Monday, April 30, 2012

How to meet new friends...

This afternoon we were doing yard work. Mowing, weeding, raking, hauling and weed-wacking. It was lovely. A strange car pulled into the driveway and a woman got out. I thought perhaps they were lost. She approached me and said, "I drive past here all the time and admire your chickens. Is there any way you'd show me your coop?" Well then! There was the sort of invitation I don't get every day. "OF COURSE!" Little did the poor woman know that I long to yank total strangers off the street just to show them the wonderfulness of our "Coop de Ville." I was quite glad that it was recently cleaned, boasting gleaming windows and fresh smelling shavings. So then we got talking. The woman and her husband spent the last 10 years living on a boat. Before that they lived in Pennsylvania. They are building a new home near me. The woman said, "I want to be like you and have a lot of animals." I gave her my email address and said, "We can be new best friends." As soon as the words left my mouth I felt stupid. But her face lit up, "Really? I don't know anyone here!" So there you have it. Get a few chickens, make new friends. Life is good.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The loveliest of days...

When I woke up this morning the early sun was streaming in the window and my first thought was, "It's my day off!" That was fabulous and the day just got better and better from there. Shortly after getting up I looked out the window and saw the goats and chickens out in the greening meadow. I thought, "That is a picture!" Then I got my camera and made it so.
In an ideal world the baby chicks would be moved out of their brooder and be in their chicken tractor outside where they could eat grass, dig in the dirt, chase bugs and act like chickens. But it is Maine in April and the nights are cold; too cold for baby chicks to be cozy out of doors. But during the day I let them out if weather permits. They are getting HUGE! The bunny loves to hang out with the birds.
In the middle of wrangling the chicks and getting them settled safely outdoors, my sweet husband called out some of my favorite words. "Breakfast is ready!" He had made me buttermilk pancakes (my favorite!) with real Maine maple syrup... and an icy cold glass of GOAT MILK! We did a blind taste test of regular old store-bought cows milk and the fresh goat milk. Neither of us could tell the difference. And we are most surprised by this!
After breakfast I collected eggs... a thrill that never gets old for me. It is especially nice if I get there shortly after a hen has been on the nest and the eggs are delightfully warm. Smile guaranteed!
Belle, the Muscovy duck, is broody. That means she is sitting on a nest full of eggs, (and by "full," I mean there are 20 or more eggs there!) They should hatch in a few days and then there will be the delight of impossibly cute ducklings bopping around the place. I can hardly wait.
And THEN we got a call from a woman who was selling a goat milking stand. I needed one, and had been trying to get in contact with her. She said we could come right over so we got to take a lovely drive through the country to where she lived. We love taking a drive, and if that drive has something to do with animals, it is even sweeter for me. We got the stand home and I gave it a coat of Minwax stain and sealer. Then I got out some Sharpies and did a little "decorating." I am not the greatest artist in the world, but I had fun and the goat wont care about my lack of talent.
While we were out we bought a flat of Pansies. These sweet flowers have such happy childhood memories for me. My grandfather, Fred Chase, (we called him "Nimmy,") would herald spring each year by bringing us bright pansies. His favorites were the ones that looked like, "little faces." He'd help us plant them in the window box on our play house. My sister and I were fondly reminiscing about this the other day and she "helpfully" reminded me that we let those precious flowers die each year by forgetting to water them. I put this years pansies in funky old tin buckets and a favorite blue pot, adding color here and there around the yard.
Just when I thought my day couldn't get much better I spent a bit of time watching my bees. To my great joy I saw many of them bringing pollen into the hive. This means that all is well with the queen, and it makes me VERY happy. I remember when my daughter was small she and I were watching bees collect pollen from a Crepe Myrtle tree in Memphis. I was explaining to her how bees collect pollen to take back to their hive. She watched a while then sweetly asked, "Does they has little POCKETS, Mommy?"
Today is one of those days that I will fold up carefully and slip into my pocket. A treasured memory to look back on warmly when this lovely chapter of my life is closed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Old and new...

My friend has a small area on her property that was used long ago as a dump by previous owners. They have found old bottles, rusted metal, rolls of wire and more there. I was struck by the image of this abandoned doll while visiting today. What happened to the little girl that lost this doll? These are the kinds of things that keep me wondering.
We were really there to meet the new additions. This lightning bolt decorated bull calf was dubbed "Harry Pott-roast," after the character Harry Potter who has a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. Here is an interesting bit of trivia; newborn calves smell like lanolin. Clean and sweet.
And this little heifer calf is "Cookie." Seen here with her attentive mama, "Rose." These little newborns have a Belted Galloway bull as a father, a breed of cow that is black with a trademark white "belt" around their middle. They are also known as "Oreo cookie cows." The mothers are Dexter's; a small-ish breed of beef cattle. For the past several years we have bought beef raised at this farm to stock our freezer, delicious!
My friends garden is a blend of old and new... ancient boulders interspersed with fresh spring flowers glowing in the late day sun. Spring is the season that ushers in life and color. When framed against a background of old things all the new life is especially poignant.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Furniture finishing...

Dear Windsor Chairmakers; ( Oh how we love the beautiful table you made for our family. It is functional art and a treasure in our home. We have had many happy gatherings around its smooth and stunning surface. I remember when we ordered our table we were told to choose the level of "distress" finish that we wanted. I recently decided that we chose too LITTLE distress. I didn't want to trouble you by bringing the table back for more work from your skilled craftsmen, so I took matters into my own hands. And hooves. "Taco," the baby buckling Saanen goat came in and did some table dancing for us. He would be happy to come to your wonderful shop and help you with distressing furniture at any time. His fees are quite reasonable and he is pleasant to work with. I hope you can appreciate this new method of furniture finishing as we do! Many thanks, Daryl Conner and Taco

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This afternoon I decided to try milking our new goat. I have squirted a stream of milk from her udder a time or six, just messing around, but tonight I was aiming to bring in a measurable amount of milk. I brought my clippers home and shaved her udder of excess hair (so no errant strands would fall in the milk.) I washed her udder, dried it, and tried milking into a jar I had sterilized with boiling water. She was very good, despite the fact that I do not have a milking stand to keep her still. And this is not even mentioning that I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO MILK A GOAT! The buckling, on the other hand, wreaked havoc! He jumped on her. He jumped on me. He jumped on the table beside us, and leapt over us. He knocked over his mothers food, he knocked over the bowl with the udder wash, he tried to eat the paper towels. Then he knocked over the small amount of milk I managed to get out. This was a learning experience. I will be patient with myself, learn from my mistakes and soon Luna and I will be pro's at this milking thing! I spent the weekend in New Jersey at a big trade show, "Intergroom." Greeted old friends, met new ones, and savored the experience. But oh it is good to be HOME. My mother used to say, "It is good to go away, but better to come home." I recognize her wisdom. After a long dry spell we had a lot of rain over the weekend. The grass became greener and more lush looking almost immediately. The trees are budding out and spring is well under way. I love this time of year, and try to savor every second of it. This year I'll savor it with goat milk! If I can master getting the stuff from udder to bucket, that is.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guest Blogger!

I am off to a trade show in New Jersey for a long weekend. My good friend and talented writer Carol Visser wrote this piece and was kind enough to agree to be my first ever guest blogger! Enjoy... (PS I apologize for the lack of appropriate spaces and paragraphs. Blogger does not seem to find them necessary and omits any I insert.) Signs of Spring in Maine Glenn and I are from away. Yes, I admit it. Worse, we are from Massachusetts. But before you begin to think of the popular euphemism for folks from MA, especially those that moved to Maine – you know, the one that rhymes with Mass and ends in “..holes”? Please take a moment to realize that we moved here to get away from them. You see, I don’t disagree about that particular rhyming nickname for my former neighbors. For years I had to commute in bumper to bumper traffic, listening to swearing, insults, and threats against other drivers in summer, listening to horns madly laid on in winter, and always wondering if I’d be the next road rage victim in the news. Or perhaps not the victim, if that idiot ahead of me doesn’t get up to at least the speed limit…Sorry, it’s kind of catching. That’s why we had to leave. We were beginning to like who we were less and less, and enjoy our surroundings less and less. The signs of spring in Massachusetts alone could have told us it was time to go. As the weather warmed, the homeless people began to sleep on the park benches again, growling at my dogs as we walked by. The gang members came out of the crack houses and stood on street corners again, shedding clothes to show off tattoos confirming their violent predilections as the temperatures rose. We lived near the beach; great for dog walks in winter but come spring and the seaweed, skates, and fish dead of pollution began to stink up that option beyond using. The trees began to bud with lovely light green buds, but it was hard to notice them against the snowbanks that had been colored dark gray with dirt and car exhaust about 10 minutes after each snowfall. And so on. We thought of the delights that awaited us in Maine. We thought of budding trees, the charm of metal sap pails against venerable old sugar maples. We dreamed of pristine white snow melting into nature clothing the trees with verdant green, of snowmelt rushing towards the sea with whitecaps and that glorious turbulence of sound. And all that is very true and we enjoy it all every year. But are those the real signs of spring in Maine? Perhaps not. The ones I’ve noticed as being definite harbingers of the new season have more a taste of harsh reality. Such as mud season. If you’re not from Maine, you might wonder what that is, exactly. Most places have summer, fall, winter, and spring. Mainers claim summer, fall, winter, mud season, and spring. Maine has a lot of water. So with snowmelt, the ground is saturated quickly and then: MUD. Lots of it. In the yard. On the numerous dirt roads, on one of which I live. In fact, anyplace that isn’t paved, is mud for a few weeks. And not just any mud. This mud is based on clay. I call it “suck your boots off mud”. I call it this from experience. You think there’s an art to driving in snow? Try a dirt road in mud season. That takes a steady hand, a good eye, a willingness to stay below 10 mph and excellent karma in order to not end up in the ditch. Motorcycles. It might be March 29, all of 40 degrees at the warmest part of the day, and there goes a motorcyclist. Naturally with no helmet as there’s no helmet law in Maine. I’ve seen them in sudden April rainstorms, hunkered down over the machine as though to make a smaller target for the raindrops. You can almost hear them thinking, “But it was nice this morning!! And it’s Spring”. And it must be, if the motorcycles have emerged. Skid marks are another sure sign of spring. Suddenly everywhere you drive there are skid marks. Sometimes single tires from motorcycles, sometimes cars, but on nearly every paved road black skid marks appear. Do people really go out of control in their excitement over the weather, or do schoolkids have some competition going on? Spring wouldn’t be spring in Maine without the sightings of antique cars beginning. Enthusiasts gather at restaurants as the evenings begin to linger, admiring the paint jobs and refurbishments done over the long winter, each surely thinking theirs is best. But all are wonderful to see. Vehicles show us that spring has arrived in other ways, as well – I mean besides the absence of chains and snow tires - kayaks and canoes show up atop all manner of vehicles instead of the deer they might have carried in the fall. Yep, spring’s just about here. Robins return along with many other birds; those that have stayed here all along become more visible. Green things begin to emerge, daffodils and crocus – sometimes out of snow- but you really, truly, know that spring is in full swing and summer imminent in Maine when the blackflies hit. And you know what? Even when they do, I still don’t miss living in Massachusetts. Come on up and visit, it’s almost spring!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In the garden and goats...

Early peas? They are UP!
And so is spinach! I can hardly wait to eat fresh greens from my garden. Normally I do not plant one thing until May 30, when all chance of frost has passed here in Maine. This year I got all bold and planted hardy crops that like the cold. It is a treat to see tiny seedlings coming along so far before the time I normally plant.
The baby buckling is a delight. One cannot help but smile to see him as he runs (he is a RACE goat!) and leaps and twists. He is a vibrant creature, full of life.
And Luna, the "mama goat" is filling out on her new diet. She loves to be brushed; standing very still and squinching her eyes shut in obviously apparent bliss. She seems glad to see me when I come home, and rubs against me when I am near. If I am sitting she puts her face next to mine and becomes very quiet. We are becoming friends. Who knew I needed a goat? Who knew a goat needed me?

Slivers of happy...

Friends Cassie and Sydney gifted me with this hand made basket from Africa to collect eggs with. It is a pleasure in so many ways.
And the daffodils are blooming. They make me so happy.
We moved the baby chicks to a "chicken tractor." This gives them grass to eat, dirt to scratch, bugs to catch, sun to bask in and room to run and flap. They are happy as can be.
And I am happy as can be because my garlic is up! I planted it very, VERY late (December! It should have gone into the earth in late October) and was pretty sure it wouldn't grow, but it is growing, and I am tickled! These are the sorts of things that make me feel happy in my every day life.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pop goes...

I like to buy funky old tin buckets at yard sales. In the summer they look charming filled with potted plants. I set one out by the bird feeder, looking forward to the danger of frost passing so I can plant. Seeds from the feeder have been raining down into it, and today, a surprise popped out. Not quite a mass of geraniums but awfully attractive just the same!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bee happy....

Today we introduced the bees to the hive. My friend Marion is one of THOSE women. The kind of women who are supremely capable. She knows how to do so very many things... including how to care for bees. I am grateful for her letting me use her hive and for the way she so generously shares her knowledge.
This is the box that holds the queen. It is covered by other bees... which we knocked into the hive before putting the queen in her box there. With luck the bees will let her out in a few days by eating the sugar "cork" that keeps her in.
We wore exotic, comely outfits while we installed the bees. People driving by slowed down and stared. One neighbor yelled, "I just LOVE you." She finds me amusing. The bees never offered to bite us, but it was nice to be engulfed in netting while thousands of bees buzzed around us. I've wanted to keep bees for years, but never thought it was within my scope. I find that aging makes me more comfortable tackling challenges I previously thought too scary, too complicated, too MUCH. I hope this works out well and that the bees thrive and produce harvest-able honey. If not, I tried, and enjoyed the process.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


"If there's a buzzing-noise, somebody's making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you're a bee." Then he thought another long time, and said: "And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey." And then he got up, and said: "And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it." So he began to climb the tree." Winnie the Pooh
Tonight there is a buzzing noise in our garage. Two screen boxes, each about the size of a small shoe box, are humming on a table there. The boxes are filled with a boggling number of bees. The bees came from Georgia, on a truck. They arrived in Maine today, on a cold and blustery afternoon that boasted hail and rain and decidedly un-bee-friendly weather.
The poor things must be terribly confused, not to mention cold and hungry. My friend Marion will be taking one of the boxes of bees. She has bee keeping experience and, as always, is so nice to share her knowledge with me. She told me how to mix up some sugar water to feed the bees until we can introduce them to their hives. I followed the directions carefully, then, using a basting brush painted the sticky liquid on the screen sides. It didn't take long for it to all dissapear into the little bee bodies. I gave them more a bit later, and they were decidedly more active and buzzy after a snack.
Tomorrows weather promises to be a bit more bee kind, and we will introduce the newest additons to their new hives. And hopefully they'll settle in happily, make lots of buzzing noies and honey, "so I can eat it." That would be sweet!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Things are hopping..!

A reader commented she was happy that I had posted several times in the past few days. I told her that there was lots of stuff happening around her because it is spring. In the winter my posts tend to be; "It's cold. It snowed. The fire is nice. I cooked comfort food." I even bore myself! But now there are bunnies romping in the meadow, baby chicks learning to hop and flutter and the cutest little buckling dancing on the greening grass. It is a feast for my senses and my camera is getting a work out.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chicks on the move...

We've been brooding our 50 chicks in a big wading pool in our pantry. This was great fun at first, they are so darn CUTE and they make the sweetest little sounds. But as they get older and bigger and eat more they also poop more and that poop does not smell lovely. They also produce what is called "dust" from their feathers. And that dust goes everywhere! So, today's project involved creating a new space for them out of the house. I cleared a section of the garage and made a nice little enclosure out of bales of shavings. Two unused screen doors made the end walls. I put a log in for them to hop on, set up their food and water and heat lamps and then caught them. They were not amused by this. Two of them hopped right out of the pool during the commotion and skittered, peeping, around the room. One by one I put each chick into a big huge bucket. It took two trips, 30 chicks in the first batch, the rest in the second. They were so upset by the excitement that they all huddled in a corner of their new enclosure, then one by one they fell fast asleep. After a very brief rest they woke up and began to explore their new surroundings. There was much running and fluttering and general liveliness. I pulled up a chair and watched "chick TV" for a bit. In a week or so they'll be feathered out and we can move them to the great outdoors. Stay tuned for photos of that adventure.

A sadness...

Last November I adopted this cat from a customer. Their life style had changed and they wanted to do a lot of traveling. "Archie," the cat, would have had to spend a lot of time at the boarding facility. He was 13 when I brought him home, and I admit to some hesitation at adopting an older pet. But he was big and healthy and handsome and I had admired him over several years of regular grooming visits. I renamed him Catfish Hunter and he has been a delight to have around. A few weeks ago I noticed his appetite had decreased some. And he did things he didn't normally do, like hang out in the bath tub. And the lymph nodes under his jaws were enlarged. After this discovery I palpated his other lymph nodes and to my horror they were all huge. So, off to the veterinarian where I got the news I didn't want to hear. Catfish Hunter has lymphoma. We are treating him with steroids to reduce his symptoms. His lymph nodes have shrunk to a remarkable degree and his appetite is back with a vengeance. We'll treat him as long as we can keep him comfortable and happy, and we'll enjoy his regal presence in our lives. In this photo he draped himself on the dining room table, joining supper guests as we enjoyed an after meal conversation. He looked so dashing I had to capture the moment. The animals I share my life with bring riches of pleasure; and when it is their time to go the deep sadness is tempered by the memories of past joys.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Delivery...

All week we have been happily anticipating the arrival of the goats. Early this morning we got the hutch for them moved to a snug spot under the pine trees. I put a thick bed of pine shavings down and piled one corner with good hay. I set up a bucket full of cool water and we rigged up fencing to secure the livestock area from the back yard. Then they arrived! Mama goat and her week old buckling, looking quite worried in the back of a pick up truck.
They set about to explore their new home... the mama bleating questioningly, obviously confused. She was born where she lived when I got her, so this is a huge change for her. Her kid was unconcerned, nibbling on everything and endlessly curious.
There were frequent trips to the milk bar...
And some hopping and bopping!
A cold rain began to fall and the goats discovered their house. If you look to the left you will see the buckling snuggled in the shavings, sound asleep. Mama goat is eating hay and looking around curiously. I hope she will settle in and be happy here in her new home. We laid in lots of food to fatten her up and improve her condition. She is a sweet, calm goat, and smart. She has already learned that there are treats in my pockets!

Thursday, April 5, 2012


In the past week I have had three different people tell me that they are jealous of my life. I have been wondering just how I should respond to this, or if I should at all. I decided to tell a story. In my heart of hearts I always wanted to live in Maine. I wanted to grow gardens and have lots, and LOTS of animals. But life happened and before I knew it I was living in a cute house in mid-town Memphis, Tennessee. My yard was about as big as a two car garage and we shared a driveway with our neighbor. It wasn't what I'd had in mind, but I had my little family and a lot of pets and I was happy. But my dream of rural life niggled in my brain and when I was 43 we packed up our every worldly possession and moved to Maine. We left our jobs, our security,all that was familiar, our pretty house and a lot of friends. It was hard and scary. When we first moved in I met neighbors who had beautiful gardens, a huge flock of free range chickens and some other livestock. Then I met a friendly couple who raised their own beef, meat rabbits, chickens and even had horses. I thought, "these people are living the lives I wish I had. Maybe in my next life I can do something like they do." My thinking was that at my age I was more the type of person to have a flower bed and a few dogs than herb and vegetable gardens and critters. 5 years later I was still feeling a little envious of the people who had lambs and hens and grew their own veggies. One day I looked wistfully at my neighbors chickens and thought, "I could have a few chickens. I'm not dead yet!" Before you could say "cock a doodle doo" I had a tiny coop and 4 pretty pullets. They brought be much joy and their eggs? Delicious! My friend then suggested we raise a couple of spring lambs to help "mow" our lawn. Next thing I knew we had baby lambs turning grass into meat. And we put in some gardens and grew garlic and potatoes, green beans and pumpkins and more. Fast forward to today... we raise meat chickens, laying hens and ducks (meat and eggs.) We've had lambs for 3 years, but this year are going to bring up a couple of pigs. We are adding a dairy goat and plan to move my horse home from where she currently lives at my friends house. All of this makes me happy and I tell stories of my adventures raising all these animals. I take whimsical photos to illustrate the fun I have. When I am not writing or taking pictures, I am: scooping poop, hauling water and feed, shoveling in the dirt, swatting bugs and weeding. And more weeding, and more poop moving. And it's all because of what I choose. When people tell me they are jealous it makes me feel... sad. I enjoy sharing tales of my adventures. Making people feel envious is never my goal. The life we have created here was born from sacrifice, tough choices, hard work and a heaping does of serendipity. I imagine other peoples lives are made from the same stuff; they just have fewer mouths to feed!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What gets my goat..?

Here is the truth. My husband would be perfectly happy living in a condominium where he never had to mow a lawn or fix a clogged drain. He is very capable, and can do all the things one must do to maintain an old house in the country, but it is not anything he really enjoys. So it is really quite sad for him that he has to be married to me... an aspiring homesteading type. Little by little I've added livestock to the place. And each addition means more work for both of us. There is fencing and housing and hauling and shoveling. It started out innocently enough with 4 laying hens. Then our daughter brought home a rabbit. And I got a few more chickens and raised a couple of lambs. Then some ducks and they had ducklings. This year we decided to raise two piglets. They are due to arrive in May. Two weeks ago my husband, (after enjoying an adult beverage) said, "We should get a dairy goat. We can feed its milk to the piglets to boost their protein intake." I looked at him, hard, for about 30 seconds. Then I hit the address for the local trade paper on my laptop and within about 5 minutes had sent an email to a woman advertising some dairy goats for sale. I mean, it isn't every day that my patient man SUGGESTS more critters come to live here. I put a deposit on a mama goat and her newborn kid tonight. They arrive next weekend. Now I get to learn how to milk... make butter, cheese, goat milk soap. Wheee!

The excitement of CHICKS!

The chicks are here, the chicks are here! 54 tiny balls of fluff, cozy in a kiddie pool in the pantry under heat lamps. They peep and run, eat and eat and eat and drink then lie flat in a warm spot, legs stretched out, looking quite dead. Then, like popcorn kernels in a hot pan they pop up and run and eat and drink more. They are endlessly entertaining, and the sounds they make are quite happy. I recently was chatting with my daughter and told her that one of the few things that makes me a bit sad about getting older is that I no longer feel the highest of highs of excitement that I did as a child. When I was little I would get so worked up about Christmas I would literally become sick to my stomach on the way to see what Santa had brought. The thought of a plane ride had me soaring with the thrill of adventure for weeks before the event. As I have gotten older the peaks and valleys of emotions have smoothed out some. At least, most of the time. When the phone rang and I heard the woman on the other end say, "This is Debbie from the Union Post Office. Your chicks are here!" I was so thrilled I nearly jumped out of my skin.