Early mornings in Illinois

I would not call myself a morning person, but there is something magical about those early moments in the day. Time to be alone and enjoy the quiet of the farm. Time to be productive and tackle a little bit of work. Sarah in Illinois–also not a morning person–has come to appreciate her morning routine. She is here today, sharing a bit about how she starts her day.

Having chickens requires me to get up a little earlier every morning to tend to them. This isn’t the easiest for someone who readily admits she is not a “morning person.” However, I do enjoy the fact that everything is a little more peaceful just as the sun rises. It also allows me to spend a little one on one time with Blitz. We like to play ball and visit with Ruff the barn cat.

These two have comically become good friends.

I think because it is early morning, and they both are still a little groggy from sleep.

When I leave the barn I usually pat Ruff on the head and her head is always soaked in Blitz’s slobbers.

I have begun to really enjoy this quiet time in the morning. It helps remind me to slow down and look around.

Are you a morning person? What do you enjoy about the start of the day? Do you have a pair of unlikely buddies around your house?

Aww. It’s great to meet your Ruff, Sarah. I wonder how she and Ralph would get along. Baxter and Ralph’s relationship is definitely not as buddy-buddy as Blitz and Ruff’s. I would say Ralph tolerates Baxter. She definitely does not allow him to slobber on her. It’s great that Ruff and Blitz have become such good friends.


First snow and first fire

Snow dusting the split rail fence by the barn

Thursday night the flurries started, and Friday morning we woke up to our first dusting of snow this season.

The puppy was entirely over-excited until his feet got too cold (temperatures also fell incredibly far overnight) and then he was excited run back to the warm house.

Baxter surveying the fields after the first snowfall

Tire tracks across the field after the first snowfall

Baxter surveying the fields after the first snowfall

Snow on the barn roof

After all of the cold and snow, I was very happy to also have our first fire of the season this weekend. (Yes, that means our chimney is clean. One more task crossed off our fall to-do list. How to post to come).

Logs burning in the fireplace

I’m writing this in front of our second fire of the season, enjoying a quiet, cozy wind down to our weekend.

I hope that you all had a good weekend as well. What was the highlight for you? Any weather changes where you are?

A heck of a hive

Giant wasp nest on the ground

Snow melts. Grass dies. And all of a sudden things appear.

Things like a giant wasp nest.

Giant wasp nest on the ground

I’ve never seen a nest this large. Let alone one built on the ground.

Never mind knee high to a grasshopper. This is knee high to a grown (albeit not super tall) woman.

Giant wasp nest on the ground

Have you ever seen a nest this large? Is spring uncovering anything at your house?

That time my husband dropped a 2×4 on my head

Or, as Matt tells the story, the time I followed too closely behind him while he was carrying–and dropping–lumber.

Head wound

Saturday afternoon was fall cleanup day here on the farm.

Remember this pile of lumber that I cleaned up back in the spring? I was so proud. I am woman, hear me roar.

Lumber pile at the edge of the field

Field after clearing the lumber pile

However, I really only did half the job. I brought it over to the barn, but not actually into the barn. I dumped it beside the silo.

Lumber piled outside the barn

Putting it into the barn was one of the tasks on my (mental) fall to-do list. After mucking all of the old straw and manure out of the stalls last fall, we have lots of extra space, and I knew one of the empty stalls would be perfect to corral all of this lumber.

I recruited Matt to help me, and we moved 6x6s, 4x4s, 2x8s, barnboard siding and assorted other lumber–including a few pesky 2x4s–into the barn. There is so much lumber, yet it takes up barely a quarter of a stall. Horses are big animals, people.

Lumber piled in a horse stall

Along the way we picked up the leftover fence posts that have sat by the garden all year, some other lumber, some metal posts–five piles in all.

Trailer loaded with old fence posts

I’m so happy that the property is looking just a wee bit tidier. Next year when we mow these new areas, it will look even better. I’m not sure Matt is quite as enthused yet. Especially since he’s our main mower.

Lumber pile cleaned up beside the silo

My husband knows me so well. When we came into the house at the end of the day, he asked me, “How much of that did you have planned, woman? I thought we were just moving the one pile by the silo when I agreed to this. I want to re-examine the contract. I think I might sue.”

I admitted that I had planned for three out of the five piles–the other two were just a bonus. I also reminded him of the original contract, which says, “for better or for worse.”

How did you spend your weekend?

Summer progress in Illinois

Sarah is back today with more news from Illinois. Like me, she has a long summer to-do list, and she’s made some good progress recently.

Things have been pretty busy around here.

This past weekend Steve and I spent over 4 hours trying to get the garden back in shape. Weeds had really gotten ahead of us.

It’s crazy how a good rain and warm sunny weather for a couple days can turn weeds from “manageable” to “out of control,” because that is exactly what happened. But we do now have a handle on things, and I need to work on it every day, even for just a few minutes, so that we stay on top of things.

Freshly weeded vegetable garden

The rain and sun has been great for the kale though. I have added it to my salads, and I have made some kale chips. But truthfully I really needed to find a way to use more of it and quickly.

I was listening to Young House Love’s podcast, and John mentioned that he blends his kale with just a little bit of water and freezes it in ice cube trays. Then he uses a cube or two to drop in his smoothies. Wow! That was such a simple idea and I had never thought of that or read that idea anywhere. So I cut a bunch of kale, rinsed it and did exactly what John suggested.

Blended kale ice cubes

I used a lot of my kale. It only took a few minutes and now I can add it easily to my breakfast.

I will have more to harvest. This is AFTER I made my kale cubes.

Kale in the garden

The other thing that we worked on over the weekend was the chicken coop.

Building a chicken coop inside a barn

We had just been using wood that we had laying around, but we got to a point where we had to make a run to the home improvement store and get more supplies.

We are basically making a small room inside one of our barns. The exterior wall and the roof will be insulated.

I am still kind of designing and redesigning things as we go, but I have a pretty good plan in mind. I am hoping we will be ready for chickens by the end of this upcoming weekend.

This summer seems to be flying by so quickly. We have gotten so much done, but I feel like I have so much more that I really want to get finished.

I don’t want another month to go by without checking so much more off of my to-do list!

Oh, I know what you mean, Sarah. Summer is the time to get things done. I’m glad I’m not the only one with an ambitious to-do list. You’re doing a really great job, though! I can’t wait to see the rest of the coop–and its occupants.



Nesting instinct

We have a new tenant at the driveshed.

It took about a dozen false starts, but a robin has finally managed to construct a nest.

The start of birds nests at the front of the driveshed

Robin's nest

The streamers of grass waving over the door track caught the building inspector’s attention. Matt gave her a boost so that she could check the construction up close.

Ralph inspecting the birds nest

The mud wasn’t dry, but the robin got a pass nonetheless.

Robin's nest

Now she just needs to move in and start her family.

Is anyone constructing a new house where you are? Or do you have any birds sitting on nests? Who’s your building inspector?

Icy Easter

Hello. How was your weekend? Did you have a good Easter?

Our Easter weekend ended up being extra long thanks to an ice storm that rolled through our area on Thursday. The storm closed both Matt’s and my work and turned off our electricity for 9 hours.

By Good Friday, the freezing rain had stopped, but temperatures had not risen, and a thick coating of ice covered everything.

Spring ice storm

Spring ice storm

Spring ice storm

Just days into spring, and our lilacs had their new green growth encased in ice.

Spring ice storm

The ground was covered in ice chunks from the trees and bushes.

Spring ice storm

Icicles dripped off the back of the bird feeder and at the front there was a steady queue for the only food available.

Icicles on the birdfeeder

In the garden, icicles hung from the top fence rail and the chainlink was augmented with its own icy shield.

Spring ice storm

Fortunately, we didn’t have much damage. The worst was losing just a few branches off the pine trees.

Spring ice storm

The weight of the ice is incredible. Normally, we can walk easily under these branches that are touching the ground.

Spring ice storm

Down the driveway, more branches overhung far enough that Baxter could reach them.

Spring ice storm

Temperatures finally started to rise on Saturday afternoon. Ice slid off the roofs and the cars in sheets. Slowly the branches returned to their usual heights as the trees shed their icy casings, shards shattering into the ground.

By yesterday, Easter Sunday, the farm was back to normal.

What was the weather like where you are? Did you do anything special this weekend? How did you celebrate Easter?

Hard-working farm dog

You’ve read my perspective on mucking out the barn. Now Baxter shares his point of view.

Being a farm dog is a lot of work. The last few weeks, we’ve been cleaning out the barn.

Usually, Matt and Julia don’t let me in the barn.

They say it’s Ralph’s home, and she’s allowed to have her own space no dogs allowed. I don’t know what the big deal is. I don’t chase her too much. And I’m her brother. Aren’t I supposed to bug her?

The first time I came into the barn, it was very interesting. There were so many sniffs. Ralph was there too. And I didn’t bug her at all.

By the third weekend in the barn, I was exhausted.

Ralph was guarding her food dish, so I climbed into her bed. It’s a big pile of straw, but all of the nests are cat-sized. I turned and turned and turned, but I did not fit. I dug around and was able to make a dog-sized nest.

I gotta say. I’m a farm dog. But I’m not a barn dog. That straw was prickly. This is my not impressed face.

Baxter curled up in the straw

Ralph seems to like it for some reason though. She left her food dish and came over to give me dirty looks from the stairs.

Stand off over the pile of straw

Apparently I was still bugging her. My work as a farm dog and as a brother is never done.

Oh, Baxter. You have such a hard life.

Want more Baxter? Check out That Mutt tomorrow where I’m writing about his favourite toy. There’s even a give-away for your own furry friends.

Mucking out and working out

You’ve been hearing about me spreading manure on the garden pretty much all fall. However, this post has been an even longer time coming. In fact, it’s been sitting in my drafts folder since June 2012. Way back then, Matt and I mucked out our first stall.

I was responsible for raking up the old straw.

Mucking out a stall

And Matt was responsible for getting the straw out of the stall and into the field behind the barn.

Raking straw

We just used rakes, rather than bothering to find the pitchforks, and then we piled the old straw behind the barn. This stall became Wiley’s garage.

The previous owners of our property had boarded horses. When they left, they didn’t bother to clean out the stalls.

And this fall, three years later, we still had 14 stalls full of straw and manure.

We also had a brand new vegetable garden that had been super productive. If I wanted to keep it productive, I needed to replenish the soil.

That meant it was finally time to tackle the barn.

It took me about 9 hours spread over three weekends. There were more than a dozen trailer loads of manure, and I don’t even know how many wheelbarrow loads. There were two assistants, Ms. Scratches and Mr. Sunbather, neither of whom gave very much assistance.

Ralph and Baxter in the barn

There was no way to get the tractor or the trailer into the barn, so I wheeled all of the straw through the barn, up a plank and into the trailer. When the trailer was full, I towed it out to the garden.

I got very proficient at backing up the trailer through this project. It just fit through the gate on the garden.

I usually laugh when people ask me what my workout routine is. I own a farm. That means I work. No need for a gym membership. Here’s my version of a workout video. Repeat that about a 100 more times.

So it only took me three years (or really three weekends once I got started), but finally the stalls are clean.

Now to find a new workout…

Have you ever had to muck out stalls? Any tips to make it easier? (Not that I’m planning on doing it again). What’s a project that you’ve had hanging around for awhile?