A Full Clothesline and a Full Heart

Think me strange, but I love to do laundry. And I love to utilize my clothesline. Laundry is one of those simple, down-to-earth tasks that really shouldn’t be anything but pleasant and with the right mindset should be very satisfying. I’ve always loved that particular aspect of the summertime, when I can enjoy the mundane task of putting laundry out to dry, slowing down long enough to enjoy the rather aesthetically pleasing sight of a clothesline full of clean clothes or crisp, white, floursack towels, and a few hours later take all of it down again, wind-fresh and sun-dry.

Maybe some find this task frustrating because it never ends, or because it gets in the way of other things. Our cultural mindset can be so productivity-oriented that perhaps we have lost the appreciation for and pride in accomplishing tasks that generally go unnoticed. Certain tasks are viewed as a nuisance and as if they somehow take away effort from “important things.”

Growing up, I loved the Little House books, and I still enjoy them. In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura writes how each day of the week had a specific task to accomplish. One day was baking day, another laundry day, etc. What with modern technology, we are able to speed up so many of those tasks that used to take up the better part of a day and so in a sense have lost respect for those tasks. What a loss, especially for women. Rather than taking pride in homemaking tasks that would be sorely missed if they didn’t happen, women try to squeeze those boring, household chores in around all the other dozens of super important things they are trying to accomplish in a day. I happen to thoroughly enjoy those boring, household tasks, and love a task that requires me to slow down and think and gives me a few moments of enjoying the sunlight and fresh air. And I refuse to see as illegitimate or unimportant those tasks that make a house a home.

Some may say, and I can appreciate this, that not everyone has that freedom to enjoy those tasks. I get it, and I feel very blessed that I am able to enjoy being a wife and a help meet and work with my husband. But a lot of times, we lose those things we allow to be lost. And we allow to be lost those things that we choose not to value.

Colossians 3 talks about earthly thinking versus heavenly thinking, putting off what is earthly, such as evil desires, covetousness, idolatry, and putting on those things that are of God, such as compassion and kindness and humility and patience, and love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col. 3:14). How often does our discontent or lack of enjoyment of the tasks God gives us stem from selfish desires? Probably every time. What if the “peace of Christ” really did rule in our hearts (v. 15), and we really were thankful as admonished? And what if we took to heart verse 17: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” If in every task, whatever we did, we actually worked heartily as for the Lord, wouldn’t that transform our attitude towards so many things?

The first time I did laundry as a wife brought a smile to my face (and I’m still smiling). Truly, what a momentous occasion! I honestly never thought I’d see a husband’s work shirts and stained work jeans (never to completely come clean) up on the clothesline next to my own, but there they are. I didn’t think I’d have a husband to be making laundry for me to do. I had lost hope of finding a man to love, or of ever being able to be that help-meet, that homemaker, that keeper at home. But now every time I do laundry and hang up one of those faded, snap-front Western shirts, or jeans snagged by barbed wire or stained from working on the tractor, I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness and His generosity.

So I enjoy my household tasks even more than I used to, and say a little prayer of thanks while I do them.

What a gift.

Pearl’s Chickens

The chicken farming business has gone remarkably well, I’d say. The little chicks have very quickly turned into adult chickens and are an endless source of amusement.

It really is nice to have a patient husband who actually gets a kick out of me and my chickens, and who has generously facilitated the project. The last couple of weeks, our big afternoon and evening project has been getting a permanent chicken coop built, but for now, the chickens are in a “waste not, want not” sort of establishment. It has worked. Quite well. Brad thinks it is hideous. I think it is rather charming, in an eye-sore sort of way.

We pieced it together from an old coop that used to house a few guineas, back when my man was a kiddo, and which has definitely seen better days. We added a few roosting bars and a way to hang a feeder indoors, and scrapped together a run from some old panels of fencing. My sister in Illinois scavenged a few 3 gallon waterers from a client of hers, and some old bedsheets provided the needed shade in the heat we’ve been having. I will admit the bedsheets added an extra flair of hideousness. But they work.

Brad’s little cow dog, Pearl, has taken an intense liking to the chickens, and Brad says we get the same look on our face when we go down to “check the chickens,” which is Pearl’s cue for fun. Her bunny-hunting has taken a bit of a back seat to her new priority, which is chicken watching. They’ve been doing a little free-ranging and grasshopper management, when Pearl doesn’t obsessively round them up and put them away. I think she likes to have them all where she can see them, since on multiple occasions I’ve caught her flushing them out of the coop itself. She would sit and watch them for hours if she could. Actually, I think she really does sit and watch them for hours. I think she thinks they’re hers.

Yep, Pearl and I have a lot of fun with our chickens.

And Then I Became a Ranch Wife

It was seven and a half weeks ago that I said “I do” to my now husband in front of 350 witnesses and under a light rain shower, and then the weeks blinked by. They say rain on your wedding day means good luck. If I believed in luck, I’d agree. But rain on my wedding day was a reminder of all of God’s goodness and faithfulness, providing rain and also providing sunshine, providing both through storms and through breaks in the clouds, providing in each changing season, and in each season of life, providing in ways I couldn’t ever have thought possible.

Our wedding was a beautiful, handmade get-together, literally thanks to our families, our churches, and our ranching community, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be. We were blown away by how many people wanted to help, and are so thankful for the people in our lives who bring such richness and meaning.

And then the wedding was over and our life began.

If you had told me a year ago that right now I’d be coming up on two months of being married, I really would have thought you were crazy. I had honestly resigned myself to being a single woman and was throwing myself into a new career as a firefighter-paramedic with a busy urban fire department. That tall, lean rancher who had caught my eye years before on the volunteer fire department had caught my eye again, but I never imagined we’d be husband and wife ten months later. I never imagined that God would so quickly satisfy those longings to be a wife, those longings for companionship, or satisfy that loneliness. I never imagined that the very real contentment God had given me in my singleness would so quickly turn to joy in marriage. So take heart, single friend…Take heart, knowing that there is a God who sees and hears your quietest prayers. He even hears the longings you never had the courage to fully acknowledge.

What a whirlwind of newness and joy and growth and busyness these last almost two months have been, with a husband and partner I don’t deserve and whom I love with all my heart.

Spring and into summer is a busy time on the ranch, and we’ve had a few additional projects in the works as well, keeping us extra busy, but we took some time last weekend to celebrate. We celebrated our “we saw the light” anniversary, the one-year anniversary of our first date. It is absolutely astounding what God can accomplish in the span of what amounts to a few short months. But then again, why should it be surprising? The same God who brought about His Creation plan in six days can accomplish whatever He wills whenever He wills it! But I’m still amazed.

The companionship He can bring to loneliness, the peace He can bring to sorrow, the healing He can bring to hurt.

The dreams He can realize out of the blue.

The amazing answers to prayer He can bring about in the blink of an eye.

So this firefighter-paramedic became a ranch wife. Muck boots have replaced tactical boots. Jeans have replaced Nomex. Leather gloves have replaced nitrile ones. Carhartt replaced 511. Coveralls replaced turnouts. Old dreams have reawakened. Early morning coffee, evening devotions, cow work, building fence, gardening, digging in the dirt, chasing chickens, cutting weeds, keeping house, doing dishes, laundry, laundry, and more laundry. A friend asked me a few days ago if anything has particularly surprised me about marriage. I told her, “How much I absolutely love being a wife.”

Life is sweet.

God is good.

I Become a Chicken Farmer

My first week as a chicken farmer is successfully in the books! This is a brand-new little venture for me, and I’m excited to learn and see how it goes. I’ll be sharing lessons learned, tips, and tricks, so follow along and learn from my mistakes and successes!

I decided, with my man’s go-ahead, to order chicks back in January, not wanting to count on the availability of feedstore chicks this spring. The timing was very intentional: Get them in mid-April, they’d be pretty well-grown by our wedding, and we’d have eggs by the fall. Chicks were ordered in January, and within a week I had the bulk of my chick supplies purchased! Eagerly anticipating that order getting here this week, I got a little excited last week and went to Runnings for a few last-minute chick supplies (my chick order was set to ship the week at the beginning of this week). Yep, I came home with four chicks, two Prairie Bluebell chicks and two Sapphire Splash chicks. Oh my goodness. I’m not sure how many hours I spent watching those four chicks.

It was actually nice to get a few days’ headstart to finetune my brooder setup, and gave me a chance to think of a few other things that I wanted to have on-hand for when the big order arrived. So when Tuesday evening rolled around and I got an email saying my McMurray chick order was on its way, I was thrilled! I gave the post office a head’s up on Wednesday, and Thursday morning got a call that the chicks were in. Oh my goodness (favorite phrase when dealing with baby animals). The sounds coming from that little box on the drive back home were precious. And this is what I found when I got home:

I had ordered fifteen chicks: two Black Australorps, five Black Stars, five Red Stars, and three Buff Orpingtons. I was looking for breeds that were good layers, docile, could free range well, and were cold/heat hardy. Boy, they pack those little things in, and even threw in a tiny little silkie bantam as a freebie. I later told my man that I really expected to be productive Thursday morning, but sat on the floor for a full three hours, just watching the chicks. Oh, well.

One by one, I took them out, checked them for pasty butt, and made sure they found the waterer in the brooder box. Only a couple needed to be cleaned up, and one was the tiny little silkie bantam chick. He had a pretty pasted up rear end and seemed to have a minor vent prolapse, but is actually doing really well. He indisputably looks better now than he did when they arrived. I’ll write a little more about that later. As soon as they tasted the water and found the food, those little rascals came alive! They were constant motion for a couple of hours, some of them pretty scrappy, and gorging themselves on food, occasionally almost falling asleep in the water, at which point they had their fill and settled down. There hasn’t been any further picking or scrapping.

So far, I have nothing but good things to say about McMurray Hatchery and would definitely order from them again. The Runnings chicks have done well overall, except for one which died more or less without warning after about 3 days, and for no apparent reason. The other three are completely healthy and I’ve had no issues with them. Every couple of days, the older three get vitamins/electrolytes and prebiotics/probiotics in their water (the new chicks have that constantly, as well as sugar in their water), and I’ve ground their feed down a little bit as well, since they waste a lot of it picking past the big pieces. They’re absolutely hilarious to watch, and they’ve tamed down a lot and are pretty friendly, especially the older three.

The Runnings chicks initially needed regular attention to prevent pasty butt, which stopped being an issue after a few days, while the mailorder chicks have barely needed attention at all, other than the silkie. Considering pasty butt is made worse by stress, those feedstore chicks are definitely more stressed than mail ordered chicks. First, they get shipped in the mail, just like mail ordered chicks, and then they sit in bins at the feedstore until they are purchased, at which point they’re transported again. That’s a lot for a little critter to go through! I’m definitely impressed with how well the McMurray chicks have done and how healthy they seem overall.

So right now I have 19 chicks in my livingroom, peeping up a storm, and couldn’t be happier. My dad jokingly called it a fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and he really is rather correct. Stay tuned for more chick adventures!

DIY Paper Pots for Seed Starting

There is snow falling outside again – wonderful!! – but inside I’ve got a brooder of little chicks and packets of seeds and dozens of sprouted herbs and veggies and perennials, all an optimistic acknowledgement that springtime is indeed here!

If you’re a gardener, you’ve probably browsed seed catalogs and displays at feed stores, stocked up on seeds, planned your garden, and probably even eagerly started seeds indoors a few weeks too early. Oh, well, there are worse things. Gardening is a wonderfully thrifty sort of pursuit, but some of those seed starting supplies can add up pretty quickly. Newspaper pots are a quick and free alternative to peat pots for seed starting, and here are a few tips for making sure they turn out well and hold up!

These sturdy, biodegradable little pots are formed from strips of newspaper, each approximately 1/3 of a newspaper cut lengthwise (fold the paper in thirds lengthwise and cut along those folds) and are rolled around a cylindrical item, such as a spice container or a pop can, depending on how big you want your paper pots. I played around with a couple of different sizes for these pots, what I liked the best was a pop can (well, V8 to be precise, since I don’t drink pop) for size.

Starting at one end of your newspaper strip, roll it around the can, not too tight, so you can then slide it off one end of the can until about 2 or 3 inches are left on the can. The part still on the can will be the sides of the pot, and the rest will form the bottom, by folding it over the bottom of the can. Play around with a folding method until you find one that works for you, but smaller, overlapping folds work better than bigger folds. I find it works best to start right over the end left from rolling the pot, to capture that edge and better hold the pot together, and as I get closer to the end, I tuck the new folds underneath the already folded part. Take some time to get your folding method down, since solid folding equals a solid paper pot. That’s also why I find a pop can works best. A spice jar works okay, but with a pop can, the rim and the indent in the bottom of the can allow you to get a really good series of folds in the paper, making a solid base for the paper pot. Once everything is folded and tucked in, gently slide the pot off the can and it is ready to be used!

These little pots are quick to make and can be a fun time filler. Obviously, once you’ve planted in them and watered them, they do get soggy, so handle them gingerly if you have to move the pots, but when you’re ready to plant your seedlings out in your garden, just plant the whole thing and the paper will disintegrate on its own! I’m growing my starts in disposable baking sheets with plastic covers, which provide a great humid environment until the seeds have sprouted, and then when they are well enough established the cover comes off. So far, I’ve had about a 100% germination rate with what I’ve planted.

Springtime is a wonderful reminder of God’s provision, His sovereignty, and His Creation design in which mankind was created to partner with God in the care and keeping of His earth. It is God who brings or withholds the weather we need, and it is He who ultimately provides, and because of His orderly Creation, in which like produces like, and kind multiplies according to kind, I can plant seeds and grow an expected harvest. Pursuits such as planting and growing and animal husbandry allow us to participate in this world as stewards, as God designed us to be, faithfully using our means and abilities to nurture and foster growth and life in this world, to care for God’s creatures, and to provide for ourselves and our families. So enjoy these springtime pursuits, friends, and thank God for His care and provision!

The Last of Winter, the First of Spring

According to the calendar, spring has arrived, but in western South Dakota, we know better than to put too much store in that! For us, winter lingers sometimes into June, but we’ve begun to taste the springtime and I’m itching for those warmer temperatures, those springtime tasks, mud instead of ice, warm dirt, growing things, and baby animals!

Our relatively mild winter was punctuated with days and weeks of unseasonable warmth, and then punctuated again with unseasonable, bitter cold. And, as always, it starts to feel like it has always been winter, sometime around the middle of February. Those little tastes of springtime that tantalize and taunt us every year, tease us with the warmth that is so close, so close. And we are so ready for springtime, and we’re praying for rain, or a good spring snowstorm to bring some much-needed moisture to the parched landscape.

Of all the seasonal changes, perhaps the most bewildering and wonderful is the change from winter to spring, from the time of slumber and death to a time of waking and birth, from a time of fading to a time of renewal, from surviving to thriving, a time of preparation and planning to a time of action and initiation.

Everything that is easy to accomplish in warm weather is a challenge in the winter, especially when the temperatures plummet and snow and ice freeze us in. A five-minute outdoor task takes fifteen minutes to prepare for inside, and twenty minutes to warm back up after coming inside again. A snowstorm wreaks havoc on travel when you live 30 miles outside of town, or your driveway is a mile long. The ground is frozen solid, everything seems poised to break, the cold creeps into the house until the best way to get some heat going is by turning on the oven and opening the door. An unfortunate calf born in the middle of a frigid cold snap is a struggle to keep alive.

And through the sleepiness and struggle of winter, we dream of spring. We dream of spring, and begin preparing. Gardens are planned, seeds are ordered, harvests are imagined, and a million other projects start forming in the mind, ready to send into action when the cold snap breaks, or when the snow is gone, or when the ground melts. Ranchers watch their cows get heavier and heavier, and pray for a good calving season.

And then at last, spring arrives. We see it on the calendar, and we see a 10 days at time of forecasts for temperatures in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. We see the first shoots of green grass. We feel the first raindrops. We feel the first truly warm breezes and smell the earth warming up. Rock-hard, icy ground turns into a mud slick, and how wonderful the mud smells! The multiple layers of jackets and sweaters diminish to the ease of a shirt and light jacket, stocking caps are replaced with ball caps, and I always cherish the first day I can wear a tank top and sandals!

The garden beds begin to soften under their preparatory layer of plastic. The first load of laundry is hung on the clothesline outside. The first meadowlarks appear. Seeds are started. Those calves that were unlucky enough to be born into the cold snap are now a month old, frisky, and thriving.

What a transformation!

In the winter, we are forced to slow down. It is a sabbath of seasons, in a sense. We are forced to slow down from the seemingly self-sufficient business of the rest of the year and only do those things that are necessary, limited by the cold, the frozen ground, the shorter days. It is an exercise in trusting God for the day-to-day necessities in the day-to-day struggles. And then in the springtime, God turns that trust into joyful action.

Happy springtime, friends! And pray for rain!