Lots of fun in school today. I had great fun driving down the road in my Viking helmet, once I figured out how to angle myself into the truck. Got to New Berlin by 8 and picked up the load of root beer, vanilla ice cream, marshmallows, rice krispies, butter, pans, paddles, milk, etc. for our Halloween party. Fawn and I had the root beer float, krispy treat stop on the rotating party circuit in our wing. I felt good in my Viking costume but instead of recognizing me as Boudicea the Celtic Warrior Queen my college-educated colleagues kept singing Wagner opera whenever they saw me. We did a skull painting tutorial and had trick or treat visitors from the kiddie wing - a real treat for me as we are kidless on Halloween out here in the wild. I miss kids so much I think about adopting a couple but they would surely accuse me of using them as slave labor on the farm. Well, it is a farm. It was raining by the time I got home and hasn't stopped. The sheep are not happy and won't go out to graze. Left the gate open. They like to go up to the tippy top where there is more grass to eat but last night did not come down. Spousal unit made serious points when he took my 4WD truck up there this morning to chase them back down and lock them up so we could go to work. Trouble is a little band of goaties was hiding in the woods and decided to go across the street to graze while I was gone. The grass is always greener...They saw me pull in and were back at the barnyard gate before I could get changed to go and fetch them. Smart goaties. They made points, too. The ducks are loving this rain. It's so warm I had to take off my jacket in the barn. The fleas and flies will come back along with the big, fat earthworms that come out at night and offer themselves up for duckie treats. All this will be over once the snows come, which could be any time, but not soon as it will be in the sixties next week. Considering it was 12F on the farm a couple of mornings ago, well, this is weird. Bed soon for me. Too much sugar today. Didn't see or feel any spirits in the barn tonight. I know they are there (just ask Kim and Daryl) but don't think I am worth approaching. Perhaps they just watch and enjoy. Thor kept making little growls and I thought he must know something I don't know, but it was Finn creeping around outside. I climbed the ladder to feed the hay mow kitties very quickly, and got myself back down real fast. Very spooky up there...my farm is one of the oldest in Brookfield, started by Elisha Burdick, one of the founding citizens here. His wife, Lydia, is still here...in spirit that is. I am never alone.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
I have simply got to get my act together in the morning. I spend way too much time in the barn, giving bottles to kittens and goat kids, changing duck water (which they are going to make black in no time anyway) and otherwise shooting myself in the foot as far as getting to work on time means. I can't believe no one has set a speed trap for me along my root. The Bucket of Bolts is capable of incredible speed when necessary, and long empty country roads are the perfect invitation to put the peddle to the metal. I had to get to school on time today to get a new student off the bus for the first time.....and had everything under control until.....I couldn't find my purse! The little dark green vintage Coach bag disappeared sometime between the last trip into the barn and putting my coat on. I spent way too much time looking for it, as it has my license, money, check books, etc., which made me even later and increased my chances of having to show my license for driving recklessly. The drama was intense. I finally left and drove like a crazy woman to Norwich. Everything was fine and I thought I would make it when I did something silly...I peeked into the other lane to see if I could pass a school bus lumbering it's way along near the school. I decided against it and got back in my lane, careened around the corner, and pulled into the parking lot. A late model car zoomed up alongside me. Ouch. It's the superintendent's secretary asking me if someone is dying as that is the only thing that would justify my driving like an insane person. It poured out....I have to get a new kid off the bus, I lost my purse, yada yada yada. I think she took pity on me as she sighed and said, "Have a wonderful day." The day was not too bad and here I am, about to go home with no purse, no license, no checkbook, and no way to buy the Friskies Salmon Pate or the myriad things I need for the Halloween party tomorrow. I will have to leave home VERY early and buy what I need on the way to school, setting me up for more stress and potential drama. Oh, and the annual costume angst. I'm planning on coming as Boudicea the Celtic Warrior Queen. I have the helmet and the boots, maybe the dress, with a blanket for a cape (thank you Ursula's Woolen's of Rhinebeck) but I don't have any Viking woman jewelry. I was thinking I would ask Candace to make some for me. Maybe next year. Thankfully there is always next year. I'm going out to the Bucket of Bolts now and will stroke the dashboard and apologize for pushing it so hard this morning. It will be a 55 Stay Alive trip home.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The kitty water froze on the front porch last night as well as the duck water on the north side. That's a reality check for me. I'm not afraid of winter this year as much as I have been prior to. I know it's coming no matter what and I'm going to deal with it. No one is bred so no babies will freeze. As long as I put out enough hay and fresh water everyone should be okay. The barn is not cleaned out yet, but I'm hopeful the guys who promised to do it will come with their equipment. It would be wonderful not to walk through my barn bent over. It's a hobbit barn now. Once the poo mixed with hay is spread on the fields I can bring the ducks and dogs in. We will all be living together under the same roof. It's very European. Time for chores now. Knut is barking that I want my dinner and I want it NOW bark. The barn kitties are sitting around the doors waiting for me to come out and mix kitty stew. The ducks and goats want their cracked corn. The sheep are still out on pasture and the goats know it. Now is their chance to get some corn before the big beasties push them out of the way. I don't give my flock a lot of corn. Hay is better for them and keeps them warmer as it combusts inside them. This is the first year I will have enough hay feeders - thanks to Daryl Parkinson and Liz Vermuelen, a local shepherd who has downsized her flock. I have a new rubber hose to drag around. Hay makes sheep thirsty. I watched them drink from the pond today after I let them out when I got home. That will only last another month or so until the pond freezes over. I better get out to chores. The cycle of life on the farm continues.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
We took a walk up to the tippy top to watch the sheep graze today. The cloudy skies were ominous but no rain or snow fell today. There is more grass up there than down below. Reba doesn't like the sheep up there and will walk them back down to the barn. I have not started feeding hay yet - the longest I've had grass on the hillside in the seven years I've been here. The temps will be mild next week, giving me even more time to save the hay in the mow.
Susanne Farrington is a local potter and felter. She makes the lovely mugs I use for my Goat Milk Soap Shaving Mugs. Susanne likes my roving and will trade her mugs for my wool. It's a great arrangement. I brought some mugs home with me from the Hamilton market yesterday. Susanne did a brisk business on Colgate University's Parents Weekend market day. The weather was windy and cold. Susanne's beautiful and artsy hats flew out of her booth. Her mugs are very sturdy and durable. I use them all the time at home for my tea and coffee. The handles never break off and the non-skid bottoms are very nice. There's no chipping or cracking like so many other mugs I've used over the years. Must be some very good clay she uses. That's my blue wool on the tote bag. I've taken lessons from Susanne but the felting thing is just not happening for me - yet.
I've been depriving myself of sleep for so many years it's impossible to sleep in when I want to. My internal alarm clock goes off and here we are. Was hoping to get some serious zzzzz's going this morning but no good. Awake at 4 thirty. Being twisted like a pretzel due to dog encroachment doesn't help. So many things going on, so much to think about. I just re-upped for NY Sheep and Wool, where I had so much fun last weekend. Seems like a dream now. Two more little shows this fall then the long push to Maryland Sheep and Wool in the spring. I feel so fortunate to have these two shows on my calendar. That's where I rub elbows with people who understand what I do. I will spin wool all winter, sew knitting totes all winter, pick fleeces all winter, and look forward to the first weekend in May. I have the tools necessary to keep the farm going - my beautiful animals who produce wool, mohair and angora, my spinning wheel and my sewing machine. I have this roof over my head and a wood stove to keep us warm. I have my job, which is much better with the new principal who is truly a teacher's principal, and, after seven years, I'm not likely to be laid off. "As long as I have my job nobody can tell me I can't have my sheep," I've said way too often. Matt's weatherization non-profit group has been cut back to the extent that he's taken a pay cut and will work only four days a week. There will be a lot of cold people in upstate New York this winter. That's alright - I have plenty of work for him to do around here! As long as I stay healthy everything will work out, which is a bit scary if I think about it too much. So many living entities depending on my well-being. Best not to think about it too much. I'd like to buy another vehicle so the bucket of bolts can be used as a farm truck or back up vehicle. I'm looking at another front wheel drive mini-van which can fit my farm booth or sheep inside. Loved my old Caravan, which was ugly as sin but very road worthy. Never slid once in that van. A former student who is a good mechanic has it now. I'm still not unpacked from last weekend. The batik note cards I bought from the incredibly talented batik artist booth neighbor are still in the truck. Oh, that reminds me to order note card inserts. I've had enough inquiries about my own farm photo note cards being absent from my shop that I think I will get some more going. I still want to have Maggie's Farm calendars printed for next year. Maybe I will have them printed so they go from May to May and present them at Maryland in the spring? They will feature all the ribbon winning sheep photos I have. We'll see.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Friday, October 25, 2013
Four thousand two hundred and thirty-one posts???? Wow. That's epic. I'm afraid to read back through these posts. So much passion and pain, and love, poured into this journal. I was very much buoyed by the friends who came into my booth at NY Sheep and Wool to tell me how much they enjoy reading my journal. I truly write it for myself, as a record of this leap of faith that is my farm, so that someday I can look back and maybe make some sense of it. What am I saying? There is no sense to what I am doing here...but it's so much fun. Thank you for going on this journey with me.
I've been buying farm insurance from a local guy, Walter Will, who is an agent for Farm Family. Aptly named. They were a better bargain than the outfit I used for the year I owned the place but had not moved here. Mr. Will likes to meet with his clients in person from time to time. It had been seven years since he was out to the farm, largely because I kept putting him off. I decided I better increase my coverage because $100,000 is hardly a pittance if I had to rebuild this massive barn, which is also my home. I'm more worried about the sheep being out in the rain and cold than myself. I could get ahold of a used double wide pretty quick, but building another barn is not so easy. My Lilly is old, thin and frail now. I don't think she would like living in a double wide. I called the agency and Pat Will answered the phone- Mr. Will's wife. Don't you love country living? After she scolded me for not setting up an appointment sooner she said he would be out Monday at 5. Monday afternoon I called to beg off, as I had just pulled in from NY Sheep and Wool in the wee hours and was seriously dragging after teaching all day. She said Thursday and I said okay. So I beat it home after school and let the sheep out to graze. No baby goats stuck in the welded wire fence today. The dogs were throwing themselves against the door so I got them out for an abbreviated walk. I winced as I saw Mr. Will at the door as I was forcing the dogs back inside. He looked so grim and serious and hardly smiled when I shook his hand and said come on in. There is really no place to come on in where I live. I'm working on it. I told Mr. Will I need more insurance as I would never be able to replace this barn with the measly coverage I have. He said that years ago he set my barn replacement value at $300 K and that wouldn't be enough now. Trouble is, insurance costs a fortune. I said let's walk outside. I wanted to show off the magnificence of my barn and the only way to do that is to go out the North side and walk up the hill a little. He grimly followed me. I thought this guy should be an undertaker. Why is he so glum? Is it the paint job my barn needs? The cats? The chicken poop on the steps he walked up? Surely he must have seen worse if he is a farm insurance agent. I said you guys charge a fortune. What do people do if their barns burn down? He said they rebuild if they are insured or they go out of business. No light small talk here. Mr. Will is all business. I said go ahead and double my coverage - an extra $600 a year. It's a tax deductible business expense I figure, but you have to be making a profit in order to deduct anything, or you are further down in the red. I don't know any small farmers who are not in the red, but then most farmers don't talk about their troubles. We just carry the load. I asked Mr. Will if I had to sign anything and he said no, he would take care of it. So now, God forbid, if a rat chews on a wire and my barn burns down (unlikely to happen, thank you Kitty Cadre) I will be able to buy my double wide and a quickie Amish barn for Lilly. I love my giant barn - all 40' by 240' feet of her. I will never be able to take care of her they way I would like, but I would like to save the barn for whoever farms here next. I hope it's someone who will have the means to give her a little stroking. Oh, the stories this beautiful, classy structure could tell.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
The week wears on and the weather gets worse. A cold icy rain started falling while I was doing chores tonight and chased the sheep in for me. Last night I had to climb the hill in the dark to find them. I like to close them in the barnyard during the day while I'm at work. A bit of that glorious moon remained to help guide us, and my little headlight with the waning bulb, but it was mostly black five feet in front of me. I had climbed a while and was weary of going further. I looked at Reba, who is always close by waiting for orders as she probably did with the former owner who abandoned her in a nearby field, and said, "Reba! Go get' em!" That was all she needed to hear. I figured the flock was up high on the hill, near the pond, bedded down. Reba was gone for a while in the dark and I thought, oh, no, what is she doing. Did she go for a run up on the ridge? Suddenly I saw glowing eyes, many pairs of them, running down the hill to the barnyard. My headlight made them look like ghostly creatures, bobbing up and down as they ran. And there was Reba driving them down, not too fast, but just keeping up behind them. Who would think a coon hound/beagle/whatever mix she is would be a sheep dog? As we walked up the hill for our afternoon climb today, Reba saw the sheep grazing, looked back at me and said do you want me to bring them back? I said, no Reba, not now. It was hard for her to turn away, as she wants so badly to please me, and tell me thank you for this wonderful home you gave me, with all these wonderful fields and animals to chase, and a warm fire, soft sofa, and all the food I can eat.
Julian Targan and Rebecca Dioda came to visit me at Rhinebeck. I've known Rebecca many years since she happened on the Fairmount Sheep Shearing and saw me demonstrating spinning. Rebecca was smitten and has become quite the fiber artist in her own right. She's started her own business along with her talented sidekick, Julianne. The two are so creative and energetic. I was very inspired by them and complimented that they took home quite a bit of my wool to knit, spin and weave. I wish we lived closer...
These lovely ladies flew in from Colorado to attend the NY State Sheep and Wool Festival. They returned to my booth several times to buy fiber and finally asked if they could wholesale it in their knitting shop. I've received many offers to wholesale my goods, like most vendors do, and have always resisted. I figure why should I sell my handmade products for less so they can sell them for more? These ladies were adorable and I was very tempted. Can you imagine...shipping stuff all the way to Colorado? Doesn't seem likely but it was nice to meet these Western knitters. Loved their sweaters. They walked the walk and talked the talk.
I met Mother Katherine when my son, the priest, took me to the Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Otego, New York. Mother Katherine keeps a flock of rescued sheep of several varieties. She took us on a tour of her farm where she also raises milking goats and cows. Mother Katherine has a special relationship with her sheep. They are all named and they all have personal relationships with Mother K. I've never met a shepherd who is so intimately involved with her sheep, even me. It was necessary for Mother Katherine to leave the monastery to visit her aged mother in Florida. I asked who was going to take care of her sheep. She simply replied, "God." And she means it. Mother Katherine weaves her clothing from her own wool. She wore a lovely cape and hat to New York State Sheep and Wool this past weekend where she spent the whole weekend on site with Bluebell and friend. She allowed us to take her out to dinner and bring her back to the fairgrounds where she slept on a pile of pelts, under handwoven wool blankets. Heavenly!
My building at NY Sheep and Wool was a sea of commercial yarn. I remain resolved to continue selling yarn spun from my own wool. Kim and I put out baskets of our lovely, unique, artsy hand spun yarn and were satisfied, with a kind of reverse snobbery, that there was no commercial yarn in our booth. All fibers were lovingly raised on Maggie's Farm. I'll never forget when, several years back, Linda Cortright of Wild Fibers Magazine, told me most yarn comes from dead sheep. Ugh! I still shudder at the thought. Many vendors advertise "hand dyed" yarn. That yarn might come from a place like "Henry's Attic," a source for yarns from various sources and I doubt if those sources are local shepherds, who know their sheep by name and spend long cold nights with sick sheep or waiting for lambs to come. When you buy a skein of commercial Merino yarn you might be supporting mulesling - a horrific and painful practice done in Australia to prevent flystrike in large flocks. When you buy a skein of commercial yarn you might also be supporting the meat industry where sheep are shipped long distances suffering terrible discomfort and fear before they are killed. Then the wool is removed to be spun into yarn. What could they do otherwise? They could go to the fleece sale at places like the NY State Sheep and Wool Festival, or the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, and buy raw fleeces from shepherds like me who have small flocks of happy sheep. They could give those fleeces to local mills, and there are more and more every year, and have yarn made to their specifications. Then you could knit free of guilt and with the satisfaction of supporting a vanishing entity - the small family farm - as well as local industry.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Kim and Daryl Parkinson met me at my NY Sheep and Wool booth and helped me through the weekend. They are amazingly wonderful friends. Daryl ran all my electric and they both helped me haul in a TON of product. My raw fleeces looked great in the booth. I was thrilled to sell four raw, unskirted Bluefaced Leicester black fleeces. I was very surprised when the weekend was over and only one kid mohair was sold. There are never many mohair fleeces available at wool shows and these were scrumptious. I'm happy to have them back on the farm where I will pop them in the dye pot.
Friday, October 18, 2013
As I'm rushing around, hopelessly trying to attend to too many things, my mind flits back and forth in a schizophrenic fashion, all over the place. What about this kitten who fell out of the hay mow? Will he do it again??? Will I make enough money to finally build those book shelves? I mean, why in the world with a woman with a graduate degree in History and a farm business want bookshelves (according to carpenter husband)???? I can't imagine. A full size microwave would be nice, along with more Frontline for the itchy doggies. Better fencing would be unimaginably wonderful, and my neighbors would leave me alone. It all depends on how hard I want to work, and how fast I get out of here and safely across the Catskills. I have more product than ever - and great raw fleeces - but will the wooly patrons come out in this precarious economy when the government has just re-opened after being shut down for two weeks? We'll just have to wait and see won't we? Anxiety prevails, but when I'm there and my name is on the booth I begin to breathe a little better. Spouse is on board with back medication which seems to be taking the edge off. Better sheep handling equipment would have avoided the ER visit, but that also remains on the "to do" list. There is a sink full of dirty dishes. Should I stay or should I go????? Think I'll do the dishes first, because that's the kind of girl I am....ha, ha, ha!!
Thursday, October 17, 2013
I don't know how I could have worked any harder for this show. I have way too much to bring but more is better than less. I have more raw fleeces this year, but they take up a lot of room in a booth that will be brimming over as it is. I'm leaving a spouse who is laid up with a bad back, the result of catching four giant monster sheep when we sheared on Monday. Four Bassett offices were booked solid so we went to the ER in Hamilton. He has meds to last until I get back. The doggies will help him hold down the sofa. I sure hope everybody else holds on until I return. I'm very sad that Annie, Hannah and Mia are all missing this year. I was hoping this show would turn out to be a family affair but that isn't looking very likely. Kim and Daryl are coming, my faithful friends, and we'll be fine, but I know people will ask for Hannah and her fabulous needle felting demonstrations.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Friday, October 11, 2013
Nice young principal decided we should all hike up the lumber trail leading to the pond on top of the big hill behind the school. It's about a mile almost straight up. I thought it was a good idea and, being the oldest teacher there, I was determined to put in a good effort. Unfortunately it was after lunch on one of the days when the Culinary department cooks for the teaching staff...and they are fantastic cooks. The food is cheap and plentiful. It slowed me down a bit but I made it up without too much huffing and puffing, saving my dignity. Home to take the doggies out for their walk, also up my own big hill. I was trying to beat the flock of goats who make a beeline for the sorghum planted at the top of my land. They have more to eat than I've ever had on the ground and growing on trees but they want what is not theirs. I am still baffled why someone with ninety beautiful acres of her own would come all the way over here, miles away, and rent a field to plant, requiring moving equipment long distances. My sheep and goats are locked up all day and the first thing I do when I get home is let them out. The sheep spread out across the lush hillside but the goats shoot into the woods, bypassing the apples on the ground in the orchard, right up to the sorghum with me and the dogs in hot pursuit. I have Reba kind of trained to cut them off, but she doesn't quite go the distance if I am far away. I keep yelling "Get them, Reba!!" and she runs a bit then turns and looks back for more orders. If I get close enough she will turn them around. We are working on it. I really like the owner of the sorghum and am a bit resentful that she did this. It is her right to rent a field and plant what she wants, but there is land all over Brookfield that she could have chosen. Miles and miles and miles of it. And it would require miles and miles of fencing for me to put up to keep them off it, but I have no choice. It was in the plan anyway...but not just now. On deck for the weekend...farmer's market, and much work on the farm. Big Jim Baldwin is coming Monday morning to shear those big black monsters the guys couldn't catch the last time he was here to shear. Don't know what makes me think I'm going to catch them this time, but I have some ideas... I also have some goats to shear including big fat Monkey who is old and mean. It would take me hours to shear her with my scissors her bulk is so vast. The housework is piled up but what else is new? I think I'll sit down and sew a bit right now. My favorite power tool is very empowering. Some chai vanilla tea will help I think.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
No need to buy doggie chew toys around here. Yesterday Cooper found himself something to keep him occupied while I'm at work. All natural and locally raised. Mild weather continues with waning sun and cool temps at night. I did manage to get some of Libby Llop's Lincoln wool dried outside. Up late sewing Bundaflicka totes. Way down on totes but I'm working on it. After school, market, critters, dinner, and more critters, there doesn't seem to be much time for "play." Already thinking long term to Maryland Sheep and Wool next spring. Out to morning chores then splash some water.
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Took the doggies out for a nighty night pee and looked at the stars for a while. A new crescent moon is hanging in the darkness. It's very very dark but I could see the white ducks bedded down in the barnyard, not too far from the barn door. I'm glad Thor, Finn and Knut are out there with them. We lost an old goat the other day and put him up on the dead pile high on the ridge. I found him when I was walking with the dogs after school today. Just a clean skull and a bit of hide left. The coyotes pulled him down into the field and made short work of him. I don't mind - I love wild animals. Someday there won't be any wild animals left. As long as I have The White Boys to protect my sheep and goats we'll be okay. I'm sewing in earnest at night now. Too many days have gone by with no sewing after I come in from chores and I'm behind. I remember when I was sewing in the hay mow, the first winter I lived here, with the camper too cramped to set up. I put my sewing machine in the hay mow, with a single pole lamp next to it. A wall of blackness surrounded me which was a bit creepy so I focused on the sewing. I was very, very focused in those days. Not that I've lost my focus, but I get a little more tired these days. Not giving up, but slowing down. I guess it had to happen sometime. I had a nice conversation with Father Aaron. His Army drill was cancelled due to the budget issues but he's busy with the church. He presided over a Blessing of the Animals at Grace Church on Sunday and had a wonderful time. I'll have to ask him to bless my animals when he comes East.