Rain and Illness

I must say we have had better days. We had thunderstorms last night, and heavy rain. Today we have more heavy rain. Nicholas is back in bed with a headache. I am hiding indoors with another attack of angio-edema. It is slowly abating, but it looks frightful, and is somewhat painful. I have no idea what triggered this flare-up, if was mould or allergy or another virus. I’m guessing virus, as we have both had watery eyes, sore throats and a general feeling of being kicked around a bit.

There’s not much to be done outside, except feeding and watering goats, so with all the antihistamines I’ve taken, a day of slow reading on the couch seems to be in order.

Crofting: Bucky Improves and Almost Kills Me

The Morrisons on their croft

This is where we are going to be vis-a-vis transportation if petrol prices do not recede. They won’t; so I am actively looking for a low-cost horse and cart solution. I paid $1.24/litre for gas today. Multiply that by four to get an approximate cost per gallon. The prices were lower in Grand Falls than in Perth, where I shopped, but I needed to go to Perth first, and then didn’t want to risk attempting the voyage up the Trans-Canada to Grand Falls on less than a quarter-tank. As I filled up at the Irving station, a young man in a new VW bug pulled up across from me. The new “people’s car” is no longer rear engine and air-cooled, so I assume it is a little thirstier than the old models I had. “I used to fill up my bug for $10,” I said to him, just to show that I am old enough to be his mother. “Not anymore,” he said, pumping $30+. I put $50 in my almost empty Dodge Dakota, and that has to last most of the month if not all of the month. We used to take a monthly trip to Fredericton, but no more, as that would now cost us about $80. Without a second income, we can’t afford it. Once I drop off the rent check, the hydro (electric) bill comes in and I pick up Nicholas’s Crestor prescription, that will be all we need for the month. I try to spend the income right away, pay up everything I can, and then sit on what is left. I am quite concerned that we always have enough on hand to buy at least a tank of fuel for the truck. I may have a wee bit extra coming this month, if Canada Post every decides to deliver mail. The strike will supposedly be off next week.

I suppose I could get a small cart and harness Bucky. He is feeling much better, thank you. The abcess has drained and is mostly gone, with just a small bump left. The goat salve treatment must have helped. I am brewing some more rosemary tea for their drinking water tonight. He is feeling so frisky that when I was clipping him to his tire rim picket, he decided he needed to go see what Vanilla was doing, and wrapped the cable around me, dragging me along. It took all of that old sea training to keep me on my feet as we pitched together in tandem for a good ten feet or more. I staked down his tire rim, as he now knows he can haul it around.

My friend Sonja said her grandfather used to get around by goat cart. I can see it now, Bucky and I bumping down the old railroad right of way along the St. John River. I’m not sure what people in Perth-Andover would think. There are some good spots to tie up, but would someone who doesn’t know how strong goats are report me to the SPCA? I once had some troublemaker call the SPCA to report that I was neglecting the sheep. I was away for a long weekend, and my neighbour and fellow pastor, Kimber, was looking after the animals. They knew her as the second-in-command, and she was a really good substitute shepherd. An SPCA worker came to the yard and asked if they could examine the animals. Kimber, in fact, was a bit miffed. She had been attending to the sheep diligently, with grain and water, and as it was summer, they were on meadowgrass, too. “Go right ahead,” Kimber said, and took them to the pasture. “Well,” the SPCA worker said as he looked at the plump, happy sheep who came running to the fenceline. “Actually, they look maybe a little overfed. Nothing wrong here.” (This was repeated in another location; I now suspect that the supposed SPCA worker in the second instance was trying to find an excuse to take my purebred animals to a relative who was interested in keeping them. Yes, that can happen. The SPCA is not a government ordained agency, and most of the time the courts are simply not interested in an owner’s complaint if animals are removed unfairly.)

Today I met a man in the market where I went to get my feed. He was buying dog toys, the kind that is like a tennis ball with a heavy line through it. He said to me as I ordered feed and bedding, “Funny, this is for my goat.” I looked incredulous, I’m sure, or at least puzzled. “Yup,” he said, “she needs something to keep her busy and she can’t chew these to pieces.” I have found my goats trying to nibble on pieces of polypro line, which is a big mistake. I have never thought to buy them toys, though. My sheep used to have toys – a big indestructible playground ball, and a tough polyurethane tub which they enjoyed kicking and butting. A tub can be filled halfway with water, and apples put in it, then frozen in a chest freezer. It will keep goats, sheep and calves amused all afternoon.

Crofting: Gains and Challenges

Uncle Buck

Poor Buck – he got stung by a bee or bit by a deerfly, and developed a large swelling on his shoulder. It didn’t bother him much, so I salved it with my home-made goat salve (olive oil, tea tree oil, a wee bit of vitamin e, lavender oil, and beeswax) and left it alone for about a week. It reduced by half but it was kind of ugly. Rather than lancing it and risking who knows what in infection, I thought it would either be re-absorbed or would drain on its own. Yuck. It drained; horrible congealed pus. I cleaned it up with an infusion of rosemary and daisy flowers (dried herb in boiling water). He was very patient with the whole process, even though I had to tie him to the stall door. I sopped at it with surgical sponges, then bound on a sponge or two with sticky cloth to catch the rest. In the evening I removed that, washed it again, salved it, and bandaged him. He has been good so far about the bandage; I’ll find out for sure in a few minutes when I go to shut the barn. I diluted the rest of the clean rosemary infusion, and all three goats had a long, tasty drink of it. Rosemary is an excellent tonic and antiseptic. I drink it myself when ill, especially with colds. I do use a teacup and not a steel bucket, though. It is good tepid for a sick animal, with honey stirred in. I find that just about any animal, when ill, will relish rosemary tea with honey. It should be natural, unpasteurized honey, added while the tea is tepid and not hot. Heat destroys the medicinal properties of honey.

I have been using mixed pine and cedar shavings in the goat stalls, and this is working well. It keeps down the flies and the stall doesn’t become as mucky. I am also experimenting with raking up our lawn clippings (note: as long as hay) as green hay for the goats. I put some loose in the barn to dry, and this got them through a couple of rainy days. The rest was turned today by rake (hot, sweaty work) and I hope to get it in tomorrow. The shortest grass clippings just mouldered and bred flies, so that will go to compost. It was the good long grass and “weeds” – wildflowers – that dried well without mold.

Nikki just called from Moncton; she and her husband are visiting his family near here over the long weekend (Canada Day is July 1). They are bringing us replacement tomato and pepper plants. What few of my starts that survived the storm have been depleted by crows, who love to pull up the little cocoa-fibre pots I used. That was an entirely unsuccessful experiment, and this year I am saving all my soup cans and other containers, and will not use the “plant-it-whole” starting pots. The crows love them. I have found the old bottomless buckets used here previously for tomatoes and peppers, and even pumpkins, to foil crows. Once the cucurbit plant is well-established, the bucket can be removed.

My beans, radishes, lettuce and cucumbers as well as pumpkin and squash are up and doing well. Peas and beets are in. I am contemplating how to make hot caps or row covers if I need them into the fall. I will get some fall type crops in soon, like kale and rutabagas, that love the cold weather and do better after a frost or two.

Beans are important to us. These are drying beans, which will be our winter staple. I have one potato plant from my experiment with planting in tubs. Potatoes are grown locally. I can get plenty from farmers I know, but I was hoping for some early baby potatoes.

I closed my Facebook account. It was getting to be a lot of work; I was engaged in a lot of ministry through it and I got kind of burned out. We call it compassion fatigue, when caregivers (ministers, nurses, social workers, doctors) can’t put the work down, and it starts to prey on one’s mind. Facebook is also a place where people quickly jump to offense, and balancing how and what to say while being effective in my Christian witness was getting to be wearing. I was quite upset that a good friend thought I had insulted her, but her memory of that event doesn’t match mine. Explanations sometimes seem to be fruitless, too.

We are also in a conundrum of what to do about the internet connection. It is expensive for us. I am not making any money through it, as I had hoped. Friends have referred me to a couple more opportunities, and if they can pay enough, I will keep this connection. I am still praying, although in the face of probable disapointment, for ministry and parish opportunities. I have asked for an interview with the bishop, and friends are writing letters in my behalf, following up on letters written last year, and my own recent letter. We’ll see.

Crofting: 10 More Ways to Make it Work

As we get settled here, more ideas occur to me on what can make life a bit easier, or at least a bit easier to bear.

1. Don’t be proud. Accept offered help, call the friendly neighbour, introduce yourself. You may need them, they may need you, and it does get quiet and lonely out here.

2. Take a day off and make some ice cream. Once the animals are fed and there is at least bread and peanut butter in the house, give yourself a day off occasionally.

3. Have enough softwood on hand to start a fire. This is always a challenge for us. I don’t want to spend good money on pine, honestly. So it is either scavenge pretty well or bite the bullet and buy.

4. Don’t be a thief. Things not to steal: Someone’s time, lost items by the side of the road, things bought on the “pay you next week” plan. My landlady had a good way of putting it, when I praised her for being so completely honest with the insurance company: “Isn’t my integrity worth more than $500?” Your integrity, and the trust people will put in you for having it, is worth more than whatever small amount you gained by some random dishonesty. Another petty “theft” to avoid: Furniture, tools, materials from “abandoned” buildings – tempting to just take them, thinking they are long forgotten, but they aren’t, necessarily, so stay out of other people’s barns and old houses. People have been prosecuted and gone to court over the old table, the butter churn, the windows, they harvested from “abandoned” buildings. I am still replacing scythes, hay forks and hand tools thieves took from my shed a couple of years ago, and I lost heirlooms when my garage was raided while we were in the process of moving. As for items that literally fell off the back of a truck –  ask the owner of the property on which it is resting if you can take it away.

5. Be a good tenant. While we will never win any “House Beautiful” contests, I do make it a point to keep trash and loose items stowed properly, and we notify the landlord immediately of any problems rather than waiting to see if it is getting worse. Rent paid on time is always welcome, too!

6. Know when to move on. Not necessarily from your croft, but don’t overstay your welcome in borrowed sheds, barns, fields. It can sour a good relationship with your landlord, neighbours, friends and relatives when you leave livestock, car parts, old furniture and household bits and bobs in their space.

7. Join a church. Rural communities are often centred on churches. If you are not deeply opposed to organized religion and have at least some heart for the spiritual, being part of an established church will give you not only food for your soul, but a network of people who will refer, help, listen and show up in an emergency.

8. Work on projects in stages. We need to put up fence, build a chicken coop, and continue to beat a garden into shape. Things did not go as we hoped or expected for a wide scope of reasons. When life events gang up on you, throttle back, relax, break each planned task into smaller parts and do what you can. Otherwise, you will be tempted to give up.

9. The reality will not match the dream in your head. I would have loved a river view, upland farm with a big barn and established fences. I have a small croft up a cliff, mostly level, with an old garage and no fence. I could have said, “No, this isn’t it,” but we would have missed honest and charitable landlords, a well-drained soil, the opportunity to rebuild a small farm, and proximity to a community we know and love.

10. Be encouraged by small gains. Chickens are laying after weeks of adjusting feed and housing? Excellent! The lettuce is up even if cutworms ate the tomatoes? Have Casear salad. No money, petrol or time for an evening trip to town for dinner and the theatre? Invite the neighbours in for coffee and Scrabble.

So maybe you have to forget all the enthusiastic blogs you’ve read, and relegate cravings for big city pizza to the next get-together with your family. Maybe it isn’t all Sunshine Family and John Denver. It’s still a good way to live.

The Croft: Getting It Under Control – Maybe

WordPress is being finicky about loading photos this week, so I will put off a post that needs illustration until I can wrangle it back into submission.

Our riding lawnmower (well, Paul’s riding lawnmower that lives here) is repaired and running. The battery was low and it wouldn’t turn over. Paul charged it and showed me what I was doing wrong. Then he decided it needed to be run for a while, but Milli and I went off to my kitchen for tea and chat. Paul mowed all around the barn and gardens, after he replaced the belt on the mower. Oh. That too?

These good people are very tolerant of my inability to manage machinery. The tiller – broke a shear pin and replaced it wrong. The mower – ran the battery down and popped the belt. The water pump – well, that wasn’t my fault but who knows; maybe I attract lightning strikes.

We are still hacking at the second garden plot. My neolithic garden is very slowly turning into plantable soil. I put in some peas and beets today. Nicholas pounds at the sods and lumps, I pick out the rocks and rake smooth the worst of it, then literally sprinkle or shove some seeds in. Nice modern gardens prepared properly iwth machinery have straight rows, and the plants are tidy in their soldier-like columns. My garden is full of hills and wavy beds, with smatterings of plants coming up. Neolithic. We think of it as yet another one of my adventures in pre-iron age technology.

Garden Disaster

Thunderstorms…they happen everywhere. One happened right over the house two weeks ago. Did you know that lightning often travels from the ground to the clouds? And that’s probably what happened here. Our neighbour was standing in his garage when a plasma ball erupted over our roof. He actually felt the shock.

We lost more than half our garden, either snapped off by wind or drowned in a curtain of heavy rain.

The water pump was destroyed, the outside phone switch was so badly damaged that the cover was blown off, and our internet modem was fried. Outside of one phone that had been purchased five years ago for $7, all has been replaced or repaired or salvaged.

Next week I will get a few tomato plants and such to replace what was lost; Canadian Tire has them marked down.

We are still struggling to get the second garden plot in shape. I have heedlessly planted what I called my “Neolithic” garden – it is full of rocks. The rocks will get picked out, the sod busted or moved, and I will get another row of beans or carrots or beets in.

It is not a beautiful garden. It is an example of what one two-bottom plow and two people with a pick-axe and a hoe can do in a short period of time. Some of it may stay in sod until fall, when I truly hope to get fields plowed and harrowed properly.

Lesson: People on this side of the river, at this end of the road, are not farming anymore. We will have to look at our own equipment; I am serious about getting a horse or a team, and a plow, a harrow, and hay making equipment. All it takes is money and a little training. I am being blithely optimistic, because I have no hope of getting the money anytime soon. But God is good, and if the opportunity arises, I will thank Him and rise to the challenge.

BACK AGAIN!

I didn’t mean to be away, but we lost internet service for two weeks following a lightning strike on the house. We were unharmed, but the modem was ruined, our water pump was blasted, and we lost phone service. We continue to work like mad on the garden – which suffered terribly in the storm – and with the goats. No, no kids yet. I will write a much more complete post tomorrow.