Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thankful Thursday: HEAT

Today, I am thankful for HEAT. 

(but, honestly, I could do with a little more…typing is making my fingers cold)

It’s cold, real cold (for this time of year)…and windy here on the hill, so it seems a little odd to be thankful for heat. 

It was 18* when I looked at the thermometer first thing this morning.  With the wind whipping and howling around the corners of the house, which made the windchill something like 20 BELOW zero.  No heat outside, that’s for sure!

The flames dancing brightly in the woodstove were not only a comforting sight, the warmth felt real good when we got in from doing morning chores. It took a while to feel thawed enough to have breakfast and go about our day.

We find ourselves standing by the stove, absorbing as much warmth as possible before venturing elsewhere to do our work.  It’s invoice/email day and the office is not at all warm.  But, it beats being outside!  It’s just a short walk down the hall to again warm by the fire. I do love the heat of a woodstove.

But, the heat I am most grateful for today is the heat we have in the greenhouses. 

Nothing fancy…just cheap little milk-house heaters. (this is a low-budget operation all the way) But, this heat is essential. 

Lives depend upon it.


heat is essential in the starting greenhouse

Even though it is unseasonably cold (we should be at least 10 to 15 degrees above what we have today…and NO wind) I was pleased to feel a noticeable difference when I checked on the seedlings first thing.

The combination of layers of covers and the small heaters had the temperature in the forties!  
good news in the greenhouse

heaters under the tables provide warmth

plastic domes and another layer of plastic
maintain the warmth around the seedlings

Many crops wouldn’t appreciate these temperatures, but the broccoli/lettuce/cabbage/cauliflower/chard seedlings don’t mind.  The rate of growth will be slow, allowing for sturdy transplants later in the season.

thriving seedling

But, without any heat, the seedlings would have certainly frozen overnight.  And…without the seedlings, there would be no crop…without the crop…there would be no income…and without income…well, you get the picture.

Thank God for HEAT!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014



…it’s the one subject of contention here on the hill.

The Boss thinks I’m a little too free and easy with my hay usage.  He thinks I use far too much of what has become a fairly expensive commodity.

The sheep, on the other hand, seem fairly certain that I am stingy and mean.  They do not have any say in how much hay they get…and the complaints are often deafening.

In my own defense, I’m doing the best I can to keep everyone healthy and happy while remaining “on budget”. It’s a real balancing act sometimes.

Thankfully, Gus and Ellie (and the barn kitties) have no real opinion. Although they have been known to take a little nap high above the rest of the barn.

Gus-protector of the hay bales
In order to re-stock the dwindling supplies, we hauled another wagonload from the hay guy this past week.  Blondie came over to help the “old folks” with the job….Yay, Blondie! (Thank you) 

Our short run to the hay barn and back turned slightly adventurous when a BIG gust of wind pushed the wagon across the road.  While that was a little unsettling…it was even more unsettling to hear the Boss say…”WH---OOOOOAAAAA!  There they go!”  and to look back and see that three hay bales had BLOWN right off the wagon and were now sitting in the middle of MIDDLEB’K Road. …and there was oncoming traffic!  Yikes.  Thankfully, the bales were retrieved with little difficulty. …and we have the distinction of saying we’ve walked down M’brook road carrying hay bales.  While I am absolutely certain this is not the most unusual thing that has happened on M’brook road, it gave us a good story.

Once we made it to the hill, the hay was unloaded and stacked in the barn without further incident.  This load is perhaps the most beautiful hay we have ever bought.  (it should be, it cost a pretty penny)  In fact, it looks good enough for human consumption! 

The ewes seemed to think so too.  They were all milling around and complaining (loudly), hoping for a hand-out. 

It wasn't long before one ewe took things into her own hooves. This is not the first time for this behavior, she's somewhat notorious. Did you read this? I don’t know if she is a little taller than the rest, or just particularly tenacious... maybe she is just part GOAT…but, she can get to the tasty morsels while the rest cannot.  She is able to stretch and push her thin nose through the crack in the wall and pull out huge mouthfuls of hay. She can eat a quarter of a hay bale with little difficulty, leaving a much smaller, somewhat misshapen bale behind.

here she comes

This is aggravating, as well as costly…and it certainly isn’t fair to the rest of the flock. (not that sheep have any sense of fairness)

I’ve tried and tried to thwart her insatiable snacking, but with little success. This time, we slid feed sacks into the crack along the wall. Surely, this would work.

That didn’t stop her.  She simply moved the feed sacks with her mouth, and kept on eating hay.

…and turned and looked at me as if to say…”Hay…this is pretty good!  HA”

Yelling, cajoling and fussing don’t work. (believe me, I've tried)  And, this hay is too nice and too expensive to waste on one old ewe. So, I moved the hay bales out of reach. That messed up the nicely stacked hay, but at least she couldn’t get to them anymore.

I guess this one ended up a draw.  

But, I did get the last laugh when I crawled up on the pile of hay and took this picture.
HEY!  What are YOU doing up there?
Where's my HAY?!

Ha,'ve been out-maneuvered!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 2-23

What a difference a week makes!

Last week’s snow has disappeared from the landscape. Well…mostly.  There are still piles in the shady spots and wherever the drifts were especially deep. 

Cool icicles on the barn
the icicles mean that the gutter is broken and needs repair
but, still...COOL ICICLES!
This week, we battled the melt and the mud.  As 18+inches of snow melts, it makes for LOTSA water…  

While it’s great fun to make little rivers in the mud with sticks when you are a little kid…it’s not nearly as fun when the ground is frozen, you’re using a pick and a shovel…and your age is no longer 5, but 5-0 (or more).
...and the barn was flooded

"skating rink" in front of barn

We had a skating pond in front of the barn and some sort of muddy water theme park out behind.  Fun times down at the barn. (not)
muddy, icy barnlot

Some quality time was spent with both a pick and a shovel…and several tractor buckets of gravel.  

Unfortunately, the mud has developed an insatiable appetite and has swallowed most of the gravel, so it will be time for a repeat performance this week.

the dumping gravel made the sheep nervous

half of them flipped out and ran outside

and then complained that they were not in the barn with the rest of the flock!

except my "helper"
if I could just teach him to use the shovel!

We took a little trip to Staunton Lime a week or so ago…I was amazed to find there is a whole lexicon to gravel.  There are all sorts of types and sizes, and they all have different uses.  It was actually an amazing trip. (I wish I could have stayed longer, taken pictures and asked more questions.   But, that would have just been a little weird...even for me) Later, we had ten tons of #10 delivered.  That sounds like a lot, but it’s not going to last long in our battle with the mud.

at least she's not sinking in the mud

We put some gravel in the chicken yard as well.  The pullets have finally begun to come out of the henhouse and we can’t have them swallowed by the mud. I have never seen mud like this before.
pullets consider the outdoors

fountain at Milmont

Since the mud and snow and gloom of February were really beginning to get to us…and we needed to run a few errands, we took a little trip to Milmont, a greenhouse over in Draft.  I love to go there when it’s cold and dull outside.  It feels so good to be where it’s warm and bright, and you can smell the damp earth.


The Boss took pictures and I bought a couple plants to put some color back in our lives as we endeavor to endure the rest of the winter.You can check out his photos HERE.

the Clocktower
Staunton, VA

Saturday was beautiful. (a far cry from last week when it was still a struggle to get out of the driveway) It actually felt good to stand outside and talk to our customers who met us downtown for pick-up in the morning.  Have I mentioned how much we appreciate these folks?  We do!  Tremendously!  While the weather has not been kind to us this winter, we’ve missed getting to town…and this is the first year that we have NOT had greens for weeks on end… our customers have been very supportive and ordered/come out every time. 
Thanks y’all…you make this all worthwhile.

When we got back, the Boss took the opportunity to clean out the brooder. (we should be getting the first broiler chicks of 2014 this week) and I organized the barn to accommodate the next wagon load of hay.  With bad weather headed this way AGAIN, we have a small window of opportunity to get some hay this week and we needed a clean spot to store it.  All the waste hay was hauled to the backyard to help re-seed a big bare spot that was becoming another sea of mud.

The Boss also put a light in the greenhouse for me this week.  While this may not sound noteworthy…I have needed a light in there ever since we built the thing.  It’s bothersome to work by flashlight and the porch light isn’t much help.  I kept thinking I needed a light, but never really asked. When I mentioned it to the Boss and ASKED him to fix it…it was a done deal within a couple days.  I learned something on this one...
ASK and ye shall receive. Guess I should have ASKED 15 years ago!

The new light is a wonderful addition and makes my evening rounds (when I shut down all the greenhouses) so much easier.

It doesn’t seem like much is going on right now. This time of year is a real lesson in patience. The lambs are eating and growing.  The seedlings in the greenhouse continue to thrive.  Things aren’t quite as dismal in the hoophouses as I had thought.  …and we’re inching closer to Spring.

bottle babies found the feeder!

the sheep can go outside

these girls are SO cute!

And, it’s only 40 days until Opening Day of the Market.

 …only 40 days ‘til Opening day…? 


Excuse me…I’ve got to go talk nice to the plants in hopes of having something to sell.
come on....GROW!

Thanks for stopping by…

Happy Sunday!
Have a great week!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday: The Change in Plans

There it is...written on that old calendar in small, penciled letters …”change in plans”…as if I thought I might someday forget.

As if I could.

It’s been seventeen years since that fateful day in my parents’ Florida room.  Seventeen years since our world was rocked by a seismic shift that no earthquake or tsunami could ever match. Seventeen years since everything changed---forever.

Seventeen years ago today, on a Thursday afternoon in February, the Boss and I had just returned from the last meeting with our builder before the construction phase was to begin.  We had left our long-time home in another county to make the Valley our home and build a house on my parents’ farm.  At my father’s invitation, I might add.  He had picked the spot, consulted the county and bought us a mailbox.  It seemed that our dream of becoming debt-free (we sold our house, one car and a number of possessions) and living and working on a multi-generational farming operation was about to come true. We had made the move, we were working/helping on the farm.  Life was good.  Our young daughters were so excited about this new adventure.

That was until he called us.

We were summoned to the upstairs, where my father began to rail against all our hopes and dreams and everything we stood for in a horrible, violent fit of anger the likes of which we had never experienced. His face was a most awful shade of red, his dark eyebrows beetled together, hatred emanated from his eyes. His voice and hands shook with barely suppressed rage. He didn’t want us to live on his farm and he especially didn’t want to have to “look at you all the time”. When pressed for a reason (Had we behaved in some inappropriate way? Could we work this out?) he had no answer. We had done nothing wrong, he had simply “changed” his mind. He was unexpectedly mean and hateful.  He wanted us to leave…find our own place…basically just go away. (I’ll spare you the rest of the details.)  It was a devastating experience and words fail to convey the pain we felt in our shattered hearts.

We couldn’t believe our ears.

But the tirade had ended.  We were dismissed…and things would never be the same. We picked up what was left of our dignity, our dashed hopes and dreams and went back to our basement apartment. What to do?  What to tell the children?  Where to go?  How? Why?

I have never seen the Boss look quite like that, so broken and forlorn. (and I hope I never do again)  For myself, I could only shake my head and wonder….WHY didn’t I see that coming?  My relationship with my parents had always been a difficult one, but for a number of years things had been calm and fairly pleasant and I (we) assumed that the patterns of the past were just that…the past.

That day my heart shattered into a million, tiny shards that would never, ever become whole once more.

So, what do you do when your heart and dreams are broken?  When you can’t “go home” again?  When you feel lost and alone, scared and overwhelmed…what can you do?

That’s when you take a leap. 

A HUGE leap. 

That’s when you take an enormous leap of faith…knowing that any level of success will simply be a miracle.

Everything we had ever thought we believed about God’s amazing provision was about to be tested in a most extraordinary way. Retirement and 401-k liquidated, equity from our old home withdrawn, deep breath taken and we were ready.  We took a plunge into the great unknown. I have never been so scared in all my life.  In retrospect, it was an amazing faith-building time…and we met some extraordinary people who had lasting impact on our lives…and we were witness to miracles first-hand.

At the time, it was simply terrifying.

We put on a brave front for the girls (or at least we like to think we did), making it sound like an agreement between all the grown-ups, (hoping to keep some stability in their young lives) we packed them into the truck and headed out to find a new home. Which, I might add, was much easier said than done.

After a few false starts, we met a gracious real estate man who printed out a list of things in our price range. (it wasn’t a very long list)  That same real estate man has my undying gratitude for the time he devoted to us, all the while knowing that his work for our small purchase wouldn’t yield much of a commission at all.  But, he was there for us in our hour of need and all we can do is thank him for that. We appreciate you, Bill!

After 40 days in the wilderness (really, that was all…but, it seemed SO much longer) we closed on an empty piece of land on a hill overlooking Mbrook. Empty! No house, no barn…nothing. (our first choice was definitely NOT new construction…however, in the long run it was the best) But, the same builder would build the same house as we had planned earlier for the same price…and he promised me he would hurry. 

With the Boss joining the work crew, the construction phase began.  Despite my serious misgivings, the house was completed in record time. 120 days! (actually it may have been 121...)

The builder has since passed on…never knowing exactly what came of the time he devoted to our project…but, Rupert, I am truly grateful.
doesn't look like a barn, does it?

With the house completed, a pile of lumber destined to become the barn and just $5 in the bank, we had our new home  (and we were debt-free) in a rather unexpected place.

 Homestead Hill Farm had begun.

Why am I telling you this story today? 

For that matter, why am I telling it at all? Why, when we shied away from sharing the horrible truth with anyone, would I finally record the sad, sorted tale today?

Because it’s Thankful Thursday…and unbelievably, I can honestly say that I am thankful for that awful Thursday afternoon seventeen years ago today.  Really! 

You see, while I might never figure out why it happened (and believe me, I’ve really tried all these years)...

While I still wonder what, if anything, I could have done to prevent or change the painful situation, it doesn’t matter. 

It took that awful moment to get us to the here and now.  

The present.

This amazing  life (our family, our friends, the farm and business) that we love so much is a direct result of that change in plans (kick in the teeth, body-blow, it what you will) that February day from long ago.

…and whether anyone believes the rather unbelievable story (honestly, we still don’t believe it) that really doesn’t matter either.  

It doesn’t even matter that our hearts and dreams were shattered and the damage never repaired. We found a new way and made a new life.

By the Grace of God, a whole lot of hard work, serious perseverance and the influence of some great folks along the way, we can finally say…

…we are THANKFUL for (and no, we didn’t forget) the Change in Plans.