Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 11-29

just a few of the things I am thankful for this year

Here we are…it’s time for a Sunday Walkabout because another week has flown by.

At least I think it’s Sunday.

The end of the Market followed by a not-quite-mid-week holiday where we eat at the “wrong” time of day is more than a little confusing. I am creature of habit and a follower of routine, so I am struggling to get back “on track”.

But, I have assured myself that it is indeed Sunday with multiple checks of the calendar, my phone and the computer.

So…here we go. 

---These sunrise photos have nothing to do with the story, but aren't they beautiful? 
This is how much a single sunrise can change in a matter of minutes...


the sunrises are just one of the awesome job benefits

The Boss had declared this our “week off”. (he apparently forgot about all the preparations for Thanksgiving that were looming over my head). And, it seemed more than a little perverse on my part to argue. So, to celebrate our “week off”, we decided to splurge a little. To take the afternoon off and do something totally non-farm related is not only fairly unusual, but it always seems like some sort of guilty pleasure.

end of the Market "date-day"

The movie “the Martian” is finishing up its run at one of the local theaters. The Boss had been anticipating this ever since he completed the book last winter. It would be much better suited to the big screen than our fairly small television. So lunch and a matinee it was. I can honestly say that in nearly 32 years together, we have never done that before! As a matter of fact, we haven’t even been to the movies in years…well over 20 years. (something that the daughters pointed out when they found out where we had been)

The “day off” proved to be a success. I was prepared to be “under-whelmed” as I am not the fan of space stories and sci-fi that the Boss is. It was quite interesting and I found myself completely caught up in the story. And, as a farmer, I truly felt the protagonist’s pain when an accident blew up the module where he was growing potatoes and they instantly froze in the -200* atmosphere. When he touched the little frozen plant and it shattered, and he realized the crop was completely lost, I knew how that felt all too well.

So, movie over and “day off” enjoyed, we got back to the very necessary preparations for T’giving.

 ….which were all going quite well…

…until they weren’t.

My back decided to “go on strike”. And, it wasn’t a peaceful little sit-in kind of strike. It was a flat-out revolt. It was incredibly painful and simply walking was out of the question. I actually considered the emergency room at one point. However, I couldn't see spending the time or money to have them tell me to "give it time and take it easy". 

While the Boss’ true humility would prevent him from saying anything, I will have to let you in on a little secret. We wouldn’t have had a T’giving meal if it wasn’t for the Boss. He mixed and stirred and cooked while I gave directions. He made all kinds of food. He even cleaned while I collapsed in the recliner, popping ibuprofen and applying the heating pad.

He did an amazing job!

And, just when I thought he was done and I couldn’t be more thankful for him, he set off for town to get me a TENs device that we hoped would ease the pain. For my husband to willingly go into Walmart on the day before T’giving was a true act of love and it gave me one more thing to be thankful for on the big day. (although I’m pretty sure HE was thankful that I got the bathroom cleaning done before my back went out…vacuuming and dusting are one thing…)

When he got home with this tiny little thing, we both had serious doubts. But at that point we had nothing to lose. Amazingly, the little device worked! By T’giving morning, I could indeed walk again. However, bending and lifting were still pretty painful…but, we didn’t have to cancel our plans (that was my biggest worry earlier in the week)

We had a fun time visiting with all the kids…and snuggling with the grandbabies. T-bone's cousin and his young daughter joined us for the meal, so our little house was very full.

…and I'm pretty sure a good time was had by all. 

You know how funny it is to watch a room full of grown-ups howl at the adventures of Shaun the Sheep? (two movies in one week...we are going for some sort of record!)

It’s hard to believe that a year can make such an incredible difference. Last year, although we knew we would have a grandbaby in ’15, we didn’t know if it would be he or she…and we had no idea that there would be GB#2!  We have been doubly blessed. There should be more than one day for thanksgiving when you consider all the good things in our lives.

I think they just heard Grandpa say something
about workin' for your supper

After nearly a month of seeing posts that are focused on being thankful for and conscious of the great blessings in everyone’s lives, the focus instantly shifts to Christmas holiday preparations, making me incredibly glad that we don’t participate in all the folderol. I really hate to lose that sense of gratitude for all the things that make up the fabric of a pretty amazing way of life. 

However, the day of celebration always ends too soon and it’s time for everyone to head back home and life begins to return to “normal”. That always seems a little sad. But, the return to “normal” is necessary…and personally, I am ready to return to a non-Thanksgiving kind of menu!

the processing shed becomes the WOODshed until Spring
And, honestly, there is no time to be sad…Winter is looming. And, the Boss is getting ready.  The wood is stacked in the shed and he cleaned the henyard so the hens can head back from the middle garden soon. The hens will spend the late fall and early winter cleaning up the lower garden before the snow flies. He hauled all the chicken manure out to the compost pile for use next season. The annual “sorting of the sheep”, when the ram leaves the ewes has been delayed far longer than normal, but hopefully we can get to that this week as well.
cleaning out the henyard

the "clean" henyard makes a great place for early morning explorations

He also has a couple projects in the works, so we’re headed off to town in the morning to get supplies. I will leave you wondering as to the significance of THIS in our backyard.

Do you know what this is?
Got any ideas for what it is going to become?

I will only say that it will be the latest in the Boss’ re-purposing, up-cycling endeavors.

morning view

Now that we have entered the “off-season”, it’s time to shift focus to the recordkeeping side of the farm. I have a love/hate relationship with all the recordkeeping. I get psyched when all the little columns add up and the bank statement balances on the first try. And, I love the fact that I can generate all sorts of reports with the click of the mouse. However, I hate sitting there, staring at the screen for hours, getting all those figures input so I can get my reports and trying to remember WHAT that cryptic message on yet another receipt might mean. I keep telling myself that I should be more diligent during the rest of the year and then I wouldn’t face this long and tortuous ordeal…but…you know how that goes.

early morning full moon

It doesn’t seem like sitting at the computer is vital farm work. But, it is. Without the information regarding income and expenses, we have no idea how the farm is doing. By keeping track of farm products sold, we know which items are profitable and which are not. And, we will need all this data as we plan next year and beyond.

Our annual planning meeting is scheduled for the end of next month, so time is of the essence. And, everything has a way of working out. My miraculous healing is in no way complete. My back is still sore and the Boss ended up doing all my chores for a few days. But, “taking it easy” means that I can focus on the mountain of bookwork that has been screaming for my attention for months now. Perhaps I can get caught up by the first of the week. That’s my goal.

I love the light in the hoophouse

This week things will regain some semblance of “normalcy” as we start our Winter Sales. We spent some time finalizing our product list and I got all our customers’ email addresses updated.

And, despite the COLD temperatures earlier in the week (it was 23* two mornings in a row) there will still be a fair amount of things to harvest. (the family portrait at the top is surrounded by this week's goodies)
That ice is over an inch thick.
It's time to haul out the stocktank heater!

Gus is the only inhabitant who enjoys ice

Hooray for frost blankets!
applying frost blankets in the hoophouse

That’s about it for happenings on the hill this week.

Hope you have a Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by. Come back and “visit” us again.

Here's one last visit to the Staunton Farmers' Market for the year...

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Give Thanks

“If anyone wants to move to the farm…I can make that happen.”

My father threw the words out effortlessly, seemingly without thought, across the table that Thanksgiving of ’95.

They hung in the air, the crystal-clear answer to years of prayer requests.  They seemed to shimmer there for a single moment, before the ebb and flow of conversation swallowed them, as family members laughed and kidded and children ran about screaming with the delight of unsupervised playtime with their grandparents. No further comments or discussion followed. But the memory of those words remained long beyond the overdone turkey, the ham and rolls and overabundance of desserts.

If anyone wants to move to the farm…

Those words would change our lives


If forever seems a little over-the-top, a might too strong, or even a bit of an exaggeration…consider if you will where I am, what we do and who we now consider ourselves to be. Nothing, absolutely nothing,  is as we might have expected it all those years ago.

There was no way to predict how completely life-altering it would be to catch those few little words before they disappeared into conversational history. But, catch them we did…we held them close and made them our own, setting off on what became the journey of a lifetime. (both figuratively and literally)

The journey was most definitely not direct. It hasn’t always been pretty. And, I’ll let you in on a little secret…a lot of times it was anything but fun.  And, at times it seemed more than a little overwhelming and beyond what small sense of human strength we had.

Life ain't always beautiful
Sometimes it's just plain hard
Life can knock you down
It can break your heart

But the struggles make you stronger
And the changes make you wise
And happiness has its own way
Of takin' its sweet time

However, here we are. Twenty years into the future, with more to be thankful for than ever before.

And, as we wait for loved ones to arrive so we can feast on food grown and prepared with our own hands, celebrating the fact that we can all be together despite the tumultuous journey, spending time with our daughters and their husbands and those sweet little grandbabies we didn’t even let ourselves imagine…

We give thanks…

For the struggles and hardships, for the waits and frustrations, and all those painful moments..even the heartache and despair, because they somehow grant more sweetness…not just on Thanksgiving…but, every day.

No, life ain't always beautiful
Tears will fall sometimes
Life ain't always beautiful
But it's a beautiful ride!
                                           Gary Allan - Life Ain't Always Beautiful

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 11-22

offerings for the final Market of 2015

We did it!

Another Market season is in the history books!

That’s season number 18 for us…just in case anyone besides me is keeping track of those kinds of things.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Even though a great deal of our focus was on getting ready for the final Market of 2015, there were actually other activities to demand our attention. Most of the work done was just the regular business of farm life here on the hill, but a few things do stand out as somewhat notable.

On Tuesday, we were scheduled to take the last bunch of lambs to the butcher for processing.   That 70 miles of interstate travel is not one that either of us relish, but “ya gotta do what ya gotta do”.

In order to offer lamb, beef or pork for retail sale, it must be processed in a USDA inspected facility. (there are different regulations for chickens and rabbits) There are only a few of these facilities throughout the Valley. The demand for small-scale processing inspected facilities simply doesn’t warrant the investment in the costly infrastructure and compliance that is required by federal regulation. And while there are a couple of closer operations, they are more costly and one of them has a difficult time following our directions. To our mind, our chosen operation is simply the best

So, we make the interstate trip several times during the year.

loaded and ready to go

After a relatively stress-free lamb loading, we set off for the final trip of the season, talking over our plans for the rest of the day. The Boss laughingly considers the lamb hauling (and subsequent lamb chop pick-up) a mini-vacation, since we generally do something unrelated to farming as well.

At some point, I became aware of something strange with the truck.

I was trying not to comment, because I am painfully aware that I am not a great passenger, particularly on the interstate. Remarks have been made about my death-grip on the dashboard and the dents I may have made in the floorboard mashing instinctively on brakes that are not there. And, I must admit to shrieking on occasion when the big trucks decide to change lanes with no warning. But, I refuse to admit to screaming. I handle the stresses of interstate travel much better behind the wheel, but even then I would prefer a backroad. With this in mind, I make a conscious effort to restrain myself on these trips.

Looking over at the Boss, I saw that little furrow in his brow growing as he listened intently. “hey… did you hear that?” He cocked his head when the truck shifted gears.

I wasn’t imagining things!

When you drive a geriatric vehicle (the farm truck is 20 years old), you get used to the odd little noises and idiosyncrasies that develop over time. You tell yourself that these give the truck character and you try to overlook the minor ones, knowing that the weird rattles, the big crack in the dashboard, the malfunctioning gas gauge and non-existent radio reception (among other things) are not worth a monthly payment that would come with a newer vehicle.

However, lately, the dodge had developed some odd potential transmission issues that the Boss had been “keeping an eye on”. It was an intermittent concern, that hadn’t couldn’t be identified as an actual problem. We had each noticed it on separate occasions, but it corrected itself. However, now, out on the interstate, with a load of lambs on the back, the “transmission issues” flared again.

The truck shifted needlessly, over and over. And over. Even my untrained mechanical mind knew that wasn’t quite right. The Boss began to look my direction with every gear change.

Should we continue on? What was plan B? What happens if this is a big problem and we end up stranded 70miles from home? Or worse, get stranded with these lambs before we get there? There wasn't any possibility of re-scheduling...processing dates are secured way in advance. It would be after the new year before we could get another appointment. So,  we brainstormed as we continued to drive and the truck continued to shift.

pretty day for a roadtrip
but, we turned around at the next exit

We finally decided to turn around, hook up to the other vehicle and try again. We were closer to home than our destination, it would put us behind schedule, but that was better than the possible alternatives.

We got off the interstate at the next exit and began the Southbound trip to the hill.

And, the problem never recurred for the entire ride back to the hill! Seriously. This was too weird. 

We kept looking at one another, trying to see if we had imagined the whole thing. Maybe we both over-reacted…? But, rather than take a chance, we went ahead with plan B. Hook the trailer to the Xterra and try again.

The Boss could solve the truck “issues” at a later date. (which, for the record, have yet to recur)

Of course, it wasn’t just a matter of un-hitching from one vehicle and hitching to the other. (of course) There was some level of work involved and SiL#1 was praised profusely for his wiring prowess when he installed the hitch several years ago. Yay, Josh!

…and we were off.

this might not look like a FARM vehicle
but, it worked!

It has been said that the only difference between an ordeal and an adventure is ATTITUDE. So, we were going with “adventure”…because we have indeed had some ORDEALS when it comes to travel.

This time, the trip Northbound was completely uneventful.  We got the lambs off, the cutting instructions delivered and finally got around to some lunch, before setting off on the rest of our journey, because we rarely just make a trip from point A to point B. And we were only about an hour and a half behind schedule.

The day also included a trip out to the produce supply warehouse to purchase a bunch of plastic flats for next growing season…and beyond. (the Boss says I got enough to last for YEARS) Even though I try to be frugal and often re-use the flats, the plastic is thin and brittle. During the course of the season, the individual cells occasionally tear as we pull the transplants out and sometimes the heat of the summer greenhouse causes them to melt into unusable blobs. And, Gus has eaten a few. (although he seems to have lost his taste for plastic lately) So, you can never have too many.

some of my seed starting stash

Before you know it…it will be time to start seeds for next year!

The prices offered by the Supply Company make it worth a drive out into the country. It used to be an egg farm, but about 10 years ago, they transitioned over to supply and now it seems they have EVERYTHING. The setting is in beautiful farm country and the whole thing should be worthy of its own post.  Maybe next trip…

With cold weather predicted, the Boss did a few odd jobs in preparation, like repairing the henhouse.

 Work on the henhouse is always interesting, all the chickens squawk and fly around with every single pulse of the drill. He also addressed the electric fence issues, eliminating any further episodes of the chicken rodeo. 

With the odds and ends taken care of and the demands of the Market completed for the season, we can focus on garden clean-up before the snow flies.

With the hens on clean-up detail in the garden
we get some truly "pastured" eggs!
And, speaking of snow… 

Gus and Ellie watch as the Boss gets driving tips
 Our neighbor has a contract with the state to push snow off the backroads in this area with his fleet of trucks and big equipment. He’s always looking for drivers and asked the Boss if he’d be interested in hiring on during snow season. The pay is good and it is a chance for the Boss to put his driving skills to the challenge. He brought the big Case 7240 by so he could give the Boss a few pointers on operation.   For the first time in…well…forever…I think the Boss is looking forward to snow, if for no other reason than he gets to drive something with 18 forward gears!

cold morning for Market

The final Market day of the year dawned clear and COLD. It was just 28* downtown, so we couldn't put all the produce out and there were other "weather-related issues"  to contend with.

setting up in cold weather

 But, all in all, we had a pretty amazing sale day! (although I’m still wondering if I did the math right) After the Market, a number of vendors went to lunch together at a downtown restaurant in celebration. It’s always nice to get a chance to visit with other producers without the interruptions of a sales day. I’m pretty sure everyone was looking forward to the somewhat slower pace that the “off-season” grants.

But, for the record…NOBODY said anything about island vacations or cruises. Although more than one person did say they wanted to take a nap.

Personally, we won’t have much down-time before it’s time to focus on Winter sales. …and then it will be lambing season…and honestly, our annual planning meeting is just a month away, so there’s no time to relax and put our feet up. But, Thanksgiving week is coming…and this year we have reasons to be doubly thankful and I really want to take the time to appreciate all that. (but, that’s next week’s post)

I hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by! Come “visit” us again real soon.

end of another week

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 11-15

We used to listen to a radio show on Friday afternoons that would end with “nothin’ much happened in our town this week…”

With very little revision, that could serve as this week’s blog post.  …’cause…well, nothin’ much happened!

Mid-November is just an awkward time of year. It’s too late for planting for this year, too early for planning for next and we still have a couple of Markets to focus on before we get into “winter mode”. It’s an exercise in perseverance, which doesn’t make for much excitement or interesting copy.

canned goods for winter

It’s a time for cleaning up and winterizing which don’t make for pretty pictures, either. But, we are making progress. Since we won’t be doing any front porch sittin’ until Spring, the rocking chairs were upside down so we won’t have to listen to them creaking as the winter winds howl and the houseplants returned to the spare room. The canned goods are all tucked away on the shelves and the canning paraphernalia has returned to the freshly cleaned and organized shed for another season. 

Next up, the greenhouses… Because it will be time for next growing season before you know it!

frosty leaf

November’s weather can be challenging, too. In the past week to ten days, we have had record-setting warmth, a couple of rain storms, a day where the temperature never reached 40* as a high, and then we spent two days under a wind advisory. This made it somewhat difficult to get any outdoor work done. But, all in all, I guess it’s better than last year. It was 16* at the Market at this point of 2014. And there was snow before Thanksgiving!

The wide variety of weather made for some pretty photos. 
pretty skies after the rain

ewes at sunset

the BLUE Ridge Mountains
on a gloomy day

sunny Sunday afternoon

Mbrk barn

mountains to the west

No, we won’t be complaining about this year’s winds and rain!

moving the henhouse

The Boss got the hens moved into the middle garden this week. Which, I might add, was no easy feat since the ground was still so soggy following the rain. Moving the henhouse from the middle garden to the lower garden in a couple of weeks may prove to be interesting, as it is currently sunk to its axle in mud. But, the move was successful and the hens are hard at work scratching around, feasting on weed seeds and insects.
henhouse in middle garden

here they come

hens on clean-up detail

Gus and Ellie seemed bothered to miss out on the hen moving

...because there were all sorts of "delicious" tidbits in the hen yard
(Gus is checking out an old egg)

All was well until a cold front blew in, bringing with it some serious wind. Wind is nothing new on the hill, but when the gusts are measured at over 40 mph, we generally have some sorts of issues. And, this time was no exception. The wind caught one of the flaps that cover the henhouse windows and ripped it off its hinges. This caused all sorts of mayhem among the hens as they reacted like the chickens they are, squawking and flying around, and a couple of them escaped in the process. They managed to remain undetected in the garden for the better part of the afternoon. They were having a grand time, but we couldn’t have them eating the Market vegetables.

wind damage

There is no easy way to get escapee hens back where they belong. Chickens don’t follow directions, and they don’t herd well, so the Boss ended up chasing them around the garden with his big fishing net. Which proved to be quite the experience.  (and kind of funny) This is only amusing to those who are not involved in the aggravating activity of chasing chickens. This time was made more aggravating because they could use the cover of the garden to out-maneuver the Boss. However, he did win out in the end. I am wondering if we couldn't market some sort of farmer fitness program...look at those moves!

their gentle, peaceful looks are deceiving
My own animal escapades didn’t work out so well, and I pulled something in my back when we were working lambs early in the week. Combined with all the bending and kneeling that harvest requires and the five-hour stint of standing at the Market,  I’ve been spending some quality time with the heating pad while ingesting the maximum dosage of “vitamin I” (you know, ibuprofen) Not much fun, but it did get me out of chasing chickens!

Thankfully the winds have finally died down somewhat. Wind always create challenges here on the hill. And, it pretty much blows ALL the time. Over the years, we’ve lost shingles, had the side blow out on one hoophouse, and wonder if that flickering power will actually be an outage (not this time) Generally our somewhat temperamental internet connection finally just gives up all together.  This is frustrating because we lose phone service as well, making us feel more than a little isolated.  After two days of wind and its challenges, everybody gets a little testy. I’ve been working on an entire post about the wind and the Market…so be on the lookout for that soon.

I am quite happy to report that despite the challenges brought on by the wind and the cold, the next to last Market was a good one.
see how everything is blowing?

The upcoming week is going to be one of lasts. The last batch of lambs will be hauled on Tuesday. And, Saturday will be the last Market of 2015. I am definitely looking forward to those two events.

See?  I told you that not much happened this week!

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

Come back and visit again real soon.
Sugarloaf Mountain on a fall afternoon

Here’s a quick virtual tour of the Market, courtesy of the Boss.