Charwoman, House Maid, Scullery Maid, Stock Tender, Gardener, Mom, Writer

Friday, January 6, 2012

It’s an unusual thing to wake up in this farmhouse after the sun has risen. This is not an uncomfortable event by any means, but at 6:00AM the sky is still black, the chickens still asleep and the houses around the neighborhood still void of light. But this morning was different. The alarm went off and I slept right through it. When I finally woke, a sliver of sun was gleaming below a clear blue sky, something we haven’t seen in days.

Strange mornings like this aside, my first task of the day is that of a charwoman. I step out into the cold morning in a thick pair of Vermont wool socks and slide into a pair of muck boots. The ready woodpile is not far from the door, but on a frigid morning at dawn the winter temps are shocking. I gather my wood, collected and stacked back in October, and set it on the fire grate in a box pattern; two vertical pieces topped by two horizontal. I light the fire and when it catches I add more wood. With a fire crackling like a blast furnace I can feel the chill recede from the house and I head outside to tend to a waking barn.

My job changes from charwoman to stock tender.

The hens are first on my caretaker rounds. With the flip of a latch, Sophia begins a chorus of honks that shatters the early morning quiet. She runs for freedom with a coop full of chickens trailing behind. I step inside, pull the lid off the grain barrel and fill the hanging feeder with lay pellets. As a treat, I toss a few scoops of leftover sheep feed from our earlier show season. Troughs are emptied and re-filled with fresh water. Then I turn to the rabbit, topping off his metal feeder with pellets and replacing his water bottle. When there are lambs in the barn or a batch of meat birds, the morning routine takes longer.

Lambs must be separated and fed their individual rations. Show lambs, unlike lambs raised for the table, are carefully monitored for rate of gain, weight and finish so they are in perfect condition for their run to champion. The lambs will jump and kick and frolic when let loose from their night time prison, eventually running into their individual feeding pens, knowing what waits ahead. You can’t blame the boys for knowing what they want or having the spirit to demand it.

With chickens running free, the goose occupied, lambs chomping, rabbit contented and meat birds pecking, I am down to the last task of the morning.

I grab a hose and set the nozzle to shower. I drag it from bed to bed watering winter greens and dampening the soil around the new berry patch. The bed I transplanted more than a month ago is doing well, even if their biological clock tells them to go dormant.

The brood, flock, herd, passel and beds seem strong and at ease going into winter. There’s not much activity on the poultry breeding front. All the better I think. I’d rather hatch chicks in the bright light of spring then on a blustery day in winter.

Last ditch tasks are attended to. Potted gardens are watered, salt licks replaced if need be, cats fed and watered, eggs collected, barn tided and tools hung on hooks. The farm is ready…ready to go about its business of making meat, eggs, wool, and vegetables. In a few months baby chicks will be on the way, along with lambs, ducklings, turkeys and maybe kits. The idea of a French duck cassoulet or smoked turkey sounds amazing. This whole morning thing takes about 30 minutes…20 if I hurry or Brianne helps. I return to the house and a fire that beat down the cold now makes the house feel like a thousand degrees.

My next job is housemaid and cook. I set a pot of water on the stove for tea and hot chocolate, and heat up skillets for scrambled eggs, bacon and French toast. While pots bubble and blurp, I tend to dishes and laundry; and after all that…sit down to a fresh made meal from local fields and our farm. It’s a satisfying thing to cook what you grow and grow what you want to cook.

My last job of the morning, and most enjoyable, is writer. After dishes are done I see to emails and open up a word document to capture any writing ideas that pop into my head, so they won’t be lost in the flurry that is putting words to paper. I enjoy writing about our little homestead and encouraging others to pursue this life, even in the suburbs or cities; teaching how this farming thing can work and how living with seasons and animals and crops has always made me feel more whole, awakened new pleasures and purpose in me even after all these years. They are days of blessings; a life of blessings.

That is a weekend morning for this homesteader. The chores will change with the seasons, with the animals and with the needs of the farm, not the farmer. The warmer months can easily have more jobs in a weekend than can be managed, many revolving around chicks and lambs and gardens. But, in this time, between the warm nights and longer days, I am a charwoman, house maid, scullery maid, stock tender, gardener, mom, and writer. It is work that fills my heart long before the sun rises and long after it sets; and I am glad for the places it takes me.

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