This time of year again, and with unseasonably warm weather — it was 14.5 Celsius on Saturday — which is much appreciated. Though not very good for the kids’ plans with the 4H Outdoor club to go skiing.
A little Speckle Park calf,
We’ve been enjoying warmer temperatures (closer to zero than -30) and lots of hoarfrost, thanks to very foggy evenings and mornings. The countryside looks lovely and very Christmassy.
Other things we’re enjoying:
:: Christmas Day dinner will be roast saddle of venison, courtesy of the 15-year-old, who shot his first deer this fall, and also won the youth division of the big buck contest. His prize was a new rifle and scope, and mine is Thursday’s meal.
:: A new favorite Christmas cookie recipe, The Kitchn’s toffee chocolate chip shortbread. Easy and fast to make too, and doubles easily. A few changes I made — slightly less sugar (1/3 cup vs. 1/2 cup), fewer toffee and chocolate chips, and I drizzled chocolate on top instead of dipping.
It’s been a difficult year for us, but also a rewarding one.
Merry Christmas wishes from Farm School, and a happy and healthy* 2015!
*Advice for a new year: go to the doctor, don’t put off checkups and tests, hug your children, your parents, your in-laws, update your will, and make sure you have a living will/personal directive (no, you’re not too young) and talk to your family, including your kids, about your decisions.
Exciting news for us — Laura is in Washington, DC to help celebrate the 500th show of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds, and will be part of the live broadcast tomorrow from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Talkin’ Birds is a live interactive half-hour radio show about wild birds and nature, airing Sunday mornings at 9:30 Eastern, on WATD (95.9 FM); you can read more at the Facebook page and listen with live streaming on Sundays here. They’ll be joined by Smithsonian ornithologist Bruce Beehler.
Ray has been an extremely generous, kind, and encouraging mentor and friend to Laura ever since she discovered the show about five years ago and then started calling in. I wrote back in June 2009 (“BirdCasting”), when she was 11,
Laura has developed an interest in, and growing passion for, birds since last summer when I helped her put up some bird feeders around the yard. Her interest in the Christmas Bird Count last year is what got our family in touch with the local naturalist society. She spends much of her free time feeding, watching, listening to, and reading about birds. And recently she realized that there might be birding podcasts she could make use of on her iPod; she’s become a big fan of podcasts. So with my researching and her vetting, we came up with this list of her favorite birding podcasts…
It didn’t take long for Talkin’ Birds to become her very favorite. And for the past while, she’s been part of the crew as a far-flung correspondent; when Ray gives her advice on how to speak on the radio, he knows what he’s talking about. I keep thinking how I, at her age, would have taken an invitation to take part in a live broadcast in front of a theatre full of people. I’m fairly certain that I would have said, thank you so much for asking, but no, and spent the rest of my life kicking myself for missing such a wonderful opportunity. The differences between extroverts and introverts!
Tom is with her, since while we have no problem sending her alone to the wilds of Ontario, we figured a major city is probably more enjoyably and safely negotiated with an adult travelling companion (the show staff are in town just for 36 hours), and Tom needed a holiday anyway. Good reports back from the hotel, the Liaison Capitol Hill (which has a pillow menu believe it or not), and also their restaurant last night, Cafe Berlin. They’re hoping to get to Bistro Cacao, not too far from the hotel, before they leave on Tuesday. Huge thanks to Talkin’ Birds for underwriting her flight and part of the hotel stay.
I’m writing this post as a thank you for so many things that have become an enormous part of my daughter’s life, and also as a reminder for any other home schooling parents who might still be reading — if your child has a particular interest or passion, even if you as the parent have little knowledge of (or interest in) the subject, modern technology has made it possible to reach out and find those who can inspire, guide, and teach your child. And if you teach your child about internet safety and writing skills, he or she can do much of the reaching out himself or herself, which is a good skill to learn. Living on a farm in rural western Alberta hasn’t been any sort of impediment, and a flexible home schooling schedule has meant Laura could take advantage of spending a month last fall as an intern at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, banding birds and working on an independent research project, or participate in an event like tomorrow’s festivities. Age isn’t a barrier either, as most home schooling families know; she’s been able to write bird book reviews, receiving printed and e- books regularly, and when she realized that there wasn’t a Facebook group for Alberta Birds (and birders), though most of the other provinces and states had something, she started one; the group now has more than 2,000 members who share their photos and videos, as well as sightings, birding stories, and blog posts. She’s made lifelong friends and learned more than my husband and I could have ever taught her, and we continue to be touched and amazed by the support and generosity of so many adult birders so eager to take young people under their wings and nurture this budding interest. It reminds me very much of gardeners I’ve met the world over who are always so quick to offer seeds and cuttings, in order to spread not just a love of nature but the joy of a passion shared.
In their absence, the boys and I are holding down the fort and farm, more like hunkering down, since winter finally arrived today, with a high of -5C and some snow that won’t be melting any time soon. Tomorrow’s daytime high is to be -11C with an overnight low of -15C. Welcome, winter. I think…
In the last five weeks or so, we’ve poured the concrete for the garage and workshop floors, and for the basement floor. In preparation for which, after exhausting the supply of the nearest Home Depot, we spent a long day in September driving around the big city to four other HDs buying out all of the rigid foam underfloor insulation. Tom put in everything for in-floor heating in the basement, but we don’t know that we’ll actually need it with the insulation; it’s there, though, just in case, because it’s a lot easier to put in now than later. The concrete is the last of the really season-sensitive projects for the house. In between projects for clients, Tom and the kids can do more framing for the second floor, and get the roof trusses on, through the winter.
It’s been a long, gorgeous autumn, one of the nicest and longest I can recall in 20 years, which has made all of these projects possible; of course, part of the reason it’s been long is that fall started so early, in late August. But the early cold nights made for very colourful leaves and for whatever reason they’ve been hanging on the trees. In the past month, we’ve enjoyed temperatures of 15-20 Celsius (60-70 Fahrenheit), with a few days in the high 20s. Though this is all supposed to come to an end this weekend — winter, and snow, are on the way in a few days.
Here’s the concrete floor for the workshop (over which will be a small apartment — we’re thinking we can rent it out, or one of the kids can live there, or Tom and I can move there in our dotage and let the next generation have the main house), which is at the west end of the garage,
The garage floor with rebar, before pouring the concrete,
The garage entrance to the house; on the left in the house is the bathroom (though there will also be a bathroom in the garage for anyone who needs to clean up from particularly messy building, farming, and gardening projects involving lots of chaff, oil, etc.), and on the right is the walk-in pantry,
Stairs to the basement entrance, the cold room (to store root vegetable and canning), and the area where we will store three large tanks collecting rainwater (under that square),
View from the other direction,
Before pouring concrete,
After pouring concrete,
Aside from usual school subjects, Daniel, who is 15-1/2 and in Grade 10, is doing the provincial registered apprenticeship program in carpentry with his father; the program lets high school kids get a head-start on an apprenticeship, and we figured that Daniel might as well get credit for work he’s doing anyway. Daniel and Laura are also doing the Green Certificate program, sort of a farming apprenticeship; again, this way they get credit for work they’re already doing. The kids are all taking the provincial hunter education program online; Daniel went first and already got his license in the mail. Laura is off to Washington, DC in early November with her father; she’s been doing a biweekly segment on a birding radio show, and they are celebrating the 500th show with a live broadcast from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; they are very generously and kindly flying Laura out, and Tom is going along for fun and security (mine more than hers). She was also a nominee for the Chamber of Commerce employee of the year award, not bad for her first summer job. 4-H has started, and curling too.
This one is for the chickens. We’re up to three coops now. Neighbours asked if we wanted their old chicken house, unused for several decades and not needed or wanted by the current generation. Laura, who had ordered day-old chicks in May to replace some of the tired old layers, and who had also hatched out several dozen exotic varieties (Chocolate Orpingtons, Lavender Orpingtons, and some more Ameraucanas) in the incubator, jumped at the offer. Laura and Davy spent an afternoon fixing the door, windows, and getting it ready for occupancy and winter. Next spring or summer it’ll get a coat of red paint to match the other two coops.
Getting ready for the trailer,
On the move from their farm to ours,
Some of Laura’s chickens (photographed by her last month), some of whom will be getting a new home,
The late June weekend before Tom’s operation was a mad rush to raise the exterior and interior walls on the first floor.
This is a long post, more for us than for anyone else, so click away now if you’re not keen on lumber. I wanted something to remember this special time, especially because a few days later Tom had such a difficult time having to set down his tool belt and hammer for several months.
Here you can see some of the stamped concrete from the porch (done a week or so prior), and some of the completed walls to be erected; Davy rolled out the foam that went underneath the walls,
Putting up/pulling up the very first wall, Friday after supper, June 27th,
The view through the very first wall, with Daniel running the telehandler,
Up, up, and away,
The front of the house, with the entryway, adjacent to the “tower room” off the living room,
Joining the two walls,
Part of the front of the house — from left, the front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area off the living room,
The entire front, with, from left, bathroom (full barrier-free bathroom with shower, not a powder room), office/home school room, front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area,
From left, tower sitting room (off the living room), entry hall window, front door, office/home school room, bathroom,
Readying one of the interior walls (the wall between the office/home school room and the entry hall),
Standing up the second interior wall, between the entry hall and the living room,
Bracing the interior walls,
The windowed dining room, to the left of the kitchen,
The dining room again, with the windows and French door to the porch,
The kitchen and, beyond that (if you look carefully you can see a post marking where the wall goes), the pantry; the door in the centre is to the garage; the window at far right is in the bathroom,
Dining room at far left (beyond the orange ladder), kitchen window (to the left of the yellow ladder), and pantry window; we decided to make a smaller kitchen, easier to navigate, with a good size pantry nearby,
Tom taking measurements in the pantry,
Kitchen, pantry, and garage entry,
Dining room from the outside,
Insulating the garage and basement foundation and backfilling,
A visitor to the work site,
Now that we’re done with the second cut of hay and our greenfeed, Tom and crew are back at work on the house, floors and the second story before the snow flies. Onward and upward…
Most years I plant sunflowers, though there are always a number of volunteers, thanks to all of Laura’s bird feeders around the yard. This spring there were even more, despite the cool spring temperatures but maybe because of all the rain we had until the end of July. I transplanted a bunch to the former strawberry beds south of the house, so there were several rows of beautiful sunflowers.
We realized last week that, thanks to the birds, some of the sunflowers made it beyond our yard — one is blooming across the road, in the neighbor’s pasture, where the pipeline project still has some soil to re-grade. It makes me smile every time I go by.
And completely unrelated, we’re off to see the RCMP Musical Ride. It’s our third time — the provinces are all on a four-year rotation (much like The Well-Trained Mind), and next time they come around, we may be madly off in all directions…