Modern Pioneer Woman (crackling fires and homesteading)

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I forgot to mention one of my favorite cookbooks yesterday!  “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” by Ree Drummond is filled with mouthwatering recipes that can feed a crowd or easily be halved.  I highly recommend the Fig and Prosciutto Pizza.  I love the step-by-step photographs and stories.

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I enjoy being a modern pioneer woman.  We hoped and prayed for this little homestead to somehow make itself known and available.  This sunny, quaint homestead is peaceful surrounded by miles and miles of birdsong and prairie.  My heart rests easy here.  However, if you have been following me for awhile you know we had some tearful, freezing moments this last winter.  It was cold.  Much more so than I can fully express.  I was upset that I believed the small wood cook stove in the kitchen would heat the whole house.  I am most upset that my animals seemed to fare poorly from it.  It seemed to age my older cat, Ichabod and Bumble the Greyhound.  It broke my heart to see them so cold.  Even “Little House on the Prairie” had a proper wood stove!

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The new wood stove was fired up last night to test it and Ichabod found the warmest spot possible.

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The final bill made me gasp and tear up, actually.  I thought that I could pay the lease through with tuitions so I wouldn’t have to worry so much this summer.  (No more worrying!) But it all went to pay for warmth.  Which will be worth every penny.  And I thankful I had the money for it.  I love the funky style of the stove.  I look forward to (though I am not rushing!) cooking on my new stove and being blissfully warm while the snow tumbles down.

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I so enjoy this lifestyle.  I love my long skirts and aprons.  I love my clothes line.  I think I will get out the clothes handwasher for summer.  I love kneading bread and hearing the tops of the jars pop closed of preserved garden fare.  I love the sight of a rotund lamb running and jumping, the sound of milk hitting the pail, the rooster crowing.  I love growing and cooking fresh food and sitting on the porch with a glass of wine listening to the frogs in the pond.  I love waking up at dawn and going to bed at dark, no alarms.  No outside work.  No schedules.  Just the bustling of a busy homestead and the sound of a crackling fire.

Traveling the World by Cookbook (my favorite cookbooks)

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Delicious food and inspiration, something I daily seek.  I like to travel around the world to see what folks are eating.  I like visit farms around the globe.  I like to sit in stranger’s kitchens and see if I can experience a bit of their life by eating what they eat.  Through cookbooks I can do this from my own farm kitchen and so cookbooks have always been a bit of an obsession for me.

Mind you, I never follow a recipe to its exact measure but the blueprints and guidelines for delightful food I wouldn’t have thought of is most welcome to a busy farm wife foodie who doesn’t like to prepare the same thing over and over.

“Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own” by Bob Flowerdew is a great book that I may have told you about before but I find it ever so enchanting as the photographs make the book come to life.  As if I am in England learning from a master.  He takes us through the gardening season, growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparing delicious foods.  It is filled with brilliant ideas and a way to make potato au gratin that will change your life forever.  Decadent.

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“Another Amish cookbook?” my love asks as I purchase another.  I have…ahem…a few.  I love them for their stories.  I love the local ones that are say the recipe was submitted by Mrs. Elmer So and So.  I love the vague amounts in some and the tried in true in books like this one.  “The Amish Cook’s Family Favorite Recipes” by Lovina Eicher is my go-to in the summer when I am rushing around.  Perfect coffee cake to make and pack for the farmer’s markets, interesting recipes like chokecherry tapioca, and casseroles that make the kids want to move home.

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“Love Soup” by Anna Thomas is a book I have read from cover to cover many times.  Her soups are vegetarian and filled with flavor and comfort, sustenance, ease.  I love this book for its endless ideas for soup along with recipes for bread and salads.  Her stories along with the recipes are fun and the book is split up seasonally, which appeals to me more than ever.

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I have checked out “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook” by Frances and Edward Mayes from the library enough that it really ought to be a part of my collection at some point.  If I could go anywhere right now and enjoy a meal it would surely be in Tuscany.  I want to experience the long outdoor wooden table with twenty friends and strangers, water glasses filled, wine glasses raised.  Courses of flavorful foods that I have yet to prepare.  Many things that I have never heard of cooking or tasting in my Colorado raised existence.  I can hear the laughter, the long meal, the joy.  I loved the Under the Tuscan Sun books by Frances Mayes so it is a pleasure stopping by their house via library book for a meal. (Note: if you saw the movie, it is not even remotely the same as the books.  Do pick up the books!)

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Another library find, “Fresh from the Farm” by Susie Middleton is a delightful part memoir part cookbook using seasonal produce.  What to do with mustard greens, delicious ways with arugula, and much more.  I am definitely enjoying borrowing this book!

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If I make a menu plan and grocery shop regularly for the things we need then I am less likely to want to go out for subpar food.  This book, “The Casual Vineyard Table” by the owner of one of my favorite wines and vineyards, Carolyn Wente, makes me want to hurry home and cook!  I picked it up at the Wente winery when Doug and I were there visiting our friends, Lisa and Steve, in Northern California.  It was one of our best trips and we so enjoyed ourselves and became even bigger wine snobs, I rather fear.  Where do I start?  Potato Crusted Sea Bass with Gingered Blue Lake Beans or Bay Scallops with Rhubarb Puree?  Or one could always head straight to the back of the book and prepare Chocolate Chili Pecan cake with double bourbon whipped cream.  Oh my.

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Then there are lean times, which we are in more often than not.  Not poverty stricken, starving times, thank the Lord we always have food, but no sea bass or single vineyard wine times.  This book is practical, intelligent, and savvy.  Using minimal ingredients, all staples, one can put together hundreds of healthy meals on the cheap. “More-With-Less” by Doris Janzen Longacre is a homesteader’s necessity!

Do share your favorite cookbook titles!

Aloe Vera (Its miraculous healing ability and surprising flower)

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I have been around aloe vera plants my entire life.  I have always had one, my mother and grandmother always had one, my aunts always had one.  Aloe is the staple you will find in any bustling kitchen as it brings immediate and effective healing to burns, cuts, and wounds.  When the baby touched the wood stove on accident a piece of aloe was quickly dispatched, opened, and wrapped on the wound.  It didn’t even blister.

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My aloe vera plant is something else.  I have never seen such a huge specimen in my life.  All of my previous aloes and those of my family fit nicely in a kitchen window.  Mine oddly thinks it lives in the desert.  It outgrows its pot every year and this year is no exception.  I sell its baby shoots at farmer’s markets so others can have the beautiful plants in their windows too.

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This year my aloe did something I have never seen before.  It shot up a flower.  I have been waiting to see what it would look life when it was in full bloom.  It is beautiful and interesting.  What a fabulous plant!

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Aloe vera is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiyeast, and is demulcent.  Which means you can use it on black heads on the skin, on warts, as a personal lubricant for yeast infections or herpes outbreaks, to remedy stomach ailments, to sooth inflamed skin, to fill a wound instead of stitches, to prevent infection in a cut, or to heal a burn quickly should you touch the wood stove!

Rainy Days, Worries, Manifesting, and Farming

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The rain has been gently coming down for days.  It will continue today.  My cold crop seeds, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, onions, radishes, mustard, stir fry greens, spinach, Swiss chard, snow, snap, and Alaskan peas, pak choi, carrots, beets, lettuce, herbs, all these things stay in their blanket of fresh soil and the water will rejuvenate them into life.  The rain dampens my heart just a bit.  A sliver of warm sun would do me good but perhaps this rain will wash away my worries.

Oh, we all have worries.   I take them as a waver in faith.  I know all is well and that we are where we are supposed to be but sometimes the mind can get oversaturated with thoughts.  Perhaps I should stand in the rain until they are gone.

Did I move too far away?  We end up driving back to our old town nearly every day.  Over 160 miles for two round trips to watch our beloved baby.  Back there again for Celtic Festival meetings and bank trips. I only know the friendly faces that I miss seeing regularly at the coffee shop and around town.

Will the landlords grow tired of the animals and the farm and the comings and goings that go with it?  Already a comment was made about the chickens.  Did I make a mistake?

Did I really just practically give away our means of paying bills?  I dreamt I opened another apothecary, this time in the high end Cherry Creek district.  A laugh of course.  Why can’t I be patient and finish jumping off this cliff and see that we will be just fine financially?  That we are living the life we wanted.  That we are always fine.

Perhaps I am tired from assisting Isabelle’s birth and then watching her baby go to her new home yesterday.  Perhaps the weekend caught up with me.  Perhaps I should go sit in the rain.  It is so cold though.  Coldest winter we have ever endured.

My cousin, Heather, said to me, “You manifested everything else, why don’t you just manifest another wood stove?”  And of course we did and it is being put in tomorrow.  So enough with the worries.  We will have food here on this farm, new friends, our family, and a spectacular view.  Another shot of coffee and plan the week’s course.  There are animals to care for and seeds to plant.  No time to second guess myself now.

This was from the series of paintings I did four years ago of the animals I eventually wanted on my imagined farm.

This was from the series of paintings I did four years ago of the animals I eventually wanted on my imagined farm.

And this is one of our sheep, Sven.  I do love living on a farm.

And this is one of our sheep, Sven. I do love living on a farm.

A Photo Journey of Adelaide’s Birth

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The morning was quiet and spring-like.  The birds sang brightly as the dawn arrived.  Isabelle was pressed against the wall of the lean-to and was quiet.  It was time.

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I made a strong tea of nettles, motherwort, red clover, and red raspberry leaves and poured it into her drinking water along with molasses.

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The chickens were maniacal in their calling as I waited and prayed for an easy delivery.  They were driving me mad as their cacophony seemed to rise with each contraction.

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"Why can't I come in?" Elsa wondered.

“Why can’t I come in?” Elsa wondered.

The lambs stayed quiet, face to the sun.

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The contractions increased.

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“A foot is sticking out!” Doug yelled and Maryjane and I came running.  One of my students happened to be there picking up herbs so she held Maryjane while Doug held Isabelle and I pulled lightly on the feet during a particularly difficult contraction.  We had called our friend, Jenet, who just went through a goat labor, to ask last minute advice and were as ready as we would ever be.  I thought she would throw the baby against the wall in her violent turn to release her but I caught her and lay her gently on the hay.

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Isabelle lovingly and dutifully cleaned off her infant.

Isabelle lovingly and dutifully cleaned off her infant.

We waited for another baby to arrive.  She was huge, we were just positive there were more infants to come but the placenta came an hour later and that ended our birthing session.

Just before the baby was born Doug had milked some colostrum from Isabelle and we had a bottle all ready.

Just before the baby was born Doug had milked some colostrum from Isabelle and we had a bottle all ready.

We are trading this beautiful little girl for Jenet's first female born in June.  I will have a Nubian and she will have a Saanen.

We are trading this beautiful little girl for Jenet’s first female born in June. I will have a Nubian and she will have a Saanen.

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Everyone welcomed Adelaide to the world, including our kitten!

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It is amazing how quickly they gain their footing.  Soon Adelaide was jumping on the couch with Maryjane, making her away around the house, and drinking bottles every few hours.  She stayed tucked under Doug’s arm throughout the night.  She is precious and it is bittersweet that she is going to her new home Monday.  I am thankful that mom and baby are well and a new miracle has joined this world.

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Welcome Adelaide!

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Ducks and Mushrooms (not a recipe!)

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The ducks are two weeks old.  They are growing quickly but are still adorable.  They look a bit awkward with their feathers starting to come in; like some strange skin disease is starting to take over.  I love how they don’t look straight up; they tilt their head and look up at me with one eye.  As if they are trying to figure something out or they are highly suspicious of me.

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They live in a swamp.  I tell you, people, no matter how many times I change their bedding it becomes a swamp in moments.  They can empty an entire waterer in no time at all from all their splashing and being rambunctious.  I wake to their constant chattering and their playful sounds as water splashes.  Then the next moment they will be curled up in one ball the size of a kitten sleeping peacefully beneath the red light.  It is endearing.

Soon they will be outdoors in their new coop.  The light will stay with them for four more weeks.  Our neighbors are adamant that they can go out now, that they are quite hardy.  I am more afraid of their cat coming by to have a snack.  I wonder how the ducks will react to the wild ducks in the pond.

For right now they are indoors, tucked away in their anti-cat fortress warm and happy.

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I took a class three weeks ago on growing mushrooms.  The endless supplies of boxed ones from the store were not yielding anything and I am clueless at identifying mushrooms in the wild.  This class would be my first step into the fascinating world of mycology.  I will do a more complete article on this soon.  What I learned in a nutshell was that the fabulous teacher heated straw in a pot to a certain temperature, added wheat that had been taken over by the mushroom spores, and we packed it into bread bags.  The instructions were to keep it around 65 degrees for three weeks.

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65 degrees?  I scoffed to myself.  My homestead hasn’t been that warm yet!  Inside the house it registered 55 degrees.  I moved it to the greenhouse.  55 degrees and a mouse took a bite out of the corner.  He apparently didn’t care for the flavor because he didn’t stick around.  Back inside aimlessly searching for anywhere warm, I looked over at the ducklings.  Next to the duck nursery we put the box holding the spores.  Tucked in next to the warm fowl and near the red lamp, it is perfect.  And the mycelium is spreading all over the straw.  This week it will move to the counter and will try to fruit.  I cannot wait to explain this magical world of mushrooms, much bigger than having slimy mushrooms on your pizza, mushrooms are needed for our very survival!

In the meantime, though, I am going to dream of oyster mushrooms growing indoors….and parmesan and pasta…but not with duck!

Firewood, Trucks, and Guitars

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Just a few homesteader necessities!  When Doug’s sister said that her beautiful crab apple tree had finally fallen over due to a storm we didn’t waste time getting down there to retrieve the wood!  Wood is necessary on a homestead with wood stoves. This year we would like to not use the propane (hello heart attack when you see the bill and it doesn’t even heat the room) and not freeze our booties off.

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Now in order to get the wood we needed a truck.  We gave our truck to Emily and thought we could go without one.  You should have seen us packing hay and straw bales in the back of the Chevy HHR we drive.  It has been a patient farm car but it is not meant for this type of lifestyle so with our tax refund we bought a truck.  Mind you it is in the shop again but when we get it back Friday it is going to be one heck of a ride.  I love it.  The HHR is being bought by someone who lives in the city and is excited to have a smart looking smaller car.

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I have fallen in love with my guitar.  I have played lots of instruments but never with this type of passion and sense of fun.  I am trying not to be so serious about it.  I ask my teacher (who I think might be my daughter’s age) a million questions and he says this week my homework is to learn to comfortably strum.  In 4/4 time?  I ask.  Just strum.

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My goal is to play the local town fairs next year and play at my own festivals this year.

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So, I am strumming away on this lovely homestead with my big truck and piles of wood and potatoes to be planted today and the grandbaby coming over.  ‘Tis a good life, my friends, a very good life.

The Day the Village Died

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A week ago we became suspicious.  They had been flying here and there and buzzing in the trees fine a few weeks ago.  I meant to get into the hive on the next nice day.  The last really nice day may have been Easter and I didn’t do it.  What made us wonder about the health of the hive was the fact that there were so many dead bodies on the front porch of the hive that a few were having trouble getting in and out.  The icy wind kept howling and the temperature wasn’t quite right at all this past week so I just moved the door minimizer and used a stick to move some of the bodies out of the way.  I suppose we were too late at that moment.

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The air was cool yesterday morning as I gathered dandelion flowers.  Doug came out and resolved that he would look in the hive.  It seemed too cold but we had a dark feeling about it all anyway.  He suited up and opened the roof of the hive and began to pull off each slat.  Each empty slat.

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Each slat had an empty honey comb on it.  The closer he got the front we noticed the heavy combs were black.  Not sure what that means.  The combs were empty all the way to the front of the hive even though we had left them nearly twice as much as is recommended to get through winter (17+ frames after we decided to not get any honey).  Apparently not enough.

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It was a sobering sight to see six inches of dead bees across the bottom of the hive, piling out onto the front step of their village.  The nanny bees died where they stood, stuck to the comb surrounding the last small section of brood.  Died in place as if a great disaster in this medieval kingdom brought their lives to a stop in a just second’s time.

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The hive was so prolific for most of the winter that they must have eaten more than a smaller village would.  I should have checked earlier to see if I should supplement sugar water.  Perhaps I could have saved them if I had checked on Easter.

There is no place for procrastination on a homestead.  I should know this by now.  Whether it is checking a bee hive, getting the produce harvested and preserved, getting a free load of wood to the house before someone else takes it.  Homesteading is all about timing.  One can so easily miss the window of opportunity.  In the busy months of homesteading one ought to be prepared to be up until one in the morning canning, or drop everything to drive to Denver in a broken down truck to get precious wood, or be up at dawn watering the gardens.  This life runs our schedule for the next three seasons and this loss only reminds me to pay attention and focus on each task as it calls.

Next time I will not use the top bar hive.  I will buy a traditional Langstroth hive.  There are so many more colorful, comprehensive books on the subject, and many more bee keepers to ask.  Most folks didn’t know how to answer my questions because the top bar method is just not that popular.

Well, if life is all about learning, and a homestead is its own classroom then I have learned valuable lessons this week.  But at the expense of a beautiful village.

Preserving Spring (freeze and pickle asparagus then make some dandelion jelly after eating the leaves!)

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One of the very first crops of spring is asparagus.  We enjoyed a few dishes of roasted asparagus and I preserved the rest for asparagus cravings in July…or December.  If one can find asparagus in the stores during those months I would highly question its origin, how old it is, and the flavor of really fresh asparagus isn’t going to be there, so what’s the point?  By preserving what is in season one can enjoy the flavors any time of year.  Here are a few ways to do so after you have enjoyed your fill of fresh.  Just snap the bottom woody part of each spear off by bending it until it cleanly breaks.

Freeze it!

Cut up asparagus into the sizes you desire.  I like one inch slices to put into frittatas or stir fries.  Have a pot of boiling water ready and one of ice water.  Throw the pieces into the boiling water, let it come up to boil again and a minute later remove the asparagus and place it in the cold water to stop the cooking.  Now, line it all onto a cookie sheet and place in freezer.  In thirty minutes transfer to a freezer bag.  This prevents the asparagus from sticking together in one swell lump.  Not ideal for retrieving a scant half a cup for cooking!

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I also freeze whole spears.  Since these I will roast I do not want to blanch them.  I will eat them before they lose their flavor.  So, I freeze them on cookie sheets for thirty minutes then transfer into a freezer bag.

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Pickle it!

Place right sized spears in quart sized clean, warm canning jars.  In each jar add 2 cloves of garlic, 1 Tablespoon of dill (dried as fresh isn’t ready yet), 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed, and a 1/4 teaspoon of ground mustard.  These additions can be altered, removed, or things added to fit your taste.  They do not change the time processed!

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Now fill the jars half way with red wine vinegar (to learn how to make red wine vinegar click here) or apple cider vinegar and the rest of the way with water.  Leave a half inch head space on top.  Clean the rim and apply the lid.  Place in a large pot of boiling water so that the water covers the lid.  Boil for 20 minutes adding 1 minute per 1000 feet above sea level that one’s homestead is at.  I round up to seven.  So, I will boil the jars for 27 minutes.

Remove jars and let sit on counter overnight.  The jar should have sealed.  Label and place in pantry until July.

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The other crop to preserve right now is dandelions.  The leaves can and should be eaten in salads, smoothies, soups, and with roasted veggies.  The flowers will become dandelion jelly today.  Click here to find out how!

Hurray for spring vegetables!

The Gushing Grammie and Mini-Farmgirl

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We have the great honor of babysitting our granddaughter, Maryjane, five days a week during the day.  Many of you know our sweet Maryjane in person and many of you know her through my writings.  Some of you were there when she was born, peeking through the computer screen at our newborn.  She has stellar parents who work hard and go to school so we lucked out to be able to watch her.  It is one of the joys of homesteading and making our own schedule.  We live with less, but we have time.

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This little girl has the most adventurous spirit.  She brings out the fun in us too.  I have found myself pretending to feed my “horse” while we are driving and picking our imaginary horse carrots from the front seat.  She wants to play music.  Any platform at all from umbrella stands at restaurants to real stages will find her atop them singing.  She dances suddenly and smiles unabashedly.  Then throws a mighty temper when she doesn’t get her way.

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She loves animals and is a compassionate little girl, brushing the hair from your face and kissing you if you are sad.  She notices everything in her little world.  She is a great gift to this life and I am so very thankful for her.  She makes this farm all the better.

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The moment she entered the world I had the oddest sensation that I knew her.  Like we had been sisters or friends running through woods together in a past life.  I knew her soul instantly.  Perhaps I just knew her because she came from my daughter.  I do not know.  All I know is that this is the greatest job that Doug and I have had yet.  And when the others have children we are getting a van that reads “Grammie and Papa’s Sittin’ Service” and will drive around town to pick them all up and bring them back to the farm!