Category Archives: life the universe and everything

So spoiled

I’ve written a few times about the epic pumpkin patch my mom’s cousin used to own just outside of Redlands, CA. We started going there when my now 8 year old was a month old. Being family we did all the activities for free and basically for the years before we moved here, I had all the fancy (and tasty) heirloom pumpkins I could stand for free. Well change comes to us all and we, um, moved across the country. Last year I just couldn’t bring myself to pay for a pumpkin patch, plus we were super busy so we just picked up jack’o’lantern pumpkins at Walmart and called it meh. This year a friend invited me to go with her and her son to a local Pumpkin Patch (one of about 87 in a 5 mile radius of our house…turns out when you can grow things like corn mazes, people do.) I finally got my spoiled self in gear and made peace with the fact that no it wouldn’t be the same, and yes it was going to cost me both my arm and my leg. Sigh. The munchkins were beyond thrilled with the experience so I’m thinking we may be back in the proverbial holiday tradition saddle once again.

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People either love these things or hate them. I hate that I love them. And the disembodied cow/sheep heads? fuggetaboutit.

I’m not sure if I can adequately express the magnitude of my gratitude, that my kids are both easily entertained and easy to please. Tire and dirt? We’re set for hours, Mom!

Not pictured is the huge silo fort with air cannons. Not sure how I was so negligent in my picture taking that I have no pictures of it’s magnificence.

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But the real star, the real icing on our fall extravaganza cake was this little barn thing filled with corn. We spent a solid hour in here and they probably would have stayed longer. True I had to fish corn out of pants and skivvies, but it was the best sensory exploration activity of the whole season for all the ages. All of the things we did just reminded me and threw into stark relief that 99.9% of the time, simple is the right answer (and not just for kids).

We rounded out the day with a haunted hay ride to a field of perfectly placed (if not exactly grown) pumpkins to find our Jack’o’lanterns. Corra had a huge (fake) spider almost land on her head and ghosts came out of the trees. It was pretty great.

So next on our tradition documenting docket: Halloween itself!

 

 

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Fall means tradition

And tradition means Ren Faire, a Pumpkin Patch, and Halloween. I’ll be breaking these classic Fall posts into three installments so that I can put more pictures into each one! Muahahaha! So without too much more initial babbling I’ll get to it…The Renaissance Faire. Better than last year because the kids were older although not without some good life lessons learned (like winning the best prize ever one year, does not really mean it will happen again, and Miss Layna Dawn hates noise. Oh wait, I totally already knew those. Right.)

Homeschooling wins everything, but we added another triumph to the list. Yes “Student Days” are sheer craziness with a capital CRAY CRAY, but this year we learned. We got there later (missing the opening rush) and stayed to close since we didn’t have to be back before any bell rang. When we meandered out it was all but deserted. It was so awesome.

(I’m really tempted to let my husband buy me a newer iPhone just so I can upgrade my camera. Sorry about the meh pictures.) Little Miss doesn’t do heat or noise. There was much to be had of both, I’m afraid. So we happily watched the jousting with me blowing on the back of her neck while firmly covering her ears. It’s mom-fu at it’s finest.

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I’m so glad I married a man who gets that you can cheer really loud and make a complete idiot of yourself and it’s ok. It means that I’m in good company at all the cheesy events I drag our family too. I love jousting, and this year it was so cool to listen to my big ones talk about the horses (wondering what breeds they were and comparing notes) and commenting on the saddles (our knight had an Australian saddle). Score one for riding lessons! They are now knowledgeable horse people (or something).

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Remember that thing about people not being afraid to really get into the cheesiness of an event? Another reason I love Ren Faire. Normal adults playing pretend for 2 whole months! This guy was great. He even let me video him wishing my sister a happy birthday so I could send it to her in Taiwan. How’s that for best random birthday text ever!?

Traditions are great because they get better with time. We saw so many of the same people from last year, including the Raptor rescue show with the same host. Neil chose a great seat and I took the coolest slow-motion video of an owl flying over our heads. If my tech savvy husband were here to make my computer behave I’d attempt to upload it. But alas he is working. You’ll have to settle for the hawk.

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My girls got to watch a show on historical heroines and then attend hero/heroine training. They took it very seriously.

Back to life lessons…Naomi waited 365 days to play the dragon egg hatching game to win a $80 puppet like Garyn did last year. Brought her own money and everything. She ended up with two kind of cool dragon eye necklaces and a whole lot of disappointment. But she soldiered on and took our advice to focus on experiences rather than things for her parent funded activity/treat/thing. And now she can say that she has ridden a camel.

Role models.

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By the end of the day this one announced that he wanted to spend all his time working with molten metal of any kind. When can kids start welding classes? Of course, molten glass was pretty captivating, too. I got another blown glass ornament for our Christmas tree and I figure by the time the kids all move out, I’ll have a pretty respectable collection to fill in all the gaps left by the ornaments they take with them.

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This one wanted her picture taken with every fancy statue there was (and I’m graciously sparing you the other 13 pictures of exactly that) but this one…I mean, how often do you get to grab a pirate by the dreadlocks? Best. Day. Ever.

 

 

 

 

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SmartSteader

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So that big announcement? We launched our app this past Saturday at a homesteading conference in Virginia! It was an amazing experience and so far so good…we have over 400 people playing with our app! It’s a bit surreal and what’s even more surreal is that since I volunteered to tackle a lot of the business side of things (Neil obviously is the developing genius who is swamped with all the new features we want to add in), I get to re-learn accounting and economics stuff. And yes I do actually love that and am having fun! Our partners (the amazing people behind Reformation Acres ) are heading up social media and marketing (hallelujah) and it’s been so cool to watch it slowly spread. I’m working on refining our investor presentation and business plan so that hopefully in the next few weeks we can start talking with possible investors. When we get funding we can do everything bigger and faster. It’s pretty unique to be able to start a business like this and know that since we funded it ourselves we have no pressure or debt or anything, and we can make this work regardless of if we can get outside funding. It would just be really helpful. The website is www.smartsteader.com if you want to see the promotional video that we put together, featuring the only actors I had at my disposal…the kids and cows and chickens and one handsome farmer man. We are so excited!

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[This is Arty. The face of SmartSteader]

I also promised a farm update. Whew! What a season. Here’s a smattering of my favorite pictures then I’ll give you some numbers at the end. Enjoy!

Still can’t really get over the fact that stuff actually grows here…so naturally I completely over-planted. Again.

Before the numbers though some fun things:

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I grew peanuts and then made peanut butter! Someday when I have lots of time, I won’t eat any other kind, it’s that good. In the mean time, it’s nice to know that it’s possible and waiting for me.

We put in an orchard and our Asian pear tree just put out blossoms…in the middle of October! (pic is up above)

We have at least 1 female turkey and turkey eggs are tasty…just like chicken eggs only bigger.

I started making soap again with Mei’s milk and lard from our pigs. It’s awesome and I forgot how much I missed making soap.

Some garden/farm stats as of right this minute:

We produced:

  • 2,143 lbs of milk (252 gallons) this year
  • 1,608 eggs (134 dozen) this year
  • 440 lbs of pork loveliness
  • 292 lbs cucumbers
  • 282 lbs tomatoes (didn’t get to at least 50 more lbs…those went to chickens)
  • 70.75 lbs Summer Squash
  • 40.5 lbs misc. peppers

We have 11 blueberry bushes, 15 fruit trees, 2 elderberry bushes, 4 turkeys, 3 rabbits, 2 cows, 30-ish chickens, 2 cats, 2 gerbils, and 1 green anole.

Now I just need a partridge to put in my pear tree.

 

 

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This was a big one

The thing that hit me hardest about this birthday, was the reminder that she is learning she is a girl who will one day be a woman. She is exploring femininity and what a lost skill and art being feminine is. She swished her hips to make her dress make sound not because she wanted to pretend at being sexy. She did it because there’s nothing girly-er than swishing a new dress while you wear your mom’s pearls. There was a profound lesson here for me. To focus more on being feminine and less on being sexy. Sexy is great and fun but it requires someone else and, therefore, is essentially out of our control. I can be perfectly, beautifully feminine when I’m alone in a room and it’s a gift I can give myself. Its an acknowledgement of my inherent beauty as a woman that is there whether someone is looking at me or not. Hmmm. I need to stash these musings away and really dive in deep…sometime in the next 8 years before she really starts terrifying me.

My Naomi (aka: Naynay, Nays, Yeomi, Naybean, Naynay girl, Nay) turned 8 this year. This is a big deal for a few reasons…It meant she had the chance to choose to be baptized and become a member of our church. We are Mormons or Latter Day Saints (belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and eight is the age when a person is capable of making promises with the Lord and is capable of honoring those promises. She did great and it was so cool to experience this with her. It’s a first step in a life long journey.

Grateful for this stud who is an amazing father to my children. Can I say how much I love that he gets really choked up sharing spiritual moments with his kids? Seriously one of my favorite things about this man is that he cries.

Lots of support from family and friends made this day memorable for her, and totally made my mom heart happy. Also made me happy that her taste in baptism dresses was within my sewing skill level and that she was thrilled with the end result.

Next reason this was a big birthday…She got her ears pierced! I went back and forth but ultimately opted for a tattoo parlor with a professional pierce-er. We were both very pleased with the experience. She was a champ. So brave. She calmly sat with her nervousness and quietly dealt with it. She held my hand and then bounced out of there like it was nothing. Also, luckily, she takes the daily upkeep and maintenance very seriously and has attended to that with much more attention than other areas of personal hygiene ([cough]brushingteeth[cough]).

The trend lately is for the kids to design and decorate their own cakes. This more than anything makes me want to wail, “My babies are growing up!” It wasn’t the ear piercing or leaving cub scouts that made me choke up…no. It was the passing of the cake making baton. I’m just not ready for that!!!

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It was a friend birthday party year and after suggestions of a slumber party, fancy dinner at a restaurant, epic barbie play date, star wars…she settled on picking up friends and going to McDonald’s. Then we went to a park for cake, ice cream and presents. It’s like my monkeys sense when I need things to be easy and they magically run with that. They must love me or something. It actually was really cool in it’s simplicity and all involved said it was the best night ever. There’s another lesson here, I just know it.

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My mom was in town for the baptism so we took some family pictures to really round out our summer season. Can’t wait to update our gallery wall and my children can relax their sore-from-smiling cheeks until Christmas. Next blog post is an huge (and long over due) farm update, with a very exciting announcement.

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Leonine catch up

This farm is home to a disproportionate number of Leos. When you figure there are 6 of us and three are Leos…yeah…we win. The end of July ushers in the season with my now 11 year old [insert freaking out emojis here], then the baby a few weeks later and then my birthday 10 days after that. So the next few posts will be birthday catch up plus eclipse. Because yes. I now understand why people travel ridiculous distances to see total solar eclipses…totally worth it. But first, Hallelujah it was an off year for the boy. Every other year the kids get a big friend party. The way it works out is that all the girls have friend birthdays on one year and Garyn is the opposite year. So his birthday was mercifully low key right in the middle of cupcakes and princess, pink and barbie parties. He wanted to go ice skating. [aside: I have no idea why my kids love ice skating so much. I roller-bladed all through middle school and high school so ice skating isn’t such a stretch, but my kids? It just confuses me.]

I’d known for a while that my little sister wanted to come visit before she heads off to a dance study abroad program on the opposite side of the world. Happily, the dates worked such that she and my mom came down the week of his birthday. It was so fun to see her and teach her to milk a cow…Mei even kicked the bucket over just for her! Also not sure how I thought I could ice skate with two little girls simultaneously by myself had my mom and Baylie not been there…Sometimes I’m delusional.

At one point I had the brilliant idea that I’d just hold Corra and skate. Just needed to not fall, right? Riiiiighhhtttt. I totally wiped out and luckily managed to minimize her impact on the ice. I was asked if we were okay by no less than five fellow skaters (all under the age of 12) It must have truly been a spectacular fall.

The big ones just kept a running tally of their falls. They’d hop right back up again and keep going. I think if we keep to our every other year ice skating excursions, they’ll be passable skaters by the time they leave home. Valuable life skill successfully imparted = check.

Speaking of life skills…every boy should learn how to cook and decorate a cake. Garyn insisted on doing his own cake and I was happy to oblige. He also humored me and let me make it a zucchini cake I’ve been wanting to try as I cook my way through my friends cake cook book. The cake was amazing as all the cakes have been thus far. I’ll talk more about some other cakes we’ve tried in later birthday posts.

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Presents at his birthday dinner at Grandma and Grandpas house.

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And eating said cake awesomeness. Naturally.

 

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Legoland

Almost without fail my long term plans change. Gasp! I know that phenomena comes as a complete shock and that it is an extraordinary occurrence only ever happening to me! [end sarcasm]. Back in January I looked at my blank calendar for the year and was content, nay excited, that it would be a non-traveling year. No big trips or excursions, just hanging out on the farm doing farmy stuff. Maybe even use the husband’s time off for a stay-cation to do even more farmy stuff! But then my sister-in-law invited us to an incredible beach house and the price of admission was playing with cousins. And then my grandparents invited us to an incredible resort down in Orlando and the price of admission was a few home-cooked dinners with stuff from the garden and pantry. Needless to say we did indeed travel to the Sunshine State and it was totally worth it. Now, Orlando is the the mecca of all epic vacation plans. As my husband had to stay home (he does still have a job and we do still have a lactating bovine tenant) I wasn’t about to tackle Disney anything. But Legoland…that I could manage. Not to mention their promotion for 1 kid free per adult ticket purchased made it financially feasible (we’ll go ahead and start saving now for the eventual Disney trip…I’m looking into the going rate for kidneys. Hey, I only need one, right?) Plus the more I read, the more I realized that my kids are the perfect ages for Legoland. Soon they’ll be ready for more (they’ll always be die hard Lego-ers but young adults do need more than duplo stations at somepoint). However, right now? This was just right. Few thoughts and lessons learned: Naomi is a roller-coaster, thrill-seeking fiend. Garyn needs more robotics in his life. I get why people think my little girls are twins. Lunch in air-conditioning is divine. Trading mini-figures actually was really fun. And last but not least, if they say on every sign possible on the ride that you will get wet…you will probably leave the ride drenched. Here are some of my favorite pictures of the eleventy billion that I took.

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RTDM

As you are no doubt aware, the military has a fascination with acronyms. ASAP, TDY, BHA, it goes on and on. However, you may not be aware that those in the software industry share this particular penchant for strings of seemingly random letters. The similarities between these groups doesn’t end there. As a general rule, with a few notable exceptions (My hubby), most members of these groups tend to favor colorful language not suitable for mixed company. Thus the above acronym. Read the Dang Manual. I’ve made the necessary modifications to write it on my kid friendly blog…in fact have a kid reading over my shoulder as I type.  Point being, so many problems and misinformation could be circumvented if people would just RTDM. Keep this in mind, I’ll be coming back to it.

Last week the husband man was back in Las Vegas for work. We knew that the earliest our cow could calve would be May 20 and that would be if the bull had got right down to business the first day she was available. But there are some things that can theoretically increase the chances of early calving. We figured that the best way to get her to come early would be to have Neil leave town. It’s how life tends to roll for us. Given this possibility my handsome lumberjack built me a stanchion before he left so I could start getting Mei used to the idea.

It’s a thing of beauty. Truly. Mei is getting good at it and it has been a lifesaver for this woefully out of practice hand milker.

Well he left on Monday morning, and Thursday evening I went down to feed Mei her evening Chaffhaye.

I screamed and almost hyperventilated when I realized there were more legs than there should have been. Squeaking into the phone, I told Neil that the baby was here and that I had to run but I’d call him back oh my gosh she had her baby oh my gosh!

This was the best case scenario as it meant Mei was able to deliver a perfectly healthy baby with no outside assistance at all. Carefully we introduced ourselves, and I made sure little one had figured out nursing. It took some time before I could get up close and personal enough to ascertain gender, but we confirmed that it was a girl. Naomi (resident animal namer) christened her “Star” and since everyone promptly agreed (hallelujah) it was official. Baby cows are dreamy. Silky smooth, adorable and so feisty. We are old hands at goat kids (who have the small thing working for them) but I’m pretty sure we are sticking with cows for a while…everyone fell in love. Not that there hasn’t been a learning curve.

With in the first hour we found out the electric fence does not contain our particular baby cow. So we’ve been lucky enough to play several rounds of “find the calf” over the last 8 days. Luckily she gets tired and just hunkers down when she realizes she’s lost. We are surrounded by woods and understanding neighbors, so it’s not a terrible ordeal.

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The first few days, when I was on my own, I could bear-hug her like the above picture and just haul her back to her mama. But a few days ago she out grew my strength, making me grateful once again for this guy.

Now back to RTDM rant. Dehorning her was what we decided long ago for a lot of reasons, just like we did for our goat kids. Goat kids got disbudded with a disbudding iron  and that is probably the best option for goats. To the internets we went and after much reading, we opted to go with caustic paste. We read a ton and went to  YouTube and watched it done and it seemed like an excellent option for calves. Once we got the paste we read the instructions and we quickly realized why people hate caustic paste. It’s because they do everything the instructions say NOT to do especially with goat kids. People, a goat kid is an entirely different creature than a cow calf. RTDM!!!

Well we followed our own advice and after reading we got it done. Best way to dehorn.

One key is to do this early. She was three days old when we did it. First, shave the horn buds.

Next, apply petroleum jelly in a ring around the horn bud to contain the caustic paste. Now to back up a minute, when I say caustic paste I’m talking lye, and some other nasty highly basic chemicals. It reacts with everything and ultimately eats away everything including the horn bud. Not something you want to touch with bare hands. It will literally burn you away. Seems mean, right? Many, many people think so and naturally studies have been done to see just how mean this is. Turns out young calves (like days old) show slightly fewer signs of discomfort with this method compared to a disbudding iron where the skin and horn bud are burned off, with no anesthetic. Older calves are usually given some sort of pain treatment. It is quick and one of the most humane ways to do it.  [I can’t find the study because I found it on my phone not on the computer I’m currently on. If you absolutely need the research and links I will happily oblige, but right now a certain almost 4 year old is demanding my attention.]

Paste is applied with a Popsicle stick. We applied the amount specified in the instructions. If you apply too much it will keep reacting, eating down further into the skull. People who apply too much, naturally will have some issues. RTDM.

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I must state that at this point our calf was just cranky at being held down. She was making no sounds and was not even really struggling. Compared to our goat kids who screamed and fought through the whole disbudding process, this felt so much better. Calmer and much less dramatic. Didn’t even smell singed hair.

Picture on the left is 24 hours-ish afterwards. Picture on the right is about 4 days after the fact. There was no blood, so no fly problems and after about 6 hours of keeping her tied so she couldn’t rub it onto herself or her mama, she was good to go. I could touch it and she didn’t notice a thing.

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I highly recommend this method for dehorning calves if you can do it early enough that there isn’t any pain (can be within the first 2 days). Not that you can tell by Miss Sassy Pant’s expression, but she does actually like us and is settling in nicely. Now that we are separating her at night so that I can milk in the morning, our only real issue is my hand strength. It is a race to get as much as I can before Mei finishes the bucket of yumminess I bring her in the morning. My hands are doing ok, I’m just terribly inefficient. Sigh. To be fair, Meushi has been an angel and even stood patiently for me to keep milking this morning even after she had finished breakfast.

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This mornings efforts. That is a gallon jar, and the goal is to get at least one of these every morning. Hopefully, we will both get better at this game and Neil can fill in for me with his huge lumberjack hands if my forearms fall off.

 

 

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