Saturday, November 10, 2018

Living with animals...

If you live in an old farm house, especially if you have livestock, you will find that you get visitors in the fall. Not necessarily the sort of guests you welcome with open arms, either.  These visitors are wee and sneaky. They tend to prowl around at night, and sample the food in your pantry. And they poop a lot. These callers are mice. They are cute and wee and destructive and disgusting.

At our house they have a special affinity for one drawer in the kitchen. It's the space where I like to keep stacks of kitchen clothes and towels, and spare scrubbies for dishes. I had just organized the drawer, washing everything and putting it away neatly when I noticed the first calling cards of the unwelcomes. This meant I had to rewash everything. I set a trap and caught a mouse. I set the trap again. Another mouse.  Set, repeat. I keep cleaning the drawer, keeping it empty, and resetting the trap. The local news reports that there are record numbers of rodents in New England this fall. Mice, rats, squirrels. I think the mice are all at my house.  I've moved my kitchen cloths to a basket on the counter, but I miss being able to use my handy drawer.

Chris found some special bait that is supposed to be extra appealing to rodents. I cleaned the drawer, lined it with fresh paper towels, and set a trap. I used the new bait. I left the bottle of bait next to the trap in the empty drawer. The next morning, when I opened the drawer, there was a story told.
Little rodent calling cards. A trap still set, but the bait licked clean, and the lid of the bait container gnawed. One clever, competent little vermin. Although frustrated, I had to laugh at the tale that was written in the drawer. 

The lambs we are raising this year are very friendly. A little pushy, even. Friday when I was out feeding the pigs, my coat pocket was full of treats. I was trying to feed the pigs, which can be challenging in and of itself, when one of the lambs nearly knocked me down, trying to put his big head into my pocket and cadge cookies.  I pushed him away firmly with my right hand, and immediately regretted my action.  One might think lambs are soft and sweet and cuddly. In reality their heads are like cement blocks. The inside of my right wrist instantly began to throb. Then it began to itch like crazy. I had managed to burst a blood vessel or two, and a lovely hematoma was developing. It smarted all day.

We used to have a rabbit problem. With a lot of effort, we had gotten down to 3 loose rabbits on the property. I knew for a fact that two were females. I suspected that the third was also a girl, because we had no babies all spring and summer. I was feeling very happy about this. I have to admit I enjoy seeing rabbits hopping around the place, even though they can be destructive to plants and property. A few weeks ago I had a dream that there were baby bunnies hopping around the place. Two days later, I glanced out the window and saw one baby rabbit. "NO!!!" I said out loud. Because there is rarely only one. I set a live trap and the babies happily hopped in. One, two.. seven. TEN. All caught and moved to a safe hutch. Two more remained. A dozen unwelcome babies.  The new hutch is in the garage. The other day I heard the bunnies ricocheting off the walls of the hutch with a lot of vigor. I peeked in to see what was up. 

Click was hanging out with the baby bunnies. He meant no harm, and soon hopped back out again.

He was just hangin' with his friends.

When I am out in the pasture doing chores, I often have a shadow. That shadow is often Spirit.

I'll be walking along and feel a gentle brush behind me. When I turn, this is what I see.
Or this:

Living with animals. It's fun, sometimes painful, ever interesting, and often amusing.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Weather and rings...

It's been rainy. Heavy downpours that have turned the pasture into 4- 6 inches of boot-sucking mud. It's treacherous to navigate as I feed the critters, and I feel sorry for the goats, sheep, donkeys and pigs as they try to get from point A. to point B. in the deep mire. The chickens brave the rain, but look pathetic, like sodden feather dusters. They roost early, dripping, but by dawn are magically all fluffy and clean again. (There is a baby chick under this hen. It potters around the yard with its mama following it. When it gets cold or damp, mama plops down on top of the wee thing, and it stays cozy and dry all day.)

The pigs venture out some in the heavy rain, but mostly they stay lolling in their little hut, which is stuffed full of sweet smelling hay. At meal time they run out happily, making sounds which I think are what gargoyles must utter, a continuous cacophony of rumbling tones, interrupted by ear piercing shrill notes. It's a combination that would sound terrifying if you couldn't see what kind of creature was making them.

 The goats just flat refuse to get wet, and stay put in their cozy. The donkeys venture out for a moment or two, then go back to the donkey dorm, looking bored. Meanwhile, the ram lambs don't really mind the rain. Their thick, wooly garb keeps them comfortable, and they meander about, looking for edibles in the pasture.  They are all eating a LOT, probably because they are bored. We haul hay out to the goats, sheep and donkeys, and they are pleased. When they run out they stick their heads out the door and holler until their willing slaves fetch more chow.

Tomorrow is supposed to be nice and clear. We'll all be glad.

Meanwhile, our trusty mail carrier delivered an unexpected envelope.  The return address was from my cousin, Chris, in New Hampshire. Inside, a fun surprise.

She's been taking a jewelry making class, and sent some happies for Rachel and me.

Spinner rings, made from lovely copper. The top band twirls freely, and is fun to fool with when wearing. I gave Rachel hers when she came to work, and she was tickled. 

The weather has been delivering some dreary, wet days, but the postal service brought something lovely. My cousin sent us rings to brighten our lives! 

Thursday, November 1, 2018


Yesterday was Halloween. We don't get any little candy seeking goblins here, but we always have a bowl of goodies just in case. Chris buys big, full sized bars, so if we DO get a wee visitor, they are delighted. Still and all, we were left this morning with lots of candy we didn't need to eat.

There was a crew of guys doing tree work on the road. Flaggers on each end, then two or three big trucks and a chipper. We could see them steadily but slowly progressing up the street as we groomed dogs this morning.  There was a break in the schedule and I said to Rachel, "Let's go treat the tree crew." She liked the idea.

We hopped into my truck and drove slowly towards the working men. The first flagger tried to let us pass, but instead  we held the huge bowl filled with full sized Snickers, Hershey bars and Reese's' cups out the window. "Trick or Treat" we called in unison.  He looked a little irritated when we stopped, but when he realized what we were up to, his face cracked into a huge smile.  He snagged some candy. "Nice little farm you have here."  We proceeded down the line. Two men were sitting in the cab of the first truck. They looked at us quizzically when we stopped.  I held the bowl up.  "Trick or Treat!" we hollered, gathering steam. The guy behind the wheel laughed, and climbed down.  He called to his friend, who practically ran around the front of the truck.  They both nabbed snacks. And so we proceeded, slowly, down the line, as the bowl became more and more empty. The final flagger was a grumpy looking man. He gave me a hard look when I stopped. Then his eyes began to twinkle. "What's 'a matter? No trick or treaters at your place lasts night?"  I grinned and quipped, "We saved them for you!" He snagged a Snickers bar and thanked us.

Our bowl nearly barren, faces sore from smiling hard, we headed home. It's fun to treat.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

What's cooking..?

I was a picky eater as a kid. My mom was a good, basic cook, with a fairly narrow repertoire. An average meal was some cut of meat, rice, potatoes or occasionally pasta, and a vegetable. So it was with a great deal of hesitation that I went to dinner at my high school beau's house when I was around 14. What if I didn't like what she cooked? What if she made something weird?

 We sat at their cozy family table, and I was introduced to something called Hungry Jack Casserole. A fragrant, bubbling mixture of ground beef, barbecue sauce, and baked beans, topped with biscuits and baked. It was amazing. I got her recipe, (she was a wonderful cook and my recipe file box boasts many of her specialties,) and I still make it from time to time.  It's an excellent fall meal, soul satisfying and filling. I've been thinking about it lately and decided to cook it last night for supper. Rachel and Evans joined us, and brought some of Evans signature super delicious fresh Cole slaw. It tasted like autumn and happy memories.

Then today Chris and I embarked on a wee adventure.  Though the foliage is past peak, the world is still burnished in gold and copper, and we had planned to take a little drive. Then a plan I had been working on in the background came together.

In the past I have brought a buck goat here in the fall to romance my lady goats. This has worked well, and I had a guy dubbed Jolly Roger all lined up for an early November visit. Then I got to thinking, that I really didn't want as many goat kids next year as we had this last spring (11!) and it occurred to me if I only bred the two little Saanen doelings, and not the rest, life would be much more simple. And then the universe, as it often does, opened a door. Last week we groomed a dog that belongs to a nice woman who sold me my second goat. She has been a wonderful mentor to me for 6 years or so, but has been traveling and I haven't seen her for a while. She mentioned that she had a friend who lives about an hour from here who might be willing to board my two doelings and breed them to one of his Saanen bucks. She gave me his number, I left a message, and he called last night, just as we were finishing supper. I tossed our plans for a scenic drive out the window. Sort of.

 The farm we were to go to is in Unity, Maine, a lovely spot. We loaded the girls up in dog crates stuffed with hay and we enjoyed the views as we rolled to give the goats a date with destiny.

 They were bewildered, but seemed to think their new beau was interesting. Most Saanen goats are white, this guy is a sable Saanen, with splashes of color, and quite handsome. He certainly thought the girls were enticing.

We drove away with empty crates, leaving the girls to stay a while. Hopefully they will soon be cookin' up some kids.

Meanwhile... last week one of our favorite customers turned friend was here. We groomed her three dogs and at some point she went in the house to use the rest room. She came back in and said, "We need to re-arrange some furniture." Little did she know that I ADORE re-arranging furniture. It's in my blood. Game on!  In 15 minutes we had changed the look and feel of the front room, which we call "the snuggery."

It has a much better flow this way, and makes me smile when I see it. 

One more thing. Six or so years ago I bought a new refrigerator when the one that came with the house packed in. I was frugal, and the one I bought was a mistake. Too small by far, and poorly made. The exterior paint was rusting, the inside bits all crumbling. I never have liked it, though I did appreciate it's service.  When the ice maker on this poor 'fridge died, I took it as an excuse to go shopping.  I upgraded in a BIG way. And by big, I mean, I bought a behemoth of a 'fridge. And I love it. 

The cooking and eating seasons are upon us. I'm going to be ready!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Anniversary Part 1...

It's been a year since we hosted the wedding of Rachel and Evans here at FairWinds.
Rachel and I had so much fun planning the event. For 6 months we kept a notebook next to the grooming table, and jotted down ideas, plans, "to do" lists, and more. Our customers were excited about the event and contributed in amazing, creative, heart-warming ways. Family pitched in to paint and set up and cook and clean up afterwards. The entire collaborative effort was an unfolding gift that left us all feeling so grateful, uplifted and loved. All the time, creativity, work and planning culminated in the union of a couple that share a deep and amazing love. It's enough to make a mama's eyes leak a little.

Once the wedding was over and the happy couple packed off on a tropical honeymoon, I had time to reflect a bit. And I thought that as much fun as the wedding was, the actual event was a bit of a blur. I didn't get to talk to all the people I wanted to talk to, didn't get to meet all of the bridal couples friends, didn't get to chat with Evans lovely family as much as I would have liked. I thought, "Next year we should have an anniversary pot luck and invite ALL the guests back and do it again, but more causally."  But I realized people wouldn't want to travel this far for a pot luck and I tucked the idea away. Until a few weeks ago, when Evans brought it up. "Aren't we having a pot luck?"  So we did. They invited a bunch of their friends, and we invited a few of ours, and 20 or so people came by last night, in the damp and chill, and filled the house what chatter and laughter.

Evans brought the enormous bottle of special beer his dad gave them as a wedding gift. They set it in a huge tub of ice and figured out a way to dispense it. I don't like beer, but tried a sip, and it was rather good!

Chris smoked a turkey and I whipped up a pan of macaroni and cheese before working all day. Our last grooming client left at 3:45 and guests began to arrive at 4:00. It was a bit of a whirlwind.

We dressed the poor dogs up to celebrate.

Flirt was overjoyed to have company, and went from lap to lap, soaking up as much love as she could manage.  

The food selection grew as each guest arrived. No one went hungry. 

We ordered a sheet cake from the woman who made the wedding cake last year, because it was not only pretty but absolutely delicious. The sheet cake was every bit as yummy... and those leaves, aren't they lovely? 
I put the camera down and just enjoyed talking to friends, sampling the tasty fare, and sipping a cup of warm, mulled, wine. The day had been damp and dreary, but before sunset the clouds cleared and the world lit up. Inside the wood stove kept things toasty. 

Mostly I was warmed to see people come out to celebrate the first year of a good marriage. What shall we get up to for next year? 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Sauce and kindness...

As the growing season comes to a close, I went to my favorite farm stand and bought 30 pounds or so of tomatoes. I also bought some garlic, peppers, hot peppers and onions.  Rachel came over and soon all those vegetables were tucked into the counter top roaster. They mounded up over the top, but soon cooked down so the lid fit nicely. They simmered away for hours.

Until they looked more like this.

We let this roasted mush cool for a long time, then introduced it, in small batches, to the blender. 
Next, we added salt, pepper, olive oil, oregano, sugar, basil and some tomato paste, and let the whole thing cook for hours. 

 Stirring gently from time to time.  The aroma of those fresh tomatoes and herbs simmering away was indescribably delicious.
Now 12 quarts or so of delectable sauce are stored away for us to enjoy this winter. Lasagna, spaghetti, amazing soup... we can trot out our special sauce as needed to create memorable meals, redolent with the taste of summer. The memory of making it together will linger, too. A double win. 

While we were stirring, a package came in mail.  "Not from the U.S." Rachel said. I opened it with great anticipation. Inside a sweet letter from my cousin Karen.  The oldest daughter of my fathers older brother, she was smart and elegant, going off to join the Peace Corps in Africa with her brand new husband when I was just 6 years old. I remember they came to visit and brought us a board game as a parting gift. Monopoly, I think.  I've only seen her a handful of times since. They made their lives in Australia raised a family there. We share emails from time to time, and I am always grateful to hear from her. 

Inside the package was a wee, wonderful, handmade glass dish. A whimsical, happy horse painted in the bowl of it. 

My thoughtful cousin had sent it in memory of my beloved Chanel. And here something magical, the colors go perfectly with the hand drawn card and glass figure gifted to me by my friend Ilene. Now all three pieces are on my dresser, a little corner of happy horse memories.

Our pasture seems quite empty without Chanel in it. She brought a lot of presence to this place. It is sweet to remember the gifts she gave, and special that others recognized how dear she was to me. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

First days of fall...

If I had to choose, I'd say that fall is my favorite season. The gentle blending of hot,bright summer to cooler, copper days. I love to hear the Canada geese call as they pause on the pond during their venture south. I love evenings that call for an extra blanket, the dryer air, the colors that fall in New England blaze. 

I begin to decorate, to bring some of those colors closer. 

The little window box on the Silky coop had depressing, spent flowers drooping in it. So I gave it a freshen up.  Clack cat supervised my work.

Inside I am happy for the first fire in the wood stove, but am reminded that the bright work on it needs polishing, and a can of stove black is also added to the list I am making for my next visit to the hardware store. An armful of stolen hydrangea blossoms are tucked into a freshly polished copper bowl that was once my mothers. I polish the copper candlesticks, too, and some other small bits. Light summer crystal is packed onto the pantry shelves, now I want to see the glow of shiny metal.

The windows have been cleaned, because the days are already noticeably shorter, and we want to let in every ray of light of possible during the long, darker, months ahead. The lace curtains have all been washed, too, and hang, fresh, rid of spider webs and fly specs.

My summer cooking tends to be unimaginative meat on the grill and a vegetable on the side. But with the first hint of chill air I feed my bread starter and bake up a batch. I yearn for stews and soups and heartier fare, and regain an interest in preparing more complex meals. The bowl of apples on the counter is destined for a pie or cobbler, I can hardly wait to smell cinnamon and sugar baking around them.

The flower beds are almost spent. We've had a few light frosts, and they have done some damage. Part of me wants to just pull everything up now so the livestock can enjoy eating them, but the stronger part wants to hang on to every last brilliant blossom. As much as I enjoy autumn, I know that long barren months are ahead.
We've had many a monarch butterfly here these last few weeks. This late straggler was rescued from the hen yard where I found him drying his wings. I put him out of harms way and watched until he took first flight.
His brain is far smaller than mine, yet he has the sense to head to warmer climates. I'll hunker down, the basement stacked full of dry wood, and ready for fall to blend into winter.