Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Year in Review

It is that time of the year us humans reflect on our lives over the past year, what we accomplished, what we failed, and what we learned. For Zachary and I, it has been a year of change.

If someone told me a year ago that we wouldn't be dairy farming today, I would have found that hard to believe. We had a dream that we could be one of those small dairy farms that could survive in today's dairy industry, where factory farms and volume are favored. Perhaps if we were farming longer before the milk market crashed, we would have had a better base to stand on? Maybe if we were better farmers? Maybe if we were better savers? The downturn caught us at a very vulnerable time. By February, we knew we were in trouble. The sudden sharp decline in milk price took the whole industry by surprise at the end of December. The price was at 30 year lows. Suddenly we had a business on our hands hemorrhaging red, bleeding us dry. We were so stressed out. (A funny side note, Zachary and I both found our first gray hairs during that time. Well earned ones.) We were worried not only the financial implications for ourselves, but also for my parents, for which we were slowly purchasing the livestock, feed, and leasing the equipment and buildings. Our fledgling dairy adventure was first theirs, one they invested their lives into for over 40 years, and before that, my Grandparents. And here we are crashing and burning the legacy. One option was to bargain with the banks and the government for operating loans to cover our growing shortfalls. Most farmers do that, borrow to cover the hard times, and hopefully pay it off during the good times. Hopefully pay it off. The thought of borrowing thousands of dollars to cover possibly a year or more of operating made our stomachs turn. How would we ever pay that back? With our little operation? We have heard many horror stories of farms collapsing under massive debt. We talked with my parents, discussed our options and chose option 2. Sell out. They assured us we were making the right choice. Having them be so supportive made the process less painful. By the end of February, we were calling cattle jockeys and auctioneers for the dairy herd. The last of the milking herd left in the first week in March and we had our cattle sale in mid-March. The price the cattle sold for was very low. With the milk market bad, the prices for dairy cows was also bad. We felt then, and we still believe now, it was right to take our losses then instead of a much larger one down the road. It was few strange weeks after the dairy herd left. Zachary and I didn't know what to do with ourselves during "chore time" night and morning. 5am and 5pm always meant it was time to milk cows.

The remaining young stock stayed on the farm. Today we have 8 steers and heifers. My parents own a few dozen more and my brother Mike is now purchasing calves and keeping them on the farm. It's a little community beef farm. Mike is the main caretaker for all the cattle. It is nice to see the farm buildings still put to good use. The other main strangeness on the farm is the lack of crop making. We all were used to having our spring, summer, and fall revolve around planting, maintaining, and harvesting crops. My parents chose to rent the farm's cropland to area farmers this year, as we didn't need all the land for our smaller group of livestock.

After the we sold the dairy herd, Zachary was out of a job. With the collapse of our business, we have a lot of bills. He found a job at a local factory, but soon after starting, he realized the stress on his back wasn't worth it. Over most the summer he keep busy with side projects, really taking advantage of his building skills. The end of August he found a position at a local auto parts store and been working ever since. He really enjoys his job.

Our kitchen remodel is never ending. Another "if we only knew what would happen" situations. We started the main part of it last fall 2008. But 2009 proved to be a dry year for remodeling funding, as we are and have been focused on bills and essentials. We are slowly putting it back together as we can. Some people think we are nuts living with a semi-functional kitchen for a long time, but believe me it is not by choice. But we are enjoying working together on it and making it our kitchen, reflecting our style. We are patient people, we'll get there.

We learned some hard lessons this year, but we had some great adventures too. We are learning to simplify our lives, cutting out the excess. We are glad we don't have the stress of struggling with our business. Zachary and I are enjoying our new "civilian life". We have our health and each other and really that is all that matters to us.

Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, December 26, 2009


A icy view out our kitchen window on Christmas Eve. The weather in the last couple days seem to change by the hour, starting with snow, then freezing rain, then rain, then sleet, and then snow, and then repeat. Luckily we didn't have to travel anywhere. Zachary and I had a nice relaxing Christmas to ourselves at home. It was very enjoyable to veg out for two days and just be with one another with no schedules, plans, or commitments.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Last night for dinner I made Tuna Croquettes. This is another Alton Brown recipe that we love to put together. There is something about his show, Good Eats, that makes you want to try foods outside your normal routine. Neither of us ate much tuna before, but after discovering this one, we realize it can be tasty too. The nice thing about this recipe it is doesn't taste "tuna-y" and it is easy to make.
This last batch I made, after starting to assemble the mix, I realized I was short a few ingredients. It sounded so good, I decided to forge ahead. The onions I dropped as I had none. My lemon I had was bad, so that was out too. I didn't want the croquettes to be flat in the flavor, so I added a few chopped leaves from the lemon balm plant. And, don't cringe, but I also sprinkled in a dash of lemonade mix, to boost the lemon flavor. (Sorry Mr. Brown!)
To my relief, they still turned out delicious.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


We saw the movie Avatar yesterday. It was pretty good. While the general story line wasn't anything too original, the portrayal, scenery, and the characters were really unique. The CG is also excellent. The movie is a little over 2.5 hours long, which I usually don't like long movies, but this film didn't feel that long.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Well the storm blew through and we ended up with about a foot of snow on the ground. Heck of a first snow for us. Wednesday morning greeted us with blowing, drifting, and un-plowed roads. We passed a stuck semi and a pickup in the middle of the road on our way to work. Luckily our car was feeling sure-footed that day.
So the past few days we have been digging out. My shoveling muscles are sore.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Zachary and I are both off from work today and this morning we were busy with getting the chickens and sheep ready for the snowy winter ahead. Nothing like trying to get things done outside, as the first flakes of an incoming snowstorm is blowing in...

Our young hens were fascinated by the white stuff, and the commotion we were causing in and around their coop. We walled their coop with hay bales on the outside to cut down on drafts.

The sheep quarters we inspected as well. They have plenty of clean fluffy bedding to stay warm in. Zachary made a strange discovery in the sheep building. He found a dead red fox. It was one of the ones that we have been seeing around the farm. It was 3 legged, as one of it's paws were missing. The fox has been lurking around the chickens lately. We don't know why it died in the sheep building. Maybe it was sick? Or maybe the sheep attacked it? Very strange. I guess it is one less fox to bother our chickens. I would put up a picture of it, but I am sure not everyone would like to look at a dead animal.

Zachary and I get our weather from NOAA. We have a joke amongst ourselves about the little pictures they use to describe the weather forecast. Our favorite and most scary picture is Thursday's. We called it the "huddled mass". When that picture pops up, you don't need to bother to look at the description.

And to update our snow storm moving in, it now a blizzard, with 8-14 inches expected and gusts up to 45mph. It should be an interesting drive into work tomorrow morning...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ready or not

The forecast for our area is bringing us about 8 inches of snow Tuesday/Wednesday. It will be our first blast of winter for the season. We'll see how this forecast delivers. We are looking forward to the transition to whiteness.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pretty Eggs

In between baking cookie sheets of our favorite cookie tonight, I was washing eggs. We had almost three dozen in the fridge and I was prepping them for Zachary to give to one of his co-workers tomorrow. He takes about 2 dozen off our hands each week. Thank goodness he loves fresh eggs! It helps us keep ahead of the eggs. As a nice return, he and his wife give us homemade pita bread. It makes a delicious food circle. :-)
I thought the eggs looked neat all laid out, drying on the towel. It really shows the variety in the shades of brown, speckling, and size.

The cookies turned out nicely. I made half with chips in them, and the other half chip-less, with a touch of kosher salt sprinkled on top. (Thanks for the salt tip Julie!) I don't know if Zachary and I are weirdos in the chocolate chip cookie eaters realm, but we don't like very many chips in cookies. That is why we do half with them in sparsely, and the other half without. Anyone else out there like us??

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Holiday Games

We had a nice thanksgiving with the Sorenson side of the family on Thursday. All of us gathered at my parents house for food and fun. Besides our food contribution to the meal, we brought up 2 sets of Cornhole game boards we recently constructed. My parents wanted 2 sets of game boards for the winter in Florida to play with their friends on the beach. Cornhole is a bean bag toss game.
We made an USA vs. Canada set and a Wisconsin Badgers vs. Michigan Wolverines. The family played with the boards during Thanksgiving, and a competitive tournament developed. Our nephew Jordan was the champion for the afternoon, with Zachary as runner-up. I bet there will be a rematches to come. Zachary and I were discussing making a set for ourselves, perhaps Alliance vs. Horde, Axis vs. Allies, or something else nerdy I would imagine...
As I write this, the game boards are on their way to Florida for the winter with my parents. Lucky boards!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dino Egg?

Earlier this week, we found a jumbo surprise in the egg box one morning. With our chickens relatively young layers still, their laying size isn't always consistent, but they usually are on the small size when they are odd. The egg next to jumbo is an average egg for us, about the large size in the grocery stores. Which ever hen laid it, deserves a medal for bravery and courage. Poor chicken...
It doesn't fit in the egg carton very well. After we are done marveling at it, we will crack it open and see if it is a double yolk or something else, like a dinosaur... :-)

Friday, November 13, 2009

i had it coming i guess

Me: "Queequeg, wake up and look at me, I want to take your picture."


Me: "Queequeg, look at the camera."


Me: "Good Quee." Takes picture.

(approaches to pet her)

Me: "Ouch! You bit me!"

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fall Critters

Our four youngest hens, the 2 Barred Plymouth Rocks and the 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes, have started to lay eggs. Right now you can really tell the difference from the other 5 veterans, as the new eggs are quite a bit smaller and a pale tan. They grow up so quickly...
With the new laying activity, we added a second roost in the coop, to give more space and privacy to the hens. Before a few of them would roost in the nesting boxes at night and dirty them.
Chickens can be quite nosey, at least our flock is. As I was removing the old bedding in their coop and adding fresh straw, they promptly surrounded me and proceeded to scatter their new bedding all around their yard before I could get the new stuff in their coop. It was a neat pile until they showed up. Before they came to "help" me, they were helping Zachary in his wood shop, crawling all over his wood and playing in the sawdust. Some days, chicken tenders sound so good.

Zach from The Green Gardner recently asked us how we winter our chickens. Well we haven't yet. This winter will be our first winter with chickens. We haven't finalized any plans yet, but we are figuring on keeping them where they are. Their coop is currently not insulated, but we will be adding some insulation. From the reading we have done, the main thing is to make sure they have free flowing water at all times, and have their shelter at least warm enough so their feet and combs don't freeze. If it works out well, we plan to keep them free range through the winter months. We don't give them much feed at all, as they feed themselves free range, but as the snow comes, their diet will be mostly from chicken feed supplied by us. We may add a wind break around the coop and yard to cut down on drafts. We do have a plan B in case things aren't working out. We would create an area for them in the dairy barn, where calves are currently housed.
It been a while since the sheep made it to the blog, and with will all this talk about fiber lately, they need make an appearance.
The gang. Tippy the goat, Ricky, Sammy, and Fred. Tippy is a honorary sheep. :-) All very woolly already, just in time for winter.
Fred, ready for the snow.
Sammy. He is a Merino/Corriedale/Southdown cross. Sooo soft. He will be a year old this winter.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spin In

I recently attended the Wisconsin Spin In in West Bend. I went with my Mom, Dad, and my good friend Kate. Sadly, Zachary had to work that day. As a newbie to all things fiber, I wanted to see all the neat things you can do with fiber. Get a little inspiration. Besides eyeing all the beautiful yarns, rovings, spinning, felting, etc, we took in the shearing demo. I don't know if we will ever try to shear our own sheep, but this guy made it look easy. But then again, he has like over 20 years of experience and can get a sheep sheared under 2 minutes. He was shearing Icelandics. That raw fleece was gorgeous. Our sheep, Fred, is half Icelandic and Shetland.
The attendants asked a lot of questions and I took a lot of notes. Besides the actual shearing, I learned how to care for your sheep to obtain the optimal fleece before it is shearing time. I noted a few tips that should make our next shearing higher quality. I do wish I didn't have Ricky and Fred's wool carded and blended together this summer, as their wool are really different from each other, besides being the same color. Ricky is a Border Leicester. Oh well, it will still be good to learn the art with.
Isn't this wall of sock yarn delightful?? This hand painted yarn is from Happy Hands Yarn. She has a talent for making wonderful colorways. Kate picked up some sock yarn, as she has quickly graduated from scarfs and hats and onto socks. I was very tempted to get a bunch of sock yarn and start sock knitting, but I decided against it and actually make a few simpler projects first before I jump into that realm. It might be better to start with a scarf or two, and then a hat and then maybe those delightful socks...

Monday, November 2, 2009


Yeah, we are still around, unlike most of the leaves around here. Hopefully November will be more fruitful for blogging. I love seeing my favorite blogs have new updates, so I better return the favor, right? We'll catch up soon. :-) I do have a blog post coming up about this past weekend at the Wisconsin Spin In, as soon as those pictures get downloaded. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 19, 2009


When we picked up paint on Friday for our remodeling project, we weren't sure when we would start painting. After cracking open one of the cans Friday afternoon out of curiosity, we didn't stop painting until Sunday evening. It was a tiresome weekend, but we are thrilled to make some colorful progress on our project.
Here is Zachary on the kitchen beams, doing the ceiling trim. He is the brave one.
Queequeg was amused by us the whole time, wondering why her humans were doing such silly things.
This is the dining room. The color is called Golden Fleece.
This a view from the kitchen, looking towards the dining area and bathroom door.
Kitchen. This color is called True Penny.
Bathroom. Smokey Topaz is the color. This room was easy, we just had to paint the top half. The bottom will have wainscoting.
With this painting project, we had our primer tinted, just a shade or two lighter than our final color. We just had to go over the walls twice, once with primer and once with the final. We never did that before. We'll be doing that for all future projects, it worked out great.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Feats of Strength

The leaves are rapidly changing color and falling around the farm. We've had our first freeze.
In the past week, Zachary and I completed chicken coop #3. I don't know how we managed it, but we were able to load the beast just the two of us into the pick up. This one was delivered to Cedarburg, about 100 miles away. I guess Craigslist unites people from all distances. Due to a last minute schedule change at his work, Zachary wasn't able deliver it with me. I asked my parents come along and help with the delivery instead. Thankfully they could and I didn't have to make the trip alone. Some lucky urban chickens in Cedarburg just got a new home. :-)
Next up... a pigeon coop. This one is going to a local family, one that already purchased a chicken coop from us about a month ago.
And then maybe, we can get back to that kitchen project of ours...

Sunday, October 4, 2009


It is that time of the year when we start digging up carrots for meals and preserving. As usual there are always a few odd ones. I found this one this morning. (Never mind my own odd thumb joint behind the carrot.) Sort of reminds me of a bird's foot.
After enjoying my find, it promptly went into the crock pot with a pork roast for dinner tonight. I got to use our own fresh sage and rosemary as well. Slow cooked meals always sound so good when the weather grows cold. It makes the house smell wonderful, with the smell slowly building all day long as a delicious crescendo. Yum!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wool for Newbies

Here is the washed and carded wool we got back from the carding mill about a month ago. Not bad from 3 sheep. The lady blended our Border Leicester wool and Shetland/Icelandic sheep wool together and kept our black Merino/Corriedale/Southdown sheep wool separate. The black wool is incredibly soft. I have been starting to do some reading, in books and the Internet, to learn about our options for our wool. There are so many techniques and projects I want to try. Felting, spinning, dying, knitting, weaving... Stay tuned for all the future struggles (and hopefully a few successes) in the months ahead. I am positive I am already over my head... :-)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Water Wheel

All summer Zachary has been plugging away on a water wheel project for my parents. Today we assembled it, after getting the roof done this morning. My parents aren't sure where they are going to permanently install it, but we set it up in their driveway to make sure everything fit well before winter comes.
Zachary and his water feature.
Later on, we stopped by Mystic Springs Ranch. It is an alpaca ranch near my parents' house. This weekend they were hosting an open house to visit the farm and see the animals. Their store was also open and they had fleeces, rovings, yarn, and finished handmade goods made from the alpaca fiber. It was very nice. I got a free sample of yarn. I am looking forward to learning more about the fiber arts. We have 4 rolls of cleaned and carded wool to play with this winter. :-)
(I reckon I should post a picture of those soon)

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Yesterday a few of us cousins from my Grandpa Sorenson's (my dad side) side of the family got together for lunch, catching up, and photo sharing in Winneconne at the Fin 'n Feather. It was nice to see everyone and get re-acquainted. It has been a number of years since the last get together.
Good food, good times.
Afterwards we paid a trip to M. Schettl Sales since we were near. It is quite a collection of "stuff" for sale there. There is normal items like building materials, furniture, and housewares. But there is always some interesting items sprinkled in between too.
Hmm... where can I put that in our house? That would look fantastic next to the couch! :-)


A few days ago Zachary and I both had a day neither of us had to work. We drove up to Door County, to take in the sights and explore some parks. We traveled up the Lake Michigan side, staying on roads that hugged the shoreline. An US Coast Guard base caught our attention in Sturgeon Bay. A long concrete pier lead you near a red lighthouse
The water was so clear, you could see brown trout and other fish swimming along the pier.

While snaking along the coast line, we passed a lot of bicyclers. A lot of them. After a while we realized it was the Door County Century event. You can ride up to 100 miles on the peninsula. That is impressive. My butt is pretty sore after 10 miles.
The first park we took in was Whitefish Dunes State Park. The beach was filled with swimmers and sunbathers, soaking in the last few days of summer.
Zachary and I hit the trails.
Next we meandered to Newport State Park on the peninsula. Newport was quite a bit quieter than Whitefish. Door County is a tourist driven destination, but these state parks allow for the peninsula's natural beauty to shine and be preserved.
Wildflowers on the shoreline.
The sandy shoreline gives way to a rocky face as the coast bends.

Finding a suitable rock that looked free of sunbathing snakes, we had a picnic. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bananas.
Mr. Seagull noticed our picnic on the rock. Keeping about 7 feet away, he waited patiently for us to leave to inspect the rock for tasty leftovers.
I think I took about a dozen shots of this Monarch, trying to get a clear shot of it with his wings wide open. Between the breeze and the bees, it didn't happen. But I like the way this one turned out anyway.

A day well spent.