Thursday, December 19, 2013

Snowy Weekend

Last weekend was the first big snow of the year.  Joey was away hunting pheasant and ducks with his brother and friend so when Levi and I awoke to a winter wonderland I couldn't resist bundling him up for a few pictures of his first snow.  

My mom found this charming little wooden sled at a yard sale.  Even with his too-big fleece suit on Levi didn't quite weigh enough to weigh it down in the fresh snow so it did not pull very well.  I tried to pull him over to see the chickens, but was afraid he'd topple out since it was not as smooth a ride as I anticipated.  So I just took a lot of pictures instead.  

He didn't cry, but did seem to be a little confused/indignant that he could not find his hands within the sleeves of his snow suit.  I'm sure he will be able to enjoy his little sleigh for a couple more years.  And then in a few more years he'll probably want a slick plastic sled so he can launch himself off snow ramps and crash into trees.  Hopefully he did not inherit his father's propensity for hospital visits.

The classic "why are you doing this to me, mom?" look...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Five Months Flew By

I know it's been a little quiet around the blog for almost 5 (!!!) months, but it has certainly not been quiet on our little farm!  Somehow over these long days and sleepless nights, our baby has grown from a sweet 7 lb. 7 oz. newborn into a hearty 15 lb. 2 oz. baby.  So much has changed in our lives over the last 5 months.  

Last night, as we hung ornaments on our Christmas tree we were thinking about the wonderful secret we were keeping to ourselves one year ago, waiting to share the news of our growing family until Christmas Eve.  And now he is here, and the world keeps spinning and he keeps growing and learning, and we're just hanging on for dear life and trying to cherish every moment of new parenthood.  

On top of giving all of my mind, heart, soul, and energy to Levi, I am still working full time, as well as trying to stay on top of the cooking, dishes, laundry, cleaning, paying bills, and looking after the two dogs.  The sheep and chickens have mostly fallen into Joey's care.  After six weeks of maternity leave, Levi and I went back to work at the library.  So far, bringing Levi to the library with me has worked out pretty well and I am so thankful that we haven't had to search for and pay for childcare yet.  And even though it is pretty exhausting, I feel like I have the best of both worlds of a stay-at-home mom and a working mother; I am still able to work at a job that I love and have an income to provide for my son and I get to spend all day with him and know his schedule and watch him learn and grow.  

I am trying to think back to what has happened at our little farm over the last five months...our 1/2 acre pumpkin crop this year was a bust (we lost almost all the pumpkins to disease or pests), Joey drove to Nebraska with my dad to pick up a new (to us) John Deere tractor with more horsepower to do more work, and our second shipment of our wool yarn came back from the woolen mill on Halloween!  We've been busy dying our yarn and bought some new dye colors this year.  We are trying to think of more places to sell our yarn besides Etsy and the local yarn shop.

This year, we took our little butterball turkey to three family Thanksgivings.  It is hard to live far away from family and friends now that we have a baby.  Whenever we go home, everyone fights over getting to spend time with us!  

Last week, we started getting seed catalogs in the mail from Johnny's and Seed Savers.  One of my favorite things about farming and cultivating a garden is curling up during the winter and dreaming about what to plant in next spring's garden.

Here's hoping I can make time to update this little blog every once in a while...maybe I should make that my New Year's resolution!  Usually I find I have to type everything with one hand while I hold a wiggling baby in my lap with the other.  It turns out I have learned to do a lot of things one-handed, with a baby in my arms, including brushing my teeth and checking out books at the library.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

He's Here

Meet Levi James.

Our son was born on July 23 at 1:20 am; five days after his due date and after 31 hours of labor.  He weighed 7 lb. 7 oz. and was 19.25 in. long.

We've spent the last two weeks loving this little boy and learning how to juggle a newborn, 2 dogs, sheep, chickens, a pony, a rabbit, and all of our guests that have come to meet our newest addition.

Words cannot describe the amount of love, joy, and gratefulness this little boy has brought to our lives.  The name Levi means 'joined in harmony' and that definitely feels like our little family right now.  We can't wait to share the farm life with our son!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Still Waiting

This may be the only time that my life is running parallel to that of a princess.

Just like the British royals, we are still anxiously waiting on baby.  And by 'we' I mean every person that comes to the library, all the ladies at my bank, everyone at the gas station, pretty much the entire population of the two small communities where we work and live.  Oh, and our parents, siblings, and friends.

Tomorrow is my official due date.  July 18 has been a long time coming from last November when we first discovered we were expecting this little one.  40 weeks is a long time.  And we are more than ready.

For a few weeks now I have been bombarded with questions and comments from every single person that comes to the library, bags my groceries, stands next to me, or is within a 30 foot radius of me (not quite, but it feels that way.)  I have heard many reiterations of "you're still here?" when people see me working at the library.

The other two librarians filled the schedule this week in case I went early but I haven't left for maternity leave yet.  I am in a weird spot where I don't want to be at work because I am sick of talking to people about still being pregnant, but when I am at home by myself I go a little stir-crazy just waiting around.  I like when my husband comes home from work and I can have a normal conversation that has nothing to do with being pregnant and be treated like an actual person, not just a pregnant belly walking around.  I am tired of strangers telling me what I need to do with my husband in order to start labor and inquiring about the state of my cervix.

I'm sure the news of our little one's arrival will spread quickly in this community.  While I don't have any paparazzi hounding me like Princess Kate, I've got small town gossip mongers.  Hopefully the next time I post will be with a birth announcement!  Now I've got to go on a long walk.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Waiting Game

15 days until my due date.  And I find I am a mess of emotions.  Impatient, insecure, frustrated, nervous, excited...  Usually I have no fear of going places all alone or driving long distances by myself.  These last few days I have felt very nervous driving half an hour to the doctor's office or the grocery store.

I ran (waddled) into the Walmart after my doctor visit yesterday afternoon to buy milk and toothpaste and stock up on some food for the freezer and felt totally overwhelmed by the size of the store and the amount of people in every aisle.  I was also feeling a little down because I was hoping that the midwife could tell me if I was going to have the baby sooner than my due date but didn't have any definite answers to give me.  I just wanted to get home and see my husband.  But when I got home I found out he had to work late.

So I tried to find solace and a little peace in the outdoors.  I brought Jip outside with me and a basket for picking green beans.  Despite having a hard time bending over, I picked a row of green beans and took my time to meditate over the nice cool breeze, the feeling of soil and grass under my feet, and the act of harvesting food that I could eat for dinner and freeze for winter.  I found some broccoli that was ready and inspected the summer squash.  I squished a few squash bugs and checked out the green tomatoes.  I gave the chickens some left-over vegetable scraps and gathered eight eggs.  And it made me feel better.

Not wanting to go inside yet, I took a blanket off the clothesline that had been in the sun all day and wrapped myself up in one of the adirondack chairs by the sheep pasture with two books about canning.  I was able to text back and forth with my parents for a while which also made me feel better.  I think part of the anxiety I am feeling right now is that my mom and dad and sister are at our cabin on Madeline Island on Lake Superior right now and we are separated by a 13 hour drive, a 20 minute ferry ride, and very bad cell phone reception.  You can usually get one measly bar of service if you stand in the right spot at the end of the cabin's drive but otherwise, you have to drive 10 miles into town in order to get better reception.  So if I go into labor in the next 5 days, it may be a while until we can reach my parents, and then they are limited to the ferry schedule which stops running at midnight, and then a very long drive before they can get here.

I have my bag packed for the hospital and the baby's diaper bag and carseat are already in my car.  The nursery is ready and I think we have everything we will need.  The bassinet has been set up next to my bed for weeks now.  I've got food in my freezer and my co-workers have started planning their schedules to cover for my maternity leave.  Now it is just a waiting game.  And I am feeling restless.  I don't want to be at work anymore because I am uncomfortable and want to be at home and I am tired of telling every single person that comes to the library when my due date is, how much longer I have, how I am feeling, etc.  But I know that if I took off from work early that I would be restless at home as well.  I have been avoiding the nursery because I can only fold baby clothes so many times and it is not going to make him get here any faster.  And I only have 6 weeks of leave, so I don't want to take off early and take up time off from when he does arrive.  So I'm just waiting and sticking close to home.  And nesting.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A new boy on the farm

We're still waiting on the arrival of our baby boy...19 days until my due date!  

However, we do have a new boy on our farm.  A couple weeks ago, my dad picked up a new ram lamb for us from the farm where our original five merinos came from in northern Illinois.  Since the farm is about 4 hours from our house and Joey didn't want to leave me in case I went into labor early, my dad was able to borrow a large crate to pick him up in.  He had to spend the night in my parents garage in the suburbs before making the trip down to our little farm! 

He may look a little different from the rest of our merinos, but he is a merino as well, just with different wool coloring.  We are so excited to shear him next season and see how his fleece spins up!  He was born this spring so he is not ready to breed yet, but I cannot wait to see what his offspring will look like!

He is happily grazing with our ewes and lambs on pasture and is adjusting well to life on our farm.  The only problem is that we still have not come up with a name for him yet.  I think we are having a harder time finding a name for this sheep than we did coming up with baby names!  Any suggestions for our new ram's name?  My parents were calling him cocoa puff...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

36 days to go...

36 days until my due date.  The days are going fast and the nights are extremely long.  I am too uncomfortable to sleep.  I'm not sure how much sleep I am actually getting between my journeys to the bathroom and thrashing pillows around and shoving them behind my back and under my legs.  Last night, around 4 am, I actually got up and set up camp on the couch downstairs which has firm cushions and I can sit upright.  Once the sun started to rise a little, the dogs started walking around and Joey got up to take a shower so I peeled my body off the leather couch and went back to the air conditioning in our bedroom to try to muster another hour of sleep.

I wonder if sheep become this miserable towards the end of their pregnancies.  This must be why we don't have them lamb in summer.

We have been very busy around our little farm, building a new hoop-house, gardening, and trying to prepare for baby's arrival.  This weekend we are getting a new ram lamb.  I will try to keep you all posted as I near my due date, but bear with me if posts are sporadic.  Big changes ahead!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Catching Up and Getting Ready

It's been a while since I've last written.  The seasons have changed and spring has sprung itself upon us and warm days and stormy nights are bringing us into summer.  The sheep have been sheared.  Joey sheared all of our sheep himself this year, seven adults in total.  The sheep have been let out on their pasture and the lambs are enjoying their first taste of grass and Millie the pony has been kicking up her heels and running from one end of the field to the other.  Her joy to be out in the open is the same way I feel about being outside again.  Something about being pregnant this winter gave me a bad case of cabin fever and I couldn't wait for spring.

So I've been enjoying it as best as I can with my growing belly in tow.  I've been hanging laundry on the line outside (although I can't lift the basket of wet laundry so I have to wait for Joey to carry it up from the basement for me).  I've been nurturing tomatoes and peppers and basil from seeds in my windows and watching all the green coming up in the garden where Joey has planted onions, potatoes, broccoli, beans, peas, lettuce, spinach, sunflowers, squash, and sweet corn.  We extended the second garden this year and we are still running out of planting room.

I've had two wonderful baby showers back at home with family and friends and I have one more in June out here at the library with all the friends I've made in the last 3 years.  I've been trying to prepare for our summer reading program at the library and get everything ready for when I leave to have the baby in July.  I will be at home for a few weeks with the baby and then back to work, bringing the baby with me to the library.  At least that is the plan for now.

Joey and my dad are still working on our upstairs on the weekends and trying to get all the work finished before baby's arrival.  I have eight weeks until my due date so we are down to the wire now.  Fortunately, the nursery is done for the most part, and we just have to set up the crib and dresser and do some painting touch-ups.  The stairs and hallway are another story...

Last night we had our first dinner of the season with food from our farm and local area.  Joey got 20 pounds of beef from his boss' father-in-law that was raised about an hour away.  We fried the last of the season's finds of morel mushrooms and made deviled eggs from our hen's bounty.  I picked some rhubarb and made a crumble and picked lettuce and spinach for a salad.  It felt good to go out in the backyard and find food again.  We ate our dinner on the front porch and watched a storm.  We are looking forward to a wonderful summer of food, friends, farming, family, and best of all, the arrival of our first baby, our little boy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Taking it easy

On Friday, I over-did it.  I lugged one too many loaded laundry baskets and by the time I got to work Friday afternoon, my back hurt so bad it was painful just to walk.  I limped around the rest of the evening and went to bed early with a heating pad instead of meeting some friends.  It was a rude awakening that at 26 weeks pregnant, I cannot do the things I am used to getting done.  I didn't have the energy to get anything done during my first trimester, and now that I am almost finished with the second trimester I have the desire to get work done around the house, but my body does not agree!  Over the past couple days I have been trying to convince myself to take it easy, something I have a hard time with, as I am used to doing things myself.

Saturday morning, my back felt immensely better than the night before.  Joey went to the neighbor's to shear a few more of his sheep and I took a drive through the country to the vet's office to pick up some sheep dewormer they made up for us.  Of course, only in the country can you drive miles down a road before a sign says that a bridge is out and you have to turn around and backtrack completely before you come across another road to get you where you are going.  Despite an extra 15 minute delay I was able to make it to the bakery before all the donuts were gone.  I had to stop there before the vet to make sure I could get one with toasted coconut on top!

After I got home (and I ate my donut on the way), Joey and I drove twenty minutes in the other direction to meet my cousin and his girlfriend for lunch.  Even though they live about twenty-five minutes from us, we are all so busy with work that we don't get together as much as we would like.

Later that evening, we drove back to the city to support our friend Josh's work fundraiser, which was a night of local bands playing to raise money against rape and domestic abuse.  It was a lot of driving in one day, but worth it to see friends that we haven't seen in a while.

After getting home late Saturday night, I was ready to relax on Sunday. Although when Joey went out to the hardware store, I couldn't stop myself from sweeping and vacuuming the floors and I got reprimanded from Joey when he found out I moved the heavy ottoman to vacuum.  Maybe my nesting instincts are kicking in, but I just couldn't stand the dog fur rolling around in the corners.  Also, I am getting really good at staying on top of loading and un-loading the dishwasher.  I can't do anything about the upstairs getting finished so I have to satisfy my nesting instinct with cleaning, and unfortunately my back is starting to limit a lot of that as well.

Luckily, the weather was warm and sunny so I stationed myself in a chair outside with my book and some knitting and spent most of my afternoon watching sheep and enjoying the warm breezes.  Joey starting shearing some of our sheep and some friends stopped by on a walk.  Just as we were about to eat a little lasagna, we were invited to a small cookout.  So we walked to our friend Matt's with Jip on the leash and enjoyed some food on the grill with our group of friends.  When we walked home, I stopped in the convenience store and bought an ice cream sandwich for myself and an ice cream cone for Joey.  As we walked home eating our ice cream, we both agreed that it was lucky that we found such good friends since moving here.  It was a good end to a good weekend, and now on to a rainy week at work!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Productive Spring Weekend

This last weekend my dad and sister came for a quick overnight visit.  The weather was warm and windy Saturday afternoon when they arrived.  My dad recently purchased a used rear-tine rototiller and brought it down with him so we could get our two garden beds tilled.  Joey and my dad made quick work of the first garden bed and then moved on to the other one that seems to grow every year.  My sister and I pulled up the adirondack chairs and watched.  There's nothing like sitting on the lawn on a warm afternoon, with the smell of freshly turned soil in the air, and watching someone else do the hard work. :)

After the gardens were tilled, my dad and sister pulled up the remaining cement slabs from an old sidewalk that we started pulling up last year.  We had minestrone soup and french bread for dinner and then we were back outside.  Joey and Maddy planted some onion sets. When our backs were turned, my dad lit a fire in the bonfire/brush pit that made a loud "whoosh!" when the flames caught and we turned around to see my dad silhouetted against a 6 foot bonfire.  I think he likes to come to my house and do work just so he can throw stuff on the burn pile and then have a massive bonfire.

Sunday morning was warm and we ate our breakfast outside with a view of "sheep tv."  My dad finally got to work inside on the stairs and banister project and Joey got on his tractor to till up the field behind out house so he could plant hay for the sheep.  My sister and I alternated between reading in the sun, planting the garden, and hanging laundry on the line.  We planted potatoes, peas, spinach, and lettuce.  Joey ran over the hay ground with the cultivator twice and then borrowed a friend's four-wheeler and dragged a metal fence panel over the ground to even out the soil for the hay seed.  He then walked and seeded the acre by hand.

After saying goodbye to my dad and sister around 3 pm, we took a short break and then Joey went over to the neighbor's farm to shear some sheep for practice.  We recently bought a set of electric sheep shears and Joey took a class on sheep shearing at a university extension so that we could shear our own sheep.  Because Merino sheep are so wrinkly, they are very difficult to shear and it has been just as difficult to find someone to shear them in our area.  So before jumping into shearing our own sheep, Joey offered to shear some of the neighbor's for practice.  He's got big Dorset sheep, which are like horses compared to our little sheep.

He was exhausted after wrestling with two sheep.  It is hard to imagine sheep shearers who can finish each sheep in 4-5 minutes.  Hopefully, with practice and patience and a steady hand, our sheep will come out unscathed this year.  Last year, the shearer cut them up so badly I had to go sit in the truck because all the cuts and blood were making me sick.  Usually blood does not bother me, but to see my own sheep get injured bothers me.  I am kind of a nervous wreck around shearing anyway since there are so many appendages that could accidentally get cut off (we've heard all the stories) when a sheep squirms or the shearer gets too close with the shears.

Joey's planting season at work started last week so his long hours and Saturday overtime are starting again.  After three years of planting season and harvest season, I am getting used to the stretches of long nights.  I am just thankful that our baby is due in July when the corn is up and growing and things so down a little bit again.

Here's to spring and warmer weather, new growth, and productiveness at home and at work!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Words of Paul Harvey

God said, "I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.'

Paul Harvey made a speech in 1978 called 'So God Made a Farmer.'  I heard it for the first time this February during a Super Bowl ad for Dodge Ram Trucks.  At the time, Joey was sitting on the couch, cradling a newborn lamb that wasn't doing well.  When the commercial came on, we both were silent, gripped by the man's voice that seemed to be speaking directly to us and our trials and the uncertainties of lambing season.  The images of trucks and farmers across America did not matter as much as that man's voice.  I immediately wanted to hear it again.

Later that night, I found Paul Harvey's original broadcast on YouTube and I listened to it over and over.  I emailed the link to my sister.  I thought about his words, almost like a sermon that was speaking to me, confirming the reasons Joey and I want to be farmers.  It is a short speech, but it is spoken with such conviction and reassurance about the value of this life, the purpose of those that choose not just to sit in a GPS-driven combine and harvest thousands of acres of corn, but for those farmers that choose to nurture life on a smaller scale.  Those of us who sit in darkened living rooms with weak lambs on our laps, praying we've done enough.  Those of us who plant seeds on our hands and knees and then wait for the rain.  Paul Harvey speaks to us.

And Joey reminded me of this last night when we lost another lamb.  She became so sick over the course of a few hours, there was nothing we could do but wait for her to die and be free from pain.  And the worst part was the realization that I wanted her to die.  In a matter of fifteen minutes I went from hoping there was a solution to knowing there was no hope.  Joey left me in the barn with her so he could run over to the neighbor's and ask for advice.  Alone in the barn with a dying lamb, her mother incessantly baaing, all I could do was stand there, listening to the rustling of the birds that were flying in and out above my head and feel completely helpless.  Joey finally returned and I told him I didn't think there was any solution.  And at that point I just wanted it to be quick.  I felt like I was turning my back on her, I just wanted it over.

Once again, I knew that I couldn't do this alone.  Without Joey by my side, I couldn't handle the part of farming that involves death.  I'm not strong enough, and I'm not sure I want to be.  I know that this is the life I want to be living.  To know the adrenaline rush of joy at new life, to feel a greater power's presence when a new lamb takes its first unsure steps, is greater than anything I ever would have experienced if I had not chosen to follow Joey here.  But to feel my own baby kicking inside of me and know that a mother sheep is about to lose her first lamb weighed heavily on my heart.  

But on days like today, when I watched Grace sniff at the three remaining lambs and not find her own, I feel grief and guilt but I also feel the grace of life.  It is hard, and it goes by quick, and it can be taken away at any moment, so it is important to live a life you love.  God needs those who are willing to take the risk of placing our lives on the backs of sheep that will eventually die, in a field of pumpkins that can be wiped out by squash bugs, in a hen house that can be raided by raccoons, or in cornfields that can be ravaged by drought.

So God made a farmer.

And we dry our eyes and say "maybe next year."  And give thanks for three healthy lambs.

Check out Paul Harvey here:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Joey tapped our trees around February 23 and the sap has been flowing heavily.  After filling a few gallon buckets within the first few days, Joey decided to scrub out our rain barrel to store the sap.  He got 55 gallons of sap to fill the rain barrel.

He then built a make-shift evaporator in our backyard using cement blocks and the metal grill from our charcoal grill.  He filled a granite wear tub with sap and built a hot fire under it, and watched it boil.  All. Day. Long.  By the late evening, the sap had boiled down enough that he could fill 3 soup pots and boil it on the stove top.  This method is not recommended.  It causes the humidity in your house to rise considerably, and is especially not advised if you have wallpaper.  Since we don't have any wallpaper in our house, all the windows formed condensation instead, and our dry skin got a break from dry winter air.

Over two days of boiling we got about 7 pints of maple syrup.  

Trees tapped along the street.

In this new year Joey has learned a new skill: making pancakes.  He has also learned how to make pancakes while I am sleeping and bring them to me in bed.  He makes an awful mess in the kitchen, but it makes the house smell good, and the pancakes are tasty.  For now, I can't sample our maple syrup since it is not pasteurized so I've been covering my pancakes with peanut butter and raspberry jam.  Baby doesn't mind though.  After eating pancakes for dinner the other night, he was kicking and moving as if he appreciates pancakes as much as his papa.

When Joey was little (like two or three), his family went on vacation.  And every day when they ate at a restaurant little Joey ordered pancakes.  After about a week of pancakes, his mom decided he had had enough and ordered him something else instead.  When that meal arrived at the table, Joey looked around quizzically and asked, "Pancakes coming?"  I don't know if he got pancakes that day or his mom made him eat what she ordered, but it's good to know that something as simple as a plateful of pancakes can make my husband happy.  He makes me happy.

Friday, March 1, 2013

From Sheep to Skein

After many, many months of impatiently waiting, our wool has finally come back from the woolen mill!  What was once growing on our funny little sheep's backs, has now been turned into yarn!  Joey got home from work before me and found the giant cardboard box in the mail.  He probably wouldn't want me to tell you this, but he told me later that he actually yelled for joy in the kitchen when he realized what was inside the box.  He had to text me a picture right away with the caption, "Our sheep made this."  Pretty exciting stuff after almost 3 years of being shepherds.

Joey was worried that it would turn into a big tangled mess if we left it as it came in the box, so he started twisting all the skeins that night.

Here they are in the natural color of the sheep's wool.  They will need to be washed again since the spinning process adds a little grease to the wool that has to be removed before we can dye any of the yarn.

Joey's birthday is tomorrow, so I went to the store and bought a bunch of stainless steel stock pots, measuring cups, and slotted spoons so we can start playing with the wool dye that my dad gave me for Christmas.  I'm sure most men would not be thrilled to receive cooking pots to dye wool for their birthdays, but I am glad I am married to a man who thinks producing a beautiful product with your own hands is pretty cool.  He's got to counteract his wool dyeing this weekend with big manly bonfires and boiling down sap into maple syrup.  Plus, he's got a giant beard that sticks up for his manhood when he's playing with yarn. It's the dream of the 1890's.  (Ever watch Portlandia?  Cracks us up.)


I think we will dye about half of the yarn and leave the other half natural and see what sells better.  Some people may want the natural wool or they may want to play around with dyeing it themselves.  Between wool dyeing and sap boiling for maple syrup, it is sure to be a messy weekend.  We are very proud of the wonderful things we are producing from our very own backyard. 

***After washing and dyeing the wool, we will be selling some in a local yarn store and some on our Etsy store.  There is a link to our Etsy store on the right side of the blog page if you would like to check out our yarn.  Also, if you are interested in something specific, leave me a message on the blog!***

Thursday, February 28, 2013


If you pick up a copy of Hobby Farm Home this month, you will find my words in it!  This lovely magazine published an essay I wrote on our first lambing season.  It is very appropriate that the issue came out just as we started lambing this year.  It is the March/April issue so it should be on shelves for a while.  Unfortunately, it seems that this magazine is not sold everywhere.  I've seen it in our local Farm King as well as Farm and Fleet and our local Walmart.  My parents could not find it in their suburban Barnes and Noble. You may be able to find it in your local library (my librarian plug).

I wasn't paid for the essay, but it still feels good to have something published in a magazine!  And it makes me feel like maybe someday I could write for magazines or (ohmygoodness) publish a book!  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Farming Together

Sheep must know about weekends.  They seem to leave all the excitement for days when we can be there, together, to help them out if they need it.  All of our lambs this season were born between Thursdays and Sundays.

 Last Friday, Joey called me about half an hour before I closed the library for the weekend to say another lamb had just been born, this time to Scarlett, and it was another girl.  Scarlett was born on our farm in our first year of lambing, three seasons ago.  This is her second lamb.  Last year, she had a little difficulty and we assisted in pulling out her lamb.  This year, Joey got home from work, checked on the sheep and didn't notice anything amiss, went inside for about 15 minutes and then came back out to find a new lamb.  It really is amazing every time you discover a new life in the barnyard. In 15 births, we've witnessed the very end of two of them.  The rest have just appeared, miraculously, without any need for help.

Scarlett and her lamb were moved to the garage pen to keep warm overnight.  On Saturday morning, Joey and I had plans to go into town to pick up a few things at the hardware store and some groceries.  As I was putting my coat on and grabbing my shopping bags, Joey texted me from outside, "Another girl."  

Molly's daughter, Grace, had given us one more girl, bringing the total up to 5 girl lambs and no boy lambs this year.  This was Grace's first lamb so we moved Scarlett and her lamb out of the garage and back into the barnyard and tried to coax Grace into following her baby to the garage.  After getting all the way to the garage door and then running back to the pasture gate through the yard, we finally got her to follow us carrying the lamb into the garage.  She was a little bewildered with her new surroundings and quite upset at being separated from the other sheep.  We realized this was the first time she had been apart from her own mother, Molly.  She "baa-ed" loudly from inside the garage and the other sheep could be heard from across the yard.  Finally, we calmed her down with some hay and then focused on watching the lamb take her first wobbly steps towards mom's milk.  After we were convinced both were doing o.k. we left to run our errands.

We got back home around 3 pm and were planning on leaving for a dinner party with some of Joey's college friends about 4 pm.  We checked on Grace and her baby and they seemed to be getting along fine.  We looked in on the other four lambs in the barnyard and noticed that one of the twins was still looking kind of small and hunched over.  We decided we would give her a bottle when we returned from the dinner party.  

We returned home that evening around 9 pm and Joey made a bottle and took it outside for the twin lamb.  He came in about 5 minutes later, the lamb limp in his arms, and said, "She's not going to make it."  I cried out, and my mind raced, trying to understand.  How did she get that bad in a few hours?  My stomach sank.  

Joey sat down on the living room floor with her in his arms.  He had already tried to give her some milk but she wouldn't swallow.  I started crying because it was obvious there was nothing we could do for her anymore, and we were helpless to do anything but hold her and watch her die.  We didn't know how long it would take, but we couldn't think of a way to end her misery. Joey told me to go upstairs, that he didn't want me to have to watch.  But I couldn't leave.  If I wanted to raise sheep, and be a good farmer, I couldn't abandon the lamb.  Even though all I could do was sit there in agony, it is my duty as a shepherdess to love and respect my animals, especially in their last minutes of life.  Joey knelt over her in his lap, almost shielding her limp body, trying to protect her from pain and rubbed her side.  And then she was gone.  And I felt relief.  She was not suffering.  Joey closed her eyes and held her a little longer.

The hardest thing is that we cannot know what really happened, or if something else was wrong with her that we couldn't fix.  It's hard not to feel guilt that we didn't do enough for her or anger that her mother did not have enough milk or love for her.  We are planning on selling Margaret this year, not out of disappointment, but because she has given us two sets of twins and both times, only one has survived.  We now have four more ewes for our flock.

On Saturday afternoon, when we were driving to the hardware store, I was telling Joey that I thought it would be hard to be a farmer alone.  This was just after we wrestled a protesting sheep into standing still while the other tried to get her wet lamb under her to find milk.  He told me one person could do all the work.  I said, I guess so, but I wouldn't want to.  Later that night, we were shown that it is easier to shoulder the hardships of farming together.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Portrait of a Farmer, At Night

This little lamb slept on Joey's chest for two hours last night.  Joey fell asleep as well.  I had to take his boots off his feet.  When he rolled onto his back and stretched across the couch, the lamb curled up on his chest and kept on sleeping.  The scene reminded me of the children's book, The Sleeping House.  Curled up in the half-dark of the living room were a farmer, a lamb, and two dogs.  I read my book on the other couch with Daisy curled at my feet and fell asleep until 10:15 pm.  When we all woke up, the lamb stretched and let out a "baa" and she went back to her mom and sister for the night.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Day Three for the Twins

The twin lambs are still hanging in there.  Joey has been giving both a bottle before work and when he gets home to supplement their mother's milk.  The one that we had in the house Sunday for extra care seems to be doing better than her sister now.  Her name is Winky.  On Sunday, when the twins were born, she had both eyes closed.  By the time we brought her inside because she was so chilled and lethargic, she only had one eye open and the other was closed.  It didn't look like anything was wrong with either eye, and it didn't seem like her eyelashes were bothering her closed eye.  By the end of the night on Sunday, after she had warmed up in the house, her right eye was still not open so we figured she may not open it but she didn't seem to be having any problems.  Yesterday, it looked like she was starting to be able to open the eyelid a crack and this morning it is now completely open!  But her name is still Winky.  

Her sister, who is the smaller of the two, but had more energy on the first day, I dubbed Pinky last night.  She has been taking the bottle and trying to drink from her mother, but she is still very thin.  Last night, she looked so hunched up and cold we decided to take her inside the house for a little bit of the treatment her sister got on Sunday.  Joey held her in his lap and I warmed her with a low setting on the hair dryer.  We tried to give her a little more from the bottle and let her walk around the house for awhile.  Then Joey bundled her up in his coat to take back to her mother for the night.

Yesterday, we let Molly and her January lamb out of their lambing pen in the barn and into the pasture area where they can go in and out of the barn.  Last night, the two other ewes were eating outside of the barn, Molly was laying down in the doorway of the barn and her baby was asleep under the heat lamp inside the barn.  She is doing really well and Molly is a good mother.  

I got a few quick photos of Margaret and the twins this morning before rushing off to work.  Here they are in the makeshift garage lambing pen.  Winky is in front and Pinky is going to look for milk.  Margaret is wearing straw on her head for some reason.

Here's Winky with her right eye open this morning.  She is looking so much better than when we brought her inside on Sunday.  We think she will be o.k. but hopefully she won't bully her sister and take more milk since she is the bigger of the two.

Pinky is behind Margaret, trying to get some milk.  Joey gave her some more milk replacer at 2 am last night and again this morning, but she is still looking rather frail.  You can tell Margaret is not happy I am peeking in at her.  She has quite an attitude.  

When I peeked into the garage this morning, the twins were cuddled up together under the heat lamp, but I couldn't get a picture before Margaret started stomping at me and woke them up.  Hopefully they continue to eat and keep each other warm.  I will keep you updated on their progress.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Missing Church Again

Yesterday morning, despite a slight meltdown (on my part, can I blame hormones?) about laundry and not having any clean clothes that fit me anymore, Joey and I were determined to make to church on time.  Since our church is about 20 minutes away, we never quite seem to get the timing right.  But here's the thing about timing: it's a mysterious thing.

The night before, we put Margaret the ewe into a makeshift pen in the barn because she was looking like she was ready to lamb and we didn't want her to lamb outside.  The next morning, we checked on the January lamb and Margaret to see if she was still doing ok.  The January lamb was lively and warm and there was still no progress from Margaret.  So we went inside to get cleaned up for church.  And after scrambling around in a ridiculous search for something to wear (seriously, I literally had no clean pants, no tights without runs, and I almost had to wear sweatpants to church), I finally found a long skirt that covered my runny tights and was just putting some shoes on when Joey decided to check the sheep one more time.

He came back in and said, "either you're going to church without me, or we're not going to make it, because Margaret just had twins."  Talk about timing.  The two lambs were born minutes before and were still soaking wet.  So I went back inside and put those sweatpants on.  We definitely weren't going to make it to church.

Because it was so cold, and Margaret would have two lambs to keep warm and fed, we decided to make a pen in our garage where we store our hay since it is warmer than the barn.  We moved around the bins of feed and covered the cement floor with straw and then picked up the lambs and hoped mom would follow her babies across the yard and into the garage.  With each of us carrying a wet lamb close to the ground, Margaret followed right along into the new pen.  Usually we like to wait 20 minutes or so after birth and watch the ewe and lambs and make sure they are finding milk and drinking.  Unfortunately, Margaret is a very grumpy ewe and likes to stomp her foot and shy away from anyone in the presence of her babies, even if it means actually ignoring her babies.  Two years ago, she had twins and one died about a week after birth.   Despite our attempts to bottle feed, the lamb refused a bottle so we assumed she was getting milk from mom but it seems like Margaret just doesn't produce enough milk for twins.

Neither lamb seemed to be finding the milk and one wasn't even showing interest.  Joey got in with Margaret and tried to strip her teats of any waxy plugs that would prevent the milk and couldn't clear one of the teats.  We tried to get the one that seemed interested into the right place, but Margaret is so skittish we couldn't hold her in place.  The other twin just curled up on the straw and didn't move.  I went inside and got towels to dry the lambs off more since Margaret was not cleaning them off anymore.  We figured we would have to bottle feed at least one of the lambs, so I decided to go into town to the Farm King to pick up powdered colostrum, milk replacer, a new bottle, and another heat lamp.  Joey stayed home and monitored the lambs and mama, going in the house every once in a while, hoping Margaret was being neglectful because he was there in her space.

At the store, I decided to pick up a space heater as well.  When I got home, I could see that one lamb was not doing as well as it's twin.  Two hours after birth, this one was still pretty wet and was looking very chilled and lethargic.  I told Joey that we needed to bring that one inside if it was going to get warm.  I brought the space heater inside and set it up in the living room.  Joey held the lamb on his lap and I used the hair dryer on a low heat setting to gently dry the lamb some more.  Then we put her in a laundry basket lined with a towel in front of the space heater.

Of course, the dogs were very interested in this little creature, but were very gentle with their sniffing and sticking their heads in the laundry basket.  Jip soon became the lamb's watchdog and wouldn't leave the lamb's side.  After warming up, we made the lamb a bottle of colostrum.  She was reluctant to drink from the bottle, but she got a little.  And then she was transformed from the listless, frozen lamb into the loudest thing on four legs.  We let her walk around the living room and in the kitchen while I cooked, knocking around on wobbly knees and little hooves, bawling at the top of her lungs.  We kept trying with the bottle and she got a little bit here and there, but mostly she was loud.  Then Joey had his meltdown of the day, declared he wasn't ready for parenthood and went outside to escape the loud din of the house.

After I got the food I was preparing into the oven, I sat down on the kitchen floor, scooped up the lamb and held it close in my lap.  Almost immediately, it quieted down and then fell asleep.  When Joey came back in, we had been on the floor for about 15 minutes.  When I was sure she was asleep, I put her back into her basket and then tiptoed away.  We spent the next hour whispering and trying the keep the dog from sticking her face in the basket and waking the lamb.  We got another glimpse at parenthood called "don't wake the baby."  By the time we were ready to sit down and eat (and watch the superbowl) the lamb was waking up again.  I decided she could spend a little time with her real mother now that she was warm and had a little food in her.  So back to the garage she went.

And she did fine.  Joey went out later and discovered her drinking from her mother.  And we were exhausted for the rest of the evening.  After making sure they were warm before going to bed, we decided that we would supplement bottle feedings to both twins twice a day to add to the milk they are getting from Margaret because it seems that she probably doesn't produce enough for the both of them to thrive.  And we'll just see how it goes.  It is best for all parties for the lambs to stay with their mother and each other, even if we have to help out a little.  And now we'll have to evaluate whether we are going to keep Margaret for another lambing season since her disposition seems to hinder her mothering skills. 

So we didn't make it to church yesterday, but I think God understands.  

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Today is my one-and-only sister's 17th birthday.  You can read about the day she was born here.  It was a bitter cold January day, much like today.  And since I fawned over my parents in my last post, I thought I would give a love-fest for my dear sister.  Remember earlier this week I told you that I think my parents are practically geniuses?  Well my sister definitely got those smart genes!  This May, she is graduating from high school a whole year early!  And I won't tell you her ACT test scores...but they are AH-mazing!  Basically, sister's got brains, and looks, and creativity...she must take after her older sister as well. :) 

Two years ago, she blew everyone out of the water with her off-the-cuff maid of honor speech at my wedding.  She didn't really know that she was supposed to give a toast until about the day before the wedding and at that point she was insistent that she wasn't going stand up and say anything in front of 140 people.  Joey's best man had a goofy speech that he recited from a printed sheet of paper.  And then my sister stood up, took the microphone and knocked it out of the park with a speech she made up on the spot. Joey's dad joked that he had worked on his speech for weeks and couldn't believe her last-minute words.  Not to mention that she made Joey cry as I walked down the aisle to her playing the harp.  

My sister is idealistic, she's got big dreams, and she has the stubbornness and the grit to see them through.  If she wants to grow up to be an organic and sustainable farmer, I know that's what she'll do.  If she wanted to kayak the oceans or become the world's next great poet, she could do it.  She could do it all.  Seventeen is a great age of hopes and dreams and possibilities.  

To my sister: The whole wide world is at your feet, Moo!  Enjoy this year of changes and opportunities and don't be afraid to take a wrong step, we're always here to catch you!  Love you forever and ever, especially when you bake me cookies.

Now here's the surprise: we're celebrating more than one birthday today!  Just this morning we got quite a surprise when one of our ewes gave birth to a lamb!  It was quite a shock as we weren't expecting to start lambing so soon, usually our lambs are born in March.

The lamb was born sometime between 7 am and 8 am this morning because when Joey fed the sheep before going to work at 7, there was no lamb, and he didn't notice any signs that the ewe was in labor.  Around 8 am, just as I was getting out of bed, I heard a car pull into the driveway.  I looked out the window and saw Joey's co-worker dropping him off and I wondered if he got sick and had to come home.  I rushed downstairs in my pajamas and bathrobe to see what he was doing home.  He was supposed to be dropped off at the truck repair shop down the street so he could pick up the semi truck and drive it to pick up a load of fertilizer, but he wanted to go to the bathroom before he got in the truck for the day.  So his co-worker dropped him off at home and then I was supposed to drop him off at the truck repair shop.  Because it's only a few blocks away (and I just don't really care) I was just going to wear my pjs and bathrobe to drive him down the street.  I went to go warm the car up and Joey remembered that he forgot to water the chickens this morning.  I was sitting in the car when he ran up and started waving his arms for me to come to the barnyard.    

He yelled, "There's a lamb!"  I yelled back, "What?!"  I thought he was joking.  I turned off the car and ran to the sheep yard.  Sure enough, there were four ewes and one lamb.  We figured out that the lamb belonged to Molly (our favorite) and I looked and saw it was a girl.  I ran into the house to try to find the scissors and the iodine for the umbilical cord on the lamb and the bottle of nutridrench.  I found the scissors and the lambing kit from last year, but couldn't find the iodine and nutridrench.  When I got back to the barn, Joey was working on building a lambing pen for mama and baby and told me that the iodine and nutridrench were right there on a ledge in the barn, probably frozen.  We got mama and baby into the lambing pen and added a thick layer of clean straw for bedding and warmth and hung a trough of water for mama.  We gave Molly a little extra hay and then watched to make sure the lamb was doing o.k.  Joey felt her mouth to make sure it was warm and it looked like she had milk on her mouth.

By that point, Joey had been home for almost 50 minutes now and had to get going so I drove him up to the truck shop and then drove home to get ready for work since it was now 9 am and I had to open the library at 9:30 am.  I checked in on Molly and baby one more time before I left for work and took this picture of them resting.  Molly is a good mama and is shielding her baby from the bitter winds coming in the front of the three-sided barn.  This is her third lamb so she knows what she is doing.

Since it is my sister's birthday I am going to let her name this little one.  I hope this lamb is a sign that spring is around the corner.  I just wish Molly had the lamb two days ago when it was 60 degrees instead of 18 with a windchill of 1 degree F.  We will be checking in on these two many times over the next few days to make sure that baby is staying warm in this cold weather.  Joey went to the hardware store on his lunch break and bought a new heat lamp that he will set up when he gets home from work.  During my lunch break I rushed home and checked on the lamb and used a staple gun to hang a thick blanket from the front opening of the barn to prevent a little wind from blasting the lamb.  Hopefully she's a strong little one, just like my sister, who came home from the hospital on a bitterly cold day.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Restless Monday

I'm feeling restless today; cooped up, and trapped like a caged animal.  It's almost 60 degrees outside right now, an anomaly in January weather in the midwest.  I have the window open at the library.  I can hear gushing streams of water at the car wash across the street.  This sound, combined with pregnancy hormones, makes me have to use the ladies' room very frequently.

But the window will remain open.  I need to go over and stick my face against the screen every once and a while and soak up the smells of wet ground and fresh air.  I'm definitely growing a summer baby.

In other news, we finally joined the modern world of ease and convenience and got a dishwasher!

Also, this weekend, my long-held belief that my father is the most capable, resourceful, and down-right bad-ass man on the planet was once again confirmed when he installed previously mentioned lifesaving dishwasher in my old farmhouse with old plumbing.  And don't even get me started on how brilliant my mother is.

You know how when you were a little kid and everything your parents did was an amazing feat of knowledge and skill? And you believed they were the smartest person in the whole world?  Well, at three weeks away from 26 years old, I can still tell you without a doubt that my parents are awesome.  You know your dad is the most interesting man in the world when he has to show the guy at the hardware store which is the correct tool and how to use it to cut a length of copper tubing after the guy uses the wrong tool.  Mosquitoes refuse to bite him out of pure respect.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about google Dos Equis' The Most Interesting Man in the World commercials)

Now I can add "install a dishwasher" and "fix old plumbing" to my growing list of skills.  Changing a flat tire still eludes me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cabin Fever

January is almost over and cabin fever is hitting me hard.  I'm cold and tired and sick of being cold and tired. I want a good, juicy tomato, not some mealy, pink excuse from the grocery store.  I want watermelon juices to drip down my chin and sweet corn kernels stuck in my teeth.  A cucumber with salt, eating green beans while I pick them, checking under a canopy of leaves for a round melon.  (Notice this is all food cravings; I'm cold, tired, and HUNGRY.)

In this cold weather, all I am growing is a increasingly hungry baby.  I've got to break out my seed trays and grow lights soon.  I am increasingly hungry for a little green right about now and my only surviving houseplant (an african violet) is not enough.

Last weekend, I took the train home and then drove with my mom and sister to the University of Wisconsin in Madison for a weekend-long course on growing vegetables for markets.  It was a long Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that kept us inside from the 5 degree weather and got us excited to break ground, break out our gardening gloves and get a head start on spring.  While the wind blew outside on campus, we learned about high-tunnels, hoophouses, tractors, weeding, pests, selling at market, and creating business plans and budgets for small market gardens.  We left with a lot more knowledge, confidence, and excitement for the coming growing season and making our farming dreams come true.

 We took our new ideas back to our suburban backyard (mom, dad, and sister) and our small in-town acreage (me and Joey), and hope to work on our farming skills for the day (someday soon) when we finally buy our dream farm.  For the past year or two, my parents and sister and Joey and I have been plotting on how to make our small farm dreams a reality.  In the past few months we have started looking for areas where we could find an ideal farming situation.  It will probably take a few more years of planning but the dream is starting a small vegetable, flower, honey and wool farm where Joey, my sister, and I can create a livelihood and my parents can retire close to their children and grandchildren.

It may be a few years down the road, maybe sooner, but it is something nice to dream about during these cold, dark winter days stuck inside with dog-eared and pen-marked seed catalogs and mountains of books on gardening.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Year, New Adventures

Happy New Year!

It's been a while since I've written but I have been busy working on a little project here at our little farmstead.  And by "busy" I mean I have been exhausted beyond words...because we are adding a baby to this crazy mix this summer!

I am 14 weeks into this little adventure, so I am hoping that now that I am through the first trimester I will be getting some energy back.  Cold weather and early sunsets have not helped my energy levels, but they have made a great excuse to curl up in sweatpants and refuse to move from the couch every evening after work and all weekend long.

My winter-time dreams of spring and summer are even stronger now.  Usually around January I start getting excited for gardening season again and immerse myself in beautiful seed catalogs.  And by the time February rolls around, I really want to travel away from the midwestern climate.  Growing up, my mom always got cabin fever by the end of January, leading to family vacations to warmer climates in February.  This year, Joey and I are trying to stick to an extremely tight budget in order to pay off some bills and save a little money before baby comes, so I don't think a tropical vacation is in our sights this year.

But we have much to look forward to as we curl up and hibernate away the rest of winter: garden planning and planting, new spring lambs, finishing the upstairs of our house, working on a nursery, my sister's graduation from high school, and baby's arrival sometime in July!  It's going to be a good year.