Monday, August 30, 2010

Farm Envy.

The porch.

View from the porch.
I love this farm. It is peaceful, graceful, old and elegant. It reflects the personalities of the people who live there - generous, warm, fun and hard-working. My visits are always too short and it's one of those places where you just don't want to leave once you get there. Their Icelandic sheep are wonderful and it's so calming to stand on the upper pasture and watch their little butts in the air, wooly heads down. They are guarded by a quartet of llamas and they have a glorious view. Bliss. You know your sheep has had a wonderful head start.

My 3-F Weekend

I am back from my Fun Fabulous weekend with Friends!  I took pictures and will post them later.  Other than the five-hour drive which is about 90% Interstate driving, it was a great escape to one of my favorite places.  I was thoroughly annointed with large, wet Scottish Deerhound noses, ate wonderful meals prepared by someone else! on a porch with an amazing vista, learned how to use my on-loan spinning wheel, read more than 6 pages in my book, knitted, talked, relaxed.  I was amazed it was only about a day and a half.  I made it home safely with my small charge - Bartlett - a spotted moorit ram lamb.  He was a very good sport about the long drive; especially the snake-like final portion of the trip.  I was so anxious to get home, that it took me a while to realize that the sound I was hearing - slide, thump, clackety-clack, slide, thump - was Bartlett sliding from side to side in his dog kennel when I cornered the bends.  My friend, Rosie, had everything in hand and helped me get the squirt into the hoop house, where he will be able to meet everyone at a safe distance.  I had forgotten how small lambs were at this age (5 months).  It was good to get home.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Loose Ends.

I am getting ready to take my second (!!) overnight vacation this year.  Quite a milestone, as I usually am limited to the one weekend my sister can house sit for me.  I will make the 5 hour drive to the middle of New York State to pick up my ram lamb.  Even if I wasn't picking up a ram lamb, I would make the trip just for the company of Frances and Wendy.  They raise beautiful Icelandic sheep and Scottish Deerhounds on Heartsease Farm.  It is a lovely and restful spot near the fingerlake region of the state.  Besides immersing myself in sheep and dogs, there is lively conversation, bird song, Wendy's amazing sourdough bread, good coffee, good company.  And I usually get to sleep in the guest room with all the bags of fleece.  I seem to sleep better under the influence of lanolin.
    All this future utopia aside, I need to get my place in some sort of shipshape order for my friend Rosie's arrival.  She will be (wo)maning the place from Saturday morning to Sunday early evening.  I am trying to make it as seamless a process as possible.  In light of that, this morning I moved Elmer into the empty quail house and out of my laundry room.  She was quite happy and I was confident it would do no harm, as her neck wound has healed up with no wet spots that would provide an environment for flies.  I also managed to clean out some of my refrigerator, wipe off counters, clean bathrooms, and change the sheets on the guest bed.  There are advantages to getting up at 4 a.m.  Tonight, when I get home, I will finish off the last of the clean-up and make a vegetable stew in the crockpot.  This, along with some carb or other, will be dinner tomorrow night.  I am hoping it is good enough to ease the shock of my two-page chore list...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I am a victim!

Of an intentional act of kindness!!!  I had hoped that this week would be a gentler week.  However, after a day and night of gale-force winds, my power went off yesterday morning.  The upside of this was that I got to use my neighbor's shower (her bathroom is tiled in marble, light and airy, with big fluffy towels and all kinds of amazingly good smelling bath things -- the polar opposite of mine).  The same winds knocked my hay feeder over and caused other mischief.  The week was not looking good.  Then I came home and found my mailbox empty.  This means that I have a package too large for the box.  Don, my mail-guy, then puts my mail on the driver's side of my truck.  There was a box on the seat.  I wasn't expecting a box.  The box was from MN and contained a lovely tin of the most amazing chocolate chip pecan cookies I have ever eaten!  From Mama Pea!!!!!!!!  It was so wonderful that I cried.  I now feel confident that I can survive to can another day. 
     Speaking of canning (were we?) my canning/putting by accomplishments so far:  tomato sauce, raw packed tomatoes, enough pickles to safely carry me through 2015 and beyond, vanilla peach sauce, peach pit jelly, jalapeno jelly, peach salsa, blueberry jam/sauce, dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, dried currants, dried zucchini chips.  Coming up - more tomato sauce, pear butter, apple herb jelly, apple sauce, apple peel jelly.  I was hoping to do some green beans, but my plants did not assist me.  I would also like to can some corn, as last years was waaaay delicious.  Of course, I still have produce canned from the past three years.  I may be a candidate for an intervention.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is it September yet?

Not that I want the summer to disappear, but I'm not sure I will live through August at this rate.  I vaguely remember the beginning of the month, then it dissolved into an endless stream of fencing, canning jars, steaming kettles, community doings.  This week, alone, has been/is a corker - starting with wasp stings and Jordan's sad news, to sorting and pricing a pile of things for the local library's big fund raiser, to repairing the fence where Godzilla (formerly known as Hoosier) managed to practically rip out a section of my new fence, to peeling, cooking and canning 10 lbs of peaches for vanilla peach sauce until 11p last night, to transporting three of the meat chickens to processor transport at 7a this morning, to picking up 200# of feed on my way into work this morning.  Oh, yes, then there's that pesky full-time job.  Yeesh.  And it's only Thursday.  Tonight I have to fill in on the town's zoning board from 7:30 to at least 8:30, then pick up the processed chickens on my way home.  Sometime between now and 9a Saturday morning, I have to bake brownies and a peach pie for the Book & Bake Sale at the library.  Tomorrow night is the sale's preview party from 5-7, for which I have to make hors d'oeuvres.  After the B&B sale on Saturday, I am driving up to VT to celebrate my dad's 88th birthday, the presents for which I have yet to buy.  Then a future house/farm sitter is coming for dinner at 6.  Sunday, blissfully, there is nothing concrete planned.  But the list includes grooming Blue, cleaning out the small coop, working on the lattice house, tackling the 20# pile of tomatoes on my dining room table and the half-bushel of pickling cucumbers to which I continue to add, and carting the trash to the transfer station.  Calgon -- take me away!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Making it local.

I do my best to support local businesses, eat locally, grow my own, recycle, reuse, or refuse.  It sure ain't easy.  I do admit there are times when, after having spent a long day working at my job, working out in the garden and taking care of my charges, I am tempted to just toss that bottle in the trash, instead of removing the cap, rinsing it out, walking it into my laundry room where it's sorted with the other recyclables.  But I just can't do it.  I am fairly rife with guilt and am old enough to still have the early passion of saving this fragile planet for our children, grandchildren, et al., above all else.
  Given my guilt/passion, I am almost giddy with pleasure when I can create a meal that is made with 99% local ingredients.  Last night I made a tomato-corn pie with:  my tomatoes (20 yards or less out my front door); corn from a farm about 6 miles away; eggs from my girls in the back quarter-acre; milk from my dairy farmer neighbor 1/2 mile down the road; dried thyme from my herb garden off the back deck; farm cheddar cheese made by dairy farmers 2 miles to the north; and whole wheat pastry flour from a farm in southwestern VT, about 40 minutes to the northeast.  The only ingredients that weren't local were the salt, pepper and olive oil.  Even the extra virgin olive oil is bottled by a family in the same area of VT, although the oil itself comes from their olive grove in Greece.  It was both satisfying and delicious.  That is why there is no picture.  I et it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Importance of Lists.

I am an inveterate list-maker.  I make lists for all occasions and I put my lists in 'map' order.  That means, when I make a grocery list, I list everything along the layout of the store.  When I make my errands list for weekends, I list things in the most logical driving order.  For really important, one-time things to remember, I use Post-it notes on my front door. For those things that I don't dare forget (turn off hose; unplug electric fence), I use a blackboard. I have made lists since I was a teenager because it was fun and satisfying to put things in order.  Now that I am going in twelve directions at once, I HAVE to make lists or there is no order in my life (well....).  Along with my many lists, I developed the habit of keeping an "Egg Journal".  It's a journal in the most basic, simplistic terms.  For some reason long forgotten, I have been logging in my hens' egg-laying accomplishments since I moved into this house, raised chickens and found my first egg.  It goes back about 4 years and includes the morning outside temperature, date, number of eggs collected that day, and a brief summary of the weather.  Heaven only knows why I started it, but I have stuck with it day after day, week after week.  It has actually been an interesting research tool, in that I can go back 1-2-3-4 years to the day and see what the weather was like.  Every once in a while, there is an additional notation - Lulu died; two broken eggs; forgot to close gate - that can almost always bring me back to that day. 
     What is it about habits, anyway?  Good ones  limp along miserably for a couple of weeks, then go die in a dark, lonely corner.  Bad habits roar into life and stick to me like Gorilla Glue.

Bad, bad Monday.

AFTER superglue on head wound
Even by Monday standards, yesterday was the worst. I discovered a wasp nest in the sheep's hoop house by getting stung twice in the back of my head. Then I came home to a voicemail from Jordan with the worst possible news. As I was throwing hay and feed around so I could leave to go up to her farm, I discovered one of the Cordon Bleus had been cornered and practically scalped by the other hens. I quickly put her in a rabbit cage, brought her into the laundry room, dabbed at her bloody head and headed up the mountain. Words escape me, too. The horrors of what Jordan found even got to the state trooper and my friend, the dog warden, who has seen it all. There was little comfort I could give Jordan, other than to reassure her that there was nothing she could have done. Once a dog turns vicious predator, as her neighbor's dog did, there is nothing that will stand in its way. When I came home later, my scalped chicken was still pretty perky, so I called my neighbor to consult on how to address this gaping head wound. She came over with super glue and we glued the skin back together. There's still a wound, but she's safe from flies, has food and water, and I clean the wound with peroxide twice a day. This morning, before sun-up, I went out to the hoop house with a paper bag, knocked the wasp nest into it, took it out to the driveway and burned the sucker.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

They Came. They Conquered.

They labored mightily.  Yesterday was an exceptionally full day - even for me.  I was up at my usual 4a, did my chores by 8a and started pulling the clips off my 'temporary' fence.  At 10a, two of my neighbors/friends arrived with fencing gear and we were off!  I provided the fetching, the lunch, and comic relief.  They worked steadily and moved the cattle panels off the t-posts and put up honest-to-god sheep and goat fencing.  We were still going strong at 3p, when I had to excuse myself to meet my dairy farmer neighbor who had kindly offered his farm truck to pick up hay - it was wonderful to have 50 bales of beautiful first-cut hay dropped into the back of this behemoth without having to stack it, drive to the barn and unload and stack it again.  He backed up to my barn and hit the hydraulics - 50 bales in a nice big pile right by the door.  The fencing crew stopped pounding posts and the three of us stacked it in no time.  By 4:30p I had nice, tight fencing, a new gate, posts pounded in for paddock #3 with enough fencing left to cover it, and 50 fresh bales of hay stacked neatly in the barn.  I was going to go in and throw myself on the hay (I love the smell of it) but I only had two hours in which to throw a roast in the oven, prepare a mess of vegetables to be roasted, vacuum, dust, sweep, take a shower, feed the dogs, and make hors d'oeuvres.  Since the crew refused payment, I made dinner.  A full and fulfilling day.
You go ahead - I'll just guard this piece of rawhide with my life.

P.s.  The median age of this crew was 65!  Viva la oldsters!

How about something positive?

I don't know about you, but I need something sunny right about now.  With recent events and listening to the radio - I was very gloomy.  Thank goodness I don't watch television!  While reading the most recent entry of the Heifer Diary, my favorite weekly journal, I came across this and thought I would share it:

"I stood on the deck as the sun went down behind the hills. The sheep were backlit giving them a golden aura, the cows were grazing on a section of new grass, and farming seemed like the best possible way to live. I don’t feel tied down. I feel uprooted when I have to leave."

Exactly and amen.


I love that word, but seldom find the occasion to use it.  And now, unfortunately, I feel it is the perfect word to describe how I feel about my much-too-short relationship with Gigi.  I am very attached to all my companions - I flatly love them.  They comprise my immediate family and our relationships parallel all the two-legged relationships I have and have had.  They have spats, they misbehave, they forgive me if I misbehave, they make me laugh.  But the one thing they give me that no person does is unconditional love.  How astonishing that a small, feral cat who populated my life for such a short time would have such a hold on my heart?  I have such a clear image of the last morning I saw her - she was lying warmly against me on the sofa.  I was scratching the distinctive pattern on the top of her head when she raised her head, looked at me through squinted eyes and rumbled her amazingly loud purr.  She had kohl lined eyes and a sweet smudgy patch on her chin.  And now she is gone.  We had been working on making her an indoor-only cat, but the process wasn't completed.  I had one other outdoor cat who engendered that much love, and he disappeared as well.  It was a long, painful process, forgetting that loss.  And it will be a long and painful process with Gigi's loss as well.  I will hear her mewing at the back door, under my bedroom window, out in the poultry yard.  I will see her out of the corner of my eye.  Not knowing how it ended leaves you with the hope that it hasn't.  And hope, in that sense, becomes a form of purgatory.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Along with a large portion of my heart.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

And there was peace. In the nesting boxes.

Dottie the Muscovy duck apparently decided she WAS a chicken.  And a very broody chicken at that.  She has been wedged into one of three favorite nesting boxes for months.  And that sets off broodiness in Marie Claire, who needs very little encouragement, and Crazy Lady Hen, who suffers from symbiotic broodiness with Dottie.  CLH feels compelled to wedge herself into the already tight quarters with the nutty duck (that's her fluffy butt in the picture).  This, not surprisingly, causes all kinds of problems with chickens, egg laying, other duck relationships, and my nerves.  Every morning I have to pry Dottie (and Crazy Lady Hen) out of a nesting box.  Then I remove Marie-Claire, then the drake chases Dottie all over the yard, CLH runs around all fluffed up, which sets off Marie-Claire, which sets off Junior the rooster, and on and on it goes.
  Out of desperation, I ran an ad in craigslist trying to find a home for Dottie.  Lo and behold, there was someone who could not live without her.  She has gone off to Connecticut to live in an all-duck family.  I hope she can be rehabilitated.  And I hope the estrogen level drops in my chicken yard.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lambie Triage.

The dogs I have adopted over the years all shared one thing in common - none of them had normal puppyhoods.  This meant that there was no 'throw the ball, bring it back' play.  With my long-haired dachsie, Oscar, it was because he had been a puppy mill 'worker' and had not had much socialization.  He did latch onto a rubber squeaky toy that was as large as his head.  He would not squeak it, nor would he share it.  It took almost six months before he was relaxed enough to leave it behind on his walks.  Reilly, my Great Dane, spent all of his puppy hood/young adulthood in a crate that was too small for him.  I tried to get him to fetch or play - no dice.  Bernie, who is incredibly fearful, sees dog toys as potential objects of terror.  When Scrappy joined us, I assumed he wouldn't want toys or be interested in a rousing game of fetch.  How wrong I was!  He was outside 'helping' me garden when he caught sight of my gardening gloves.  He snatched one up and raced around with it, tossing it in the air and leaping on it.  He now has four toys:  Lambie, Foxy, Squirrelly, Ropey.  (I dare any of you who have dogs to make fun of those names...)  Lambie is most often a victim of limb-loss.  Poor dog toy construction.  Squirrelly gets the most use, has lasted through a few emergency stitchings and keeps on squeaking, albeit weakly.  Ropey is the toy of last resort.  Foxy is his new favorite because it has a squeaker at both ends.  I like it because it has no stuffing.  And, while Bernie does not approve of dog toys, she is not above sneaking out when Scrappy is getting a drink and gathering up all the toys, taking them to her bed and lying on them.  Smart cookie.  That Foxy can drive you crazy.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Knowing whom to call.

Being relatively new to home ownership, there are few things that strike more terror into my heart than when something that is vital to my existence stops working.  Such as power or water or my washing machine.  Although I am inching my way toward total self-sufficiency, I live in a mild state of angst on a daily basis.  Last Friday I woke up to - no water.  I discovered this alarming fact at 4:30 in the morning - my usual rising time, but not on any repairman's schedule.  The first thing I did was to check to see if I had left water running all night.  And I had.  I had broken one of my Cardinal rules - when running the hose in the sheep's water bucket, stay until it's full, then turn it off.  So I turned off the hose and went inside to wait for the well to recharge (fill back up).  And I waited.  And waited.  Still no water.  It then dawned on me that it was not running for another reason.  That's when panic kicked in.  I grabbed the yellow pages and looked up "Wells Water Repair" and dialed the one closest to me.  The "ahem" gentleman that answered the phone pronounced in dire basso tones that I had probably had my well blown out in the recent storms.  First, the last storm was two days prior and I had had water since then.  Second, if it was an electrical short, it would have tripped the fuse, which it hadn't.  He then informed me that he would come out and look at it but, since it was 8:30 and they started at 9:00, it would run me $100 for an emergency call.  In my best perky voice, I told him I didn't think so and I would call him if I was desperate. 
     Then I did what I always end up doing - I called my neighbors.  That is how I found Keith.  The first time I called, he was eating breakfast and would call me back.  When he called back, he interrupted me mid-stream to say someone was in his yard and he'd call me back.  When he called back again, he informed me, after some cursory information, that he had put in that very well some 6-7-8 years ago.  Then we had to try and remember who owned the house so he could look up the file.  That had me back on the phone calling my dairy farmer neighbor who knows everyone within a 40 mile radius.  That settled, he agreed to come out.  By then it was pouring rain and I trotted out with my umbrella to hold it over him and the well cap.  After about 40 minutes of testing he discovered that the problem was my new pressure gauge.  It had a cut-off mechanism that shut off when the water pressure dropped below 20 lbs.   He showed me how to lift the little lever until the pressure rose to 20 lbs. then it would fill up on it's own.  When I cringingly asked him how much I owed him for the call, he pondered a couple minutes and said, "$42.80."  I was almost giddy when I got my checkbook.  For $42.80, I had learned how deep my well was (very), how much water I had (not much), how they hit sulfur (surprise, surprise), how cheap Chinese parts were killing his business, how I should not let myself be talked into something I didn't need (new gauge), and how he thought the place looked like I really cared about it.  Keith is now on speed dial.

Monday, August 2, 2010

It took a village of two.

Lattice house framed in an afternoon. The diagonal pieces are for support.
In my constant effort to further complicate my life, I am building a lattice house, to house, well, it's a surprise.  But I do realize it is perverse for me to plan on building anything with one and a half arms.  Luckily for me, I have a friend who is a whiz at Eyeball Construction (her term).  She can look at my puny drawings (never even closely to scale or in correct perspective), then look at my pile of scrap lumber, and see my vision!  How cool is that?  While I was saying, "well, I think we'll screw these uprights here, and join that, and, well, heck, I have no idea on how to attach these wall units," she was visualizing the entire construction, moving walls around in her mind, calculating spacial elements, how many turns it would take.  When I trotted back from exchanging one dead cordless drill battery for a half-live one, she had it all worked out.  I am taking pictures of the progress and will unveil the surprise after the weekend.