Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gone to see a man about a harness

Cutter sleigh

Snowy Farm (note new French doors)

I have been looking for a work harness for Gideon now for quite some time. My goal was to find a used one, so I spent a bunch of time online and perusing the classified ads in our local paper, The Country Today (if you're ever wondering about milk prices or want to get a helpin' of old-timey rural lore, look no further). Unfortunately, this method wasn't working out, as I felt a little insecure about buying something sight unseen and nothing was coming up that was in Gideon's size, which is basically Size Dinosaur. As we recently acquired a SWEET ride from our friend Jim Sundholm in the form of a cutter sleigh and have over a foot of the white stuff out here, our search for a harness has become more urgent indeed.

When I've asked our neighbors out here about how to go about finding a harness, many have suggested wandering around for a while until I find an Amish person and asking him where his harness maker lives. I don't know about you, but I found this method to be a little vague and somewhat intimidating. Luckily, as per usual, our hero Bill Beyrer got me the goods: the actual general location of a harness maker. So Jay and I trekked out to Medford, WI, which is little over an hour away. All we knew was that the place was called Shrock's Harness Supply, and was located somewhere on Wren Drive. And this was good enough for us! As we drove, we started to notice the lack of propane tanks and surplus of driving horses in the pastures, thus knew we were in the right territory. Sure enough, there it was: a little wood-burned sign under a mailbox that you'd surely miss if you weren't looking with intent. Jay hopped out and double-checked with a man driving his thick-built team of bays across the road, and he pointed to a gray building.

The harness shop was something to behold: a warm, dark barn crammed with harness parts, jingle bells, brushes, tack, bits and every kind of equestrian-style minutae you can possibly think of. And within minutes, Urias Shrock was there to help us. I have to say I found Urias to be completely charming in every way. I'm guessing he was in his 70s, and built like good farm stock, with the standard round-topped black hat and long wispy-white beard, sans mustache. I think we puzzled him with our desire to go back to the old ways. At one point I mentioned that with oil prices the way they're going I had the feeling horse farming may come back in to fashion again, and the look he gave me - the twinkly-eyed twist of a smile - could only mean one thing: "Well, duh." So today I took Gideon's ample measurements and mailed them into Urias Shrock, because I'm getting a harness custom made for my plus-sized Belgian. And then Urias Shrock will drop me a line via U.S. mail when my harness is ready for pick up in January.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

French Doors, Kitchen Queen, Hot Date

Well, we talked about it and thought about it long enough. The french doors and the wood cookstove - they are IN! Last Friday, our dear, construction-gifted friend Kevin spent 24 hours at the farm armed with tools to ensure that we complete this daunting task in time for our neighborhood party the very next day. A window was removed. (before shot at right) A giant hole was made. An 800 pound stove was hauled from the deck into the kitchen through the hole. And doors were installed and even insulated, thank god, before nightfall. Because it was 5 degrees that day. FIVE DEGREES.

Kevin, Chris and Jay are saints for completing this project so beautifully and quickly. Charis and I took the boys to Menomonie (and kept them away from the scary, dusty, cold, dangerous mess) for the entire day. We did manage to pop into a photo of the project, making it appear that we might actually have lifted a hammer or even a finger. However, handling post-project clean up and entertaining two nap-deprived toddlers puts us into our own category of sainthood if I do say so myself.

The next morning brought drywalling, taping, mudding, and molding to be installed. Owain even helped out by poking nails into the drill. (Okay, so we weren't quite as diligent about keeping the toddlers away from the danger as I claimed.) The wood cook stove sits beautifully in the kitchen where the table and pew used to be. While I certainly miss those elements of our kitchen, it is hard to walk by our dear Kitchen Queen without stopping for a few seconds to gaze at her grandeur. It has yet to be fully installed with a chimney, etc. to make it functional. That is why we can keep a plant and a bowl of fruit on top of the warming shelf without watching them wilt within seconds. The kitchen will probably need to be rearranged a bit more to make it work as best as we'd like, though the stove will never be moved again. Here are "after" photos of the stove and the french doors. It's really incredible to sit at the dining room table and see the full scope of the hill behind our barn and watch the sun set or see the warm lights through the big new windows, walking back up to the house from the barn.

The Christmas party was a blast. Neighbors came in full force and stayed past midnight, full of holiday cheer. We were blessed to have my mom and dad come out for the day and stay for the party. Chris's Nana also came for a few days and to join us for a second year at the party, which was a good thing since the neighbors were asking if she'd be there again! Nana also brought the best gift of all for the boys...her old moving, flashing, singing Christmas carousel. It has been a HUGE hit with Ellis and Owain, both of whom quickly learned how to turn it on and turn the volume up. But despite its initial obnoxiousness, something about it makes me really happy - the joy it brings to the boys, the joy it has brought Nana for so many years, its warm light and corny carols. I have a feeling it will be an annual Christmas treat for these kids.

Ellis and I are at the farm alone together this weekend. Chris is at work and C, J, O are in Madison. It's been a lot of fun to have this quiet time with Ellis all alone. We've had some unfortunately warm days, which has made for sloppy, sleety weather. So, I decided we needed to get out of the house for a little date. We visited the children's museum in Eau Claire, where Ellis spent most of our time there running around the insides of a larger than life digestive tract. I really wish I had a photo of him climbing up the "tongue" and sliding down out of the large intestines into a giant pad in the shape of a toilet seat. I'm not kidding. He also spent a fair amount of time in this car at the fake bank drive-thru, passing fake money through a fake air tube to a kid he kept calling Benjamin, whose name was actually Cameron.

Once exhausted from intestinal climbing, we walked down Barstow street for some lunch at the Acoustic Cafe. Ellis loved it and kept telling me he was having a "good date with mama."
We're off tomorrow to begin a week of family-holiday-festing in Minnesota. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, loyal blog readers!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Owain @ 16 months

Owain is a child who knows what he wants. While I'm sure this will serve him well later in life when he's out pursuing his wildest dreams, right now it often means afternoons of high-decibel nap resistance or an expressionistic floor mural of rejected foodstuff, which admittedly can make for a long day for an old Mama. Owain has more words now. Some of his favorites include "moon," "snow," "hair," "eyes," "nose" and "knee." He still loves the cats and the horses. Another development has been Owain's interest in music. He will sit for a long spell listening to Jay play his sax or Chris on the guitar, is rather insistent about hearing music in the car (NOT news or talk) and gets down with his bad self dancing when we put on something he can shake his booty to. Other pastimes include reading books, looking through his baby book, poking Auntie's belly button, playing and fighting over toys with Ellis, going for walks outside (once the glove trauma is over), vehicles of all kinds, and keeping his Mama and Papa awake as much as possible (he woke up during our neighborhood Christmas party last Saturday and was up for 2 hours flirting with the guests. He also likes to greet the butt crack of dawn with a cheer every morning). All in all, life with Owain is never boring, that's for sure!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmastime is Here!

The past few weeks have brought some good old fashioned holiday spirit around here. We've got snow, a Christmas tree, sledding, cookie-baking, and party planning. Our neighborhood holiday party is at our place tomorrow night - it's quickly becoming an annual gathering, which we hear the locals are very excited for - fun times sipping cider and downing sweet treats with our good neighbors. And today, a giant hole is going in our west wall to bring in the wood cookstove and install our french doors - lots to do before people come over tomorrow! Keep an eye out for some before and after photos soon! Ellis woke up with this awesome hair nest after a good night's sleep.

And here's some video from this morning - a little serenade for you all.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's complicated...

I remember being about 9 or 10 years old and wishing I was grown up. I wanted a purse and a check book and bills to pay. I wanted to drive a car and go to work and carry a briefcase. (A briefcase?!?) While I do get happy about writing checks and paying bills because that means I get to cross something off my to do list (isn't a to do list all about the gratification of crossing things off?), I shudder to think of nearly all of those other "grown up" things that I once coveted. Because a bill is so much more than a little statement with numbers on it. It's more than the thrill of solving a math problem. It's a sign of more responsibility and inflation and debt and dependence.

I am grown up now, even though it often feels like I'm still playing at adulthood. I have stress. I have a house, farm, cars, a job, family of my own. How did I happen upon so many giant leaps in life? When did I even learn how to balance a checkbook or change a flat tire or make dinner? Yes, this is a "where has the time gone?" entry. But really, what amazes me is how much I know simply by osmosis and the passing of time. Marriage and motherhood being the most profound examples.

How does Ellis, my 2 year old son, often have better grammar than I do (was that sentence even grammatically correct?)? Did I teach him to talk? Did I teach him to sing and make playdough pizza? When I stop and think about it, the idea that I am a mom makes me feel like I am 9 years old again. I laugh to myself in disbelief and think there's no way I'll know what to do next. But then Ellis has a massive meltdown and I rise to the occasion and somehow we end up more deeply bonded because of whatever it was he and I did together at that moment, without thinking, simply acting.

I'd like to apply this deep, powerful skill to the rest of my life. When I forge ahead with honest gut-instinct motivation, good things happen. Deliberation and thought are important, yes. But sometimes thought is best saved until afterwards, when I can reflect on my day and my decisions and actions and find peace in the successes and failures of my a mom, wife, sister, daughter, house mate, friend.

The bills and the job and the briefcase--my 10 year old symbols of grown up life. Only now that I'm in it, can I revel in its complicated and difficult and beautiful reality. I know it gets more complicated yet. So now I dream of being REALLY grown up and simplifying - discarding the debt, job, car, and checkbook altogether. Then, what will my new briefcase be? Balance, wholeness, relationships, truth.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Votes are In

It appeared to come down to the wire with Becca and I up until the unchristian hour of 11:00 last Friday night (well, Becca went to bed at 10:30) watching the votes pour in. With every vote we'd get, the other guy would always manage to pull ahead. Today I got an email saying that we won the peoples choice award and that after all the votes had been audited we won it by a whopping 50 votes! Thanks so much to everyone who voted for us. We promise to put the prize money to good use. I'm thinking either a pair of these shoes or perhaps one of these snowboarding kites.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Your Morning Quiz

Hey ho, everyone! My morning here at Lostview has been a great reminder of why I would be far too bored with city-type problems. So for your entertainment, I've created an enjoyable little quiz to see how you would grapple with today's unique challenges, farm-style. See if you've got what it takes.

a) Your Belgian has voluminous diarrhea-cicles stuck to his butt and tail - most likely from being wormed yesterday. When I say diarrhea-cicles, I mean a full-on runny pile of green poo is stuck in a giant icy wad to his tail and nether-regions. I was going to take a picture as words just don't do it justice, but I remembered that some of you are reading this over your morning Cheerios. To complicate matters, your 15 month old has just gone down for his nap, which means you have 45 minutes to take care of this problem, as well as get a full body cleanse in afterward. Did I mention it's 10 degrees below zero? Go.

b) Your woefully inadequate snow car, aka "Chevy Prism," is stuck at the bottom of the hill in your driveway. Its tires are bald. Your husband needs a ride home later. You must negotiate said "car" to the top while keeping your whining 15 month old off of the gear shift in the front seat. Still 10 below. Did I mention there were 6 inches of snow on the ground? Go.

c) You go out to start a fire in the hot tub wood stove, scoop out the ash and realize it's soaking wet. Water is leaking in to the stove from the tub. Do you start a fire anyway? Is there something else you can do to prevent further catastrophe? Miraculously the 15 month old is still asleep but you don't have much time. And your hair is wet from the shower, and forming icicles. Go.

d) You've made a pan of caramels for the holidays, and the recipe said to pour the soft, warm caramel goo into a sheet of buttered foil in the pan, which you questioned but did anyway because you're too anal-retentive about following recipes. The caramel has been sitting in a giant chunk chilling out in the porch and now must have the foil forcibly and meticulously extracted in tiny pieces and be cut into bite-sized chunks. The 15 month old is obsessed with the caramel, and can't have too much because otherwise he will be bouncing off the walls in short order. Go.

Have fun, kiddies!


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Kitchen Queen

We have long talked of getting an old fashioned wood cookstove to cook our food and heat our house. Earlier this summer we decided to go for it and we ordered an Amish-built stove called the Kitchen Queen. It arrived the other day and our friendly neighbor Dave got a 6pm call from Jay that went something like this: "We have an unusual favor to ask. We've got an 800lb wood cookstove sitting at the top of our driveway and need it moved onto our deck." "I'll be over in 10 minutes," Dave answered. He was, and he carried it down the driveway with his loader and placed it gently on our deck where it now sits waiting to me moved into the kitchen. The only problem is that it probably won't fit through either of our doors, so we'll have to make a new one.
A quick note about the stove: It should heat the entire house and cook our food (at least in the Winter) but it also has a large water storage tank on the back and a coil running through the stove. We'll be able to hook this up to our hot water heater in the basement and get virtually free hot water during the winter months. For summer heating, I'd love to get a solar heater installed eventually. So in a word, with this stove we will no longer be dependent on propane. With energy prices sky-high and going higher yet, this is a good thing.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Miscellaneous goodies

And another fun pic of the boys, along with some of Owain in our recent snow and Thanksgiving shots from Grandma and Grandpa Collins' place...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Boys

There is rarely a quiet moment around our house when the boys are together. They ask about each other when they're apart and can't get enough of each other when they're together. Though I'm looking at the season's first snowstorm blowing around outside the window right now, we've had a beautiful fall with many sunny days and lots of rambunctious fun.

Ellis walking on the "balance beam"
Ellis on his first carousel ride with Uncle Michael
Ellis and Owain in a very rare, still, quiet moment in the crib together, listening to Chris play guitar. Here's a (grainy) video clip of Ellis "singing" the ABC song while Owain quietly listens...