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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Things are changing

Walking home from the bus stop last week, I noticed that leaves are starting to change color.  This red was vivid against the green of the leaves.  As much as I don't want to admit it, Summer is over and it is time for Fall to creep in and color our world in preparation for the Winter months.  I cherish Fall because I know that it is our last hurrah of any color before the bland gray and brown, mud covered world we will experience for a good 4 or 5 months.  I've heard various predictions about the winter - as usual, I'm hoping for a steady stream of snow - about one inch daily to keep my husband busy and our business steady.

Other things around the farm are changing too.  Animals are coming and they are going.  We've experienced a tremendous sale season this year.  All of our goat kids born on the farm this year have been sold.  We've even found some regular customers looking for farm fresh meats - chickens, ducks, goats, etc.  Erik has been keeping busy attending various auctions at night trying to keep up our supply!  Here is one of our old mama hens. She's got a slew of eggs under her that she is protecting.  A few months ago, another hen hatched out 5 eggs and she kept them safe and we recently sold them to a new family who will raise them and eat their eggs!  That's cool!  She is fiercely protecting her eggs from the new Silkie chickens Erik bought at the auction last week.  These silkies are very soft and fluffy.  They are Maggies birds.
Another change here on the farm is the addition of "Sniffy."  That is his unofficial name.  Sniffy is a 10 month old Alpaca that Erik got "for a steal" at the auction.  We're not sure if he is going to become a permanent part of our farm, but he is definitely something new.  Rest assured, if he stays, I'm changing his name.  Oh- and he got his name because by nature, Alpacas are curious and sniff at anything that comes across their path.  Everytime Walker goes into the barn with him, Sniffy puts his nose in his face and sniffs away.  If he was a girl, I think Gertrude would be a front runner for the new name, but for now, I'll have to think about a good boy name.  Our general rule is that we only name animals names we wouldn't name our kids.  
Here's another shot of Maggie's silkie chickens.  The white ones are really pretty. 
This poor Mama goat is depressed.  Her baby was one of the last to be sold and ever since, she has not been eating well and she spends her day roaming the pasture, bleating for her baby to come to her.  She is the wildest and meanest goat we have, but she sure is a good mama!  Her unofficial name is "Crazy Mexican" because she is a mexican/spanish cross breed.  
Erik picked up these unusual ducks at auction last week.  Unfortunately, they have already departed the premises - they are probably now tucked away in some lucky families freezer.  I know many people will find that unappealing - but that is our business.  The majority of the animals on our farm are here for a specific purpose.  Either they are to breed, to eat, or to sell for someone else to do one of those things.  We don't oppose having barnyard animals as pets - they just don't seem to work out as pets at our house.  Probably because we have so many dogs and cats already.  
Here is a picture of our number one crop here at Goodness Grows Farm . . .  Poison Ivy.  We have poison ivy everywhere!  To say it is prolific is an understatement.  I only wish we could somehow turn this noxious plant into a profitable crop.  I believe that the US military has underestimated the potential of this plant as a biohazard.  Erik is severely allergic to the stuff - basically if he looks at it he breaks out in oozing sores.  He recently had a horrible reaction to it.  I don't feel too sorry for him though because for the most part, he avoids it.  The #1 way he gets poison ivy is by handling the goats (who, if you've read this blog before, LOVE poison ivy and eat it like candy) or by playing with the dogs.  Two Sundays ago, he was playing with the dogs, batting at them and rolling with them in the grass.  Monday he woke up with huge welts and they swiftly turned into extremely annoying and itchy sores.  My reasoning for this plant being underestimated is that not only does the allergy affect an individual, but it also affects anyone sharing sleeping quarters with this individual.  All night long, I hear Erik scratching.  We've had the air conditioning on in our room for over a week now because we have to keep it so cold in our room so Erik doesn't get overheated and itchy.  Not that I mind the air - it's just funny that we are running the air conditioning more now than we did all summer.
Here's our barn.  Can you tell we keep the doors slid open to the right and the left most of the time?  My goal is to someday paint it a deep, traditional barn red.  I'm just afraid of how much paint it will require.
Here's Willie James - he climbed into the dog kennel with Hank/Roscoe.  He looks up to something.
Basically Will's philosophy is that if he bothers Hank enough, Hank will become his BFF.  I believe Hank perceives this treatment as torture.
Finally - the changes that matter the most . . .  our outdoor living space.  We finally got our fire pit area set up.  Erik used this stone that he salvaged from a wall in Fox Chapel that was built over 150 years ago but was falling down.  The owners wanted a new "modern" retaining wall, so he hauled all the rock here in anticipation of what we could do with it.  We decided to use it as our fire ring because the wall had been mortared with cement at some point and we could not break off all the mortar.  Erik is especially proud of his "stick rests."  He's placed four rocks on top of the ring so that when we have a campfire, we can rest our sticks on those rocks and use them to turn the sticks without the stick touching the actual burning logs.  I have to admit it works really well.  That man o mine has some smart ideas!

Erik also leveled out the back and side of our house to create two levels of living space.  The bottom level is our dining area - we'll have tables to one side and the fire pit at the other.  On the top level, just above this beautiful stone retaining wall, is another flat area that leads to our hot tub deck.  We plan on putting sod down on this flat part and using it for our lounge chairs that we purchased three years ago on clearance at Sams club.  They are your typical community pool lounges - perfect for our lifestyle here at the farm.  Someday when we don't have so much mud, dirt and manure, we'll have "nice" things.  The wooded furniture at the fire pit, I bought at an estate auction two years ago.  We've had it stored for these past two years because we didn't have a place to put them so Erik didn't have to mow around them.  Now we do.  I have a whopping $30 invested in those pieces so far.  They cost me $15 (and it may have been less than that) and I had to spend another $15 on chains and S hooks for the gliders.  Next year, I'll restain all of the furniture and strip and stain the wooden picnic tables we have.  But that's a project for next summer!
Saturday, we managed to get the hot tub deck framed out with the help from our neighbor, Keith.  He graciously came up to help bang that out for us so we could get that job done.  It is surprising to me that Erik can tear apart and put back together, or build, he is so hesitant to start a construction project involving framing.  Once something is framed, he can do anything, but the framing just isn't his thing.  

This is Maggie after I told her I thought her she stepped in manure because I thought her boots smelled.  I believe this expression is, "What you talkin' 'bout, Momma?"
In an effort to prove me wrong, she displays the bottoms of her boots.  I do believe that is a little bit of an "I told you so" tongue she is sticking out at me!  
Will and Walker had a great deal of fun helping us get the decking on the frame.  We used an air gun to blow in the nails, but the boys were in charge of hammering in any nails that didn't go in the whole way.  Which to them was all of the nails.  Will, at this point, has stolen his sisters hat.  He doesn't care what color it is.  It's just a hat to him and one he absolutely had to wear to torture his sister.  Will is into torturing his sister.  A lot.  And there's not much I can do to help her because I don't even know that what he is doing is torture until she starts whining and screaming.  
Will looks out the window . . .
Maggie:  "Momma!  Will is looking out the window and I don't want him to." 
Me:  "Maggie, you don't own the outside and Will is allowed to look outside if he wants to."
Maggie: "Well, I don't want him to.  He's not awowed!"
Me:  "Ok, Maggie.  Whatever you say."
Hello.  My name is Will and I am a weapon of mass destruction and extreme torture.  
Be afraid.  Be very afraid.
This is my favorite picture of the weekend.  All three children wanted to help Erik hold boards while he was cutting them so this is the compromise.
My farm girl.  She is such a princess but she will do whatever is necessary on the farm.  She doesn't mind getting her hands dirty as long as she can still get her fingernails painted.
A celebration with popsicles after we finish nailing down all of the decking.
The hot-tub that all of this outdoor living space was created for!  It will still be a while before it is up and running but we can't wait for it.  It will be such a great treat in the winter time.
It was a hard day so the kids had to take a break after all that hard work.   

Lunch on the patio.
What could be better?
Well, maybe having the hot tub running.  Someday . . .


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Katie!

Today is my sister Katie's birthday.  

Kate and I have had our ups and downs over our lives as sisters, but it has made us stronger as individuals and has made us better sisters.

This picture is circa 1992 maybe?  It was probably one of the last times we went to Florida together - just us four girls with our grandparents.   This is a cropped version of Katie with our Papa.  Those trips to Florida, although at the time were probably pretty tense and not as much fun as they could have been - I was a tad  bossy and very intent on getting the most out of our trip to Disney World so I may have over done it a little.   I remember the four of us lying on our bellies on the floor of the hotel room at the Grand Floridian and looking at the park maps, each of us saying what we wanted to see the most (and me vetoing a lot of it I'm sure) so we could have a game plan for our brief stay at the park. 
This picture was taken by the valet at the Grand Floridian - at the time they had a beautiful vintage carriage sitting out front so we climbed inside and had the valet take our picture.  This is one of my favorite pictures of all time.  My most cherished memories of my sisters is when we were with Grammie & Papa in Florida.  They would make special arrangements for us to stay on the Concierge floor at the Grand Floridian because one time, while at some sort of seminar, my Papa stayed there and at 4:00 daily at the Grand Floridian, they had tea time on the Concierge floor.  This meant a wide variety of English tea and scones, juices, milk and the dinner plate sized chocolate chip cookies.  My Papa, who always thought about us, knew we would be "tickled" to go to Disney World and have that experience.  And we were.  I don't know if the cookies really were that delicious or if their general size and the fact that our Papa specifically took us there to show us those cookies was what made them so good, but I remember out last tea time, we tried wrapping some cookies up in napkins to take home with us to show our mom, but, as they are apt to do, the cookies crumbled and they didn't last.  
So, my grandparents did a lot of stuff like that for us girls as we were growing up.  I think all of us girls have so many special memories of the kindness and generosity they showed us.  We have all been shaped so much by them.  

I was always the prim, proper, oldest, responsible grand daughter.  I was very close to my Grammie and would go to her with all of my sibling woes.  And boy did my outgoing, spontaneous, creative and humorous sister, Katie, give me a lot of woes.  Boy did we fight a lot as kids.  I know my mom seriously thought we would never end up being friends.  But, you know what?  I grew up, went to college at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and three years later, Katie started her Freshman year at Pitt.  Our relationship changed a lot then.  I was always a caretaker, but this time it was different.  Instead of it being me and her against each other, it was me and her against the city.  Two small town girls braving life in what we considered to be a pretty big place.  Pitt is way bigger than Duquesne, and I developed a protective relationship with Katie.  I helped her find her way a little around campus, got her and her friend from home drunk a little bit at my apartment (on wine coolers - we were hard asses!) and I even helped her with an English term paper.  What started out as a little bit of help turned into me rewriting her whole paper.  Which, I proudly will add, earned her an A on the paper - I think the comments by the instructor were something along the lines of "excellent edit - A!"  After that semester, Katie transferred to a different University and took up Interior Design.  She truly found her calling in this profession.  She now has her own design business and has even done a television spot for the local news redesigning a room on a budget!
Kate's not going to be happy about these pictures, but they are the only ones I have of her on hand.  Katie and I have a relationship that I guess you could relate to the flow of the tide.  We ebb and flow - sometimes we are super close, sometimes we are close at heart but for one reason or another we drift in our day to day contact.  There's so much I admire about Kate, but I'm not sure if I ever come right out and tell her.  Our conversations usually drift towards how our children are doing, our other sisters, extended family and life in general.  Plus, we're not really the kind of family that says outright the things we admire and love most about each other.  We'd rather throw out a sarcastic barb to try to make people laugh.  
Sometimes it is hard for me to understand Katie.  She is definitely way opposite of my personality.  She is a people pleaser - very much like my mom - and even though at first glance you would think I am a people pleaser, it turns out that I very much get my way when I want it.  I have just learned what battles are worth fighting and which ones I can afford to let go.  There are times I very much wish I was more apt to please.  Sometimes I worry that Katie is such a pleaser that it almost becomes a flaw.  I get upset for her because I think that she needs to stick up for herself - I think that she gets taken advantage of - but that is just Katie's way.  Katie also has such a gentle way with her children.  I admire that so much in her.  Not that I'm not gentle and loving, she just has a different way about her.  My kids adore their "Aunt Didi" and never pass up an opportunity to sit on her lap or steal a cuddle from her.  I guess it has to do with the fact that she is the most forgiving person I know.  She's definitely a "turn the other cheek" kind of gal.  I am the "woman scorned" kind of gal.  She's forgive and forget, I'm forgive but I never forget.  
Katie has and always will be the life of the party.  She's so funny - always has been and always will be.  She can make me laugh like no one I know.  There have been many of times that I have spit out food or drink because of something she said because it was either spit or choke.  Katie was the kid, that when we were little, would try anything.  My Uncle's would offer her a dollar to try a hot pepper, or eat raw onion, or something else gross.  And she would do it and collect the dollar.  I always sat on the sidelines, wishing I was brave enough to do things like that, but knew deep down that I never could.  Katie is famous for the impressions she did as a child.  Her most famous is probably the Incredible Hulk.  My Uncles would always ask her to do the Hulk. She was always so witty also - still is.  A memory from childhood that I recall clearly is one time at my Grammie's house, my Uncle David came in and said to Katie, "how about a hug for your favorite Uncle?" and she dead panned, "I would, but Uncle Mike isn't here!"  If I was to be honest, I would say that I have always felt a competitive jealousy with Katie - mostly because she is so well liked.  There's something about Katie that everyone likes.  She's sweeter than me, kinder than me, more open than me.  I know sisters aren't supposed to be jealous of each other - and I can guarantee you that Katie has probably never felt that way about me.  And when we were younger, I suppose out of adolescent retaliation, I did not treat Katie the way I should have, and for that I'm deeply sorry.  At the time, the three years difference in our ages just seemed too much to overcome.  I deeply regret not being better friends in our childhood and adolescent years.  
This is the most recent picture I have of Katie.  This was at the birthday party she planned for our girls.  No one else I know can come up with a theme and pull of the decorations and activities so well.  She is a gifted decorator and party planner!  She planned a little cupcake party for her little cupcake, Olivia.  

Kate had to do the bravest thing ever this August.  She had to send her firstborn, Christopher, to full day Kindergarten.  I honestly don't know how she did it!  Walker is only going half a day and it tears me apart.  

My salute today is to my sister, Katie.  It is because of her (and our younger two sisters) that I desire to give Maggie a sister.  I'm not sure if that will happen, but I cannot imagine going through my life without the beautiful relationships I have with my sisters.  I feel true sad for people without sisters!  Yes, we have our ups and downs and ins and outs, but through thick and thin, we are blood and we are there for each other.  We don't always see eye to eye, but we have learned to agree to disagree.  We shake things off now, that would have strained our friendships in the past.  We have found a new respect and love for each other based on our family history and who we've become as independent women.  And we love each other deeply.

I found this quote a while back, when my sisters and I were dealing with some issues within our family.  It really struck a chord in me because it was so true. 

To the outside world we all grow old.  But not to brothers and sisters.  We know each other as we always were.  We know each other's hearts.  We share private family jokes.  We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys.  We live outside the touch of time.  ~Clara Ortega 

It's funny, because I see myself getting older, but when I look at my sisters, I still see those little girls I bossed around as we played "Little House on the Prairie." The laughter and love that we shared and the promise of the memories we have yet to make.

Love to you, Katie, on your birthday.  I hope it was everything you wished for!