Winter truly set in and snow covered all the random materials and projects around our new farmyard. The daily chores consisted of caring for our pigs, goats and ducks, as well as beginning to gather eggs again! The ducks began laying right before Christmas, after the stress of the move and adjusting to their new home. I quit milking once the weather was cold and let the goat mommas focus all their energy on their growing babies. I continued on at my job, driving an hour in, and an hour back home. I was extremely jealous of Andrew not having to work a job- he’d done well with his stone work contracts and had money saved up to live on over the winter. But I was coming home each day to OUR FARM, and what a blessing. In the evenings we’d work through the numbers, figuring out when we could afford for me to go fulltime at the farm. It really depended on whether we had enough CSA signups, and how well our on-farm workshops were attended. But in order to make them successful, we needed to allot time for marketing them, a catch 22 of sorts. We had to take a leap of faith at some point, but it was looking like I’d have to wait until spring to quit my day job. Then we could place all of our irons in the fire and really go for it, with the whole season ahead of us. I’d waited this long, what was a bit more time?
One thing we hadn’t thought much about while setting up our farm, was the animal watering needs in winter. The spigot on the side of the house became useless after it froze solid once the outside temperatures stayed below freezing. So, twice a day, for the next several months, we filed countless buckets with warm water from the bathtub and lugged them out to the animals. The ducks needed at least six 5 gallon buckets a day, and the pigs used about 1, while the goats usually went through 3 or 4. All the animals loved the warm water, but we did not love the aches beginning in our backs and wrists. Each bucket weighed about 40 pounds, which was awkwardly carried by a handle, pulling down on the torso. We tried to carry 2 buckets at a time to balance the weight, but if we planned for our backs to be in good shape for the long haul, we had to think about how to work smarter in the future.
I had an outside cat who’d moved with us, and after disappearing for 2 months, she reappeared on the farm. She just loved the warmth of the sunny hoophouse, curling up in the hay stack. The ducks were fascinated with her, and would cautiously follow her around. The piglets also loved to watch the cat, it was the cutest thing to watch the piglets watching the cat who was being followed by the ducks. The peace did not last long though, as the ducks had an intense interest in the bedding in the pigs’ pen, and we found a duck in there with the pigs one morning. Thinking nothing of it, we picked up the duck and lifted her out of there. The next day we found feathers in the pig pen, and our red piglet Rosie came running out of the pig hut with a wing in her mouth. Oh NO! We wrapped the outside of the hog panel pen with chicken wire, but the ducks kept getting in there, which was so exasperating and devastating. Each duck was so important to the success of our farm! Once the pigs had a taste for duck, there was no intervention, and the chicken wire kept getting wrapped higher and higher up around the pig pen. We never saw it, but it seemed the ducks were flying in or something. Finally, several days later we made a very tall fence blockade to keep the ducks in the back half of the hoophouse, away from the pigs. We learned this co-housing scenario was not as optimal as we’d thought it would be, but we had no where else to put the pigs in the deep freeze, so this had to work for now.
We were heating our home almost entirely with a woodstove, and began using it’s surface to cook on as well. We were indulging in pork like fiends, and homemade brats fried in a cast iron skillet over the woodstove- just even more so absolutely delicious! All the bones from our meals were simmered into rich stock, the gentle and consistent heat radiating up from the stove’s top seemed to make the bone broths even more supreme in flavor and body. Thickly shredded hashbrowns were fried in a huge cast iron skillet greased with lard, grits were cooked and melded with my goatmilk feta, duck eggs were gently sauteed, pots of heirloom beans simmered and softened, we even deep fried homemade tibetan momos on top of the woodstove! We weren’t cooking ingredients all grown on our farm yet, but we were getting a taste of how gratifying it was to live a life so connected to everything.
Christmas time arrived, and we met up with my family on Christmas Eve. Before the church service, my Dad, 3 sisters, Andrew and I had dinner together at a restaurant. It was the first time I’d seen my sister and her baby daughter after getting into some serious conflicts about our ethical disagreements over animal rights. The course my life was taking as a farmer, and a carnivore, had infuriated her and violently pushed us apart. The mood was tense between us, but I tried to focus on the positives, such as her baby being beautiful, healthy and an absolute joy. It was one sided though, and I felt repressed- I couldn’t be proud of or talk about our “baby” with my sister. She wanted nothing to do with our farm baby. When it came to ordering our entrees, she made a snarky comment about how I probably wanted to order something with meat in it. I tried to patiently explain to her that I didn’t eat meat that I hadn’t raised, but this differentiation fell on deaf ears.
Afterward the awkward dinner, we thankfully all drove separately to church for the Christmas Eve service. This church was the same one my Mom had made her spiritual home and where my parents had made many friendships through fellowship. The last time I’d been inside it was for her funeral, and I’d stayed away ever since that day. That night, her dear friends came over to hug us and share memories. It was a sad night, to try to relive our Christmas tradition without her. As “Silent Night” started playing and the congregation began singing, with gorgeous trumpet accompaniment from the balcony, I remembered her singing this hymn and how she would always hold her breath at the high points of the song, and I just started bawling. It was too intense, and we’d just been through such a huge year of hard work, stress, changes and dreams coming true, and I so missed her.
Christmas Day we went up north to spend a few hours with Andrew’s family, and we all had a lovely time together. I felt embraced and accepted fully by them, and this normal, functional and happy family experience was so comforting for me after the sentimental night before. When we came back home before dark, we checked on all of the animals as we did our chores and then settled in for the night. As I turned around from filing up the woodstove, Andrew was standing there, right next to me. He asked me to sit down, and got down on one knee, OMG!!!!!!!!!! His legs were shaking…..he asked me to marry him, to be his wife. This man’s sweetness, thoughtfulness, patience, kindness, tenaciousness, intelligence, well, he had totally swept me off my feet. Of course I said yes!