Haus Meister reminded me the other day that the latest blog post still began with “April” in the Middle English, thus galvanizing me into action! Especially as August with all its busy-ness is hard upon my heels—it’s time to catch up on the doings around here!
Farewell to “Brockhall”
Just about this time of year in 2020, this lovely chestnut oak, a full and rich green in its day, suddenly decided to go dry brittle brown on us and it wasn’t a drought. No signs of life from it in 2021, we were at the mercy of the local tree men who were themselves overbooked after several Spring and Summer storms, not to mention the resurgence of Covid. Finally, at the start of this summer, a crew came out and took down the tree the kids had named “Brockhall,” after a giant tree in the Redwall book series. Gone but not forgotten, it lives on in the five deep stacks of logs waiting for the autumn splitting, and two huge stacks of milled wood in our workshop waiting to become furniture as the need arises.
Meanwhile, back on the Farm
The barnyard has been in a state of flux lately. In June, Rascal sold his entire stock of rabbits to a family who were interested in homesteading. That officially ended the rabbit chapter here, unless one of the little girls wheedles for one—and only ONE—rabbit in the future. ;). We all learned a lot about the furry beasties, and which of them were good mothers, and which were not. Also which little blighters managed to exploit unexpected exits in the rabbit hutch.
I just realized this picture had been taken before the Rouens and Khaki Campbells had grown out their adult feathers. They really are a striking set, except it turns out there are five males and two females in that set.
The Pekins and the two roosters hatched last November became meat birds as we began a “farm to table” aspect of the farm life. However, on the very day those seven birds went to processing, an Orpington hatched seven chicks in our hayloft! Fortunately, we were on to her before any chicks made a leap out of said hayloft, and they had a happy start on terra firma. Only three survived the first week, and they are already running all over the barnyard and add a good deal of entertainment. Amusingly? Mama Chicken decided as her chicks grew that their ideal roost would be in the rafters next to the hayloft ladder. She wins in the end!
As in workshop news, that is. Haus Meister and Rascal spent a week at a Blacksmithing Institute building a Tire Power Hammer to complement our home smithy. It was a fun week for the two of them! Rascal is definitely meant for that kind of work and we’re intrigued to see where his discernment path leads as he progresses through high school.
Welcoming “Docena,” our petite princess, who arrived a little more than two weeks ago into our home and hearts. Unlike Pipkka, she didn’t have to stay any extra time in the hospital. The whole experience was marvelously uneventful and we’ve just been enjoying our littlest (and trying to sleep when she sleeps, but really, how often does that work after the first baby?!).
Around the Haus…
March is promising to be very event-full, with two birthdays and two sacraments in one week! Not to mention Lent, school, springtime farm chores, figuring out sheep-shearing…. wow! Fortunately, my mother has been visiting for three weeks now to help us with our transitions so far. We’re going to miss her even more than usual when she heads back to her home! 🙂
Pipkka is really easing into her big sister role rather well. It helps that as I type, she’s a week out from her first birthday and learning so many new skills that she really doesn’t mind if I’m holding Docena unless it’s while the latter is having a bottle. Pipkka, like Dibbun before her, sees all bottles as her personal property and will even valiantly attempt to sneak sips from the tiny size 1 bottle while she, of course, is used to things rated 9mos+. This too, shall pass…
On the Farm…
While we figure out a routine here in our new “new normal,” things have not been idle on the Farm. Rascal’s rabbit had a new litter the week before Docena arrived. Right now, we call them The Tribbles because they are cute, small, furry, and show up in the unlikeliest places.
I warned my family not to allow me to walk into Tractor Supply or Ace Hardware unattended until further notice as Chick Days are back. I simply cannot be trusted while my two springtime addictions are out on sale (peeping poultry and garden plants). The fact that the sheep ate two of my apple saplings last Spring gave me pause and prevented me from grabbing a Honeycrisp one outside Tractor Supply. And luckily when I did happen to make a late evening run to TSC for barnyard needs, there was a sign saying the chicks wouldn’t go up for sale until the next morning at 10. Saved!
We did have a few small indoor projects to fix up before Docena arrived, and I will get to them in later posts. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing a lot of nostalgic reflecting as we approach the fourth anniversary of our leap of Faith relocation to this beautiful corner of the Blue Ridge. Old “photo memories” on my phone have been showing pictures of much smaller girls running in the yard of a house that is no longer ours, holding armloads of daffodils that I hope still come up to cheer the current owners. Out here, my bulbs have just come up and the daffodils have not bloomed yet, but they are coming! I cannot wait to start my cool weather garden in a few weeks. Winter still comes to us here, and lasts just a little longer than we were used to back there. And I still love getting pictures like these (taken in January):
I think I just spent a good fifteen minutes reacquainting myself with the mechanics of blog post design and updating the family sidebar with everyone’s current ages, and adding one more blessed bundle of joy coming our way soon. One of our neighbors commented last week that she thought Sunshine had grown a whole foot since she’d last seen her, but that seems to be par for the course for all the kids! Trooper has been taller than me for quite some time now, and both Rascal and the Squire decided to pass me up this year alone. Little Bit and Bright Eyes are both so much taller for their ages that Bright Eyes is often thought to be five, and Little Bit, well, even I forgot she is only six and three-quarters! And yes, Pipkka is coming! Her blog nickname comes from a Scandinavian version of her soon-to-be-baptismal name. As bouncy as she has appeared to be in utero, something spritely like Pipkka seems to fit our newest girl.
It took quite a lot of discernment and eventual disillusionment with Instagram, but I decided to cut the cord on the social media and return to what I loved best; telling our story here for whomever chooses to read it. I left Facebook in Lent 2019 and now Instagram in Advent 2020. I do miss seeing updated pictures from our relatives and old college friends, but all the same, the folks I love most did not post as often as the maelstrom of things I needed to see the least. And I tired of being played by all the doom news and panic theories, not to mention the algorithms and ads. I often joked to my sister that I could tell whenever the ads were reset because suddenly Instagram thought I watched horror flicks, or “Outlander,” and I don’t watch either. When I took the break from social media in Advent, I did have a week wondering what on earth I would do with my Internet browsing. Luckily, a few ladies whom I had followed back when blogging was “In” were still blogging, and it was enjoyable actually reading a whole blogpost while I enjoyed my nice cuppa tea in the evenings. Sometimes taking a moment to slowly enjoy one thing is more refreshing than trying to cram in a whole lot of things.
We all have a story to tell. I’m happy retreating to this slow corner of the Internet to relate a bit of ours.
Well, 2021 finds us in the interesting position of guiding teenagers through high-school, navigating middle-school ups and downs, balancing elementary-and-pre-school work, and getting ready to welcome a newborn daughter to the mix. Not to mention Haus Meister is still working from his base in the home office corner of our basement, and hasn’t had to travel in almost a year. That’s been a great perk from this pandemic; he’s never been this long between business trips since we married! We are still managing our micro-farm of chickens, bees, and rabbits, with a new and exciting venture coming ’round the corner in March or April (besides the new baby). I will save that for it’s own blogpost.
I am still working with my sometimes cooperating laptop to enable me to get the pictures from my phone onto this page, and my laptop was only inching along through most of last year before we decided to send it back to Dell for updates and repairs. Fortunately, it’s now creaking along rather than inching.
Also, Haus Meister fixed my sewing machine last October, so I have been happy to have that back in my life again. The girls are beginning to think about Easter dresses (as am I, as a great way to keep busy in these last weeks before Pipkka arrives. The last month is always the hardest for me patience-wise, and that has NOT improved with age). Hopefully, I’ll have more to post about that in the future besides “Hey, I caught up on mending the 642 Princess costumes in the Haus”! This is an exaggeration, of course….
On the farm:
We never ended up frying the rooster. This is probably because we are too tender-hearted, but also because combined efforts from many corners that ended up accidentally culling our poultry stock. We lost some chicks to a toddler’s hug; some grown hens to a hound dog’s over-eager efforts to help herd some free-ranging biddies back into the barn; and sadly, all three ducks plus five hens to a wily raccoon before we finally trapped him. So, since the rooster survived the toddler, the dog, a heat wave, and a raccoon, and as no one has complained about him, he’s still in residence.
Sam, the hound mix, is still guarding Misselthwaite. Bilbo and Oscar (formerly known as Puff-Puff), are still the cats in residence and have actually been ridding us of rats lately, so we are very proud of them. Tabitha, the feral pet stray, hasn’t been seen since the summer, and I fear she is gone for good. Either our cats chased her off or she was finally at the end of her nine lives, but I do miss our nightly food meetings on the back deck.
Rascal added to his rabbitry last June with the purchase of a pedigree Silver Fox rabbit doe now named “Pepper.” She joined “Dottie” and “Mumsy” and the buck “Giles” (all three latter being pedigree American Blues). Soon after she arrived, Rascal went with some of the family back to Tennessee to visit with family, and I had the unusual job of fishing a bunny out of the kudzu jungle behind the rabbit hutch, as Pepper had found an opening in the fence unusable by the fatter, older rabbits. She became an indoor pet for a while, and eventually established herself as the Best Bunny Mama of the lot when she happened to produce ten kits at the very end of December, 2020. Six are gray-blue like Giles and four are black like Pepper. They are so much fun to watch, but I do hope he is able to sell them soon!
On the needles:
I abandoned the sweater project for my mom as wool knitting is never fun in summer in the South, for me, at least. One would think that lockdown would have inspired more knitting time, but instead it, to be honest, led to a lot more doom-scrolling on social media. I did manage to make her a Starshower cowl which I enjoyed making, and she actually received in time for THIS year’s birthday! Once that was done, I whipped up a hat for Pipkka and am now working on a Bobble Sheep Pillow. I’ve been using spare stash yarn for these projects as I have been realizing this year brings me to a full decade of knitting… and I have so much yarn purchased to use… let’s not even start on the fabric stash… anyway…
This will be a new spot on my blog as I recount the ongoing saga of making this property come alive again. Happily, we have come to a point where we are doing more of what we want to do with this place rather than constantly repair the neglect from former owners (though, there’s occasionally that as well). In 2020 we began to renovate part of the master bathroom. We had to pause a bit last summer when the pool liner gave out and the men of the house learned how to install a beautiful new one! The pool never looked better (unless you count when it was installed, but we were raising toddlers and restoring the Old Haus back then). This year we are currently refurbishing the barn for all the fun; Haus Meister has installed a well pump so we can get the rabbits and poultry watered right away without hauling from the house (the barn was the original pump house for the well that used to provide water for the house as well, until it went on city water at some point prior to our arrival). We have also been rearranging the den of the house, taking out a mostly useless built-in entertainment center that was blocking a much-needed window, and putting in a woodstove to replace the propane stove that died this year (and no parts available to fix).
Thanks for reading this far. It is, indeed, very good to be back.
I have decided to update at least once a month, as things get crazy and it’s no good waiting until they aren’t. 😉
Around the Haus…
Some of us are another year older. Trooper turned 16 in December, Sunshine and Squire had their joint birthday this month, and I had my own two days later. One gift-to-self was Blessed is She’s “Gift of You” course. I rarely get the chance to attend a retreat these days, and even though I watched the sessions while doing laundry triage, it was well worth it and so refreshing.
Laundry triage…. My sister’s husband got to see our house for the first time this past Christmas, and as I gave him the tour, I also apologized for the laundry room. Matter-of-factly, he asked me why I should apologize for not being caught up. “You have ten kids!” Point well taken. It is what it is. Luckily he didn’t see it after we all came down with ‘Flu B at the beginning of the New Year! Fortunately, Haus Meister had repainted our bedroom (Behr Natural Grey) and we splurged on LL Bean flannel sheets as a Christmas gift, so at least if we were down and out, we were down and out in comfort! But ugh… ‘Flu B….
That begs another question. After we recovered, Haus Meister and I pledged that next year we would endure taking all of us in for a flu shot. That has definite merits! On the other hand, just as we recovered, headlines screamed, “Flu Shots May Not Be Strong Enough for this Year’s Flu!” Can you win for losing? I don’t know anymore.
But I digress…
(That should be the tagline for this blog)
Around the Farm….
The hens survived the molt season and are giving 6-8 eggs a day even in winter (despite the one oviraptor in the flock). The rooster likes to think he rules the roost. The ducks are also doing well. Two of them are laying pretty regularly. Duck eggshells are thicker than chicken eggshells, but I can just imagine they’ll make beautiful pysanky next Easter…
The bees… I hope I mentioned the bees. Haus Meister invested in two prime nucs last Spring, but one was lost due to pesticides toward the end of summer. The other has been doing all right. At least, they’re still buzzing!
Last year for my birthday, Haus Meister gave me some VegTrugs. One is just full of dirt at present and serves as a pseudo-sandbox/mudpie arena for the girls. The other I’ve planted garlic in, and so far it seems to be doing well. Of course, I’ve never planted garlic before, so how do I know? It’s NOT DEAD YET. 😉
As I mentioned in a long ago post, I often leave food out on our back deck for our resident feral cat, Tabitha Twitchett. However, last October, a larger tabby showed up at her spot. He was so large, I thought at first it was the raccoon, but then he turned and looked at me with a look (I thought at the time) of pure deviltry. We had been watching the 1940s Disney “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” so we named the newcomer “Brom Bones.” Brom returned once or twice between October and November, but began to show up regularly toward Christmas.
This time, the kids noticed he was a good deal more friendly and used to people than Tabitha. In fact, one night, when the temperature dipped below freezing, they snuck him in behind our backs! Brom’s name changed to Oscar, after James Herriot’s “Oscar, Cat-About-Town.” We tried “Thorin,” keeping in our Tolkien pet name tradition, but ultimately Oscar won out. As it happens, that was appropriate. In that story, Herriot and his wife find out that Oscar has a family, and so did we today. We brought Oscar in to the vet at long last (now that we were no longer sick and the schedules eased up), and it turns out he had a microchip! His owner was contacted and was so happy to hear he was found, as he had been missing since Thanksgiving! So we got to be the happy ending for this cat, who, it happens, was originally named “Puff-Puff.”
On the needles…
Keeping a little knitting accountability here, I’m currently making the Hinterland Sweater as an extended birthday present for my Mom. I’m using a wool yarn from The Philosopher’s Wool that Haus Meister brought home for me from a business trip an age ago, that was just waiting for a project like this. I’m super excited about it, and have every hope, being the eternal optimist I am, that Mom will enjoy her sweater as summer fades into autumn.
This winter, compared to last winter, is definitely comparable to our Tennessee winters, with one valuable exception: it’s been cold enough to kill the mosquitos. And on that note, see you in February!
My social media reminders reminded me that apparently it has been one whole year since Haus Meister brought home the box of chicks from the hardware store. I thought for a moment that it couldn’t be, but yes, it was ten days from our move-in day… we still didn’t have our furniture then… the movers would place things, with a chuckle, around the makeshift brooder we set up in the basement. So, on that note, how about a look at the animals on the farm?
And may I add a laugh on me? When the last of the corgyn fellowship passed away in Sept. 2017, having slipped a disc in his back after jumping out of the bathtub and never recovering, I was DONE with pets. I said we would not have another pet until Bright Eyes was in kindergarten. Of course, I had seen Fredregar killed in a hit-and-run just in front of our mailbox in 2011; the black labrador rescue gone sour the same year; my favorite corgi Meriadoc died in front of me after a cruciatus tear to his knee exacerbated an abdominal condition in 2015; and then Pippin… well, it was quits for me and the animal kingdom.
Until December, when we visited a farm owned by some friends, and Sunshine picked up a cat. Fortunately, she alighted upon the most placid cat in existence who didn’t mind a bit that this strange girl was carrying it around everywhere while she visited. Sunshine decided from that afternoon that we, also, needed a cat. She repeated this often. She went on walks in the neighborhood looking for a stray to rehome. We didn’t think cat + move = good idea, so we tried promising a cat AFTER the move. The second time she went in search of a stray, we decided it was time to just adopt a cat.
Here comes the laugh on me. March 3, 2018, enter Bilbo. He was a sweet, quiet kitten for about five days but ended up being an agile, hilarious critter. He likes warm hearths, warm blankets, or warm windowsills bathed in sunshine. He also likes to attack when least expected, or when we are showing the slightest attention to the outdoor cat. When seated, he resembles some Egyptian statue and wants us to recall that his ancestors were worshipped as gods. He thinks he’s fierce, but he also has only brought home one rodent and a pile of crickets. He also hogs the dryer top in the wintertime.
I said we only needed one cat. That much is true. However, last August, after a few weeks of rain and storms, my parents were in for a visit and reported that they had seen a gray cat outside their bedroom window. Two nights after they had left, I saw the cat myself, meowing and rubbing against the screen of the sliding door in our kitchen. I had seen an orange stray meandering before then, but he always ran at the sight of anyone. This one stayed put, so I feared she was lost and needed some food (I am a sap, I admit). I went out to give her a bit of cat food, and she was skittish as I grew close. She even now will rarely let me pet her, but she comes by every night and she has proven a good pest controller–better even, than Bilbo– so I keep feeding her. It’s not like the cat food provokes raccoons or opossums any more than the fact that we have garbage cans on the property, anyway.
So here she is: “Tabitha Twitchett”
And now, the chickens! When Haus Meister went to the hardware store last year and inquired as to the availability of chicks, he was proffered the deal of “buy 4 get 1 free” if we chose week old chicks instead of the day-old ones. So he came home with 4 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Rhode Island Reds, 5 Barred Rocks, and the last Ameraucana the store had in stock.
The Buff Orpingtons: Banana (deceased January 2019, thanks to a hawk); Pillow; Sunflower; and Polka Dot Sunshine Sleeping Beauty Princess (named by Posey. Note: there isn’t a single polka dot on this yellow hen).
The Rhode Island Reds: Galatea (named for the cow in Farmer Giles of Ham), and Speckles Worm-Bane.
The Barred Rocks: Pecksy, Eugenia Lincoln, Baby Lincoln, Polka Dot (the original), and Turkey Neck.
Ameraucana: Queen Spotta.
All of the chickens have been great with the kids. They may not always be kind to one another (“Pecksy” and “Turkey Neck” received their official names from a feather-plucking habit developed over the last four months). We’ve learned a lot about chicken keeping in the past year. The reason “Banana” is in a towel held by Rascal in the second picture in due to the fact that she suffered a vent prolapse after her first laid egg. “I just gave a chicken an epsom salt bath” was probably among the most surreal texts I sent in 2018. Poor Banana! She was the runt of the bunch and became my favorite.
It’s a fact that we have not needed to buy eggs at the supermarket since last August. We’ve given eggs away to friends, neighbors, and even electricians. All our current hens lay brown eggs except Queen Spotta, who lays a blue green egg. One day I opened our refrigerator to see that Sunshine had decided to have a bit of fun with an old nest we found in the woods, and one of Spotta’s eggs.
Another amusing story from our first year here came from the same weekend that we acquired the outdoor stray cat, Tabitha, mentioned above. My parents were due to arrive late in the afternoon of one particular Friday last August after a time which, as I said, we had a lot of rain and storms. A lost hen decided to visit our barn that same afternoon, and moved in that night. Luckily for us, she wasn’t carrying any diseases or ailments, and began to lay full size eggs in the nest boxes as if she had always known this place. Rascal said she was his chicken since she arrived out of the blue on a weekend we were celebrating his birthday. He named her “Candy.” I’m hazarding a guess she’s either a “Red Star” or “ISA Brown” hen. It really doesn’t matter, as we don’t plan on showing her at a fair anytime soon. What we find amusing, though, is that we acquired a stray chicken. That doesn’t come up in many stories! And yes, I did look around for a few weeks in case anyone was missing a chicken, and as no one seemed to be at a loss, Candy fits in well.
By this time, I had utterly forgotten anything I had ever said about when to get a pet, and was not surprised when, after unearthing and restoring a rabbit hutch from the woods behind the barn, that Rascal would save his money from pet-sitting for our neighbors and buy some rabbits! He has two American Blue does named after characters in the Redwall series of books. “Dottie” is the smaller of the two, more personable, and very sweet. “Mumzy” is more aloof, larger, and as I call her, “The Adventure Rabbit.” Haus Meister and Rascal plan to build a larger, more secure hutch for the rabbits next weekend after Mumzy the Adventure Rabbit decided this weekend to find a way out from under an old loose feeder and see the Great Outdoors. Fortunately, she only explored to a woodpile about ten feet from the barn door, whereupon she was returned to her hutch to nurse her offended dignity.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the glimpse of our ongoing “nature study” here on the Farm. The joke on me will continue as April should bring us some brand new chicks (from Murray McMurray Hatchery this time) as well as a nuc or two of honeybees. Stay tuned!