Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Healthy in the New Year

I did something very unusual for me tonight - I took a nap!  It was wonderful.  I woke up with dogs stretched out all around me on the sofa, more sound asleep than I had been.  My first thought was that it was time to do chores.  The White Boys were waiting for me to take care of them, and hungry sheep would be lining up at the hay feeders.  I thought how fantastic it would be to be dressing up for a party, to have a place to go with food and friends, with music and lights, and anticipation of the magic moment.  Nothing like that here...but that's okay.  My sheep, goats, dogs, cats, ducks and chickens don't know that it's New Year's Eve. I spent a lot of time with them tonight.  The hay mow is dark and scary, but once I get up there and get to work pulling apart the big round bales and throwing it down the hatches, I forget about looking over my shoulder.  The hay mow kittties sit on top of the bales and watch me work.  I figure if they are not nervous I shouldn't be either.  I've been worried about Matilda, the other half of my Nubian pair of does.  She has hoof rot in one rear foot.  We doctored her last night, as best we could after she knocked Matt on his back, guess she is a very strong goat.  She's been hanging on the back of the barn which is unusual for her.  I thought maybe she doesn't like Knut in the barn where she likes to wait for corn.  Something is going on with her and I'm worried.  I sat down on the hay with her, and had a lovely visit.  She let me stroke her back, scratch her chest, put my nose on her nose, and rub the top of her head around her horns.  When I stopped and put my hand on my leg she bent down and touched it with her forehead.  What a sweetie.  She's nibbling on hay but won't eat any corn.  I'm glad I'm home with her tonight and tomorrow.  Cats jumped on my back and shoulders and sheep, unused to seeing me sit on the hay, gathered around to take part in this pow-wow.  It was a very special moment with my friends, who give me so much on a daily basis, more than words can express.  My life would be very empty without them.  We'll hang tough and hang together and wait out the winter, dreaming of green fields, sunny skies and spring water.  Life is good on the farm.

Bubble Bubble

After a morning a tad out of sorts over a variety of things including the slowness of my sprained ankle recovery which does not allow me to put my foot into a snow boot (!!!) I took the doggies out with my shorties on. The snow is deep but the dogs had made a nice little trail going up into the pasture.  I found two dead chickens who I fear must have been played with to death by Young Bertha.  I may have considerable angst over my chickens but do not want them to die that way.  The bright sun sent a bit of vitamin D into my veins, or mind rather, and I felt much better.  I decided to get a dye pot going, the first of the season.  My washer is not hooked up due to the work that Matt is doing to install my new slop sink.  I put wool, dye, a bit of soap, and citric acid into the pot along with Deep Magenta dye.  We'll see how this works.  Ordinarily I wash the wool in the washing machine then put it into the prepared dye pot still warm.  I love to imagine the colors I'll blend together.  I have LOTS of fleeces to sort through. .I had to move a giant pile away from where Knut is tied in the barn.  The chickens get to them, too.  The 30 or so birds I caught the other night escaped - again - probably through the door that does not fit properly.  Several men have told me No Way, they can't get out of that space above the door, including young Loren, the latest to work on the chicken room.  Guess I'll have to get the Amish in here.  No more chasing chickens around the barn.  No wonder my ankle isn't getting well.   Back to stir my dye pot, a lovely thing to do as the page turns on 2012.  I have no idea what my kids are doing tonight.  I'll call them later and they will politely chat with me, but it's not the same once they move away and live their own lives.  Better go hug a lamb.

Party Animal

It's New Year's Eve and here we are.  No parties, no invites.  That's okay, I'm used to it.  I can't remember ever being invited to a New Year's Eve party.  So what to do?  Make my own party here.  Matt is ashamed of the farm and won't let me invite any humans until this is done, and that is done, but that is not the reality now,  and that's not a problem for me anymore.  Life is too short.  I don't know who I would invite any way.  I have friends at work, at the farmer's market, at sheep shows, but nobody I am really close to.  I have lots of friends here on the farm and they think this place is super peachy.  So do I.  I'm invited to Matt's holiday work party next weekend.  I have another invite the following week, from Kathy Herold of the Hamilton Community Arts Center.  This amazingly talented art entrepreneur and organizer opened the Arts Center for kids and adults to learn to paint, spin wool, dance, felt and do all kinds of artsy things.  I went to a Winter Tamale Party at her beautiful historic Victorian home in Hamilton two years ago and had a wonderful time.  The people, most of whom I had never met, were very friendly.  I even met a man who went to my alma mater, Somerville High School in New Jersey.  Every inch of Kathy's house is covered with plants, color and art.  Matt had to pull me out of there.  Kathy and her family are good people and I'm thrilled to be caught up in her artsy web.  So here we are.  Tonight I'm going to do a little bit of all the things that make me happy.  Here's a few that come to mind. 

1.  My farm chores make me happy.  I love to put out hay and listen to my sheep and goats munch happily on it.  It's very satisfying for me to be able to raise beautiful animals that provide me with materials for warmth, beauty and comfort.  Sure there are things that are really nasty, like chickens who poop all over everything, and not having the right equipment to clean out my barn properly, animals that get sick for no reason.  That is the dark side.

2. Sit on the sofa with my dogs.  When I go back to work I'll be bombing out of here at 7:30 not to return until 4 or 5.  Then it's time to make dinner, then it's time for chores, then, finally, I can sit down on the sofa.  It's a beautiful thing, but I fall asleep way too fast to savor it for any length of time.

3. Spin wool.  Spinning is such a gift and spinning fiber from my own animals is truly sublime.  Working with my own fiber is like a potter scraping her clay from the banks of her own stream instead of buying it from an art supply house.  I hate commercial yarn, and am spoiled totally rotten by my own hand spun yarn.  Oh, it's so cool.

4.  Sewing.  I have collected some lovely fabric and will do some sewing tonight.  My machine is my favorite power tool.  I still like sewing my Bundaflicka Knitting Totes.  I'm blessed that they are still popular, with Vera Bradley (made in China) and Coach (probably made in China from animals that suffered horribly) and those big tacky bags with all the buckles and zippers, to compete with I remain a simple yet functional local oasis in a world full of metal and gadgets.

5.  Have a drinky poo.  Matt doesn't drink.  He's been dry as a bone for 20 years.  I think that's one reason why he married me.  I hardly drink at all, which is why it's so nice that a tiny nip sends me to a lovely place. A bottle of liquor lasts me for years.  I am truly a cheap date.   Coffee is my big deal.  Strong, hearty, coffee with lots of hot, foamy milk and a splash of cinnamon on top. Nobody makes it like me and I take heat for it when I ask for it that way God Forbid I should be so annoying thank you very much even when I buy it and bring it myself.   Maybe tonight I'll put a splash of something else in it.  I would have to call Matt and ask him to stop and pick up some on his way home from Syracuse tonight.  

6.  Read my new December British Country Living from cover to cover.  I sometimes buy my favorite magazine and don't get to it for weeks, if at all, other than paging through it and gazing at the lovely photos. I might even get to the Sunday NY Times, which I purchase faithfully every Sunday - at increased cost due to our "remote" location - and it ends up as fire starter or kitty box material.  Not this time!  Not on New Year's Eve!

Well, it's dark and cloudy at 9 am this last morning of 2012.  I could sit here and write more about what I did and didn't accomplish this past year, and what I am hoping for me and mine this coming year, but I have hungry sheep and goats in the barn, and they are waiting for the barn door to slam. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Hobbit Tonight

I thought no one would venture out in this cold to go to the movies but plenty of people did.  Wanted to see The Hobbit in New Hartford but it was sold out.  We made some stops while over there and picked up dishwasher installation parts, an overhead light and a slop  sink for the milk room at Lowes.  I was hoping to find a copy of December British Country Living at B&N and was not disappointed.  Thought I was too late - they sell out fast, especially the Christmas issue - but there was one hiding behind another British magazine.   Made missing The Hobbit a lot easier.   Stopped on the way home at Joann's which is right outside of New Hartford and found all thread 50% off.  When you sew as much as I do thread can be costly.   I splurged and bought myself a new pair of Fiskar scissors.  The dull ones I've been using hardly cut the fabric.  They need to be moved out to the barn for cutting baling twine.   I got out of my old habit of marking the scissors with dates so I can tell them from the barn scissors.  Some real good coupons have been coming in the mail.   Very much looking forward to getting the milk room in order to start picking and cleaning a big pile of fleeces.  Too cold to stand for very long in the barn, although it's fun to work on wool with the sheep keeping me company.   I can turn on the oven in my dye stove, open the door and let the heat out.  The milk room kitties will enjoy the company.   I have so much beautiful fabric to sew on for Maryland Sheep and Wool bags.  With the CNY Fiber Festival in June, and the Hamilton market, I will have several venues for my goods this spring.   Matt is out plowing in the dark.  He spent several hours out there today and we came home to find it all drifted over.  Whatever did the founders of my farm do 200 years ago?  Their entire existence must have been devoted to storing wood, food and hay to survive these winters.  I can't even imagine how hard they worked.   They are dust now, across the road in an abandoned cemetery with 48 remains, mostly children.   I hope they are pleased to know somebody is still working this farm.


Sheep under a year old are considered lambs, even though they are growing into great big lovely sheep.  My lambs are still in the maternity pen, don't ask me why.  Yes, I know's because I am the Italian mama of the sheep world.  I'm not as bad as I used to be.  The mature sheep don't get any grain unless they are lactating.  I like to keep the nursing lambs and their moms separate from the rest of the giant marauding girls and wethers who think nothing of pushing them out of the way of their dinner.  My Bluefaced Leicester/Border Leicester lambs are looking good.  Little Robert, a smaller twin, born the night before I left for NY State Sheep and Wool in October,  is coming along nicely.  He should be as he is still getting a bottle twice a day.  When I start back to work next week I'm cutting it down to one bottle a day and when the bag is done that's it.  They are getting a cracked corn snack and plenty of good hay.  Mom is a screamer and has taught the little ones to make a lot of noise when they hear the barn door slam.  Oy. 

Ice Box

Woke up at 5 or so and knew the stove was cold.  My face was a little numb and one touch of my nose told me nobody had fed the beast in the wee hours.  Sure we have electric back up, but we also had a massive load of wood and a stove that was meant for this weather.  It was also meant to have someone standing by and feeding logs in every few minutes.   I wanted a cute little Jotul or soapstone or red enamel Vermont Castings stove but settled for a Tractor Supply monster that does not damp down very well.  My apartment is about a thousand square feet but this stove will do double that or more.  Long range plans (hey, fantasies are free aren't they?)  include a massive bedroom/bathroom/walk-in closet space upstairs in the cavernous hay mow that is now totally empty.  I will carve holes in the floor so heat from the Beast will float up to my bedroom.  The only problem is that I will have to come downstairs to stoke the Beast.  Oy.  Nothing is 100%, right?    As I was washing a mountain of dishes - how can two people use so many dishes?  I know how.  I cook way too much and we eat way too much.  At my age food becomes an obsession, along with animals.  With all my aches, pains and stiffness food makes everything feel better.  Nothing fancy, just quality home cooking.  The critters amuse me and keep me warm at night.  I digress...the dishes.  I carefully approached the subject of the new dishwasher, still in the box in the middle of the room, unopened.  Spousal unit looked quizzically at me and said what dishwasher?  The one you bought me for Christmas I replied.  OH!  That one!  I blame it on the zen of the tractor and the snow storm.  He is in the saddle several times a day scraping away at the driveways with his little pet - the 1946 8N he spent two years tinkering with in Syracuse.  With only a back blade to work with he has to take a little bit of snow off at a time.  Oy.  I am promised an installation of the Bosch beauty soon.   Oh, I will pet it and stroke it.  It's only been 14 years.  Yes, I married for love and never thought of what I might need in my old age.  Love it the wild card of life, isn't it?  Some good news...after spending three hours of my life I will never get back I have reclaimed my electric range dye stove from the chickens.  It was tough going but Matt Redmond stepped in every once in a while to make sure I was okay - and still working.  My fault for letting it get this bad.  Most of the milk room chickens are captured and back in the chicken room.  Let's hope Loren's boards and nails hold the little buggers inside.  I've been catching as many free rangers as possible the last couple of nights (with my air cast back on).   There are many unhappy birds in the chicken room with lots of food but much less space.   I shoveled off the poop and disconnected the burners praying they were not sufficiently corroded to require a costly purchase of new ones.  Since my laundry sink was full of chicken feeders, jars of precious dye powders, spoons, bags of fiber (yes I salvaged what I could) all covered with heavy layers of dung I could not wash the burners in it.  Took them inside to the bath tub and washed them being careful not to harm the elements.  You don't want to know what my tub looked like.  Hurray, all four burners work fine.  After removal of most of the heavy dung Matt helped me carry out the laundry sink, a freebee from a past job site.  I'm hoping to journey to Lowe's in New Hartford today to buy a small single laundry sink that I can't fill up with too much junk.  I wash my fiber in the washing machine anyway.  So here we are, on the sofa with the doggies, and I'm thinking of the lovely eggs I will cook for breakfast.  I love my chickens but I need to manage them much better.  It's always been chaotic, ever since I visited my friend Mary across the creek several years back and came home with a crate full of Olde English Bantams were on their way to market.  Remarkable little chickens.   I let them loose in the barn to act as fly catchers and they did a fantastic job.   However, they  mated with my purebred beauties and produced some medium sized hybrids.  Nothing is cuter than seeing a new mom parading her brood of tiny fluffballs through the barn, but many of them grow up to be roosters that steal the cat food and terrorize the hens.  As with much of civilization, you only need ONE GOOD MALE to keep the train on the tracks.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sublime to the Mundane

Mia gave two Bundaflicka bags to nurse friends last night at a party.  She said they were thrilled with them.  It's a thrill for me, too, as these are professional ladies who carry around big tacky leather monstrosities loaded with buckles and zippers.  If they like my simple cloth totes with clay or toggle buttons it's a nice surprise for me.   I'm about to launch a new sewing season with Maryland Sheep and Wool looming in 16 short weeks.  Funny how my life calendar is ruled by sheep shows, school vacations and hay making.  Speaking of hay, Matt remarked how, if we are lucky, and the fabulous diary farmer down the road, Julia Berger, comes through for us again, we might have too much hay next year.  We should be so lucky.  Just a couple of years ago my hungry sheep were scraping sticks off the top of the hay pack on the floor.  So thankful I found Julia and her hard working family.  Now I think I can make it through to March with the round bales I have left.  Pulling them apart is a chore but they are so nice and dry and the sheep are so crazy about the hay I don't mind.   I am so grateful to Julia and sons and hope they will make hay for me again next summer.  Yes, hay is life.  As the snow falls and I head out to clean up a flood in the milk room due to laundry pipes separating under the sink, I think about spring and green grass and how lovely the land looks.  The land is sleeping now under a blanket of snow.  All the little creatures under the earth are taking some time off.  Didn't get the barn cleaned out and manure spread like I hoped.  The people who were going to do it went on an extended vacation.   Maybe in the spring...Like I've said before, farmers are the most stupidly optimistic people on earth.   We just keep keeping on, no matter what.  Now out to wade through nasty black water mixed with chicken poop, hay and wool.  Hoping to get to see the Hobbit tonight.  We'll see if I can get some work done.  Missing lots of movies, but that's how it is on the farm.  Always something else that needs to be done.  Better get to it.

More Snow

Got a good amount of wood split and carried inside yesterday.  Loren, former student and local fisherman/carpenter/logger, came over and worked on it for a few hours.   We made piles on either side of the wood stove that will get me through the weekend.  Loren plugged up the two major holes through which chickens were escaping from captivity.  Can't believe how those cute little chicks can grow up to be sweet lovely hens, or big nasty roosters.  I caught quite a few of them last night after chores.  There is a knack to catching hens and roosters.  I wait until dark when they get up to roost.  There are many poles running through the barn where milking equipment was hung when the barn was full of cows.  That's where the free ranging birds go at night.  I sneak up behind them and, if their legs are exposed, grab them and hold on.  That way only takes one hand.  The hens are easier and fight less.  The roosters have long spurs on their feet that are tricky to get your fingers around.   I carry them squawking and screaming to the chicken room and toss them in.  They'll have to find a spot to roost on in there, which won't be easy at first.  Chickens have their favorite places and might not let the interlopers get comfy at first.   I gave them extra cracked corn and feed last night to make them feel better about being in prison.  The other way I catch them is to put food down on the table where I feed the cats and wait for the roosters to drop down from their roosts to chow down.  I don't blame the birds for wanting to eat, but this food is for the cats.    The chickens have plenty of feed in their room.   Luckily I am getting a few more eggs from them, which makes me feel kinder toward them.  As we travel back to the light they will lay more delicious eggs which I love to eat.  I don't want to have no chickens at all.  The sight of a hen proudly marching her brood of tiny chicks around the barn is wonderful.  If only they didn't grow up to be roosters...  I still have to deal with the flood in the milk room.  If only I could dig a new drain.  As it is now I have to sweep all the cold nasty mucky water out the door and down the milk room steps.  The cold and ice makes it worse.  I  got all but three or four birds out of there last night.  My ankle is slowly on the mend and I don't want to slip on wet slime while diving for a rooster.  Last night they were hiding on top of the water heater where I can't reach them.  Don't blame them, that cat food is mighty tasty. and the milk room is the warmest place in the barn aside from the apartment, but I have to get  to work washing and dyeing wool.   After Loren left I set out for the Louis Gale Feed Mill in Waterville to pick up my load of cracked corn and chicken feed.  The drive through the state forest was so beautiful, with all the trees covered with a frozen layer of silvery ice.   The roads are still covered with snow.  More started falling on my way back.   Picked up milk and egg nog at the Brookfield General Store thinking I would have a bit of a Christmas cheer after chores last night, but, alas, could not find any whiskey.  I had some White Christmas Tea, a gift from Robin last year, instead.  Lovely.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter, Chickens and No Juice

Without my classy "big strong barn"  (I like to call it) winter would be much more scary.  I've been getting up in the night, which I would do any way, to stoke the stove.  Somehow I let it go out last night and there's no kindling to get it going again  this morning.   The wood I bought from Steve Nelson is well seasoned but the logs are big and need to be split.  Luckily, Loren is coming over to help me tote wood inside and split some for kindling.   The wood was dropped off, quite accidentally, on the wrong side of the barn, on the uphill snow-drifted side, not the south side on the driveway where I could have stacked it below the steps, making it much easier to get at.  An enthusiastic student who was doing chores for me while I was at work and stacked it in the corner of the silo on the north side where it is now covered in a mountain of snow.   Matt is off to work in Syracuse and can't help get wood in this morning.  He buys wood scraps from a cabinet maker on route 20 which make excellent kindling and will bring some home tonight.  Sure, I have electric baseboard back up but it is prohibitively expensive to use.  I like heating with wood.  The smell is divine and the intensity of the warmth is wonderful.   I left the oven on to heat up that side of the apartment but the electric went out in the kitchen last night.   Our electric service needs a complete overhaul, which Matt is able to do but he has to find the time.  I made our coffee in the bath room, which, thankfully, has electric this morning.  Life  in an old barn presents challenges.  I am loving my days off this Christmas break like I can't tell you.  I hope I have electric in the milk room because I need the water pump to take care of the animals.  I'm asking Loren to secure the chicken room so the chickens can't escape.   The chicken situation is out of control.  I have had six men work on that room and not one has adequately fixed it to hold chickens or keep them in a sensible fashion.   The chicken room was formerly a "calf room" where new born bull calves were kept so their mother's milk could be taken for sale.  I made it a chicken room.  There are nooks and crannies were chickens can go to lay their eggs so I can't get to them.  I have tried for years to get someone to plug up those areas but no deal.  I can cut up and sew fabric, but I am lousy with a hammer and nails.   Chickens escape and get into the milk room where they roost over the stove and poop all over it.  Today I will scrape it off, clean the stove top, and pray the burners are not ruined.  I asked Matt  to find me some sheet metal so I can fashion a rooster killing device.  Wringing their necks is not acceptable to me as it is not humane and they often wake up and fly away.  If I can make a cone to drop them in I can cut off their heads and feed the warm blood to the cats and dogs.  We'll see how THAT goes.   Knut is living in the barn and he got into some fleeces yesterday and tore them up.   I desperately need a fleece closet to put them in until I can get them picked and washed.  Hopefully Loren will help with that.  The old grain room in the upper mow, a safe place one would think, is buggy.  I found that out the hard way.  Fleeces do better when they are left out in the light with the bags open.   I've kept fleeces for years that way.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hannah's Knitted Purse

Hannah was knitting a scarf from her own hand spun, then ran out of yarn.  I suggested she try making a purse out of the piece.  She liked the idea and we started sewing.  Annie gave us some scraps from the ottoman cover and pillows I made on my Thanksgiving visit.  The color was perfect for the yarn.  Annie got out her Singer Featherweight and we went to work.  Hannah is a natural and I can see her whipping up purses without me there to help. 


Little Fergus was picked by Hannah and Luke last summer to go home to the new house in Maine.  They made an adorable video where they sang and danced with the little kitty and begged their parents for permission.  Luckily Mom and Dad said yes and Fergus became a Mainer.  Fergus has a very colorful personality and looks at you like a person would, quizzically cocking his head and speaking to you with a intense "meow."    He loves to ride on your shoulder and is very sociable.  Annie says when Hannah goes to school Fergus  wanders around the house calling for her.  He has another kitty friend, Todd, who is very shy and only comes out in the wee hours of the morning or when the house calms down in the evening.  Who knows what they say to each other face to face?   Fergus is much loved by the family but I did hear some comments about how he sneezes too much, and how he was sick when they brought him home, and how Annie found a vet to neuter and cure him, and how tests determined he did not have any serious cat diseases, surprisingly, since he came from a barn cat population, and how he was an "expensive cat."  I listened for three days and only heard him sneeze once.  The humans sneezed much more often.  Perhaps he has allergies to carpets, or cleaning products, whatever.  I said maybe I should take Fergus home to the farm but they didn't take me up on my offer.   I meant to clip Fergus' nails before I left, but couldn't find my little scissors and nobody had a nail clipper.  Maybe next time.

A Snowy Ride

Eric got out his Ural motorcycle with the side car and gave us a real treat, cruising around his neighborhood in the snow.  We used to ride all over the Nevada desert around Las Vegas with me in the side car holding little Luke and Hannah sitting behind Eric holding on to the cissy bar.  Too much fun.   Matt had to get in the driver's seat and take Mia for a ride.  He was channeling his inner Steve McQueen I think.

Family Ties

It's very stressful having 13 people in your house to feed and bed down comfortably.  Making sure they have enough seats at the table and in the living room is a challenge.  Annie and Eric made it look easy.  We had a cute little baby girl, grandmas, a grandpa, cousins, aunts and uncles, moms and dads under the same roof.  The massive family room came in very handy as we could all come together to gaze at the Christmas tree and enjoy the wood stove while spinning and knitting.  We could also split into the several other rooms for naps or private conversations.  There was always coffee, tea, soda pop, fresh fruit juice, Swedish Yule Glug, or other spirits available. My bed in the formal living, or VMI (Virginia Military Institute) room, had it's own fireplace.  It was tough to go home after such royal treatment!  This was a Christmas to remember.  I hope it's not another four years before we all meet together again.

Booker's Elk Horn

There was a vendor at the Plowshare's Craftsfair selling doggie gifts.  He called his shop The Barkery and  was across from me and hard to ignore, as I love dogs and Christmas in Maine was coming up.  I looked at a large elk horn, shed from an elk on a reservation, and listened as the man told me how elk horns do not split and endanger the dog.  I purchased it, thinking of Booker and how he does not have access to all the gnarly bones my dogs do.  I have a soft spot for Booker, and am so happy he recovered so well from the horrific accident on a San Jose highway a couple of years back.  Well, Booker took one look at that horn in the doggie bag and claimed it as his own.  Poor Dizzy and Perdita.  I have a lot of making up to do with the two little doggies.

Sledding on Settler's Way

Eric and Annie have a massive front lawn hill, with a sloping asphalt driveway.  Perfect for sledding!  A lovely little snow started falling on Christmas Day and we piled out the door to do some sliding and walking in it.  Luke and his cousin,  Zeke, Tom Henry and Julie's son, had a blast on their sleds and tube.  We joined in and did some sliding too.  They are having a hefty load of snow being dumped on them right now.  I'm sure the boys are taking advantage.

Doggie Toys

When I visited Booker and Family on Thanksgiving I got the idea to make him a dog toy he could really sink his teeth into.  My students were selling beef jerky as a fund raiser.  I decided to roll up a slice of it inside some sturdy wool fabric and sew all around it.  I enclosed the toy in a matching stocking - absolutely precious.  I intended to make toys for all three of Annie and Eric's dogs - Perdita, Dizzy and Booker - but time ran out.  As I expected, questions were asked as to why I brought only one dog toy.  I am so ashamed.  Anyway, Booker, the recipient of the only custom made dog toy, did not disappoint.  He gnawed and gnawed on the wool in an effort to get at the beef.  He pawed at it, too.  Good tough fabric!   I was so gratified.  I will make more toys for the other little dogs sometime soon.  I'd like to include a line of dog toys and shampoos in my shop.  We'll see.  Perhaps.  Maybe.  I don't know.  Have to chew on it a bit.

A Crayon Box Christmas

Carol Crayonbox was well represented this Christmas.  I was lucky to have access to these gorgeous hand spun, hand knitted creations, most of which were made from my wool and mohair.  Hannah received lovely thick elbow mitts with removable fleece liners, perfect for Maine mornings at the bus stop.  Mia got some funky colorful boot socks.  Annie loves her pretty fingerless hand warmers.


My Conservation Dept. kids in the BOCES Vo-Tech school where I work had a fresh fruit sale.  Well, I had missed the sale last year having no students in that department.  I made up for lost time this year.  Grapefruit is kind of expensive when purchased in the grocery store, and they are not always in season.  I bought two big boxes along with two boxes of Tangelos.  Oh, are they sweet and delicious.  I have a juicer in the classroom and the kids make their own orange and grapefruit juice when we cook breakfast in the morning.  I decided to buy Luke a juicer and bring him a box of each at Christmas.  Matt found a nifty Cuisinart machine - on sale even - in the mall and we were all set.  I had a little nervousness about giving a young boy such a "healthy" gift.  No need to worry - when Luke opened the juicer he dropped everything and carried it into the kitchen to set it up.  The high-tech trendy toys were left on the carpet while he made us all fresh juice for Christmas morning breakfast, and he had a blast doing it.  I was so fulfilled.

Rump Roast

Tom Henry Brush, Annie's younger brother (she's the oldest of four), and Annie cooked up some incredible meals over the three days we spent with them this Christmas.  Annie and TH grew up working in the family's restaurant in Bivalve, Maryland.  All we could do was sit back and watch them create some scrumptious delights for us.  With 13 in the house we would pack around the dining room table while plates full of food were passed around.   Many hands made light work of clean up.  I had the pleasure of helping to hold the darling little baby girl, Charlotte Rose, while her mommy and daddy pitched in, and holding down the sofa in the family room so it wouldn't fly up and hit the ceiling.  Hey, somebody had to guard the Christmas tree!

Home in the Snow

Christmas in Maine was magically wonderful.  Now that we are back at the farm it seems like a dream.  We arrived at Eric and Annie's lovely home Sunday night at dinner time.  Annie's brother Tom Henry, his wife Julie, her mother, Carol, and their kids, Zeke (6), and Charlotte (6 months), had arrived the day before.  We quickly settled in to a comfy Christmas scene, with fabulous food and lots of it.  Annie made the traditional Swedish Christmas drink, Yule Glug, loaded with raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks, red wine, whiskey and vodka.  OH, it was so good.  We spent Monday getting ready for Christmas morning, between walks, eating delicious food, drinking coffee, drinking Yule Glug, wrapping presents, shopping for more presents, playing outside, playing with dogs and cats, and basically relaxing and having fun.  I had not spent Christmas with Eric's family in four years when they were living in San Jose, California.  Since then they have moved to Dallas, Texas, for a couple of years when Eric got a promotion to work for National Boy Scouts.  I never saw the Dallas Palace but heard a lot about it.   Eric now heads up the Pine Tree Council in Portland, Maine, a seven hour drive from the farm.  There was no way I was going to miss Christmas again.  In a few short years Hannah and Luke will be grown and there will be no Santa Claus and a mad rush down the stairs for the stockings.  I loved every minute.  We spent Christmas Day opening an avalanche of presents, eating more food, drinking more Glug, playing with dogs and cats, riding Eric's Ural motorcycle, sledding on his massive front lawn, and watching Annie prepare another fabulous meal.  I spent as much time as I possibly could catching up with Eric and the kids, and chatting with AJ and Mia about work, chaplaincy, and all kinds of nonsense.  It was a beautiful thing.  Wednesday morning we packed up and headed back to the farm with a serious storm forecast for the northeast.   Traffic was terrible, with people travelling home on the Mass. Pike, and dark, gray clouds gathering in the cold.  The snow started as we pulled in to the farm and greeted Loren who was doing some evening chores.  It dropped a foot or so as of Thursday afternoon.  Today I'm waxing kind of emotional over the wonderful time we had, and imagining Luke and Zeke going up and down the front lawn on their sleds.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Good Shepherd

From the Anglican Breviary:

     "At that time:  The shepherds said to one another:  Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see the thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us...Behold the beginning of the Church.  Christ is born and the shepherds keep their watch.  Yea, they keep their watch like as becometh those who would gather together the scattered sheep of the Gentiles which had hitherto lived like as brute beasts, and lead them into the fold of Christ, that they might need no longer to suffer the ravages of spiritual wolves in the night of the world's darkness.  How wide awake are those shepherds whom the Good Shepherd stirreth up. Their flock is the people.  The night is the world. for these shepherds are the Priests.  And perhaps that Angel, too, is a shepherd to whom the Apocalypse is said: Be watchful and strengthen.  For God hath ordained to watch over his flock not Bishops only but Angels also."

Yes, shepherds are .   Shepherds are the first people the Baby Jesus saw when He opened His eyes.  Sheep and goats were the first animals he beheld.  Shepherds are ever faithful, ever vigilant, ever loving and ever forgiving.  They fret when their sheep wander, and rejoice when they return to the fold.   I'm proud to be a member of such a noble and ancient profession.   Wishing you and your flock health, happiness and a prosperous 2013.   

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wrapped Up

On nights like this I am reminded why I bought this barn.  Sure, the apartment is tiny, but the part where the animals live is enormous, with sturdy walls and a roof that does not leak (3 nails in every metal panel, hammered in by Sisters Bernadette and Grace before they went off to serve the Lord).  I love to listen to the wind beating on the walls while I do chores at night, and go about my business in relative comfort, with lights and running water.  At the last place I lived my sheep were a mile down the road with no electric or water, only a creek that I had to break open with a long spike.  When it froze solid I had to transport water in big cans to them.  When the big floods came and the Delaware rose up 30 feet over flood stage I was cut off my flock.  It happened three times in a year and a half.  Now I worry about the hose and pipes freezing but I know what to do to prevent it.  Excess water rolls down the rocky hillside to Beaver Creek down below.  Fine with me.  I spent the day getting ready to go to Maine for Christmas with the kiddies.  So excited to leave work and farm worries behind and enjoy my family.   I have lots of gifts to take ranging from aged whiskey and local syrup to home made dog toys.  I bought some beef jerky from my students and sewed it into wool fabric for a chew toy.  I got the idea when I saw Booker playing with a doll with polyester fluff on the inside.  I thought I could make him something he could really sink his teeth into. We'll see how he likes it.   All but one or two Bundaflicka Totes are sold or given away as gifts.  My soap is locked in a trailer, drifted over with snow, with locks surely frozen.   The White Boys are inside the barn.  For dogs that live primarily outside they do very well inside.   Knut and Thor make rumbling sounds deep in their throats while watching each other with side long glances from across the barn.  Adorable lover-boy Finnie is outside of the apartment with the kittens.  Time to stoke the fire and figure out what's for dinner.  I held Matt off with cornbread, but that won't last for long.  The larder is bare except for two cans of corned beef hash.  I was practically raised on the stuff, with fried eggs, and picked up the cans on whim at Dollar General as a cheap week day meal.   I stocked up on livestock food but forgot to get something for us.  I made a pan of baked Ziti for Loren, our farm sitter, and have one to bring to Annie, but not much else.  There will be feasting in Maine no doubt.   Looks like we will be leaving our foot or so of snow here in New York.  Don't know if we will have a white Christmas in Maine.  We'll find out.  Now that I've got making home made egg nog down from doing it with my students,  maybe we'll make it at Eric and Annie's.  This time, I'll be able to spike it with whiskey - oh, that will be so nice.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Now we begin the long journey back to the light.  I love the cyclical nature of teaching.  It goes so nicely with the seasons.  The pall that was hanging over my school from the Newtown shooting and death of our head custodian was somewhat lifted today with teachers and students running around delivering their little gifts of gadgets and goodies.  My presents were ready to go, but I had to put them in a laundry basket and cover it with a plastic garbage bag.  The cold rain was coming down hard and I had to get a bunch of stuff out to the truck.  I had several grocery bags of things I needed to make another batch of egg nog, too.  Luckily I was able to drop it all off on the sidewalk by the school door, and was pleasantly surprised to see two of my GED students coming out to pick it up and carry it down the long corridor and two flights of stairs to our wing.  My aircast, which consists of two pieces of plastic with a cushion inside and velcro straps, is a miracle invention.  I still need to spend some time with my foot up, and it doesn't happen much in school.  Hopefully tonight.  We had a special ed. buffet lunch with contributions from teachers and aides.  My baked ziti was only half consumed which worried me at first but I was glad to bring something home for dinner.  Our egg nog was better today as we whipped the egg whites stiff before adding the yolks and spices.  I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to have a little whiskey to spike it, but I don't need that kind of trouble.  Good bye to students then off to do a little shopping at McLaughlin's in Norwich.  I love this store as it is small enough not to overwhelm me and has a good selection of clothes and shoes.  The clerk even wrapped my purchases for me.  I visited the Chenango SPCA to give a donation on behalf of Kent K. and said hello to the doggies.  Every one of the 7 or 8 came over to say hello to me.  They had some beautiful, loving dogs in need of homes.  A family stopped in to deliver bags of dog food and kitty litter to the Christmas tree in the lobby.  It was very heartwarming and I vowed to do more for them.   Home after a stop at the New Berlin PO to say hello to my exhausted clerk friend, Mark, and a milk stop at Stewart's.  Oh, yes, a kitty can stop at Dollar General too.  These stops make my commute home interminably long but when I'm home I'm home.   The roads were icy in the dark but the doggies were overjoyed to see me.  I'm so tired but I got the stove going,  coffee made and ziti warming in the oven.  Maybe I'll steal some time to put this ankle up before chores.   So much to do this solstice day, with our departure for Portland and the kiddies day after tomorrow.  Loren Wildenstein is on duty, a very capable farmer who has painted my barn and worked for me before.  Excited about seeing my family.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Nine o'clock and winding down after a long day.    Made a good stiff cuppa tea with this amazing blend put together by my shepherd friend, Jean Walsh, up in Jordanville.  I ran out of herbal tea bags and after rummaging around in my little kitchen I found a ball and bag of leaves, seeds and spices.  She calls it Organic Lemon Ginger and it contains chicory root, ginger root, orange peel, lemongrass, lemon essential oil, hibiscus flowers, coriander seed and cinnamon chips.  Wow, what a sturdy tea!  With the ball I can make the tea stronger.  I love it.  Think I'll start designing my own tea.  Lookout...Got my Christmas goodies out of the trailer to put together for some special people at school.  This time of year my soap and creme really comes in handy.  So many people are so nice to me and I like to remember them at Christmas, but there is such a weird vibe in the school with the terrible massacre of last Friday and the sudden tragic death of our building manager this week.  My throbbing ankle is not helping.  I told Annie today that I am very anxious to get ot her house and put my feet up, with Christmas happening all around me.  I will be a passive observer, which suits me just fine.  I have put on many magnificent Christmases.  It's my time to watch.  The weather is giving us a taste of winter with cold wind carrying icy bits of a rain threatening to turn into snow at any time.  I feel sorry for any animal out in this, and worry about the 40 year old mare down the road.  I offered the owner my barn but any further intrusion might be considered meddling.   The other way down the road has some poor chickens crowded into a pen on the cold ground with a loose tarp overhead.  There is no way for them to get up and roost, which is what chicken like to do at the first hint of darkness.  Two large barns sit behind this miserable little pen of frozen chickens and I wonder why the owners can't find a little corner up high for these birds.  I was in a similar situation with my sheep before I bought this magnificent old funky barn.  I had a flock of sheep and goats all trying to get their heads into a couple of lean-toes to get the rain and snow off their faces.  Don't tell me they don't care about cover.  I built a plastic hoop shelter out of cattle panels and a big sheet of plastic.  After they got over the flapping sounds they all squeezed in.  Now they have all the space they want with a decent hay pack to stay up off the ground...a little too much of a hay pack if you ask me, but here we are.   Love to see them cozy and dry munching on hay in the morning and evenings we are together.   Good to have shelter from the storm.  Have to bring more egg nog ingredients tomorrow.  We made it in art class.  Oh, my old mixer is getting a work out and I love to see the students making stuff.  The kids ran egg nog all over the special ed. wing.  So much fun.  My morning GED kids got wind of it and said they want egg nog tomorrow.  Had to buy more eggs - ouch - as my chickens are on their Christmas furlough.  Speaking of chickens...a certain person has promised me he will fix the chicken room so the wild girls I put in there can't escape.  They are making their way back into the milk room where they are roosting over my dye stove and washer.  Needless to say doing laundry is very tricky.  My dye stove will need a good shovelling and washing before I can fire it up for fear of starting a manure fire.  The month of January will see dye pots bubbling constantly - something which the milk room kitties love as the hot pots heat up the room.  Speaking of heat I better check my wood stove which wants to back draft in this wind.  The barn isn't shaking over my head the way it does in real storms...but they will come.  Oh, they will come.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Lighter Note

My foot is feeling much better.  Naproxen and air cast very much helping to hold the ankle together.  I'll be walking the land again in a day or two.   Being out in the barn with the sheep, goats, chickens, dogs and cats is extremely soothing and restorative.  I have goats to shear by hand (I leave an inch to keep them warm) for their lustrous mohair.  I will have lots and lots of wool and mohair to pick, wash, and dye come the new year.  I have visions of color running through my head,  and some felted hand bags I want to try.  Last night seems miles away.  I don't remember how I went off the road.   Stanbro Road connects Beaver Creek Road and Academy Road and dips down into a depression through which the Beaver Creek flows.  The fog must have been heavier there, and with no white line on the road, and no street lights, well, there we are.  Suddenly no road.   Boom crash bang.  Thank you AAA for skillfully winching my truck out backwards to avoid taking out a mailbox,  and Matt Redmond, who kept his cool when a Stanbro Road resident crept up to the Chevy Blazer in the culvert and appeared at the window with a rifle in his hand.  Matt said hello and struck up a conversation with the man and they had a nice chat.  Life in the country...

Darkest Before the Dawn

As we approach the darkest time of the year I find myself staying close to the fire, craving the warmth.  The weather is wet and cold and oh, so dark...and sadness in my heart.   The little bodies are being laid to rest in Connecticut, never to grow into adulthood and experience the joys and sorrows of life.   I experienced death very early without even realizing it.  My mother was pregnant along with her friend across the hall on the sixth floor of our apartment building in the big project across the thruway from Wagner College on Staten Island.  My mother and her friend were both going to name their babies Elizabeth, if females were born to them.  Elizabeth was born across the hall and my mother was waiting for me.  One day there were screams coming from the apartment and when my mother ran over she found tiny Elizabeth dead in her crib - sudden infant death syndrome.  I came into this world shortly thereafter and was named Margaret instead.  When I was in sixth grade my best friend, Linda, was playing on a concrete bridge on South Branch Road in Branchburg Township, New Jersey where I grew up.  A friend who was playing in the stream below grabbed a fish from the water and threw it up in the air.  Linda reached for the fish and fell backwards in the path of an oncoming car - on a road that rarely saw more than a dozen cars a day.  I'm not sure I understood death completely, even looking at my friend on the white nylon pillow in her coffin, in a beautiful party dress with a white hairband.  It was so surreal but the picture is seared into my soul.  Her mother's aching grief was more palpable to me than my friend's passing.  They had to move away.  In my mind my friend is still the same girl getting on the bus at her stop on Whiton Road.  It would not be six years later that my next best friend who lived two houses away from me, Hala Lovejoy,  was killed in a car accident.  No viewing was allowed.  For a while I convinced myself she was still alive somewhere, that maybe she faked her own death.  Not two years after that the boy we grew up with, George Young, who lived in the house in between us, was killed in a quick draw gun accident gone wrong.  He was 18 years old.  There are more deaths that will loom large in my collective memory that are still too tender to write about.  One occurred yesterday in my close knit school community when a staff member chose to leave this life by his own hand.  I wonder if people who do this are cognizant of the torturing bewilderment they leave behind them.  Maybe their pain is too severe to consider it.  God blesses us with free will but it is a terrible burden.  Coming on the heels of the school shooting this death is hard to take.  My wonderful librarian friend, Aimee, a pastor herself, led a prayer gathering in a darkened conference room after school today.  She prayed with us and invited us to add our own thoughts.  That few minutes was such a blessing to me.  I felt like a weight had been lifted from my chest, like I had taken a step out of the darkness into the light.  Our God is an Awesome God.    Time to go hug a lamb.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sew Nice

Turned off the TV, put on some music and spent some time sewing.   I don't do anything with any real continuity here since I'm always jumping out into the barn to check on lambs, or feed some kitties, or call some dogs.  It's still lovely to sit at my machine a while and listen to the whirrrr, whirrr of the motor while putting together something pretty and functional.  I'm working on a Latin bag ordered by the mother of two Latin students at the Plowshares show this month.  She bought the Latin messenger bag I had on display and order another.  I took a couple of weeks to make it.  Hope she still wants it.  It's adorable, I can always keep it for Maryland which is coming up in four short months.  Funny how the "Sheep Shows" as I call them form my calendar year.  The gun thing is very disturbing.  There are guns and there are guns.  I remember my Southern mother driving up from Georgia in her big white Buick with a loaded pistol in the glove box.  She did not have an assault rifle in the trunk with clips of ammo.  Senator Feinstein is saying on Meet the Press that she is introducing a bill to ban guns that fire more than ten shots?  Ten shots?  Who the heck needs ten shots?  Good luck Senator.  Will President Obama support it or will he cave again?  The Republican gun lobby will never support it.  Isn't it interesting the mass murderers are predominantly men?  Young men?  Something to ponder.  If our society is so dangerous people need assault weapons for their protection something is dreadfully wrong.  I'm watching my sheep graze on the hillside while I sew.  This is so relaxing and so satisfying.  Back at work tomorrow where there is no time for writing, barely time to check email, never any privacy, and the only sewing I'll do is to help my students make Christmas stockings and handbags.  There we go with the container thing again.  When the world gives you a heavy load, sew totes and stockings to contain them.  Santa will do some shopping next week for goodies to put in those stockings.  We'll make Christmas cookies and string cranberries and popcorn for our "virtual tree."  It's the spirit that counts.

Green Grass

I bet I'm not the only teacher who is nervous about going to school tomorrow.  Copy-cat crimes do happen.  We won't have any added protection, I am sure of that.  The powers that be want our school to be open and easily accessible to visitors.  We have been told not to lock our doors.  Guess who is locking her doors anyway. "They can bill me," as Sigourney Weaver so aptly put it in the movie, Aliens.  I find myself visualizing my last moments on earth, as Victoria Soto did, standing in front of her little charges.  My students, bless them,  would be more likely to charge the bastard and beat him to a pulp. I think I can safely say "him": as women don't do mass killings - hmmm, that's something to ponder.   I used to think everything happened for a reason, as part of a big plan set out for us by a higher power.  It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that's not true.  It totally negates free will.  If everything is "meant to be" it reduces us to robots with no power over our destiny.   I believe there is a higher power that loves us and regrets the bad choices we make.  I believe there is also evil.  Wasn't Satan kicked out of heaven?  A student told me he doesn't believe in God.  I usually steer clear of religious conversations - after all we have separation of church and state in public schools - but I asked him "Do you believe in Satan?"  He emphatically replied that he did.  I said, OK, then you have to believe in God.  He was a little confused over that debacle of faith.  I let it go at that.  Does Satan rejoice when a disturbed young man carries an assault weapon into a school and blows away all those innocent lives?  Certainly.  I don't know what the answer is.  My President allows himself to be held hostage by organizations and donors who take the second amendment to a ridiculous literal degree.  The Constitution was meant to be a living document that grows and changes with the times.  The British are no longer taking away our guns and refusing to let colonists assemble for fear they would plan a revolt.  I believe the "well armed militia" meant the citizens who formed the militias at the time, but now we have the military and police who should carry the weapons, not the citizens.  The citizens should be protected by law enforcement.  Of course all this would happen in a perfect world, free from drugs and criminals...but that's it - you expect criminals to have guns and assault weapons?  But young kids in upscale neighborhoods?  Purchased for them by their mothers who told babysitters not to leave the kid alone not even for a minute?  Come on... I'll go about my business on the farm and protect me and mine the best I can.  Christmas and the end of the year is closing in.  I am loving this mild winter.  People all over are moaning and groaning, but it makes my farming so much easier.  The water in the barn has not frozen hard yet, and I am not using that much firewood.  I start the stove every morning in the wee hours, but then wonder why as the sun is coming up and it will be 40 F. during the day.  On deck for today - sewing a Latin tote for a customer and working in the barn.  We are closing off broken windows in the barn with plastic sheeting.  We surrounded the front porch with some rippled hard plastic sheets to keep the steps from blowing over with snow, when it comes.  The porch kitties love it as they can see out while they snuggle in their boxes of wool.  I have a gigantic barn for them to hide in, with many nooks and crannies for them to find shelter, but cats are very territorial.  Once a group of kitties decides to stake out an area they are nasty to others who want to encroach on their space.  Kind of like humans, huh?  I think I'll let the sheep out to graze again today.  Yes, we still have green grass, incredibly.  I chose not to think of the global implications of the fact that I have green grass this late in the season.  I'm going to watch my sheep graze, the ultimate bucolic setting, and enjoy it.  I'll get my little gift bundles together for friends at school, and wrap gifts to take to Eric and family in Maine.  With the weather like this I might get there after all. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Contain the Chaos

I've been told I'm obsessed with containers of all kinds - baskets, boxes and bags in particular.  Rubber and plastic tubs, too.   Today, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy I'm thinking about containers again.  The news was too much to take last night, so I laid myself down on the sofa with my dogs, put on a movie, and woke up at 4 am.  I'm a teacher, and, many times, have thought about being attacked in my classroom, or in the hall, in the cafeteria, in the library, etc.  We are drilled on lock down procedures, etc., but when all is said and done it is tough to be ready for an armed assailant determined to take down as many bodies as he can.  A colleague of mine said we expect something like this with our student population and the administration's policy of leaving all outer doors open, with no security guards or metal detectors...but an elementary school in an upscale area like Newtown, Connecticut?   Sometimes the world is too much to take.  The weight is too overwhelming to contemplate.  So I make things to carry the load -  to somehow keep it organized and contained.  Lately I've been making Yarn Pockets.  These little fabric pots hold pull skeins of yarn snug and warm while you knit and prevent the balls from falling apart when unraveled.  They hold your sock projects and knitting needles while you sit on the sofa,  and fit nicely into a bigger tote bag full of stuff.  I think I'll make two sizes - one pull skein size, and one taller for longer knitting needles.  I'll put tabs on them for hanging from a belt so you can walk around and knit with your yarn ball safely stowed in a pretty little sack.   I like the idea of keeping things neat and contained in a world full of chaos.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy, Happy

Christmas came early on Maggie's Farm this year.  My fabulous personal shopper, the fabric artiste Carol Schwartzott, AKA Carol Crayonbox, journeyed to the wilds of Western New York to take advantage of the incredible sale at the Gunlocke Furniture Factory.  She braved crazed sewing professionals and home crafters to climb ladders and pull down rolls of gorgeous furniture fabrics for herself and me.  Carol lives in Freeville, near Ithaca, about two hours from here.  She got me too much fabric to mail and bad weather is closing in.  Matt agreed to meet Carol in Cortland to pick up the fabric.  I gasped when he opened the trunk.  The prints are so beautiful, with so much variety.  This fabric will mostly line my Bundaflicka Totes which I will be sewing all winter.  Some will go to school with me for my students to sew with.  I used to line my tapestry totes with chenille exclusively, but the Gunlocke fabric is colorful, smooth, and wears like iron.  It sews like a dream.  I made my first Bundaflicka tote back in 1994 or 1995 when my assistant in a summer school quilting class, Linda Palmer, needed a bag to take on vacation to Mexico.  She liked her tote but needed a closure.  There was clay in the class and I fashioned a heart shaped button to go with the tote.  It worked fine and the rest is history.  I'll never forget when I first offered my totes for sale at the Garden State Sheep Breeders annual show.  I had sewn some bags from some tapestry drapery fabric I had at home.  A woman with a stroller and two little kids in tow was smitten with the totes.  She asked me if she could have a discount if she bought TWO !  I sputtered a little bit and gave her a price.  My hand shook as I took her money, I was so excited.  I've been sewing Bundaflicka Knitting Totes ever since.  Carol sews her own beautiful totes and we display them at the same shows.  I have to chuckle when I sew people strutting past my booth with her newly purchased bags on their shoulders.  I don't mind a bit.  She keeps me frosty, working on my skills.  Carol's load of fabric came with a goody bag filled with dark chocolate, egg nog cake, home made preserves (I'm sure she grew the berries herself) and recipes.  Thank you Carol Crayonbox for being such a good friend to me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Post Office

I'm getting my orders out on time this year - a good feeling.  Not that I get that many, but receive enough from grateful patrons to make me feel loved and appreciated.  Every dime goes to the farm..  I use free boxes from the post office - they are good sturdy boxes - and wrap my soap, yarn and creme in newspaper to keep expenses down.  I like the idea of recycling the paper and people might find something interesting to read when they open the package.  My box is in Brookfield, but I drive through New Berlin going to and from work and use the little post office there.  I love the way we are on a first name basis with our postal people out here.  Mark helps me every day, except today, when I met Rebecca Bates at the counter.  She is the new post master in New Berlin.  Rebecca said she smelled my boxes, then recognized me as the person who approached her with my grand kids at the Otsego County Fair last summer.  Luke was interested in milking a cow and when we figured out we are close neighbors I asked if we could come over and milk a cow.  Rebecca said sure, come on over, but when we went nobody was there.  I thought something must have come up and I found out today that the family had to rush back to the fair to tend to an animal.  She invited me to bring Luke back for milking the next time he comes to visit, which I surely will.  Rebecca also asked if I would sell my soap at her farm stand when it's ready.  I would be delighted.  I've got the cold apartment warmed up nicely with the wood stove burning brightly and lasagna in the oven.  I think I'll get a head start on chores tonight.  If I don't keep busy the eyes start to droop a bit.  My day at school was uneventful until the very end when it didn't matter anyway after having a good day.  I took my students to Price Chopper for kitchen supplies and had a lot of fun.  The boys pushed the cart - and we're talking about 18 - 20 year olds - and found everything on our list, and a few more.  We went over our purchase order so I bought them Entenmann's eclairs and fruit punch.  Figured I came out ahead because I was going to take them out to lunch but they were so excited about the pastries that's all they wanted.  We headed back to school and the boys hauled everything in.  We're sewing Christmas stockings from fabric sent to me by Carol Crayonbox.  I brought in some checked wool for lining.  They're coming along better than I anticipated, with students who I never thought would approach a sewing machine sitting down to sew.  A Christmas miracle to be sure...

Winter Plus Farm Equals Mud

This winter is mild to far, with only one real snow and a day or two of rain.  People are moaning that we need snow, this isn't right, it's not healthy (?) or pretty.  I confess I am not minding the lack of snow.  I don't relish the idea of packing my car with a Russian winter coat and boots in case I run off the road down into a ravine in the 15 mile stretch where I don't have cell phone service.  We got through last winter without a single snow day.  Old timers like to tell me I moved to New York at the right time, during a warming trend, and how I missed the times when the temps did not rise above zero for a month at a time.  That's okay.  I'll settle for their stories.   I'll deal with the mud.  Oh, do we have mud.   My farm is not as bad as some, as I am on a rocky hillside.  My rocky hillside comes in very handy at times like this.  The flock grazed on green grass on the weekend, high and dry.  The worst place is in the back of the barn, in the pen where the boys, Zack and Jon-Jon, live.  Matt fired up his 1948 8N tractor, the only farm equipment we own, and scraped away a good bit of mud from the giant sliding back doors into the barn.  Andrew was here helping me take care of goats and helped Matt get the door panel back on the rollers and closed, leaving only two feet for the animals to get in and out.  There's no use trying to keep heat in the barn.  It's massive, and I don't have the hundred cows that would keep temps above freezing.  My barn does keep the sheep and goats, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats out of the wind, rain and snow.  We have many windows, long ago broken, to staple plastic over.   I always wanted a big house.  I don't have a big house, quite the contrary, with this tiny little apartment, but I have a gigantic, magnificent, funky old barn.  I came up here looking for the best barn I could find.  I think I found a good one.  I still gasp when I ride over the hill, coming from the village of Brookfield, and see it nestled at the bottom of the piney ridge.  I wish I could care for it the way I would like to.  The farm will be Mia's someday, perhaps to keep as an "upstate getaway," with a tenant to keep it up.  That will be here decision.  In the meantime I'm going to enjoy it, and wear high rubber boots while I navigate the mud.  Out to chores, climbing ladders and dragging hoses, then throwing on something suitable and off to work.  No snow today and that's okay.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Very Biblical Profession

I used to prepare for Christmas for weeks.  I had a giant weeping cherry tree, planted it myself along with five others, in the yard of my upscale development in New Jersey.  I wove lights around every single hanging branch of that tree.  It took hours and hours, but it was spectacular when lit.  I searched for the perfect Christmas tree in surrounding town lots, and wouldn't settle until I found one that went up to the ceiling and took up a good part of the 12x24 living room.  Gifts were piled so high I had the overflow going into the dining room.  My mantle was a work of art, with imported German nutcrackers, heirloom angels, tall red tapers and loads of fresh greens.  My mother would ship magnolia branches up from Georgia and I would spray paint the leaves gold.  Every end table would have mangers or elves on the doilies.  I would drive up and down the street gazing into my living room to make sure everything was properly placed.   Martha would have been proud of my Christmas living room.  My life has changed radically since moving to the farm.  Here it is two weeks before the big day and I have not started getting ready for Christmas.  My teaching position and farm work, with holiday craft shows, takes about every bit of time and energy I have to muster.  I hear about people going to malls, making this, cooking that, and wish I could do it too.  Then I go out into the barn and look at my beautiful sheep and sweet goaties, and realize I have something much more unique and special.    I don't have to keep up any appearances and only have to worry about keeping my animals fat, happy and safe from predators.   I am in a very biblical profession.   Shepherds are ever-watchful, ever vigilant, ever-protecting of their flock.  It's Christmas every day on my farm.  Remember it was sheep and shepherds who attended the birth of Jesus and were the first creatures He beheld. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

18 F.

There are many hungry sheep and goats out there waiting for me.  It's seven am and I should have been out there a half hour ago.  I'm all suited up for the cold, which I am not quite used to yet, with a giant cup of very strong coffee half consumed looking at me.  The lamb bottles are made, the inside doggies put out and brought back in, the little kittens fed, and I got a good night's sleep.  But I'm dragging.  Winter is tough on shepherds, dairy people, and anyone who raises livestock.  I have to be back inside and in the tub in a half hour, then on the road to school.  Wait, do I have gas?  What the heck and I going to wear today?  Yet I linger.  Anybody got a pin I can stick myself with?  Oh, yes, remember the rolling pin for the salt dough Christmas ornaments I'm making in school.   Gotta get this fog out of my head and deal with it.  33 round bales left in the mow.    Will I make it?  Probably until February.  Better find more hay now while the elevator is not drifted over.  These and other questions will swim around my head while I drag the hose around and climb the two ladders to either end of the barn.  Better get to it.  Have a great day everybody.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Art Class

 We are painting a New England village mural in art class.  I love to see what the kids come up with.  Staff members see us having so much fun they invite themselves to our class and pick up a paint brush.  I don't mind, I take it as a compliment even though I would like to remind them that this is the kid's project.  The muddy road now has grey curb stones running the length of it and there are skaters on the pond.  The hooded student decided to add his snowmobile to the mural.  I like the idea that he made it personal.  That is what art is all about - personal expression.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Basket of Goodies

Kim and I filled my beautiful Martha Dreswick basket up with our hand spun yarn to put on display at the Plowshares Peace Festival in Syracuse over the weekend.  There were many admirers stroking and petting the yarns, each one unique and different than anything one could find in a yarn store.  I have no use for commercial yarn, which usually comes from dead sheep.  It feels dead, too.  Hand spun yarn has a character all its own.  It is the creme de la creme of the knitting world.  It is a direct extension of the animals I love.  As my friend Harry Kelley put it, "without our animals we are not human."


This gorgeous hand felted and embellished bag was created by Carol of Crayonbox Designs.  I can't imagine why it didn't sell at Plowshares, but then, it wasn't a bag show.  There were several talented bag makers there and I noticed not much was moving out of their racks either.  That's okay - everything keeps for the big wool shows coming up in the spring, like Maryland and Bouckville.  I sold the latest Latin Axioms Messenger Tote to a woman whose daughter was studying Latin.  She also ordered one for her other daughter who is taking Latin.  I brought my other totes home to save for Maryland.  Carol uses my wool and other local shepherd's for her lovely creations.   I can't imagine the patience it takes to felt all the different fibers, and they felt at different paces, for her bags.  The hours are incalculable yet she charges very reasonable prices.  Her art is her reward.  This and other gorgeous bags, hats and gloves are available at

Plowshares Peace Festival 2012

I'm back from the 2012 Plowshares Craftsfair and Peace Festival.  We had a fabulous time with many old friends coming by to say hello and many new friends to see again next year.  The entertainment was terrific with everything from children beating African drums and poetry readings to Gospel choirs and belly dancing.  The weather cooperated and gave us warmish temps with no snow to diminish patrons.