28 February 2019

Keep Pushin' Up

Good advice!
Though our year is truly off to a great start, we've already hit our fair share of bumps in the road. There are times when it seems like everything is going wrong and honestly, it's pretty easy to see the bad when I'm looking for it. Lately, there's been plenty of unexpected hiccups.  Like the morning Woody decided to squeeze his way out of the fence, sure the grass was greener on the other side. He was sadly mistaken, seeing as it's winter and none of the grass is green. Anywhere. So, I had to waddle after him--seven months pregnant and all--and chase him back home. 
A mini cattle drive.
The same morning my car started leaking a mystery fluid, Jack's car flashed a whole bunch of check engine lights and his brakes basically became useless unless he had about five times the stopping distance.
 So, we met him at the nearest, very rundown mechanic shop in hopes they could diagnose the problem.

They couldn't.

And neither could the very expensive car dealership, who should know Hondas like the back of their hand but made excuse after excuse for a week without coming to any sort of conclusion. Of course, they still wanted our money for basically doing nothing.
That meant we were down to one car, so the girls had to be up extra early to catch the bus (bless the bus driver for picking them up without any warning before that they'd be waiting) and had to stand outside in the lovely Indiana winter weather, that is usually gray, chilly, and probably rainy.
Most of the time, Jack was able to drive himself in but once in a while, I needed my car, which made for a few long days driving Jack to and from work. Thankfully, he could do some of his conference calls on the drive in so he didn't miss anything.
Of course, cars aren't the only thing that have been struggling around here. Our washing machine decided to kick the bucket, but not before it soaked a load of laundry in dirty water, then leaked the very same dirty water all over the storage room. Whoopie.
As for the horses, they've been enjoying a lot of time inside the barn while the winter weather blows over. In gratitude, Stoney dirtied his water trough and by dirtied, I mean he pooped in it. A lot. Maybe he was trying to tell me he wanted it cleaned out. How subtle of him.
Although I'm really not sure what he was trying to communicate by pooping in his grain bucket. Perhaps he was dissatisfied by the amount of grain he was getting and wanted more? Horses really are like overgrown toddlers.
Really, Stoney??
Speaking of toddlers, Zoey is her own force of nature. She's recently discovered that she has an opinion and likes to loudly--sometimes violently--express it. We're talking full-blown screaming, hitting, biting, glaring, and chastising others. The worst of her damage is done silently, though. Like when she decides she needs a snack and raids the cabinets for anything and everything that looks appealing. I'm not sure what it is about spilling it on the floor, but it appears she's convinced it makes any food more palatable if it's in a mess that she can sit in the middle of.
Despite her mood swings, Zoey is a very sweet girl. She loves to trail along with her siblings and do whatever they're doing, including gluing their crafts together. Her motto with glue is to use way too much glue, and do it secretly behind the couch by unscrewing the lid, then dumping it all over yourself and the carpet. Because that's how toddlers roll.
She got caught red handed!
As an author, there are some unique challenges I face (which sometimes makes me wonder why I keep putting myself through the stress of writing and publishing). I've met some incredible milestones lately. I've also watched my books fade in popularity and get lost in the shuffle of the millions of books on out there and die a slow death.
Watching my book sales slowly die...
While I'm busy trying to figure out the self-publishing game, on top of everything else we have to do around here, that means sacrifices have to be made in order to sustain our talents, hobbies, and the day-to-day needs of running a home and farm. I always seem to be weighing whether I should buy a gallon of paint to update a room or stitch up our winter coats that are tearing at the seams, just one more time. Sometimes, it's either buy more hay for the animals or heating oil for the house. Always something to decide.
Jack's coat first.
Let's just say, I've done my fair share of stitching up coats, socks, tights, jeans, and sewing on buttons lately.
Then mine.
I think sometimes, I inadvertently create the illusion that everything is fine and dandy and always runs smoothly on the farm. A lot of times, it really does but on occasion, things are discouraging. Really discouraging. Like the fact that we've artificially bred Dolly twice and both times, it didn't take. That means we won't get another calf from her this next year and we basically kissed that money goodbye.
Dolly watching Henry play in the snow while we waited for the vet to see if she was pregnant or not. She wasn't.
With all these disappointments, trip-ups, setbacks, and discouragements, it's easy to spiral into a gloomy mood (I blame February, my least favorite month of the year) but frequently, the difficult times are what teach us the most.
For one, it's taught us how strong we are. Do I enjoy having to buy and stack hay in the middle of winter because I underestimated how much the animals would need? No. But I'm glad I had the means, the ability, a big shed to put it in, and the help from willing children to do it.
Zoey is a very zealous hay-stacker.
Even though the kids sometimes grate my nerves with their bickering, eye-rolling, sassing, drama, and constant noise, they are overwhelmingly and without question the greatest kids I've ever met. They are only human (I do my fair share of bickering, eye-rolling, sassing, dramatics, and being noisy, too) but they are the smartest, most hilarious, curious, kindhearted, beautiful children I know.
A little of Claire's humor for you.
They can entertain themselves anywhere because the world is their oyster, especially if they come across an open field in the middle of town--that's their territory!
We understandably get a lot (A LOT) of comments about the number of children we have, which is quickly followed by copious praise of how well-behaved and polite they are. It's nice to know other people think my kids are really awesome, too.
They quietly colored the entire time we were at our tax appointment. Angels, I tell you!
Another thing I realize when I'm feeling overwhelmed is that I rarely, if ever, have to do anything by myself if I don't want to. Someone is always willing to help.
Don't lions make biscuits at your house?
Even if it's just an encouraging smile.
Although, I'll never turn down a foot rub if it's being offered.
Once I get started gushing about Jack, I have a hard time stopping. He's one of those rare gems that's the best of both worlds--he fits into the city and farm like they're interchangable. He's smart as a whip, hardworking, clever, and makes the best beef jerky I've ever had. Good thing we have a lot of meat to experiment with.
 Ever since I've known Jack, he's found ways to make me feel special and remind me that he loves me, including writing love notes on my computer. Sure, they look like a serial killer or a kindergartener might have written them but that's part of the charm.
Patience is another one of those lessons I'm slowly (like, painfully slowly) learning. That includes watching my books grow. While I'm not topping any charts just yet, I am seeing some success, including a few orange tags on Amazon that give me some hope that people are in fact reading and enjoying my work.
While the animals can seem ungrateful, for some weird reason or another, I love being able to take care of them. A fresh bed of shavings, a clean bucket of water, and a flake or two of good hay and they're content. I mean, I have horses in my backyard! It's my childhood dream come true!
Even in the midst of the chaos, there are times of peace and tranquil. Thank goodness those who can read enjoy it and are often caught quietly enjoying a book in their own space.
 Those are only a few things that we've learned from hard and challenging times. More than once, we've witnessed miracles, have been humbled, felt compassion for others in similar situations, have learned to be content with what we have and to change our perspective when that's the only thing we can do about the situation. Difficulties are unquestionably a test of character and perseverance, creative thinking, prioritizing, and sacrificing. Those kinds of lessons don't come without some blood, sweat, and tears.
Henry wrote and read me an apology note while Captain Piccard looked over him approvingly.
In the end, we might cry and wring our hands, wondering what the future will hold but ultimately, will pick each other up and cheerfully carry on. You know, the sun'll come up tomorrow kind of thinking.
Nobody's immune to hardships and that's partly what makes life such an adventure. So, we'll appreciate the good times when we have them and when things aren't quite so sweet, keep pushin' up.
Yeah, I am.

17 February 2019

Produces in the Winter

Let the sap flow!
It's no secret that winter isn't my favorite season and of all months, I hate February the most. It's all gray skies, cold mud, frozen water, and we're burning through everything from wood to hay to heating oil. One of the few redeeming things about February is that the weather turns and it usually signals the start of maple syrup season. Instead of consuming, it's one of the few things that actually produces in the winter.
For the sap to start flowing in the trees, there has to be a week of above freezing temps during the day, and below freezing temps at night. Last year wasn't the best for syrup because of the constant back and forth of too warm, then too cold, then right to too hot. We didn't collect enough sap to make enough syrup to last us until this season, so we've been substituting with imitation maple syrup, much to Jack's chagrin. But this week, we've been watching the weather and it looks like we're off to a good start. We collected all the tools, saved milk jugs, twine, and maple syrup taps, and headed back to the forest.
Waiting for the right sized drill bit. There's always something we have to wait for to get started.
The process of tapping trees isn't really that complex, so much so that even the kids can help (partly because we make them, haha). Once we figure out which trees are maples, it's a matter of finding a main root, drilling a small hole, pounding in the taps, attaching a milk jug, and supporting it with twine for when it's full of sap.
Henry wanted to hammer them in. Naturally.
It took everyone a few minutes to figure out what their task was but once they did, everything ran fairly smoothly and quickly.
So much so that everyone had their own specific task: Jack drilled, Henry pounded in taps, Claire attached milk jugs, Evelyn ran supplies to everyone, Kate cried about being cold because she didn't listen when I told her to zip up her coat, put up her hood, and put on her gloves...
...and Zoey got frustrated.

Tapping trees is hard work for a one-year-old!
Frustrated that her hat was on backward and she couldn't see what she was supposed to be drilling.
One by one, the kids succumbed to the cold and frustration about tripping all over the forest--there are a lot of downed trees, thorny rose bushes, and sticks to trip little legs. So, I sent them in to warm up with a shower and get ready for bed, rewarding them with some leftover chocolate and a show before bedtime. It was a close call but everyone survived our outing!
Now, we're just waiting for the sap to roll in so we can collect it, filter it, boil it, and eat it. Fingers crossed for a good maple syrup season!

16 February 2019

Chocolate Party Smorgasbord

Before everyone dug in at our chocolate party smorgasbord.
Evelyn has proudly declared that of all days, certainly Valentine's Day would rank up there as one of (if not THE) happiest day of the year. I know I'm uber spoiled when it comes to the amount of love we get showered with daily (even if it is between the bickering, whining, crying, backtalking, etc) but I can see a marked difference in my kids' lavish attention on Valentine's Day.
Homemade headband hair accessory.
I woke up to a flurry of handmade cards being shoved into my hands. EVERYBODY who could write or scribble made one for every other individual in the family. That's a lot of cards!
After getting our morning chores done, we headed back to school and ate lunch with Claire and Evelyn (we were too tardy to catch Kate this time...sorry Kate!) and enjoyed a picnic style lunch with the girls.
Then, when we were done, they let the kids play with hula hoops and jump ropes until it was time to head back to class.
Even the animals had some extra attention. The horses got their hooves trimmed while Henry brushed them, the chickens and turkeys got a scoop of scratch grains, and the cows got their alfalfa. Everyone was well-tended.
Claire had gymnastics on Valentine's Day, so we held off on our annual chocolate party until Friday night. Still, Jack made sure everyone was given their very own flowering plant in honor of the girls' middle names, another tradition that they eagerly look forward to. Looks like we have some planting to do!
Before bed, they had one last surprise of mail from grandma. It's better than bills and credit card advertisements any day!
When Jack came home on Friday, he brought another treat with him that's been a blast--he had a new augmented reality toy from work that he was trying out. Each of the kids had a chance to wear it, and I made sure to take a turn. The technology he works on really is incredible and it's fun watching the kids have their mind blown when they take a peek.
Henry trying to describe what he was seeing was hilarious.
 This year, we combined a hodgepodge dinner of sliced veggies, fruits, meats, cheeses, homemade croissants (oh, yeah...we went there), and homemade jerky WITH the chocolate party. Though the kids all stuffed more chocolate into their cheeks than we'd normally let them, they balanced it out with other foods. What's life without a little indulgence once in a while, anyway?
We continued to graze, watching a movie and staying up past bedtime until it was clear everyone was tuckered out and could handle no more fun. They got in their jammies, brushed their teeth reeeeeally well, and went to bed...only to wake up just as early, as usual, the next morning and be crabby most of the day. Eh. I saw that consequence of gluttony coming from a mile away.
We hope you had fun celebrating your own wonderful Valentine's Day, filled with friends, family, lots of love, and hopefully a bit of chocolate!


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