Thursday, November 27, 2008

Winter wonderland

This time leading up to December feels a lot different out here in the country.

We're so far removed from all the holiday craziness and commercial hype (it helps that we don't have a TV) that I'm quite calm about the fact Christmas is only 28 days away and I haven't started any shopping (or anything else) yet.

(We're trying to pare down our Christmas anyway, make it a simpler celebration focusing on family instead of stuff. I'll let you know how that works out.)

It's another reminder of how time just moves slower in the country. When you take a moment to breathe and really savour the space around you, it's inevitable that you find yourself more in tune with Nature.

When we walk outside it's totally quiet in the most wonderful way. There are no snowblowers buzzing at all hours of the day or big municipal trucks throwing salt all over our front yard. Cliched as it sounds, everything is blanketed in a wonderful layer of fluffy snow, like a layer of thick cotton insulation.

It'd be foolish to think that everyday will be idyllic like this and I know we've got a long, hard winter ahead of us. And I admit, that's got me a bit worried. I worry about the kids driving to school on the bus (even school buses slide, especially on these country backroads) and although Lucas drives a pick-up into town, I worry that he'll end up in a ditch somewhere. Or worse.

There's also all the uncertainties leading into our first winter at here Rowangarth Farm. I wonder, will we have enough wood to last the winter (we heat with an external wood furnace and an indoor kitchen woodstove) and enough hay to feed the animals (overnight, our happy grazers have become happy hay burners); will I find an affordable generator that will keep our well pump pumping and our refrigerator humming when that inevitable mid-winter power outage strikes; do we have enough food stockpiled; will we be able to plow ourselves out if a really bad storm hits?

Lots of questions and only experience will give us the answers. But in the meantime, we're just enjoying the wonder and beauty of the season.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Random moments of happiness #3

(Click the photo to enlarge)

It's starting to look a lot like Christmas... or at the very least, it's starting to look like we'll need to actually put the snow blade on the ATV!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Goat + dog + donkeys = trouble

There's been a change of plans here at Rowangarth Farm, but we're learning that's just a part of farm life. While some of you may have been expecting Billy's homecoming story, I'm here to tell you about another homecoming: this one's about Oscar, a wether Pygmy goat.

When we finally decided to buy Billy from the lady with the chickens, we thought we'd get him a goat companion -- Oscar, a three-year-old wether (another successful Kijiji find.) A wether, or castrated male, could keep Billy company while he was off-limits to our future girl goats. Being a wether, he wouldn't share any of Billy's less appealing buck-like qualities either.

Right off the bat, I knew Oscar and I would get along. When I first walked over to the gate by his pen, he jumped up on a bale of hay, bleated a goat-like 'hello', waited patiently for a treat and then bowed his head for a behind-the-ears rub. He was like a big puppy. With horns.

The dog crate that I brought to transport him home was laughably small (I didn't factor in the horns... or the round belly -- it's true that pygmy goats resemble a beer keg with legs) so Oscar had the whole back of the pick-up cab to himself. He didn't seem to mind too much: he spent the hour-long drive home alternating between lying down and watching traffic out the back window.

We got home, unloaded him off the truck and after some creative coaxing (made easier by the removal of the donkeys and the dog who crowded at the gate, resembling a farm animal receiving line) we showed him to his new pen in the barn. He was pretty shook up but as soon as he found his manger full of hay, he made himself right at home.

Day one with the goat, and all is well. Then came day two.

On Tuesday morning, we considered introducing Oscar to the donkeys. Once we saw the look of sheer terror on the goat's face (mind you, it was a fleeting look of terror -- we got a better look at his back-end as he ran away) we decided to keep the two species separate for a while longer. The donkeys went into the back paddock on Sumac Hill and the goat had the run of the barnyard.

As I did my morning farm chores, Oscar was quite happy following me around, bleating loudly and rubbing up to me for head scratching (especially around his horns.) Whenever I left his side, he'd run after me, wagging his tail and ringing his bell. (Yes, the goat wears a cow bell). Just like a puppy, indeed.

Morning of day two with the goat, and all is well. Then we introduced the dog.

Henry is a herding dog in desperate need of a flock of sheep. So desperate, that he's decided to practice on the goat.

While Henry has developed a healthy respect for the donkeys, given that they're three times his size and they can hoof him in the chest and throw him six feet, it seems that Oscar, being of similar size and colouring, is fair game.

We first let Henry into the barn to meet Oscar when he was still in his pen. We thought a good solid four-foot wall between them would facilitate their introduction. They sniffed, they inspected and then Oscar ran away. Henry proceeded to bark at him. Not a good start.

So we shooed the dog out of the barn and let Oscar out of his pen. He came happily trotting out into the barnyard -- until he saw Henry. Being more of a domesticated goat than of the livestock variety, he bolted over to my side, looking for protection. Of course this put Henry's nose out of joint: Oscar was obviously getting too cosy for Henry's liking.

But Henry's a good-natured dog, so instead of growling and getting aggressive, he decided to play a game: let's herd the goat. The more Henry chased, herded and barked, the more Oscar head-butted, reared on his back legs and hid behind me.

At one point, the two of them were chasing each other in a circle with me planted in the middle. Thankfully, I avoided being impaled with a horn or being knocked down by a misguided dog.

We sent Henry back to the house, put Oscar back in his pen and let the donkeys back into the barnyard.

End of day two with the goat, and all is well. Kind of.

Day three arrived. Oscar seemed to have settled in nicely to barnyard life. The donkeys were happily ensconced in the back paddock and Henry was forced to keep a safe distance (most often, in the house.)

While Leeroy spent a better part of the morning watching Oscar over the gate, Cinder seemed pretty blase about the prospect of another barnyard companion.

Oscar didn't shake uncontrollably anymore when he saw the donkeys (in fact, he poked his nose through the gate to see them), so we thought, maybe it was time to bring them all together.

Cinder happily inspected the new addition, in a 'let-me-sniff-you-you're-cute-stay-away-from-my-hay' kinda way.

Leeroy, on the other hand, put on a dominant male, 'I'm-the-boss-let-me-squish-you-like-a-bug' attitude.

In retrospect, we're wondering if it was a wise idea to introduce Leeroy to anybody while Cinder is in heat (that's our explanation, at least, for the two of them doing the double-decker-donkey-salsa across the back paddock all morning.)

Cinder tried to intervene in Leeroy's nonsense -- but he was on a mission: To see how far he could punt the goat off his forehead. He chased him down, bit him on the rump and sent him cartwheeling across the barnyard.

I screamed an obscenity (or two), ran to the barn door and gave Oscar his escape route back to the safety of his pen while Lucas acted as a human barricade. A quick once-over revealed no injuries, save for a bruised ego and a big scare, which was somewhat assuaged by a handful of cracked corn.

My heart raced, my stomach turned and I thought, "What the hell have I gotten us into now?" One of the donkeys that we got for predator protection is beating up the first member of our future goat herd. This can't be good.

When I went outside to berate Leeroy, he was calmly standing in the barnyard, like nothing happened. He nuzzled up for an ear and face rub, a privilege that only I have earned, so far. I draped my arm over his pudgy neck and he relaxed into me, as if to reassure me that he wasn't really nasty.

I had to remind myself that he wasn't used to small animals, particularly ones with horns, and he'd spent years being bullied by a dominant horse at his old farm. At that moment, Lee redeemed himself -- in my eyes, at least.

I'm still optimistic that one day, the donkeys will keep an eye on the other barnyard animals. It just may take a while to convince Oscar of the same.

UPDATE: Turns out that Billy's family has decided to keep him so they can breed him in the spring. That's OK. I think we've got our hands full with the chickens, donkeys, the dog and the goat. And we still have to bring home our rescue horse this weekend. But that's a whole other story.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Random moments of happiness #2

This is Sissy and Sunny, our supposed barn cats in training. I think they're far too happy being house cats to ever set foot in a barn, let alone live in one! Sissy is pretty good at chasing bugs (she's just far too proper to eat one) and Sunny just hangs out with Henry and plays Indy 500 raceway throughout our house at 3:00 a.m. Not a bad life, indeed.

P.S. I'll get back to my regular posting this week as I've got lots of sharing to do -- stories of escaping donkeys (actually, two stories, two escapes), my weekend visit to Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue in Hagersville, Ontario (big story to share there.. about 16 hands high, I'd say) and the pygmies (yes, as in pygmy goat plural) are hopefully coming home tomorrow afternoon. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hot off the (virtual) presses!

While I may be new to blogging, I'm not new to writing as I've been freelancing for the last seven years. One of the publications I regularly write for is Bankrate Canada, where I have a really great editor who gives me lots of leeway to write about topics that might not otherwise be found in a business-oriented publication.

Some of my green writing credits include: Getting your lawn off drugs (an article on organic lawn care), How's the air in there? (all about indoor air quality assessments), The trouble with tech trash (aka the trouble with e-waste) and Green cleaning made easy.

(Mind you, I've also written some neat articles on non-eco subjects like, How not to buy a former meth lab and What to do when things go bump in the night (in case you're worried your house might be haunted.))

I've written more than sixty Bankrate articles over the years but the one published today is the one I hold closest to my heart: It's my first of a new monthly column on Simpler Living.

Here's the intro:
"I'm not sure when I truly appreciated the significance of our move to the country. It could have been when the moving truck drove away and we found ourselves alone, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by acres of woodland, hay fields and a trillion crickets. Or perhaps it was when we harvested our first egg from our new brood of hens. Then again, maybe it was the arrival of the donkeys. Yep, it must have been the donkeys..."

To read more, follow this link here.

It may not be Shakespeare but it's our story. It tells a bit about how we found our farm and why we're here.

When my kids get older, I'll show them this article and others like it, as well as the stories and pictures I post to this blog. Writing helps me remember where we came from and where we're going. It even helps me make sense of it all, especially on the days I feel in over my head. I just hope that reading these stories will one day do the same for them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From puppies to pygmies

Just over a year ago, we were faced with a big family decision: should we, or should we not, get a dog.

We'd been thinking about it for some time but then one day, on an unexpected drop-in at the pet store with my kids, I saw him: a six-week-old red Australian Shepherd with the most soulful blue eyes I'd ever seen. He was the runt and I thought he was gorgeous. I fell for him instantly (and I'm not usually the kind of person to go all weak in the knees over a puppy. Really, I'm not!)

Now I'd never even considered buying a dog from a pet store -- I'd heard too many horror stories about puppy mills and I knew there were many rescue dogs waiting to be adopted -- but when I asked the store owner where the pups came from, she explained she was brokering them for a breeder and this was the last batch. That was good enough for me. A pet store was no place for an Australian Shepherd, I reasoned, and he became the rescue pup I'd always wanted. And I knew just the perfect place for him.

I didn't walk out with him right then and there. A good heaping of common sense (coupled with a hefty price tag) persuaded me to go home and talk it over with my, often more sensible, other half. We had lots to figure out -- was he the 'right' breed, would he be good with the kids, would we be able to afford it, could we provide him with a good life?

We did our research, made our decision and today, we're not only the owner of the above-mentioned puppy (who has a wonderful life here at the farm, thank you very much... except when he's gallivanting after wild turkeys), but two kittens, 10 chickens and a couple of donkeys. (Seems kinda silly now that we were so stressed out over a dog.)

So what does this walk down memory lane have to do with our farm? Well, we're once again faced with an equally perplexing decision over a prospective four-legged addition to our family.

I'm talking about Billy: a six-month old Pygmy goat.

The lady who sold us the chickens emailed me because she's selling her Pygmy goat and she wondered if I'd be interested. She started out with three Pygmy goats -- two females and a male (Billy) as her intention was to breed them. But then she traded the two girls for a pony (that's just how things work out here in the country), effectively firing Billy from his job as a fully-fledged, unaltered boy goat.

Intact males like Billy have a reputation for being aggressive and stinky, especially during breeding season. But apparently, there are exceptions and so far, Billy is neither of these things.

He loves hanging out with the chicken lady's donkey, pony, geese and ducks. He plays with her children, comes running when you call his name and his favourite snacks are apples and sumac, both of which we have in abundance.

But a goat?

Pygmy goats, being one of two breeds of miniature goats (the other is a Nigerian Dwarf), require less space, less food and have smaller housing needs than their full-sized cousins. We thought that if we found ourselves a girl Pygmy goat (a doe), we could make more Pygmy goats and eventually (we're finally getting to the homesteading part here), our own goats milk and cheese.

Minis produce about 600 pounds (or 300 quarts) of sweet-tasting milk a year, about one-third the amount you'd get from a full-sized dairy goat (but enough for homesteaders like us, just trying to figure out this whole farming thing.) While a Pygmy is stockier than a Dwarf, a true dairy breed, they produce about the same amount of milk, so I'm told.

By starting off with Pygmies, we thought we could get some experience before trying to raise a full-sized, more demanding, possibly registered (and therefore pricier) dairy breed. It's kind of like buying a starter home and then buying your way up in size. OK, I did say kind of.

I admit it: I love the idea of mini goats scampering around the barnyard under the watchful eye of the two donkeys. Their presence might even increase our credibility with the neighbours who, upon asking us why we had donkeys ("For small-flock predator protection," we replied) looked on in amusement at our otherwise empty barnyard.

It's easy to get caught up in dreams about the pitter-patter of little hooves, but additional animals mean more money and more daily farm chores. We're not running a petting zoo here and if we got Billy, we'd be taking our first step towards breeding and all its associated responsibilities.

So once again, we're faced with a decision: will we or won't we. And again, we've got lots to figure out -- are we getting in over our heads, is this just a case of farm fever brought on by cute miniature animals, what if Billy gets smelly and/or aggressive, what do we know about raising goats, let alone breeding them or even milking one?

But this farming life is all about uncertainties, isn't it. There are no absolutes to the weather or growing things or tending animals. Keeping dairy goats has always been part of our homestead plan: the opportunity just presented itself sooner, and perhaps smaller, than we originally expected.

We've done our research and asked intelligent questions. And we've clearly made good decisions before. So, maybe it's time to get my nose out of the books and into the barnyard, whether it's stinky or not.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fowl play on the farm

I always thought a dog was supposed to be man's best friend but it seems here at Rowangarth Farm, a rafter of roaming wild turkeys has us beat.

Henry is an one-year-old Australian Shepherd who has an innate need to herd things. He's tried herding the kids, the cats, the donkeys and other visiting canines. He chases squirrels on our walks, with the intent of herding them I joke, but he always comes back empty-pawed but no less discouraged.

So earlier today, when about 20 wild turkeys came gobbling out of the pine grove between the ponds, it came as no surprise that his herding instinct kicked into overdrive. He took off like a rocket across the field but we eventually called him back with a couple of dog treats and our sing-songy, "Here puppy puppy, come here boy, that's a goooood boy, Henry" punctuated by under-our-breath curses that would have made a sailor blush.

Thinking the excitement was over, and that one of us had an eye on the dog, I went back inside the house while Lucas went into the barn.

I'd barely sat down at my desk when Lucas came running in. "Henry's gone," he said. "He took off over the ridge after those turkeys."

We knew that dogs and rural living isn't without risk: he could run off and get lost, get hit by a car or shot by a hunter. We've even contemplated invisible fencing. But ever since moving here, Henry's always seemed to have a reasonable head on his shoulders and I chalked it up to that expensive puppy school training paying off.

Then those wild turkeys changed everything.

I bolted outside like a crazed madwoman, calling his name. Henry's always come back, I reasoned. He's just just on his way back from the woods. But this time, there was nothing. No thrashing around. No galloping paws. Just complete silence (well, except for my hollering.)

I ran down our gravel road hoping to catch a glimpse of him (or the marauding turkeys) on the main road. Thankfully, none of our neighbours drove by as I'm sure it would have cemented our assumed reputation as the silly city-folk. He was nowhere to be seen.

So what's a near-hysterical girl to do when faced with a pet crisis? Jump on an ATV and go careering around our property, screeching his name. There was some method to my madness as I thought I'd either, a.) find him and entice him to drop the turkey-chasing and run after me or b.) scare off all the local wildlife so any nearby hunters wouldn't have anything to aim at (I was terrified they'd mistakenly shoot Henry.)

Again, returning to the house empty-handed, I was faced with the thought of life without my trail companion, child minder, donkey herder and foot warmer.

Granted Henry may not always be the most agreeable dog. Since moving to the farm, he's taken up a number of less than desirable hobbies, such as rolling in donkey poop, wading in ponds and bogs and digging in the compost pile, among other places.

But he's also our constant companion, a gentle clown with our kids, mother hen to our kittens, amusement to our donkeys and from his nighttime post in the hallway, he keeps an eye on all of us as we sleep .

Thankfully, I didn't have to contemplate life without a dog for long. As Lucas pulled up in the pick-up truck (he had a little more sense than I did and decided to go search for him along the road) he pointed to our lane way. There was Henry: coated in mud up to his belly wearing a look on his face that was part intoxication, part confusion. He was obviously tired, panting heavily and limping slightly. But he'd come home.

"Stupid dog," I said between sobs, taking his head in my hands and squeezing.

After a quick cleansing swim in the pond (something of an oxymoron, I know) and some treats in our front hall, he seemed no worse for wear.

I, however, learned a few valuable lessons. Firstly, maybe it's time to look into that invisible fencing. Secondly, given a choice between Milk Bones and wild turkeys, the Milk Bones don't stand a chance.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, maybe Henry needs an on-farm job after all. Given the choice between watching his own flock of sheep* or chasing turkeys, I'm hoping the woollies will win every time.

* Disclaimer: Yes I know and totally respect/understand that herding sheep is an art and that dogs must be trained for years before becoming skillful herders. I also know that I can't expect an untrained Aussie to be a particularly effective sheep herder. Henry doesn't know that though.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Three cheers for two long ears

After our reasonable success at chicken farming, we decided to add to our barnyard menagerie: meet our new donkeys, Cinderella and Leeroy.

And yes, we know -- we have a cute pair of asses.

Before you ask, "What are homesteaders doing with a pair of donkeys?" rest assured -- we haven't completely lost our senses and fallen prey to their equine charm. Donkeys are good companion animals (important to our future flock of sheep and goats) and offer excellent predator protection against marauding coyotes, dogs or wolves, all of which roam the area (the farmer down the road recently lost four sheep to wolves).

We've heard all about the bad rep donkeys have -- that they're stubborn, stupid and even vicious -- but we're convinced they're largely misunderstood. Donkeys are less flighty than horses and are more likely to stand and assess a situation before acting (hence the reputation for stubbornness.) The ones that are vicious have most likely been victims of abuse or neglect (there's a long sad history of donkey abuse -- check out the PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary in Roseneath, Ontario and The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada in Guelph, Ontario.)

We always knew we'd have donkeys here at Rowangarth Farm, but we weren't sure where we'd find them or when. Then in the classified section of our local weekly paper, I found our answer: For sale: two Donkeys -- one Jack and one Jenny.

What's the harm in calling, I reasoned: We could get more information and find out what they were selling for. I'd seen them listed for between $200 and $400 each, and it's not fair to get only one (they're very social creatures and they do better in pairs.) Regardless of their value to our farm, I knew that $800 was way out of our budget.

Nevertheless, I drafted a long list of questions for the seller:

  • What size are the donkeys (they're standard sized, meaning they're between 36" and 48" tall at the withers, larger than miniature donkeys but smaller than mammoths)

  • How old are they (six and 10 years old, which is relatively young as donkeys can live between 25 and 40 years... though the world's oldest lived over 60 years!);

  • Are they halter-trained (yes);

  • Are they currently under veterinarian and/or farrier care (yes - donkeys have to be dewormed and have their hooves trimmed regularly);

  • How are they with other animals, domestic and otherwise (fine, they were in a field with a horse and they're used to a dog - not sure what they'd be like with sheep/goats);

  • Why were they being sold (the seller wanted another horse though his wife really wanted to keep them (we've since spoken and arranged for a visit));

  • How much were they asking (not much), and

  • When could we come for a visit (any time).

Turns out the seller lives about 20 minutes away from us so less than thirty minutes after our preliminary phone call, we found ourselves mucking about a pen with two donkeys and a horse. While the male wanted little to do with us (we later learned he's just shy at first), the female nuzzled up to us, checking out our pockets and looking for behind-the-ear rubs.

They were obviously well loved beasties (Leeroy is even a little on the fat side) and we were pleased to find out the male wasn't a Jack (an uncastrated male). He's a gelding (a castrated male), which is a good thing for us, as Jacks can be more aggressive and noisier.

We thanked the owner and told him we'd think about it. By the time we'd pulled out of his driveway, we'd made our decision: We wanted the donkeys to come live with us.

We spent the next few days fixing fences, buying hay and straw (surprisingly, not as easy to find as we thought, especially since we were looking for small square bales and not the big 1,000 pound round bales that big farmers favour), reading The Donkey Companion (an excellent book by Sue Weaver) and getting a place in the barn ready. Donkeys are pretty hardy creatures and these two had lived outside 24/7 for their entire lives (Cindi had lived with these folks since she was two years old and Leeroy since he was eight months) but I wanted to have a place they could go when the weather got really, really bad.

All we had to do now was get them to us. Simple, right? Wrong. It took us a week to find someone who'd transport the donkeys 20 minutes down the road. Turns out horse people are leary of donkeys, concerned that they'd "freak out" and cause damage to themselves or the trailer. (The seller and I both agreed that if anyone was to have a problem moving the donkeys, it'd be convincing them to get on the trailer in the first place.)

Finally, the owner of the donkeys called in a favour with a horse farmer down the road. After a false start in which Leeroy took off to the back-forty when his owner came at him with a lead (around this time I was starting to wonder what exactly we'd gotten ourselves in to) we got a phone call to say the donkeys were loaded and they were on their way. The owner then added, "Would anyone be there to help us unload?" Again, I wondered what I'd gotten us into.

After all the drama and nonsense trying to get them here, their arrival was pretty low key. While both of them were obviously distressed by the trailering (poor Leeroy had emptied his bowels and bladder ALL over the trailer and Cindi was so drenched in sweat the driver thought there was water leaking from the roof of his trailer) they both took to their new home almost instantly.

Here's a photo of Cinderella, or Cindi or Cinder, less than two hours after her arrival.

This handsome dude with the 'fro is Leeroy, or Lee.

Their homecoming wasn't without problems: The dog wasn't too pleased with the new arrivals. The first day, he barked and barked every time he saw the donkeys and I worried that they'd kick him in the head and kill him. Thankfully, they had more sense than he did (he is only one year old, after all) and they were quite tolerant of his sniffing and exploring.

Now, after spending only five days getting acquainted, Henry loves careening around the barnyard with them (so lovely) and rolling in donkey poop (not so lovely.)

Henry's not the only one enjoying their company. Both Cindi and Leeroy follow us around the barnyard and watch us from the fence line as we load the wood furnace or walk the kids to the bus.

They love carrots and apples, dust baths and a firm scratch on the rump. Wherever Cindi goes, you'll find Leeroy keeping an eye on her. And we know that when we are ready to add some sheep and dairy goats to our farm, we'll have Cinderella and Leeroy keeping an eye on them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Random moments of happiness #1

Bedtime in the chicken coop

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The hens, they are a-layin'

We're not the only ones who have been busy here at Rowangarth Farm. In just nine days, our 10 hens have laid over four dozen eggs!

And these aren't itty-bitty eggs either: here's a photo of the four eggs that I gathered this morning before 9:30 a.m.

Now, my hand might not be very big but the eggs are still sizable enough to make it tough to close the lid on a large-grade egg carton!

We average seven eggs a day, though once we collected nine. It's pretty impressive (to us, at least) considering the days are getting shorter and colder, so production is supposed to decline.

Granted, it is only early November so I won't be too surprised if our hens stage a no-laying strike when it's minus 25 degrees outside and the sun hasn't shone in a week.

But in the meantime, we're enjoying the sheer delight of gathering fresh eggs, still warm, from our girls.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Celebrating Halloween, country-style

A few friends have asked me, "What do you do for Halloween out in the country?"

Well, it's pretty much the same as in the city, except instead of hanging out a Jack o’ Lantern and waiting for the ghosties and goblins to visit, we head to town.

The kids didn't seem too phased by this. I think my six-year-old understood why no self-respecting trick-or-treater would take the time to trudge up our long laneway before walking to our closest neighbour, about a kilometer (half a mile to you Imperial folks) down the road.

So the kids got dressed up here, my son as a ninja (not of the Teenage Mutant variety, just a cool-looking stealth ninja) and my daughter as a butterfly fairy/princess fairy/angel (really, why choose?) before loading into the car. Thankfully, the 10-minute trek to town doesn't phase them anymore (a nice change from the first few complaint-filled weeks of, 'Are we there yet?")

We parked by the baseball diamond downtown and headed over to Memorial Park for a Halloween party. We then walked across the road to Cameron Street, reputedly "the" place in town for the country folk to load up: "You'll hit paydirt on Cameron Street," said our in-the-know Realtor friend.

But what I liked most about Cameron Street wasn't the treats. It was watching all the families and kids sitting out on porches chatting with each other, talking about their weeks, making plans to get together. In a village of 1,400 people, everyone really does seem to know everyone else and there was just a lot of small-town friendliness going on.

I also learned two important things: apparently the school bus is a great place to meet other kids and my four-year-old knows more people in town than I do! But that's okay. Even though I miss my friends (that's been one of the hardest parts about starting from scratch) I know there are lots of good folks to get to know here. What's more, my kids are happy.

By the time we got home at 7:30, it was pitch black out. It was a clear night and with no exterior lights on, we could see about a zillion stars. It was a fitting end to celebrating our first Halloween country-style: admiring the wonders of the universe after admiring the wonders of small-town geniality.
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