Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shocking True Confession!

Tonight I am going to bed with Mark Twain and Sweet Lucy.  I don't care, hear me?  I just don't care what y'all think.  Sorry.  I think the winter is getting to me -- and this day sure has.  I left the house at 9 a.m., returned at 3 p.m., and didn't get inside to sit down until 5 p.m.  I went to Fedex in Pittsfield, MA to pick up my new phone, then headed north to Lanesboro, MA to pick up 200 lbs of poultry feed and 30 lbs of cat food, then north to Bennington, VT to have lunch with my parents and help my dad (as in he supervised, I hefted) put 140 lbs of sand bags into the back of his pick up truck, then to another feed store for a 33 lb sheep block and 50 lb kelp, then drop of cat food at neighbor's, then home.  Then unload all of the above and distribute it here and there.  Yeegads, my weekends are becoming more work than my weekdays!

So, I figure I deserve going to bed with Mark Twain and Sweet Lucy.  This tome was a Christmas gift from M, I am so thrilled!  Mark Twain is one of my all-time favorite writers.  And Sweet Lucy (I only am imbibing that wee dram in the glass - but the bottle is so pretty I had to include it) is a bourbon-based liquor that a friend gets in a small town in Tennessee.  It's a family run business that hand makes and bottles small amounts of amazingly delicious alcoholly things.  I ration it out over the winter.

So, goodnight, dear readers, wherever you are!  Sweet dreams to you all.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

When Zoning Goes Terribly Wrong.

Taken on our Pig Adventure in PA. (Ignore my thumb)

Honestly, do you think that anyone would find this poorly disguised cell tower, standing in a grove of 5-foot pine trees asthetically pleasing?  Did they think it would fit right in?  What were they thinking??

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Travels with Marianne.

Thanks to my friend, Marianne, I have had some rip-roarin' road trips over the five years I have lived up here.  There are often three of us - Marianne, Melanie and I - and we have picked up pigs, dropped off a variety of life poultry to be picked up packaged, visited farms, tasted cheese, bought strawberry plants, put lots of miles on Marianne's truck.  The latest road trip was of the former variety - pig pick-up.  Marianne raises Tamworth pigs, a truly marvelous animal in all respects.  They are smart, not too huge, very attractive pigs with their red hair and blue eyes, and, most important, provide the best pork I have ever eaten.  Marianne has had to go through the long, frustrating process of trying to find young pigs to raise every year.  They are not easy to find, being a relatively rare breed.  And Marianne is not one to sully purebred genes, if she can help it.  She had found some very nice Tamworths a couple of years ago and held onto one of the gilts (young female) with the intention of breeding her and raising the piglets herself.  Because she did not have a barn, she ended up having to trade a neighboring farmer her gilt to breed in exchange for a number of piglets in the spring.  He bred her late, and Marianne ended up having to raise her pigs well into the winter.  Enough!, she said. make a long story relatively shorter, she had a barn built, saved two gilts from this year's herd and found herself a purebred Tamworth breeding boar.  In Pennsylvania.

We were each wearing six layers of winter clothes when we left NY.  M had to keep both hands on
the steering wheel, so she couldn't grab my camera!

Since she voiced her intent on driving down and back in one day to fetch him - by herself - I, being ever eager to go Traveling with Marianne, offered to take a vacation day and go along for moral support, help in emergencies, and for comic relief.  We were all set for a Tuesday trip when, whizzbang out of the blue, Marianne's gilts went into heat on Sunday.  Apparently, there is a very small window of opportunity for breeding once the gilt is in heat.  So...we left early Monday morning.

The trip began in minus double digits, as Sunday night was the coldest on local record for quite some time.  I basically had time to throw hay at the sheep, throw feed in the closed-up coops, hook up fresh water bottles for the rabbits (which, I am sure, refroze in minutes) and race out the door.  Five hours and three states later, we located the farm and met the farmer who was holding the boar for Marianne.  It was quite a spread - big barn, lots of acres, perfectly neat and tidy, with it's new house, outbuildings, fences.  The boar was smaller than we thought he would be and even for his age.  And there were other issues which I won't address here, as it gets me (and M) steamed just to think about it.  But he went easily into the back of her pickup, which was crammed with nice, fresh hay.  G buried his snout in it and sighed.  He made a nice nest and settled in for the ride back.  We decided (notice how I am so proprietary with M's pig) to name him Giovanni, hoping that the mere name would endow him with successful romantic accomplishments.

The farmer's wonderful red border collie with a Tamworth charge.

Five hours and three states later - but this time with pig shine-ola on our boots in a warm, closed truck cab - we arrived at her farm in the dark.  Thank goodness for four wheel drive, as M had to power up an unlit, snowy hill to her barn.  Where we were met by her two gilts...outside!  (Enclosed in an electronet fence, however)  Apparently, they had  maneuvered a board or two on their pen and had gone on a little adventure down the drive and into the road.  Some very nice neighbors were able to herd them back up to the barn and into the fencing.  What ensued after our arrival was not what M had had in mind.  I, by contrast, had nothing on my mind, being totally numb.  The two, larger PMS-ing pigs attacked G at every turn.  They bit him bloody.  M found that, contrary to what she had been told, G had had no experience with electric fencing, so he plowed right through it.  Thank goodness Melanie had met us there!  I wimped out after half an hour, my excuse being having left the dogs alone for over 12 hours.  (Now, don't think I'm a cruel, uncaring person - my neighbor and frister, Kay, had bravely come over to let them out in the afternoon.)  It was -8 degrees when I left, with M and M struggling to put the girls back in, keep the boy from heading down the drive and setting up a place for him to stay that was NOT with the girls.  It all resolved itself after I was safely home, and I got a lovely loaf of bread out of it to boot (thank you, Melanie!)  Unfortunately, I spend so much time gawking that I forget to take pictures even when I remember to bring my camera.  Maybe next adventure. 

For now, I have filed another exciting  road trip with Marianne in my favorite memories album.  I hope there are many more to come...that don't necessarily involve pig shine-ola on my shoes in a warm, enclosed space.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bear with me.

Contrary to the rumor mill, I have not frozen into a popcicle on my farmstead, sled in one hand, shovel in the other.   I have been shoveling and shoveling some more.  And shoring up the rabbits, chickens, ducks, sheep and llama against the frigid temperatures we've been enduring.  I took some time out yesterday for an adventure/road trip, about which I will tell all - or all that's fit to print - as soon as the phone company fixes my phone line.  It's as dead as a door nail.  No phone line, no DSL, no internet, no blog.  Blech.

Hope to have it up and running tomorrow.  "See" you then!

Friday, January 21, 2011

How Much do I Love My Chickens?

Enough to smear Vaseline on their combs so they don't get frostbitten.  That's right, I will be out in the coops tonight with my big jar of Vaseline, smooshing a nice thick coat on the combs of any unfortunate chicken with the least bit of "flamboyance" in that area.  I have been remiss during earlier periods of bitter cold and there are a few cases of some frostbite around the edges (the roosters are a little worse for wear).  While frostbitten combs won't kill a chicken, it's got to be painful and it looks like aitchdoubleell.  I just cannot describe how much fun it is to be fumbling around in the dark coop with my headlamp on, up to my wrist in cold Vaseline on one hand, struggling to maneuver tiny chicken heads with the other (it takes times like these to realize just how minuscule chicken brains must be).  Yes, I must love my chickens very much.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Clean a Closet - all 40 Steps. A Work in Progress

Step one. Whine, moan and wring hands.
Step two. Do everything BUT go into closet, including cleaning the toilets.
Step three. Make deals with yourself (Every time I go into the closet, I will cull one object.)
Step four. Go public (here) with your intentions because you know at least 4 people will hold you accountable.
Step five. Take the advice of one of these people and take pictures of the mess condition in said closet, with the intention of providing a "before" and "after" - for those of you with strong constitutions.  It will be posted with proper warnings.

Great! Five steps down and only 35 to go!!! Seriously, I have gone as far as sticking to my "deal" and have removed 6 objects. I have even set up Goodwill bags and moved the 15 bags of fleece out of the way to set up a staging area.

(Aside here, to my pal Mel: from your grassy a**ed friend - if 'fiber' days include you coming to help me skirt my fleeces, I will personally snowshoe up there and carry you back...)

Since I seem so easily overwhelmed, I have decided that I am going to tackle one small section at a time. That way, it will only take me until April to have it all neat and tidy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And, winter ends when?

Cabin fever is starting to set in after only two days iced in!  Yesterday's ice/snow/sleet left a thick, slippery layer of ice on the roads.  The fact that the temperature is in the low 30s has exacerbated the slippery-ness of all flat and sloping surfaces.  But, it has allowed me to use my outdoor frozen non-freezing faucets!  Which, in turn, has made three ducks very happy.  Alfie (the drake) has been an absolute filty mess, with Grendal a close second.  Puff always seems to look neat.  I filled up their little tub and within minutes, Alfie was splashing and rinsing and preening.  It's futile to hope that they can figure out that sleeping UNDER the chicken roost is not the best decision for keeping one's feathers clean.

Being determined to go into the office this morning, I pulled on office apparel, packed my lunch, passed out guilt treats and scraped the ice off my car.  It started right up (good, good, car), then the driver's door wouldn't close.  This has happened before but I never remember what to do about it, other than call my "car" friends.  My farmer/neighbor drove down and sprayed some silicon on it and got it working again, then mentioned something about the state of my mental health in wanting to drive over the mountain into the city.  I decided to stay home.

So, here we sit.  I have been working remotely from home, although they are not keen on someone of my (ahem) lack of caliber using their remote system.  I squeezed in all the work I could do in my alloted two hours and now, with time hanging heavy in the air, I feel I am destined to clean that damn closet.  The same one I was supposed to clean out yesterday with all my free time, you ask?  One and the same.  Yesterday, my friend Marianne drove down in the sleet to visit, saving me from the dreaded job.  Of course, she was fleeing her post-holiday house mess.  It worked for us! 

The snow is finally letting up - it's been coming down steadily since 5am and the temperatures are supposed to plummet soon.  They are forecasting a new storm is headed our way on Friday.  Sigh, I hear my closet calling me.  Gotta go!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Squash Storage and Snow Days.

Not that one has anything to do with the other....I am sitting at my computer, listening to the sleet hit the window.  We got about three inches of snow and now it's a sleety/freezing rain/snow mix.  The Alert Call from the office came in at a decent hour (around 8am ish) and the office is closed due to the weather.  This is both cause for joy and stress.  Joy - I don't relish going over the mountain in this weather; Stress - I have some unfiled lobbying reports and the deadline is today.  The good news is that they can be filed electronically, so all is not lost.

Now, let's get to the issue of squash storage.  I have very limited storage options.  I have no garage, no attic, no basement.  I have a laundry room that serves as feed storage, tool storage, electronics storage, freezer space, canning storage, and laundry room.  It is so bad that I wouldn't let a relative see it.  It is on my list to sort out.  So, what to do with all of the winter squash, potatoes and garlic?  I use my guest room closet as my root cellar.  I don't often have overnight guests, so I keep the heat turned off in the room.  The closet is dark, cool and dry, and it seems to work wonderfully for all of the above.  Yet, when I went to fetch a triamble squash (seeds thanks to Novella at Ghost Town Farm), of the four I managed to raise, three were perfect and one was, well, let's be kind and say "not perfect".  It was ROTTEN.  Nothing else surrounding it had been tainted.  Just this one squash.  And it was rotten through - kaput.  I am really a novice at this - anyone have an idea/opinion as to what happened?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fun and Games.

My first inkling that the kittens were bored.

Good thing I walked in before they made it into town.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


After a very scientific selection process (little bits of paper in a wooden bowl), the winner of the "Feeding the Whole Family Cookbook" is .....(drum roll, plz)....Mama Pea!!!  It will be winging its way to you on Tuesday.  Thanks to everyone who commented (and welcome, Mama Tea).  I am still working my way through my overly-and-unnecessarily large collection, so stay tuned.  I love the idea of cookbooks (especially) being rehomed!

The sun is shining today which is quite lovely on the piles of snow.  Tonight will be another frigid night, so I'm off to shore things up accordingly - woolen blankets on top of the bunny cages, light in the coop, new thick layer of shavings all around.  I am even going to add a nice layer of straw in the hoop house - thanks to Mr. Poopy, aka Hoosier.  All I need is for the sun to briefly thaw out my water source so I can fill their water bucket - I am not looking forward to hauling water from the kitchen.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Breakfast of Championship Shovelers and a Give-Away

Kramer is pretending he doesn't want to eat my cereal.

I am finally done shoveling - until the snow plow goes by and undoes the end of my driveway.  And the winds pick up tonight and drift over everything I've shoveled.  But, for now, there are pathways to everything important.  The only reason I am not totally exhausted is that I fueled up with a big bowl of my favorite hot cereal - an organic multi-grain purchased at (sigh) Trader Joe's.  It's got rye, barley, oats, and wheat, and I tossed in some frozen raspberries from my neighbor's patch and added a dollop of raw milk.  YUM. 

Seeing that I have a bonus day off (not counting the half-day I'm shoveling), I did a bit of sorting in the cookbook shelves.  I came across a great cookbook for families with young children (I have no idea why I have it).  So, in the interest of all you great moms out there who carefully and healthfully feed your family, I am giving this away to one lucky commenter.  Don't have kids, but know someone who does?  Pass it along!  Leave a comment below and I will choose a winner on Friday.  I will not be using "Fangs" to choose the winner...

My Autobiography.

What else do you think of while you're shoveling miles of deep snow?  I rattle a bunch of disconnected thoughts around in my head and shake out one that I would like to ponder.  This morning's thought was, "What would be the title of my life's story?"  The answer?  "An Unconscious Life".

What would be the title of your life story?

Deja Vu. All Over Again.

I knew it was coming - the tantalizing mixture of two big storms meeting over my house.  Well, more or less over my house.  And thanks to the 1AM call from the automatic alert system (so thoughtfully made by the company I work for) to let me know our office's opening would be delayed, I was up at 3 AM and able to keep an area around the doors cleared out so I wouldn't be captured in my house.  So, for all of you who wish you had snow, I give you pictures of my morning.  I am gearing up for the second round of shoveling after a bowl of oatmeal and 12 cups of coffee.  May the force be with me...

Back view.

Front view.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Winter Life Saver.

Besides the one-piece Carhart thermal jumpsuit (the HEIGHT of fashion for any homesteader worth their salt), my headlamp, my fleece-lined mittens and my Muck boots, there is one piece of equipment that is my make-it or break-it tool for winter.  Without it I am a sniveling, wimpering piece of flotsam.  Really. 


Ta-da!  My hand-me-down plastic sled!  I use it for (but not limited to) hauling hay, water buckets, rabbit manure buckets, feed bags, sheep blocks, groceries, shavings, llama 'beans', and dog food.  This is my second sled since I moved here - almost five years ago!!!   My old sled was held together with duct tape which created drag and it had a MUCH longer pull rope which was very problematic.  Mind you, it took tripping over that gosh darn rope more than ten times - with sometimes dire consequences - before I managed to shorten it.  This sled has the perfect length of rope for pulling and has not let me down, or tripped me up once this year.  Plus, it matches my barn jacket!  Now that's what I call a useful accessory.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dipping my toes into Deep Thinking.

I am not what you would call an Intellectual.  I have the focus of a two-year-old and age hasn't lengthened it.  I tend to be more of an 'emotional thinker', as I call it.  That means, basically, that when I am for something, I am all-out-whole-hog-get-outta-my-way for it.  I hold certain views very passionately, but most things do not hold my focus long enough for me to sink my teeth into them, so to speak.

So, when something knocks me off my feet and makes me stop in my tracks and want to ponder, I pay attention.  This happened last night when I arrived home to find that my dear friend, Els (in Holland), had sent me a birthday present.  Because of the distance and mailing costs, we are always challenged to find something meaningful but mail-able.  She had sent me music.  Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi.  I popped it into my stereo, and scuttled off to the kitchen to make pie dough.  The music started and I stopped.  I stopped what I was doing and went into the living room and sat down and listened.  And wept.  Because there was something so deeply moving about this music that it seemed to call up a longing from someplace long ago and deep inside.  It wasn't actually sad, it was just....well, it was just an exquisite longing.  And that made me sit and think about music in general, and how sound can reach us the way words cannot.  And then I thought about how amazing it was that she had found this and thought of me.  And then I thought about how much music there is that I will never hear.  Of course, then my polliwog brain started jumping to how many books there are that I will never read, and how many birds I will never see or hear.  I put the brakes on at that point because it was becoming 'unnecessary thinking'.

The point to all of this - if there is one - is that it continually amazes me how deep connections run.  There is music to connect us to that deep well of longing/happiness/sadness; there are good friends who bring us special joy; there is the blogosphere that connects those of us so far apart, yet so much alike.  Sometimes, before it completely overwhelms me and I have to look away, I get this glimpse of how enormous and utterly breathtaking is the reach of life on this planet and in this universe.  This is a deep pool of thought that I will be dipping into often in my quest for a kinder, gentler me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Aging gracefully.

As I add another year to my existence on this beautiful orb, I find myself reflecting on Aging.  Am I Aging Gracefully?  No matter how many times I hear that term, I still am not quite sure what it means.  I know it's futile to struggle against aging.  I know I wouldn't be caught dead in spandex at my age.  Come to think of it, I NEVER wore spandex.  I don't lie about my age -- I just, um, change the subject.  Instead of wolf whistles, I generate "ma'ams".  People try to help me load my car in the Home Depot parking lot.  I usually let the darn guy do it, then pull it all out and put it back in the right way.

I will have to say that all of my female friends of a certain age are beautiful.  Almost all have let their hair turn various shades of gray and silver and don't use makeup.  They all lead interesting lives, and are interested in living.  And to a woman, they do not complain about aches, creaks, snaps, crackles or pops; they all have a crackerjack sense of humor.  Every one.  They just get up every morning and do what needs to be done.  So, is that aging gracefully?

When I look in the mirror, I am always surprised.  I believe that I have myself frozen in my mind's eye at 35.  Over the years, I have mastered the art of seeing only what I am looking at - nothing more, nothing less.  My left eye, my eyebrow, the spot on my nose....aren't we supposed to be free of those dang spots at this age???

I dress pretty much the same as I always have - simple, classic, comfortable.  There may be a little more elastic involved, but nothing is short or tight or high fashion.  As a matter of fact, I have not worn a dress in about a year and when, recently, I did manage to climb into one, complete with matching boots, tights and a long scarf,  I thought my workmates would drop over from shock.

For all of you classic women out there (my term for a 'certain age'), what's the most noticeable thing to you about getting older?  Are you Aging Gracefully?  Most mornings, when I get up and let the dogs out and see the millions of stars in the dark sky and hear the soft bleats of the sheep (well, maybe not "soft" - I tend to wax poetic) I mostly think I am Aging Gratefully.

Monday, January 3, 2011


As close as I can tell, there are two camps on the Rezolution field.  There are the, "I will make many, many resolutions.  I am bound to keep at least a couple, so therefore it won't be a total waste of my time".  Then there are the, "I will carefully determine which three resolutions I feel are the most important to the advancement of myself as a finer human being.  Then I will keep every last one of them, so help me gawd."  No surprise, I tend to be in the former camp.  I would love to be a sincere, focused person who can list my resolutions and stick to them but, although I am sincere in my wish to stick to my resolutions, I have feet of clay.

I did distill all 500 of my resolutions into a theme this year.  I may even print a t-shirt.  "I resolve to be a kinder, gentler person - to myself and to everything and everyone around me."  I have nudged past the guilt of being nicer to myself and am working hard on happy feelings.  And I have to tell you, it feels awfully good.  I sweet-talked the bunnies this morning and, although there didn't seem to be much appreciation for the kinder, gentler me in the rabbit shed, you never can tell with rabbits.  The ducks were very happy that I took the time to fill their bathtub.  Scrappy thought I should have given him both of the rawhide chews, as he needed more kinder, gentler treatment than Bernie.  The kittens seem suspicious of the new me.

I will have to say that I feel better-able to keep my resolution this year.  I'm not sure why - is the air more rarefied?  Has growing another year older mellowed the old dame?  Who knows -- but I think it's time for a kinder, gentler resolution.  Don't you?

And the Winners Are...

Lisa - by default the Farmer's Wife Cookbook is yours!

And Chicken Mama wins Home Cheese Making!  I don't know if you can see in the not-so-great pic, but there are fang marks in Chicken Mama's winning slip of paper.  Slim was reluctant to give up his prize - Kramer obliged me by delicately fishing out the winning slip, but Slim decided to get in on the action and seized it in his jaws.  Thank goodness I was fast enough to grab him before he darted off with his treasure.

Congratulations to you both!  Please forward your mailing address and particulars to me at swomersley at gmail dot com.