Friday, January 30, 2009

Thanks for the topsoil!

This is the current view standing at the end of our driveway and looking east into our yard. As you can see by the mighty high snowbanks, my husband has been doing a lot of shoveling this winter.

As you can also see, we're the happy recipients of a new thin layer of topsoil over the end of our yard. Our neighbors to the north and west do full-till row cropping, which means that part of their soil base gets blown away every winter, to be deposited elsewhere. Like in rivers, lakes, and in my yard.

We grow alfalfa on our yard, so our soil is well bedded under a nice layer of decomposing alfalfa stalks and root mass. Topsoil is precious, so we try to hold on to ours as best we can. So I am partly grateful for the free gift of my neighbor's soil. But partly worried, as well. Dirt just shouldn't be blowing around like that.

Some farmers practice no-till and minimum-till on their cropland. I understand that sometimes they have a greater problem with insect damage when they don't till as much. I'm not a farmer, so I don't know all the ins and outs of it.

Here are a few pictures I took of a road ditch on the north side of the road, next to a couple of fields. I took them while driving home from New Ulm last week.

The first picture shows the ditch adjacent to a full-till field.

The second picture shows the ditch adjacent to a no-till field.

Believe it or not, these pictures were taken within 100 feet of one another. It was like night and day, from one field to the next. And we've had good snowcover thus far this winter - image all the dirt blowing around if we hadn't!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Burns Night (and morning)

This morning I was woken up with breakfast in bed, delivered by my husband. I actually get breakfast in bed fairly often, so am pretty lucky in that regard. My husband then told me that our boys were having an argument downstairs, an argument that only little boys could have.

"I am me."
"No, I am me."
"No, I am me!"
"NO! I am me!!" and so on.

We both laughed. Our boys argue and fight pretty frequently, so anything that makes it more amusing (and less aggravating) for us is very welcome.

Today is January 25, and this is the year I am going to do it. For years, ever since the fateful winter of 1994-95 that I spent in Edinburgh, I have wanted to start the tradition of Burns Night in my household. Not that I love Robert Burns' poetry (although some of it is nice), but I love the celebration: stand in front of a group of people and recite incomprehensible poetry, then eat haggis, neeps and tatties (which is sausage, mashed potatoes and turnips to us boring Americans) and drink whiskey until you collapse in a groggy, happy stupor.

Since our boys are still quite young, we'll probably switch out the whiskey part of it for pink milk. And we'll probably skip on the poetry reading part until at least one of our boys can actually read Scottish brogue. But this year, we will definitely be having neeps and tatties for supper. And though eating sausage made from a sheep's heart, liver and lungs and cooked in its stomach does hold some appeal, we will be opting for chicken & apple sausages instead. I have tried haggis, really I have. It was okay. I just don't think my family is ready for it yet. One thing at a time.

Although maybe we'll have a little bit of bagpipe music in the background ...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Goaty goodness

The goats have weathered the weather so far so good.* Our goats are angora goats, with nice thick curly fur. Imagine a cross between a sheep and a poodle -- they look sorta like that. With the snow as deep as it is, they spend most of their time inside the barn. On sunny days they step outside to catch a few rays, but not for very long.

We have plenty of feed for them. Not knowing how much two goats would eat over a winter, I ordered 100 bales of grass hay and 20 bales of alfalfa last fall. It's January now, and we still have well over half of the bales left in the barn. During the summer, the goats will be eating mostly fresh grass (and weeds), and should hardly touch their hay. So some of this hay will no doubt stretch through to next winter.

They have a heated water bucket (thank heavens for that - much better than chopping ice and hauling water), and get grain about every other day. I have to feed it to them in two separate pails, otherwise Dawn (the older and dominant goat) won't let Eve have any grain. They always have hay or alfalfa available, and the stuff they don't eat gets pulled out of their manger and makes a warm bedding on the floor.

I can't wait until spring to see what these two little weed-vacuum cleaners will do in their pasture. I hope this experiment in livestock and weed control is a success. It will make it easier to convince my husband to upgrade to a cow at some point in the future ...

*If my goats were neutered males, I could have said "our wethers have weathered the weather" . Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha. Hmm. A little goat humor there. Ok, I guess you had to be there...


Since Owen's and Benjamin's birthdays are so close together, we usually combine the parties into one day of celebration. This year the big family shindig fell on Owen's day, so on Ben's day we had a smaller festival of cupcake decoration. Much fun and mess was had by all.

This weekend was the dual party, with games such as musical chairs, blindfold treasure hunt, and a goodie bag auction with monopoly money. Then onto several rounds of nerf battles with various foam-ball and foam-dart weaponry. It was all the kids vs. Uncle Bob. Despite being seriously outnumbered, Uncle Bob was victorious, due to a significant tactical advantage: being a whole lot bigger and smarter and sneakier than a eight-, five- and three-year old.

The cake had eight candles for Owen, and three for Benjimouse. Grandpa was the designated ice cream man. After recovering from the sugar coma, we played a few rounds of cards and then called it a night.

This old farmhouse of ours was built in the days of big extended families, with aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins all living under the same roof. It seems to me that the house feels more complete when we have a bunch of friends and family over.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cooped up

We had a good Christmas with our families in St. Paul. A few years ago Mom began delegating some of the many Christmas tasks she does, only she diplomatically calls it 'making new traditions.' Years ago my brother-in-law got the new tradition task of preparing Christmas Eve dinner. My sister does the new tradition of helping Mom decorate the house and wrapping most of the presents. My husband now has the new tradition of making Christmas morning scones. So far I have eluded any new tradition responsibilities, but that could change at any moment.

All of our stockings are hung on my parents' mantel, and with four children and six grandchildren, the mantel is pretty full these days. My Mom uses nails to hang the stockings. Sometimes the nails fall out, and Mom puts in a new nail and hangs the stocking back up. I'm telling you this so that the next paragraph makes some sense.

This past holiday season, my sons wake up Christmas morning, grab their stockings that Santa has filled and laid at the foot of their beds, and race downstairs to open them up. Graham, my five-year-old, dumps his stocking out onto the floor. He sorts through the small gifts and candy, and finds -- a nail. He picks the nail up and looks at it thoughtfully. Then he says, "Santa must have given me a nail because I've been a little bit naughty this year."

Now, back at home, winter is at its height. So is the snow. We have about 15 inches on the ground, drifting to three feet. We haven't had temps above freezing in weeks. My chickens have been cooped up (literally), and this makes them do unpleasant things - like picking feathers out of eachother and breaking open their own eggs. Because of this we are only getting about three eggs a day now, when we should be getting six.

The disappearance of Mrs. O from our coop is now explained -- she has taken up residence in our goat barn. Which is a much better place for her anyway. Lots of hay to stay warm and make a nest in. Perhaps we'll see baby opossums next year. That will be interesting, especially with the barn cats also living in the goat barn. We'll see how that plays out. We'll keep the live trap on hold.

Here's a pic of a blurry Benjamin, who grabbed and pulled down my arm just as I was taking a photo. I like it. These cold winter days sometimes seem to run together and become blurred. A few little-boy birthday parties in January to plan, but not much else to break up the days until the weather begins to warm at the end of March.

Then everything starts to happen in April -- breaking up the garden and planting peas and potatoes, celebrating Easter, hatching chicks and kidding goats. But until then I have to be content with the stark, quiet beauty of winter. I just wish we could get a nice day or two, so the kids could throw on their snow gear and play outside. Being cooped up is no fun. I have no desire to lose any of my feathers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

If walls could talk

Our farmhouse turns 100 years old in 2012. I'm thinking about holding a big birthday party, and inviting a ton of folks over for the world's largest pot luck. Dozens of tables out in the yard, gallons of lemonade and acres of hot dish. Our house is the old cube-style farmhouse, well-built with original woodwork and lots of character. Character means really cool stuff like ornate vent covers, and only-slightly-less-cool stuff like salamanders in the basement.

Character also means wallpaper. When our third son was born three years ago, we turned the guest bedroom into nursery. We decided to paint it yellow. But first we had to remove the fugly hearts-and-teddy-bears wallpaper from the walls. Easier said than done. Under the fugly wallpaper was another layer of wallpaper, then two layers of paint, then a layer of lead paint (more character). We stopped at that point and decided not to remove anything further. We applied a sealant to the layer of lead, then painted on two coats of our yellow paint. That was the first and so-far last painting project we've done in this house.

We have other rooms with wallpaper, and each design makes its own statement. I personally think a lot can be learned about history by studying the wallpaper designs from each decade. Our house could be a graduate thesis in itself. Our dining room, probably the most recently papered, has a fairly bland floral design.

The living room wallpaper is a little older and features a vertical striped pattern, still floral but a little more flashy. Also please note the yellow ladybug sticker. I didn't until after I took the picture. A few years ago little boys decided to infest the walls and furniture of our house with ladybug stickers. Thought I had found them all. Apparently not.

Then we have our kitchen wallpaper. A colorful montage of flowers, kitchenware, fruit and fungi. Any pictures hung against these walls are immediately lost from view.

But wait! Peel back a little of this kitchen paper (or let it peel itself back in the corners), and see what's revealed: another older layer of wallpaper, of an even brasher design.

I think I actually like this last design best. Maybe because it is the oldest, and most original to the house. Maybe because brown is my favorite color. Maybe because I have no decorating taste whatsoever. Or maybe it's because I believe that art shouldn't match the sofa. If you're going to put something on the wall, make it bright and brassy and fun. And make it you.

If I ever put up wallpaper myself, I'll take a lesson from Willie Wonka (the great Gene Wilder Wonka, not that awful Johnny Depp Wonka). Leave the flowers and nondescrip pastels at the store. Take a risk, stick out a tongue and taste the snozzberries.