Sunday, February 17, 2019

A pup in the house...

My sister has a lovely, framed, vintage picture that hangs on her wall. It is an indoor scene, with a little toddler in the foreground. It says, "A babe in the house is a wellspring of pleasure."  We don't have any babes about, but we do have Opal.

Four pounds of confidence and bounce, Opal is an 8 week old Pug. She is the new love of Rachel and Evans, and as such will be spending a bit of time here. I couldn't be happier.


It was in December that a groomer friend mentioned she knew of a litter of pugs expected in the neighboring town quite soon. On a whim, I called the breeder and had a chat. The pups would be ready to go to new homes in mid February. Rachel turns 30 in March. I suggested that a puppy might be a fun birthday present.  After some discussion, my offer was accepted. Then unfolded several visits. We went to meet the prospective parent pugs. They were sweet. Their owner was kind and kept us in the loop, sending a message when labor began, and pictures of seven wee puppies the day they entered the world. She let us visit the litter twice, such fun!  Almost every day she sent fresh pictures and updates. Our enthusiasm grew in pace with the pups.

Eight weeks flew past, and now the birthday puppy is beginning her new life and bringing a lot of joy with every snort, wiggle and kiss.



 We have a grandpug!  I can't wait to see her grow and play and delight us all with her antics. I suspect she will be a wellspring of pleasure.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

February storm...

The snow began shortly after dark last night. Fine flakes, falling at a rapid rate. It kept up through the night, with high winds. The wind makes a haunting, howling sound as it whips around this old farmhouse.  If I were here alone it might drive me mad, but snuggled up in bed with my beloved and a dog or two, warm and safe, I love to hear it screaming and whistling along the eves. The windows rattle, but we are cozy.

We were up well before dawn to see how much work was to be done. I started the coffee. Chris got the snow blower going.  I grabbed a snow shovel and began at the studio deck. Seven to eight inches of fairly wet, heavy snow had to be moved. I shoveled the deck and steps. Chris ran the blower up the path, then I went behind him with the shovel, tidying up spots the machine missed. Next he began the bigger job of clearing the driveway.

I took the little dog I am babysitting outside. A middle-aged bichon frise, he loves the snow. He ran to the end of his 16 foot leash, then threw himself on his back, writhing in joy, making puppy snow angels. Then he leapt up, ran to the end of the leash, and repeated his writhing. He stopped only to take care of important morning potty chores, then did more running and rolling. I had to laugh. 

Rachel was here. She stayed last night so she and I could watch the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. It's been a tradition since she was a kid. I'd let her stay up late, we'd have a special snack, and admire the beautiful dogs as they paraded before us.  I was tickled that she chose to come watch with me last night.  We opened a very special bottle of wine that had been gifted to us and enjoyed every sip. But I digress. This morning she booted up, borrowed my good hat and grabbed a shovel. As the wind swirled the snow around us, we three tucked our heads down and worked.  We all took a little break as dawn turned the sky from black to pewter. I cooked home raised bacon and some fresh eggs. Then we were back at it. Chris created paths through the snow to the hen houses, to the pasture gate, then out to the donkey dorm. He made a path so the animals could easily get to their water bucket, too.  I went behind him, carrying hay and breakfast for the goats and donkeys. They were glad to see me. Rachel fed the chickens and filled up their water bowls. The snow turned to rain, then freezing rain, then back to snow. Very few cars traveled our road.

It is a day for puttering. We cooked some beans, fed the bread starter, planned tomorrow nights Valentine's supper. I tidied up, fed the fire, heated leftover stew for lunch. We went back out and cleaned the deep snow off the cars, and moved them, then cleaned up the dense piles of snow that had been on the cars before we scraped it all off.

 


The wind died down, but you can see where it drove the snow sideways to stick on things.

Inside it's warm and quiet. The dogs are tired from being out with us while we shoveled. Bravo plays games of fetch when I am out, plowing through the drifts, pouncing on a tossed toy, then bringing it back to me, triumphant, over and over. 

In sharp contrast to the view out the windows, bright orchids are blooming inside.


 
And the air has a faint smell of cookies.  For Christmas we gave Rachel a book she had admired, called American Cookie. The author, Anne Byrn, writes about the history of cookies in America, and each recipe is printed with a description of the treats place in the story of our country.  Rachel has decided to bake her way right through the book starting with the first cookie and baking in order.  Since we don't need to be eating dozens of baked treats, we put them out for our grooming customers. Rachel often brings the cook book for people to thumb through while they wait, and we print up a sign telling what flavor is featured.



This weeks recipe involves a large quantity of nuts, and some chopped dates. This type of cookie was called a "Rock cookie." An alternate name was "Billy Goats." They are delicious and unique, not as sweet as more modern cookies, with a nice, cake like texture.
 
Yesterday the pasture was mostly bare ground, and the goats and donkeys were out nosing around hopefully.  Today they are sticking close to home, waiting patiently for the storm to pass. And possibly hoping for cookies on my next trip outside.
 
 
 


Monday, February 11, 2019

For the birds...

This time of year, when winter drags on and the weather isn't friendly, I am especially cheered by the wild birds I feed.  When I set up my grooming studio, I made a point to hang feeders very close to the window. The birds caught on fast, and I have a steady stream of them coming and going all day. It's bit like an international airport, with no need for traffic control and far less offensive pollutants.

My customers are often amazed to see the birds so closely. I get a lot of comments like, "You have a much wider variety of birds here than I do at my feeders." I'm not sure if that is true, or if they just notice the different birds more because they can see them so clearly.

This handsome pair of Evening Grosbeaks popped in last week. We don't have these here often, so they are a welcome sight when they come by.


The Red Bellied woodpecker is another one I only catch a glimpse of from time to time. The feather patterns are amazing.

A flock of wild turkeys sometimes walk over from the field across the street to clean up under the feeders. They can be quite timid and difficult to photograph.


I feed the crows and ravens, too, and this handsome raven is a frequent guest. They favor bits of leftover meat, and I save any I have just for them. A pair live nearby and have stayed all winter. Last week one was checking out the back yard in search of a treat, when one of my laying hens puffed herself up took off after him. He beat a hasty retreat.

There is only one Cardinal dining here this winter. He is always a treat to see, especially if there is a snowy backdrop. Maine winters can lack color, so a flash of rainbow red is a real eye catcher.

I have a fondness for the cheeky Tufted titmice, zooming in and out, always seeming in a rush.

The Blue Jay's come and eat as much as they can hold in their crop, then stack seeds or nuts neatly the entire length of their bill before taking off to stash them somewhere. Piggy, but pretty.


The common chickadee is well represented here, with countless numbers of them deedeling down from the trees to feast. They are what inspired this post in the first place. When I first moved to Maine, one cold late winter day,  friend Liz said, "I heard the chickadee sing his springtime song!" I didn't know what she meant, so she went on to explain that chickadees call, "chick a dee" throughout the year, but in late winter to early spring you will hear a "fee-bee" song. I later learned this is mostly the males, staking out territory and trying to attract a mate for the upcoming season.  Now I wait eagerly in January and February to hear the happy sound of "fee-bee." One more sign that winter is losing its grip. One more way the birds cheer me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Addendum...

This blog is directly tied to the post immediately before it. An addendum, if you will.
Remembering the chicken dance of last night, I went out to check on the progression towards the coop well before sundown. Sure enough, a group of 6 were trying fruitlessly to get into the hen yard from the pasture through the fence, which was still well blocked with ice, despite the lovely warm day we had. They can't be held to blame, their wee chicken brains are used to being able to have free access just there, and it flummoxes them when no opening is available where it has been reliably there for them their entire lives.

 I thought quick and got some scratch grains, and lured the hens towards the gate into the back yard. 5 came willingly. One flat refused. I tried to herd her, but herding hens on ice is a fools game. The evening was rather lovely, the dogs had been fed and exercised, so I sat on the deck steps to just be still and watch the evening gather in around me. It was peaceful. The hens I had managed to get into the yard tucked themselves into the coop. The goats and donkeys were gathered around the hay rack enjoying supper, and the wayward hen was pacing, back and forth, from where the door should be, to the hay rack. She kept passing the Christmas tree where everyone had tried to roost last night, and I figured that soon enough she would hop in, and game on, I'd nab her.  Well, this chicken must have better night vision than the rest, because well past the time that I could see her pacing form, she was still out there, going back and forth. I was getting cold and wanted to put on my comfy clothes and grab a cup of tea, so I strapped on my head lamp and went out to see if I could talk some sense into her.  She dove under the donkeys legs, she wedged between the goats, all the places I could not snatch her.  Then she somehow forced her plump body through the fence and into the back yard. This was actually a good thing. The footing is a little flatter there, and it's closer to the coop. I turned off every outside light that might possibly be aiding her as she eluded me, but she still kept about 10 chicken steps ahead of me.

Every wise chicken owner has a nice net to catch wayward birds, and I have one, but I am not sure where it is. I'm blaming my husband, because it's convenient and he's not here to defend himself. Oh how I was wishing for that net. I kept following the dumb cluck as she meandered over the yard, and almost had her, twice, but there is not a lot to grab on a chicken. They are all round edges, curves and sleek feathers. No handle anywhere, unless you manage to grab a leg or neck, and those parts sometimes break so I wasn't going for them. The game was getting old. I peeled my coat off, gasping as the chilling air hit my thin shirt, and tossed it over her. The slippery nylon fabric slid right off, but she did pause a moment, perplexed by the new plot twist. I tossed again, and again, as she waddled over the ice. Finally, in a particularly dark corner, she hesitated, trying to wedge through the fence back into the pasture, I flung my coat in a last, desperate, attempt and this time the hood mercifully fell over her face and I had her!  I felt like doing the kind of dance football players do when they make a touchdown. I had a happy fantasy of  holding the bird aloft in victory, doing a happy dance,  then SMASHING her to the ground. No, that was a bad thought. I resisted. But as I snatched the hefty hen and tucked her under my arm, I realized just which bird it was. It was the screamer! 

Once again she let loose with a tirade of ear splitting shrieks. Like last night, I tried to soothe, comfort and shush her, but every attempt cranked up the volume. I moved fast, climbed into the coop and planted her on a roost. The second her feet hit the post she became silent. I think she's plotting tomorrow nights chase.



Monday, February 4, 2019

Hen-venture...

Today was my day off, and the calendar was delightfully blank. Sometimes my Monday's get filled up with appointments, errands, meeting with friends.  All good things, but there is something special about a day with absolutely no agenda.

When I did morning chores, it was 35 degrees. A much higher temperature than we've had lately, and it felt terrific.  I took the goats coats off and hung them up in the garage, letting the girls feel the sun and breeze.

I had an article due, so spent a few hours at my computer, doing research, interviewing some folks, and shaping the idea I had into an understandable piece. At some point the words looked like a lot of hash, so I went outside to have a change of scenery. To my delight, the thermometer was hovering at springtime.

I shucked off my coat and gloves, and decided it was a perfect day to clean the chicken coops. When the weather is bad, the birds stay in almost all the time, and the coops get dirty quickly.  I was pleased to get them cleaned out, and filled with fresh, sweet smelling pine shavings. I filled up food and water bowls, and thought happily of how the birds would be able to sleep in nice, clean, homes tonight.


 Once I was done with that project, I went back inside to do a final tidy up on my article and get it submitted. At dusk I went out to do evening chores and shut the coops up to keep the birds safe.  I was disconcerted to see 7 or 8 of the big chickens pacing and muttering grumpily in the snowy pasture. They should have been tucked happily into their fresh digs. I went out across the ice to help usher them through the hole in the fence that gives them access to the hen yard and their coop. I slipped and slid and made my way there, only to find that the ice and snow were deep enough to have that particular entrance firmly blocked.  The birds had gotten to the pasture by way of the back yard, but had not headed to the coop for the evening in the same direction. Now it was almost dark, and since chickens lack the ability to see without light, they were effectively stuck.  It was just light enough that they could evade me, but not light enough for them to be able to figure out a way home.  I went inside for a while, until it got darker.  Then I put my head lamp on and headed on my rescue mission. I had to turn off all the helpful exterior lights so the birds would stay put. This made navigating a little sporty.  Most of the hens had tucked themselves into the branches of  the tired Christmas tree, trying to find safety as the gloom gathered. They were wedged in like so many corks in  bottles, and it was a neat trick to wiggle them out.

Now these are substantial chickens. They weigh in at 7 or more pounds. And they do not take kindly to being plucked up off their roost. If I didn't grab them just right, they'd pummel me with their wings, and feathers or no feathers, those things can land a serious blow. They also scream bloody murder, alerting every fox within a 2 mile radius that there were chickens in distress at FairWinds, and they might want to come investigate.  One or two of the birds were wandering blindly in the dark, getting further and further from safety.

I plucked the first hen, squawking  and trying to flap to safety, from the dead tree. Then I teetered on my ice grips and headed back through the pasture to the gate.  The nosy goats wanted to help me in any way they could, so they wove back and forth in front of me, nudged the bird with their noses, and hip checked me to see just how secure my footing was.

I wrestled the gate latch with one hand, elbowing the goats and donkeys back and shouting unpleasantries to keep them where they belonged, then made my way precariously across the back yard, lugging the heavy bird, through the gate to the hen yard, and deposited her into the safe coop. I had to rig a light up in there so the poor, blind, things could see to get up on a roost. I trudged back for another. I got the ones roosting in the evergreen first, going back and forth from pasture to coop. Now mind you, I was wearing my beloved muck boots, with aggressive ice grips strapped to them. These are warm, waterproof and practical, but they don't exactly lend arch or ankle support. And the pasture is patches of slick, mushy snow, ice and, lets be honest, a lot of poop. Not exactly stable footing.  After my 14th trip back and forth, my feet and legs were complaining.

The last bird had wandered into the middle of the pasture, down at the bottom of a small, icy, slope. There she huddled, miserable, feet in the wet snow, set up to be fox food. I slipped and slid to get her, and gently placed my hands on either side of her wings so I could heft her up and tuck her under my arm. She screamed the scream of a tortured, dying animal. This bird had some good pipes, and my ears were thrumming under the assault.  Even the donkeys stopped chewing to look in our direction. I half expected the neighbors to call and see what the uproar was about. I put one hand over her head to hush her. There was no hushing. She cranked up the volume. I tried tucking her head to one side to calm her, but she shrieked louder. There was nothing to do but walk faster.  I careened around the last, perilous corner, and flung  her with little ceremony into the coop. She hit with an impressive thud and did a graceless somersault. Her uproarious hollering stopped like I'd flipped a switch.

My new Fitbit informed me that my heart rate was elevated to the level where calories are best burned, and that my little chicken escapade had gained me an extra 4,500 steps. My blank calendar had hidden untold adventures.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Home and happiness...



It's no secret that I love this old house. It suits me like a favorite old pair of blue jeans, comfortable, snug and reliable. Recently a customer told me that she coveted this place, and it made her sad that she couldn't have it. I've been thinking about that. I've been to her home, and it's lovely, tucked back in some quiet woods, spotlessly clean and pleasant. It occurred to me, that perhaps what her heart longed for here is the palpable happiness within these walls. I can't tell you how it has come to be here, only that it is.

I read this poem today, and it resonated.

The Work of Happiness
By May Sarton
(1912 - 1995)
I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.
So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall --
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.
For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life's span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Small things...

Sometimes I have trouble coming up with things to write about in the winter. The days seem much the same... short, dark and cold. I don't mind this in the way that many people do, but I often feel that I lack things of interest to write about.  The last few days have been particularly cold, and that makes me worry about my animals. And a worried mind does not lend itself towards creative writing tasks well. However, several people have asked me to come up with a post, and that encouraged me enough to propel me into looking through my pictures of the last week to see what I had that might be compelling enough to share.

The first is an antique store find. I have an antique dressing table where I put my make up on (Chris calls this, "Gilding the lily.")  and try to beat my hair into submission each morning. I had a small, tilt top mirror that was very useful but jarringly modern looking. It just didn't go with the antique it sat upon.  Last weekend we poked around a wonderful antique store, and Rachel spied this gem.


  And at under $20 it was a steal! It's silver plated, and was pretty grungy, but I polished it up a bit and voila... my dressing table is now more pleasing. 


Sometimes I catch of glimpse of something so surreal that I wander about the rest of the day, amazed. This happened this morning. I had only been out of bed a few moments, and wasn't fully awake, but was looking out the window as my brain caught up with my body. We had a dusting of snow last night, and I saw a small tell-tale tunnel  there. Voles, also known as "meadow mice," often leave tunnels in the snow, they fascinate me. This particular tunnel caught my interest because it went from under the heated livestock water bucket, for about 4 feet. Then there was a gap of about 3 feet, then the tunnel resumed. "How did that happen?" I wondered. How did the tunnel stop, then resume at a long distance? Did the vole take a gargantuan leap? As my groggy brain was grappling with this question, a crow swooped down and in a breath taking moment, snatched the very vole whose tunnel I was puzzling over out from its chilly channel, and swooped it up, up into the branch of a dead tree, where he devoured it in 30 seconds flat. 

When I went out to take care of the animals, I checked out the scene of the 'crime.'  First I solved the mystery of the tunnel gap. Where the first tunnel ended, there was a row of wee, tiny, vole footprints over the snows surface. Perhaps the wind had blown the snow too shallow just there for burrowing. Next, the tunnel resumed, took a hard left, and the photo tells the rest of the story... early light, crow foot prints where they landed in the snow, and the imprint of an outstretched wing, where it landed, hard, and plucked the little mammal from it's lair.  


And then there is this.
In the cold and wind I have been feeding the goats and donkeys in the shed more often. And, to be honest, I've been feeding them more than is really necessary. I do this because animals like these stay warm in part by their digestive process, and I want to make sure they have plenty of food to digest so they don't get cold.  The donkeys wasted a good bit of hay, tearing it from the rack and tossing it on the floor.  When I cleaned their donkey dorm, and put the litter out on the manure pile, they suddenly found the very hay they had tossed to be delectable. They spent the better part of a day out there, picking individual blades of hay out of the refuse, and looking very happy.

Oh, in case you are wondering, the goats LOVE their new coats. They stand very still when I put them on, and when I slide a hand between goat and coat, the air is very warm. 


One more small thing to complete this post.  I offered to buy Rachel a new puppy for her upcoming 30th birthday. A litter of pugs was born, not far from here, on solstice.  We've been to see them twice now, once when they were three weeks old, looking for all the world like kissable baked potatoes with legs, and then again when they were 5 weeks old, resembling tiny, squirmy, caricatures of adult pugs. Rachel and Evans picked a fine little girl and she will be coming to brighten all of our lives shortly after Valentines Day. We are so excited! 
The winter days may seem to be much the same, but when I look back at the pictures I snap, I see that there are snippets of interest and wonder dispersed between the cold and dark. In my world, the common thread seems to involve antiques and animals.