Answer: however you like. Really, it’s an art, not science. Sure, there are a few principles I adhere to, but every cut has to feel right. The Japanese advise trimming so that you can throw a cat through the branches. You always want to trim the waterspouts, which are the branches that grow straight up. You want to trim any branches that cross each other. And you want to open up the inside branches to the sunlight. My favorite advice regarding pruning a fruit tree was, “If you don’t want the branch, cut it. If you do want the branch, leave it.” That was so freeing. Last winter, I had one of the fussiest newborns I’ve ever dealt with, so I didn’t make it out the orchard to trim. Look how overgrown these trees are! Benja and Jack helped gather the cut branches and they even did a little sawing. With this new saw, which was a Christmas gift from my parents, it is a breeze to get into tight spaces. I can knock out a rather thick branch in seconds. Ha! Jeremie tells me he can, too, with a Sawzall. But I’m looking for a little more precision than that tool affords me. Kind of similar to the philosophy of why I don’t use a Sawzall to process hogs, anymore. Precision. Beauty. Clean cuts. Don’t these trees look so much better. A little bare, you think? Well, spring is coming!
While I love Back to Eden Gardening, I’ve always struggled with poor germination with my lettuce seeds. I think the seeds are just too tiny for the coarse wood chips. And I have a problem with creeping Bermuda grass on this fenceline. So, to remedy both of these problems, I asked Jeremie to build me a raised bed. A friend of ours had a huge cedar log on his property, so he took it to the local sawmill and we got the boards for $1/foot. Jeremie had to dig out the ground because the box is going to be set on such a steep incline. This box is nice and sturdy and very pretty. I say that because we have had boxes in the past that are not nice and sturdy or pretty Then we filled the box with old rotting wood. Ever heard of hugelkultur? It’s a method of building raised beds by mounding the dirt over piles of rotting wood. This feeds the soil and the plants with nutrients, moisture, organic matter and it makes it much easier to fill the bed. This bed is deep! We packed dirt around the wood and then I topped it all off with vermicompost from my worm bins. It still needs some more compost on top, but I can’t plant seeds for another couple of days, so I have a little time.
A friend requested that I share some of the crafts that my kids have done. This is a little house done out of make and bake it clay. Susie loves to create tiny detailed things out of clay. Notice the leaded glass front door window. She has put a tea light in the house making it an adorable night light. We aren’t big “fairy” people, but if I was a fairy, I’d definitely want to live here! This is a knife that Tommy made out of a file that he found laying around. He had to grind it down. The method includes heating the cutting edge to a different temp than the back of the blade. After heating it in a ground forge he set up, he quenched it in motor oil. I’m sure he can tell you all the details, much better than I can. I love the handle. He cut squares of leather and stacked them together. Then he ground them down to the shape he wanted for his hand. I am in awe of his craftsmanship and skill.
One of my favorite things that Jeremie has made for me is the kids’ mud kitchen. I firmly believe in the necessity of outdoor, messy, creative play. According to this article, I’m not the only one who thinks that is important.
According to the Council for Learning, much greater importance and value should be placed on outside learning in the preschool years. They strongly support the hypothesis that outside learning fosters healthy and active lifestyle development. They believe it promotes a strong sense of well-being, freedom and independence; while simultaneously encourages respect of nature, the environment and animals.
Although It’s not only my preschool children who delight to concoct in the mud kitchen. We all, from Momma to baby, have been known to be mixing and simmering and cutting and dicing in this fabulous outdoor playspace!
I picked up a playhouse free on Craigslist! It was a bit dirty and moldy. No problem! I’d seen this cleaning hack on Pinterest and tried it out. A drill and a round kitchen scrubbie brush. Works great! Benjamin loved scrubbing this house all up. It’s funny, but Jeremie and I have such different standards of cleanliness. He is a “if you’re going to do it, do it right” kind of guy. I’m a “get-er-done” type of girl. Goodness, this house is going to be played with outside. It’s going to be muddy and dirty again in no time. So we scrubbed for longer than I would’ve liked and less time than he would’ve liked and surprised Ruthie with it on her birthday. It’s been mild enough this January that the girls have played in it numerous times. It’s the perfect little addition to our fabulous mud kitchen set up.
You know those annoying people who think all there is to riding horses is just to sit there? Charlotte is quickly learning how foolish that is to even think! She has been excelling at her riding lessons and learning quickly. She needs to build up her muscles which just takes time and repetition and effort. After Jeremie took her to one of her lessons, he came home with plans to build her a jump of her own. She has been practicing trotting and cantering over the poles, now she has a place to practice her two-point over a cross jump. Now if we could just train Buddy not to leave horse apples in the front yard…
The other day, Jeremie and Tommy went over to help a neighbor install a dishwasher. While they were there, they met a nice gentleman by the name of Tommy F. Mr F. took a liking to the other Tommy and dropped by out the blue and gifted him a bow for hunting. He was so considerate in taking Jeremie aside to ask privately if this was ok, before revealing this gift to anyone else. What a special thing to do! What a way to encourage a young man! To tell him that he wanted to gift him this bow because Tommy was a nice, kind, smart, respectful, boy who was interested and engaged in life. So the day after that, Mr. F. drops by with a cooler full of catfish! We have never processed catfish, so he had to show us how. He kept exclaiming, “Oh! All these babies and all these knives!” It was really funny because all the kids from Benjamin on up have sharp Victronix knives because they all help process the animals around here. Mr. F. is missing three of his fingers because he sister accidentally dropped a sharp ax on them when he was only 5! So I’d say his fear and caution around knives and sharp things is well warranted. But anyway, all the fish got processed and fried up for dinner. I’ve always declined to eat fish, but I have been inconsistent in my distaste, because I quite enjoy sushi, as pointed out to me by Jeremie. “You won’t eat fried fish, but you’ll eat raw fish?!” Um, yeah, I guess that about sums it up.
Let’s jump from birthdays to bloodbaths. Nothing is more exciting to me than learning how to process my own meats. Well, a few things are, I suppose. But this ranks right up there at the top. So when I heard that our local state representative was hosting a hog kiiling, well I signed right up. This was quite a large operation. He had two tractors going, a huge scalding tank that was so big I couldn’t even see into it, a 50 gallon cast iron kettle for cracklin’s, and power tools! I’m not so interested in the killing, scalding, gutting stages. I only want to work on carcasses that have no head or innards. But Jeremie and Tommy helped with that part. There were two fires going under the scalding tank to get it up to heat. The scraping process was surprisingly easy. And Jeremie says the gutting was pretty much the same as doing a deer. Then a sawzall was used to cut the carcass in half. Our host hired a processor from Yoder Bro Meats to come and cut up the halves into useable pieces. He showed us where the bacon, leaf fat, picnic, boston, spare ribs and shoulder roasts were cut from. I tried my hand at piecing out a hog and it was fairly easy and straight forward. I’ve since been watching videos from the farmstead meatsmith and hope to learn to divide a hog carcass with more care and finesse. There was a grinder there for making sausage and a sausage stuffer as well. The weather this day was in the single digits and my toes got froze. People had come from all over the state to join in this tradition. I am so looking forward to transforming some of the grunting, wallowing hogs in our pasture into succulent bacon and chops!
We’ve had a slew of birthdays here at the Funny Farm in the past month. It actually started last year, ha! Gloria turned one on December 25. But we’ve decided to postpone her celebration by 6 months. We will be treating June 25 as her (1/2) birthday in the hopes that she will enjoy having a summer birthday, far removed from all the holiday hustle. It was mildly hard to let the actual anniversary of her birth pass unnoticed, especially because babies change so much in the first year. Walking, talking, sleeping, eating. Huge milestones. But I contented myself with a whispered “happy birthday” and an extra sweet hug.
Susie was next on the birthday roster… January 11. She turned 13 this year. The year of the ring, we call it. As our girls grow and mature, their daddy wants to make sure they know how special they are to him. He wants to ask for their trust. He wants to ask for their heart. He takes each one out for a special night and reaches out to them and gifts them with a special ring. Susie is a delight to us. Quiet, sweet, helpful, kind and insightful. She produces the most amazing crafts I’ve ever seen. Tiny fairy houses. Miniature clay creations. Wood and leather items of all kinds. She is diligent in her chores and finds satisfaction in a job well done. I cannot begin to quantify the joy she brings to us all! Ruthie’s birthday was just two days after Susie’s. And what an anti-climatic day this was. Ruthie has gotten it into her head that she is “5”, just like her big brother, Jack. She will tell me that they are “twins”. I think this has less to do with wanting to be twins with Jack, as it does with wanting to not be “younger” than him. So when the morning of the 13th came, she was quite crestfallen to realize that she was, in fact, turning only 3. Oh, the disappointments of youth. Ruthie has been a darling since the day she was born. Full of character and not a little sass. Perhaps she is a bit spoiled by her mama, I fully realize. Her favorite things are her good bippy, Sofia, yogurt, calico critters, girl legos, Barbies, lipstick, clementines and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They are really peanut butter and honey sandwiches, but she insists they are jelly. She doesn’t eat the skins of apples, so I often find little crescent apple slices laying about, half eaten. She won’t kiss you if she has lipstick on, but will tell you that you may kiss her on the cheek, if you like. The other day she was mourning in the car because she left the house without her hair being curled. She has worn the same silver dress for over a month. Every day, including church on Christmas Eve. She often pouts with crossed arms, which will get her in a bit of trouble with Daddy. Tommy comes next. He turned 15 this year. At times, during his youth, Tommy may have pushed me to the brink. He may have caused a few sleepless nights. He may have caused me to scratch my head in bewilderment, or pull out my hair in frustration. But Tommy has become one of my most favorite people. He has such a kind heart. He is patient to help anyone out. His mind is constantly running with questions, seeking new ways to do things, new ideas, inventions. He is a mess, but I must admit, he comes by that honestly. He has passed me by in height, to his delight. I am so proud of the fine young man he is.