No denying it

Today I headed over to the university library with a coworker to work on an iTunes U issue. I chose to do it there in order to stop and say hi to Bea and the kids, who like to hang out a little while after Ariana’s band practice. I went down to the basement and picked up my coffee from Bea, and headed back up to meet my coworker. As we came back down, he jokingly asked if I knew them, referring to my family. I said “Nope, I have never seen them before, why do you ask?” Then Ethan piped up from their table a few yards away “Yeah, you only made us with your sperm!”

Heh.

Maybe we are being a little too open?

A new life begins

I must say, I love this house. Today, after mowing the lawn, and after yesterday’s cleanup of the walnut fiasco, planting supplies, and bicycles that were cluttering the carport, the place looked tidy. We have full ownership of the pole-barn (the previous owner, and our new neighbor, Mark, had use of it for 60 days), and now the mower is in there, along with one of the cars, the bikes, and the planting supplies. So now we can start unpacking stuff from the shed in earnest, since the shed is not all cluttered up with the items mentioned above.

We went for a hike in the afternoon, and picked up some chips and sausages to grill from the Hanover Market on our way home. There were still some peppers, apples, and acorn squash from local food stands, so we tossed those on with the sausages. Bea put a light up in the veranda, and we were able to enjoy our grilled meal outside as the sky darkened to deep blue in the west. Dawn, Mark’s wife stopped by, coming along the hedge-row to asked for some technical advice. She brings gifts every time she comes.

Last night, when EZ woke us up at 4 am complaining of foot cramps, we decided it was the perfect time to see if the Orionids were busy. So Bea and I grabbed a sleeping bag each and spent 45 minutes lying in the driveway, counting meteors. I saw 28, and Bea says she saw more, but can’t say how many since she was not actually couting. We would have shared a sleeping bag, but they were small. The stars here are magnificent. We have been out at night on a blanket as a family, staring up at the Milky Way, Vega, and the major and minor Ursas several times in the last month. I plan to get the kids up early tomorrow to see if we can catch some more Orionid action. [Note: we did see them, and as I write this up, we are flipping through Peter’s Stikky Night Skies book.]

On a more happy/sad note, we found out why Ginger was being ornery. One day last week when the kids went out to feed the rabbits in the morning, they found that she had given birth to 4 cubs. Because we did not know she was pregnant, the poor things had not survived. Well, except for one. So the kids thought we might be able to nurse it back to health, but Mom and Dad knew better. It was Ginger’s first litter, and she was no more prepared than we were. I buried them when I got home from work. It was traumatic for Bea and the kids, but not without opportunity for learning. Ginger has been much more docile. But Cottontail has had an eye infection and was getting pretty tired of having his eye pried open, and a syringe shoved in his mouth. His eye is looking better, but he seems to be holding a grudge…

The walnut project was primarily doomed by sheer volume. We shelled and cleaned several hundred nuts, but still had a couple thousand left in boxes, and hundreds more on the ground and in the tree. If we plan on harvesting in the future, we are going to have to have a streamlined method for processing them. Otherwise, they will end up like most of them did this year, in a pit near the border of our property, where they can “cure naturally”, but more likely be thrown into the nearby fire pit. Mark says this year was a “light” year. Oh dear.

Part of our dreams of self-sufficient living have been growing our own fruit, so when Bea found that a local nursery was clearing out all their stock due to a barn fire, she picked up 4 cherry trees, 3 apple, and one pear. I have a preference for blueberries, so I ordered 4 varieties on ebay from a guy in Ohio. Last weekend I finally was able to finish planting all 12 plants. It is odd to be doing something that is long-term. Fruit trees do not really produce much for the first 5-7 years, and the ones we bought are all 3 years old. Blueberries are similar, except they do produce, but you are supposed to pinch off the flowers for the first 3-5 years. Ours are 3 years old, so we should be pinching for at least another year. So we have just put all these plants and bushes in, but will not really see them produce for another 2-3 years. That is new for us. We have rarely lived in the same house for more than 2 years, so putting a lot of work into something that will not payoff until we have lived here longer than we have ever lived anywhere is a little mind boggling for us.

Strange breed

One of the problems from mixing our genes:

A son that is too lazy to try to win, but hates to loose.

A boy who takes 45 minutes to do a 5 minute job, and then asks why the kids have to do all the work.

A kid that refuses to pick up the nuts that his sister collected at his feet, until they are both told to pick up fifty each, and then he claims the pile for himself.

Providence

Sunday afternoon we were hanging around the house. The walnuts had already been cleaned, and I was sitting down to see if our Internet connection was working. We started hearing yelling outside the house, and we went to the windows to see what the cause was. There was a white van by the side of the road, with a trailer on the back that had a large box or crate with tarps and straps covering it. The driver, a man dressed in black jeans and shirt, was poking under the hood. As I stepped outside, the yelling became clearer and I recognized it as the sound of a lonely goat.

I walked down to see if there was anything I could do to help. It seems they had a short in their engine wiring, and it was blowing the fuse. We found some wire and tried bridging the contacts, bypassing the fuse, but that just caused a lot of smoke to come out from under the engine (yikes!). It turns out they (the driver, his wife and their 3 kids) had picked up a milking goat about a mile down the road from us. They had driven down from near Frankenmuth (only about 125 miles away) to pick up this goat because it is difficult to find a milking goat this time of year (that is not a Nubian Dwarf).

It looked like the van wasn’t going anywhere, so we pushed it into the driveway and hooked the trailer up to our Taurus wagon, and took the goat back. The poor girl, she was quite vocal about being left alone in that crate. Once we got back from returning the goat, the tow truck had arrived. Due to the complexities of obtaining a taxi or rental car way out where we live on a Sunday evening, Greg (the guy with the van and the goat) asked if he could pay me to take them home, or at least closer to home.

Knowing of no reason to say no, and enjoying the adventure, I said “Sure!” He rode with the tow truck, and his wife and kids (plus ours) hopped in the car. The younger kids were pretty lively in the car, and I finally suggested that they play “animal vegetable, mineral” to pass the time. They had quite a bit of fun with that, and it made it easier to focus on the road, and chat up front. It turns out that Greg and his family pretty much have a farm, with several goats, many chickens, over a hundred rabbits, not to mention pigs, a horse, and a pony (all the details are a little fuzzy, but you get the idea).

We arrived at Greg’s brother’s house near Flint, and waited a few minutes for the tow truck to arrive. Greg offered to pay me, but I really could not see asking for more than the cost of gas. I told him that $15 would be fine. He conceded, but made sure we knew that they were also going to give us rabbits, and wanted to know what kind we wanted (meat, show, or pets?). I agreed to letting him give us two pet rabbits, but he persisted by telling me that when we have a chicken coop built, let them know, and we will have chickens.

So on Wednesday evening, Greg stopped by with two Mini Rex rabbits (exactly what little A had picked out when browsing through rabbit books months ago), a cage, a twenty questions game for the kids, two quarts of raw goats milk, fresh eggs (including tiny bantam ones and Auracauna green ones), candy corn (B’s favorite), and sneakily, some cash in a thank you card. We chatted for over an hour, and it was great fun. It turns out that the van repair may be simple, and the towing was free (AAA Plus).

In the end, they got their goat, and a ride home. We got rabbits and futures on chickens (Bohnanza jargon). We were all blessed by each other’s presence and God’s providence. We have new friends in Michigan!

The kids are totally excited about the rabbits, and have named them Ginger and Cottontail. They are papered (can be shown), and have ear tats to identify them (Ginger is ARI12, and Cottontail is ETH08). Ginger is more feisty and a little nervous. Cottontail is more curious and tolerates more handling. Both are adorable.

Cottontail watches the tractor drive by

Busy weekend

Last weekend was an interesting one. We had our first “soft” frost! It was exciting, even if it only lasted until the sun shone on it.

We have several black walnut trees in our yard, one big, and 3 smaller. All produce walnuts, but the big one is full. It is scary to see the occasional hailstorm of almost baseball sized hard green walnuts pelting the earth. So far none of us have been caught under the tree at the time. The kids go out and collect the fallen nuts daily and put them in a large box for shucking later. On Sunday I shucked 130, about 1/6th of a box. I wore latex gloves to avoid getting stained hands, but I will wear something thicker next time.

I placed each nut on the side of a cement well house foundation, and then hit it repeatedly with a hammer until the nut came free of the husk. As I did this, the juice would splatter here and there. I may have a few temporary freckles…

It was a somewhat laborious process, but in the end I had a 5 gallon bucket 1/3 full with shucked walnuts. I let them soak, and cleaned them off. Once I was confident I was not going to get any more remaining husk off, I rinsed them and laid them out to dry.

Black walnuts look quite a bit different than the english walnut you might buy in the store. They are smaller, but have a very rough shell, and are usually husked by placing (or leaving) them in the driveway and rolling over them with your car. We have already collected 3 times as many as you see here, and the tree still looks full

In other news, we now have 2 rabbits, Ginger and Cottontail. The story behind them will be the next post, but for now, say “Awww!”

Local harvest

Not having a garden ourselves yet, we have been scouring the county looking for sources of local fresh vegetables. LocalHarvest.com helped a little, but there is a noticeably bare patch right around where we live. We *could* drive 15-20 miles to the farmer’s markets in the nearby cities, but we are surrounded by farms! There *must* be someone selling fresh produce close by… and it is not the local market in Hanover, which carries no organics, and not even natural peanut butter.

At some point we noticed a sign on our way home from B’s parent’s place that said “Fresh veggies” with an arrow pointing up the road. We ignored it a few times since it was a little out of the way. Then we decided one Sunday to check it out. It is an unmanned stand with some of the best produce we have seen for very, very good prices.

There was a good variety too. As we go back each week (sometimes twice a week) we find new stock as the seasons come and go.

Little A bought some gladiolas, and a week later they are still blooming in the livingroom.

We decided to do what we would do if we had our own garden: take advantage of the bounty and do some pickling!

Turn the page

Big step for the Michigan Shacks. We are now officially home-owners. We also own a garden tractor (like a riding mower, only you can put a plow, tiller, cart, or even a back hoe on it), a shed, a pole-barn, and 1.61 acres of land. That is a lot of grass.

I know these are not really of the house, but we had more reasons to want to live here than just the house…

The next step? We plan to built a chicken yard in which to place a coop, and a few layers. Hillsdale county fair is at the end of September and we fully intend to win a few small livestock auctions. There may be a few rabbits in there too. Still not sure about a dog, but that may be around the corner. We will hold off on the goats for a little while. Maybe in the spring.

… and the details

The place is 9 miles from work, and is surrounded by farm land. The seller owns 60+ acres and had recently finished building a new place further back from the road and decided to sell the original farm house. It was built in the 1800’s, and is in good condition. The basement is made with field stones (they are the stones that get turned up in a field when it is plowed), and the floor beams are logs, with bark. The floorboards on the first floor are made from one inch planks (unfortunately, they are currently covered in carpet). The total lot size is one and a third acres, which is plenty for what we would want to do. There are mature trees, and even a *huge* maple that looks to be over 200 years old that would probably take three men holding hands to hug it. Maybe that is not the best way to describe it’s girth, but you get the idea.

The seller, and soon to be neighbor is a very nice guy that loves the land, and the history that goes with it. I look forward to learning all the details myself. The fields that he owns are leased out and alternate crops between corn and soy.

The commute will be about 10 minutes, and all on beautiful country roads. There are villages 2 miles, 4 miles, 6 miles, and 9 miles away, so there are plenty of ways to find the services we need (post office, library, grocery, hardware, etc.). The closest bigger city is 16 miles away.

Oh, yeah, 3 bedrooms, one bathroom, a carport and veranda, a pole barn, and a two roomed shed. The master bedroom is actually two rooms, which is very nice for a sleeping/bed chamber and a sitting room.

If I left out some standard detail, just ask.

Final

This will be our last weekend in this house on the lake. The weather looks like it will be glorious, and although we will spend the bulk of it moving furniture and other heavy objects, we will still have a chance to enjoy it.

The next few months we will live in the upstairs of B’s parents house, which thankfully is quite spacious. The kids already have friends close by, and the daily commute will be about two thirds what it was. There will also be more car sharing, so the fuel budget should also go down. We are actually looking forward to this interlude in our housing journey.

We will miss some of our neighbors here (and their extended family), but are glad that we will not be so far away that getting together is impossible.

We will see how this multi-generational living thing works…