Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I just got back from a mad run to another post office ten miles away when I missed the closing on my little village PO at 10:30.  I even waited for their 12 - 1 lunch hour to be over. I had orders to mail (thank you, Angels) and my Maryland Sheep and Wool advertising order, which had to be dated Dec. 31 or pay a $50 fine.  Whoops.   Oh, well, as I was shaking my head at their closing when all the other venues in the little town of New Berlin were still open, I remembered to be thankful that I frequent two post offices where I know the workers by name and what's going on in their lives.  That's how it is around here.  I have much to be thankful for and I will list some of them here, in no particular order.

My kids are fantastic.  My grandkids are also thriving, all two of them.  Mia's Nurse Practitioner career is going well.  She will start at the Nyack Hospital in March, heading up a ward all her own with ten patients.  They will help her get the women and child certification she needs to be a hospital NP.  AJ, AKA Father Aaron, is very happy at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.  Bishop Magnus, the head Episcopal Military Chaplain, flew from Washington, DC, to Ft. Sill to spend a weekend with AJ and check out his ministry.  His Grace was very pleased with the way AJ is managing his chaplaincy.  AJ is headed for a week at Nashoda House in Wisconsin to work on his Doctor of Ministry which he hopes to complete next summer.  Eric is making big waves in the Boy Scouts.  The Pine Tree Council is in much better shape than when Eric moved to Maine with his family.  He is renovating the four council camps with the help of the military and doing some major fund raising.  Annie is writing and winning grants for the Boy Scouts and running a scholastic pistol program at Camp Hinds.  Hannah is on the camp staff and Luke is still coming to help Omi on the farm.

Matt is enjoying a challenging and gratifying career in Weatherization.  He is invited to teach energy saving building techniques as far away as Vermont, and is busy writing weatherization curriculum.  Matt's training center is booked with teams from all over New York coming to learn how to keep people warm and safe.

My little farm company is growing slowly but surely.  I am blessed with faithful customers who love my wool and who come to the shows to visit me.  I have two beautiful Wensleydale rams who will bless me with lots of beautiful lambs come spring.  My teaching job is challenging but I work with a dedicated and supportive staff who make it a pleasure to go to work every day.   I'm grateful for my agricultural and artsy  life in this beautiful little valley.  My children are far away but my flock is always here.  I have a purpose and I feel loved.  Can't ask for much more than that.  Happy New Year, everyone.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cold Ducks

This time of year is especially hard on my ducks.  There are no puddles for them to play in and the earth worms have gone deep under the ground.  Ducks need ample water to preen themselves and keep pretty.  The sheep are very thirsty and drink all the water in their hanging buckets - placed high up so the ducks can't ruin the water - and the ducks are left wanting.  I put out water for them twice a day but they have to compete with the free range chickens.  Most of my ducks are males, and are not really doing anything for me other than to amuse and entertain me.  I love ducks.  They parade around the barnyard so prettily and make cute quacking noises.  I am going to order more ducklings in the spring, all females, as I adore duck eggs.  I brought some into school and the students were afraid to eat them.  When I cooked the eggs without telling them they were from ducks there was no problem.  Interesting.  I only have one Swedish Blue duck left.  My other two were taken by the fox that I think is still lurking around.  They insisted on living in the driveway where they had no protection from the White Boys.  I remember the night Madame Fox came to visit.  I heard a terrible cry and ran outside.  Her partner hissed at me as she was still terrified at what happened to her friend.  I tried to follow the fox through the burdock around that side of the barn, but it was pitch black dark and I knew it was futile.  Ducks are  cliqueish and run in gangs that are very territorial.  I have the barn ducks, the hay mow ducks, and the driveway ducks.  If two gangs run into each other there is a big fuss.  

Annie's Socks

Annie has been knitting socks since the kids were little.  She uses impossibly thin needles and the socks can be worn in regular shoes, compared to the boot type socks that I make.  Annie's socks are precision-perfect.  The little kiddie socks Luke wore when he visited me were so adorable I used to hang them on the Christmas tree before I surrendered them back to Annie.  When I visited Eric, Annie and gang for Christmas Annie was repairing old socks.  She cuts off the worn bottoms and knits new ones on to the cuffs.  Positively brilliant.  I have a hand-knitted sock fetish.  I adore them and collect them.  I'm privileged to know several master sock knitters including Kim Parkinson, Henya Kazatchkov and, Sockladyspins Herself, Lynne Rettberg.  I believe hand knit socks have magic powers they impart to the wearer.  They look so good with my Danskos.  I'm downright snobbish about my hand knit socks.  If you want me to love you forever, knit me a pair of socks.

Now it's Cold

Okay my new thermometer says 30 but I think it's calibrated for Florida and won't go any lower.  The weather channel says 16 F. but feels like 6.  I  agree.  When the cold goes through my ski pants it's time for silkies underneath. It's going to take me some time to get used to this cold after the recent warm spell.   Everybody in the barn is even more hungry and even more thirsty in the cold weather.  I put out as much hay as they can eat, and feel very fortunate that I can.  I've put a dent in my hay mow already and it's not yet January.  I have enough to last the season if I keep it up like this.  Most of my ewes should be pregnant by now and I have to feed them like crazy to keep them healthy enough to grow viable lambs.  Hay actually keeps sheep and goats warmer than feed, as it combusts inside them. I saw Gipetto mount the old Romanov ewe.  She's an odd one - kind of foisted on me by a friend of a friend who downsized her flock.  Her wool is like Brillo.  We'll see what comes out of her.  On deck for today - too much to mention or for me to fathom after a few days of Christmas and eating too much, drinking too much Jule Glug, and generally celebrating. I'm getting back in the groove of farm and chores.  My Amish helpers called out of the blue to work last night.  They did some more digging for me.  I have to get people with machines to do the big part of the barn but the boys are doing a corridor between the stanchions and outer wall that I've wanted cleared for a long time.  I asked them how their Christmas was and Lester told me he got a lot of books.  We chatted and I asked him if he likes the Harry Potter series.  He had no idea what I was talking about.  Another world...  I really like those boys, happy and smiling with a dynamite work ethic.  I drove them home in the moonlight and took Hollow Road home.  Lester's 200 farm is at the other end.  I was almost sorry when my little van could hardly navigate the deep ruts.  It was an adventure nevertheless.  

Christmas 2014 #3

Soon it was Christmas Eve and the presents were around the tree.  Annie made baked haddock with pesto sauce and broccoli.  The Yule Glug was perfect.  My Swedish Opa, Knut Birger Alexanderson, brought that tradition to this country with him and we've continued it through the years.  The fiery, spicy, wine warms the coldest, dampest night.  Mia arrived and brought her sunshine with her, along with a car load of beautiful designer jackets and jeans for Hannah  I wore my favorite red plaid granny gown.    Mia and Annie wore matching slinky red pajamas.  We were quite the festive scene.  Annie's newly re-decorated great room, with the trio of white Ikea sofas, was perfect to accomodate our party.  Eric and his friends had just finished installing a gleaming oak floor.  Hannah's tree was a glittering beauty.  We went to sleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads, greatly enhanced by Jule Glug.

Christmas 2014 #2

Annie and I did some last minute Christmas shopping in Gorham and I managed to pick out some absolutely spot-on gifts.for AJ and Eric.  AJ loves clothes and we have a running joke about stripes.  When he was growing up I always bought him striped polo shirts, the kind with white collars and buttons.  I found a knit navy blue pullover with a subtle gray stripe across the chest, size large, not extra-large, even though he could use an XL.  I bought Eric a current gun market price catalog, which will give him many hours of joy, perusing the massive volume of tiny print.  I had already purchased a large quantity of Reese's Peanut Butter cups for the kids, and picked up more of Hannah's favorite, York Peppermint Patties.  While Annie and I were shopping, Eric was off doing Boy Scout business.  I love his beard, which was a Christmas gift for Annie.  Sadly, it will be shaved off soon.  Eric likes clean cut Scout personnel.

Christmas 2014

The build up is very stressful but the result is sublime.  The week long Secret Santa ritual was over, and staff members received their gifts.  My gifts are very predictable, but that's okay.  Soap is the gift that keeps on giving, right?  When we were released for the Christmas holiday I started preparing for my trip to Maine to spend a few days with Eric, Annie, Luke and Hannah.  Mia was driving up from New Jersey on Christmas Eve with Captain AJ due to arrive Christmas Night.  I got all my gifts together for a marathon wrapping session that lasted into the wee hours.  The kitties  kept me company.  They love all the rustling of papers and snipping of scissors.  I had not picked up enough wrapping paper and decided to use my old stand-by wrap, the NY Times.  I was delighted at how many colored illustrations the Times included in the issues I never had time to read.   I got the job done and loaded up to head for Maine.  Matt graciously offered to stay home and take care of the farm while building my workshop cabinets.  How could I refuse?  I would not have to worry about a farm sitter letting the pipes freeze, or forgetting a chore.  I was ready to go but the weather was not cooperating.  I drove to Maine with the wipers on high the entire trip.  Eric and the kids were waiting on the steps when I finally pulled in.  I was in heaven.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Back to the Light

Now we being the long journey back to the light.  I don't mind winter, truly I don't.  Winter is wool time and I am all about wool.  I did my monthly gallery duty yesterday and spent most of the time spinning some incredibly beautiful wool.  I don't know what I'm going to do with this yarn but it doesn't matter.  It's the process that counts.  It's all about living on this beautiful little farm and raising my sheep.  When it's dark outside and I have to wear a head light to do my chores, when the days are so short and the hills are covered with snow and the sheep don't even bother to come out of the barn, that's when my relationship with them grows deeper and I am  even more grateful for their gifts.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sixteen Candles

Sixteen years ago today at the United Methodist Church in Morristown, New Jersey, we gathered our families and friends together to make us legal.  Sixteen years later, by the Grace of God, we are still together.  I don't know how.  The deck was stacked against us every which way, as we were thrown together in a cataclysmic series of events.... but here we are...working the farm together.

Eric and Annie came from Louisville, Kentucky, with baby Hannah Margaret, just five months old.  Mia came home from her freshman year at the University of Vermont.  AJ came from American University in Washington, D,C.  Matt's son from a brief childhood marriage, Sean Redmond, flew East from San Francisco.  Brian Redmond, son of Matt's brother, came to celebrate with us.  My pure silk dress was on the sale rack in the basement of the little bridal salon across the street from the church.  I couldn't believe my luck - it was love at first sight.  I did the alterations myself.   There were three bridesmaids gowns there that were recently returned as they were not the right color.  I got them for a song and loved the color as it went perfectly with the church that was decorated for Christmas.  I wore Mia's gown on our honeymoon cruise to the Caribbean.   Matt's Irish National Tartan was rented from the Argyll in Newark.  He swore he would never wear a "dress" again.  Too bad, as I think he looked fantastic in it.  I made the bouquets with ivy and pine twigs from local land.   The roses and baby's breath was purchased in town.   In retrospect I think I should have made myself a head wreath to match.  I could have been a Swedish St. Lucia bride.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


I have two Wensleydale rams, new this year.  One was sought after, the other happened to me.  Louie is a very high percentage Wensleydale which is a rare British breed known for their lustrous, long locks and heavy fleeces.  Gipetto, three years old, came to me from a shepherd who was downsizing her flock due to unforeseen circumstances.   He is 85% Wensleydale and very handsome, the size of a small pony.  Louie is small for his breed but has lovely fleece.  Both are amazingly docile and get along very well with each other, something that does not always happen with rams. They are pictured above, on the right side of the feeder, standing together, waiting politely for the ewes to finish eating.   Gipetto took over the breeding this year.  Louie will have to wait.  That's okay - I like having another ram waiting in the wings.  The Wensleydales will put heavier fleeces on my Bluefaced Leicesters and help me reach my goal of fewer sheep, more wool.  Lambing should begin in March.  May the Force be with us.

Runaway Bunny

It's been a while since we had a wild bunny sighting.  This "wild" bunny appeared last spring, out of nowhere, sitting under a buck's cage in the barn.  That's why I think it's a "she."  Perhaps someone's pet was dropped off here after a child tired of it?  Happens all the time with cats.  All my bunnies are long-haired angoras.  This bunny has adapted very well to farm living.  She has moved into the hay mow for the winter, living in her own personal smorgasbord of grasses.  I worry about the dogs/foxes/coyotes getting her but so far she has eluded them. I've become very fond of this mystical, magical bunny.  I think she's blessed.  I worry about her finding water, etc.  She's done very well for herself so far, to look at her portly shape.  I think she finds me amusing, as she sat very still long enough for me to fumble with gloves and zippers to get my camera out of my ski pants.  I should call her Greta Garbo.

Home on the Farm

The world is going crazy all around me with Christmas preparations but I am strangely calm and content.  I'm wandering around the farm doing chores at my leisure, enjoying my animals and taking pictures.  Matt wanted to go to Christmas in Cooperstown but I asked if we could stay home on the farm - my favorite place in the whole wide world.  My own little world, in fact.  There is a gentle snow falling and the gray sky tells me it will continue.  There is so much I could/should be doing but it can wait.  Any day when I can stay home on the farm is a beautiful thing.  The goats are the only ones who ventured out today, and it took a little coaxing.  Then I threw down corn for the chickens and the goats decided it might be a good day to go outside after all.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Baby Bunnies

I fretted over leaving my three baby bunnies over the weekend.  The temps dove and I was worried I might have bunsicles in the box when I came home.  I asked Matt to bring them in Saturday night and give them back to Bunny Mama on Sunday morning.  I was greatly relieved to find them wiggling in the nest Sunday night.  I'm continuing to bring them inside at night.  First time mom is a big nervous but jumps in the box to feed them after I feed her the snacks she loves.  I should be collecting enough angora fiber to spin a few skeins for Maryland Sheep and Wool in the spring.  Angora is fabulous for blending with wool and is the first spun fiber to leave the basket at shows.   The buns are absolutely adorable.  I bring them inside and comb out their hair with a dog rake with them on my lap.  There is always enough left on the bunny to keep them toasty warm.

Show's Over

My last show of the season, the Plowshares Craftsfair and Peace Festival, went off without a hitch this past weekend.  I knocked myself out to get enough product made through the week and was a bit knackered by the time Friday came around.  Kim came from Kingston, Ontario, and helped me wrap soap.  Matt loaded the van.  It poured rain through the night and into the morning.  Kim slept in while I did chores and threw some last minute stuff in the van.  We set off in the rain to the Nottingham High School in Syracuse and managed to get the booth set up in the space of an hour.  This festival is delightful, with on-going entertainment, activist booths and top-notch crafters.  We heard Onondaga poetry readers, Celtic singers, African drummers, and watched belly dancers pull people from the audience to dance with them.  Stephanie and Dale put us up at their comfy home in Pompey.  Sunday morning we hit Trader Joe's and Barnes & Noble.  Sunday flew by and we loaded up under the light of a full moon.  I love this show and I also love the fact that it's my last show of the winter.  I'm a little frayed around the edges and need to "fall back and regroup."  Lambs are coming in March and I need to be in good shape for that marathon.  

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Simon and Lester

One night about a month ago there was a knock on the door.   A young Amish man was on the porch.  He asked if I had any pigeons.  I was a bit taken aback by the question.  I knew I had pigeons in the barn at times but the cats had chased most of them into the silos.  I told the young man I thought there might be some in there still but why?  He said someone offered him $3.50 for each pigeon he could provide and that he was going around to local farms asking if he could catch their pigeons.  "That's good money, he said.  Not wanting to discourage this young man's entrepreneurial spirit I said, let's go take a look.  I took him to the silo room where I thought I heard some coo-ing at times.  The silo is sixty feet high and I wouldn't trust the rusty ladder going up to the top where the pigeons roost.  The young man said he was going to get "another fellow" who turned out to be Simon, waiting in the buggy with the horse in the driveway.  I thought I should let Matt know what was going on at that point and went inside to tell him.  Well, Mr. OSHA Instructor came out pretty quick to see what's what.  I was relieved when he said, very nicely, that it might not be such a good idea to climb to the top of the silo to catch pigeons in the dark.  He said it was not the fall he was concerned about but the sudden stop.   The young men were very polite and said if we had any work they could do to please let them know.  Lester handed me his father's business card.  They live near my friend, Julia, who owns Button Falls Farm.  I showed them a strip of barn floor that runs past the milk house door and chicken room.  Years of dropping hay and animals pooping on it resulted in a packed tight layer of mud that prevented me from opening the milk house door properly and annoyed the heck out of me.  Visitors wanting to "help on the farm" never managed to get it done.  I totally understand as it's back breaking work to chip it up then haul it outside in a wheelbarrow.  The boys left and I wondered if I would see them again.   They have demands on their time at home I'm sure.  Last night around seven there was a knock on the door again .  It was Lester and Simon saying they were ready to work if I was ready for them.  Ready?  I said, sure, but did they want to haul manure out in the snow?  They said "We like it that way!" very enthusiastically.  They went to work and boy, did they work - hacking, chipping, shoveling and hauling.  I went about my business with the bunnies, goats, sheep and chickens.  I was thoroughly enjoying the show.  I could get used to this, I thought to myself....young men working feverishly to get the job done.    An hour and a half later I could sense they were thinking this is enough for the night.  I said why don't you guys get going as you must have school tomorrow.  Oh, no, we don't go to school anymore, we're Amish, and we only go to 8th grade.  We're finished.  I paid them and they promised to come back to do my chicken room when they were able to get away.  Lester and his family of eight milk 21 cows, twice a day, by hand.  I offered to pick them up next time, as I was keenly aware of the poor horse standing outside in the snow.  They said that would be fantastic.  It was great walking on a concrete floor last night.  I'll try to keep it that way.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Love in the Barn

I have been very frustrated with Spikey, my purebred Nubian buckling, and his unwillingness to take on the big, fat Nubian girls I want him to breed.  Without babies born, goats don't produce milk.  Just like most other mammals.  It's not Spikey's fault.  If he was a full grown Nubian buck he would "persuade" the girls to give it up.  Spikey is young and rather runty.   When Fancy, Matilda and Janey kicked sand in his face, Spikey turned his attention to my angora goats who are smaller, sweeter, and more cuddly.  Not a match made in heaven.  A dairy goat bred to a mohair producing goat is neither here nor there, and I love my mohair.  We caught Spikey several times "out of bounds," that is, out of his pen and in with my "choke" angoras.  I can barely talk about it.  I just hope nature did not take it's course.  We had to resort to desperate measures and tie Spikey in the Nubian goat pen on a long lead.  It took a bit of getting used to, but he adjusted, grudgingly.  I was about to offer Spikey to the local Indian restaurant when I witnessed a beautiful thing night before last.  I was feeding my English Angora rabbits when I saw Matilda, big three year old Nubian doe, standing very still next to Spikey.  To my delight, little Spikey reached up as far as he could, stretching himself to maximum height and length, to mount Matilda.  She didn't move and turned her head to look lovingly behind her, at Spikey.  He jumped down, then repeated the process at least SIX times before I went back in the house.  I noticed yesterday that Spikey was looking very tired and lying down in the hay.  Fancy, my other purebred Nubian doe, was standing next to him, as if to say, "It's my turn."   I suspect I will be having Nubian babies around the beginning of May, and lots of goat milk.  Lambs will come starting in March.  I will be a busy girl.  The barn will be full of life, as it should be.