Sunday, June 10, 2018

Spring Chores...a Bit Delayed

Each year, there are things that we need to do in the Spring. These are both chores that make getting through spring much easier; and things that will help the wildlife and/or flora.

1. Spring cleaning and purging - inside the home as well as outdoor (hobby shed, barn, and tractor shed).

Well...this goal was a bit different than anticipated this year. We had a fire at our farm which destroyed the hobby shed and playhouse. So much for Spring cleaning and purging what we no longer need. That was done for us by the fire.

There was a demo crew that had a machine that picked up and put the charred remnants of the shed and playhouse into the dumpster.

It took two dumpsters to haul away everything. There's a bit more that needs to be removed from the shed and fire pit; and that will probably fit into one more dumpster. 

The fire also burned half of the front of the barn and half of one side of the barn.

A gentleman from the local Lions club came out to help with cleaning out all the water-soaked hay and straw from the barn. It was soaked because the firefighters saturated it with water so the fire that was already burning the barn wouldn't jump to the hay and straw and quickly ignite the entire barn. 

We pushed out all the damaged hay and straw out the loft door.

A few days later, the gentleman from the Lions club came back with his Bobcat and moved all the water-saturated hay and straw.

He moved it away from the barn to a new compost area.

We now have two compost piles going which will eventually be good for the plants and trees here.

I do need to clean out the feed room and the section of the barn that holds other items and tools. The little shed behind the barn also needs to be cleaned out still, but that isn't a top priority given what happened with the fire.

2. Muck out the barn.

On May 16th, we cleaned out one-third of the barn. The meant removing all the wood chips that the horses had used for bedding during the winter. Up until mid-April, the bedding was frozen since we had an abnormally cold and long winter. So, we were late this year with cleaning out the barn thoroughly.

The girls started cleaning the barn and removing everything down to the thick, rubber mats.

I - along with another gentleman from the local Lions club - worked on another section of the barn. After he left, I finished mucking out about half of the barn and putting down fresh bedding. On Memorial Day weekend, I finished the other half of the barn and put the rest of the bedding down. It is much better now.

When the Bobcat was here, all the used bedding was moved to our primary compost pile. 

There were many different piles were we put the used bedding when we were removing it from the barn. These were all cleaned up.

Afterwards, he smoothed out the area where the horses spend a lot of time. They didn't seem to mind the Bobcat moving around the pasture.

On Memorial Day weekend, I finished mucking out the barn. It felt great to get all the bedding out of the barn and to the compost pile. It looks (and smells) better now with fresh bedding.

3. Replace the numbers on the mailbox after they were damaged from the snow and then the heat from the fire.

The numbers were either missing or starting to peel off from the mailbox.

I replaced all the letters and numbers so they are affixed to the mailbox.

It looks so much better now.

4. Tune up/service the lawn tractor.

The last time that I was able to use the mower was in Fall 2016. Last year, at the start of the season, the mower didn't work. With the service technician I normally used no longer operating his own business, I was at a loss for how to fix the riding mower. So, I hired someone to mow our lawn.

A neighbor showed me how to check and/or charge the battery and it was fine. Yet, the mower didn't start. So, we finished out the 2017 season with someone else mowing the lawn.

This year, because of the fire, we had many Lions Club members helping. One asked about our lawn since he noticed the grass was long. He took the battery and checked it (it was fine); and then came back to look at the lawn mower.

He was able to fix it (a wire came out of the fuse and so it wasn't able to start). Because he knew how to splice wires and connect them, the mower was able to start up again. By the time I was able to mow our lawn for the first time this season, it looked like a hay field - with grass as tall as my knees in some areas.

In the photo below, Aspen is walking in an area I did the first cut through. It was still long, but not anything like the "hayfield" I was growing.

After I mowed it for the second time, it was a much more acceptable length. There was still a lot of grass laying in piles all over the lawn, so the girls and I raked up everything; and then hauled the cut grass to an area next to the driveway. In this way, the lawn has a chance now to get sun, water, and air; and the horses can't get to the cut grass which would make them sick (too much and too rich/high in sugar).

I should have taken a before and after picture. The lawn looks significantly better now that it is raked.

Now, the next step is to buy a weed trimmer (since ours burned in the fire) and do trimming.

5. Repair and/or replace the pasture fence.

Part of the pasture fence was damaged in the fire. There are sections that are missing and that we've had to use baling twine to string across to create a temporary fence. Thankfully, this section of the fence is just between the west pasture and the area by the barn. It's hard to tell where the fence was and where it needs to be fixed.

In another section, the wood posts were charred, so that length of fencing will all need to be repaired. We have t-posts and chicken wire up temporarily until the fence can be fixed. 

I'm looking forward to this Fall when things should look significantly better.

6. Prepare the garden beds - create new ones and build new raised beds.

This one doesn't look like much right now because it is the rose bed that burned in the fire. At least the weeds are removed.

There were perennials in this garden that I hoped would grow, but it looks like the fire was too hot for them to survive. Looks like new roses and perennials will need to be planted.

That being said, there were two roses that did come up which made me happy. These were ones that my Dad tended to for many years, and I took care of after he died and until my Mom died. I transplanted them here so we could continue to enjoy them.

The flower bed next to the roses is filled with yellow irises from my parents. They are doing well this year. I had transplanted them in October 2016. In 2017, they didn't do too well - just shot up some leaves. This year, however, they have been blooming for quite some time now which is great!

We have another type of wild iris that grows in the west pasture: Blue Flag Iris. These have been spreading and doing exceptionally well each year.

When we first moved here, I don't remember seeing any. Now, they are prolific. 

I am hoping to continue to work with different gardens around the front- and backyards. There are many and has not been enough time to work on them. Perhaps later this month I can make some progress on them.

Even so, there are some flowers coming up in the gardens - like wild columbine:

and tulips.

The peonies, wildflowers, and lilies (day and Asiatic) also are growing now.

7. Plant seeds or transplants.

I didn't take photos of planting the seeds or transplants because I was the only one who did it. There are four 4'x3' gardens that are planted with tomatoes (4 types), green peppers, jalapenos, about a dozen herbs, green beans (2 types), yellow beans, carrots (2 types), cucumbers, zucchini, and watermelon.

There were three gardens that were damaged in the fire, so I need to transplant the two rhubarb plants, and then find a place for all the dirt. The space where the gardens are now will be part of the driveway and entry to the new garage.

8. Clear out the fire pit and make it smaller.

When the Bobcat was here, we had the fire pit cleaned up. It was a big job because we've been using the same fire/burn pit since we moved here in 1995.

Needless to say, there were multiple loads that were removed and put with the rubble from the shed. We had hoped that it would be hauled away when the rubble was taken, but the demo crew needed another dumpster. 

I spent some time picking through the dirt and found broken glass, rusty nails/screws/metal, and other items that needed to go into the trash. We still have some more work with this area - picking up any more garbage, leveling it out, and then putting grass seed or sod on it. 

We won't be doing any more large-scale burning at this point in our lives. Even though the shed fire wasn't our fault and not a result of our burning, doing a large fire doesn't hold the same appeal it once did. Making a small fire pit that we can sit around and enjoy, and make some food over seems more relaxing.

9. Make repairs to any buildings damaged during the winter; and then paint them.

Because of the fire, we are starting from scratch for the shed-turned-garage. The barn, which also was damaged, will be power-washed once it is repaired and then painted. With new windows and doors on the front, loft doors fixed, and holes in the siding repaired, it should completely change the way the barn looks.

We hope that this project will be done by late-July or early-August.

10. Start splitting and stacking wood.

We will start on this project in the late-Summer or early-Fall when

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review: Never Cry Wolf

One of the books that I wanted to read this year was Never Cry Wolf - The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves by Farley Mowat.

Back in the 1960s, the author accepted an assignment to investigate why wolves were killing Artic caribou. He was flown into a remote area where he set up a base camp among the wolves. By studying the wolves and observing their behaviors and eating pattern, he realized that the wolves were no threat to the caribou or people.

The book was a bit difficult to get into initially due to Mowat's writing style. However, by the third chapter, I thoroughly enjoyed how he wrote and his sense of humor. I have ordered additional books by him from the library because of his interest in and ability to share information about wildlife and the natural world. He is a well-versed and insightful naturalist.

Some things I learned about arctic wolves and the issue in the 1960s with the loss of caribou include:

- [they] weighed one hundred and seventy pounds; which measured eight feet seven inches from tip of nose to tip of tail; and which stood forty-two inches high at the shoulders.
- an adult of the arctic race could eat (and presumably did on favorable occasions) thirty ponds of raw meat at a sitting.
- one of the facts which emerged was that they were not nomadic roamers, as is almost universally believed, but were settled beasts and the possessors of a large permanent estate with very definite boundaries.
- the territory owned by my wolf family comprised more than a hundred square miles.
- once a week, more or less, the clan made the rounds of the family lands and freshened up the boundary markers.
- during a normal hunt they covered thirty or forty miles before dawn.
- no food was ever stored or left close to the den; and only enough was brought in at one time for immediate consumption.
- the wolves of Wolf House Bay, and, by inference at least, all the Barren Land wolves who were raising families outside the summer caribou range, were living largely, if not almost entirely, on mice.
- 112,000 [caribou were] killed by trappers in this area every year.
- the tourist bureau of the Provincial Government...had decided that Barren Land caribou would make an irresistible bait with which to lure rich trophy hunters up from the United States. Accordingly a scheme was developed for the provision of fully organized "safaris" in which parties of sportsmen would be flown into the subarctic, sometimes in Government-owned planes, and for a thousand dollars each, would be guaranteed a first-rate set of caribou antlers
      The pilot of the safari aircraft...had only to choose a lake with a large band of caribou on it and, by circling for a  while at low altitude, bunch all the deer into one tight and milling mob. Then the aircraft landed, but kept under way, taxiing around and around the panic-stricken herd to prevent it from breaking up. Through open doors and windows of the aircraft the hunters could maintain a steady fire until they had killed enough deer to ensure a number of good trophies from which the finest might be selected.
       When the shooting was over the  carcasses were examine and the best available head taken by each hunter, whose permit entitled him to "the possession of" only a single caribou. If the hunters were also fond of venison a few quarters would be cut off and thrown aboard the plane, which would then depart southward. Two days later the sports would be home again, victorious.

So, in the end it wasn't the wolves who were killing the was humans. Greedy humans who were killing simply to show the biggest "trophy."

The last chapter, in addition to realizing that humans were destroying herds of caribou, was that the author - who had made such great progress with the wolves - ended up being an outsider once again.

As he heard the male wolf, who he had affectionately named "George," howl in the distance, he said, "I knew the voice, for I had heard it many times before. It was George, sounding the wasteland for an echo from the missing members of his family. But for me it was a voice which spoke of the lost world which once was ours before we chose the alien role; a world which I had glimpsed and almost entered...only to be excluded, at the end, by my own self."

Monday, June 4, 2018

My Favorite Pictures of the Month - May 2018

By far, my favorite picture during May is the one of my father's grave with a flag in front of it on Memorial Day. (My mother side of the gravestone is on the reverse side - just as they do throughout the entire cemetery.)

There were 5,000 volunteers who placed flags in front of graves at Fort Snelling National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend. This is the first time in over 30 years that all the gravestones have had a flag in front of them. It was a moving sight.

Although I would much rather have my mom and dad living, it was nice to see them remembered and honored in this way.

I also have enjoyed seeing the flowers blooming at our farm. The picture below is a tulip.

These are bleeding hearts that are under the pine trees in the front yard.

One of the things that somehow survived the fire that happened at our farm on May 5th, was an "I Spy" book. I guess if things are tightly packed together, fire doesn't affect them as much.

Although we didn't keep the book (it smelled of soot and was water- and fire-damaged), I thought it was an interesting image considering that much of what I had to do during May was "spy" or discover things that were salvageable; and look for joy in the new growth that was happening around the farm.

There really wasn't anything that was salvageable that we will be keeping for the long-term, unfortunately. However, we were able to find the name of a Christmas china dish set that I was having trouble finding. The girls and I found enough of a broken section of a plate with the name of the pattern on it. With that, I was able to find the pattern online which made us happy.

When I was walking in the west pasture, I found an unusual yellow feather. Found out that it is from a Northern Flicker (Yellow Shafted). The yellow feathers are found on its tail.

Another image that I captured from the rubble of the fire was part of a newspaper. Interestingly, the word "learning" jumped out from the page. Indeed, there have many things I've been learning about during the past month.

Something that I've never seen before on the new growth of pinecones is a fuzzy top (pictured below). It's not typical of this type of tree...or at least what I've seen in the past. 

So, those were some of my favorite pictures from May. It's kind of a hodge-podge of photos, yet they depict the joys and challenges that we experienced during the first full month of Spring.

Something that Made Me Happy this Month - May 2018

For the "Something That Made Me Happy This Month - May" swap on Swap-Bot, the goal of the swap is to tell three partners something that made me happy this past month (e.g., an event I attended, a book I read, a movie I watched, a new person I met).

There were many things that happened during the past month that made me happy. On May 3rd, Sophia and I went to Cascade Falls in Osceola, Wisconsin, to see the waterfall. She was able to stand behind it which was refreshing.

On May 5th, we experienced a fire at our farm. We lost the two-story hobby shed, playhouse, and 15 trees. The siding on our home is warped and the front, half of our horse barn's siding and doors were burned; and the left side of our car is melted.

Many outdoor things - gardens, furniture, and deck - all had embers that landed on them and either burned it completely or left burn marks. Across the street, the embers landed and started a 14-acre fire in a cornfield.

Despite the fire, a positive thing - something that made me happy - was to see how many people came forth to make and bring us food (which was especially appreciated when our propane was turned off during and after the fire for two days); help with Spring chores; and fix our mower which had not been working.

On May 8th, Sophia and I enjoyed a delicious barbecue meatball sandwich and fresh salad that someone from church brought us.

On May 9th, I walked around our farm to assess what had burned and to see what new growth was coming up. A red-winged blackbird, who was sitting on one of the cattails in the pond, flew by. I love their song and it always makes me happy hearing them.

Although sad that a tree had burned in the pasture, I was intrigued to see a heart-shape when I looked through it. This brought both reassurance and joy.

The apple blossoms were beginning to emerge.

On another apple tree, the white blossoms were attracting bees and giving off a beautiful fragrance.

On Friday, May 11th, Sophia and I went to the humane society where she played for dogs waiting to be adopted. We were happy to see that within a couple days, several of the dogs we spent time with were adopted!

On Saturday, May 12th, Olivia and I took a Saori weaving class together which was fun. I always enjoy taking art classes; and this one is a favorite of mine.

Olivia, Sophia, and I spent time after the weaving class exploring the Shepherds Harvest festival and enjoying seeing the brightly-colored wool, fiber art products, and variety of looms.

On Mother's Day, May 13th, I had a relaxing day which was nice. I wasn't feeling well, but was still able to get a lot done with the contents loss statement (from the fire). In the evening, the girls made me a delicious dinner that we enjoyed together as a family.

What makes me especially happy is seeing their beautiful smiles and thinking back on the many wonderful memories we have made together throughout the years.

On May 14th and 16th, volunteers from the Lions Club came to help with clean-up from the fire and Spring chores. A huge project that was accomplished was clearing out the loft of the horse barn. There was water-saturated hay and straw in the loft (the firefighters had to wet everything down so that it wouldn't catch on fire since the barn was already burning).

One of the Lions and I worked on clearing the loft. He said it was good when we did it because the hay was already getting hot (wet hay can start a fire). We are so thankful - and happy - that we didn't lose the horse barn!

On Wednesday afternoon, May 16th, Sophia, Olivia, and I - along with two other teens and another parent - packaged 1,012 books in 16 boxes and shipped them to the African Library Project.

Because of all the books we collected and money raised, we are able to create the first-ever library in Malawi, Africa, for 465 orphans and vulnerable children.

From May 17th-19th, Olivia and I went camping at Forestville State Park in southern Minnesota. We stayed in camper cabins there (a different one each night) and visited two caves during the days. One we visited was Niagara Cave which had a lot of interesting fossils.

We visited many Amish farms and greenhouses; and bought some plants for the garden and patio.

We went on several hikes at Forestville State Park and Lake Louise State Park. We had never visited either park, so it made me happy to be able to explore different beautiful parts of the state; and be able to mark off our list two more state parks that we've seen.

The other cave that we saw while was Mystery Cave. There's a turquoise lake in the cave which was interesting to see.

Another thing that made me happy this month was seeing Sophia share her musical gifts at church. On May 13th (Mother's Day), she was the piano accompanist to the children's choir. They sang two songs and did a nice job.

On May 20th, she played the harp with other youth harpists and her teacher. They played the prelude, during the service, and postlude.

Sophia also played the harp and piano at the homeschool graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 22nd. She did a fantastic job - no errors - during the processional or recessional.

On Wednesday, May 23rd, one of the Lions came over with his Bobcat and moved the water-saturated hay and straw we got out of the barn into a compost pile; moved the horse bedding into another compost pile; and moved the fire pit where we used to burn brush into the haul-away pile (from the shed fire). Things look so much better now.

It also motivated me to clean the barn out completely on Sunday, May 27th. The horses now have fresh, new bedding which looks a lot better. It was a tremendous relief to get that done. Another thing that makes me happy: to have projects that I've wanted to get done finally accomplished!

On Sunday evening of Memorial Day weekend, we had a meal together since Paige was leaving for a business trip the next day. For part of the meal, I made a couple recipes that reminded me of my parents and grandparents: potato salad that my mom used to make and banana bread that my grandma on my dad's side used to make.

On Memorial Day, Sophia and I enjoyed a lunch at El Burrito Mercado after she donated platelets. We split a lunch meal because the portions are so generous. We each got 2 spicy chicken tacos, refried beans, and Spanish rice.

So, despite the fire and loss early in the month, there were many positive things that happened during May. As I look back on the month, it makes me happy to see so many things that brought joy to my life as well as to those we helped through volunteering and service.