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Howdy from Homeland Farm

The Week That Was ...

Howdy from Homeland FarmWhat a weird winter we have had in Maine this year. We typically get several snowstorms in the winter, with snowfall amounts ranging from a few inches to a foot or more. That is a typical winter in Maine. This year, however, we have had a strange winter by New England standards.

We got our first snowfall right after Christmas, and it was a doozy. We got 27 inches here in the so-called foothills of Western Maine. Lots of tractor snow-moving and truck-plowing to get all the chores done. My daughter runs a large animal rescue and usually has 12 to 15 horses, donkeys, and mules. We also have alpacas and a pot-bellied pig, along with many laying hens. With that much snowfall, we needed to clean out all our gates, shovel the stall ramps, and even clean spots in the pastures for the horses to get their round bale delivery. Then, of course, we had the house and house-barn shoveling that includes all the doors and barn entryway. After all was cleaned up here, my sons went next door and started all over again at my parents’ house. Ahh ... it’s great to be young! Rather, it's great to have young sons!

After that big storm, we slipped into January and, except for a couple small snowfalls of an inch or three, we had a quiet month. Truthfully, our January thaw — which usually lasts a week or so — ended up going on for almost three weeks. Above-normal temperatures and much melting had the snow almost gone, with many bare spots showing in the fields.

Then came ... the week that was ...

On February 7th, we got our first storm — which got the kids an early release from school — and our first 6 inches of snow. There was no school on the 8th because the snow had ended by turning to an icy coating.

The 9th started out clear, but there was already a no school announcement as the next storm was rolling in and started at around 8 a.m. It snowed hard all day and ended up giving us another 11 inches on top of the 6 we just got.

On the 11th, it started again. A "Yankee Clipper" came through and dropped another 8 inches of snow. By now we are used to it and managed to get all the chores done without too much trouble. My daughter had a chance to shake off the horse's blankets and change out the wet ones for nice, dry ones.

A brief break overnight, and then the "the big one" was on our doorstep. According to weathermen, we were supposed to get 20 or so inches of snow. February 12th dawned gray, per usual, and by mid afternoon it had started. Lots of accidents and crashes as the banks got so high it was hard to see into the road until you pulled your car way out.

The morning of the 13th dawned snowy and windy, with most of the lower part of the state shut down. It snowed all day, and we ended up with over 20 fresh inches of the fluffy white stuff that I personally love at Christmas, but have no use for the rest of the year. Much shoveling and clearing later, and we were hopefully done!

February 14th was a blue sky and a lovely, warm Valentine’s Day. Melting ensued, but what was that I heard? You guessed it, another storm for tomorrow.

I woke up on the 15th, and it was snowing hard. The kids had school, as the district was trying hard to make it so the kids didn't have school into July. It snowed hard all day, but they managed to get in a half-day so they won''t have to make that day up. By later afternoon, it was a full-on snowstorm. We had to do some necessary traveling in the afternoon, and by the time we came home it was terrible. The roads weren't plowed, the visibility was zero, and it was a long, hard drive home.

The 16th dawned cloudy, with a few more snow flurries but another 16 inches of fresh snow. I am 54 and don't remember snow banks as high as they were at the end of that week. We went from bare spots to 10-foot banks, having received over 50 inches of snow in just over a week's time.

So, here it's March 12th, and we have just had a great period of nice weather. Oh sure, the last couple days had wind chill of 30 below zero, but hey — no snow to speak of since the 16th.

Spring is in the air! Horses have started shedding, the snow has settled back to allow bare spots in the field, and they say we are going to have warmer temperatures next week. I bet the grass is going to start turning green where we can see the ground. I am even pleased to see the mud in the driveway. Yep, I think flowers are just around the corner ...

Wait, what? A snowstorm, you say? A genuine nor'easter, you say? We are in the 20-inch zone, they are telling us? Great. Kids, polish up those snow shovels, drag out those snow pants, and get the gloves at the ready. Winter of '17 isn't done with us yet, I guess.

Boys, how do you feel about school ... in July?

Red barn in snow
Photo by By Ximeg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Futility of Floor Washing in Winter

Howdy from Homeland FarmThe other day I had the crazy idea to wash my floors. I have been watching as a thick layer of mud, muck, and mire has started to build up in my laundry room. Now, I am not a slack housekeeper, but I have so much to do that housecleaning — and especially floor washing — seems to get put on the back burner. My daily schedule leaves very little time for the mop. Take a look at my daily agenda:

• 7:00 AM: Get up.
• 7:30 AM: Feed dogs. Feed cats. Make coffee.
• 8:00 AM: Drink coffee. Put dogs out.
• 8:30 AM: Get dogs in. Drink more coffee.
• 9:00 AM - 4 PM: Think about housecleaning.
• 4:30 PM: Decide it is too late now to clean.

So, as you can see, I am far to busy to be able to clean house and wash floors. Yet, from time to time, it becomes painfully obvious that drastic measures must take place. This happened to me just this week.


Living on a 6th-generation family farm in Maine, I am very used to pails in the laundry room. Often they are thawing, or sometimes they hold a mash or soaked grain for some variety of animal. These pails often accompany a frozen hose or two and a never-ending supply of muck boots, shoes, gloves, hats, and mittens.

The problem for me is that it takes an hour's worth of work just to get ready to mop the floor. I have to lug said pails back out in the barn. I have to wrangle that frozen hose like a cobra trainer and muscle it out the door. I have to handle the 12 pairs of cruddy, nasty, muck boots and take them all out and place them on the boot trays outside the house. Then, of course, I have to pick up the boot trays inside the house and carefully chuck the cruddy tray out into the snowbank.

Feed room

Then ... it is sweep-the-floor time. Hay, manure, dirt, mud, and unknown "stuff" gets swept out of every corner and cubbyhole and into a huge pile in the middle of the floor. I think to myself, as I always do, that I really need a broom designated for that room only. I make a mental note to buy one, then promptly forget to do so until it is time to clean again.

I sweep it all into the dustpan (if only it was ever really used for dust ...), and toss the foul mixture out into the trashcan in the barn. Now at last, floor-washing time. I dig out my floor pail and mop from behind the door on the back porch, dust off the cobwebs, and place it in the sink. Out comes my good old friend, Mr. Bleach, and with a little squirt of soap, we are ready.

I lug the mop and pail to laundry room and commence washing floors like I'm a swabbing a pirate ship's deck. I slop the water on and start mopping. The smell of bleach permeates the air, and I plunge and wring, plunge and wring. I even go crazy and move the box of winter squash on the floor, getting behind and under it. I am a mopping machine, only pausing to let the dogs out ... then back in. Oh, I had a swig of my lukewarm coffee as well.

group of dogs at window 

At last. The floor is spotless. It smells like a hospital it is so clean. I consider eating supper off it that night, but decide once I get down, I might not get back up. Mopping isn't easy, ya know. So I drag my now-filthy pail of water out to back porch and dump it off the steps. A few minutes later, I am sitting back at the kitchen table with a fresh cup of coffee, the smell of bleach on my hands overpowering every time I raise the cup to my mouth. However, the sense of accomplishment is worth it. My floors are pristine. I sit there drinking coffee and ponder maybe even busting out the vacuum, until I come to my senses. Might as well spread all the cleaning fun out over the rest of the week. Don't need to go crazy or anything.

Suddenly, the laundry room door bursts open and in comes the farmer, dropping his boots by the door. Shortly after him my daughter comes in, lugging a chicken that has a frozen comb and needs to be inside for the night because it is going to be negative 10 degrees. The hen is quickly set up in a cage with food and water. Oh, and shavings. Shavings and hay. Shavings and hay that are soon everywhere but in the cage, as the hen — who is mighty tickled to be inside — starts to flutter around, flapping her wings in joy. Oh joy.

buckets of feed

Four pails are then plunked on the floor: mash, apples, and warm water soaking to make a tasty treat for the animals in the cold morning. I stand and look at the once-pristine laundry room. In the background, I hear something about an alpaca that isn't well, and something else about setting up a pen for her on the back porch. I decide coffee isn't nearly strong enough. Go looking for stronger stuff. Vow to wait until spring to wash floors again. Oh, and put the dogs out.