Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy first day of spring!

Happy first day of spring! We made it. Of course, it's minus five degrees outside right now and I can still see my breath, but gosh darnit, we made it!

I've been waiting for this day for a few weeks. Yes, winter has its charms and I've developed a whole new respect for the season but lately I've been itching to get out of hibernation.

I've always looked forward to spring in an abstract kind of way, but since moving to the farm, I find we're much more in sync with the seasons on an almost corporeal level. You have to be, out here, especially where there's wood to collect, food and hay to store, generators to prime, sump pumps to pump and seeds to sow. Rural life demands a greater sense of self-sufficiency and this winter I actually felt some primal survival instincts kicking in.

But that's a good thing. I think modern urban living has disconnected North American society from the seasons so much that we've lost our reverence for the power of nature. When it gets cold out, flip a switch and the thermostat kicks in. When snow falls, the city will clean most of it up.

The result is that we feel superior to nature, like we can control or manage it. Then something like the ice storm of 1998 hits and we realize just how powerless we are. I'm not saying we should be scared of nature, just that we should respect it a bit more and understand our place as cohabitant of this planet, not its master.

Anyway, time to get down from my soap box. Who knew daffodils could rouse so much pontificating? Besides, I've got green thumbs that are itching to be outside, not hammering away at the keyboard.

So happy first day of spring, folks. Get out and enjoy it. I can think of no better day to take a break from the busyness of life to just stop and smell the flowers.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The day after...

Troublemakers, you say? Who, us? No way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Busting out

Lately I've been feeling a bit smug about how few problems we've had managing the barnyard. Sure our animals tend to be on the neurotic side but we've never had issues with anyone escaping (well, except once when Lucas left the man-gate open too long and Leeroy decided to follow him and go for a romp in the garden) or fences failing.

Tonight I got my smug little self batted right out of the ballpark.

I was just finishing a different blog post about my glorious spring day today when I heard this high pitched sound. At first I thought it was coyotes but when I put my head out the front door, I recognized Gall's whiny. Lucas was out so while I was putting on my coveralls and boots I called to ask if Gall usually did that at night. Sometimes, Lucas replied, usually if he can't see one of the donkeys (i.e. Cinder) because she's wandered off somewhere in the dark.

Gall looking for his girl, Cinder

Well, when I walked up to the barnyard, Cinder was somewhere in the dark alright. I just had no idea where.

Gall was trotting around in circles, snorting and whinnying and getting himself whipped into a right lather. A 15-foot section of fence that leads to our big hay field was flattened and the donkeys were nowhere in sight. Thankfully, Gall was on the barnyard side of the fence still but for how long, I couldn't be sure.

He was getting louder and more agitated and running around in larger and larger circles. At 16 hands high and not wearing a halter, he wasn't the easiest to catch. But it's one thing to have the donkeys missing; it's another to have the donkeys missing and a codependent freaked out old horse running around after them. Let's just say I was pretty motivated to not let the situation escalate.

I was able to calm Gall down long enough to get his halter on and clip a lead onto him. He was still whinnying and snorting but at least he was under control, or so I hoped. By the time I got him down to the barn, Lucas came into the barnyard (after I unceremoniously called him and told him to get the f&*k home) and helped me get Gall into the stall. Gall does not like the stall. Gall paces and whinnies almost as much in the stall as he did out in the barnyard when Cinder and Lee went missing. At this point, I didn't much care for my horse's emotional sensitivities; he was safe and sound and I'd make it up to him later.

While Lucas went up to evaluate the fence damage, I took my headlamp and made my way over to the edge of our 30-acre, pitch-black hayfield to look for two renegade donkeys. I must have looked and sounded like a complete idiot. No wonder the neighbours don't talk to us much.

Within a minute or two, I saw movement and I thought it's a.) the donkeys, b.) a deer or c.) coyotes and maybe I'd get eaten and wouldn't have to worry about any of this anymore. It was the donkeys.

I'd loaded my pockets up with corn and I lured Cinder right up to the fence (I was, of course, on the wrong side still.) Lee was a bit more reluctant but wherever Cinder goes, he goes. Lucas had temporarily abandoned his fence-fixing to help me lead Cinder, who was now clipped onto another lead, back into the barnyard. It didn't help that the gate we were trying to lead them back through was stuck in mud and ice and it took several minutes and lots of swearing to unstick it but we finally got Cinder, munching corn, and Lee, following behind her, back into the barnyard.

I breathed a sigh of relief and was actually foolish enough to think, "Glad that's over with." I let Gall out of his stall (he was still whinnying and snorting for his girl) and he immediately walked over to Cinder and gave her a once over with his nose. She wasn't too impressed at all -- she just wanted to see if there was any hay still lying around.

Gall was pretty sweaty so I thought I'd fill up the barn buckets (I have to go back to the house to collect water because our barn well hasn't worked all winter) and while I was there, grab some equine-type treats from the house. When I got back into the barnyard, up at the top where the trouble started, all three of them were crashing around in the sumac, with Gall chasing the two donkeys.

It seems that Gall had had enough of their foolishness and decided it was time for his charges to go back to the barn run-in and put the evening behind them. The donkeys wanted nothing to do with this. So every time they tried to walk away from the barn, Gall would try and chase them back down.

After much cajoling and waving of water buckets and treats, I finally managed to coral the three hooligans together for some calming down time. It worked for a while and then the donkeys decided to take a stroll around the perimeter again. After more thundering hooves and crashing in the sumac I decided to leave them to their foolishness or risk getting knocked over (it was quite dark out, you see) while I put down fresh straw in the second run-in for their bedding (while I didn't really believe we'd see any signs of normality this evening, I had hopes) and top up the big water trough.

By the time the three equines had made their way to the front of the barn, Lucas had finished fixing the fence well enough until morning. I gave everyone a once over, making sure old Gall was sufficiently cooled down and that no-one was worse for wear (Lee has a scrape on his nose that may need seeing too but otherwise, everyone is OK.)

I don't know how well I'll sleep tonight. I'm a worrier, you see. While it worked out well in the end, it could have been much, much worse. The hayfield adjacent to the barnyard (aka the donkeys' playground) has an opening to our road as well as several openings to the woods and if they'd ventured far, I'd hate to think where they could have gotten to.

I'm also worried about Gall. He hasn't had this much exercise or agitation in months and at 23-years-old, his ticker ain't what it used to. He's supposed to be in retirement, not baby-sitting two silly donkeys. He's exhausted but I know he won't sleep until the donkeys are bedded in for the night. He's a tough old boy, though. I'm just hoping for a nice day tomorrow so he can spend it lounging in the sun.

Then there's the fencing. With the snow melting, it seems we've got a lot of waterlogged old cedar posts sitting in mud. At last check everything seemed secure but this evening's escapades proved us wrong. Maybe we'll just have to take a trip to the farm co-op tomorrow for some electrical fencing. At least that way, the next time anyone tries to escape, we won't be the only ones getting a shock.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The circle of life on the farm -- the Dr. Seuss version

I realize during my self-imposed blogging blackout, I never did fill you in on the story of what happened to Oscar (hereinafter referred to as 'the goat.')

So I suggest you read all about it here on my last blog post on

"We are now a two-ruminant family. Yep, we took the goat to the butcher a week after my last GRIT post (the first day the government meat inspector was in) and had the meat processed into 46 pounds of assorted goat cuts.

I felt some disappointment that things didn’t work out better with Oscar, but I must admit, I was relieved and satisfied we’d made the right choice. (Thanks to all you readers for your suggestions and comments – you were a great help!)

We told the kids right away that Oscar was no longer on the farm and they took it fairly well, considering the botched job I did of explaining it.

I’d decided that I was going to be upfront and straight about it. No “Oscar has gone on holiday” nonsense. They were going to learn about life and death on the farm, and I was going to be the one to explain it.

I told them that we’d decided to get rid of Oscar (hereinafter referred to as, “the goat” – you’re right Amanda, it’s much easier when you don’t name the animal!) as it was no longer safe to keep him. We’d done the best we could but some animals are just mean.

They seemed to agree with that assessment. (I think the head-butting and the fact that I had to use a broom to fend him off whenever I entered his pen gave them a good understanding.)

Then they asked where he went.

I explained that we’d taken him to a local butcher to be processed (which is a fancy way of saying "killed.")

My four-year-old daughter Ella asked, “Why?” with tear-filled, big blue eyes that never fail to melt my heart. I should tell you that this is the same girl who cried when she ate the first egg from our new hens.
I gently explained that instead of selling him to someone else who might not be as accepting of his goat-like nonsense and ill-temper, we decided that it was more responsible for us to have him processed into meat.

My son Jack replied, “It’s sad the goat went mean and now we’re eating him.”

I paused, then explained that while it’s OK to feel sad about the goat, we can feel good about the life we gave him. I reminded them that the animals in the barn aren’t pets and eating them, mean or not, will become part of farm life.

“But we’re not going to eat the horse, right mum?” asked my son.

“No, we won’t eat the horse,” I replied.

“Or the donkeys?” asked my son.
“Or, the donkeys,” I replied.

“Or the Ellas?” asked my daughter. Ella is the name she gave to all 10 of our hens.

“Well,” I said. “Eventually, we’ll eat the chickens once they are no longer producing eggs for us.”

So then my son said, in his infinite seven-year-old wisdom, “So you do your job, or you get eaten. Right, mum?”

“Yes, sort of,” I replied, rubbing my temples and thinking that maybe the “Oscar’s gone on holiday” explanation might have been better after all.

I told them that one of the benefits of raising our own animals to eat is that it puts good quality, tasty food on the table.

“Are you going to eat the goat, mum?” my son asked.

“Well, I’m not sure,” I replied, explaining that I first became a vegetarian because I was against animals being raised on factory farms.

“We’re not a factory farm, right mum?” my son asked.

“No,” I replied, explaining that factory farms are places where animals are raised in very poor conditions. While we offer a much different life for our animals, one where they’re happy and well cared for, it’s been so long since I’ve eaten meat I’m not sure if I want to.

“But mummy, you’ve got to try it,” said my daughter in earnest. “That’s the rule.”

By now, I was starting to get something of a headache, so I redirected the conversation towards the new chickens we’d be getting in the spring.

I asked the kids if they could help me raise some day-old chicks as well as a few ducks and maybe even a turkey.

“Babies,” squealed my daughter. “We can name them Rosie!”

“And when they don’t do their job, we’ll eat them,” said my son.

Yes, son, we will. But in the meantime, I’ve got to find some recipes for goat meat. Then I’ll decide whether I’ll be eating it too."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A puff of a breakfast

I'm definitely a breakfast person. Sure it's the most important meal of the day but I'm not being any kind of nutritional purist here. It's really all about the food.

Homemade buttermilk pancakes, scrambled eggs fresh from the hens, juicy just-picked fruit (yes, I know it's still March... a girl can dream, can't she?) and of course a cup of rich organic fair trade coffee --I say, bring it on!

So when I read this post at Mama Pea's A Homegrown Journal for Blueberry-Banana Puff, I knew we had to try it.

First, here's the recipe for the puff part:

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 beaten eggs
1/2 cup milk

1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.) Put butter in a 9" pie plate and place in oven until melted and hot.

3.) In a bowl, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar and salt. Add the eggs and milk and whisk until smooth. Pour into the hot pie plate.

4.) Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are puffed and golden brown (this part is really neat.)

5.) Remove from oven.

Now, Mama Pea suggested using 1 1/2 cups fresh or previously frozen blueberries, topped with one largish banana (sliced), 1/4 tsp cinnamon and one rounded tablespoon of sugar.

We're in short supply of last summer's frozen blueberries, so I decided to use canned peaches as the main fruit and only about 1/4 cup of blueberries. Readers to Mama Pea's post also suggested using apples and cinnamon or lemon juice and icing sugar. So pick your favourites and continue with the steps below.

6.) Arrange fruit evenly in puff. Sprinkle with cinnamon and icing sugar.

6.) Cut into wedges, drizzle with maple syrup and serve immediately.

First, the practical evaluation: I like this recipe because it's simple, it uses ingredients I always have in the house and it made four nice sized servings, all at once. I find when I make pancakes or homemade waffles, someone usually ends up following their nose into the kitchen before I'm even done cooking the second one. That means there's a lot of waiting. Not this with recipe -- bonus points for efficiency.

As for the taste: mixed reviews here. The best way I can describe them is like eggy pancakes with fruit. In my belly, that's a good thing. Needless to say, my daughter and I really enjoyed it, and she's becoming something of a picky eater.

My son wasn't too keen, which is surprising, but he hasn't been feeling well the last day or two. He's usually upfront about his likes and dislikes (like whenever I say I'm going to make some homemade soup, the first thing he says is, "just don't make that pumpkin soup again") so I'll assume he liked it.

My husband said it tasted kinda like french toast, but without the toast. He said it was good, though he did learn early on in our marriage to be diplomatic about these kinds of things (most things taste good with lots of maple syrup.)

On the whole, it was a lovely way to start our day. So thanks to Mama Pea for introducing our homestead to this recipe -- it's a keeper!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Random moments of happiness #9

Waiting for spring.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Anyone still there? I know I asked you to bear with me but really, a month is like an eternity in the blogsphere. Sorry about that, folks. It's been a weird and wacky time here on Rowangarth Farm.

I mentioned in my last post that we've been busy trying to figure out how to make a living out here. Well, that was something of a gross understatement. With all the economic scariness going on in the world, both my husband and I lost contracts that we were depending on. Being freelance, we know not to put all our eggs in one basket, but that still doesn't prepare you for what happens when the basket breaks.

I still have some ongoing contracts but times are tough for writers (and a gazillion other professions, I know.) Lucas has been hitting roadblock after roadblock, trying to start his computer consulting/training business and with each passing week, we sink deeper into the red.

We knew that it would be tough starting a new life. And never did we ever feel like we'd made a mistake moving here (okay, maybe once or twice when I was in the depths of 'What are we going to do?')

But what had me all wrapped up in knots for a time was this sinking feeling that if so many people had told us, 'Oh, we'd love to do what you're doing but it's just too hard'...

...maybe they were right.

For a while, I found myself disconnecting from the farm, like I was distancing myself from something that might never be. I became resentful of everyday chores, things like cleaning the barn or tending the wood furnace, because it was taking me away from figuring out how to make a living out here. That, in turn, was taking away from spending time with the kids -- vicious guilt cycle, that.

It became too painful to write about all my plans for this place because I had this deep-rooted fear that what if we can't make this work after all?

But about a week ago, I had something of an epiphany: It's time to leave the pity party.

Here's our reality: We need to find a way to make a living here, and keep at it until something sticks. Yes, we're in a nasty financial spot right now but focusing on that is going to paralyze, not motivate, us. Yes, this uncertainty is tiring and scary and yes, it's hard. Plain and simple. And we can either make the decision to stop or to keep going.

The thought of leaving this place makes me feel physically ill. So what choice do we have?

Only one -- to keep going.

So, we've started working on our present and taking steps towards the future again. Lucas is almost finished putting together his curriculum for his computer courses and next week, he's going to take his spiffy new website on the road and start pounding the pavement for clients.

I've starting pitching articles again and I'm just waiting for my seed orders to come in so I can start my seedlings for this year's veggie garden. I'm even allowing myself to get excited again for all the possibilities we have here.

I always battle some darkness (figuratively and literally) in February but March brings sunshine and longer days. And while these are only first steps, at least we're moving forward instead of standing still. Because really, what good would that do?
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