Country Living Series

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Smorgasbord !!

We've had it.

Ever since losing our Jersey cow Polly, as you know, we've been using Amy as a nurse cow to feed Polly's orphaned calf Anna. We kept Anna and Amy's calf Trooper in the corral, and twice a day we brought Amy inside to nurse them (the morning nursing was just a matter of releasing the calves from an inside pen).

Well let me tell you, Amy hated acting as a nurse cow. (Notice her eyes slit into malevolent loathing for the task at hand in the above photo.) She would barely tolerate Anna nursing when her own calf was nursing, and often not even then. She was sulky, she was grumpy, she was disgruntled. Singing to her helped a bit, but it sure didn't help when it came time to fetch Amy up from the woods or field and bring her into the corral. No amount of cajoling, no amount of singing, no amount of grain worked to entice her to return to a hated task. Fetching Amy became a two-person job: I would haul on her lead rope, and Don would follow up from behind to whack her on the backside if she balked.

Then Amy developed a simple and effective new strategy: whenever she saw me coming with the lead rope, she would just walk away. Sometimes she would trot away, or run away. In all instances, the operative word was away. Believe me, you cannot catch a cow that doesn't want to be caught.

So we tried confining her to the feedlot, but somehow she managed to escape (don't ask me how). Bottom line, it was sucking up more and more of our time, energy, creativity, and patience to keep using Amy as a nurse cow. There is also the very real chance of making Amy hate our guts, which would be a shame since she's Matilda's calf and has the potential to be a very good milker. The one thing we didn't want to do was utterly ruin Amy's formerly sweet disposition.

So a few days ago we decided Anna was old enough to spring from the corral. She's a canny little lass, and hopefully would be able to sneak drinks of milk from other less-hostile cows.

So one morning after having Amy nurse the calves, we opened the gate to let Amy out -- and just left it open. Trooper followed his mama without a moment's hesitation.

Anna didn't hesitate either, but she sure as heck wasn't gonna follow Amy -- not if she could help it! Instead she paused and started crunching on grasses. (To those concerned the calves' stomachs couldn't handle so much fresh grass after weeks in the corral, no worries; the corral had enough greenery in it they wouldn't have a dietary shock.)

Trooper followed Amy toward the rest of the herd...

...while Anna continued cropping the grass right by the gate.

When Anna finally raised her head, everyone had disappeared.

But soon enough her wanderings brought her into the midst of the other animals. I followed because I wanted to make sure no one picked on the orphan.

At first, Anna and Trooper stayed together.

But soon the other calves came over to greet them...

...and in no time, all the calves were dashing around having fun.

And that's when I left them.

We kept a distant eye on Anna as the day progressed. In the early afternoon, she was curled up next to Trooper amidst the rest of the herd, looking relaxed in the shade of the barn awning. So far so good.

Amy also looked more relaxed and was able to groom her calf Trooper without the little brat interfering.

By the end of that first day, what was significant is what we weren't hearing rather than what we were hearing. Namely, we weren't hearing Anna bellowing. By this we were assuming she was able to sneak enough milk off other (non-hostile) cows to satisfy her little tummy.

As the days went by, I noticed Anna seemed to have an affinity toward Victoria, a motherly older cow with a sweet disposition. Good.

And then we started seeing solid evidence: Anna, always angled in the back and always waiting until a cow's calf was already nursing, busy filling her belly. Told you she was a canny lass.

In fact, she's getting better fed now than she ever was with just Amy. She has a veritable smorgasbord of choices before her! Three fairly tolerant cows (Pixie, her older sister; Victoria; and Sparky) who (mostly) don't mind a little double-dipping.

So despite the crushing loss of Polly, it looks like Anna will grow up nice and healthy. As an added bonus from her weeks in the corral, she's quite friendly toward us, and someday may turn into just as good a milker as her mama.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Fifteen years ago today

Fifteen years ago today, we moved to Idaho.

It was Friday the 13th that we left our beloved little home in Oregon for the last time. Don drove ahead in the truck, packed to the rafters with shop tools. My parents drove separately, taking the girls with them (who were then five and seven years old). With our old yellow lab, Amber, I spent one last night in our Oregon home attending to last-minute details. Then I spent another night at a friend's house before embarking on the fifteen-hour drive to our new home on 20 acres -- a home each of us had seen only once.

It was a hard decision, leaving Oregon. We had many good friends. Our tiny old house on four acres was built in 1874 and we adored it.

Our Oregon house when we first bought it

Our Oregon house when we sold it

But it was tiny, and between a home business and homeschooling, we were bursting at the seams. With just four acres, we felt we couldn't be as food self-sufficient as we wanted. We needed more acreage for grazing cattle. Also, the area was getting more and more crowded, and we longed for a more remote home without traffic.

At first we confined our search for another piece of property to Oregon. We looked long and carefully, but couldn't find anything within our price range and bucket-list of requirements. We made an offer on one beautiful old farmhouse on 40 acres south of Eugene -- an offer that was more than we were comfortable making -- and were outbid by $40,000 within an hour. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Time to look further afield.

Our employment was portable, so we could live anywhere. With the aid of the internet (still fairly new), we researched properties across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. But we also researched homeschooling laws, and quickly discovered Idaho was unique in not having a bunch of state bureaucrats poking their noses into private business when it came to teaching one's own kids. It would be no exaggeration to say the homeschooling laws are what tipped us into Idaho.

The next step was exploration, since neither of us had ever been to the panhandle before. Because the girls were so young (Younger Daughter was still four years old at the time), Don and I split up. I flew ahead in March 2003, rented a car, and made arrangements with realtors to look at about 30 different properties over a week's time. I narrowed it down to two. Then we swapped; I came home and stayed with the girls while Don came up and looked over both properties with a fine-toothed comb. We decided on this property and made an offer.

We didn't learn until later the sellers were going into bankruptcy and were offloading the house and acreage for an extraordinarily low price. All we knew is it looked like "caca" but had good bones, and it was a price we could afford on a woodcrafter's income.

We put our Oregon home on the market and it sold in three days. We packed/sold/gave away our worldly belongings. My parents came up to help us with the logistics of getting to Idaho, and off we went.

Don had arrived the day before, and my parents had taken the girls to a motel. When I crawled up the driveway, exhausted after 15 hours on the road, I walked into the house and burst into tears. I hated it. What had we done?

The first night we spent here (remember, June 15) was so cold we had to turn on this weird propane heater to keep from freezing our tails off. (This is nothing unusual. As I write this, it's 36F outside -- on June 15.) The next day was frantically busy as the movers arrived and started offloading our possessions, my parents and the girls arrived, and we tried to come to grips that this was our new home and there was no going back to the cozy, beautiful little place in Oregon.

But it grew on us. It grew and grew and grew on us until we've come to love this place with all our hearts. The rippling prairie grasses before us, the dark and rustling woods behind us, the canyon that surrounds us, the sunrises and especially the sunsets that bless us -- it's all beautiful beyond compare.

Gradually, as money permitted, we added many accouterments to turn this into the farm we've always wanted. We added a barn, coop, fencing, corral, feedlot, bull pen, garden, orchard, wheat field, and pond. We came to know and then love our neighbors. We found a church and rediscovered our faith. We raised and educated our daughters. The woodcraft business flourished and the freelance writing took off. The sunsets continue to dazzle, and the snow makes us realize working from home is very nice indeed.

Idaho has been good to us. We used to think of ourselves are "remote" but now we think we're just "rural." (Trust me, in Idaho there are places that are truly remote.) It's the longest Don or I have ever lived in one place. Now that they're grown and out of the house and near huge cities, our girls understand the uniqueness of their rural upbringing, and an element of wholesomeness and fresh air still clings to both young women.

So there you go. Fifteen years ago today we embarked on another chapter of our lives, and it turned into a long and happy chapter. We've had setbacks, of course -- who hasn't? -- but on the whole our progress has been satisfying and interesting. It's the journey, not the destination, and so far the journey has been exciting.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Double whammy

I imagine many of you are wondering if I dropped off the face of the earth. My apologize for the blog silence!

What happened is Don and I had a double-whammy: two production runs of tankards due at the same time. We've been burning both ends of the candle and were simply pooped.

It occurred to me, some time during the midst of all the work, that the house had been taken over by tankards, as it often is toward the end of a production run. And this time it was two production runs. Everywhere I turned, we had tankard in various stages of completion.

We were gathering together many loose ends and trying to get stock to the same point. These two lidded tankards, leftover from a previous order, were going out with one of the current orders.

We pressed all kinds of surfaces into use. (That ugly yellowish thing in front is a glue pan, by the way, made from the bottom section of a gallon jug of wood glue.)

At any one time, we had tankards in multiple stages of construction. These are being tested for leaks.

These just came out of the oven (we force-cure the lining by baking tankards at low temps) and are cooling.

These tankards are freshly coated on the inside and are drying.

More tankards, baked and cooling.

Tankards that we finished -- baked and tested -- were piled by the pantry, waiting for inventorying.

With one batch done, we continued working on another batch. Here we're gluing on handles.

With the handles on, drying.

The pile by the pantry kept growing as we completed more and more pieces.

But we still had many pieces in various stages of production. Here we are in the shop, shooting varnish on the outsides. They've been shot once, and we're prepping them for the second shot.

Skipping ahead, the tankards for the first production run are finished. We're divvying them into styles and taking inventory.

Now we're carding each tankard (attaching a guarantee card with the particular woods in each tankard listed).

Boxing the tankards for shipment, each wrapped individually in newspaper.

We shipped two enormous boxes on Thursday to one customer, and the other production run gets shipped today.

And that, dear readers, accounts for the silence on the blog for the past week. We're whupped!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Watch the birds

It's amazing what you can see (and learn) by watching birds.

Last night just at dusk, we had robins going nuts just at the edge of the woods. They chirped and fluttered around in agitation. "I wonder if they see a coyote?" I commented to Don.

Nope, it wasn't a coyote. It was an owl. He flew off from the edge of the woods to a telephone pole, getting mobbed by robins the whole way.

Then early this morning, as I was standing in the corral singing to Amy while she fed the calves, I noticed a blackbird swoop down to the ground, pluck a piece of grass, and hop back up to a fence rail.

I also noticed a lot of activity -- between her and her mate -- in a bush near a tangle of gate parts and fencing.

After putting Amy down in the field with the rest of the cows, I went to investigate. The male bird perched nearby and twittered at me in agitation.

This is what I saw:

The nest is still in the construction phase, but it's also easy for me to see and watch it. It will be fun to follow this pair as they finish the nest, lay their eggs, and rear their young.

Yep, a lot can be learned just by watching the birds.