You can’t take the country out of the kid…

Our eldest is close to the end of a month long trip in China, having the time of her life, exploring and experiencing a different culture.  Though she has enjoyed the classic Chinese icons like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, her most effusive writing has been about more rural experiences.  Since this is in theory a farm blog, I thought I’d include excerpts from two emails.  The first one is about her stay in a ger in Mongolia, the second is about her stay in a small town called Hongkeng, where they were given a room in a toulu (one for tourists, with toilets – not always a given in China).  She sent pictures of the time in Mongolia ( didn’t include every picture), but I haven’t received any from Hongkeng; however Google images gives one an idea of what she’s seeing – I recommend dong a search for Hongkeng village and clicking “images”.  I’ve included her quotes verbatim, so please excuse spelling – she’s typing on her phone.

Beijing

Some pics i took while waiting for the sun to rise so we could start herding the sheep etc. So they might be kinda blurry cause there was no light and i had numb fingers since it was super cold.  Some more pics of The home we stayed at, some of the herd we managed to round up by ourselves  (a bit pathetic as we found out later, compared to the roughly 300 sheep that the 1 local guy on his scooter rounded up in the same amount of time by himself that it took 7 of us to find the ones in the pic). Me all wrapped up in a scarf they gave me and ready to watch the sun rise. A pic of the sun rising  (can you see the wind turbines way waaaayyyy in the distance? It might be too blurry). And a pic of a hill marker- they use these as land marks so they can find their way through the vast almost never ending expanse that is the inner mongolian plains because they are nomadic and all of the inner mongolian countryside looks pretty much the same- like a huge sea of never ending grass and dusty dirt flowing on and on and on through rolling hills and rocky rolling sloppes and lumps and rises and massive flatish plains- so they put hill markers here and there both for navigation and for communication and so they can find each other when they move  (they can leave each other messages at these markers using the placement of piles of certain rocks, paintings, carvings, and flags or other scraps of cloth).

Hongkeng toulu village is amazing- so beautiful and so unique and peaceful. It looks like nowhere else on this earth! I’ll show you pictures when i get home- cause they’re all on my camera not on my phone.

And yes the room we are staying in in the toulu we are staying in does have some of its own unique quirks, but it is definitely not that bad. For one thing there is really good airconditioning and honestly that alone is enough to make me really love the room. Also it is super clean and actually looks fairly recently renovated. The beds are pretty comfy too! And yes there have also been a couple of bugs etc but only (so far and thank goodness) in the bathroom and the hallway outside our room- not in out actual sleeping area. And bugs are just part of being in the countryside.  And boy are we in the countryside! This whole village is an actual active farming village! Rice fields, bananas, taros, ducks, geese, chickens… and lots of other things! Sooooo cool! Mom you would love it here- the way the whole village farms the land as one and raises their own food and uses every square inch of good farm land… the young and the old, women and men, all work side by side… everyone works together but they just work slow and steadily- no hurry no stress- when they are tired they rest, when they are hot they move to the shade (and drink hot tea- yes you would totally fit right in)… they butcher their own meat too at each meal! If they are having chicken for dinner then when it is time to cook they just go outside (the chickens here just wonder freely around the village and surrounding farmland and jungle- they are seriously all over the place, especially around the toulus i think because they get food scraps there) and grab a chicken or two or 3 (however many they need) they bring it back into the courtyard and they can get it from clucking to cooking in about 3 mins flat! I got to watch one of our hosts do the whole process and i learned a trick or 2 that i will share with you when im home. I bet you never guessed i would learn this on my trip!!!

 

Circles of Life

Were we led all this way for Birth or Death?  There was a birth certainly.  We had evidence and no doubt.  I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different.

T.S. Eliot (Journey of the Magi)

When we were younger, in our twenties, with all of life ahead of us, weddings came up frequently among our friends and acquaintances.  Never a summer went by without at least one or two to celebrate.  A few years later, everyone was having babies, and there were showers and christenings to participate in.  As offspring of older parents, we both began dealing with the loss of our parents soon than most of our acquaintances, both through old age and illness, but it wasn’t long before cousins and friends began grieving such losses themselves.  The last few years has been a plateau with hardly any of these life passages, but suddenly we seem to be back on this particular circle – a colleague lost her daughter last week to an anaphylactic reaction which was too strong for her epi-pen.  An old friend of my father’s passed away last weekend, after a few years of increasing ill health.  On the other hand, a friend of my daughter’s is getting married next week.  Another colleague is about to go off on maternity leave.

Yesterday, my plans to work in the vegetable garden, getting caught up on weeding, transplanting etc were abruptly put on hold when Lifeline called me to say that my neighbour’s alert button had been activated, and he wasn’t responding to their call, would I please go and check.  This happened a month ago, and turned out to be a false alarm – he’d knocked his bracelet while working in his greenhouse, and never realized it (he’s very deaf).  So I wasn’t initially concerned.  However, long story short, this time was different.  When we eventually got in (we have a spare key), we found him on the floor of his bedroom where he’d been since the night before. His wife is away visiting grandkids, so he was on his own.  He was OK, but we called the paramedics anyway – at 94, with brittle joints, it seemed risky to let him move and he was complaining of pain in his shoulder.  Poor guy – he was furious that his body was letting him down like this, but he was telling me that his body is wearing out after a life of hard knocks.  And in the same breath, he’s telling me how many grandkids, and great grandkids they have, and his pride comes through loud and clear.

Once he’d been taken to the hospital, and we’d locked up behind the paramedics and come home again, it was hard to go on with all the mundane things of the day. Eliot goes on to say in his poem Journey of the Magi, that: “this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us”.  I would have flipped that yesterday to say that watching an aging man used to a physical independent life have that independence wrested from him by a failing body is a hard and bitter agony.  He was not happy that I called the ambulance.  Due to his very poor mobility, I’m sure he’s worried that it’s not long before he needs to be placed in care.  And he will hate that.  But his wife is tiny, and elderly too, there is no way she can cope if he falls like that.  I hate that I was the person that has started the ball rolling that will probably lead to him losing his independence, but I know I was right to call the paramedics.  Life is tough sometimes.

chicks 001 small chicks 006 small

And then…this morning, when I went to let the chickens out, I could hear cheeping from the broody coop.  Right on schedule Mama the broody hen was hatching her eggs.  She wasn’t happy to have me check on her, but at that point in the morning two little golden balls of fluff had emerged, and by lunchtime, a black one, a white one and two more golden ones were evident.  She was sitting on 12 eggs, so we’ll see how many more hatch, but I was reminded of the inexorability of the force of life.  It surges onward, powering this cycle of birth and death,  all the ups and downs of life in between.

Gon Out. Bisy. Back soon.

In Which Dawn is very Busy and Cannot Find Time to Write the Blog, so Decides to Let Faithful Followers Know that She Has Not Forgotten, but is Just Busy and Will Get Back to Writing the Blog Eventually.  

But rest assured, the layer hens are producing lots of eggs, have not bust out of their new fencing – yet, and the honeysuckle is reviving but at a pace I can cope with.  The new brushcutter is a wonder, and I have cut huge swaths in some brambly areas.  Today is the last burn day until October, but things are too wet to burn, so we are now relegated to making piles of cut brambles ready for that time, unless our friend Mike has time to do some chipping for us (he’s an arborist) before then. The Veg garden was tilled last week by Hay Guy, and I’m hoping to be ready to plant peas and potatoes tomorrow – a little late for both, but not by too much, I hope. Onions and tomatoes are in seed trays, basil too.  Speaking of Hay Guy, he cut some hay across the road last week as well – the earliest in my memory – I think in his too.

One teen is back from her Spain/Italy trip – loved it, despite the rain over there.  Barcelona and Pompeii were definitely highlights.  She is gearing up to stage manage the upcoming school musical, among other busyness, and is thoroughly enjoying her Chemistry class.  The other, finished university for the year, and soon to be no longer a teen, is heading to China with a friend in a month, so is also fairly busy pulling together last minute details.  Hubby’s business is booming, and he is looking at hiring yet another team member this year.

Pigs are supposed to arrive the end of May – maybe I’ll be able to squeeze in time for a post then, and broilers some time after that.  This is a year in which the focus is to maintain the status quo.  I have moved to a full time position in a larger branch of the library, just a short commute down the highway from here.  Not as close as the small local branch I’ve enjoyed so much this past year – but – full time.  I couldn’t pass it up.  Double the pay, full pension.  You know.

So. Working full time and farming full time is not as easy in my fifties as it might have been had I been twenty years or so younger.  I’m not totally sure how I’m going to manage everything when I already found myself fairly stretched last year, working part time. And it’s not like I farm at a scale even approaching what most would consider full time.  We’ll see.  I have the younger teen on hand to help out, unless she gets a better paying job elsewhere.  It seems obvious that I need to spend my “spare” time carefully – and screen time, even in the form of blogging, may not be my best choice.  I have more than once this past month caught myself passing up family time to sit in front of my computer screen, and that’s backwards.

So this is just to say, we’re still here, still doing our small farm thing.  Among other things.  I just won’t be posting about it very often, at least for now.

I hope you all have a great summer/winter (depending which hemisphere you’re reading in).  I do check all your blogs pretty regularly, but I may slow down on commenting (maybe that”ll be a good thing for some of you!).  I look forward to hearing about winter in Christchurch and Melbourne, summer in northern BC, Ontario, Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia, PEI, the UK and France.

P.S.  I tried to find a classic Pooh image of the “Gon Out. Bisy Back Soon” quote, but couldn’t find one I liked.  The Disney version gets the point across well enough. Here’s an image of the classic version to satisfy my Engilsh soul.

bisybackson1

Poisson d’avril

Or April Fool’s Day, depending on your background.

For years on this day, there was a lot of back slapping and hugging around my house as the kids endeavoured to tape paper fish to everyone’s backs surreptitiously.  It’s a French tradition, brought into our family through the girls’ Franch Immersion in school, where all their teachers were from France or Quebec.  For a charming example of some fish, check out Brat Like Me’s blogpost today, which is what reminded me of the tradition.

But my kids grew up, and the tricks got trickier.  The most outstanding one in everyone’s memory is the year my youngest used food colouring to change the colour of the milk – blue.  A 4L jug of milk, brand new – blue.  Do you know what colour macaroni cheese becomes with blue milk?  Or tea?  Or porridge?  It was the joke that lasted for days.

I keep thinking my kids are growing out of childish traditions, but apparently not.  This morning, while I was outside doing chores, the youngest, now 17, taped paper over the electronic “eye” on my computer mouse, and dyed the coffee cream pink, and then left for school.  I guess she was being easy on me – pink is not so bad in coffee, and I troubleshoot mice all the time at work, so it was a matter of a minute before I figured out that one, but…

Is it immature of me that I toilet papered the whole doorway to her room?

001

Blackberries Beware!

I got a new toy today.  There were a lot of jokes at the feed store about my new method for decapitating chickens, but in fact, this toy is a serious piece of equipment.  With this thing, I have a fighting chance of keeping the blackberries at bay.  Maybe even the hawthorns.

Meet my new Husqvarna 545 FX forestry saw.

002

Weighs about 18 lbs empty.  You should see the harness, it has it’s own instruction manual.  (well, kind of).  The harness will make this large cutter possible for me to use for longer periods.  It will handle blackberries, hawthorns, small trees, tall grass, and broom.  Not as entertaining as getting goats, which were highly recommended, but will do the job in my limited time off.

This is a thing of beauty.  I can’t wait to get going with it.

Living the Dream Girls

living the dream girls

Melanie, me, Khaiti and my eldest daughter

Today was International Women’s Day, so it seems highly appropriate that Farmer Khaiti of LTD Farm (Living the Dream) in Wisconsin and her sister Melanie, Wwoofer extraordinaire recently returned from South America, came by for a visit while they were on Vancouver Island for a family wedding.

farmer Khaiti

Khaiti picking kale

The sun shone, the air was warm, the coffee was great and the company better.  Khaiti and I met through blogging and commenting over the last couple of years, and when we finally met today in person, it was like continuing a conversation with friends we knew well but hadn’t seen for a bit.  We wandered around the farm in the sunshine, and when Khaiti saw the self seeded kale running amok in my veggie garden, her face lit up.  It wasn’t long before we all had dirt under our nails and on the soles of our shoes.  In the manner of farmers the world over, we traded what we could provide from our own bounty – they took home a couple of grocery bags stuffed with fresh picked kale and a dozen eggs, plus some lentils grown by my friend Bryce of Saanichton Farm.  All the way from Wisconsin, Khaiti had brought us a cornucopia of different varieties of the goat milk soap she makes so well, and a jar of home made herb infused salt (16 herbs) – I don’t know whether to use it as a rub for chicken first, or try it as topping for foccaccia.  Maybe we’ll do both.

soap and salt

We were a choir of farmy, foody voices singing from the same score.  Over and over again, our conversational ideas resonated and heads nodded or pitch changed in excited agreement or sympathetic indignation.  We have similar values regarding livestock, food, and culture, and it felt good to be with fellow travellers on the same journey.  I love what Melanie wrote in our guestbook, because I think it should be said to everyone who reads this blog, so many of whom are trying to make a difference in whatever way we can:

“Thanks for working for the world!  Rock ON!”

 

Grumpy about Geese

My fields are wet.  It’s winter, we are on heavy clay, so when we’ve had a lot of precipitation it takes a while for things to dry out.  Swales would probably help, but that’s a topic for another day.  When the fields are wet, the rule is to stay off them.  Except that I am force to go for a brisk walk down to the bottom almost daily to send off the wretched Canada Geese (and who decided these things are Canadian anyway?)

I’ve never been crazy about these birds since I worked on a naval base where there was a nesting goose right near the door of the building I worked in (low traffic zone) – and every time I had to enter or leave, the mate that was off the nest would attack.  Those birds are big, I’m telling you.  Fearless military type that I was, I made sure to carry a broom with me going through that door.

Back to my fields – one of my kids suggested that I should be happy to have them because of the poop.  And if that was all they were doing, that would be great.  But they are grazers, these geese, and they eat grass, and their favourite is the greenest tenderest grass.  Where I’ve had the broiler pens, or where I’ve spread composted bedding, they congregate in the “good” spots and their webbed feet and their sheer numbers do pug up the ground.  Their constant grazing of patches of grass in a season when nothing is growing is doing some real damage.

So I shoo them off most days.  It’s kind of a routine between us now. They see me coming through the gate and start honking. but not moving, waiting to see how far I’m going to come. I usually have to get within about 20 feet of the outliers before they’ll take off, and depending on the size of the group, the ones on the other side might decide to hold their position in case I stop there.  I’m onto that.  And I’m onto them flying over the hedge into my other field too.

Today was the first day I remembered to take a camera with me, and the group in the photos is small – about 50 birds.  Most days I’m sending off about 100-150 and one day about a month ago, I counted more than 200.  They don’t very far – Hay Guy’s field usually (sorry, bud).  They live here year round now, probably due to lack of hunting and predation, and the number of corn fields around here.  They are a nuisance in corn season too, and the air guns go off at any hour of the day or night.  Bryce of Saanichton Farm has a right old time with them in his wheat and barley.  Chasing them used to be easier when the dog was still with us, because it gave her great joy to go running at them, and she was far more effective than me with my pitchfork.  But younger daughter might just have hit the best solution yet.  If she gets sent down in my stead, she takes a big frisbee and wings it ahead of her into the group from a good 50 or more feet away.  Works a charm.