Single Day Difference

Yes, I know it’s a cliche. But I’m going to say it anyhow: What a difference a single day can make.

About seven miles up the road from us, a big operation called Pregitzer Farm Market sells all kinds of wonderful produce. It’s the kind of place where you can take the kids to a corn maze, let them pet some sheep and goats, and come home with a bundle of fresh vegetables and eggs.

They also have one of the biggest pumpkin patches I’ve ever seen. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s easily five acres or more. Throughout October, you can go out to that field and pick your own pumpkin; this year, I think they were charging five bucks in the days leading up to Halloween.

But it’s not Halloween anymore. Who wants to spend five bucks for a pumpkin on November 1st? What’s a farm market to do with that many acres of leftover produce?

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Simple: they open it up to anyone who wants to pack their own truckload of pumpkins. Price per truckload? Ten Bucks. In other words, one of the best deals ever. You just need some kind of use for those pumpkins.

And we do. Our sheep and goats love pumpkins. The chickens and turkeys peck at the leftovers all day long, too.

Our truck isn’t currently road worthy, but Pregitzer’s isn’t picky about the type of vehicle you use — or how full you load it. They just want the pumpkins out of there. I decided to take all the back seats out of our minivan, and load it to the gills.

And I do mean to the gills:

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I bet you didn’t think a person could fit that many pumpkins into a Dodge Caravan. Here’s a view from the front:

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I made a total of four trips, sometimes with a kid. The almost-eight-year-old boy thought this was especially great fun. My biggest challenge was convincing him to leave the huge pumpkins alone, and to focus on gathering the smaller ones. (Naturally, he went straight for the ones that probably weigh as much as he does.)

If you’re a kid, how many times do you see the family minivan transformed this way? And get to ride in it? He had an absolute blast. The biggest challenge for me was driving slowly and carefully back to our farm. To say that the van’s handling characteristics were a bit more sloppy than usual, and that increased stopping distance was required, would be gross understatements.

Once home, we tossed several pumpkins to the goats. They came running, and went right to work chowing the things down.

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We also gave several pumpkins to the sheep, out in the pasture. We will continue to feed a few of these to each group of livestock, every day.

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I got every available kid to help unload the van into the upstairs portion of the barn.  This wasn’t nearly as much fun as making the trip to the pumpkin patch, but many hands made light work.

As I said, I made a total of four trips over the last week. Even so, and even with other people getting their own loads, the pumpkin patch looks barely dented. My understanding is that Pregitzer’s people will soon be running a disc over the whole field, plowing the remaining pumpkins under in preparation for next spring. Kind of sad, and I hate seeing a single pumpkin go to waste, but the weather’s turning nasty (and I really don’t have time to get over there again, anyway).

Besides, the supply we do have should last us a good long time:

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I must say: finding these kinds of surplus produce deals, and putting to good use something that would otherwise be wasted, is one of the things I especially enjoy about having livestock. There’s an apple orchard a few miles from us, and every fall our oldest daughter runs over there and gets boxes of damaged windfall fruit that otherwise would’ve ended up in a compost pile. Instead, thanks to our daughter, these apples become a wonderful treat for the sheep and goats.

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And hopefully, in just under seven weeks, we’ll again be loading up the van with unsold fresh Christmas trees!

Julia’s Gifts

As a single woman, who wasn’t even dating anyone at the time, the young Mrs-Yeoman-Farmer-to-be did something unusual: She bought a wedding dress.

As I said, she wasn’t in a relationship. She and I hadn’t even met. But she was absolutely certain she was going to get married … and that this dress would be perfect. And, besides, it was being displayed on the clearance rack, marked down to a fraction of its original price. How could she pass that up?

She made the purchase, and then had it vacuum packed for long term storage. We met a few years later … I proposed … she unpacked the dress and had it fitted … and it was stunning. After our wedding, she had the dress cleaned and repacked. And that’s where it’s remained, in waiting for our daughter(s) to hopefully use someday.

Imagine if, instead of a wedding dress, a young  woman in MYF’s position were to make or purchase a special Christmas gift for her future husband. And then another special gift, the next Christmas. And again. All without being engaged in courtship with any man — let alone being certain of who that man would someday be.

Sound weird? You bet it does — but also quite touching, and romantic, all at the same time. And that’s the premise of Ellen Gable’s new historical romance novel, Julia’s Gifts. Set around the time of American entry into World War I, Julia is a recent high school graduate living in Philadelphia. For several Christmases in a row, she has been accumulating gifts for her future beloved: hand-knit wool socks, a nice journal / notebook, a Miraculous Medal (because she’s sure he’ll be Catholic), and an engraved pocket watch.

Julia and her best friend decide, almost on impulse, to volunteer as medical assistants with the Red Cross. Soon thereafter, they are crossing the Atlantic on a ship with many other young women. Julia’s instincts told her she should take along the box of gifts-for-her-beloved; naturally, we sense that she will find him somewhere in Europe.

With the recent anniversaries of the Great War, you’ve no doubt seen and heard quite a bit about the causes and the battles. I know I have. But this story gives a very different perspective on what the War wrought: the mangled bodies and broken lives of ordinary soldiers, as seen through the eyes of an ordinary American girl.

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I hadn’t known that these Red Cross volunteers were even a “thing” – they’re probably one of the more overlooked aspects of military history. Yet they were the ones who freed up significant amounts of time for the trained medical personnel, by taking care of the routine prep work (such as removing clothes, giving injections, cleaning the men up, and so forth) that needed to be done before a wounded soldier could receive treatment from — or be operated upon by — a physician. It’s quite a different view of the War than what I’ve seen in the past.

This is of course more a romance novel than a war story per se. As we would expect, Julia does meet her beloved (Major Peter Winslow, an officer in the Canadian army) while she’s serving in France. What I was not expecting, however, is the way Julia’s gifts ultimately make their way to that beloved. The predictable route would’ve been for them to meet, fall in love, and then for Julia to give the gifts. Instead, the process plays out almost in reverse. I enjoyed the plot twists which deliver each gift to Major Winslow, sometimes without Julia even intending to give him a particular gift.

Due to the circumstances of the war, Julia and Major Winslow must spend significant time apart. He is on the battlefield; she is at the field hospital. Although they do spend some time together in face to face conversation, much of their romance ends up unfolding through letters. The hero and heroine thus grow together through a wholesome connection of minds and hearts, saving the connection of bodies for a day when they are able to make a lifetime commitment to each other.

I also appreciated the way the story’s faith component was woven naturally into the story. Major Winslow is a lapsed Catholic whose faith has gone dormant. His brother, who is also deployed in Europe, is much more devout. Over the course of the story, events play out in a way that leads Major Winslow’s faith to reawaken spontaneously — and all of this serves to further deepen his connection with Julia.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I do know the author personally, through the Catholic Writers Guild, and I was provided an advance copy of the book to review. (The novel itself has just been published in the last few days.) Given that I’m not typically a reader of romance novels of any kind, I initially approached the story with some hesitation. But you know what I learned? I need to expand my reading genre horizons! This is a wonderful story, and one I’m pleased to recommend.

More information and reviews can be found on the publisher’s official page, and the book is available in paperback or Kindle format through Amazon. You can even read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited!

You’ll note that the cover describes this as “Book 1” of a series. I’m not sure how many more there will be, or when they’ll be published, but I’m looking forward to reading them when they are.

Shearing Time

We celebrated another autumnal milestone this weekend: sheep shearing day. Making the event especially memorable, we welcomed back our original shearer (Lisa) after an absence of a few years. She’d serviced our flock for many years, both in Illinois and after our move to Michigan, but had retired from shearing to focus on other pursuits.

Fortunately, that retirement proved to be only temporary.  We were pleased with the job our local shearer did in her absence, but we were also very happy she was able to make the long drive up from Indiana, and again demonstrate her skill at removing fleeces from the flock. Lisa specializes in shearing high-quality wool flocks, and she works carefully to maximize the usefulness of the fleece.

My daughter and I set up a table in the garage, and “skirted” each fleece immediately after Lisa finished shearing it. Skirting involves laying the fleece out on a table, and removing any mats or vegetable material (especially burdock, strands of hay, etc.). This is essential for things to go smoothly at the fiber mill, when the raw wool is carded and processed into rovings or yarn. Fiber mills hate having to deal with poorly-skirted fleeces, so we err on the side of removing anything that might cause a problem. As you can see, we removed an awful lot of junk wool (and this isn’t even all of it):

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Lisa’s pace of work turned out to be perfect for my daughter and me. Just as we finished skirting each fleece, Lisa would have a new one ready for us. We never got backed up, and we never really had to wait for a fleece.

Although skirting fleeces isn’t the most thrilling work, I very much enjoyed spending a few hours doing it. My daughter and I got the chance to hang out together, working on this joint project, and were able to chat about all kinds of things. It’s the sort of natural human / family connectivity that used to be so much more common, before the ubiquity of electronic distractions.

One especially interesting aspect of Icelandic sheep is the dizzying variety of colors and patterns that’s possible in a single flock. Ours are black, morrit (brown), gray, and white. Most of our individual sheep have mixes of different colors; while we do our best to pack the fleeces separately by color, so the fiber mill can produce different naturally colored sets of rovings for us, the separation isn’t perfect.

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We collected 24 fleeces from our flock of 26. We decided to leave the two oldest sheep unshorn, so they’ll have an easier time staying warm this winter. Dilemma, our oldest ram, will be butchered after this breeding season — just short of his tenth birthday. Pachelbelle, the last animal on our farm to have made the move from Illinois, (ten years ago this month!) turns eleven in the spring. That will be her last shot at lambing; we will take her to the butcher late next summer if she has a lamb, and late next spring if she does not.

After shearing was complete, we turned the whole flock loose in the back yard. It’s some of the best grass left on the property (and they soon discovered the windfall pears in the side yard as well).

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Well … we turned almost the whole flock loose immediately after shearing. Our younger ram remained behind, because he needed some additional work: his horns were growing against his face, and needed to be trimmed. Lisa secured him with two halters (much like securing a motorcycle in the back of a pickup truck), and then we used PVC-cutting wire to saw through each horn. The wire not only allows access to a tight space that’s impossible to reach with a saw, it can also generate enough friction heat to cauterize at least some of the blood flow. (There are no nerves in the horns, so this is a painless process for the sheep.)

As it turns out, his right side had no blood flow at all. The left side had some blood, which we quickly got bandaged. He’s the huge, mostly-black sheep on the far left. If you look closely at the left horn, you’ll notice we secured the bandage with duct tape. Yes indeed … duct tape really is the farmer’s best friend.

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This afternoon, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer made the drive up to the fiber mill; it’s about two hours north of here. She took all of this fall’s wool, and picked up the processed rovings from last year’s fleeces.

She got home this evening with the back of our minivan full of bags of different color rovings. The bags are tied closed, but I managed to pull out a small sample of black, so you can see what it looks like.

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And so the cycle continues …