner of the barn opposite their coop.  They were terrified, because in the window was a trapped hummingbird, making quite the racket.

Tilly, of course, was with me, and immediately climbed up onto the window, so I quickly grabbed the hummingbird in my hand.  This wasn’t the first time I held a hummingbird, but I’m always struck by how delicate and weightless they are.  It’s like holding a single piece of fluff in your palm.  The poor thing was frightened (probably as much as the pullets) but unhurt.  I held it long enough to take a picture and marvel at it’s iridescent feathers, then let it go.  It flew up to a safe height, then turned around and looked at me before darting away.

Threatening hummingbird gone, the chicks immediately rushed to the grass outside the doorway and started scratching around.

0324 hummingbirdI’m looking forward to the day when I have a bigger barn out on the farm, and more animals in it.  Goats, ducks, cows and pigs.  Maybe a couple of horses one day for the girls.

More work, to be sure; more early morning and late evening chores, but also more lives to watch play out; more personalities to get to know; and, most importantly, more stories for my day.