Onward!

Wonder why things have been so quiet lately? Apart from the chaos of our schedules at the moment (and trying to balance all of life’s demands while heavily pregnant), we are excited to announce that…

We are moving!

We will be expanding to a bigger and better place where we can continue to fulfill our family’s dreams. That means more ways for you to connect with and enjoy our farm too! More to come soon (once the sale is complete) – we are excited to share this new step in our adventure with you!

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Loaded Potato Soup

We’ve been making a lot of soup and grilled cheese this winter. It’s quick and relatively healthy, and just what we need on a cold winter’s day. One of my son’s favorites is this loaded potato soup; it’s the only soup he will eat his entire first bowl and get seconds before he starts dipping his grilled cheese. It is super easy to make, especially if you’ve got some canned potatoes on hand!

1 quart  canned or mashed potatoes

3 cups milk

1 cup grated cheese, cheddar or smokey cheddar

3-4 rashers bacon, chopped

Salt, pepper, garlic powder, and other desired seasonings

Blend together potatoes and milk and heat until consistent texture. Add cheese and melt into soup. Add milk to create desired consistency. Serve and sprinkle bacon on top!

Our Philosophy

The philosophy behind our family farm has evolved over the years as we’ve learned more about farming, the world around us, and ourselves. What began as “let’s have a few chickens for fun” has quickly become a holistic microfarm who’s purpose is to produce virtuous homegrown goods for a happy, healthy life. Our farm philosophy is inseparable from our approach to life: anything that takes this much work has to have roots deep in our souls!

Every farm is different, and that’s the way it should be. If you are looking to start your own farm, maybe learning a bit more about ours will be helpful to you. Maybe you just want to learn a bit more about holistic or microfarming, or are looking for a farm in our community to support. Whatever the reason, we’re glad you are taking the time to learn a bit more about us and why we do what we do.

What is a microfarm?

We own 9 acres in upstate New York. When we first moved from England, 9 acres seemed like more land than we could imagine: our entire English village (including the school and chip shop) could fit in our back yard! But as our hobby homestead of 6 chickens and a vegetable plot grew into a real farm, we needed to become more mindful stewards of our space. A microfarm is able to produce abundantly on a small amount of land: many microfarms operate on only 2 acres or less! It requires meticulous planning and management to create a tiny ecosystem. The management method we use to make our microfarm a success is holistic farming.

What is your farm’s vision?

Anyone will tell you farming is a lot of work. Even having a small hobby farm requires every day, round-the-clock dedication to keeping your animals happy and healthy, your farm mutually beneficial, and your bank account solvent! You really have to believe in what you’re doing if you are in it for the long term. When things get tough, I like to remind myself of the reasons we do what we do. Some of the benefits of producing our own food we knew from the outset, and others we have discovered along the way:

  1. Conscious consumption: our farm decisions reflect our life decisions. There are many things in the world that “taste good but have no nutritional value.” Social media supplanting real relationships, drug and medication over-reliance, self-centered consumerism, commercialized food produced in questionable conditions; much of our society is sold to us as a “tasty treat” that actually holds no value (except to those who make money from our purchase). Farming makes us more conscious of what we are consuming in all aspects of our lives. We make better use of our time. We educate ourselves to make better decisions. We making feeding our bodies, minds, and souls the best things a priority.
  2. We understand the value of hard work, and teach it to our children. Absolutely nothing compares to the physical, mental, and emotional work of farming. It produces immediate and long-term, visible results that literally become a part of who you are.
  3. We are self-reliant. We have years of staple foods grazing in our backyard. The food we eat isn’t subject to the same price fluctuation, shipping and quality issues, policy changes, or other problems as grocery store food. Our animals not only produce our food for today (eggs, milk) and tomorrow (meat), but also reproduce – ensuring the future of the farm and our food supply. We also can, freeze, and cold store food for months when we can’t grow it. We’ve learned how to pressure can and vacuum freeze all different kinds of foods: the week or two or hard work is more than made up for in the convenience of opening a couple of jars to make a quick, healthy meal! Farming also gives us skills that make us more self-reliant: we know how to grind our own wheat, mix our own animal feeds, and slaughter a chicken, but we also are able to endure harsh weather conditions, overcome physical challenges, and push past problems to get the job done without giving up.
  4. We are vitally connected to our community. This may seem at odds with our goal of self-reliance, but having intimate local connections actually makes us more independent. I know my suppliers: I can store up a year of hay in advance, know if there is a shortage or windfall of grain, and can call on friends and family to help me when I can’t do something alone. I add value and goodness to my community, and they strengthen me. My family apply the values we have on the farm to everything we do, making our community a better place. Just as their patronage, help, resources, and support make our farm better. We are also more connected as a family; we and our children experience firsthand the necessity of sharing the load – sometimes quite literally! We value the power of a team, and our ability to be a real contributor.
  5. We foster gratitude. My son recently said to me “Mum I love helping you in the mornings because it makes me so happy to hear the little piggy noises when we go out to the barn.” Getting to see the sun rise and set every day brings a profound sense of appreciation for nature and the blessings of life.
  6. We treasure humility and simplicity. There is nothing like farming to keep you humble. Sure, we take pride in hard work and a job well done. But when you know that any day could bring flooding, escaped animals, a fox attack, a stillborn animal, a downed tree… your wants become simpler and you acknowledge that you cannot always be the master of your own destiny.
  7. We make real change. The change we have seen in our own lives since starting the farm is incredible. Our children are more resilient. They prefer (and expect) homemade food over prepackaged or storebought. We spend more quality time as a family, and take those moments to have quality discussions and interactions. Our new ‘default’ is health, quality, and simplicity.And the impact of farms like ours on the community shouldn’t be underestimated either: each farm makes virtuous food that much more available, affordable, and better known. Studies increasingly show that local efforts to fight poor health, malnutrition ,and poverty are not only the most effective, but actually integral to improving well being. Local farms with integrity contribute to the local economy in positive ways, and avoid the negative impacts of not-in-my-backyard industrial farming.

 

How do you decide what to grow/raise on the farm?

We look at a lot of different things to decide how to use the space on our farm. The first year, I tried to plant many different foods in our garden. It ended up being a lot of work for not a lot of yield. Now I plant foods that are harder to get locally, or that we eat a lot of, or that we want really fresh (like lettuce!). Conversely, we’ve found that having more animal biodiversity has benefited the farm. We now have ducks, pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys. Each has a role to play not only because of what they provide us to eat, but also because they keep our micro-ecosystem balanced.

Holistic management is an important part of our decision-making. You can find out more about this below, but the concept is about taking into consideration the big picture every time you make small decisions. Economics is part of that picture. For our farm, we aren’t looking to make a profit, but we do choose to raise animals that can “pay for themselves” in one way or another.

When choosing what foods we will consume as a family, we tend to follow our own “food pyramid” of sorts. It helps us be mindful of our values and the food priorities we have, but is flexible enough for different situations. For every meal we can ask: “what can we prepare ourselves from our own resources? from local resources? What will we need to buy, and of that what can be reasonably purchased more ethically (organic, fair trade, etc)?” Following the values above helps us provide as much as we can from our own resources: I make smoothies in the winter from berries we have picked and frozen in the summer, for example. But when things get busy or if we are on the road, we consciously consume foods that meet our needs and our standards as best as possible.

pyramid

What is holistic management?

Advocates of holistic management are turning up everywhere, and people and organizations are benefiting from a holistic approach to all aspects of life. Holistic management focuses on conscious decision-making and an awareness of the ecosystem in which those decisions are made. Holistic management can be applied to capitalism, leadership,  medicine, meditation, and virtually any decision-making process.

As it applies to our farm, holistic management requires an awareness of how every decision affects the farm as a whole. It means having a plan for our finances, our animals, each family member, the soil, our animals’ food sources, our time, and every other resource on the farm. We have seen the positive effects of a holistic approach on the farm, and the negative effects when we are less mindful of the big picture.

Here is an overview of our farm’s holistic management plan. The beauty of holistic management is that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all: it provides a framework to help you meet your goals. We highly encourage any farm big or small to use a detailed holistic management plan: keep track of your expenses, your goals, your pastures, your animals’ health… everything that contributes to the whole picture!

Wensleydale Cottage Farm

The Big Picture: Self-reliance! Confidence and independence in providing for our needs on all levels (physical, food, energy, emotional). Building a local network to support a self-funding and sustainable farm.

Financial: Every animal pays for itself: run a break-even operation with the opportunity for the kids to learn to make a small profit on their businesses. For example: buy four pigs, keep 2 for our own food storage and sell 2 to pay for the ones we keep. Teach the boys how to save, how to create a spreadsheet to keep track of their expenses and payments received. Plan to repay farm start-up costs (selling calves), plan for future seasonal and long-term costs,

Ecological:

Personal:

Health:

Farming 365

Today I want to let you in on a little secret: I love farming. Ok, so maybe that’s not a secret, but it does surprise people when I tell them that I actually enjoy what I do every day. Not just the cute little animals, or the delicious food, or the time with my family. Even the days when I have to chop through an inch of freezing rain to open the chicken coop. Or when I wake up every 2 hours every night to nurse a sickly chick. Or when my kids are fighting instead of working and take an hour instead of 20 minutes to get a job done.

Not that I’m some crazy person who thinks the sound of bickering kids or the feeling of frozen fingers is nice. But because I know that every challenge is a chance to get stronger, if we persevere.

Having that time every morning and evening where I have to be outside, need to slow down and do things right, gives me time to pause, think, and count my blessings. You can’t rush hand milking. You need to be calm and patient, no matter how your day has been, or what the weather’s like.

To celebrate our farmers who are out in every kind of weather providing our communities with food every day of the year, Wensleydale Cottage Farm is taking on a photo project. Farming 365 is a photo every day of the year from the same point on the farm: the view out the barn door as we milk every day. Every month we’ll post the highlights here. We hope it will give you a taste of what it’s like to be a farmer: the beautiful moments, the tough moments, and everything in between.

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A Real Thanks Giving

Thanksgiving is an important time for American farmers. I’ve been reflecting for weeks about what to write about Thanksgiving this year, feeling myself getting hotter under the collar as I contemplate all the negative that the made-in-store Thanksgiving represents to me. I’ve been reflecting on which of the many, many hypocrisies I wanted to target this year.

But I won’t.

This year, instead of using space telling you everything that’s wrong about our modern Thanksgiving, I want to tell you how easy it is for us to make it something different, something better.

This year, my family is taking back Thanksgiving. Like the first thanksgivings we commemorate with our official holiday, it requires learning about seasonality and preparation. After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is about, right? Connecting ourselves with our past to be more mindful in our present and future. That means that in summer and early fall, when all my neighbors and friends and farmer’s markets and roadside stands were overflowing with produce, I began storing food for Thanksgiving and beyond. A lot of this food stores in coolers on my porch without any more work: squashes, apples, cabbages, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions. What wouldn’t last I canned or froze: sweet corn, peas, berries, and others. Many of the apples I turned into cider, some to be enjoyed now and some canned for later.

Mindful of how blessed I am to live in an area with such bounty, and have the means to purchase it (even my little local market on the village green now takes food stamps to make local produce as accessible as possible), I also began making connections with these farmers. Like big farms and grocery stores, our local producers are up against the clock and the seasons when their produce is picked. They too know that what doesn’t sell will go to waste. But the beauty of local production where you and your farmer have a relationship, is that there are alternatives to excess and waste. Over the summer and well into the fall I received thousands of pounds of farm-fresh food to donate to local food pantries. Volunteers rallied to deliver the food and find charities and families in need. We flooded the soup kitchens. We inundated the churches. We swamped the schools. We didn’t feed the world, but we did feed our corner of it. Before I even sat down to my own Thanksgiving meal, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for farmers, friends, and community. I also knew that families around my community could now have a local, healthy meal too.

We raised our own turkeys this year. It was a phenomenal amount of work. Harder than pigs, or cows, or chickens. Especially since we decided to raise heritage turkeys: more flavor, more genetic diversity, able to walk, fly and reproduce. Also less tamable. And longer time to raise: like, double the time. Then we sold them as afford-ably as we could possibly manage: if I charged hourly for the time I spent raising these guys, I think I got paid about one penny. Not per hour, all together. But it was enough to cover the cost of our own Thanksgiving bird, and that was our goal. Now when I carve that turkey, I know it got there because our farm customers literally put food on our family’s table.

A heartening sign of the way things are changing; there was a huge demand for our turkeys. We had a waiting list. And not from rich foodies, but from average people who believe in building communities by supporting small farmers. We even sold one of the two we were going to keep for our own meal, there was so much demand. I am so passionate about changing American food culture, that I was happy with one non-obese turkey that we could each savor a taste of. But like most families we are on a spectrum of opinion about these things, which meant there was a demand in my home for more white meat. And more leftovers. We had saved a ham from last winter’s pigs, but it looked like we also needed another turkey. So I went down to my local butcher, who sold turkeys from our neighbor. We chatted about how I was going to prepare the two turkeys differently, and what brine to use, while she checked me out.

Now I had all the main meal covered. On to the desserts. I had already canned apple pie filling I had made myself from the apples falling off the trees in my back yard. Add locally grown and ground flour from another carefully cultivated friendship (a miller who also provided the organic grains for our turkey feed), lard from our pigs, and honey from a neighbor, and I had the makings for our pies and breads. Our family doesn’t drink wine, but I did have some apple cider I carbonated myself to add a little sparkle to our meal.

Food is central to the Thanksgiving experience, so it was important to me that it was locally sourced or from our own backyard as much as possible. Commercialized Thanksgiving may just be a symbol of American gluttony and hypocrisy, but Thanksgiving at its best is a celebration of the bounty in our own lives and communities, and I wanted to reclaim that. Around the meal we also planned other activities to help us find more meaning in our Thanksgiving. Reading stories, listening to and playing and singing music, creating a huge paper chain of ‘thankfuls’ to decorate our Christmas tree, and spending time together the whole long weekend instead of at the shops, amongst other things.

Money is especially tight for our family this year as Mr Wensleydale Cottage has gone back to school, so we are living off of my part time hourly wage income, and whatever food our farm produces. But I didn’t have to be rich to reclaim Thanksgiving by buying local. In fact in many cases local food was not only nicer but also cheaper: bushels of apples and potatoes for $12, bushels of squash for $7, bags of flour in bulk. Where it wasn’t cheaper I took the opportunity to focus on quality instead of quantity: how much extra turkey do  I really want if it is dry and tasteless or artificially juicy? It allowed me to demonstrate my gratitude for the life I am able to live by helping local farmers and farm workers put food on their table, connecting farms with those in need, contributing to my local economy, and understanding more about the food that grows around me and how to store and prepare it. And my shopping experience was filled with building relationships and learning more about my community and food, not rushing around grabbing boxes and cans off sterile shelves while the kids whined about being bored.

My family is taking back Thanksgiving by filling it with thanks and giving. And so can yours. Yes there are many families deep in cities with no access to farms. There are families who have no money or access to food stamps. There is so much sadness and need in the world: families without access to food or clean water or clothing or medicine. But I don’t deny my own family these things because other people don’t have them. I don’t tell my children they can’t get a good education because other children aren’t able to. I teach them to make the most of the opportunities they have, to cherish them and make the world a better place by working to bring those opportunities to others. If you, like me, live somewhere with plentiful access to local food, please take it. Strengthen your community. Help these opportunities to grow. I hope we will help other families to take back Thanksgiving by connecting them with the food they need. Not by using them as an excuse to buy who-knows-what from who-knows-where for our own supermarket Thanksgiving this year.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it is so easy to own it and make it something truly meaningful for yourself and your family. No pressure for presents or decorations. No chocolates or other foods from lands far away required. Just being thankful, and giving. Connecting to our past, building our community, and being grateful, together. I can do that! And so can you.

 

Thanksgiving Turkey Orders

It’s turkey time!

The turkeys are getting lovely and plump, which means we are accepting deposits for your Thanksgiving bird.

turkeys for sale

To order, please email us at wensleydalecottage@gmail.com with your name, phone number, and address, and we will send you details on how to reserve your bird. A $20 deposit will be required. Thank you for helping us preserve these magnificent heritage breeds, and put some real flavor back into this Thanksgiving staple!

Cheese Puffs

Think cheese-it meets goldfish meets homemade flavor explosion! Just a few simple ingredients you can find locally. I promise you can’t eat just one…handful…Here it is, our cheese puffs recipe. Delicious snack for kids and grown- ups without all the additives.
You won’t believe how easy this is:
Mix 1 c flour, 3.5 T butter, and 5 oz grated cheese, until the mixture is a fine crumb. Add just enough cold water to form into a ball, and chill. Then just roll, cut, and cook at 400 F until golden. So easy! And you can use any hard cheese you like, so have fun experimenting with flavors.

cheese puffs
I really wish I could do justice in a photograph to the layers of crumbly puff you get in these crackers. I guess you will just have to try them yourself!

Fish n Chips

As a half British family, it was pretty important to us that we find the perfect fish and chips (chunky fries) recipe. We’ve tried a few, and finally created this one from a blend of our favorites. We often cook it when we have guests around for dinner, because it is a guaranteed hit!

Because local fish, or even just not questionable fish, can be hard to source, we tend to use this with some local chicken, and whip up a side of home-grown onion rings with it too. It is quick, simple, and delicious, and all made from local ingredients. We even fry in lard from local pigs, like the ones we raise ourselves.

A whole lot better than a fast food meal in every way!

Triple dip recipe

You can use this on anything you like battered: fish, onion rings, chicken, chocolate bars… You will need two bowls, a dry bowl and a wet bowl. The recipe gets its name because you first dip the food to be battered into the dry bowl, then into the wet bowl, and then back into the dry bowl again, before frying.

Wet bowl:

1 egg

3/4 cup flour (perfect chance to sneak some whole wheat in there)

1/4 cup milk (increase this if your eggs are smaller than our huge ones. The mixture should be like pancake batter.)

Your favorite seasonings (herbs, chilli powder, season salt, whatever you want!)

Pinch of salt

Dry bowl:

1 cup flour

Your favorite seasonings (We like garlic and herbs in this one)

This recipe couldn’t be simpler to make and is so delicious, you’ll never believe you did it at home. You can fry it quite dark before it begins to taste overcooked, so don’t worry if your chicken takes more than a few minutes to cook. You will want to batter whatever you are cooking when raw.

We tend to use whole wheat for our flour; a great chance to be a little healthier without complaints from those used to the bleached white stuff. Just because it’s deep fried, doesn’t mean it can’t still be ethical food.

Enjoy!

fish n chips

A little crackers!

Today I am spending the afternoon replenishing our packed lunch stock by baking lots of different kinds of crackers: animal crackers, saltine crackers, cream crackers, graham crackers…we will see how many I can get around to before the boys get home from school. If you’d like to find the recipe for our delicious, healthy graham crackers, just scroll down! More cracker recipes are sure to follow soon.

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My brother and his family are visiting this week from Washington state. Over dinner one evening he commented on how expensive farmer’s markets are and how he can’t really find anywhere he likes and thinks they are overrated. Now, I’ll the first person to tell you the perils of trendy, over-priced ‘farmer’s markets.’ BUT, I find ‘first-world’ obsessions with “how expensive local/healthy food is” to be a little laughable. I understand the temptation to feed your family cheaply when you are truly struggling for money or are relying on food stamps (bizarrely gov’t food systems frequently encourage purchase of sugary processed foods); calculated calorie-for-calorie, mass-produced highly processed sugary and fatty foods are the best value. (Thanks largely to government subsidies for things like corn syrup.)

But here’s the thing. We in the capitalist world enjoy not only the cheapest food prices as relative to our income compared to those in other countries, but also the cheapest food prices in our history. And this trend isn’t new. In 1945, wheat cost $5.61 per unit. In 1837 it cost $9.10, according to data complied by the census bureau. And check out this graph from a study by Dr. Guyenet:

food cheaper

 

Yup, that’s right: we are allotting less of our income to purchasing food than ever before, even with a cultural increase in eating out.

“So, what does this all have to do with crackers?” you ask. Well, as I took my graham crackers out of the oven and looked at each one’s slightly different shape and bake, I thought “well they certainly don’t look uniform enough to be store bought.” Suddenly my mind reflected back on the conversation with my brother. And I realized something. I don’t bake crackers for my family in a poor attempt to imitate store-bought goods. Mass-produced store goods are a poor approximation of  REAL food.

Crackers, despite what you might think, are a great example of this. What was the origination and purpose of the cracker? To be a processed, sugary snack food? Absolutely not. In fact, crackers were created over 200 years ago to give the wholesome, sustaining bread loaf longevity and portability for those working away from home. One of the original recipes was eventually sold to Nabisco and only then transformed into the uniform vehicle for corn syrup we know today.

Even the graham cracker was once created for health. In the 1800’s Mr. Graham developed graham flour as a way to convince people to eat less processed white flour, by incorporating more of the healthy whole grain into the ground wheat. But of course this invention has also since been adulterated by mass production.

If you want to reclaim the humble cracker as a vehicle for healthy food on the go, join our virtuous food movement and try this graham cracker recipe!

2 3/4 cups graham flour (or if you don’t have any, use 1 cup whole wheat and 1 3/4 cups all purpose)

3/4 cup honey

pinch salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup butter, shortening, or lard

1/4 cup water

Just mix, roll thinly, and bake at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes. They will be a little soft but will get their crunch when they cool: don’t overbake or they will burn quickly; the taste is not very forgiving if burned. Enjoy the delicious crisp texture right away or keep airtight for good eating up to a week.

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Lemon Curd Cake

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We like to make our cakes from scratch. It is really not that much more work than making it from a box, and even with sugar it is a lot better for you than a cake with all the extra chemicals and preservatives in a box mix. Not to mention, you get to control your ingredients and portions. As we speak, the boys are mixing up some chocolate chip muffins for snacks this week, from scratch. If they can do it on their own without destroying the kitchen, so can you! I’ve heard complaints that homemade cakes are a lot drier than mixes. I’ve never had this problem myself, but I use recipes and ingredients that create a nice moist cake. I also bake it for slightly less time than you would expect. Try this incredible lemon curd cake, and you will never want to go back to mixes again.

1 cup butter

3 cups flour

1/2 cup lemon curd

1 t baking soda

1t salt

2 cups sugar (or 1 c honey and 1 c sugar)

6 eggs

1 c milk (or heavy cream or sour cream or cream cheese)

 

This is a bundt cake recipe, so it is an all in one, which makes things easy! Just mix all your ingredients together. Pour half the mixture into your bundt pan. Then spoon lemon curd onto the top so it covers most of the mixture. Pour the remaining mixture over the top. Bake at 325 F for about 40 minutes. Because of the lemon curd, don’t expect your knife to come out clean. Just look for a set cake that doesn’t wobble.

The lemon curd in the middle will give you a delicious saucy middle and a crisp top on your bundt. We like to top it with a glaze but you could also dust it if you prefer. Try using coconut sugar or halving your granulated sugar with honey for a healthier alternative. If you like a cheesecake flavor, add cream cheese instead of milk. Or for a more dense, moist cake, substitute sour cream. We usually buy our lemon curd as we find it at farm stands or specialty stores, but you can also easily make it if you look up a recipe.

Fruit Snacks

My kids love homemade. You should see Stuart’s face light up when he sees fresh bread buns on the table. But they also get excited about  prepackaged “stuff resembling food.” And why shouldn’t they? These companies have huge research and marketing budgets to create products to entice my children. And it isnt just the kids: on the rare occasion I go to a supermarket I too will sometimes reach for a pack of Pringles, or a box of granola bars. Tastebud-tempting convenience is difficult for everyone to resist.

I’m a big advocate of providing food for my family that is minimally processed. A fresh whole apple in the lunchbox is just as convenient, and must more healthy, than syrupy tubs of apple cubes or sauce. But sometimes, I like to give my kids something as exciting and enticing as the stuff they see in little foil packets. So lately I’ve been experimenting with fruit snack recipes. I’ve tried a few different ones and finally settled on something we all seem to like. Although I have put them in little molds to create fun shapes for lunches, they seem to find it most exciting when we make our own “fruit snack factory.” For this, I set the fruit snack mixture on a baking tray, and then they get to come and cookie cutter out a few for lunches or a snack when they want them. It adds a little bit of fun to it and they want to eat more when they get to cut them out themselves. Which is fine, because these fruit snacks are super healthy!
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Here is the recipe. As you can see, it is really simple and only takes a few minutes of your time.

1 1/2 – 2 cups fruit puree or juice

2-4 T honey

1/3 – 1/2 cup gelatin

Optional: other sweetener to taste

 

Mix the honey and juice/puree, warm, and then add gelatin, whisking vigorously. Pour into molds or on a tray and cool. Yup, that’s really it!

If you choose to use a fruit puree, you can make your own by heating fruit and then blending it up. Just allow it to cool for a few minutes before you add the gelatin. Since we have half a freezer full of blueberries, I have been using these. You will notice the amounts are not exact – they will vary depending on what fruit you are using. Blueberries, for example, need less gelatin because of their natural pectin, but more honey because they aren’t naturally as sweet. The good news is, if you mess it up you can just dump it into a pan and gently heat it before adding more of whatever it needs. (I did this on my most recent batch when I doubled the fruit and forgot to double the gelatin! With a little heat and stirring, I was able to add in the extra gelatin no problem.) If your family, like mine, have varying tastes for the sweet, you can always sprinkle additional natural sweetener onto the finished fruit snack, or add more to the mix. I have tried batches with more natural sweetener added in, as well as with a little sprinkle of sugar on the top at the end. Even this little bit of indulgence is much healthier than the kind you purchase in stores, and I was able to wean my kids off of the added sugar after the first time.

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I’ve really enjoyed these too as an easy, healthy snack. In fact over the last week as I’ve been nursing the flu they are one of the few things I could stomach. These three simple, healthy ingredients (yes, even gelatin has been demonstrated in numerous scientific papers to have many health properties) make a fun and convenient snack for your whole family!

Training session

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he shall not depart from it.

It’s working! All our persistence is beginning to produce results. One year, or even six months ago, today would have been a stressful, grumpy day for our family. But instead, despite spending the whole day doing hard physical work and running numerous errands for the farm, the kids were spectacular.

We had a great time. We got a ton done! Our pigs now have loads of wholesome, local organic food in storage. Our yard is stacked with wood for next year’s fuel. Our muscles are tired from a good day’s work, and our minds are filled with memories of time together.

When we went to pick up the brain, berries, and grains for our animal feed from the wonderful people at Farmer Ground, the farmer there had a child with him too. She was only a toddler but already he was showing her around, talking her through what he was doing, and spending quality time with her. I also noticed on their equipment wall hung a baby carrier. Isn’t in wonderful to see so many people who believe in training the next generation in the way they should go?

I’m so proud of our boys. They are learning that work can be fun. They enjoy spending time with their family. Today they found fulfillment in working hard together as a family, to contribute to all our needs.

When we plant and raise wholesome food as a family, we are sowing the seeds for the next generation. These boys aren’t just children, they are future leaders and husbands and fathers. And they will be some of the very best!

 

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Loading the bran into barrels to be stored: we hauled and shoveled and moved and stored about 900 lbs of food in all today. Sourcing our own feeds means we know what our animals are eating; who is growing what and where. It also allows us to control our expenses, and get the freshest and most wholesome ingredients for the best value.

 

 

 

 

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Several trees were chopped down at our local church building ,and the facilities manager kindly offered them to us if we were prepared to load and move them. They have been stacked to age at the farm for next year’s fuel. We are trying to be as close to 100% wood heated as possible this year. Our home is on one level and small enough to allow us to heat pretty efficiently and affordably this way.

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Our 5 and 7 year old superheroes! They worked so hard moving all the wood, without any complaints. Not once did they ask when we would be done or what it was for, because they already understood the contribution they were making to our family. They were even responsible enough to go around to the side of the truck to fill in the gaps with the logs they had, rather than dumping them on the tailgate to finish their job more conveniently. I am sure not every day will be like this – it certainly hasn’t been in getting them to this point – but it is wonderful to see them beginning to understand how valuable a contribution they make to our family.

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Pork in the Pasture!

Our piggies have arrived! They’ve only been here a week and are growing at an incredible pace.

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So quickly, in fact, that this was probably the first and last time I trust my little guy to be sat ‘on his own’ with them. We like to encourage a healthy respect for our animals to keep everyone safe.

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The pigs are loving their huge pasture, and have already rooted around and established clear ‘rooms.’

The cows are growing too, although they are nearing full size now. Soon they will be ready to be bred for the first time. Here they are next to our 5 and 7 year boys for scale.

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The pigs are a mix of heritage breeds: Old Spot and Duroc. They should be hearty during the winter, and are cute too!0928141808b 0928141808c 0928141810

The pork will be ready in February. Pre-orders are already sold out. Providing things go well, we will have summer pigs available to order at the start of next year. We are making all our own feed now for the pigs and chickens, using grains from a local organic mill. The pigs are loving it and the chickens are laying spectacular eggs, so we must be doing something right! The pigs are also pastured in an orchard so they can enjoy all the fallen apples too.

This week will be spent preparing for winter: it is getting cold too quickly here and we are starting to feel a real sense of urgency. Once everything is in place, we might even have time to complete some of the posts we have been working on: watch this space for helpful tips on running a small farm, delicious recipes, and even a competition to win some of our fantastic local-milled organic bread mixes just in time for Thanksgiving!

Unexpected Arrivals

I love our local “consumer newspaper.” You know, the free one they stick in your mailbox and everyone advertises their yard sales in it? I’ve noticed many local farmers use it to advertise produce, u-pick, farm stalls, etc. Recently I saw advertised canning tomatoes. I called up and ended up going to this little farm about 20 minutes away to get 250 lbs of tomatoes for myself and a couple of friends. It was one of many mutually beneficial arrangements I have made through ‘accidental’ finds: I saved the farmer the cost and hassle of having to package and transport the tomatoes to a market, and in return was able to purchase them for $24 a bushel (that’s about 55 pounds of tomatoes, if you were wondering).

And now my family has what will be up to a year’s supply of tomatoes for sauce and soup, and tomato powder (you can make paste, put it in chilli, etc):

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One of my favorite things about these encounters is the people I meet. I never cease to be amazed at how knowledgeable these farmers are. Not only do they know everything about what they sell, and are happy to answer all your questions, but they have wonderfully practical tips and suggestions.

Which brings me to our unexpected arrivals. Whilst I was perusing this same free paper last week, I came across a “piglets for sale” advertisement. I’ve had the idea of doing pigs in the back of my mind for some time: whenever I visit the local farm shop I get my meat from and they don’t have any pork or bacon left, for example! (Eating locally and in season is an excellent way to change your mindset from the ‘what-I-want-when-I-want’ consumer to a more mindful partner with the producers around you.)

I thought I’d go have a look. I was a little wary because the price for the piglets was a bit lower than I had seen on average at  auctions and from more official breeders. But when I spoke to the farmer I was really impressed. He knew all his breed lines and about the strengths and weaknesses of his breed. He carefully selected his breeding pairs and went to great lengths to get good pigs with fresh bloodlines to avoid illness and inbreeding. He was natural but also practical. And as an added bonus he castrates them too before they wean and are sold. (I’ve not tried boar meat to my knowledge, but the consensus is it’s not nice!)

We went back a few days later as a family and, having run some numbers (my husband is especially vigilant about keeping our farm finances in line), decided to put a deposit on two piglets. They will be arriving in about a week, which means all hands on deck preparing for their arrival! Having initially decided to fence off a portion of the more worn cow pasture for them, my parents. who live nearby, suggested we keep the pigs in their orchard instead.

The piglets are Old Spots, a breed originally thought to be “orchard pigs.” And since the orchard already had a fence in need only of repair, we set to work:

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Grandpa took us for a ride in the bucket while he cut the pasture with the bush hog, lifting us up and we got near the trees to grab the occasional apple.

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Keeping the pigs in the orchard meant reworking some of our costs and plans. It will be a better long-term solution for raising pigs  – these ones go to the butcher in February as our family’s own supply – but we plan on getting more to begin to make the farm profitable or at least pay for some of the costs of raising our own food.

I had already decided to begin mixing my own chicken feed – another great tip from my amazing farm friend Doreen at Barrows Farm. (http://barrowsfarm.weebly.com/) With a little research I discovered that the local, organic grains I had sourced from a mill 20 minutes away would also be perfect to feed our pigs. (I also get my bread flour from these guys: cporganics.com) And since all the grains were “waste” from the mill, my animals were acting as effective recyclers too!

I love all the people I am meeting on this new life adventure. People are good, and kind, and passionate, and full of knowledge and experience. They have stories to tell, they have lives and families they are feeding even as we feed our own from the work of their hands in combination with our own. How much more meaningful is a human experience where my literal daily bread is baked through my own effort in combination with individuals I have met and talked with and learned from, rather than a bag (or baguette) I pick up off a shelf?

Our whole success here at Wensleydale cottage is woven into opportunities to give to, and receive from, those around us.

Our neighbor who has a tractor (we do not) gave up his Monday afternoon to mow the pasture perimeter for us:

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My church friend loaned me her pressure canner to make my tomato canning quicker and safer:

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And grandma and grandpa helped us plan and prepare for our pigs:

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We try to find equal opportunities to serve our friends and family too. It is a wonderful thing to have our human experience so deeply woven into the experience of those around us.

I am still learning just how much we take this for granted, even as I experience it every day. Here is an excerpt from an email my friend recently shared with me, illustrating just how much we don’t see and understand about the people who work to keep our bodies healthy and fed every day. I hope she won’t mind my sharing:

“Current auction price on feeder cattle averages about $2.00/lb. So let’s go with a 700 lb animal, that’s $1400 in cost before transportation, feeding, etc. If I keep it for six months (180 days) and it gains 2 lbs per day, it will gain 360 lbs. It will will weigh in at 1060 lbs. {That will come to about 530 lbs at butchering}. If I sell that at @2.00/lb that is $1060 in income, which is less than what is invested without input cost. At $3.00/lb, that means there is $190 of profit after initial investment.
Now, it costs me 25 cents a day per acre just for land taxes. One animal requires a minimum of 1 acre. That’s $45 right off the top before fencing, labor, water, electricity etc. At $3/lb, I’m actually making about 10 cents a day after expenses. That’s the farmers perspective… doesn’t make much sense does it?”
As a small farmer, on the surface, it certainly doesn’t make sense. Even large farms only stay afloat in large part by eeking out a profit through economies of scale. If you are a local producer, or raise your own food, you do it because you are passionate about it. Because you know that our current food system is unsustainable, unethical, and unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong: in many cases producing your own food or buying locally can be more economical than purchasing from the store. Primarily, it puts you in control of your consumption: you choose how you produce your own food, have options for what it will cost, and provide your own free labor. There is a beautiful flexibility in sourcing and producing your own food. And knowing what went into it and from where is priceless. But it’s not hugely profitable, not in the business sense. You don’t become a local food producer to make tons of money: you do it to make good food for yourself and those around you, and hopefully eek out a living in the process. Many of these farms have other sources of income to pay the bills, mine included. Why? Because the way we eat at the moment, as my friend so aptly put it, “doesn’t make sense.”
There was a time, not too long ago, when families and communities produced their own food. You ate, literally, by the sweat of your brow. In our modern society with our intensely specialized jobs and jam-packed cities, this is clearly not possible for many people. But all too many of us who are perfectly capable of lending our labor to producing some of our own sustenance and supporting those in our community who do too, choose convenience over substance. I completely understand this. The terrible irony of my buying a pizza for dinner because I’ve been too busy putting up fence around the farm, is not lost on me. And trust me, half way through my week of tomato canning, I was sure I’d made a big mistake. Surely I should just buy a jar from the store when I need it? It’s easy to be short-sighted when we get bogged down in all the effort of sourcing, preparing, and growing your own food. But now my tomatoes are canned, and for the rest of the year I can just open a can to make dinner, with no more effort than buying it. In February, we will have enough pork to feed our family for more than a year, ready to be eaten when we want it.
I love the changing seasons here in NY. Each one is distinct, with its own requirements and pleasures. So too, are there seasons of eating. There are seasons of busyness, seasons of expense, seasons of preparation and planning and work and sweat, so we can enjoy the seasons of harvest.
Now, you are probably thinking, why all this passion about what is, at the end of the day, just food? Sometimes, so do I. The other day I was watching a video about a busy mother. I was watching it thinking to myself about how much work it is just to be a parent, and adult, a wife, a member of society, without trying to run a farm too. For a moment I thought to myself “Oh no, have I made an enormous mistake?! Should I really be making this much work out of getting food?”
The fact is, it’s not just about food. Aside from all the benefits of allowing our bodies to grow and function with wholesome, unadulterated nutrition as intended by nature or God or evolution (take your pick, they all point to the same conclusion about our physical/nutritional needs)…apart from the positive contribution it makes to the livelihoods of those in our communities…considering the benefits above and beyond giving you back control of your basic needs, how they will be met, and at what cost…there is this:
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 Tonight, when my seven year old son and I went out to do the evening chores, I could see without a doubt that this is not a mistake: the fact that we have the choice to live as we do is a blessing. And as he worked without complaint, lifting heavy loads, tenderly carrying chickens to roost, asking questions and observing all the time (“Mum, why doesn’t the water in the cow trough evaporate much? Mum, aren’t cows useful, they mow your lawn! Mum, look how beautiful the sunset is over there tonight…), I realized something.
Too often we exchange opportunities to work and grow, for busyness and convenience. Life is meant to be a school, not a warehouse. And the lessons learned here can be beautiful and life-changing, if we will learn them.
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The boys dropped their backpacks in the garden and came straight off the bus to help harvest potatoes.
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A neighbor’s Birmingham roller pigeon came for a rest on my car while I packed the grain into buckets.
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A fresh delivery of grain from the mill.
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The girls checking out what we are doing, as we put up some new fence.
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 Do we really see that red jelly filling as “real fruit” and seek to get our “daily nutrients” from this stuff?
Is this really what we choose as perfection: something so impersonal and processed as to be virtually unrecognizable from the simple home comforts we used to value?
A very simple illustration of how much the prevailing culture created around us no longer makes sense.

Family Time

One of my favorite things to do here is spend time outside as a family. The beautiful summer days and cool summer evenings we’ve had recently are perfect for casual family time.

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Toby has a real talent for picking up chickens. He kneels down gently next to them and gives them a hug while they are on the ground, then picks them up like this:

 

 

 

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Today we had a lovely little boy over and Toby got a chicken to try and show him they were nice animals:

 

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He wasn’t convinced. 24 chickens can be overwhelming the first time you meet them! (Especially when you are only a couple feet tall.)

Stuart loved having another little brother for the afternoon. He has such a nurturing spirit.

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Our spring chicks are really growing into themselves now. I think they are so beautiful!

 

 

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A few have even started laying. I had forgotten how cute the little tiny eggs are when they first start. (Shown here with a regular egg for comparison.) The boys love finding these tiny treasures in the hen house.

 

 

 

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Bringing Forth Good Fruit (and Vegetables)

After a couple of cool and rainy days Stuart and I ventured into the garden to see if the weeds or the plants were winning. We had some serious setbacks this month with the garden, after a raid by a flock of bluejays, and then a family of turkeys. Thankfully they broke most of the plants off at the top rather than the bottom (except for several cabbages which they dug up completely), so things looked ok. 

I can’t believe I’m still enjoying delicious, sweet and tender lettuce from the garden. If anything it’s doing better than it was 6 weeks ago: we have beautiful full heads now to gather easily for a salad:

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I asked Stuart to weed some of the garden beds and told him what plants not to pull up. He stopped about 10 minutes in and said “Mum, I think these are onions aren’t they? So I should keep them.” I had totally forgotten I had planted onions there and they are still relatively small so look like grass if you aren’t paying attention. I was thrilled: all the hours we’ve spent in the garden, with me sometimes nagging him to work, have paid off. He is beginning to be proactive and really care about contributing to our family in this way. 

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Stuart and I have been experimenting with our cheesemaking skills too. We want to make sure we have a way to store cheese or cheesemaking supplies long term. So this week we tried making cheese from 10 year old powdered milk that had been in food storage. It worked wonderfully!

We followed the recipe from cheesemaking.com (this site is one of my favorites):

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Because of the foam on top of the powdered milk it curdled a bit differently:

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But the final curds separated just fine:

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I was really impressed with the yield. All of this (just short of 2 pounds) from 2 gallons reconstituted, which was just a few scoops of the powder. It barely put a dent in our 40 pound bag of the stuff:

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After heating and kneading, we got some great cheese. Stuart did the string cheeses himself:

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All packed up and ready to go into the fridge. This was mozzarella:

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The chickens absolutely LOVED the whey:

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Even our poor ridiculous looking molting ones:

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We also experimented with making homemade ‘boxed’ mac and cheese. I don’t like all the additives in the regular stuff, and the organic stuff is really pricey and nothing special. We tried making our own from a whey powder and Parmesan. It worked great, and with some annatto it even looked like the orange stuff!

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With the heat back, the chickens have resumed their sunbathing positions:

 

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But in the cool evenings the boys enjoy putting the animals ‘to bed’ and saying goodnight. Slowly but surely the lessons we are trying to teach these boys – hard work, stewardship, strengthening your family, and appreciation for the beauty and blessings around you – are paying off.

 

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Approaching Fall

It feels like fall this week. My cows love the cooler weather. They have been chasing one another all around the paddock and are very playful. The chickens have taken up their decorative positions for Autumn:

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Despite our being nearly into August, I am still enjoying some late Spring and early Summer garden delights. This year in keeping with our farm philosophy I did my research and planted local heirloom seeds developed to produce longer in our weather. It seems to have paid off as we still have an abundance of lettuce, our third round or strawberries, and some happy snap peas:

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I’m also excited to begin enjoying all these in earnest:

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The approach of Autumn has also seen some of our older chickens go into molt. One in particular seemed to explode overnight! On our doorstep, no less. Although the coop didn’t look much better:

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Our friends at a farm in Tully who purchased their chicks at the same time as ours, report that their barred rocks have begun laying:

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It is harder to tell with ours, since we already have brown layers. But I did notice today the rooster took a particular interest in them for the first time. So I think it is safe to assume they have begun laying too. I am looking forward to the appearance of some easter egger eggs!

This little taste of cool weather has prompted us to do lots of baking and cooking too:

 

 

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Including my famous triple dipped fried chicken. If you try one recipe on this site, try this one! It is so easy and incredibly delicious! All it takes is two dipping dishes: one with egg, flour, and garlic, and the other with flour and whatever herbs and spices you like (we use a mix of herbs and season salt). Dip in the dry, then the wet, then the dry again. Then deep fry! Whenever I make this, it gets devoured within minutes:

 

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We enjoyed this amazing rib roast too; delicious grass-fed beef from the farm down the road. Put in a crockpot all day with some broth, soy sauce, honey and garlic and served over rice. Mmmmm!

 

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Cool weather also reminds me that times of plenty wont always be with us. So I’m storing up all this yummy freshness in my freezer. I always make sure to freeze my food flat on a tray overnight before  sealing it, so they stay individually frozen instead of in chunks:

 

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I love my vacuum freezer! It does such a great job of keeping everything fresh tasting for months:

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So now my freezer is stocked with lots of yummy sweetcorn and blueberries:

 

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We’ve also been trying out this amazing antique butter churn given to us by some friends. This thing is quicker and more effective at making creamy butter than my blender!

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We’ve also been using our surplus of watermelon and blueberries to make some delicious smoothies:

 

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We’ve enjoyed the kindness of our neighbors delivering fresh flowers for the table:

 

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And took some photos in the last of the Lillies before they wilted:

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I love watching the animals grow. Watching the kids grow. In September my little guy starts Kindergarten. Time goes so quickly. I’m so thankful for each day I have to enjoy it all.

 

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