Thursday, December 09, 2010

So we got the milk, what do we do with the cream?

I'd like to nudge you over to Carla's blog to see how we turned cream from our milk (now that we have some) into butter! Click the link below to find out all about it.

Our milking has slowed a little as the Momma cow's calf became sick. I feared it was getting pneumonia as it was breathing heavy. I gave it a dose of Micotil (an injectible antibiotic for respiratory illness in cattle) and hoped for the best. Despite it getting quite cold out about the time Dot got sick (-23C one night) she seems to have recovered well. For now I'm leaving it all the milk Momma has and had an opportunity to milk Daisy the Dexter who actually cooperated quite well. So I might just stay with milking her instead. We shall see how it goes!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Revisiting Cow Milking

Last fall when we purchased a couple of Dexter cows (a miniature dual-purpose breed) we tried our hand at milking. The experiment lasted only a couple of weeks when Daisy decided she'd had enough. A couple of weeks ago we had another cow have a late calf and Carla asked if it would be possible to milk her. After some thought I figured I'd give it a try as this cow has a very quiet temperament. We've had her from birth and she's a full size cow, half Angus (mother) and half Hereford (father). She has no name as we usually don't name our cows, but her tag is 4D15. As you might be able to tell from the photo above, her calf has been dubbed Dot. It's a little heifer calf.

The cow hasn't gotten quite used to the whole milking procedure yet. She began very concerned for her calf. When we began I was putting her into a so-called "maternity pen" designed for assisting cows at calving time which didn't quite work for getting her into a headgate properly restrained. Even with a tub of grain in front of her it was hard to convince her to cooperate. When I found an opportunity I setup our portable cattle handling system in our barnyard (it spends the summer setup at our pasture corrals). Look it up here. It's a big long green thing with wheels. This machine is specially designed for cattle flow and restraint and is working far better. Another thing which helps is that once the cow is in the headgate, she is looking at the corral she came from where her calf is, so I think she's less worried. Over time she will get used to the process I'm sure and remember she's getting a tasty treat.

Anyway, once she's in, she's happily eating her tub of grain and stands wonderfully for me to milk. So far I'm milking every morning and can usually get 2-4 liters of milk from her, depending what the calf has left me. It has usually cleaned out 2 of the four tits before I get there. During the short time I was milking the Dexter cow, we got very rich milk, at times probably 30% cream. This cow is the complete opposite. It's Milk Lite! Carla's a little disappointed as she was hoping to make butter and ice cream. Sorry, not for a while yet!

As a child my dad milked cows and we drank raw milk so I have no reservations about it. Is it healthier? I don't know, but there's a certain satisfaction to eating and drinking our own production whether it's dairy, vegetable or beef, that's for sure. I hope to do a Part 2 soon to show the milking and de-creaming and all the other fun household parts of the job!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mitchell's new toy

A couple of weeks ago, Mitchell bought a quad. This is something he's been dying to get for ages now. Last year he bottle fed a calf and at the time we told him when it was big enough to sell he could keep the money and buy something with it. Since then the only thing he's wanted is a quad.

A short time ago, we heard from my sister that they might be interested in selling their oldest boys quad, which was a small kids size machine, with an engine probably around 50cc. It's not a name-brand machine, just something made in China. Around here people call these machines Chondas (China/Honda). Their son was getting a little too big for this one so it would be perfect for Mitchell who's a couple of years younger. They only wanted $200 for it which was a lot less than we expected to be paying for something like this. As Mitchell got $550 for his calf he still had lots of money to spend on a helmet.

Before picking up the quad we went shopping at Canadian Tire, something of a department store in Canada, which sells auto parts, sporting goods, hardware, etc. Mitchell's "problem" is that he has a big head and we ended up having to spend $100 on a Adult Small helmet to fit his head. As you can see in the picture despite the fact he's only eight years old, it's definitely not too big for him!

Anyway, finally the day came to make the deal and bring the quad home. Mitchell went for a little spin and we promptly had a little problem with the brakes. It appears a brake pad broke and jammed up the rear axle. My sister's husband rushed out and fixed it for Mitchell and here he is roaring around. Thanks Uncle Tim! Mitchell loves it and happily spends hours cruising around the farm!

Sometimes I hate being tech support

Those of you who are knowledgable about computers have been there before. Someone you know (friends, family, coworkers) is having trouble with their computer and ask you to fix it for them. I have had two recent occasions that have left me with headaches.

I should start by saying that I help family out without question or or monetary compensation. My sister and her family take our kids when Carla and I go to the annual homeschool conference And my mom, well, she brought me into this world and she can take me out! But for everyone else I usually charge something. If it's a matter of "My computer is running slow" and it's not infested with malware, I do the basic maintenance and send it back with a bill for $20-$30. These last two were something more, though.

The first one was a newer box running Windows XP that was thoroughly infested with malware and after beating on it with various antivirus and spyware apps, I gave up and reinstalled Windows. The previous scanning and deleting just couldn't get rid of everything and I tried AVG and Avast antivirus software as well as Spybot Search & Destroy and AdAware. I also ran an app called HijackThis which spit out a log for me to look for suspicious stuff. Unfortunately as I said, I was still getting detection warnings after trying to clean things up with those apps. So I backed up what I could and went on to the reinstall

Reinstalling Windows also turned out to be problematic as the installer wouldn't work properly so I had to create a custom XP install disk with both Service Pack 2 and Service Pack 3 built into it to get around the install problem. But once I got that figured out and Windows reinstalled the machine seemed to be nearly cured. I ran a couple more scans and cleaned out a couple more apps and files that were still infected and sent it back to the customer with a bill for $60.

A job Carla and I are both working on now involved a local business. Due to a staffing change, their office manager is gone and took some computers with him. We were contacted to get another machine into the office with the required apps and then Carla would teach them the software (I'm the hardware guy and Carla's the office software expert). They supplied us with an old P3-500 Win98 machine they hoped would work in the interim.

Well, after struggling at home for a while with this old box I came to the conclusion that it was DOA. Luckily I had a used 1.3Ghz XP box in the basement collecting dust. I dragged it out and it fired up right away so I set to work cleaning the drive and installing software. This consisted mostly of updating it for security and getting QuickBooks 2008 and 2010 installed. Most of the trouble here was with this old box being a little weak. Installs and updates took a frustrating amount of time to finish.

I did eventually get finished with that machine and Carla delivered it. She got it setup in the office and working with the printers. While there she was supposed to instruct the other workers on how to operate the machine and do the various office tasks including payroll through a conference call with the American head office. Unfortunately the never called so that has been put off for now. The local workers would rather Carla became an employee and do that work for them as they aren't computer fans and Carla would love to get back into an office as that was her career previously. That would be awesome if it did happen. Anyway, this job is therefore still ongoing and hasn't been billed but I expect to get a pretty good cheque out of it. Though the last job I did for a commercial enterprise, it took six months to get paid (a skidsteer snow clearing job for a construction company). Hopefully it's better this time!

I want to end here with a word about why I found these jobs to be headaches. I'm not a Windows guru. That's not to say I don't use it, but my day-to-day machine is a Mac and of the eight computers used in our home, five are Macs. I've been a Mac user for about three years and before that I main box was a PC running Linux for a decade. So when it comes to getting down and dirty with Windows and especially Windows malware the stress level goes way up. It's not something I encounter on my machines. I don't even run antivirus software on our two machines running Windows as they are mainly just for games (one mine which is rarely on and the other for the kids) not to mention that I don't mindlessly download crap.

Yes, Macs cost more than PCs. But I'd rather pay the money and never have to worry about malware while having a consistent and reliable operating system. One can also buy them cheaper refurbished from Apple's online store. If you still prefer a PC, please consider Linux if you don't have a requirement for specific Windows software. The Linux operating system is legally free for the download and some places will also send you a free disc. Heck, I'd even send you a free disc! On all the Mac and Linux boxes I run only software I legally obtained for free. For example, our farm accounting is done by Carla is spreadsheets using OpenOffice.

So, well, I'll get off my soap box and wish you all safe computing!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Needing a break

October is half over already and I'm wondering where the time has gone. It's been insane around here this month. Both Carla and I have been working pretty steady both off-farm and on. By the end of this weekend Carla will have had twelve straight days working in town at either the restaurant or the gas station. Up until a few days ago I was helping our neighbor with his harvest and put in about ten days trucking grain from the field to the grain bin.

Of course when we're not working off-farm, then there's work to be done around here. We've been struggling to fit in hauling our hay bales off the hay fields and into the yard, harvesting our own tiny bit of grain and all the other usual house and yard work. Homeschooling has somewhat been put aside for now as we try to keep up with life in general!

Through this time we've let the boys either stay home with Carla or come with me to the field. The majority of my days helping our neighbor had them joining me in the grain truck. Earlier on it was fun, but after the days start to add up, being crammed together all day in a truck loses much of its appeal. There were occasions the boys could get out and run around, but when a combine was around it was time for them to get back into the truck, for safety reasons, to keep them out of the way and to keep them out of the grain dust. But I've been spending so much time with the kids lately (at home and at work essentially) that I'm looking forward to every spare moment to myself!

Harvest time does provide opportunities for learning, too. As our farm is more into beef cattle production, the boys don't get as much of an opportunity to see different grains. Helping our neighbor combine wheat let the boys see where flour comes from. Wack a few kernels with a hammer and it's obvious! Hammer some oats and you see oatmeal!

The pace of work this month has been quite a bit different that most of the spring and summer simply due to the weather being so much dryer now. It's has to be at least three weeks since we last had rain! We haven't seen such a dry stretch all year! There's even salt blowing off Chaplin Lake in the wind today. I didn't think it would dry out that much this year.

I hope the weather holds for a while as there's still so much to many bales left to haul (both ours and our neighbor's which he hires me to help with), corrals to clean (again ours and my neighbor's which I help with, too)...I could use another two months of warm dry weather! Ha! Something tells me I'll be working in cold, wet slop before too long...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I'm moving like an old man today

I admit it. I've got a bum hip. Well, sometimes anyway. My left hip sometimes is very painful and yesterday it started acting up again. I'm not sure why, but while I was standing around watching Mitchell pressure washing the semi, I felt it start to ache. It's not too bad standing and walking around, but certain movements are very painful. Yesterday evening I could barely get off the couch and rolling over in bed was a challenge, though once I got settled into place I wasn't too bad and was able to sleep...until I needed to move again.

It's been bothering me today again and I've been a bit slower getting in and out of the tractor. While swathing an oat field I wasn't too bad but as the hours passed I could feel it starting to hurt more, probably from bouncing around. Luckily (or not) I had a breakdown and quit for the day. Usually after a period of time it clears up and I'll be pain-free for a while. It's been months since it bothered me last and I'm not sure what I did to aggravate it. The day before the pain started I had a busy day hauling bales which required driving the semi and unloading with a tractor so plenty of clutch work with the left leg, but I'm not sure why it took so long to hit me if that's what caused it.

I am fairly certain I know the root of my problem. Many years ago (a dozen?) our cows were bred to calve in the late winter and as they came close to their due date, they'd be brought into the corrals so we could check them often in case they needed help calving. Several times a day I would climb a corral fence and jump down and go and check the cows. It was fast and convenient. Turns out I always landed on my left foot. I gave myself an achy hip that calving season and have cursed myself with it recurring from time to time. I'm much more careful now, always paying attention to what leg I land on when I have to jump and going through gates rather than jumping fences.

No doubt it'll turn into arthritis (if it hasn't already). I'll probably get it in my right thumb joint, too, since I injured that and it bothers me from time to time, too. That one got jerked in a rope when I was catching a calf that escaped into a neighbor's pasture. Come to think of it, cattle related injuries are taking their toll on me! I nearly had my nose broken by one of the Dexter cows last November when she hit a swinging steel gate which caught me right where my glasses sit. A few years ago I got kicked by a calf on my left temple which caused my glasses to go flying and get trampled under the feet of the calves in the corral. And once I broke a finger in an accident with the post pounder.

Maybe I should have stayed in the army. It might be safer!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Is monsoon season finally over?

Finally our five-day forecast is saying no rain. I don't actually remember when we last had a forecast like that. It's definitely been a soggy year for us in Saskatchewan. Our nearest city, Swift Current, about 50 miles away, has had about 21 inches of rain since April 1. Their normal precipitation would usually be about 11 inches. So we're running about double of normal. No wonder it's been so hard to get field work done around here!

Coupled with that wet weather has been a cooler-than-normal spring and summer. April was the last month that had normal temperatures. Every month since has been cooler than normal. Only three days have been over 30 degrees Celcius (86F) when we would normally have a dozen or more. May had us suffering through snow storms while our cows were calving which was rather annoying as we moved calving later to avoid that sort of thing. September has been soggy and cold which is a complete reversal of last year when September turned out to be our hottest month of the year (after another abnormally cool summer).

Fortunately I'm not a large grain farmer so I don't have much to harvest and I'm pretty much done my haying for the year. Plenty of farmers are faced with a late and difficult grain harvest or perhaps don't even have one to harvest as they couldn't even get seeding done due to flooded fields. A news report yesterday said that harvest is about 18% complete this year when the average should be 61% on this date.

A couple of weeks ago a news report said this was the warmest year on record. Perhaps it was...somewhere! I know some of you suffered through 100+ degree days for weeks on end and as someone who thinks it's getting hot when it hits 80 I really felt for ya. But I think I'd have preferred to trade a few degrees for a few inches of rain!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First steps into our second year of homeschooling

This week we mailed in our notification and education plan to begin our second year of homeschooling the 3 Ms. This year we're having Michael and Matthew start Kindergarten level work but as they don't fall within the mandatory 6-17 age group they are not officially registered though we are entitled to have them registered. So this is the first year we've got all three boys homeschooling "full-time."

We've been asked numerous times if we're sending our children back to Chaplin School. Some of you may recall the reason we started homeschooling was because there was a chance our local public school would be closed due to low enrolment (less than 50 kids K-12). It managed to survive but had Grades 9-12 moved to another town leaving just K-8 which turened into K-5 as all the older children either followed siblings to the other school or their parents sent them that way by their own choice. But due to numerous reasons realized over the course of the past school year, the school division decided to restore Chaplin School to a full K-12 school. That's when people started asking if we were sending our children back. We have our school back so why not? Well, we've come to enjoy the freedom of homeschooling too much! Yes, we have our challenges, such as Mitchell's aversion to math and writing, but there are also times we have plenty of fun, too!

So anyway, we're trying a few different things this year. We picked up several Singapore Math books at the last homeschool convention's used book sale which we'll use to replace Miquon which just didn't work for us. We'll also be using Modern Curriculum Press's plaid phonics to replace Learning Language Arts Through Literature (LLAL).

We'll be continuing to use Story Of The World which we started this spring. I plan to add REAL Science Odyssey but continue with Evan-Moor's Daily Science which Mitchell enjoys very much. I also plan to continue our study of Canada with Donna Ward's products from Northwoods Press, perhaps with a geographical study of the provinces and territories as Mitchell seems to quite enjoy geography, especially maps.

Matthew and Michael will be kept to the basics for the most part. My goal this year will be help them learn to read and do very basic math. I think that Michael will find it a breeze as he seem to be picking up skills already, especially math. Matthew on the other hand will need more help. Despite being twins they are quite far apart in development, both physical and intellectual. Matthew also gets frustrated easily and his patience suffers. I'm expecting them to eventually be running a grade level apart but we'll see how it goes this year.

I'm not sure of an exact start date for school yet. It's super busy around here with Carla working her two jobs and me trying to get through haying season which has been frustratingly slow. Last year I started on August 17, but I can't see that happening this year. I might be able to get started around September 1, which is what I put on the notification form. I expect a really busy fall, though, as we begin hauling hay bales with the semi, as I do custom hauling for a few other farmers, too. Because this year was an excellent year for hay, there is a lot of bales to haul. I might try to put together some things for the boys to do in the truck as we zoom around. There's plenty of room back in the sleeper for them to hang out. The trouble is keeping them on track if I give them work to do. Maybe I could even just have them read books before we put on the portable DVD player.

Anyway, that's my thoughts for now. I can't wait for us to dig into our new homeschool goodies this fall!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Yet more truck fixin'

I had to repair our 1990 Chevy 1500 truck today. Again. I've had soooo much trouble with trucks over the past several months. It started last fall when this truck and the grain truck, a 1973 GMC 6500 both just quit running. I left both until spring as I didn't really need either one over winter. I also had plenty of trouble getting our 1997 GMC Sierra 2500 started most of the winter. As the weather warmed up in March I started work on the trucks to get them all running properly again.

If I remember correctly I started with the GMC Sierra. It has a 6.5L turbo-charged diesel engine that has glow plugs that preheat the combustion chamber to help start the engine. When you turn the key on, a light on the dash says "Wait To Start". When that light goes off, then you turn the key the rest of the way to turn the engine. Well, in our case that wasn't doing what it should. I ended up having to spray starting fluid (ether) into the air cleaner to get the thing going, which isn't really safe for this truck, but it got it going. I had changed the glow plugs last fall with some I found for cheap on eBay, but obviously that wasn't helping. I changed the glow plug controller after that is supposed to send power to the glow plugs, but that didn't help either. I then installed an override button in the cab that let me add more time to the glow plug warming time. No dice. So in March is when I dug into the engine and changed the injectors, which spray fuel into the engine. When they're worn out, it can cause hard starting, too. Well, much to my dismay after a hard two or three days of work (and building my own injector socket), I found that didn't help either. This is when I wanted to just push the thing into our garbage pit and set it on fire. But I started testing my 'new' glow plugs and found most of them didn't work! So rather than just buy eBay junk again I bought name-brand plugs from a diesel shop and lo-and-behold that truck fired up right away! I was so relieved! Now on to fixing the next truck.

The 1990 Chevy has a 5.7L gas engine (the venerable Chevy 350 cubic incher) so it has spark plugs and I came to discover it wasn't sparking. I started with changing the ignition coil but nothing improved. She'd turn over but not fire. After a bit of research I learned there's an ignition module under the distributor cap. Changed that and away it went. Thankfully a little simpler fix! But I found that I had a fuel leak on the back of the throttle body. I figured it was a little nylon washer that was wrecked from me checking for fuel before I found it was an ignition problem. Apparently GM will only sell me a whole kit for $60 just so I can get an five cent washer. No thanks! I checked all over for this washer or something like it until I learned that a place called Fastenal could order just a washer for me. Cost me $2.33 for two of them. turns out it wasn't just the washer that was screwed. It was the threads on the back of the throttle body where the fuel line attaches that were messed up because I cross-threaded the line. Ooops. Well, luckily my neighbor wrecks trucks for parts so I got a used throttle body from him and everything was just fine and I didn't even need to use my $2.33 cent washers!

So, next was the grain truck. Holy s**t, what a pain in the a** that thing turned out to be! This truck has a 366 cubic inch big-block gas engine. Again, it had no spark. This being an older engine it had the old-style points in the distributor rather than electronics. I had a huge amount of trouble getting enough spark to the spark plugs on this engine. I changed the point set twice, cleaned up or replaced corroded wires, changed the ignition coil. To make it all an even worse job was having to climb up into the engine bay to do most of this work as it's a big truck. Anyway, I ended up giving up on the old distributor and points and took an electronic ignition from one of my retired trucks and put that in, thankfully not before discovering that the oil pump drive on the bottom of the distributor shaft was different and swapping those parts from the original shaft. The last think I needed was to get the thing running only to wreck the engine because of no oil pumping around inside it! Anyway, after getting that distributor installed (and getting new plug wires that fit this distributor and engine combination) and wiring it up, which by the way turned out to be easier than I thought it would be, the truck was up and running again! Yay!

Now you'd think I had three trucks up and running again! Ha! I'm not that lucky. One day while checking cows with the diesel truck I heard a bit of rattling under the hood. As I turned and wondered what it could be, it got worse for a couple of seconds and then the truck stopped running. Uh-oh! Well, what turned out to have happened was that the positive battery cable between the two batteries (one in each front corner of the engine bay) had come loose from it's clips over the radiator and dropped into the fan, gotten wrapped up and shorted to the point of melting the connections out both batteries. What a f***ing mess! After some contemplation (and removing the fan to unwrap the cable) I came up with a plan of action. I always buy batteries that have both side posts and top posts because I never know where either one might come in handy. The truck used side posts, but both positives were melted out, so I would buy a length of bulk welding cable and clamp on some top post ring terminals. One complication was that the started cable used the same post on one side so after cutting that I put a ring terminal on that cable that would attach to the tightening bolt on the top post clamp. The other side had a smaller wire that came from the fuse box so I did the same to that one and got that truck back in action.

Now I ask myself what more could happen to these trucks! Well, a couple of days ago checking cows again the 1990 truck started hesitating or cutting out for a fraction of a second as I drove. I stopped once and checked the battery connections which were tight. Hmmm...well I drove on and not two minutes later it quit completely and smoke started coming out from under the hood. That's not usually a good sign. I took a peek and guess what? My battery cables are melted! You gotta be kidding, you say! Well, I'm not! We had a couple of days of rain so I let the truck sit for a while and got back to it today. I got a couple of cables from one of the neighbor's wrecks and headed back to the pasture. It appears that the positive cable was resting against the exhaust manifold and melted the insulation shorting the electrical system and melting the cables. It didn't take long to get it back running with the 'new' cables.

So...I'm thinking I need to just give up driving these trucks so they don't break down again! I've come to learn that things only break down when I'm using them so as long as they're just sitting here in the yard they'll be fine. :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My long awaited photo opportunity arrives!

You may recall that the last time I posted photos I mentioned waiting since last year to take some particular shots involving morning dew. Well it happened. Let me share a few with you.

This is the first shot I took that morning, probably about 6:45am. We're looking east along a fenceline buried in caragana trees. In the distance is our neighbor's farm. The air is hazy and moisture-laden. The grass shines with the dew laying on it. I pumped up the saturation and contrast more on this one to bring out the green in the trees.

This one is from a slightly different angle and I left it with a softer look. I also cropped it for a "widescreen" format.

As I walked back to the house I took note of the drops of dew hanging on the long leaves of the grass I was walking through and thought it would make a good closeup shot. This is as it came from the camera - no editing.

I'm not sure which of the three I like best, they all have good points and bad points. The top one is the best for color and light I think, but I like the angle of the second one better of those two. The third is a different sort of picture so perhaps I shouldn't try to compare it to the others, but I like the color and to me it's a simpler picture...less going on if you know what I mean.

I hope you enjoyed my latest pictures. It was fun making them even if I did get wet feet!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Daddy's not-so-little helper

A few days ago I wanted to go replace some posts on a pasture fence and noticed I had a flat tire on the post pounder, a tractor-towed implement that literally hammers posts into the ground. Mitchell asked if he could help and since I wasn't in a big hurry I figured it would be fun for him and he could do a few things within his abilities. I took a few pictures as we worked.

In this photo Mitchell is raising the hydraulic jack so that we can pull the wheel off the hub. If you look closely you can see he has already got the wheel bolts off.

After we had the wheel off Mitchell rolled it into the shop. Please excuse the mess. Shop cleaning isn't my speciality, but I hope to take a day this year sometime to clean it up. Anyway, we patched a hole in the tire tube and replaced the tire as well as it had a crack through the sidewall. I keep worn out 15-inch truck tires as they work well to replace implement tires.

In this photo Mitchell is filling the tire with air. This was one of the more difficult jobs for him as it was sometimes hard for him to line up the air chuck with the tire valve stem so that it sealed properly to allow the air to go in. Once I helped him line it up he was good to go!

Once we had about 35 PSI of air in the tire Mitchell rolled it back out to the post pounder and we hung it on the wheel hub again. I started threading the bolts for him and then he turned them in with the ratchet as you can see here. I made sure they were tight and we let the jack down. We're done!

Mitchell is doing more and more jobs around the farm now. He's done a bit of lawn mowing with a push mower on small areas and yesterday he picked a few rocks with his brothers. I ran the skidsteer while they threw the rocks into the bucket, or rolled them on if they were too big to carry. On a couple of occasions he's also driven a truck by himself around the farm. He's driven often with me beside him but a couple of times I had to walk behind some cows or needed a truck moved through a gate or across the yard and I trust him enough now to move small distances at low speed by himself.

Good work Mitchell!

Friday, April 30, 2010


It's a lovely rainy day here, which means I won't be spending the day outside. I realized I have't made a blog post in a while and decided to put something here. It took a while to think of something but I figured I'd write something about my not-quite-hobby of photography.

Now I don't consider myself a real photographer. I haven't played one on TV either. I never even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express (you have to see the commercial to get the joke). But since we got a Canon Rebel XS last year I like to play around a little bit. So here's a few of my most recent shots and my thoughts behind them.

This photo I called "Wishing For Spring." It might be hard to tell, but that's a wooden wishing well lawn decoration buried in snow. It was taken soon after a February blizzard.

This shot I called "Waiting For Spring." It's a lonely leaf blown from a Manitoba Maple in the middle of winter.

This next photo is part of my Star Trek inspired series. I call it "The Doomsday Machine." I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to find out why. It's just a tulip...or is it...

Part two in the Star Trek series I call "The Crystalline Entity." Who knows what horrible death awaits on a frosty winter morning...

I have a certain other shot not yet taken that I'm waiting for the right conditions to take. I saw the opportunity one spring morning last year but was without a camera. I'm hoping the right conditions exist this spring for me to take that shot this year. I require a morning sun, dew and the plenty of green leaves in some caragana trees along a fence line. Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Calf in the bathtub - Welcome to calving season!

As some of you are aware, we're farmers and primarily beef cattle producers. We've just gotten started on our 2010 calving season with three early calves so far.

Our third calf has had some trouble, though. It's mother isn't supplying much milk and after checking the calf one day, I thought I'd give it one more day to see how it was doing as it seemed to be not too bad when I checked it. It was able to get up and its mouth was warm. Unfortunately the next morning it was laying on its side, looking like it was near death.

I quickly got it to the house and put it in the bathtub. Carla put a blanket on it and turned on the bathroom heater. It's mouth was cold now so obviously it's body temperature was very low. We've had quite a few cold damp nights lately which couldn't have been very good for a possibly undernourished calf.

Luckily we had a bit of colostrum stored in the freezer that I had milked from cows in previous years, so we thawed a bottle and I tube-fed the calf to get something warm and nourishing into its belly. After a couple of hours, I started tube feeding Revibe HE, which is high-energy electrolytes. I mixed a package of that with two litres of warm water and fed it over a period of about two hours. She also got a shot of Micotil in case she had a touch of pneumonia. It was about this time we started to see some improvement in the condition of the calf. I think it was about 6pm that I was starting to feel confident that it would survive as it was looking more alert and it's mouth was warming up.

I next mixed up some milk replacer powder with a liter of warm water and fed with a bottle with a nipple on it. When a calf can suck on its own, it's so much easer and a sign that the calf is feeling pretty good again. I did this again at bed time. By now the calf looks almost normal, holding its head up on its own and looking quite alert. But we kept the calf in the tub overnight as I didn't want to send it out in the coldest part of the day.

The next morning I fed the calf milk replacer again, a full feed in two liters of water and then took it out to the field for a happy reunion with it's mother. It's doing fine now, but I am supplementing her with milk replacer once a day and hoping her mother will boost her production over time.

I'm hoping the rest of the calving season goes better. The weather is warming up nicely here, but it's kind of sloppy right now with the melting snow. I wouldn't mind if the rest of the herd waited a bit until the ground dries a bit more. But we've got a start. 3 down, about 65 to go!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Our experience at the 2010 SHBE Convention

Hi, everyone! We're back from a couple of fun and interesting days spent at the 2010 Saskatchewan Home-based Educators Conference. This year it was held at the University of Regina in Regina, Saskatchewan.

This year's keynote speaker, Andrew Pudewa, presented a couple of talks on the importance of reading, writing and speaking. He also led several workshops on more specific topics. Those we attended included "Humor in Teaching", "Reaching Reluctant Writers" and "Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Build Forts All Day." If you ever get a chance to hear Andrew speak, please try to attend. He's an amazing speaker who makes a lot of sense and at the same time makes his subject entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny! A friend told us that she overheard another person say that in the ten years they've attended this conference Andrew was the best speaker they've ever heard.

Andrew's first keynote was about the nature of the public education system and how it was originally designed to produce better workers and not better people. He then went on to talk about what we could do as home educators to ensure our children turned out to be the opposite - people with character and the knowledge to pursue their passions.

The first workshop we attended was "Teaching The Way They Learn" and our instructor was Carol Krahn. We learned some ways we can help children learn depending on which side of their brain is dominant. The next workshop was somewhat related and had to do with neurological brain development - "OK, Now I'm Teaching So Why Aren't They Learning?" This workshop had to do with children who may have some sort of glitch in their brain that may make it difficult to learn, possibly signals from eyes or ears not being processed by the brain properly. We were given suggestions on what to look out for and suggestions on how to deal with these possible problems. These two sessions were important for us to attend as Matthew is behind his twin brother Michael in physical and intellectual development and we want to be prepared for educational issues. So far we're hopeful he's just "behind" and he'll just learn at his own pace but it's better to be prepared, right?

The next two workshops were both Andrew's and as the two above were somewhat related - "Reaching Reluctant Writers" and "Boys and Forts". Andrew asked us if we had children who would rather clean all the toilets in the house for a week than write and I immediately thought "That's Mitchell!" In the first talk he gave us a process to follow to get these kinds of children writing. This involved taking a short passage (his suggestion was an Aesop fable) and have the child underline three words from each sentence that were important and write them in an outline. Then the child can take those words and recreate the passage. Andrew also suggested concentrating on the composition and not the spelling and neatness and went so far as to suggest allowing them to use a pen to enforce this as correcting their writing would distract them from the important part of the exercise which was the composition. The "Boys and Forts" talk expanded on this above by suggesting ways to encourage children who may have difficulty writing and suggested ways to provide an environment for them to excel. We learned boys prefer a cooler room than girls and it also might be good to make chairs optional for boys as they have a hard time sitting still to work (boy do I know that!).

Andrew's closing keynote was "Nurturing Excellent Writers and Speakers". This talk emphasised the importance of reading out loud. It didn't matter who did it. It could be the child, the parent, or even audiobooks. He also spoke on the importance of memorization as a way to build a child's brain. All these would help to counter the negative/improper language of the media and peers as well.

Those of you wishing to learn more about Andrew, his Institute For Exellence In Writing and their products, you could visit the web site at Their Canadian distributors are at

Although this was a homeschooling convention it had a bit of a physical fitness component as it was a bit of walk between the main exhibitor display room and the rooms and auditorium where the workshops were. I guess walking isn't a bad thing but when you're carrying bags of goodies from the used book sale and shiny new books from the exhibitors it's a bit of workout. Good thing there was a room for checking coats and our bags of goodies...upstairs! We were also supplied with a couple of tasty meals. Friday supper was salad and pasta with a couple of trays of awesome treats for those of us with a sweet tooth. Saturday lunch was salad and cold cuts for sandwiches as well as those trays of goodies again! Sooo yummy...

My only complaint is that they should have added another day so I could get to some of the other workshops I couldn't attend as they were scheduled at the same time as the ones I did attend. I'd have liked to attend the one on unschooling and another on digital creativity. But hey, there's always next year! I'm looking forward to it already!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

10th Annual First Responder Conference

Well, it's been a busy weekend away from my boys. I spent the weekend renewing old friendships, starting new friendships and of course, recertifying my First Responder status.

It was the 10th Annual weekend gathering of nearly 200 First Responders, EMTs and Paramedics from southern Saskatchewan. We had a few newbies, with less than a year since becoming certified. We also had some seasoned veterans, with over 25 years experience as "pre-hospital personnel".

The weekend began Friday evening with registration and a couple sessions and then a game of Survivor, EMS style.

Saturday morning began bright and early, with coffee & breakfast at 7:30, with opening remarks at 8:00. The morning had 2 sessions with a break for lunch until 1:00. Pete Lazarra, Paramedic in Charge with Chicago Fire Department, gave his first presentation "Resuscitation of the Rich and Famous". In this presentation, Pete reviewed the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Abraham Lincoln (gunshot to the head), Julius Caesar (multiple stab wounds to the back), Princess Diana (violent car crash) and Jimi Hendrix (suspected drug overdose). If modern-day emergency procedures were available to these celebrities at the time of their deaths, what procedures would have been performed, and could they have survived their injuries.

Of particular interest to many of the participants, one of the afternoon sessions involved a hands-on exploration of the respiratory organs from a donor pig. (Thanks to Drake Meats for the donation of the specimens!) We were able to examine the tongue, trachea, esophagus, heart, aorta and lungs.

An intubation tube was made available and we were able to intubate the specimen and see exactly what takes place when a ventilator bag is used.

We also dissected the heart muscle and inspected the 4 chambers. We inspected the aorta and the aortic chamber, tracing the direction of blood from the heart to the lungs for oxygenation and back through the heart for delivery to the rest of the body.

Upon dissection of the lungs we examined the bronchial tubes and discussed their function. Thankfully, a pork stir fry was NOT on the supper menu.

Supper was still delicious as always, as provided by the Heritage Inn. Roast beef and roast turkey were on the menu, along with seasoned oven roasted potatoes, salads and, of course, decadent desserts. Following supper, guest speaker Roger Aldag of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, spoke of his Career with the Roughriders. Roger is now employed with Trans Gas and has been at most (if not all) conferences as a sponsor and supplier.

Off Beat, a 5 piece band from Regina, provided the evening's entertainment. They performed hits from Loverboy, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash and Meatloaf, to name a few. The dance floor was busy most of the night as was the cash bar ;) The band shut down just after 1:00am and a few diehard partyers were heard roaming the halls of the Heritage Inn till almost 3:00am. (and we wonder why the Sunday morning sessions were short on attendance!)

Tim Hillier (MD Ambulance, Saskatoon) and Pete Lazarra wrapped up Sunday afternoon with a joint presentation "Looking Back". They touched on a few highlights in the history of emergency medical response, with a few clips from the 1970's show Emergency (starring Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe). They explained how Johnny and Roy heightened the public awareness of Paramedics and brought more people into the profession than any other medical related show.

Many pictures were taken, many friendships were renewed and everyone took home memories they'll keep for a lifetime. Mark your calendars for next year's conference, January 28-30, 2011, Heritage Inn, Moose Jaw. Hope to see you there!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's a good old fashioned blizzard!

The past couple of days have been pretty rough around southern Saskatchewan. We've had quite the blizzard. Usually the area around our town doesn't get a lot of snow, at least not in the past dozen years or so. Usually a blizzard meant an inch or two of snow and howling wind. Not this time. We've probably gotten six inches or more this time.

It started snowing a couple of days ago with just a breeze, but it piled up a couple of inches of snow that drifted a little. I brought out the skidsteer and cleared the trails yesterday morning. It wasn't done, though, because the snow got somewhat heavier throughout the day. Carla was able to get to work at the gas station but we were starting to wonder if she'd be able to make it home when her shift ended at 9pm.

The roads did get treacherous and there was some vehicles getting into trouble on the Trans-Canada Highway that runs by Chaplin. Hopefully that wouldn't happen to Carla! But she did make it home...though she did get stuck at the end of our driveway into the farm yard. I walked out and helped get the van back on the trail and up to the house. We're all home safe and sound! But the storm wasn't over.

That evening we did have the power go out of 20 minutes or so. We were lucky. Some communities would be out for more than a day due to the snow and wind pulling wires off some poles south of the town of Assiniboia.

We woke up the next morning to the snow still falling and the wind really blowing. You wouldn't have known I cleared any snow yesterday. So I fed cows in the morning but held off clearing snow hoping the storm would ease off. Well, it was still going pretty strong after lunch so I went out anyway and pushed a snow for a couple of hours again. The yard was pretty full again, but the wind had actually blown away all the snow that Carla got stuck in last night. Go figure.

So I'm sure I'll be out again tomorrow building my snow piles even higher. The boys love playing on them. Mitchell lost a boot in one this afternoon which I had to dig out. It's a bit of pain in the ass to deal with all this snow, but the land desperately needs it, both to replenish topsoil moisture and to fill dugouts for cattle to drink in the summer. We've had a pretty dry few years. The last time I remember having a really good dump of snow was more than a decade ago.

By the way, the picture above shows my hay bales buried in the snow and in the distance is our neighbor's farm yard half a mile away. Below are a few more of the fun and frivolity of our blizzard!