I never really played with dolls...

... until our son came along.  Since then, I've become more intimately familiar with my more feminine side.   Tutus, stretchy pants, fancy dresses and wigs. And yes, dolls.

Perhaps you remember Frida, or "Mad Eye" as we know call her. I wrote about her eye transplant some time ago. Well, it would seem that "Mad-Mouth" Finn has had a go at her, and sadly things did not go well.

The Boy wanted to do some facial reconstruction mock-ups, and so we worked a bit of magic and came up with this:

So much for visualization.

In a laughing fit of sadness, we temporarily turned our attention to a recent gift given from Auntie Tara.  It is a DIY sock monkey from The Sock Monkey Show in Halifax.  Auntie Tara said she picked out the brightest colours she could find, and The Boy has been hounding me ever since.

Tara warned me there would be some sewing involved, but I had no idea that attention-to-detail was also warranted.  We'll leave you in suspense no longer.

Behold the Majestic Western Nova Scotia Sock Monkey!

"That is the ugliest sock monkey I have ever seen in my life!" The Boy said, once again laughing light-heartedly. It has, nonetheless, joined the pack of "Guys" on his bed and is now having a rather philosophical introduction to Mrs. Pinky Mouse (who is also a new addition to the family).

Hrmphf.  Good thing he's gotta lotta life ahead!

PS -  That monkey has gone to dinner with us, been on the trampoline, met Little Dan and is now singing some kind of meow-meow song in the bedroom!


We have a winner!

We have a winner in the "Name the Horse" competition!

Here's a clue:

Think you know what it is? Take a guess by leaving a comment!


A cock, two weaners and a Dick

There seems to be a theme running through Occidental Acres this spring, but I can't quite put my finger on it... 

Well, it's been a busy month here at Occidental Acres, Nova Scotia, my homestead, out there on Fundy Bay.  OA has a new rooster for our girls as Flink was WAY too hard on them. The new roo is a Buff Orpington (we have three BO hens and they are far and away  Laur's favourites), a bit more mature and has been really good for the girls. They all LOVE him - particularly our two small Golden Comets who were getting picked on by the other hens.  He has restored the pecking order and those two Comets will not venture far from his side. The three BO hens we have also adore him and together, those five snuggle at night. It's quite funny actually.   He is a big dood, and we call him Big Chicken - he has an amazing vocabulary and the hens hang on every word he says. Except when a duck flies by, then they tell him that he's over-reacting.

 He's missing a few tail feathers from altercations at his previous home, but they are growing out nicely and he'll present a rather majestic picture once he's all back together again!

We've noticed a marked drop in ticks this year, probably owing to the chickens and particularly the Guinea hens. They seem to have really eaten a lot!  Of course, I had three crawling up my neck saying Happy Mother's Day on Sunday, but that was because I was waaaaay out in the field finishing up my fencing and the birds don't go that far from home.

The most exciting news is that we've brought a giant Percheron home.  I'm super excited and a bit scared as this is my first horse! I love the big breeds and have been jonesing for a Percheron but never in a million years thought one would come my way.  He's 18hh and his name is Dick  As you can imagine, ribald jokes abound.  I'm pretty sure we'll be changing it! We're thinking Little Dan, but we'll see what sticks.

We've also been fencing like crazy for the two little piggies that came home last week (yeah man, weaners. Say it with me now! Weaners!), Berkshire/Tamworth crosses. One is red with big ears, the other is black with smaller ears - they are cute, but they are also food and so far I've managed to keep an emotional distance from them.  So, we put an electric fence energizer out in the field which required approx 500' of hand trenching to bury the wire... then we strung the wire (three strands because I just copied my friend Gerard's set-up, not realizing his was originally fenced for lambs.  Pigs only really require one strand... but live and learn!).

Two weanling pigs (weaners) - both Berkshire/Tamworth crosses, both female.  I call them Pigger Dhu and Pigger Roo

The top portion of my pasture has now been completely fenced. I divided it in two because the top dries before the bottom and it makes sense to rotate the fields, particularly with a big guy eating all the fresh grasses. I now have 2 three-acre pastures for Little Dan.  Next big project is a run-in shelter/barn for him for the winter. Once that is completed I'm sure there is a cow on the horizon. I'd love to see a miniature Belted Galloway, but that's just me. They are so gorgeous.  Highland might also be a decent choice for us.

The third project requiring hard work has been a new coop for the chickens. We will be getting some meat birds at the end of the month and want to keep them in the current coop and run. Our laying hens will then be moved to the new coop.  The new coop will have a winter-proof run for the girls so they can go out during the winter and not have to face 17 feet of snow.

We currently have seven laying hens and get a half dozen eggs (on average) per day. We sell two dozen a week for $3/doz, paying for their own feed, specially since they don't eat much during the summer as they are free-ranging for bugs and seeds. We're trying a different meat bird this year (Meat Kings were last year's bird) as the genetic mutants we had last year freaked us out. They grew like monsters and could barely walk by the time they reached a good processing weight. This year's birds are called Sasso and they are originally from France. They are a meat bird, but grow a bit slower and can actually walk around and free-range for a good portion of their diet (rather than laying down, panting with their heads in the feeder).

My understanding and appreciation of farming continues to deepen - lots of work for little money, but you do it because it's what you like to do.  It's also often quite dangerous (yes, we've done some stupid YouTube moment-type things).  We've been running since the weather turned (only a couple weeks ago.... sheesh what a hideous winter!) and there will be no break until the weather turns again late fall.  Lots of landscaping to do, run-in/barn building, more fencing (the bottom pasture and along the brook), then moving the pigs to new pasture a few times during the summer, of course haying and gathering this winter's wood (Little Dan will help me get to the places I can't reach with the tractor) and a whole slew of things I can't yet imagine!

Aaaaaand of course there will be lots of horseback riding!

... and that's the news from Occidental Acres, where all the women are strong, the male things are good-looking and the child is above average.


OMG. Piglets!

As it turns out, my saddle blanket is perfect for the application in which it is used. Next time I'm out, I'll grab some photos of it underneath the 1902 Universal Pattern Trooper saddle that I use.

All of us have been quite under the weather of late, and I'm going on three weeks of sickness. I spent almost a week in bed, another week coughing up blood but it feels like the infection has finally filed a change of address form from my lungs to the Independent Republic of My Left Sinus.  I'm still huffing and puffing when walking up the stairs and having random head-exploding bouts of coughing, but the sinus infection is definitely a health improvement.

The weather has been schizophrenic, to say the least. We'll have an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, followed by hurricane force winds and 30cm of snow. After our huge blizzard on Wednesday, in which we lost a few dead poplar trees (yay for next year's firewood!), we had a brief reprieve, with some sunshine and another weather warning for freezing rain.  Like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, it seems as though this winter has been unusually long - it's been windy, snowy and tough.  There's definitely a bit of Spring Fever hitting this house hold!

I've got some great projects on which to work this summer, including a lot of landscaping projects involving stones.  Luckily, Nova Scotia doesn't lack for rocks and some kind soul has neatly made half a dozen piles of them, ready for use.  There will be two rock, if not four, rock stair cases and a small patio to build. Lots of grass/highway mix seed to sow, winter firewood to gather and my small barn to build.  I can't wait for things to dry up so we can get moving on the outdoor projects.

One thing which needs to be done in the near future is to get an area ready for our piglets!  Yesterday we went out to the pig farm and laid our deposit down on two female pigs who will join the farm at the beginning of May. We initially got two, thinking friends would want one for their freezer, but they've since decided to get their own. As pigs are so hard to find this year, what with the disease going around, and because they like one another's company, we decided to stay with  an order of  two.  So, we gave the lady our money and chose our pigs.

Big mistake.
Have you ever actually seen a baby pig?

Oh. My. Gosh. They are so cute. SO CUTE.  In fact, I'm having second thoughts about eating such cuteness.  I'm so in love with them that I've already named my girl... and have been badgering Laur into naming hers, too.

Mine is the little pink and black one on the bottom. You can't quite see it, but she's also got white on her two hind legs. Her name is Tiller (Tilley).

Laur's yet unnamed polka-dotty pig. She's quite hesitant to name hers as she's keeping a healthy distance for the sake of autumn butchering time.

It's so hard to take a decent photo of them as they were quite naturally interested in their mother and move so fast!

There's a lot of work to be done before they come home, including a pallet-shelter and putting in some fence posts for a hot wire, but I can't wait! They are supposed to be super-rooters, helping us plough the front pasture/meadow into usefulness and then finish their involvement with us via freezer-camp.  I can already see there will be a monkey wrench in this plan as they are darn SO CUTE!

...maybe we'll keep the best rooter to breed and put the other in the freezer.  I guess time will tell.


A not-quite-Hudson Bay (tm) Saddle Blanket

Yesterday I bought the supplies for a new project. Because all of us are feeling under the weather, I thought it might be a good day to get down to business.  

As all of you know, I would really like to have a horse. I'm already working on acquiring the materials for a barn.  But with horses comes additional cost as the tack and equipment can cost thousands. In an effort to keep things affordable (and keep the wifey happy), I've been trying to make things myself. I've already made a couple of rope halters, a lead rope and some very simple rope reins (although I do have two leather complete bridles including - headstalls, bits and reins).

I've been squirreling my homemade equipment away in a canvas messenger bag I also made, but this project will definitely be too big to fit in with the other things.  I'm not well versed with the ins and outs of saddle pads (used to provide a bit of cushioning but mostly to protect the saddle from horse sweat and dirt) so I did a little research, conducted a bit of polling and used a bit of ingenuity and came up with a plan.

I'd seen some really neat canvas on a previous trip to the fabric store and although it didn't suit my needs at the time, I immediately thought of it when I wanted to make the saddle pad. It's off-white, not an ideal colour, but the bars are kind of cool and so similar to the Hudson Bay's signature colours that it immediately invokes a historical connection to Canada's past.

The canvas itself was a bit too wide for what I needed (I wanted a pad somewhere in the area of 32x32x 1/2), so it was necessary to make some changes in width and length.  Sadly I was forced to remove the top green bar in order for my measurements to fit properly. I folded it a couple of times and decided my course of action.

The red bar would be at the front, mostly covered by a saddle anyways, with the yellow, red and green stripes showing behind. 

With 32x32 my target size, I needed to make a few more adjustments to fit the felt. Here I've sewn the edges and get a real idea of what my finished product will look like.

After hemming the edges it was time to bust out the felt. This particular felt is 3/8ths thick, and doubled would be a respectable 3/4" pad.

Here the canvas has been laid out on the felt for fit.  I did make some adjustments to the width. I ended up turning the pad perpendicular to its illustrated alignment, with the folded edge of felt to be at the front of the pad (over the withers). I also shortened the pad to a 31x31 by eliminating the white stripe at the very front of the pad.  After rotating the canvas 90 degrees, I made my "chalk" line down the centre and lined everything back up.

I have now hand-sewn the all-important centre line and chalked out the additional lines where I will add reinforcing stitches. The front of the pad is shown at the bottom of the photo.

Sewing through canvas and felt is really  hard on the hands and I might ask Janet at Trimper's Harness to help me finish it by machine.  My hands are sore... but this pain serves to remind me of the pride and satisfaction which comes from a job well done.  Maybe I'll just pick away at the remaining stitches over the next few days.

We'll see!



Got a couple of  tools today - so excited!

If you don't know what they are, take a guess in the comments section!  If you know what these are, sit tight and watch what happens!

The journey towards "Opt out" continues.

The past few weeks have been learning-laden for me.

First and foremost I had been sidelined for a few days by a kidney infection which literally crippled me with pain. That Wednesday afternoon I had some shooting pains in my back which made me wince and took me down to my knees. I couldn't sleep that evening for the pain and by morning I could not even move.  Thank goodness for apple cider vinegar, honey and a shot of lemon. I took that with a warm water and drank it down by the gallon. Couple that with some cranberry pills 6x day, and I was right as rain by Sunday.  There is a place for western medicine, but how great is it to kick something using natural medicine instead of an antibiotic?

On Friday during that whole ordeal, I did some chicken processing for one of our neighbours.  I had planned to have some photos of the processing, and had taken some that day, but it would seem that I am unable to locate them.  For those who are disappointed, there will be a next time - I have 10 (and possibly more) to do for my neighbour.

It wasn't a very long day for me - started around 10 and got the last rooster done just before 2pm.  The roos were all done into skinless breasts as per request.  I've come a long way from that first day, with my jaw set, trying not to throw up, but it's not something which is fun nor that to which I look forward. But I asked and received a small fee. Plus, I was able to put the rest of the meat into our freezer. We got thighs and legs, with backs for the stock pot.  Not too many jobs will pay you with cold, hard cash plus food for the family!

I was completely knackered and my hands cut to ribbons from sticking them past small, razor sharp bones, but well satisfied with the day's work and had a great night's sleep!

I've been giving a lot of thought to our future barn. Trying to be thrift-minded, and with quotes from builders coming in the tens of thousands ($40-50k!), it's been quite a daunting undertaking. That is, until I saw a video of a guy in Arkansas, who built his barn with his own two hands. Building a barn by one's self is nothing new, I know. I had already planned to do much of the work myself with a conventional barn.   But until I'd seen the video, it never occurred to me that I could do absolutely all of it on my own - with my own tools, my own supplies and my own ingenuity. 

I've done a bit of researching about permits and if the building is less than 225sf, a permit is not necessary. Because I want to do it on my own, I will keep the square footage under the required amount and thereby avoid the county's approval process.  My barn will initially be 11 feet wide by 20 feet long, for a total square footage of 220.  With two generously proportioned side sheds, this will be more than enough room for a large stall and space for feed and tack.  There will also be a small loft upstairs, again, room for more storage and possibly hay (although I have been advised that hay sometimes goes bad if kept in a loft).

One side shed will house Bertie (my tractor) and the other will either be used for hay storage, a sheltered turn-out or a pig sty.  I'll be able to drive the tractor into the barn for stall cleaning and there is enough room to use the bucket for lifting heavier items into the loft.  There is also enough room so that we can lift the canopy off the truck and safely store up in the roof, safely away from damage.

Another really great thing about Nova Scotia is that so many people are willing to share, trade or barter for stuff.  Case in point -  I recently answered an advertisement from a fellow selling scab wood. Scabs are the slabs of wood cut from round trunks in order to make them square or rectangular. These squared pieces are then turned into dimensional lumber - 2x  or 4x or 6x whatever you need. Because wood is so plentiful and thrift and ingenuity are qualities much admired in farming communities, many people mill their own lumber by buying, hiring or borrowing a saw mill.

One of my other neighbours has offered me the use of his saw mill to cut the lumber for my barn.  I've been stock piling some nice soft wood for next winter, but I think most of what I've piled will be better put to use with the barn. There is a lot of smaller diameter wood cut down and just waiting for me to drag it off of the hills for for firewood.  I did not feel good about just using his mill, so I offered to trade some hard wood in exchange for it's use.

While I was out purchasing the scabs, the fellow from whom I bought them noticed my trimming kit. I explained that I've been trimming and shoeing for friends as I've been out of the business for some time.  He then asked me how much I'd charge to trim his seven horses!  I reiterated that it had been a long time since I charged anyone, but that I'd find out the going rate - neither wanting to undercut another farrier, nor over-charge the fellow.

During the course of our conversation, the fellow had mentioned he had telephone poles and dimensional lumber also for sale (hence the reason the scabs were piled at his place).  I offered to trade him the trims on his horses for the telephone poles and he agreed. So, I will trade my labour for the foundation poles to my barn. 

This makes me feel great - not only will mine be the labour put into construction of the barn, but it will also be my labour traded for the materials with which to build it.   It already feels good to know that I have a skill which is valued and desired!

All of this brings me to my adventures with cutting and skidding wood yesterday. The temperature was cold but the sun was shining and I figured that it was a good day to try and get some of the hardwood laying at the back of my property.  There is a pile of approximately 40 hardwood logs laying in a difficult to reach spot and it has been bothering me for the year and a half that we've been living here. With temps so cold I figured much of the ground would be frozen enough to try and get to it.

Bertie and I set off with high hopes, down the sun-dappled logging lane. I wished I'd had a video camera with me as the day was absolutely brilliant!  The tractor and I made slow and deliberate progress along the soggy brook-bottom of our property where we have so many springs and run-offs that it never truly ever freezes.

I had a couple harrowing experiences and managed to get Bertie stuck twice. But we made short work of the deep muck by using the logging winch to drag ourselves out.  There were a few slippery places and before we reached our intended destination, I decided that I should not push my luck any further.  I stopped right where I was and turned around. 

It was during this turn around that I saw a beautiful piece of popple (poplar) laying exactly where it had fallen during one of our wicked storms.  Luckily, I was prepared for this situation and had the chainsaw with me in the bucket of the tractor. I jumped off Bertie to retrieve the saw.... and fell into snow that was waist deep!

Not wanting to return home empty-handed, I soldiered on - 200 feet away was the prized poplar.  About four inches under the snow there was a decent crust which supported me ever second or third step. When I did break through the snow however, I was up to my waist. 

Have you ever seen a rhinoceros making snow angels? Me neither, but I bet that's what I looked like, struggling to get out of the deep, granular snow.

I finally gave up and started crawling.  I remembered that it's best to disperse weight on thin ice, and that this was the principle behind snow shoes (which would have been useless in the brush and around the tractor) I figured it wouldn't hurt to try moving along on all fours.   I am sure that I now appeared to be a drunken rhinoceros making snow angels.

As I was snow-swimming, dragging forty pounds of logging chains around my neck with the twenty pound chainsaw in one hand, pulling the logging cable hook in the other, I couldn't help but think that this was farmer cross-fit. I mean, I was getting a fantastic abs workout!

Anyways, it was a tough day.  A chore which is normally rather dangerous and labour intensive was made doubly so by deep snow, slippery ground from open springs and hidden obstacles. I managed to make it back to the log landing  with all my appendages and a complete tractor. That I was dragging two (practically) worthless popple logs was a small bonus.

I will not try to get wood from that area of the property by tractor, alone, again.

My log landing. 
Two popple (poplar) logs partially obscured by snow on the left.

Heavy work occupies the body and allows the mind to wander at liberty - providing both an opportunity to philosophize and a dangerous distraction. But for all that, I think I'm starting to understand farming:

Toil long, labourious hours, allowing ample opportunities to become severely wounded, and possibly killed, for that which will be infinitely more concrete, real and rewarding than pimping yourself to the highest bidder whilst slaving away at a soul-deadening, unfulfilling and completely useless job for an insulting hourly wage.

But really, what's important? Is growing food worthwhile? What about providing heat in the winter? Is it helpful to tread a bit more lightly upon the earth?  And the feeling that comes from having a direct effect on the day to day life of you and your family? Is self-esteem and the health of your body really worth it?

The answer to all of those questions, and so many more, is a resounding, "YES!"

 Eggs from our farm, beef from our friends, bread made at Marie Et Guy's from organic wheat grown and milled in New Brunswick.  Don't look at the sriracha behind the curtain!
In other news, Penny has given up being broody. In an interview, she cited lack of stimulation as the basis for her recent decision. "It was boring and I found that it was holding me back from the morning porridge," she explained.


It's been a while...

I know it's been a while since I last posted, but we've been plodding through winter just like everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere. Because I've been feeling a wee pang of guilt at ignoring all of you, I undertook a small project both to occupy our time on Sunday and to provide blog-fodder for you.

I've been reading quite a bit of Eric Sloane's work about the tools, buildings and lifestyle of historical New England. I came across this illustration in one of the books and decided that it was time to make something.

So the Boy and I decided to make a small winter sledge (or sled, sleigh or scoot, whatever your dialect) for the tractor or horse.  To that end, we slapped some boards on a pair of road-shopping skis, strapped them together with a few other boards, put a chain on the front and called it good!

Step 1 - disassemble the skis and cut the runners.
Step 2: screw the skis onto the runner boards.
Step 3: screw cross boards onto the runners.
Step 4: strap entire contraption to bored horse.

Step 5: (no photo) watch bored horse go trotting, then cantering, off without you but still attached to said contraption and bewildered, albeit deliriously happy, six year-old son.



Canada without nature?

The Boy has been on a Harry Potter kick lately.  We've been constantly bombarded by a running commentary on an imaginary Harry's comings, goings and doings.   Curious about a particular occupation mentioned in the series, I looked up "Auror" on the Harry Potter Wiki page.

While I was there, an advertising banner flashed by the top of the page and caught my attention.  I laughed.

I think perhaps The Nature Conservancy Canada missed its intended mark with this banner.  The NCC implored - What would Canada be without nature?

Uh... Hmmm... Well apparently it would be Peru.