Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Land of Extremes

I can't believe I'm in upstate New York about two hundred miles from the Canadian border. It's HOT. Around 90 in the shade, and 80 in the barn. I'll get used to it but it will take a bit of time. We had around 14 feet of snow, with 20 below temps. Spring was long, cool and rainy. Now blistering sun and heat. It's great to get the hay going, and the flies buzzing, but I'm not very energized by intense heat. I love the cold weather, and fires, and wool clothing. I can't even think about putting a sweater to my skin in this weather. Cooler temps will come by the end of the week thankfully. I put dishes of cool water on the floor of the barn so the newly hatched chicks, three groups of them, can jump in them. I was worried my chickens would not lay any eggs today but the girls gave me over three dozen. They seem unfazed but when I filled the three pans with cold water from the hose they rushed for a drink.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Hippie Baby

Eric's birthday is today. He was a true hippie baby, a real love child. I was crazy about him and spoiled him for years and then I had the twins and it was never the same. I like to think of him as we used to be, just the two of us, like a team, two hippies just trying to give peace a chance. This is the house where he was born in Pluckemin, New Jersey. We would swim in Sunset Lake, where he almost drowned once. I saved him, ofcourse, and got the water out of his little lungs. We spent a lot of time at the Jersey Shore, where I would hold him up and let the waves wash over him. He's been in the water ever since - surfing, sailing and swimming. Now he's living with his family, on a lake, far, far away. Wish I could celebrate his birthday with him.


Today we honor all who served. I'm proud of the long line of Patriots in my family on my mother's side. My father's family came from Sweden and I don't know too much about his family's military history, but he served in WWII and for many years after in the US Army. My mother also served in the Army Nurse Corps. I'm proud to have an Army Chaplain son, and an Army veteran son who is now serving with the Boy Scouts of America. In school I learned about the concept of "Republican Motherhood," women who raised fine upstanding children for the young United States of America. Yep, that's me.

Happy Birthday

My son Eric is celebrating his birthday in Flower Mound, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where he moved when he was given a big promotion by the Boy Scouts of America. He was put in charge of Project Eagle - coordinating the construction of the huge permanent Boy Scout Jamboree site and adventure center on the New River in West Virginia. Eric is very smart and a terrific organizer. He's worked his way up the Boy Scout ladder ever since he joined them when his Army enlistment was up in Louisville, Kentucky. When he was born I thought, this is great because we will always have a picnic on his birthday. If we lived closer I would be rushing around making potato salad and icing a birthday cake. Sadly we have lived far apart for many years. So many folks around here have always lived near their kids and grandkids. I hear about their get-togethers all the time at work. I haven't lived with or anywhere near my three kids since they were all 17. I've been told "the better you raise them the less they need you" but that doesn't make me feel much better. I always miss them on holidays like today. They are busy with their various exciting and meaningful careers and I'm very proud of them. At this time I have Mia on the East Coast, Eric on the Gulf Coast and AJ on the West Coast. We were all together for Mia's wedding in February, but that was a joyous occasion that was over in a flash. I can't see any of them moving to Northern Appalachia any time soon. Hannah and Luke are coming for a fabulous month this summer and I am very much looking forward to their visit...and the frogs in the pond are scared - very scared!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sweet Stuff

The pile was building. Many bundles of rhubarb I've been picking up from the little old lady's roadside stand on King's Settlement Road. She puts out one or two a day as she picks it. I've never met her but saw her once as I was zooming by on my way to work. I not only adore rhubarb, but wanted to make sure there was always $2 in her coffee can when she made her way down the drive to check it. I can see myself doing the same thing someday. Ron Wagner gave me some more rhubarb yesterday at the market. I got the jars and the pectin and decided today was the day. I confess I used strawberry preserves from the grocery store. The real berries are not out yet. I've only started making jam last summer and I'm hooked. It's a bit hot to stand over giant pots of boiling fruit and another of boiling jars, but it's so worth it. It suddenly got very hot here in God's country, as it usually does this time of year. I've got 24 8-ounce jars of strawberry rhubarb jam to get me through next winter. In a month blueberries and raspberries will be at the market and I'll do it again. Life is good.

Holiday Angst

Too hot to walk very far up the hill. Will save our major walk for this evening. I looked outside this morning and saw Strawberry, one of my favorite kitties and the one who follows me up the hill every night, lying flat near Knut's mound. I thought, oh, how cute, but then she was in the same place an hour or so later. She must have gotten too close to the chicken stew I put on Knut's kibble last night. There is not a mark on her but she's stiff and dead. All it takes is one bite of those massive jaws. Knut let's Monkey and Spikey eat out of his bowl, inside his hut even, without a protest...but then Monkey has that "attitude." Poor Strawberry. I miss her already. I'm still looking for Tunnel, the lost black doe kid. Her mother took her up the hill and came back without her. I gave up walking the land with the dogs after three days of searching. Mom had been looking very depressed and was screaming in her pen when I let the flock out to graze and I let them go with the flock. How could she leave her baby? I've been suppressing my angst over this unusual abandonment on the part of a nanny goat, who are usually the best of mothers. The hurtful circumstances of the birth must have played a part. I can't look at Tunnel's picture now. Black doe kids are my absolute favorite. In retrospect I should have taken Tunnel when I let the mom out. I've always been one to keep the babes with moms when at all possible. They were nursing fine but mom must have been harboring some resentment. It's been a tough couple of weeks on the farm. I lost a second ewe to bloat yesterday. Found her in the barn last night, grotesquely swollen to the point I thought she might explode, with her ewe lamb nestled beside her. She also had been given hay before going out to graze to avoid bloat. There is just-so-much-to-eat out there. I hesitated to tell Matt, as he hates this sort of thing and it adds to his list of thing he doesn't like about the farm, but I needed him to help me drag her out of the barn. My pile of dead animals is growing and, with no tractor, and the fields too wet to take a tractor out on anyway, I have no choice but to leave them under a tarp for later. Civil War battlefield here. I lost little Bella last week and can just begin to talk about it. Who knows how long she would have lasted, but I was trying to keep her forever. I came home from work and there she was, stretched out on the hay. No apparent reason other than she was just not viable from the start. I had found her near death, stiff and cold, in the winter, brought her back and kept her going all this time. Even with her retracted tendons she was doing fine. The shepherd in me says, fine, she won't suffer any more, but I really liked her. Prince William and Harry are still with me but they are runty. Not good shepherding at all. I'm encouraged by the site of lots of healthy animals on the hillside, but all this death takes a toll. Matt has gone to Jamesville, where my mythical tractor still resides, to put a new/used transmission in the ten year old Saturn he bought. 37 miles a gallon is definitely an improvement but I miss my truck. I'm not going to rent a cargo van to go to shows anymore. Paying for that beast ate all my profits from New Hampshire. I'll take my old minivan and if it doesn't fit I won't take it. I'm down on roving now and don't think I'll get any more done. It takes up too much room and i don't like the way it's been coming out. I talked to Heather Lathrop at Dreamweaver Mill, not a half hour from here, about machine spinning some yarn for me. She has a monthly plan where people bring smaller amounts and she does them within a month so you can bring her more when you pick it up. I'll give her a try. I just can't spin it all.

Greetings from the Land of Poo

Sunday morning on the farm. How sublime. Only the second day in a month that I've been able to linger a bit in the morning. It's just soooo wonderful. The farmer's market was too much fun yesterday. The weather held out and there was a bit of traffic. Many hellos and hugs from old friends. Several new vendors and new friends made. The market opened three weeks ago but I've been away to Maryland, New Hampshire and Yonkers. It was good to hear that people loved my hand creme over the harsh winter, or needed another bar of soap, stat. Ron, my vegetable guy across the sidewalk, is in a tizzy over the ridiculous amount of rain we've had. He can't drive his tractor into the field without it sinking, and should have planted crops by now. Kathy, my booth neighbor, who sews lovely aprons and handbags, is bringing fabric from her awesome stash to share with me for soap wrapping. I have a new next-spot-neighbor, White Cottage Candles, on the other side, who sells scented soy candles with his sons. He was a special ed. teacher and quite the history buff. We got into a lively conversation about Afghanistan and I mentioned the movie, Restrepo, which I recently showed my class, and how the terrible drones kill civilians when they are dropped indiscriminantly on the Afghan people. He told me he is the crew chief that keeps the drones flying from the base in Syracuse, and has seen many movies about what his drones do. Okay, you can't make this stuff up. Anyway, we get along fine. I met a guy from North Brookfield who was selling his wife's delicious baguettes, scones and pastries. She was up baking them at 3 am. I checked in with a couple of sheep people and was disappointed that Candace was not there. The roller derby yarn-in-takeout containers vendor told me she had sold out of jewelry. I was gratified when one customer told me her Vera Bradley bag, made in China, fell apart in less than two years (boo hiss, boo hiss!) and how she would be back to buy one of my sturdy American made totes. There's a lot of I'll Be Back at the farmer's market, but that's okay. There's enough business to make the trip over there and setting up worth while. I get some spinning done and often turn around to see a semi-circle of people and their kids watching me spin. On deck for today - cook all this rhubarb I've been collecting from the road-side stand on the way to work. An ancient lady puts out a bundle or two at a time and I want to support her entrepreneurial spirit. Ron Wagner sold me a good bit more for a steal at the end of the market. I'm watching Nanny McPhee Returns, fabulous movie I can't get enough of, where one broken jar of jam sets off a major crisis amoung the children during the War. I have enough rhubarb to fill many jars. God Bless America. I ran out of the blueberry and raspberry jam I made last summer. NOT giving ANY away this year! Hope I have enough propane in the tank to keep the big pots boiling all day. The sheep are grazing on the hillside. It's gray and threatening rain again. The people who cut grass for baleage will be fine, but the dry hay people are out of luck again. I have more grass than my sheep can eat, but they prefer the short sweeter grass. When it gets too high it's bitter and hard. Spoiled sheep!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lush, Green Pastures

All this rain, combined with the fertilizer spread on the fields last fall, has caused my grass to explode. I was hesitant to step on it yesterday as the dogs and I took our daily walk up the hill and around the pond. The buttercups are out and a lovely fragrance wafts up from the ground when I walk through the mint. Life is good.

Change of Plans

I was very concerned about the young Army chaplain crossing the country in his little Honda Civic, heading out to Ft. Irwin in California to report for duty. AJ planned on visiting a monastery and some military friends in St. Louis, Missouri, and was really not aware of the devastation from all the tornadoes due to the fact that he was driving. I finally heard from him in Chicago where he was staying over with a Rutgers friend. I told him not to drive into Missouri, or Kansas, or anywhere near that part of the country. Those people are busy with putting their lives back together anyway. I hope he listens to his mother.

Chicky Babies

This aged Olde English Bantam hen hatched nine teeny-tiny chicks the other day. She is a phenomenal mother who prefers to keep her brood on the concrete floor of the barn, close to the lambing pen where she hatched her babies. The world would be a better place if all mothers were as devoted and protective as this little hen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bye for Now

Mia, bless her heart, returned to St. Vladimir's Seminary in Yonkers to help AJ get packed up. He has to conduct a church service at Fort Irwin in California this coming Sunday. AJ wanted to stop at the farm and say hello to the dogs. AJ loves the doggies and took some time to play with Knut, Finn and Thor - the outside White Boys. We met him at Frank's Pizzeria in New Berlin where we had a splendid eggplant parmigian dinner, courtesy of Betsey Baio, wife of Frank, to celebrate AJ's ordination. After a restful night sleeping in the little guest trailer with his favorite dog, Holly, AJ left in his Honda Civic to travel across country to begin his life as an Army Chaplain. He wistfully commented something about always leaving his family and the people he loves. Ah, the life of a soldier.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I Hear Bells

Bells ring throughout the Orthodox Christian service. I adore bells and loved the sound. What lucky neighbors in Yonkers, to hear those lovely bells all day long. There are stationary bells outside and bells filled with incense being carried around the sanctuary on the inside. The Orthodox are the opposite of the Protestant church. There was constant kissing of crosses and pictures, and when they cross themselves they do the full Monty, reaching down to the ground to touch the bottom of the cross, then up to the head and shoulders. I was very impressed.

Friends and Family

AJ said he had more people at St. Vladimir's for the ordination service than any of his classmates. I know he was in heaven, and kept looking over the sea of faces, making contact with us, throughout the service and graduation. Happiness abounds...
Scott Hewson was AJ's older brother Eric's first friend in Morristown when we moved there 33 years ago. His mother, our dear Aunt Carol, is AJ and Mia's Godmother. Scott has worked for the Morristown Seeing Eye for a long time. He trains guide dogs and flies them all over the country taking them to blind people and teaching them how to use the dogs. We have some very dedicated and interesting people in our circle of love.

Old Friends

Chip and Rob have known AJ for many years. Chip and AJ were Eagle Scouts together in Morristown, New Jersey, and co-founded the Morris County Young Democrats. AJ and Rob attended American University together in Washington DC. I'm happy they came to help celebrate the start of AJ's life as a clergyman and his award of a Master's in Theology from St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. Achievements are even more meaningful when loved ones are there to share in the joy.

Bound Together in Faith

AJ may never see some of these fellow seminarians again, but he will surely never forget the suppport and encouragement they gave each other over the last three years. Who knows what tests and challenges are in store for them beyond the walls of St. Vladimir's. AJ will have a heavy load with a church full of parishioners to minister to in Las Vegas, and a whole National Guard regiment he will be responsible for spiritually.

Saints on the Ceiling

The ceiling of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary is covered with beautiful paintings of Saints and biblical figures. Candles in ornate holders are everywhere. The beeswax candles combined with incense gives a magical, mystical aroma to the place. I would love to see it at night. All the participants in the service have on long, beautifully embroidered gowns and vestments. Many have beards and their long hair pulled back in ponytails, making them look like characters from ancient times. I was on visual/sensory overload. I wish I had lived closer than 4 hours away so I could have visited AJ at seminary more often over the last three years. This simple Baptist girl was slighted overwhelmed with all the ritual but I loved it. Many of the Seminary students bring their babies and young children to church and they played with their toys on the floor while this very fancy service was going on. I just loved it.

Rev.Dn.Father Aaron

We travelled to St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary to share in the joy of AJ's ordination to the Deaconate (last step before becoming a priest)of the Orthodox Church. St. Vladimir's is an oasis in the city, with ponds, waterfalls and a beautiful sanctuary amid old stone buildings. I felt like I had gone back a thousand years as the ancient rituals were celebrated by priests in long, ornate costumes, with tingling bells, incense and beeswax candles. His Beautitude Bishop Jonah of the Metropolitan Northeast presided over the ordination of AJ and his classmate Father John from Knoxville, Tenn. After a lengthy and dreamlike church service where every word was chanted in melodic singing, AJ's family and friends gathered at a local Indian restaurant for lunch. We returned to St. Vladimir's for the graduation where AJ was awarded his Master's in Theology, the culmination of three years of intensive study including mastery of the Greek language. I'm very proud of AJ. After a garden reception we set off to the farm where everybody was okay. I opened the gate and the sheep ran out to graze in the dark. This morning I was greeted by many lazy, happy sheep and goats with fat bellies in the barn. There was many mentions of sheep and pasture in the service at St. Vladimir's yesterday. I am truly in a biblical profession. AJ is stopping at the farm on his way to Nevada to report for summer National Guard exercises at Ft. Irwin, Nevada. When that is over he will join an Orthodox congregation on Las Vegas as an assistant pastor, while serving as the Nevada National Guard Chaplain.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Through the Tunnel of Life

While I was doing chores last night I heard a goat scream, a very distinctive sound of pain. What's going on? I followed the sound to the way back of the barn and found a black doe with a little bubble sticking out the back of her. Okay, I thought, I will wait and let nature take it's course. Now goats will give out a big scream when a baby pops out, but this doe kept screaming. Very disconcerting. One leg was out but that's all. Goat kids and lambs should come out with two hoofs on either side of their snouts, kind of like Superman. Something was wrong. I found Matt and asked him to hold mom while I took a look. I got scrubbed up and examined mom to find one leg back and something hooked on a bone. It's not easy to feel around inside a little goat mother. Sheep are much bigger and accommodate my big Swedish hands better. I could barely move my fingers around inside the birth canal. I found all the parts in the warm mush and felt the little teeth inside the baby's mouth. I got the rear leg forward, and cupped my hand over the head and shoulders and slowly pulled. The wet, black, slimy torpodoe slid out. Was it alive? Had it been pounding against the vaginal wall so long it was dead? It was still attached with the cord, but I managed to tilt it's head downward and clear the mouth. I rubbed and rubbed the body while taking a quick peek to see if there was a sack underneath. It's a girl! I heard a little noise. She's alive! Mom was lying flat and exhausted. I cut the cord and laid the little bundle next to mom's head. Her tongue came out to lick her baby. Whew! What a relief. As luck would have it, I turned around to see a black ewe tumble down on her side, legs kicking, her belly horribly distended. Bloat! This lush grass can be deadly. This ewe had chowed down until she blew up like a balloon. I had hay out for the sheep all day before I let the sheep out in the field to avoid this situation, but it didn't work for this poor ewe. I ran into the house to find a large syringe and needle to poke a hold in her abdomen and drain out the gas, but when I got back she was dead. You can't make this stuff up! Here I have a dramatic life and death scenario going on simultaneously within ten feet of each other. I have a lovely little black doe, but I loved that ewe. She has two ram lambs, who thankfully are eating grass, and who sniffed at their mother wondering why she was lying there like that. I hate to loose an animal. It's unavoidable, and it happens. Things are much more uneventful tonight and I like it that way.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Big Day for AJ

On Saturday morning AJ will be ordained as an Orthodox priest at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary in Yonkers, NY. He has been a Chaplain's Candidate and Orthodox seminarian for three years. Now he will be promoted to the rank of Chaplain and Captain in the US Army National Guard. We are very proud of AJ and know he will be an asset to the troops he will serve.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another Future Project - The Sylvi Coat

I've wanted to knit this sweater for a couple of years now. I saw it on a postcard ad by Twist Collective and it was love at first sight. This coat has an attached hood and has beautiful raised flowers, leaves and vines running down the back. I know patterns go out of print and disappear into yarn oblivion, so I was concerned about finding it after all this time. I emailed Twist Collective and immediately got back a message from the owner telling me exactly what I described to her. It is called "Sylvi" by Mari Muionenen (that sounds Finnish to me). I will need a boat load of yarn for this sweater, and I would like it to be red like the sample. I know I can spin the red yarn, but my yarn has a pesky left hand slant to it that causes trouble with patterns. I have to rehabilitate my spinning before I can start on difficult patterns. Fantasies are free, right?


I think about knitting a lot. After all, I keep sheep for wool. I love to wander around the sheep festivals, petting and lusting after the sweaters people knit and put on display. New Hampshire Sheep and Wool was full of gorgeous knitted creations. They even had on display a sweater I've been trying to knit for years from a Classic Elite pattern. Oh, it's gorgeous. Funny thing is, now that I have sheep for wool and goats for mohair, I have less time to knit than ever. I think I've completed four sweaters in my life, along with a few pairs of mittens, socks and scarves. Turning a good heel on a sock is a skill I am most proud of. Considering how topsy-turvy my life has been between relationships and moving way too many times, it's a miracle I've done that much. Next knitting project on deck is a sweater jacket for Mia, then the Fireside Sweater. The Fireside Sweater appeared in my booth last weekend, worn by a pretty young lady who knitted it in a lovely natural gray wool. It was tight fitting and covered with cables. I fell in love instantly and have to knit it. The owner sent me to the Ravelry site to find the pattern. I was lucky not only to find the pattern, but some comments by people who knitted it. This pattern has a bit of a story to it. The Fireside Sweater appeared in the movie The Holiday, which my daughter Mia recommended to me. Cameron Diaz wore it in the stone cottage she rented from Kate Winslet in England. A very talented knitter created a pattern for it and now it's available for purchase. I've knitted a cable sweater before, but it was one cable going down the front of the sweater. At the time I was living in Morristown, one mile away from Knit One Purl Too, a cute little shop in town. I had to take the sweater back several times so the owner could tell me where I was on the cable pattern. I was used to knitting away mindlessly without counting every row. I'm older now and, hopefully, more disciplined. We'll see how it goes...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Goldfish Sighting

Every spring we are eager to spot our resident goldfish - Goldie - in the pond. Chris Kupris asked us to put his pet fish in the pond when it grew too large for the bowl. Goldie thrived in the pond. She is a bright, brilliant gold with a big, fancy tail that swishes all around when she swims. We don't see Goldie very often, just in the spring when the mud warms up and she wakes from her long winter's nap. She must spend the summer in the cool reeds, hiding from the swimmers who disrupt the peace and quiet of her watery kingdom.

A Blue Ribbon Photo

I entered five pictures in the Maryland Sheep and Wool Sheep Photo Contest this year. I thought they were all good and two were spectacular, in my humble un-professional opinion. This is the only one that placed, and it won a blue ribbon in the Landscape Divison. I called it Dinner Time. Last year my portrait of Horatio, my rescued Rambouillet ram, won first place in the Sheep Portrait division, along with a second for Almost Home in the Landscape Division, a picture of Luna making her way down the hill to the barn along the old stone wall and looking back at me. The year before that I won first place, Best in Show, with my Princess of the Flowers. Prior to that it was twelve years ago that I won a blue ribbon. Competition is very stiff in the Md. photo contest as there are many shepherds who love to take pictures of their sheep. I don't know anything about photography, and I use a point and shoot digital camera (thank you, Dan) but I truly love the subjects - my sheep and my farm.

Old Apple Orchard

There is a lovely old apple orchard on my land, which I think dates back to colonial times. The trees are in dire need of severe pruning, which I have been reluctant to do for a variety of reasons. They produce lots of tiny green apples which the sheep and goats gobble up quickly, so the trees do serve a purpose. The blooms are so incredibly beautiful in the spring.

Lovely Lilly

Lilly is so happy these days. I love her long beautiful face. I like to stand at the gate when the sheep are all gathered around waiting to be let out. That's when I can really communicate with them. Once the gate is opened I have to get out of way or get run over. That lush, thick, green grass is waiting for them and the sheep want to get to dining on it.

Farm Kitties

I always have a welcoming committee waiting for me when I get home. I often have a bag of cat food in the car and put some out on the milk room steps before I get in the house. That habit definitely reinforces the happy greeting I get. I saw these two fellows and was reminded of the Broadway show, Cats, which I saw many years ago. They have a certain rough look, sitting up high, surveying their vast kingdom. That distant demeanor dissipates into purring and rubbing on my legs when I step out of my vehicle with the goodies.