Monthly Archives

December 2015

Farm Life

The two faces of Janus…

So far this winter has been pretty warm and we have not had much snow. It feels strange to be able to see the tall grass out in the fields. This is December and there is usually at least five solid feet on the ground at this time. Right now, it is a little less than two.We had more than twenty inches overnight from Thursday into Friday morning but it has settled a bit like it does.

That Friday morning drive to the bus was awful. I have to go seven miles to meet the bus at the highway and it was clear at two miles that I needed to go back home. It was still snowing fiercely and since it was a half past seven in the morning, it was at least an hour until sunrise. It was pitch black and the snow was at the maximum depth that I could get the van through. I was legit afraid that I would get stuck out there in the five mile stretch of woods with no cell service but there was no where to turn around. So, I got to a neighbor who had cleared enough that I could turn and I went back home. We stayed home and worked on ornaments for an exchange that we are doing and wrapped gifts. That was that.

It is nice to have more than a thin layer of snow on the ground. This place is something like the mythological God, Janus. There are two distinct faces to this place. In the summer is it this shocking verdant place where you literally see the ferns grow overnight. In the winter, you need to carry a snow shovel, cat litter, a blanket, and snow gear just in case you become stuck somewhere or are trapped in your car. It was looking a little too dirty, a little too shopworn and I am glad to have the snow. I know, it is a little crazy, but I am still glad.

Jack was really proud of this shot. I just
straightened it and lightened it a bit for him.

Best news! Today I go get the oldest boy from the airport! He is coming home from college for Christmas! We are ready. We have extra coffee and a freezer full of meat and a happy cow out in the snow. Now all we need is Christmas and all that milk, cream, butter, cheese, and meat! We made spiced apple cider this fall and canned it so we have plenty for hot buttered cider and I am aching to make eggnog. I have all kinds of things planned and it always come down to food. Everything here comes down to food. I am working on the menu today and I thought I would share it with you tomorrow!

Farm Life


To overwinter animals means to keep them overwinter. This is harder in some places than in others. It means making hard decisions about which ones are worth the heavy investment to keep.

Io, the black milk cow, will be kept all winter long. Zeus is a steer and is destined for the freezer. I would be lying if I said that it did not make us a little sad. He is gorgeous, he always has been, and now that the weather is cold his coat is thick and soft. He is just beautiful. Everybody loves to look at Zeus. Realities being what they are, we need to remember how much hay it takes to keep a steer fed from October through May.

For now Zeus and Io spend the nights in the pen in the barn and are out and about during the day. If the weather becomes too windy for them, or if we have warmer temps that result in freezing rain instead of snow, they go back in to the barn until the weather passes.They let us know when they’ve had enough. Instead of wondering around the pasture, or laying in the snow chewing their cud, they huddle up next to the door to the barn and pitifully moan until we suit up and go out.

The weather has been strangely warm, it is an El Nino year, so we’ve spent many days hovering within a degree or two of freezing for our day times highs. This means less snow and more ice. Lots of ice. We are expecting a major shift in the weather starting tonight when we dip down into more normal temps and more normal snowfalls. Two years ago, we had six feet on the ground by Christmas so this is strange. The twelve inches of snow we are expecting over the next few days is welcome. The mud and the ice and the general darkness that a lack of snow means is starting to wear on us.

What we have had no shortage of is wind off the lake. It is like the November gales have spilled over into December. We have seen harsh winds with stinging frozen rain that is just painful to walk out in and means that we need to keep our skin covered like we do when it is below zero. Very early this morning some coyotes chases a deer through our pasture and the leaping buck knocked down some step in posts for the electric fence. When light came, the boys had to go out and repair it in strong wind. I came along and provided moral support.

Speaking overwintering, we need to process the ducks in the barn. They are from a neighboring farm and were not selected to be overwintered by that family. We have had them for a while now and they have been pretty cozy in the barn but their time is coming. They are fun to watch, they always look like they are talking and yelling at each other. There is a fair bit of fighting between them. Zeus did not like them at first but is coping with their presence and their noise. As much as we’ve enjoyed them, their little drama is coming to close. Jack named them “Christmas Dinner Senior” and “Christmas Dinner Junior”. I am pretty sure that you know what that means.

Farm Life

The bleak mid-winter…

Things have been less busy here in terms of farm work. The work has changed. No one is bucking bales, no one is mowing, no one is moving pasture fence, and we are all waiting for winter to really settle in. The cow and the steer are on hay and being supplemented with grain and the snow has not been much to speak of at all. The warmer winter has meant ice, a lot of ice, but that is supposed to be changing now and I can see it. Starting next week is supposed to be our steady slide into really cold temps, below zero readings, and significant snow. We grownups have been pretty spoiled by not having to move snow, but the kids have been waiting for real winter. It will also mean that the cows will be spending more time in the barn which more mucking it out and more snow to move but the kids will be sledding which softens the blow.

It makes me think of all those English Christmas songs which are less about snow and more about things being bleak. Winter here is usually not bleak. It can be terrifying but it is bright white and very clean looking with everything covered in a stark blanket of snow. But right now it is cold and cloudy and just, well, bleak. The good news is that it makes great light for photography. I will be trying to get out and take some shots and get some good practice in. I have a class that I have been thinking about taking.

Speaking of being artistic, Claudia has discovered that she likes lipstick. A lot. Like way a lot. I keep a tube of Bert’s Bees Tinted Balm in my purse for when I feel like a need a little pick me up. It is not really lipstick, I guess, but as close as I have. Claudia loves it. I found her happily smearing about half a tube worth on her face. Yay. But I had to get her photo before I washed it off. Had. To.

Lastly, it is the Nativity Fast so we are fasting until Christmas. That means that all the glorious milk that Io gives us is going into massive amounts of cheese for the freezer. I need to make some more chevre style with herbs de provence but I have most been making mozzarella and ricotta. Speaking of mozz, I do not have a microwave and it is totally possible to make it without one. I am going to set up a tri-pod and make a video. My friend, Sarah, says there are way too many microwave mozz videos and not enough stove top ones. We gonna fix that.

Oh, one more thing. The childhood friend of a friend of mine opened the most amazing toy store in the whole world. It is called KC Bonkers and is right here, well, in town here. We decided that it is really important to us to spend our Christmas money locally. In a small, rural, isolated community it is pretty easy to get online and order whatever we want but it means that we are not supporting the fragile economy here. I thought I might tell you guys about what I am getting and from whom in my local area. For some of the things I can’t be too specific because my kids can see my blog, but I will be chatting it up. I would love to see what you guys are getting and what is in your local community.

Farm Life

El Nino, the REAL El Nino, and Pearl Bailey….

Zeus enjoying the warmer weather of late.
I have been gone a long time. I have been meaning to get back here but finding the blogging rhythm again was hard. I had all these posts in my head and none of them were making it here.

We’re still here, we’re still good, but there has been a lot going on. Firstly, my Eastern Christian fasting book is being edited and is scheduled to be out in time for Lent. Secondly, we realized Ben’s old job with the daily commute of 35 miles each way was not working for us in more ways than one. He took a big leap and quit his job to be an elementary school teacher. He is working out the certification issues (which is so much more complex in Michigan than it is back in Colorado). He is working at a teeny tiny little country school with eleven children in and five are ours. All the elementary school aged kids are at the school with him. It was a hard transition, I won’t lie, but we are on the other side of it and it is good. We also had a difficult few months with the rapid decline of an uncle who’s children were both downstate and who was not married. He died in early October and we had to go through the process of cleaning out his home. Ben and I owned the home he lived in so we were rushing to get it ready for sale and for winter at the same time. We were blessed that a neighbor’s brother and his wife were looking for a smaller, accessible home and this was just right for them. We close next week.

This is an El Nino year, and a strong one at that, which historically means a milder winter for us this year (see HERE). Two years ago, our first winter, was literally the worst on record. It was either the second or third most snowy but it was by far the coldest. Last winter was also considered very harsh though it was a welcome relief to the shock of the first winter. This winter has been relatively warm with not too much snow and enough of a warming trend afterwards that it is melting off for the most part. We have had a couple of big storms but nothing like previous winters. The cows enjoying being outside for the most part and aside from one really rough few days, they are out all day and in at night. Zeus likes to lounge around under a large apple tree and chew his cud and the scant snow has not kept him from it. The long range predictions are in our favor but, things can always change. I have a feeling like Old Man Winter is pulling his punches but that remains to be seen.

The kids are wishing for more of a winter, this is a bit too mild for them. They want more snow, more cold, and more of it all. Even the ones who have to go water the cows. My farmer boy, Raymond, is out there every morning at five to milk and it is quite an affair in the winter weather. He has to be geared up and drags everything out to the barn on the utility sled only to bring it back later. Then when the sun is up, around nine or so, he goes back out to water the animals. I thought he would enjoy the right-at-freezing temperatures but he thinks that it just doesn’t feel like winter in the UP. He wants snow.

Even I am a little divided about the whole thing. I don’t like driving in the soft slushy snow and I would rather it be a bit colder but I think I might be ready for a warm winter with less snow. As long as we have snow for Christmas. I love snow at Christmas. I want to sit and knit and eat and take walks in the snow with Ben. We like to go for a walk every day to just check in with each other. We go about half a mile to three-quarters away and then come back. If we skip it because we are busy or the weather is atrocious, then I miss it and I get grumpy.

Speaking of Christmas, I was listening to Pearl Bailey belt out Silent Night. There is something about her voice. I decided that she embodies bright sadness, a very Eastern Christian concept but not a strange one. Waiting for Christmas and enduring Advent is a difficult, sometimes painful thing. Even for those who are Christian, who have no faith at all, there is a darkness about the season and it all feels overwhelming at times but there is a brightness to the sadness. There is hope to be found there. Pearl’s voice (I call her by her first name like that because I pretend we are close) is technical and clean but also a little muddied, like someone who has been places and seen things and not broken by them. She came out on top. I think that is what Advent is. A bright, Pearl Bailey kind of sadness.

It is good for me to think about this way. My father died a year and a half ago and there are things that are not as buried as I thought they were. Last Christmas was bitter and messy. I ended up having a painful fallout with a relative and it all revolved around my father’s funeral and what was done and said. I had hoped this year I could move forward and not be burdened by his death. It has been harder than I thought. There is a lot of my father in me and in my children and I can’t help but see it. I have my father’s Christmas stocking. Mine was stolen when my mother brought it to work to show someone so my father’s became mine. She covered his name with mine but never took his off, it is there, under the felt. I can picture the bright white felt letters against the red under my own, what is more, I can feel them. When we unpacked them this year, I considered pulling up the green felt and sewing it back down as flap that could be lifted. A little reminder that there is something left of him here in me. I just might do that.

Meanwhile, I am going to head to the kitchen to make some more mozzarella and ricotta since the cow keeps giving milk everyday. She does not care if it is the Nativity Fast or not. I think this weekend I will even make some bunuelos (Mexican donuts) for the children for Saint Nicholas day. You know what? I am definitely going to do that stocking. I am going to remember the brightness in my Pearl Bailey Advent.