Sunday, November 10, 2019

Making ready...

Today we accomplished many chores to get ready for winter. Chris climbed up the rickety garage attic stairs and handed down the gallon sized heated water bowls for the chickens and ducks and the great big heated tub for the goats and donkeys. We gave them all a good scrubbing and a thorough rinse, then got them situated where they need to be. The big one for the hoof stock goes under a window near the grooming studio and plugs handily into an outlet I had put there for this specific reason. In even the nastiest weather, I can toss a hose out the window and fill that tub, never having to haul gallons of water out. It's fabulous. The animals much prefer warm water when it's cold, too, so they drink more, which is good for them. We put a little hay next to the bucket so they'd be sure to see it, as it is in a different place than their warm weather drink trough.

Next I rummaged around and found some flat concrete paving stones. I put two in the corner of the hen house, and a third next to it to be a little step. This way their heated bowl is slightly elevated, so hopefully they won't kick a lot of shavings into it while they are scratching around. Curious things, they checked it out right away.  It's always a neat trick to prevent them from unplugging the bowl, but I'll hope for the best.

Chris ran a long extension cord from the garage outside, behind the chicken coop, and there we set up a deeper bowl for the ducks.  Ducks have to be able to submerge their nostrils when they drink, to keep things clear and clean, so they need a deep bowl. I will also take them 3 gallons of warm water each morning and put it in a low pan so they can have a little splash. When it gets really cold the water begins to ice over within the hour, so they learn to splash fast.  I feel sad that their wading pool days are over, but they are. They will have to adjust to the reality of winter just like the rest of us. Their pool was frozen solid, so it has been dumped out and we will tuck it away to be enjoyed in the spring.

Meanwhile we had a big discussion about the duck house. The house they have always had is a small, sturdy, (heavy!) wooden structure. It was originally built to be a dog house. The ducks fit in it comfortably while they sleep, but it gives very limited room to move about. This is OK if the weather is fine, because they are out waddling around all day and just go in the house to rest at night. But if the weather is crummy they'd be stuck in a small space. Chris suggested we move the house out and put a larger shelter there for them. With quite a bit of effort the heavy house was moved, the ground smoothed, and a fiberglass calf hutch tucked into the space where the former house was.  I put a fresh bale of shavings in and fluffed them up. This change gives the ducks more than triple the space of the old house, so if we have a lot of snow they can at least move about a little. They eyeballed the new digs, looked skeptical, and went back to pottering about the yard.

At dusk I went out to find the ducks sitting just outside their spacious new condo looking a little confused. To my delight it only took a bit of encouragement to get them to step up and in. I fastened the door to keep visiting foxes out, and felt very pleased with the situation.

Meanwhile...I got brave this weekend and started letting the chicks come out of the coop to explore the world. They have been quite excited with their new horizons, nibbling on blades of grass, scratching through the fall leaves, chasing a late moth. I am pleased to say that they have mastered going in and out of the coop with no difficultly, and both nights have tucked themselves into their safe coop as the sun went down.

 After I got the ducks tucked safely in, I stepped up into the coop and counted beaks. 8 of the chicks have learned to roost at night, but the remainder pile up in one corner of the coop. I counted, 20. I counted again. Still 20. I was missing a chick!  I got my flashlight and looked under the coop. No chick. I listened to see if I could hear a bird chirping in distress. The evening was silent. I tried to think like a chicken. Apparently I am pretty good at that, and I turned the beam of my flashlight into the duck house. The ducks had already snuggled into the deep, clean shavings near the entrance. I pointed the light back further, and way in the rear, nestled deeply, a white chick was sleeping. Perhaps she was looking for a space of her own as she bedded down this evening. I left her there. Hopefully tomorrow night she'll rejoin the rest of the chicks.

The winter readiness check list got a work out today. Hopefully we will get even more done tomorrow.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Memory lane...

My big sister died, too young, 17 years ago. She was a magnetic personality, a moth-attracting flame. Time spent with her left me with my jaws aching from smiling and laughing out loud. She collected fascinating things... arrow heads and pottery shards found on and around her land in Bowdoinham, and quirky, whimsical, antiques. At one point the sofa in her house consisted of a magnificent, vintage sleigh stuffed with pillows and soft blankets. The perfect spot to curl up with a good book.

A few weeks ago her beloved former partner contacted me. "We need to schedule a time for you to get some family stuff." I arranged to drive there last week, and Rachel wanted to join me. For some ridiculous reason, it never occurred to me that this would be an emotional trip. I was looking forward to seeing her partner again, and to visiting the magical home they shared on the water. I was quite blithe as we drove there. I was happy to see the snug house, the imposing views, and to hug my sisters love. 

We loaded our car up with the family things she had been saving for me. My heart strings tugged as I saw the familiar items. We walked over the lovely grounds and sat on the Dicy memorial bench as the sun went down. Waves of ducks lifted and sank into the wild rice growing at the waters edge. We went inside. Everything was familiar, yet different. from the last time I was there, shortly before my sister died. That had been a wonderful visit. She felt well enough to take us out on her boat, showing us where osprey and eagles nested, telling stories about adventures she had experienced in this beautiful place, and stretching my face into aching grins. We grilled steaks and tossed salad and I savored every moment with her, suspected they might be the last we shared. And they were. 

Once inside we sat at the majestic dining table.Pictures were brought out, stories were shared, questions asked and answered. My eyes leaked a little. 

When we headed home I was surprised by what an emotional experience our visit had been. Then I was astonished to realize how silly it was to have not anticipated the feelings I was awash in. 

At home we carefully unpacked the treasures I had been gifted.  Here they are: 

A marvelous fireplace screen, it's fabric fragile and threadbare in places. It is freestanding when the feet at the bottom are twisted, but now it hangs over the living room sofa. Dicy liked the image of the saucy woman canoeing. I do, too. 

This vintage, child's sleigh held me, and most likely, my siblings, and ushered us over snow and icy lakes. Somewhere there is a picture of me in it. The upholstery was red velvet then, I think. I am planning to use it for Christmas decorating, the possibilities are endless. 
This lovely fairy was originally an advertisement for Fairy Soap. It is hanging in my guest room now, and I smile every time I walk past the doorway. 

This old, wooden trencher was most likely used as a bowl to knead dough in. I remember it when it was my mothers. She used to let me use it as a cradle for my big baby doll, Susie. She would fill it with huge salads for parties and holidays.  For many years it graced the center of Dicy's huge table, filled with her partners amazing collection of vintage rolling pins. 

I feel blessed, honored and thankful to have it and the other heirlooms, under my roof, brimming with memories and a heaping portion of love and kindness.

Is there a donkey tooth fairy..?

Abraham donkey had a bad tooth. A molar, at the very back of his mouth. It was broken, and food was catching in it. The vet told me it was painful. She took a look but didn't feel confident about removing it, and referred us to an equine dental specialist. Did you even know there was such a thing? There is, and she came to the farm two weeks ago. She took blood work and x rays. She tranquilized our little donkey friend and poked around in his mouth. It was decided that she would return the next week, after ordering smaller tools to get into the tight space way in the back. She came with an assistant, and they hauled in stacks of equipment. Abraham got another dose of tranquilizer, and then a catheter was inserted in his neck. This was a tricky, fiddly process, but finally it was in place. IV fluids were started, along with a more serious tranquilizer. A nerve block was injected so he wouldn't feel any pain in his jaw.

 I locked the goats up in the Cozy. They ate some hay, then napped while Abraham was worked on in the next room.
The donkey ladies stayed close to the door, curious about what was happening. 

Once he was sleepy, his mouth got a good rinse with a medicated wash. 
Next, a heavy, metal, speculum was buckled to his head, and his jaws were opened wide. 

Many tools were used, as the veterinarian tried to remove the broken tooth. 

After much effort, some of the offending tooth was removed. A shard, attached to the infected root, remained. This was disheartening, but the vet told me that at least food wouldn't be getting stuck there, and his pain would be relieved because the wiggly, broken part was removed.

She said Abraham was a very good donkey, and then said, "I rarely use those words together in a sentence." He had been a wonderful patient throughout the hours he was worked on.

They took the speculum off, and unhooked his catheter. Wobbly, he wandered outside and relieved himself the liters of fluid he had been given. Then came and put his head in my lap. For a long time.

The vet and her assistant carried all the tools back to her truck. I set the goats free. After a while Abraham was more awake and began looking for food. I gave him some hay and he ate it. I paid the doctor, was pleased that my donkey was alert and hungry, then found myself sighing deeply. The whole experience had been more stressful than I had anticipated. Watching my little donkey go through that long, arduous process was hard. I felt wrung out.

Just then the phone rang. It was the man I was borrowing the buck goat from. "I'm on my way, I'll be there to get Bon Homme in 20 minutes." The buck is cute as can be, but wild as a March hare, and I knew catching him would be tricky. Back out to the pasture I went, with some goat grain. The lady goats recognized the bucket and came running. The buck was hot on their heels, because he wanted to be with them EVERY SINGLE SECOND. I locked them back up, just in time. The goat farmer arrived, and was pleased that he didn't have to chase his buck around the big pasture.He tied a length of baling twine around the goats neck and hauled him to his truck, and they were off.

Suddenly the farmlette seemed quieter. The donkeys dozed in the sun, the goats nosed around for late autumn plants to eat.

Later we had a fire in the back yard, then Chris and Evans teamed up to create a fabulous supper for us to share.

 Now we wait to see how donkey boy heals up. So far he is being a good sport, swallowing 14 antibiotic pills a day, and tolerating my fussing over him. He and I are both looking for a visit from the donkey tooth fairy.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Life lessons...

In high school I had a friend named Jamie of whom I was particularly fond. We'd often eat lunch together, laughing and talking about boys. Then, as it sometimes happens in life, we went our different paths. She went to college, got married, moved to Cape Cod, had two daughters. I thought of her often, but we had little contact.

Then a few years back we re-connected on Facebook. Social media has many a drawback, but there are wonderful things about it, too, like reforging old bonds.  Not too long after we started visiting on Facebook, I mentioned that my Flirt poodle had a puppy that was looking for a home.  Jamie was looking for a small dog to join their family, and they next thing I knew she and her husband were coming to adopt the pup.

I liked her husband the moment I met him. Tall and rather quiet at first, I soon learned he had a good sense of humor, a curious mind, and a deep love of his family. He enjoyed looking around our little farm, meeting the animals, and asking great questions.  Jamie explained that Harry was raised in the city of Lynn, and had not ever had much exposure to farm animals before.  He had a twinkle in his eye every time he came here, most especially when we would go spend time in the pasture. The goats would go through his pockets looking for treats, and his grin would brighten the whole place up a few notches.

Three years ago Jamie announced to her many friends and family that kept up with her on Facebook that Harry had been diagnosed with cancer.

They jumped right in to fight the good fight. And Jamie told us about it every step of the way. The medical treatments, the successes and disappointments. And how they chose to tackle this particular challenge. They decided to make memories.

The next thing we knew, they'd both retired. They went to Europe. They went to Iceland. They bought the cutest little retro looking camper you've ever seen, and they took off. We got to see it all. The wild horses, the buffalo, the national monuments. The ocean side walks, the rocks they climbed.They posted hundreds of "selfies," side by side, grinning, with amazing backdrops. We got to see the cozy camp grounds where they, along with their two little dogs, would cook and chat and laugh, relax and enjoy each others company. Chris and I had the opportunity to join them one time while they were camping in Maine. Burgers on the grill, dogs in laps, laughter and chatting all around. It was sweet. Every time they came to Maine they'd stop by. Rachel and I would groom the dogs, Jamie and Harry would bring us home made beach plum jam and other treats, and we always were richer for the time spent together.

Jamie and Harry were the sort of couple that everyone hopes to be. Totally comfortable together, supportive of one another. Jamie funny and outgoing, Harry a little more reserved, but obviously delighted to watch his wife's antics. They touched each other a lot... his arm around her shoulder, her hand on his leg. Warmth radiated from them.

This fall the Facebook news told us that they were not planning any trips. Harry chose to go on Hospice care. The posts never showed any self pity; each was full of courage and joy in the time they had together.  Harry started his next journey on October 17th. He was home, in the arms of the woman he so clearly loved and admired.

I am so grateful to have had the chance to spend some time with my old friend, Jamie, and my new friend, Harry. They have taught me much as they shared the story of the last three years. How to embrace all the good in life, how to be courageous as the sand in the hourglass dwindles. They took every step with deep love, and took the time to share with others how they lived life to the fullest while they could. You left us inspired, Harry. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


There was a knock on the door around 1 PM today.  My daughter opened it and said to me, "You have a buck!"

The man at the door was familiar. We have "rented" bucks from him before. Today he brought me Bon Homme, a buck born last spring. He was in the back of a pick up truck, with a cap on it. The bed was full of hay, and there was bucket of grain to keep the goat entertained. He looked a little worried.

Charles said, "He is not used to being led." I asked, "So, how are you planning to do this?" He said, I'm going to grab him and start walking. I went ahead, opening gates. 

My goats were in the far pasture. They must have smelled the new guy, because their heads snapped up, and they began to call, "Baaa?"

Running, they headed in our direction.  We brought the buck into the pasture. The donkeys saw us coming and began to bray.
The buck is terribly handsome. The dirty looking parts?  Male bucks in "rut," (ready to breed) urinate on their faces and legs to make themselves more desirable to the does. To humans, the scent is unpleasant. To does, it is irresistible.

My girls think he is the best thing since sliced bread.

Tonight they are all tucked up into the goat cozy with piles of hay. A big rain storm is headed this way, but the goats are snug and plotting kids for spring.

Bon Homme is a welcome visitor.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Project with a capital "P"...

It always goes something like this. My sweet sister will call and say, "Hey, what are you doing the weekend of ___?  Can I come visit?" We love her visits, so the answer is almost always a resounding "YES!" She lives about a 3 hour drive from here, so it's not like she can just drop in anytime.  As the time for her stay with us approaches we will have conversations about what we might do while she is here.  In the summer we might plan a beach day, or a kayak adventure. Sometimes we organize exploring some local antique stores, or a fun lunch out. But at some point she always says, "Let's just do nothing."  I roll my eyes.  Doing "nothing" is not really in her repertoire. The next thing I know we are on top of a mountain or something.

When Deb is here,  she always finds a project to make my life better. They tend to be rather ambitious and not a lot of fun, but the end results are usually excellent.  This weekend she decided my pantry was a problem. And as usual, she was right. The pantry is a dandy little space, but it tends to collect items that have no real home, and soon the shelves are overflowing. Also, I had TOO MUCH STUFF. Some of my stuff gets used for parties and such, (extra dishes, glasses, silverware, platters) but some of it was just overkill. "We are going to edit." My sister told me. I knew that was necessary, but also knew it would be painful. Letting go of stuff is hard.

Here is a picture just after we started. There is one empty shelf. We took everything off the wooden cabinet, took some measurements, and asked Chris if he might help us change things up. Then we went off for some adventures. When we got back the old wooden cabinet was gone, and a brand new wire shelving unit was ready to go it's place.  I had some attachment to the antique wooden thing, and it had lots of character, but it really wasn't very good at storage.

This morning, bright and early, we removed everything from both the other shelving units. There was vacuuming, scrubbing, and organizing for the next few hours.  No one organizes quite as well as my sister. Where I would have been standing around scratching my head and wondering what to put where, she was up and down off the ladder, moving and stacking, tossing and grouping. It was awesome to see.

Here is what my previously tidy dining room table looked like after we stacked STUFF all over it. The kitchen counters were piled high, and even the living room furniture had piles teetering on them. It was a little grim. We kept plugging away, and then the tide turned, and suddenly I could see order growing out of chaos.

There are still a few things to do. The top of the freezer needs to be sanded and repainted, and there is an old book shelf behind the door that houses bottles of liqueur. A new shelf is on order. By next weekend the room will be completely in order.

I can't wait for my sister to come visit again!

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Lost Kitchen...

You don't have to hail from Maine to have heard of this tiny, out of the way restaurant. It has been written of in the New York Times, as well as many national magazines. Reservations are so highly prized that hopeful diners must enter a lottery by mailing a 3"x 5" card to the restaurant during a small window of opportunity that is open every springtime. Last spring our daughter and son in law sent one such card to The Lost Kitchen. To their delight, they received a phone call a few weeks later, and chose a date to enjoy a meal at one of the famous tables tucked inside an old mill in Freedom, Maine. The restaurant received cards from every state in the US, and more from 106 countries! Imagine our excitement when Rachel and Evans invited us to join them. All summer, Rachel and I thought happily about the September Saturday that we had reservations, and as the time grew near, our anticipation escalated.

The drive to Freedom on windy, country roads, was lovely, even in a light rain. We started out by visiting the wine cellar where Evans chose beverages for us to enjoy with the meal.

We were seated at a comfortable table, and had a little time to look around. Great care had been taken with the lighting, and the room was illuminated with a warm glow. Candles flickered on old beams, and there were lovely touches everywhere.

 To be honest, I had expected the atmosphere to be a little ostentatious. To my delight, I was wrong. The building and staff were all warm and welcoming. Soon the room was filled with the sound of happy conversation. It was plain to see and hear that every soul there was feeling jubilant. The air was infused with a feeling of joyous anticipation. It was almost a holiday feeling.

I sat back and took it all in, relishing being in a special place with three of my all-time favorite people in the world.

I knew the food would be excellent, but I honestly couldn't have ever expected just how perfect and beautiful it all would be.

These little things were Mangalitsa pork sliders. I have never put anything quite so delicious in my mouth before. 

The chef, herself, served us much of our food. She had a whimsical look on her face when she presented us with a tray of these little glass hens. "Pick a chick," she smiled. Each tiny chicken contained a mouthful of lemon thyme sorbet. Icy cold, and fresh. 
There was incredible cold soup made with the last of the seasons tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and cilantro. It tasted like summer on a spoon. Then the most beautiful salad I have ever seen. It tasted as wonderful as it looked.

This was followed by scallops, nestled on a bed of grits.
Then there was a buttermilk pound cake, served on a bit of custard. Topped with whipped cream, golden raspberries and baked plums. The chef came around and droozled warm caramel sauce over each serving. I nearly swooned.

And just when we were all filled with incredible flavors, pushing back our chairs to groan quiet, happy, groans, they came around with warm-from-the-oven cookies, and a bowl with fresh local apples and the sweetest little grapes.
I sort of floated out. The rain had stopped, the evening was soft and warm. We had just had an experience. It was so much more than a meal. The people, the building, the feeling of being a part of what the chef has created there. It was inspiring, uplifting, a delicious treat for the senses. The Lost Kitchen. Found.