16 October 2017

Get Milkin'

Going out to the barn to milk is one of the best ways to spend a morning.
Dolly and Parton (heehee yes, Jack purposefully named the calf Parton and the kids don't get the joke) have been with us for just over a month. Initially, they were one more fun pet to have on our farm. We'd been working on getting them used to us scratching their noses, wearing their halters, and working around them in the stalls while milking has been in the back of our minds. That is, afterall, why we bought a milk cow.
Jack's one happy camper with his brand new milk pail.
Dolly's previous owners were incredibly helpful and sold us a good deal of the equipment we needed--the vaccum pump, the milker, gallons of udder wash and teat dip--but we still had to wait for a few buckets and strainers to arrive. Then, it was time to try our hand at milking.
Jack's not quite sure we were doing it right.
The first several attempts at milking were clumsy and took both of us to get Dolly put in her stansion and get the milker on. She wasn't super happy with us, we had no idea what we were doing, and Parton was certainly voical about his frustration.
Each time we milked, it got easier and we became more proficient. We found what worked for Dolly and though neither of us are experts, we can at least get the milker on by ourselves. The rest is sitting on a bucket and waiting for the milk to flow.
I think this strainer is going to come in handy when we tap our maple trees this winter.
Once the milk is strained, it's a matter of pasteurizing it and quickly cooling it, to keep any weird "cow-y" taste from ruining the milk.
Or, you can just drink it raw, with a bit of ice, like Jack sometimes does.
Parton is happy to be back with his mama.
So far, we've made butter and mozzarella cheese from the milk, on top of literally drinking gallons, but I'm hoping to branch out into cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, and of course, ice cream!

Better get milkin'!


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15 October 2017

Eat Up, Babies

Packing and moving is stressful, no doubt, but there is an upside to relocating--there's a chance to go through belongings and decide what to toss, recycle, or donate. While cleaning out our freezer, I discovered I had enough milk to donate to The Milk Bank, to those fragile babies who need milk supplementing. Since I've never had a problem with my milk supply, I've been able to also donate previously with Kate and Henry, too.

So, eat up, babies! There's plenty to go around.


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12 October 2017

Morning Glory

If we have to have weeds, I will take a morning glory over a lot of other plants.


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09 October 2017

Maze Runners

Jack and Henry working on the maze.
It's no secret that Jack is the fun parent. For example, when I get on the mower, I want mow quickly and efficiently and do my best to avoid running over little children as I raze down straight-ish lines. When Jack mows, he has the kids sit on his lap, they go speeding off, laughing and screaming, and if they get tired of mowing straight lines, they twist and turn until they've created a maze.
The finished product.
In the back pasture is a somewhat unutilized part of our property. Next spring we have plans to plant alfalfa to feed the bees, the cows, and sell the extra to buy the horses hay, but for now, we needed to mow down the foxtail in preparation for sowing alfalfa. Perfect place for a maze, right? Right.
Raven, my trusty maze buddy
While I didn't think the maze was overly complex, to the kids, who aren't quite as tall and don't have as long of legs nor as good as a vantage point, it was terribly frustrating the first time they tried it. They kept running into dead ends and literally were crying because they couldn't figure it out, convinced they'd have to stay there until they could find the end. Don't worry, we didn't make them. Then, while I was gone on Saturday, they spent the morning trying again until they solved it out. That left me as the only one who hadn't run through the foxtail maze.
Everyone watching from the hilltop.
In some sort of post-apocolyptic young adult novel acting out, Jack and the kids obliged me to run the maze by myself to see how fast I could do it. They sat comfortably atop the pond hill while I trotted through the grass with Raven in front and Zoey on my back.
Once I finished, Jack challenged everyone to do the maze as fast as they could and none of our children are ones to back down from a race. It was a close competition with Claire (naturally--she just has a knack for running) crossing the finish line first.
Henry and Zoey had it the best, leaching onto me and Jack for a free ride.
Guess tonight's activity makes us Maze Runners...?

(Teeheehee)

Ah, the entertainment we can make with an open field and beautiful autumn weather!

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08 October 2017

Lucky Rooster

Big, beautiful Twinkle.
Twinkle is one lucky rooster.

A few years ago, we were given three Easter chicks, who all ended up being roosters. Twinkle, who should have been a hen, was the one fortunate rooster who didn't end up butchered. He's had a good life, watching over a small flock of hens and given free range to roam as he pleased. As far as roosters went, he was a pretty good one, though once in a while, he got the boot when he confused the kids or us as a threat and came flying with spurs pointed. As the years passed, he fathered dozens of chicks and Licorice did such a good job raising them that eventually, it became time for him to move along to prevent inbreeding and to introduce new bloodlines into the flock.
Meet Bob.
Earlier in the year, we hatched some adorable chicks out of blue eggs for my mom's birthday. I was hoping to get a few for ourselves but with moving, having more chickens wasn't prioritized on the top of the to do list. The chicks grew and not really a surprise, one of them ended up being a striking cockrel. As beautiful as he is, he's not allowed in town, where my mom's flock lives. So, I looked for someone to take Twinkle instead of having to butcher him--it seemed a shame to have to off him to make room for the new model of rooster but if we couldn't find anyone to take him, it would have become necessary. There is no kindness between grown roosters and it can cause havoc among a flock as they incessantly fight. Within hours of Bob, the new rooster, showing up, we found a home for Twinkle, who was consequently saved from the butcher's block.
Not exactly traveling in style but I think it's safe to say Twinkle is happy to still have his head.
Twinkle went to a family who is just getting started with chickens and Bob is now getting used to having a new set of girls to hang out with. Here's hoping to him being able to produce some chicks who'll lay blue eggs. Guess we'll find out in a year or so!
Welcome to the farm, Bob and au dieu, Twinkle!

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30 September 2017

Meaningful Milestone

Another milestone has come. It may be unimpressive to others, (especially successful bloggers who see the kind of traffic that I've seen in five years in one month on their site) but to me, it is satisfying to check it off my 2017 goals. More than simply numbers, having over 750,000 pageviews is an encouragement to continue writing, which, when it boils down to it, is a personal journal for our family and a way to share with family and friends, near and far. So, perhaps unimpressive, but still a meaningful milestone.


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26 September 2017

Kate

Happy birthday Kate!
Every time a birthday rolls around, it brings on some serious reminiscing. With Kate, we remember our time in Iowa, which is now coming up on five years since we left. Kate was the last of our Iowa babies and she was born at a very stressful yet exciting time. Literally. She showed up in the wee hours (on my sister's birthday) and between ISU's career fair and Jack having several important, career-deciding interviews. To say she was a happy miracle in our family is a gross understatement.
Our sweet, beautiful girl!
To sum up any child would be impossible and Kate is no exception. She is bursting full of contradictions and is one of the most passionate people I'm privileged to know. When she's happy, her squealing laugh is contagious, when she's mad, she balls up her fists and screams with rage, when she's sad, there's no stopping a waterfall of tears, if she's nervous, she trembles with fear. But that's not even scratching the surface of who Kate is.
Considering her costume choices.
For one, she loves, loves Halloween. Is it the candy? The dressing up? The staying up late? She lives for it all.
Feeding Dolly during a milking.
 Kate is one hard worker. But, she must be prim and proper and probably wearing a dress while she does it.
She has a real gift with animals. I've seen her tame more than one wild-eyed beast with her persistent, patient, waiting-for-the-pet-to-come-to-her technique. It's like she's a real-life fairytale princess.
She has a knack for all things beautiful and she's done it all from fixing hair, wearing fashion-forward attire, painting her own nails, to picking out paint colors for the house...
...to creating heaps upon heaps of crafts. If she could, she'd spend about 90% of her day drawing or coloring or painting.
We celebrated her birthday as a family a day early since Jack had to fly out to a convention on her actual birthday, so we did the traditional cake and ice cream and presents. Using her skill for aesthetics, she insisted on decorating her own cake, only to decide it would be better if her older sisters joined in on the fun. Kate is definitely always one to think of others.
Like when she picked out her birthday ice cream. She only agreed to choosing out a flavor as long as Henry had a chance to pick one also. Two ice creams? No arguments here.
So many choices...
After dropping off Jack at the airport, her actual birthday was much like any other day here on the farm. We worked and did chores and took care of animals and at the end of the day, played and raced the dog and rolled down hills...
Kate and Claire would make some good stunt doubles!
 ...and, of course, got wet and gritty with sand in the pond (have to enjoy it while the warm weather lasts!).
We are enjoying our last year before Kate begins fledging from the nest and is off to school with her big sisters. Until then, we will watch her blossom, serve others, brighten spirits and spread joy to whoever she comes across.
Happy birthday, Kate! We love you!

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18 September 2017

How Did We Get Here?

We've been at New Harmony for a couple of weeks and things are settling down (a little...). Now that it's starting to feel more like home, I've been reminiscing. We've been married ten years and in that time, have lived in eight different places, three of those being houses we've owned. So, just how did we get here?
Remember our first homestead in Iowa? Yeah, it was pathetic. Like, really horrible. We're talking missing windows, rotting floor beneath the leaky toilet, warped flooring, chipped plaster, tiny, steep stairs, you name it. It was a haunted shell of a home that had stood for just over a century but was tired and unhappy. The husband had been deployed to Iraq multiple times, the wife had a car accident and suffered a stroke, and the children were doing the best they could but when it came to it, it was time for them to sell and I think we were the only ones crazy enough to make the investment. What can I say? I really wanted to have Stoney live in my backyard and Jack humored me and we didn't have any kids yet.
It sometimes feels like a lifetime ago that we finished our beautiful Iowa home.  We started off with the possibility of having no children, having tried for two years without any success, to having three beautiful daughters in four and a half years, on top of Jack receiving his degree in Aerospace Engineering. Though it was more work than I care to remember, it was a stepping stone to buying a house that was nearly three times larger than the house we left in Iowa.

Maybe, after seeing the first photos of our Indiana mansion, that's not saying much...
 ...but, with another round of sweat equity, that poor, rundown, weirdly decorated, rat infested, smelly house became a thing of beauty. We had purchased it as a foreclosure against some house flippers in a fairly tense bidding war, which we eventually won. The previous owner had died of Lou Gehrig's disease and his daughter and grandchildren, who lived there with him, tried to keep up with the house payments and repairs on the behemoth but it eventually became too much. Again, it was no small feat to restore the house to a glimpse of its former glory but with its sale, it allowed us to upgrade once again.
At the beginning of the year, the thought of moving seemed comical and didn't even cross our minds. A few months into 2017, a realtor mentioned someone was wanting to buy our house with cash on hand. We laughed again and shrugged it off--I mean, the house was really starting to look good, Jack had a great commute, and we were about to have a baby. That all changed with a neighbor decided to sell his farm, adjacent to our house, to the encroaching warehouses. That sale to was a bit too close for comfort and that's how we ended up at New Harmony. The house is comparable in size to our first Indiana home but this time, the land is nearly three times as many acres as we had. There will be some repairs that need to be done but it's fairly superficial to what we've already tackled. As with other houses we acquired, it occurred due to sad circumstances. This time, divorce. It was met with resistance by the owner who didn't want to leave and after being here a few weeks, I can't blame him. I wouldn't want to have to leave either.
I told Jack I felt a bit disheartened that every time we bought a house, it was due to something tragic, almost like we are continually taking advantage of people but he said he said he sees it as helping people out of houses that otherwise, no one would want to buy, then turning around and making the world a more beautiful place by renovating and restoring them.

Now that I think about it, I agree. That's what we're doing.
We had a lot of time spent waiting in the car the past few months, which Kate used to practice her pen balancing skills.
So, after three days and multiple showings, appraisals, inspections, negotiating, a bit of threatening (hey, we're nice but we're not pushovers) and moving day finally arrived.
Zoey was a good sport, hanging out a lot with Evelyn and the rest of her siblings.
When I got really desperate to have someone watch the baby, Henry and his friend Blakely were more than up to the task. Zoey's not picky as long as someone's smiling at her.
Jack and Sterling figured out how to get that big, giant table downstairs without breaking anything!
Friends came and helped pack, sweep, mop, scrub out my fridge, wipe down the dirty drawers, wash walls, you name it. 
There was a lot of heavy lifting and Henry was the first to volunteer. Just stay out of his way with the moving dolly...
Once we got all of our household stuff packed up, the real work began. After having cut and chopped a big pile of wood, I couldn't very well leave it, now could I?
And all the chickens? They came too so we could continue to have a supply of fresh eggs. Of course, the move stressed them out and they started molting, so we barely get any eggs...but I think they're finally getting used to their new home. Sort of.
I think the cats have a sixth sense when it comes to moving. They woke up the morning we were going to transport them to our new house and promptly scrammed. We tried to bribe them with breakfast, with treats, with scratching along the backbone but they weren't having it. So we turned that job over to the girls and some of their visiting friends and before too long, everyone was securely in their carrier.
Ironically, the horses were one of the easiest things to move. Hook up the trailer, put on the halter, open the door, climb on, shut the door, done.
I think they were even easier to move than Jack's horse.
So, in a couple of days, we dumped all our stuff and we were officially moved. Cinch!
The next few weeks were full of unpacking and piles of boxes.
I wish I could say that the kids have their beds set up, but that would be a lie. They've been roughing it since we moved, since we'll soon be painting and getting new carpet. First, they started down in the basement...
Where's Zoey?
 ...but that was quickly taken over by unpacking. It had to go somewhere and at least now, they're in their rooms.
We've also been hard at work cleaning, enough to really wear ourselves out.
It's hard work living here.
There are also plenty of weeds to pull. Someday, I hope to be able to catch up with them. That may be wishful thinking, though.
It's not been all work though. We still have plenty of time to hang out in the barn (yes, it's as fun as it sounds!)...
 ...and groom the horses. The fence is perfect for climbing up and getting a good vantage point.
At the end of the day, we spend a few minutes playing pool. I think I'm getting better, though Jack may have something to say about that. He comes up with a lot of silly rules that seem to work in his favor.
I think it's safe to say we're enjoying things here, even if it's taken us a while to make it.

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