Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who would of thunk? (June 2008)

A week ago I was driving down a Wisconsin county road with 8 chickens, a 2 year old singing "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and my gorgeous wife of 13 years while watching a lightning storm in the distance with a Brewer's game on the radio.

I can not believe I just wrote that. I am 36 years old and never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the person driving that car would be me.

I am reading David James Duncan's "My Life as Told by Water." It is filled with essays about the environment, rivers and living. What strikes me is the theme, or current, of humility. Who am I in this giant, beautiful world? Two hundred years from now my existence will be forgotten. The creek, once the size of the Clackamas River, will still flow, giant oaks will continue to grow and drop their acorns and the bald eagles will still teach their young how to catch trout and turtles.

This does not make me sad or depressed but grateful and humble. I am thankful for this wonder and amazement. To have a loving wife, a healthy, smart and funny son, a home filled with projects, ideas and challenge is a pure blessing I never dreamed. Would I have become the man driving the car described above with prescribed plans and control for what is right? I do not think so. Am I now losing my humility?

Yet, why do I still have a hard time stopping, but rather I run around like a chicken with my head cut-off (no offense to the hens in the back seat)? How do I keep the humility and wonder so many more great things can happen? Experiences, ideas and events that I would never imagine being.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Meet the Girls

My sweet husband made a sweet chicken ark, and as anyone with a fine ark-makin' husband would be expected to do, I feel the compulsive need to share. The beauty of this piece of architecture is that you can move it around in your garden and the chickens eat the bugs while naturally tilling and composting the area, getting it ready for your garden planting! Don't worry - we'll be building a more permanent, insulated structure for them for winter.

I would only recommend this pose in this hat if you don't mind looking a few sandwiches short of a picnic

Yes, that's Boompa in there

Bring on the birds!

And after a long drive even further out into the boonies and a stop at Urias' place for some new springs for my forecart seat, we picked up these little beauties: four White Leghorns, two Black Australorps and two Barred Rocks. Apparently we can expect eggs in another 2-4 weeks. They're settling in just fine, thank you!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


It's the time of year when the rhubarb is in its full glory, all magenta, pink and green, sitting like a quiet beast in the garden. I love this plant - it's so dependable and grows in even the least desirable soil. It comes back every year on its own with little to no tending, and it's one of the first signs of summer. It tastes good and stores well. And there's something so satisfying about chopping rhubarb - that crisp, clean chop-chop-chop. But it does peak in early July, so now the rush begins...the more you pick it, the more it grows! Amazing! Fantastic! For the love of pete, what do we do with all this stuff? Heaven forbid we let it just SIT there!

So, this morning I picked a big old bushel and I swear I saw new shoots start growing immediately. This bunch will become rhubarb jam, which will join the rhubarb sauce sitting in sealed jars on our pantry shelves.

And while we wait for the rest of our garden to flourish even half as heartily as this red wonder, we'll just continue to eat rhubarb and take joy in the fact that a vegetable could taste this good.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The time had come...

After a night camping in the woods with Chris, Peter & his nephews, Ellis came home elated about his adventures...and filthy. Here are just a few of the things we discovered in his hair:
and three ticks.
We've been diligent about nightly tick checks, but sifting through Ellis's mop of hair is no treat for anyone involved, and these three bugs were the straws that broke the camel's back.
It was time for a haircut.

Now, Ellis is not exactly keen on anything coming near him that he's not fond of - he's gone into complete meltdowns over band aids, lotion, even washing we were wary of his willingness to sit still as we chopped his golden locks. We wrapped the clippers up like a present and let him open them up, then there was a lot of inspecting of the "hair cutting tool" (tools are okay, in fact, tools are cool in Ellis's book).
Ellis practiced using his new haircutting tool on his dad...
And while Ellis "clipped" dada, mama chopped Ellis...
The experience was not without its due bribing, including a frosty treat, for we still had some snipping to finish up...
All done. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you, our little boy.
I was admittedly teary-eyed, watching his baby hair fall to the floor, but that was quickly changed to joy when I saw this bright little face, out from behind all that hair.

Monday, June 09, 2008

When to Visit the Farm: A Traveler's Guide

It occurred to me the other day that there are potentially many of you out there in cyberspace who are itching to come visit us here on our humble patch of Wisconsin soil but just can't decide when. Why not customize your trip in accordance with your own personal fun-o-meter? The year brings ever-changing faces to this place, and chances are you can find a time that would ensure the maximum good times available to you. So let me present the options without further ado. Call us when you decide on a season!

Life returns with a vibrant green vengeance. Seeds and starts must be lovingly stowed in the earth. There are trellises to be built and/or reinforced and beds to be dug and weeded. The children will be dirtier than usual, and there's a good chance that sand and gravel will end up in the diapers. Horses will need to be curried a little harder than usual to shed their winter fuzz and worked a little harder than usual to shed their winter fat. Grass must be mowed. And mowed. Storms will roll through with the kind of drama reserved only for Midwest weather and Lawrence Olivier. Lilacs and irises and peonies can be plucked and arranged to inspire indoor sensory pleasures. Mosquitoes and other tiny buzzing insects must be endured. You will learn the difference between a wood tick and a deer tick. Think of it as an opportunity. Baby animals of all sorts are abundant. The thick, turbulent air brings relief to the winter-dry complexion. Meals this time of year will most likely include lettuce, asparagus and rhubarb, with some herbs thrown in for good measure, because that's what we've got in the garden. Speaking of herbs, mint MUST be planted in a POT. From NOW ON.

With the heat come regular trips to the river for cool dips. The Sand Creek Cafe makes a fine chocolate malt, perfect to split with a friend. Beers seem to be enjoyed with more ardor here than any other time of year (and mojitos too - we have to find something to do with all of that mint). When it rains, we weed. When it's dry, we water. Strawberries and pickles await preservation. We sweat as we harvest fresh herbs and cucumbers and peas and broccoli and cauliflower and sometimes the sweating feels like a purging and a release, and sometimes it just feels like plain old sweating, and it's sticky and hot. Summer fashions for children are limited to grungy white onesies. Poison oak should be identified and avoided. The bugs of the season are flies of all kinds, and because of this, a breezy day is to be savored. The hammock is a siesta essential. Horses can be worked in the morning or after dinner. And speaking of dinner, yours will most likely be a combination of fresh veggies all piled up on a pizza, enjoyed on the deck with a glass of sangria after the flies and children have gone to bed. We may be looking for ways to sneak tomatoes down your gullet.

The snap in the air is a welcome relief. Apples will need to be harvested in a variety of ways, so bring your paring knife. Tomatoes sit in patient piles on the deck and kitchen counter, waiting to be canned or made into salsa. Pumpkins and squash are the fall standbys. As far as chores go, we'll be thinking about how much wood we'll need for the winter, and if you can swing an axe you will be most welcome. Watch for deer ticks if you go for a trail ride in the woods. The flies will be trying to make the most of their final days on this earth, and the wildlife is everywhere - turkeys, deer, rabbits, woodchucks - all preparing for winter by noshing on the alfalfa fields with wild abandon. This time of year, your meal may find a late harvest veggie like squash pureed for a steaming bowl of spiced soup, along with some dark, molassess-y bread we got the itch to make and some red wine. The garden will be put to bed. Walks all over the farm and surrounding land are perfect this time of year due to a significant decline in bugs paired with crisp, clear days. Avoid coming during deer season unless you enjoy the sound of gunfire.

This season is long, and has taught me the value of learning to enjoy cold weather activities as well as the art of hunkering down. Snow is a welcome addition to the landscape, making sleigh rides, sledding and kiteboarding a must. If you have decent gear (a turtle fur face mask, for example), there's nothing more ethereal than a walk through the woods in the indigo moonshadow of a -20 degree night. During the day, the palate here is reduced to a few achingly lovely colors - the pale straw grass, the robin's egg sky and the stark white snow. We become baking obsessed this time of year, and there's no shortage of cookies, breads and other carb-rich delicacies designed to help you put on that winter layer of fat (for insulation purposes only). Dinners around now focus heavily on comfort value: homemade macaroni and cheese, calzones and stews, punctuated by a thick, dark beer. If you don't have the right boots, you will be cold. Horses can pull your sled back up the hill with you on it. The cross country skis are always at the ready. The children can get rambunctious and tired of indoor activities, so if rambunctious children aren't your thing, winter may not be your season. The out-of-doors are blissfully bug free. You will be amazed at how good a fire built hot in the wood stove can feel.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Green, green, everywhere

Oh my goodness, is it green. It is raining and warm and LUSH. Green grass, green trees, green fields, green garden. Every single spring I gaze slack-jawed at the buzzing life outside my window, wondering how it's possible that there was snow on the ground and nary a blade of grass just 8 weeks ago. We are trying a new growing method with our vine tomatoes - the cedar posts pictured above support twine trellises that the tomatoes will wrap around as they grow and climb. Here's hoping it's an easier, sturdier method than staking every plant - and resistant to big storms! One more thunderstorm just made it's way through.

Of course, lots of green grass means lots of time on the "new" beautiful 80's lawn tractor. Chris is teaching Ellis to steer the thing. 2 1/2 and learning to drive already. As you can imagine, he is VERY proud of his new skills and takes his job very seriously. Ellis is pictured here in the just barely less dangerous trailer of the tractor.

This spring also marked the bike-riding milestone for Ellis. He learned to pedal a trike a few weeks ago, and can steer his way around our deck or the city sidewalks like an old pro. Maybe all his experience driving the lawn tractor has paid off.

We are all about the garden these days - more beds, more seeds in the soil, with a solid plan and room for growth. Hopefully we'll even get these fresh, vibrant veggies into the hands and kitchens of more people. Maybe soon this wonderful, hard work will pay off in ways beyond our own pantry.

The fresh asparagus is enough to make any vegetable-hater a fast convert, and I'm dyin' for some more vanilla ice cream to sit side-by-side with the rhubarb in my bowl.
...and there was snow on the ground 8 weeks ago.