We have just returned from our big, annual, family “vacation” to Red Gate Farm, where we spent the last couple weeks.   As usual, we were totally isolated, with no phone, no internet, no cell phone, nada.  For the record, we LOVE it that way!!  The only strange thing is that we tend to work harder on our vacations than we do at home.  As usual, we had a few planned projects to accomplish this trip, but this time, there was a new excitement in the air as we did them.  It is highly possible that this was our LAST vacation as a family to the farm.  Lord willing, the next time we go as a family will be our final trip–to move in!!!  Sean and I will likely go a couple times individually though, as there is still much to be accomplished.  I have already realized that we didn’t take nearly enough photos, so hopefully these few will suffice.

The main project this time was getting a reliable water source.  I will write a more detailed post later for anyone who is interested, but we opted to fill this need by installing two, 2,000 gallon storage capacity, concrete, rain-water collection cisterns.  That was fun to watch, and of course the kiddos (and dad!) loved the big “man-toys” equipment that were used for the job.  When one huge truck in particular drove down our long driveway, he managed to effectively clear all the low-hanging branches that we were planning to prune, thereby saving us half a day’s work! 

This massive, almost-tractor-trailer sized truck is hauling 1 cistern, and this photo is showing only the top half. The bottom half is already in the ground.

Impressive parking job, with the truck tucked just under the tree-line, our septic tank right in front (in all the bushes), and the hole right behind him. One great thing about living in a small town–the same company that made the cisterns is the same company that made the septic tank, so if they destroy it, they replace it at no cost!!

While all this was going on, S and his brother, Uncle M, completed our trailer parking retaining wall, and all the un-needed dirt from the cistern hole was hauled over and used to back-fill the parking area.  Almost surprisingly, the wall actually held as the heavier-than-any-trailer-we-will-ever-own dumptruck and front-end-loader worked to dump and spread the load out.  That area is almost a finished project now.  We just need to haul in some gravel to cover the dirt, and it will be ready for a trailer!  It looks so great!  Eventually we will also add a roof extension from the barn to protect the trailer, but that is a distant future project.

Pushing dirt to back-fill the trailer-parking area.

S’s other big project for this trip was to mill lumber for our animal shelters.  We plan to do rotational grazing of our livestock, and have to build a couple of simple shelters for the hooved animals, and a portable coop for the hens.   As a result, S had previously felled a small oak and a small elm he intended to mill, and this trip, he finished felling a larger elm.  The fun then came, as we manually pushed this 1500 lb elm trunk from its original location to the lumber mill–a distance of about 10 yards (but seemed more like 1000 yards!) 

We had designed our blue-prints for the coop before leaving home, so we had calculated exactly what dimensions of lumber we needed for the project.   Using his saw mill, S cut as many of those as he could. 

The wood grain turned out so gorgeous though, we may opt to go buy some cheaper pine and plywood and use this wood to make our dining-room table!  We’ll have to decide after it finishes drying.

Incredible grain on this elm, but, sadly, not so incredible cheapy camera taking the picture!

While the men were having fun playing with machinery, and the kids had fun playing in the dirt piles, I stayed busy cleaning and organizing the loft of our barn to make room for the milled lumber to stack and dry.  I also worked on more brick walk areas, which seem to be turning out very nicely. 

R thinking she’s helping mommy build the brick platform.

As a side note, our original brick sidewalk which is now several years old, had developed quite a bit of weed growth.  It was really a big job that would have taken a full day or so to weed well by hand, but we didn’t want to use chemical weed-killer.  So, I decided to try a new technique I’d heard about.  I went to the nearest store and bought all their plain table salt–about 6 lbs. for about $3–and sprinkled it in all the spaces between bricks and along the edges where weeds had grown so thick they covered the bricks.  Then, I carefully watered it to encourage the salt to go down into the crevices and to prevent the next rainfall from washing it off into the front yard (where I would like the grass to continue growing!).  The next morning, we walked out to all brown and dead weeds on the sidewalk.  The day after that, a quick sweep job resulted in a totally weed-free sidewalk.  Beautiful!  I think I need to buy stock in the salt industry now (or maybe just a Sam’s Club membership for their bulk salt), as I plan to do the same to our driveway and parking areas later! 

Me and R standing next to the salted, dead-weed-covered path.

Finally, I did a little gardening, and also collected and submitted soil samples of our intended garden and grazing areas to see where that stands and find out whether we need to ammend the soil at all. 

The kids actually did help quite a bit.  For the most part, they really enjoy helping us, and feeling useful, but for harder or less-pleasant jobs, a simple bribe of “gatorade” would result in the job getting done!  The rest of the time, a few hand spades and a pile of dirt was all that was needed to keep them out of trouble.

One real treat I received was my first view of R’s ringlets!  The IL humidity made that wavy hair just curl right up into the most adorable curls and ringlets!  I enjoyed them for the trip, and about 2/3 of the way home, they began to loosen back into waves as the humid air disappeared.  I miss them already!

A few other random photos for your enjoyment:

S eating breakfast, preparing for a long, hard day of manual labor! Yes, he really eats his porridge out of the pot; No, he isn’t as tough as he looks (he’s too incredibly sweet for that, but don’t tell him I said so!)

As usual, we had a great time.  The weather was beautiful, the temperatures great, the flowers in bloom, the orchard going strong, and the kids all old enough to love being outside with us.  The only downside was that I totally forgot to bring our camera, so we bought a cheapy digital to get us by, and then we hardly ever remembered to use it.  Oh well.  For the first time, A and N seemed to understand that this was our farm rather than “Grandma’s house” (she moved in and lived there for about 5 years after we bought it).  As we drove away on our return to CO, A quietly and sadly said what we all felt….”I don’t wanna go back to Colorado.  I jus’ wanna stay at the farm.”  In time, my son, in time.

We did take one last adventure, when we detoured on the way home to check out a herd of miniature milk cows that I have been considering (see previous post on that topic).  The owner will be offering a few for sale next year, and I have been talking with her about them.  It was fun to see them in person, and the kids and I all got to milk them just for the experience of it!  What a trip!!