The Christmas and holiday season often has us longing to go home, or to be close to those we love, and therefore feeling as though we are home. For myself, my home has always been our family farm, and fortunately, most of my family is still here and my other loved ones always pay a visit.
As this is our slowest time upon the farm, with only our daily chores to be done, the holidays is a special time where we focus on fun. Between the sleigh rides, skiing, skating on the pond, and lively visits around an old oak kitchen table, I can't help but feel that there is a certain charm about Christmas on the farm.
In my last blog, "The Importance of Playing as Hard as we Work", I shared how we prepare for the holidays, and it was a rewarding feeling to be able to spend time with our friends and family and see how much they enjoyed our efforts.
Sleigh rides are always one of the favourite activities, especially for the kids, (and the kids at heart) and especially on the bobsleigh. These rides aren't for the timid, as you are often chasing the sleigh as much as you are riding on it. I have fond memories of when my "city cousins" would come visit and we would throw one another off into the snow. I now enjoy watching the children of our families enjoy this same fun, and I have to say they are getting bigger and harder for me to toss them off. I found myself chasing after the sleigh more than usual this year.
My husband, Mike, still rules the sleigh at the moment, but by next year, I feel that the kids will be able to take him.
Our dogs enjoy these rides as much as we do, and happily follow along, occasionally having to side step those who were tossed and are scrambling to straighten their toques, get out of the snow and get back on the sleigh.
Our calf sleigh also gets used for fun this time of year, finding itself retrieved from the calving shed and tied to the back of the bobsleigh. It often picks up the riders who couldn't catch up. It also became something that the tossed riders had to quickly roll out of the way from or else risk being roadkill (adding to the excitement of those who are watching)
It is hard to run when the snow is deep and you are bundled for the cold, not a marathon. It feels like you are exerting such effort and achieving no ground. But after much laughter the horses are slowed down when it is recognized that there is no way you are ever going to catch up. My dad drives the team and can't help but sometimes speed the horses up for those he feels could run a little faster. This is usually done at that opportune time when they are just about to hop back on the sleigh.
Rico and Banjo know the trails of our pasture well, as they have been pulling us across them for years. They know every curve and hill, and all the seasoned riders take guilty pleasure in watching the "newbies" fall off at fast and unexpected turns. There is a certain hill in particular in which they start speeding up a ways ahead of time because they know they will need the momentum to ascend to the top. It isn't overly tall but the steep incline of the hill always poses a challenge for everyone to stay on the sleigh (especially with slick winter clothing, frost, and a new coat of slippery red paint)
"The hill" is one of those signature places within the ride that we look forward to, or at least those of us who know it's coming. It is because of all of this excitement and the enjoyment of being with the horses that the sleigh rides are my favourite activity of Christmas.
The pond is also a hub of activity during the holidays and is a great place for the kids to wear off their energy and practice their hockey skills.
It is also nice and close to the farm house for warm-up as well as for spectators who have a clear view of the pond from the kitchen table.
We also made good use of our homemade curling rocks and our lines held up in the ice as well (after some experimentation we found that watered down carpenter's chalk worked the best)
It took a few tries to get our weight figured out with our oak "rocks" and work with the cracks and charm of the natural ice surface, but I feel that we had ourselves some pretty professional matches.
My husband, the only Englishman in a sea of Germans (who have never curled), took his rightful place as the curling champion this season. Of course it was after much ribbing and cheering on of the under-dog, my mother, the Ukrainian, who gave him the most competition. He reminded us all that he is also Scottish and curling is a part of his heritage, not ours, and therefore we couldn't help but lose to him.
As my brother-in-law mentioned, we were having ourselves our own "Snotties" rather than "Scotties" tournament.
That is one thing that can be said of activities in the cold weather; it certainly gets the nose flowing.
On New Year's Eve we enjoyed some night curling beneath the full moon. As you can tell by my hair and my dad's moustache, it was frosty.
My mother and I also enjoyed a moonlit ski that night. It was a magical evening to be out in the woods, the snow lit up and the air so still. As you glide along effortlessly, warm from the movement, it feels like you could ski forever.
My parents were never ones for sitting around too long and have always said, "it always feels good to come into a cozy house after you've been busy outside in the cold."
It is true. You only feel recharged and energized, never depleted after being outside. And if you are tired, it is as my grandpa used to say, "a good tired. A tired where you sleep well at night and wake up feeling rested."
At Christmas we all tend to eat too much, so getting outside is the perfect off-set to that overly full and sluggish feeling.
Even though the temperatures were below normal this Christmas, settling around -30 degrees celsius without a windchill, we didn't let it interfere with our fun. It simply meant dressing warmer and taking more warm-up breaks.
Perhaps this is the charm of Christmas on the farm; enjoying the natural gifts around us that life has to give by embracing the weather no matter what the thermometer says.
The jingle of sleigh bells on a snowy trail though the woods, the slicing of skate blades and slapping of wooden sticks upon the ice, the sting of the cold on your cheeks and the shrieks of laughter rising up in the frosty air.
We went for our last cutter ride yesterday and will be letting Rico and Banjo back out into the pasture where they will stay until next Christmas. It is a bittersweet time. We enjoyed the holidays, but calving season is coming soon. This is also part of the charm of the holidays, as we know it doesn't last forever. It is reserved for a certain time of the year and we make the most of it.
We reflect upon the year and find peace within life's simplicities. Happiness is right where we are standing. It is within us, this land, our homes, and our loved ones. We see it and feel it in everything we touch, reflected back towards us.
We give thanks and offer blessings for our lives here, and as farmers always do, embrace this season while preparing for the next.