The coldest winter I remember when living in New Jersey was 4 degrees F. I wouldn't take "the babies," my twins, to play group that day. No way would we go outside. If anyone told me I would be working on a farm in minus 20 temps in my later years I would have laughed in their faces. I think we are diving again tonight. The weather report tells me relief is coming, with 30 plus on the weekend. What a joy to have my water buckets thaw without my having to chip out the ice or drag the heavy blocks into the milk room. I'm still mixing buckets of warm mash not only for the pigs and the aged ewes, but now the ducks and chickens too. I let a special ed. student come and get a dozen hens out of the hundred or so I have in the chicken room. Lo and behold he took the one bird who was laying an egg a day for me. He's taking good care of the chickens he tells me, and getting three eggs a day. The birds must be happy there. I've been getting one duck egg a day, bless her heart, from one of the few who consent to live in the duck pen in the barn. Every time I catch a few more ducks for the pen they manage to escape. I'm sure there are duck eggs hidden about the farm. When spring comes I might have a nest or two also hidden around the farm. Wouldn't it be grand to have another successful nest hatch and bless us with those yellow darlings. The ducks are very hardy birds and I love them. I put buckets of warm mash around for them, too. Spoiled duckies. Time for nighty-night. I love to stay up late, as it's my only private time, after work, after dinner, and after my hour or two in the barn.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
I took the dogs out for another pee and poo before chores and thought it was getting a bit colder. Checked the bird feeder pole thermometer and sure enough it said ten below zero. Will be colder than that by morning, with the clear sky and no clouds to keep the earth warm. Everybody in the barn is fine. I spend a lot of time mixing buckets of warm mash for the pigs, Lilly and her old girlfriends, the ducks and chickens. It seems like everyone is getting enough hay. The milk room kitties and baby bunnies are fine. I don't have any wool to dye so I keep a giant pot of water at the edge of simmering on the dye stove. The cats lean up against it on top of the stove, with another group sitting on the open door of the oven. Incredibly, no one has been burned that I know of. If the sheep don't drink their water I find a big block of ice in it the next morning and have to find an empty one to give them more water. I think we're doing well so far this winter. My friend Jim Baldwin says it's how they look in April that counts. I've had sheep pull through the winter only to die in the early spring, after their strength is all used up. Chris the farmer who used to keep cows in this barn told me he had the same thing happen with cows. I worry the same thing will happen to Lilly or her aged friends. For now, they are lining up and waiting for their warm mash and nightly MacIntosh apples - softer on their old teeth. I have an oven now. We switched my new oven, destroyed by mice who settled in the insulation and chewed the wires to the digital control box, for a used, almost vintage, oven I was planning on using to heat my work room. The old stove works fantastically and there are no fancy wires for the mice to chew. I cook every night and having no oven was wearing thin. We are waiting for AJ who is moving back to the East Coast shortly. I'm hoping to spend AJ and Mia's birthday with them in New Jersey, on February 21st. I'm off that week on winter break. Until then we go to work, take care of the farm, and kick back a little on the weekends. I'm reading Sylvia Jorrin's book The Improbable Shepherd. It's very interesting and I can relate to so much of her hopes, dreams and anguish. I admire her greatly. There's a lot we don't share, like selling lambs to the ethnic market, or taking animals to auction. I never, ever do either, and never intend to, but then I have my teaching job to fall back on. Sylvia is a gardener and her grounds sound spectacular. My grounds are rather wild and I kind of like it that way. I don't think Sylvia spins or has her fiber spun into yarn, but I may have missed it. I read haphazardly and sometimes jump around. Sylvia has a big beautiful house and I live in the barn. I work a full time job off the farm and she doesn't. Not quite sure where her money is coming from to pay for taxes, etc. With 100 sheep she must have hired help coming in for the heavier things. I certainly hope so. I envy her being able to stay home and check the barn for newborns at all hours of the day and night. I'm taking a year off breeding and am very relieved with this horrible cold that has set in. Nothing is worse than being stuck at work worrying about lambsicles and goatsicles. My bed is calling. Two hours in the cold barn on a work night takes a bit out of me. Tomorrow is another day.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Friday, January 24, 2014
Very relieved this week is over. I work with some very challenging kids to put it lightly. Would love to share more of my experiences at school but would not be "professional." Let's just say coming home to my animals is a joy I can't express. They think I am the be-all and end-all. The alpha and the omega. The yin and the yang. I love them so. They pull me out of every nasty funk, even though I make it hard for them sometimes. Collectively they fill in all the gaps and keep me busy and active. Winter provides me with an opportunity to interact with them so much more than summer when they are always outside grazing and drinking from the pond. Lilly and her old girlfriends line up at the place where I have to pass them with the buckets of slop on the way to the pig pen. They stretch their long necks and try to tip the buckets of warm slop as I pass. I have to turn sideways to avoid their smacking lips and waving tongues. So funny. I do enjoy giving them a bit of warmth in their old tummies. Although aged they are still growing nice coats of wool outside of those bags of bones they live in. I've started giving the ducks and chickens buckets of warm mash at night. I don't know how the ducks are surviving after a rich diet of earth worms, bugs and swamp greens all summer and fall. I've only managed to keep six of them in a pen and failed to catch two more tonight after a mad chase around the barn. I concocted a plan to toss the hay mow ducks down a hole into the duck pen but couldn't catch them either. Matt is right. They know where the water and mash is and can wiggle back into the pen if they want. The hay mow kitties wait for me to climb the ladder with their dinner, milling around and yowling for me to hurry up. I take food up to them but have started putting a bucket of water at the bottom of the ladder. One by one they run down to take a drink, then run back up, much more gracefully than me. I spend about an hour and a half, refilling the hanging water containers as the sheep and goats tiptoe up for a long drink. As our nightly time together comes to a close, the ducks settle down and fluff themselves up, parking their beaks under their wings and covering their feet with their bodies. The chickens jump up to roost and the pigs snuggle down into their bed of fresh hay. Knut buries himself in a giant cardboard box of wool and Thor beds down in an old water tank also filled with wool. The third White Boy, Finnie, is living in the buffer room between the apartment and the barn. I was worried his brothers would beat him up for being so privileged but they've been good about it. I stopped by the Chenango County SPCA after work today and picked up my Fur Ball tickets. I'm hoping for a happy time with a husband in a good mood and no tractor injuries this year. I love this glitzy gathering at a local country club to raise money for the shelter. While there I said hello to the pound doggies in their pens, barking frantically in an effort to be heard, to be loved. An elderly couple was adopting a tiny beagle mix puppy. What a happy scene, and what a lucky dog to have two people completely to itself. That puppy will be a total joy to that couple and bring new life into their waning years. Time to bed down with my own puppies who are patiently waiting for me to lift the covers and give them the signal. I'm coming, kids.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
I thought surely somebody would be frozen but no. Not even a chicken. The pigs were dancing around snorting and chortling, saying feed me, feed me. Their morning slop had frozen in the pans so snacking through the day was difficult. First thing I do is mix the warm slop and pour it into the piggie pans. Lydia, Luna and her friends line up and wait for their taste of warm slop from the bottom of the pig buckets. A band of ducks is quacking under my feet hoping for some slop to roll out of the pig pen for them to eat. I felt so bad for the ducks as there is no constant supply of water for them, which they love, that I mixed a new bucket of warm slop for them. I made another for the duck pen. Feeding my ducks is a challenge as they are all over the barn and outside too. Ducks are extremely cliqueish and don't like to fraternize with other bands. I was too tired to mix a third pan of warm mash so I told them they would just have to get along and share. The chickens were so huddled up against the door to the barn that stepping into their room is tricky. I knock the ice out of their water pan and fill it up with warm water. I fill their feed pans and look around for any frozen birds. Not a one, incredibly. Bunnies have to be fed and watered along with the hay mow, milk room and barn kitties. Separate feeding stations are required to make sure everyone gets food. I carried out some warm water and corn to the two Swedish Blue ducks who are hunkered down under the front porch. They had wandered into the barn a week or so ago but apparently didn't like the crowd. Extremely shy and standoffish, these two are loners. I hope they make it through the winter. When all this is done I mix the "kitty stew." I fill two buckets with warm water and carry it out into the barn where Thor, Finn and Knut are living. I set out the bowls on a plywood table and pour dry kibble into the hot water. I open big cans of dog food and mix it with the kibble soup. Everybody loves it. The cats drink and drink while I'm working. The dogs get their bowls with an extra can of wet food in it. I climb the hay mow ladder to give the upstairs kitties their stew. They mill around to knock each other out of the way. I get my bag of apples to give Lilly, Luna and the old girls their treat. Lilly has the longest teeth and makes short work of an apple, tearing big chunks out of them. When she's left a little chunk I give it to the girls who can't chew as well. They are so excited about their apples. I love my time in the barn. My chores have a certain rhythm and the routine is regular and comforting. They know I will come out to take care of them and I know they are waiting there for me, happy to see me and grateful for the shelter and comfort I give them. We have a pact.
Minus 20 with no wind at all this morning. Sunny and bright all day so much that I pulled down the shades in the classroom. Then I left the building....It's still cold!! My truck begged for mercy. Back on the farm and it's minus 2 now on the sunny side of the barn. 56 in the apartment. I built a nice big fire in the wood stove and will start a pot of rice. The apt. is so small that the fire and some cooking will heat it up real quick. Wish I could. The doggies are wild after being stuck in the house all day and have to go out. They almost pulled me down off the doorway onto the ice. After a minute to allow them a very long pee, Izzy was holding up three legs and begging to go back in. Izzy had the right idea. Finn, Tanner and Reba ran in the door but I had to drag Bertha and Cooper. I'm hopeful spouse will take them out when he gets home. He tolerates the cold better than I do, even with the vaso-constriction his heavy smoking must cause. My skiing days are over and my blood is aging. The lovely two-ply cashmere extra large turtleneck I reluctantly paid $20 for at the Episcopal thrift shop feels fantastic but can't cover my face. I have a face mask somewhere....but somewhere is the operative word. There's another problem...I have a touch of something which is so unusual for me. I'm usually bullet proof, or able to ignore the little things, but today it's tummy pains and weak in the legs. Some kind of bug, just when my animals need me more and the chores are harder. I had a salad for dinner last night and a salad for lunch today. Time to go back to normal food I think. Maybe I picked up something at school. I have better attendance than 95% of my colleagues and pretty much show up when I can stand up. This is different. Called Mia, my doktah, and she told me Father Aaron went to the ER in Nevada with terrible stomach pains. A cat scan showed something Mia was unfamiliar with and I can't pronounce. Maybe I have mommy empathy pains. I hope he gets better too. I think the sofa is calling to me....Will focus on staying warm and shaking this. Farmers can't be sick. They just can't be.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Minus ten on the farm this morning. Will be colder tonight. Stoked the stove in the middle of the night a couple of times and kept the drip on in the house. The pot of wool skeins simmering in the milk room worked nicely, along with the oven door ajar. The kitties huddle up against the pot and sit on the oven door. Always amazes me. The fire alarm went off in school first period with six little kids in my class. A steam washer in the technical wing set it off. There we were, piling out of the school with kids in tee shirts. Really, moms, short sleeved tee shirts in sub zero weather??? The aides ran for their coats and brought them out but it was still a frigid ten minutes before we were let back inside. My truck was in auto tech for a repair and I forgot all about it. I almost went out to the parking lot to go home without realizing I had no vehicle out there. Called over to the shop and they had gone home. Luckily I caught Fawn, my aide, who took me as far as the Chobani factory where Matt picked me up. Will hitch a ride with Jan across the road tomorrow AM, that is, if we don't have a "cold day." I'm going out for chores early so I can come back in and hunker down with my dogs. This cold makes everybody hungrier and thirstier, including humans. My oven is shot. Matt spent the afternoon working on it. We thought the ubiquitous mice had chewed the wires but he thinks the computer is kaput. Luckily the oven he brought home from the used appliance store that I hoped would heat my work room fits in the kitchen. That one is not adapted to propane and flares up like napalm when I light it. There is a way to adjust it and I hope he figures it out soon. I cook every night and six months without an oven is inconvenient. It's a long way to tiptoe out to the milk room to my dye stove with a casserole, nudging aside the cats and chickens. Life on the farm.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Last May at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival I met a lovely family from Pennsylvania that raises Gotland sheep. Gotlands are Swedish sheep that boast very lustrous and beautiful fiber. The family was selling yarn spun from their Gotlands and I picked up a few skeins for myself, Annie Tarbox, and Kimmie Cornerstone. Low and behold one of Kim's fabulous care packages arrived recently with the Multatelli French Roast that I love and depend on, Swiss chocolate for those down times, a lovely hand made angel ornament (I need all the help I can get) and TWO pairs of Gotland socks!! You have to understand that Kim just learned to knit a couple of years ago when I taught her the knit and purl stitches. Socks are very challenging and "turning a heel" is a landmark rite of passage for a knitter. Then there is the tricky toe assembly that makes the sock caress the toes without creating a lump in your shoes. Then there is the dreaded "Second Sock Syndrome" where, after completing one sock you must make another exactly like it. I'm constantly afflicted with Second Sock Syndrome. I'm in awe of these socks, not only because they are perfectly executed, and the fact that Kim took many hours to knit TWO pair for me, but I bought the yarn for her to use for herself or her family. I shouldn't be surprised. Kim is incredibly thoughtful and generous. I love my socks and I'm wiggling my gnarly toes in them right now.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Sunday, January 12, 2014
We traveled to Kathy Herold's Artsy Tamale Party in pouring rain. The rain didn't dampen the spirits of the crowd who gathered around the giant bowl of handmade steamed tamales along with other delicious Mexican dishes. I love this party. Kathy's big Victorian farmhouse is full of places to hide and enjoy books, paintings, plants and good company. After eating I found a place to settle down with my knitting, chat with Hamilton friends, and listen to the art gallery news. Kathy heads up the Broad Street Gallery along with the Hamilton Center for the Arts. She's amaaaaazing.
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Everything is relative. Forty above is a heat wave when you've had twenty below on the farm. I hope today's rain melts the sheet of ice surrounding my farm. The garbage truck couldn't get in to empty my dumpster, which is a real problem when you produce as much trash as I do. I'm out to pick up a student to help me with tidying up the barn, toting wood, etc. Let's hope this works out. I'm doing my bit for the kids, in and out of school. Very excited about the Artsy Party tonight at Kathy Herold's lovely historic Victorian farmhouse in Hamilton. Kathy's yearly Tamale Party is the high point of my winter. She heads up the Hamilton Center for the Arts and is an ardent supporter of local artists and crafters. Will put together a gift box of soap and creme for her today. Have to bring my knitting so I can sit in Kathy's living room, chat with friends new and old surrounded by plants and paintings, and relax. Yikes, more rain in the forecast with a flood watch covering a vast area. Once again, that familiar theme, so thankful to be on high ground.
Thursday, January 09, 2014
Temps are slowly climbing during the day, even though it is zero degrees tonight. The wind is abating and it doesn't hurt to spend time outside. The sheet of ice that surrounds my barn makes walking difficult if not dangerous. The doggies skate around on their little paws with toes splayed in a vein attempt to hold on. I do my best with knees slightly bent as if I had skiis on my feet. Skiis would definitely help. Rain is forecast for the weekend which will probably add to the ice pack. I almost think mud would be preferable. There is no snow on the ground for the sheep to lick so watering remains a top priority. Lilly and her old girlfriends are enjoying their daily apples. Lilly has the longest teeth to puncture the skin and take a chunk out, making it easier for the others with shorter teeth to get a bite. I'm not sure what the girls prefer - the apples or the pig slop. They try to catch the buckets as I walk by the sheep pen to the pig pen. I pour the slop into the pig pan then hold the bucket up to the girls, who jostle for position, and not very kindly so. I have to hold the bucket with all my might or they will flip it up and away over their heads. I'm hoping to stretch Lilly's life a little longer, I love her so. I'm enjoying this unanticipated interaction with Lilly thanks to my piggies, Scarlet and Sue Ellen, who are growing bigger every day. Sheep are so much like people. Some are standoffish and never want to interact with you. Others are very sociable. Lilly's line is so delightfully friendly. School grinds on with ups and downs. The little ones are such a joy, even with their learning challenges. The big ones are so much more complicated. I've been mailing Shepherd's Friend orders every day after school, thank you very much. Mia was going to come up and visit me for a day but she has continuing education credits to work on. I've only seen her for 24 hours in the last six months. Soooo... I'm going to visit her in New Jersey one of these weekends when she is not on duty and make some new sofa pillows for her. Father Aaron is attending a seminar at the Nashoda House in Wisconsin where he is working on his Doctor of Ministry. I pictured him at a monastery wearing monk's robes similar to The Name of the Rose, then he called me from Panera. Not so cloistered after all. Eric is way too busy with his Boy Scout council to ever call and chat. AJ and Mia's calls are such a blessing and make my heart sing. When I was in Maine for Christmas sitting at the dinner table Luke looked at me with big eyes and said I know, why don't I go back to the farm with you? It couldn't happen as the other grandmother was coming to visit on the heels of my departure, but his request was so sweet. I don't think Hannah will ever spend another night on the farm if she can help it. Just not her cuppa tea. I think it's time to take Izzy to bed. He waits for me to join him under the covers. My bed is always warm.
Monday, January 06, 2014
The weather is wild out there, wind, rain and ice. Yesterday morning's crystal clear blue skies and puffy white snow is gone. Brown patches of hillside are showing. There has got to be flooding down the line. The animals are safe and dry in my big, strong barn. How I would love to stay home with my animals in front of the wood stove with my spinning wheel. Not happening. In a half hour I'll be piling into the bucket of bolts to venture out into the darkness, over hill and dale, through State forests. My school is always bright and warm with lots of smiles from friends and colleagues....maybe even a student or two. As long as I have my job nobody can tell me I can't have my sheep, and that's a big motivating factor, along with health care, food, electric, phone, trash pick-up, propane, telephone, internet, etc. Better get going...
Saturday, January 04, 2014
Everyone is freaked out by the weather. It's kinda what we can expect in January, in upstate New York. The freaky part to me is going up to 40 one day, then minus 20 the next. It was minus 19 on the farm last night and about 20 inside the barn. That's a forty degree difference and the animals are out of the wind and snow, but water will freeze at that temperature. The bitter cold and a hay diet makes everyone thirstier. My gas tank regulator froze and I have no cook top. Combined with a broken oven that makes microwave and toaster the only cooking appliances in the kitchen. I think I have a crock pot in the barn somewhere, buried in old fleeces. I hope I didn't use it for dyeing. The weatherization non-profit Matt works for is having their holiday party today, at Aqua Vino in Utica. I'm meeting someone to drop off hand creme at Barnes and Noble in Utica on the way. Isn't that wonderful, that the woman who wants it from western New York could not make it due to the weather and is sending her sister to pick it up for her. That kind of fan base keeps me running that little food processor that Mia gave me for Mother's Day a hundred years ago. I'm putting together gift bags for the ten or so in the weatherization crew. I only see most of them once a year and they are truly dedicated to keeping disadvantaged people warm in New York. With funds cut so drastically last year I know people are freezing in their tin cans - trailers - as I did the first year I lived here. I'm so warm, ridiculously so, in this little apartment, but still remember running two electric heaters full time to get the temp up to 40 and waking up with my hair frozen to the wall of the trailer. Some people deal with that situation all the time while raising kids. Yikes. The sun is shining brilliantly and we got out to the mail and the Louis Gale Feed Mill in Waterville. Picked up Matt's old Saturn which broke down on him in Syracuse the other night from the repair shop. The tow truck driver was nervous driving so far away from his city. When they got to Bouckville he said, gee, I've never been "this far out" before. Yes, we are a ways from civilization. Ain't it grand? I got my Colorscape Chenango application today, so it's started. Even though I've done this show for several years I still have to apply, pay a jury fee and submit pictures. This fantastic show in Norwich, in September, kicks off the season and is totally worth it. Fingerlakes needs their application fee, too. Another year of shows, friends and fun begins.
Friday, January 03, 2014
Thursday, January 02, 2014
Spouse took my truck into work in Syracuse. The secretary of his little non-profit who lives 15 minutes from the office called to say she was scared to drive in. Spouse was not sympathetic and told her to get going. He lives an hour plus from the office out in the boonies and is going in. I guess that's why he is management. I could never be in administration. I would tell everybody to stay home where they are safe. My truck has new Wrangler snows on it and I know he'll get there....but really? Couldn't all six of them just stay home today? Not my call. I got cat/dog food last night and the NY Times. Power is on and there's a big stack of wood next to the stove. There is also a big stack of fabric calling to me. A customer got in touch wanting a messenger tote. I'm down to two and neither is a messenger. Good reason to start sewing. This is the time when I have a reality check on product. Sixteen weeks to Maryland Sheep and Wool...that means three totes a week to have what I would like to display in my booth. I don't think wool will be a problem. I already have too much in the pipeline. My booth is only so big. The sheep are growing lovely fleeces for me right now. My only problem is marketing it better. Kimmie Cornerstone and I can only spin so much. Plans for this coming year include giving some fiber to Dreamweaver to spin into yarn. Not everyone spins or felts and there is a market for mill-spun yarn. This is a perfect day to make soup. I have a turkey carcass in the refrigerator begging to be made into soup. Oh, do I love it, and oh, how spouse hates it. Still can't figure out how someone who lives to make home made soup - I was raised on it - can be married to someone who would rather open a can of factory soup. Yuck. I will still put the bones on to simmer. It keeps me going and really helps the food budget. Yesterday's NY Times has a great article about raising pigs on pasture in Virginia. I have the perfect land for it. Spouse says no way, that pigs are dangerous, yada, yada, yada. Fantasies are free aren't they? In the meantime Scarlet and Sue Ellen are happy in their long, dry run in the barn. I can feed them much easier and be sure they are warm and safe in the hay hut they build for themselves. I better get out there. I know they are doing Mommy Feed Me Snorty Dance right now.
Wednesday, January 01, 2014
This is all I have left of Miss Mamie, my beautiful old Rambouillet sheep. She gave me twins last year, in the twilight of her life. Sheep can lamb to the end of their lives but it takes a lot out of them. I pulled old Zack, my Border Leicester ram, a little too late and there they were, tiny twins, tip-toeing down from the field, with Miss Mamie guiding their every step. Father Aaron was visiting and going out to his trailer when he spotted them. He called me and said you have lambs out there. I thought he was mistaken, but he was right. I put them in their own pen in the barn where I could feed them undisturbed. Miss Mamie did her best, but succumbed to old age, taking one of the twins with her. Marcellus survived, who I call Markie-Mark, and is a big, giant, Rambo/Border Leicester cross. Older sheep having lambs is a lot like older people having babies. Sure, older women are better mothers, I believe, but the babies are often not viable and plagued with issues like learning disabilities, etc., or...in the worst of scenarios, I go out to find them dead in the pen for no apparent reason. Enough sadness...I rescued Miss Mamie, who had been owned by a teacher in Fort Plain who sold her farm, bought a Winnebago and took off. She had several good years with me. I have this lovely fleece that I dyed Sunflower Yellow. I think I will card it with ruby kid mohair. Rambouillet is very, very soft but very short stapled and hard to spin. Kimmie Cornerstone will love it.