Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Comings and Goings

Please excuse my absence in blogland these past few months. I've been really busy savoring every nanosecond of not being frozen to my core. I'm so glad it's not winter anymore. I'm so happy that even though we don't have central air and it's been a million degrees, and even though we've sometimes gone into town just so we could cool off in the van during the drive in, I AM NOT COLD. I'm not cold and that is a glorious thing.

A lot has happened since we've thawed out. Almost all of our chickens are dead! We started with eight hens last fall. They made it through the winter with nothing more than a little frostbite on their combs. They really did well. Then this spring as it started to thaw out, one of them got sick. She stayed sick for a long time, then suddenly one day she looked like she was completely better. It was amazing! The morning after that, I found her dead in the coop. Really sad. Another of the hens was beginning to show the same symptoms, so we killed her. We think it was coccidiosis, and we got the medicine to give them. Nobody else died from sickness. But then we got this dog, Ricky. He's a fantastic dog--five years old, raised in a family full of little kids, a truly smart and fantastic dog. His one problem is that he likes the taste of freshly killed chicken. And so even though we got two more chickens (Silkies!) to replace the two who died from disease, Ricky has eaten all of them.  He's eaten eight chickens. Very distressing. So, we are trying to rehome him and holding off on chickens until that happens. It's sad because we haven't had him very long and he really is a great dog, but it's necessary because, obviously, we can't have a dog eating our animals. And it doesn't help that Brynja (the goofy newfie, who was a puppy in that last picture but now is HUGE) opens the gate to the chicken yard because she likes to go hang out with them. She's such a nerd. I love her. Today Elka and I went in to feed the rabbits (because now we have three rabbits as well) and Elka just fed Brynja scoop after scoop of chicken feed. Brynja loves the chickens and they don't seem at all afraid of her.

Then there are all these cats. We are like cat collectors. You might remember that last fall after the tornadoes a calico showed up whom we (Greta) named Calick. Then the boy kitten, Simon came to us. In the very early Spring we took in an orange cat that we call Marmalade from some friends who couldn't keep him. All these were added to the two cats (Mary and Matlida) that we already had. Well, they all survived the brutal winter. They've taken care of our mouse problem in the garage and the house and have eliminated the voles that were tearing up the front yard. They were good hunters! But then the inside ones (Mary, Matilda, Marmalade) started peeing on everything and peeing in the bathtub and I said "No way," and I kicked them all out. Mary and Marmalade still hang around but Matilda has kind of disappeared and Simon and Calick........ well, Simon turned into a great big tomcat and it appears they might have run off together. I think they're bunking up in one of the sheds in the pasture. Is that considered "shacking up"? Those buildings certainly are shacks. I'm not going to be a bit surprised if Calick shows up one day with a collection of little ones in tow. And just in case that doesn't happen, Martin found a tiny stray in his mom's driveway today that he brought home and now we're bottle feeding it kitten formula.

And we got meat rabbits. We're feeding them from syringes.

Do we sound like crazy people yet?

Let's talk about humans who are able to feed themselves.

My kids are growing up too fast. Anja and Greta are riding two-wheelers now. As with all their milestones, they've been late, but because of that, they just have done it without effort. We got them two free two-wheelers by chance from two different people on back-to-back days, and they both just hopped on and started riding. It's been so fun. They are both reading now and Greta especially has been writing stories. It's so fun to watch this stage of creativity... Anja still seems to be really into poetry. She always has been!

Elka is two now. She is my challenge child, as everyone says third children tend to be. But, she has a smile that slays you, so it's ok. She's got her own two-year-old language and funny way of dancing with her arm up in the air, and really I can't put into words how weird and great she is, so I'll just stop talking about her now.

Little baby Ing is three months old now! She is what people would call "a good baby." She's really beyond good though. Elka was a good baby.... Ingrid is a sensational baby. Right now as I type this she is lying on the couch next to me chewing on her fingers and kicking her feet and cooing happily. It is a rare night that we walk her while she cries, even when she was a newborn. She (*gasp!*) sleeps through the night!!! Her naps are not regular and she doesn't sleep a whole lot during the day, but I can usually put her down for long enough to accomplish something like switching the laundry or pouring drinks for small people.

It's been interesting to experience this new place over what has now been almost a full year. It looks pretty different than it did when we first moved in... we have let the front yard go wild up to the firepit, with the intention of making it a pasture with stone walls somewhere down the line. For Father's Day (he's never going to hear the end of this) I built (ALL BY MYSELF! GIRL POWER!) a patio for Martin as something he wouldn't have to do. In the "backyard" Martin has kept a large square mowed, then made some mown paths connecting the backyard to the front. It's really beautiful and fairy-like. My parents (who generously gave us the marble slabs I used for the patio) gave us a porch swing frame, which we put down by the giant playset, under some trees that look like they should be fruit trees but are actually just nothing trees. It's nice! Improvements inside are slower going, I guess because it's summertime. We need to get our woodstove installed, we need to work on insulating the windows better and we need to build a dividing wall in the bedroom to make it into two bedrooms. That's the short-term goals. Long term is an addition, refinishing the attic, and renovating both the bathroom and the kitchen. We are constantly having to remind ourselves that this is our forever home and that perfecting a place takes lots of time, especially when you have small kids and not much time or money. But we are doing what we can with what we have!

One thing I miss about living in town is walking everywhere. I have definitely put on some pounds since moving here (pregnancy didn't help) but I've recently started walking down to the stop sign, which is .75 miles from our house and back. It's a nice walk, a pretty walk and a great way to snag 20 minutes of "me-time" at the end of the day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Catching Up!!

Catching up on my catching up! This is a post I started many weeks ago, and am just hopping on Blogger again to try to start (again) trying to routinely blog. So, here is this outdate post and hopefully a more current one will be shared soon.
Spring has sprung at Possum Cottage!!!!!!!  Finally!!!!! Winter seemed to have a hard time giving up his spot as king this year (as everyone noticed.)
So now, here we are, enjoying our first Spring at our new place. It's been fun to watch everything green up again. And along with the fresh new life of the grass and trees, we have purchased two new chickens: A "couple" of Silkies. They don't seem to live by very strict Christian morals, so we wonder if perhaps we'll get some baby Silkies at some point. Aren't these birds so crazy looking?
The lady is the one in the very poofy hat.
Our yard became Dandelion Land for a long time. The girls would love going out and picking them and my heart went pitter-patter every time someone would bring me a scraggly bouquet. The first batch has gone to puffballs and were all scattered in the storms over the weekend, but we have a fresh new batch of yellow ones popping up today. Do dandelions grow all year? I don't care if they're weeds, I love them. I need to break out my dandelion recipes, knowing that these ones aren't being peed on by humans I don't know.

The girls are glad to be out of the house after that long winter. And the chickens aren't the only new things in our family. On Mother's Day we took in a dog who needed a home. His name is Ricky and he is a fantastic dog. He's five years old and was raised in a family with lots of small children. He's evidently a lab-border collie mix sort of mutt. But he's wonderful! He needed a new home because he kept running off from his city house every time the door opened. Not a big deal out here, but where they lived he was running into busy streets. We really feel like he came to us though (much like most of our animals) and are grateful to have him. I've always wanted lots of dogs!

And speaking of New Life....

This is a picture Greta drew the day before her baby sister was scheduled to be born. She is saying "Why are you so grumpy?" and I am replying, "Because I don't like having this baby in my belly." It's pretty darn accurate. To say I was tired of being pregnant is an understatement. It was so sick of being pregnant, I was trying all the tricks to naturally induce labor before my scheduled cesarean day. But, it didn't work. (As usual. I have NEVER been successful at inducing labor with any of those old tricks. Bah.)
And so, on April 3rd, Martin and I showed up at the hospital bright and early (not bright. The sun wasn't even up yet it was so early. And then there was a big thunderstorm during her birth) where I was very routinely sliced open and this little beauty was removed:
Ingrid MaryDell! It was an uneventful procedure (always good!) and my hospital stay was really something else. I kind of can't believe how much fun I had. Still, it was good to go home of course, and jump into everyday life with FOUR daughters. Wild!
Ing is a great baby. She's five weeks old now and juuuuust beginning to flash us smiles every once in awhile. She typically wakes up early, then naps again mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Adventures Continue (is this like "glamping"?)

It's cold here.
 We are currently in our snowiest winter since 1884 or something like that, according to our local meteorologist. It's a funny thing, too, because there doesn't seem to be that much snow on the ground. I guess that's because it's all blown away. On or property, it's all blown to the back (south) fence and created this amazing frozen tundra that we can climb up and walk across. There are a few places to sled down, but there are also a few steep spots that form something closer to a cave. I kind of can't imagine how cool it must be for the girls to play out there (on the days when it's warm enough to play outside, which have been scarce) because the little cave spots are higher than Greta. We have a bush out there by the fence that looks like it should be a lilac bush, but it isn't, (to give you an idea of it's size) and the snow is about halfway up that bush. Before the last weather event (generally a weekly occurrence) Martin picked up a sled for the girls, a little one-seater with a high back and a rope for someone to pull it. This Sunday was really warm so we all went outside and Martin pulled them up the little hill and across the big drift. Elka LOVED it.

So, it's mostly a lot of fun living out here.

But then sometimes it's less fun.

Like on Friday night when the girls and I ran errands in town and my parents invited us to dinner, and we accepted. It was fun! All the cousins were there and the girls had a great time. After a long and drawn out debate with myself, I had decided not to bring Brynja the puppy along with us. We knew that a winter storm was coming in that night, so when Martin came in from work he ran out to the grocery for a few things we needed and we took off from  my parents' place at a good time, before the snow started.

Unfortunately, it wasn't before the wind started. It was kind of a crazy drive home, but we made it safely to our road. About halfway down our road, a big truck coming from the opposite direction stopped us and said the road was drifted over two to three feet, we'd never get through. He had barely made it through and had had to pull out the car behind him. At this point it was beginning to snow and we were kind of in a pickle. Martin drove on ahead (we were in separate vehicles, since he had come from work and we'd gone into town earlier in the day) while the girls and I waited at the gas station, to check it out, and he barely got farther than where we'd been stopped when he saw that indeed, the whole road was drifted under. Awesome.

We are lucky to have family in town though! We drove back to my parents' house (another treacherous drive) for a family sleepover. Anja was pretty excited, even though she was worried about Brynja. Greta and Elka were asleep by the time we got back there, so they didn't realize until morning what was going on. (Actually, Elka woke up around 1:30 and didn't go back to sleep till after 3:00. So she was completely aware. For a long time. While I was not asleep. But it's okay, I'm not bitter, I'm used to it.)

Once we got there, Martin was really nervous about leaving our house. A mischievous puppy and multiple electric heaters as well as the potential to be gone from the rest of the animals for possibly days made him concerned enough that he decided he would go back and stay there until he could come back to get us. I was kind of worried--these were near blizzard conditions and the only way he'd be able to get to our house was by parking at the gas station and walking two miles to our house. Two miles with only three other houses between, and only farm fields otherwise. But, he felt it was the right thing to do, so off he went.

He texted me as he was setting off from the gas station and about half an hour later I read on Facebook a warning from an amateur meteorologist about not letting your teenage drivers out in the weather. And if you slid off, it stressed, "STAY WITH YOUR VEHICLE. If you get out and try to walk in these whiteout conditions YOU WILL NOT SURVIVE!" Oh. Em. Gee. So, I started frantically texting Martin things like "I think you should turn back" and calling him repeatedly (and of course he didn't answer) and I was pacing nervously around the bedroom when I got a text about fifteen minutes later saying he was halfway there and "This is easy! I'm even carrying five gallons of kerosene! Doing great!" Of course. Captain Headlamp would be the one to defy the odds of blizzard survival. Knowing where he was, I knew he was within short distance to the three houses (all in a cluster) and past the worst of it. A few more minutes and he sent me this:

He had made it safely. He did have some pronounced scratches around one of his eyes from where the ice was pelting him for the entire two mile walk, but other than that, he was fine. Thank goodness! Not only that, but he said our road had been plowed and he thought he could probably get out to pick us up in the morning. And he did! And we were so happy to all be together again. It was an adventure that was  a lot more fun in hindsight, as adventures often are.

In fact, I think that's how I'll feel about this entire winter. It's been so cold! It was so cold last week that I couldn't stand it anymore. We all went into town after Martin got home from work and we went out to dinner at Outback Steakhouse to warm up. I felt like I hadn't been warm in years. It was awesome.

By chance then, on Sunday night, we saw my parents at church and they invited us out to dinner--at Outback Steakhouse! What a treat!

Last night we got a crazy windstorm. I thought we were going to get blown to Oz, but we came out okay without even losing power. (It went out 7 times, I think, but always came back on within seconds.) Martin and I sat up until almost 2:00, wearing our headlamps, preparing to move the kids into the warmest room of the house if the power were to shut off for good, and the wind even woke up Anja, who is a heavy sleeper! I'm thankful that we came out of that okay because today our high temperature was forecast to be something like.... 9. Did it even get that high? At one time I checked it was 7 and another time it was 2. Right now it's -5. HOWEVER, as long as the wind isn't blowing, the house stays pretty cozy! You know, as long as we close off a couple of rooms and keep multiple electric heaters in the rooms we are using.

Brynja doesn't seem to mind the cold.

Today was another adventure. When we woke up we started arranging the heaters throughout the house, but a fuse kept flipping. (I can't tell you what room it was, because it was connected to different things in three different rooms. But it shut off all of the library, the washing machine [but not the dryer], and half the dining room lights. So I kept having to go down to the basement and flip the switch. It's not easy to get to our basement... If you'll recall, our basement is accessed through a trapdoor in the kitchen floor and you have to maneuver through the joists to get to the stairs. So at one point, I just left them off and the house stayed warm without the extra heaters, so I stopped messing with it. I figured I'd continue the laundry later, and I decided to hit the dishes which were super piled up because I had opted out of washing them the night before in favor of knitting some mittens for Greta. MISTAKE! MISTAKE! MISTAKE! Suddenly, as I was washing my second bowl in a collection of thousands, my water shut off. Rats!, I thought. Another blown fuse! But, no. Sadly, it wasn't just a fuse. It was all the water to the entire house. Our well pump had burned out.

Back down in the basement, it was a lot stinkier than it had been during my last trips down. You know the smell..... like a shorted out well pump. Electrical stinky. At this point it was noon. At 1:00 (his usual lunch break) Martin talked with his very understanding boss and took the rest of the afternoon off to try to fix our house.

We think it can be fixed relatively cheaply and we think Martin can put a new one in himself. So, that's good! Until then, we spent our day filling our two 7 gallon water containers at our old house and stocking up on water jugs (and a few other things) from the store. Tomorrow we are supposed to have windchills down to -40 so basically the whole world has been cancelled, including Martin's workday. So hopefully we can have our water restored within a day or two.

But we are having fun!! We are making memories!! And throughout all of this I sometimes have to stop and remind myself that I'm thirty weeks pregnant.

Because it's easy to forget how big you are when you're wearing all your sweaters at once.
(this photo was taken on Sunday when it was so warm. Our inside temperature was up to 75! Wooowheee!)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter at Possum Cottage

Well, one thing is for certain: this first winter has been anything but uneventful!

A friend of mine recently commented on how interesting it is to live out the first year in a new home. To discover as you go all the quirks and tricks of living there, to see the seasons change, to experience old traditions in a new place... it's definitely an adventure. At least, in our case it has been. This winter has been kind of a rough one, both in personal losses (family members and pets) and in weather. Our area has experienced a string of mild winters, which makes this one--snowy and cold--seem harsh, even though it's the sort of winter we remember from when we were kids. It's really nothing spectacular. It's just winter. But recent years have seen 70 degree days in January, so this one is kind of throwing us for a loop.

Not to mention we're out in the flatlands now. In a 100+ year old house with no insulation. But at least we have electricity!!!

Christmas was nice. Here are the girls and me getting our tree:

Notice the girl in pink. She didn't want to be in the traditional tree picture. Poor Greta. I can't even remember now why she was so mad. I think it was just because we were taking the picture, because after that she and Anja went running off merrily together.

We've had many cozy mornings.

Elka has finally discovered the joy of books. Hooray!

Sometime before Christmas we had a kitten dropped out of a car into our yard and Martin ran out to rescue it from the three terrorizing dogs in the yard (two dogs were ours, one is their neighbor friend.) He brought the kitten in and it lived in our bathroom for a few days (pooping everywhere) while we tried to find it a home before we kind of realized that it wouldn't hurt anything for the kitten to live on the porch with the other stray who turned up. A good plan, except that this kitten seems to suffer from slight identity confusion. (There was a little bit of gender confusion too... the kitten was originally named Brenda before we got a better look and it became Simon.) This cat moved into the garage with the dogs, specifically befriending our big black dog, Karenin. It was an unlikely match, Karenin being a big scary looking dog and this kitten being itty bitty, but they became best friends and within a few days you couldn't see one without the other.

And it was that way for a month or so (you can see in the picture below how big Simon is now, and he was just tiny when he first came) but then a couple of weeks ago Karenin got hit by a car out in front of our house and Martin found her dead in the ditch. It was a very sad day, and we were all sad for ourselves but all of us felt especially sad for Simon, who is still a baby, and who had already been abandoned once in his short life. Poor Simon. When Martin found Karenin he was on his way to work and didn't have time to bury her, so he put her in the hay pile outside the garage. All that day Simon slept in the hay with her. It was really heartbreaking. Karenin was a fantastic dog and we will always miss her!

And we got a blizzard. It was a combination of weather events that made for a pretty intense week. Martin was let out of work early on a Friday afternoon and he didn't go to work again until the following Thursday, and even then he only went half the day and had a hard time actually GETTING there. It started out as a little snow and then over the weekend it turned into a blizzard (actually our county never had a Blizzard Warning issued, but some did.) Thankfully, our power never went out during the worst of the storm, because after the storm came an arctic blast giving us two days of temperatures down to -18.

Our inside temperature got down to 49 degrees. Luckily, Martin had bought himself a kerosene heater for the garage for Christmas and he'd also gotten a really nice electric heater to replace one that had broken a few weeks before. We all holed up in the bedroom and kept toasty warm (or at least moderately warm) until the temperature outside came up and the wind stopped blowing so much and our house warmed up to it's regular cozy warmness. The thing that kind of wrecked the adventure part of all this was that we all got a stomach bug! So aside from freezing our tails off, three of us were throwing up while the other two felt kind of lousy and Anja ended up with a double ear infection. So, memorable, yes. Fun.... not so much. But hey, we survived! All the outside animals survived too, which is great. And spring must be somewhere in the sort-of-near future, because we found two eggs this morning! The first in many weeks. Yay!

In our neighboring world to homesteading, the world of parenting, Elka is both entering and exiting some distinct phases. The phase she's exiting is one I'm more than happy to leave behind. That would be the phase of crying inconsolably all day, screaming because I won't let her do dangerous things or draw on herself with permanent markers or pull her sisters' hair, and wanting to do more than she is able and therefore becoming frustrated and turning into a demon. I am sooooooo glad to be leaving all of that behind us. Even if it means we are entering the Terrible Two's. This is the first time I'm experiencing a typical "Terrible Twos" child. Elka is the master at throwing herself (literally! THROWING HERSELF) down on the floor, kicking and screaming. If she doesn't get what she wants, that is her immediate reaction. Then she stands up, asks again (the denial is usually of something like handling knives or eating cat food) is again given an answer with which she doesn't agree, and so she throws herself back down on the floor kicking and screaming. This cycle can last for a pretty long time before any sort of distraction works. I'm used to it now and try hard not to laugh.

But along with the tantrums comes the pretend play, which completely melts my heart. One day she had a pile of sunflower seeds and she spent all morning putting them into the little wooden teacups in the play kitchen and serving us all tea over and over again. It was so sweet! And she can finally play with her sisters. Lucky for her, they are loving and kind and help her keep up with them. One day Anja and Greta said they were going to dress like queens, and Elka heard and ran off after them. They dressed her up too and she was so proud! She is a lucky little girl.

The big girls had an overnight with their grandparents and girl cousins this weekend and while they were packing their bags the morning of, Elka joined in, packing her baby doll into a book bag and putting on her shoes. Sweetest thing ever. I was afraid she would feel left out when they were gone, but she didn't seem to, and in fact the next morning she seemed to really enjoy getting undivided attention from both parents! All the way till lunchtime!

Also, being not old enough for the sleepover meant she got to come with us on a drive down south to pick up this:

 This would be Brynja. (The J is a Y like Anja!) Brynja is an 8 1/2 week old black Newfoundland puppy. The name Brynja is Nordic meaning "shielding, armor" which is just what we expect her to be for our little homestead. So far though, she's just a big, loveable puffball!

We're all pretty much in love with her. We didn't intend to get a dog right away after Karenin died. I didn't want to feel like we were trying to replace her. But we realized pretty quickly that we needed another big dog around... And as Anja pointed out, it's hard to be a one-dog family when all your life you've been a two-dog family. And she's right. So now we're a two-dog family again!

Did I mention we're due to have a baby in just over two months? Uh huh... this first year might just go down as The Year of Insanity at Possum Cottage.