Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Post

Merry Christmas!
Thank you for visiting this posting. We have attributed our irregular (in terms of frequency, not content) Christmas mailings to our succumbing to various obstacles (printer out of ink, running out of stamps, writer's block, etc). So this year we chose to reduce the number of potential obstacles and try this electronic version of Christmas Greeting letter. I know that this form of a letter might seem to many as being cheap and cheesy, but we are hopeful that since it lended itself to us being prompt (for the absolute first time) and thorough, and the fact that there are many high-quality pictures from our mundane family activities that we can include in this online letter, the benefits will make up for the sacrilegious attack on the sacred art of writing humorous and heartwarming Christmas mass (the nonreligious form of mass) mailings. Please bear with us this year, complain if you like (there is a link to leave a comment below), protest by not putting our Christmas postcard on your wall or fridge, but we beg you to keep us on your Christmas list, because we enjoy reading about all of your own family's exploits.

For those of you not familiar with "blogs": these serve a purpose mainly for online journaling and discussion. We use our's partly for that and also for the web savvy berry pickers to check on the status of the crop. Our phone rings off the hook during the berry season (August) and the month before and after, and we are hopeful that the blog will eventually help to relieve some of the phone traffic during that time.

The most interesting Gierke news of 2006
Certainly the most interesting news from last year was John's 6-point buck, which he harvested with a bow from our farm. Many of you heard the story, so we won't repeat it here. A picture of the "trophy" is in the Fall Update.

Activities of Various Sorts
Isn't this a great picture? It shows Genny in the center along with some of her friends in an activity that they created for a Little Brothers--Friends of the Elderly Halloween party. LBFOE is one of the primary volunteer activities that we participate in regularly. Lynn visits an Elderly Friend regularly and does medical transport, John was involved in some roofing this fall, and we help at some of the holiday dinners as a family. The activity shown in the picture involved dressing up the elderly partygoers in costumes and then taking their picture with their favorite character. The pictures were printed and framed and given to the partygoers as they left. Hannah's (scarecrow) parents are the director and volunteer coordinator for LBFOE. Hannah and Gen have been friends since birth. John and Lynn started volunteering for LBFOE over 20 yrs ago.

Lynn and Gen remain actively involved in 4-H and the Houghton County Fair. John and Mike play supporting roles, as needed. Lynn is the co-office-manager of the Fair, which gets her off the farm for at least a day a week throughout the year. We joined the Farm Bureau this year, and now consider ourselves "card-carrying" members of the farming community. Given our ineptness at working the land, it is a good thing we have the privilege of doing this as a hobby and not for sustenance. We hope to elevate our status of dressing like farmers to driving like farmers by purchasing a tractor so that we can start digging holes, trenches, brushhogging and the like. Tractor purchasing is a complicated ordeal and the online search consumes much of John's "farm time". It will be nice when it is over so that we can get him outside to do some real work...

Agricultural News
We still have our two llamas (Stewart (l) and Pete (r)). Both are males, Stewart being 6 years old and Pete a spry 16. Their "training" is going slow. Both are still a bit skittish, except when we carry llama treats. They are very curious creatures and quite dog like in their loafing around. Llama droppings are, apparently, a delicacy to dogs, as both of our dogs can't seem to get enough. We are often asked about the llamas' reputations of spitting. They only spit at each other, so far, and only Mike has been caught in crossfire. Lynn and Genny sheared them in June and a friend spun the wool into yarn. Lots of potential here to deploy some puns, but I will refrain so that you will read on.

We raised two pigs. One went to market (see Fair Results). It takes a family to raise swine, it turns out, and we mostly enjoyed the experience and plan to repeat this coming summer.

Our women-folk continue to dominate poultry competitions in the county (again, see Fair Results). John's brother's youngest daughter, Annika, seems to have been born with the "knack" for chickens. During her weeklong visit this summer, every one of the chickens was "treated" to several visits to the inside of our house every day. Now when the chickens are acting up, John puts a poster of Annika in the pen and they all start behaving.

After experiencing a banner blueberry crop (over 10,000 lbs harvested, and that much probably went unharvested) in our first summer (2005), we were not prepared emotionally for a subpar year (less than 3,000 lbs picked and practically nothing went unpicked), which is what we got this year. Our disappointment was exceeded by many of the regular pickers who rely on our farm to fill their freezer with blueberries. The wild blueberry crop this year was nonexistent, which made customers even more desperate for domestic sources (not to mention that it comforted us knowing that our low yield was not the result of some amateur mistake). The lower yield most likely was due to poor spring weather during the pollination period (according to "experts"), resulting in sporadic berry production and slow ripening. A picture of the banner year is in our first posting. We hope to work out some share cropping with bee keepers for this year to help with pollination. Figure it can't hurt, unless we get stung--so to speak. The picture on the postcard we sent with the link to this Christmas post was in front of our "berry" building, which we use for storage and facilitating berry weighing and the money box. It was built by a Pete Olsen, a Finlander in Tapiola. John had to remove and replace the roof to facilitate transporting the building here, and Gregg Bluth and Tom Figures helped with putting the roof structure back in order. John's brother efficiently shingled it during his visit with his family, including Annika-the-chicken-catcher.

Family Pets
It sure seems that news about our pets (see Libby and update) draws the most attention on our blog. At left is Broemer (9 years old last summer) after being sheared for the summer (her "wool" was not spun by the way), Libby (2.5 mos. at the time, now 9 mos.), and Caesar, a sun conure, about the same age as Lib. Although they appear to co-exist peacefully, the tranquility is rare. Broemer is usually the brunt of the teasing that alternates from Lib and the bird. She takes it in stride and has even developed some survival skills, such as pretending to want to go outside, allowing Libby to go first, and then turning around to return to her napping while the wild one searches for pine cones to chew.
What Libby lacks in common sense and manners, she more than makes up for in looks and enthusiasm/affection. Although Mike's dog on paper, she is really beholden to everyone, listens to no one. She has a lot of peculiar habits (e.g., window licking) and likes to run, jump, and ride in cars. Our friends' youngest son, Adam Figures, adores her and vice versa. During good weather they can entertain each other for over an hour with some game that involves, throwing, chasing, and chewing pine cones, of which we have an endless supply on a daily basis.
The bird is Gen's, and she has semi-trained it to do its business in a trash can and simultaneously she trained Libby, which given her propensity for manure wasn't hard, to clean up when the bird doesn't use the trash. Caesar is a loud, obnoxious beast--yet affectionate. He loves all kinds of food (esp. dogfood), except birdfood. He also does not hestitate to shower in the sink or play with dog toys.

Broemer is still hunting, but, like John, at a more "methodical" (a.k.a. "slooowwwer") pace. The two of them go out alone a lot, and based on how they return still clean and gameless, we often wonder if they are just sneaking away from the normal household turmoil.

Mike and John joined Ron Falta and a buddy of his at a lodge in Eastern Ontario for a week of walleye and bass fishing. Both caught and released large (mid-20-inch walleys, high-teen inch smallmouth) fish and caught sufficient smaller ones for eating, mostly as shore lunches. The trip was great. Unfortunately Genny didn't go, so there are no pictures per se.

Lynn and Genny went on an unsanctioned (i.e., not approved by the Gierke Travel Bureau because it did not involve fishing or hunting) trip to visit our friend, Olga Kovalenko, in New Jersey. They went to a broadway musical (Rent) and did sightseeing in NYC. They have pictures, but the Blogger is lacking the pictues at the moment, so you will need to contact them for city pictures, if you like. The Blogger's official position is that if there is not a fish or an animal (or a kid) in the picture, why post it?

John's work has taken him to Nicaragua multiple times. He has a graduate student assigned there for her Peace Corps' and masters' research, and he has traveled there with Aqua Terra Tech students for their research. Both of these projects are aimed at improving the drinking water situation for communities and families. Gen was supposed to accompany him on his summer trip but couldn't due to a problem with her passport renewal. He is spending the first 14 days of the New Year there with his ATT students, performing field surveys.

Some Pictures from Around the Farm
All of the pictures were taken by Gen, who is really starting to display some photography skills in an artsy sort of way. Here are some from around the farm, with no real stories to along with.