I slept in a bit, until 6:30. When I looked outside the early light of dawn showed me that the promised 6 or more inches of snow had, indeed, arrived while I slumbered. This topped the 10 or so inches we received two days before. My day stretched before me, a blank canvas. My only solid plans were that friends were coming for supper around 5:30 PM. I thought to myself, "Hmm. I can snuggle up by the fire and write today.I'll make hot cocoa. It will be cozy and serene." With that delicious thought in mind I dressed up in boots, hat, warm gloves, heavy coat and a neck cowl and hauling 40 or so pounds of water went out to do chores.
First I carried water to the poultry. Then I topped off their food container and tossed them sunflower seeds and cracked corn to snack on. Next I carried water and hay to the horse and goats. I then had to encourage the goats out of their cozy shed and out into the deep snow to walk across the yard to where they are milked in our garage.
Once they were milked I carried the milk inside, strained it, and let all the dogs, (including one that is visiting) outside. Then the dogs got snacks and I was back outside, carrying more hay and more water, shoveling any wet or soiled shavings out of the shed, gathering eggs from the coop.
Our neighbor stopped by and plowed out the end of our driveway where the town plows leave huge embankments of heavy, wet, salty snow. He came in for a cup of coffee and a sweet chat, then was on his way to help someone else out. My husband and I went outside with shovels and cleared the steps to the driveway and the yard. We shoveled the little path, and shoveled around where the cars park and spots the plow could not reach. We cleared our vehicles of snow, and shoveled out the bed of my truck. Then we gathered up our trash and recycling and headed out to the transfer station. After that we swung by the farm where I buy hay and filled the bed of my truck with stout, fragrant bales redolent with the scent of summer. When we got home we unloaded the hay, and I checked on all the livestock (wading through knee-deep snow!) and gave everyone a snack. At 12:30 those chores were done and I sat to have my cozy day. Knowing that very soon I'll need to hop up and prepare the meal for friends, tidy the house and ... take care of all the animals again!
The snow is beautiful as it falls, and it blankets the world around me in unbroken perfection. But it does make for more work, and not so much time to drink cocoa and write!
Sister Deb came to visit... and snuggle puppies. The pups are growing, filling out and becoming more active. They are achingly cute.
The goats got coats for Christmas... and since we had a Nor'Easter that deposited about a foot of snow here and the temperatures have been in the single digits, this is a good thing. They also got home made treats from a friend, and they ADORE them. I am going to have to beg her for the recipe, because no other treats have ever had quite this sort of enthusiastic reaction.
I've been bird sitting this character for about 10 days. His name is Woody and he is an Eclectus Parrot. He has an expansive vocabulary, and has been a well loved pet for 25 years. He says things like, "Good BOY!" "Hickory Dickory Dock" "Come to Mama" "Where's the ball?" (He loves his toy balls!) He has been a pleasant companion while here, except for occasional bouts of ear piercing screams. He goes home today, but will hopefully come visit again when his owner travels next.
I've had a few lazy days off, and have a few more before I return to work. Treasured, peaceful days with no agenda. Bliss!
Smooch was very excited to find what Santa left him in his stocking (Balls! He is mad over balls!) We very much missed Lilly, our Boxer this year. She was so smart that when we hung the stockings up in early December she would check them EVERY DAY. On Christmas morning when she found them filled with toys and goodies she would sit very still below them, staring up and wiggling her stubby tail as hard as she could. That dog understood and appreciated the miracle of Santa Claus!
Our daughter occasionally borrows our cameras and proves to have a very good eye. She takes wonderful, intuitive photographs. She was delighted to find a camera of her own under the tree.
Poppy pug found her 13th (or is it 14th?) Christmas to be a bit of a bore. Same old same old... people giving her things, making sure she had a wonderful day full of treats.
Our day was peaceful. Punctuated by good food, good will, generous and thoughtful giving. The best thing about Christmas with our little family is that there is no angst. Just pleasant peacefulness. It is how we like it.
Our daughter is home for the holiday and we had a wonderful Christmas eve together. We made two kinds of yeast bread, tidied the house, watched Christmas movies and baked sugar cookies. Then I tossed said daughter up on Chanel the pony. Chanel had her new wind bells on, and she jingled sweetly as we walked up to our sweet neighbors house and dropped off a box of goodies. We sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in the gathering dusk. Our neighbor said she teared up a little to see us there. (Or maybe it was our singing?)
My daughter giggled,"Well, we are making a memory." A happy one, I think!
On December 19th, after a long and restless day, Flirt followed me as I did my evening chores and was quite insistent that I settle somewhere. She was ready to have her puppies, and she wanted to be very near me. I made a sandwich instead of cooking supper, put on my comfy clothes, grabbed a stack of towels and hit the sofa. Flirt snuggled in and napped for about an hour, then arranged herself on my towel covered lap with a lot of panting and nest making action. Then she began to push, her little rear legs bracing against my leg. Very soon the ageless miracle occurred, a tiny new life emerged from her body. The pup was encased in a little form fitting sack. Flirt licked and nibbled and in seconds had the puppy free. I had to avert my eyes as she ingested the afterbirth and used her razor sharp teeth to nip the umbilical cord oh-so-close to the wee babies body. Within seconds the pup,a girl, not much longer than my finger, had found her way to her mama's belly and was nursing with gusto. After a rest of about 20 minutes, another pup was delivered.
This one a boy. Flirt repeated her deft clean up action and I took the chance to grab a photo of the wee things while the third and final puppy, another girl, emerged. All three puppies are quite sturdy despite their size, and vigorous. They are all eating well and have grown and filled out noticeably in the very brief time they have been alive. Flirt is a dedicated mother. I have to force her away from her pups to take care of bathroom needs and eat and drink. She keeps them well polished and warm, and has a look of glowing bliss as she snuggles up with her babes. Though the past few weeks have been rife with horrible news around our country, and personal loss as well, the addition of these sweet, innocent puppies is a welcome miracle in our lives.
And this... this is a cup of kindness! I have been working very hard to NOT get a cold, swilling Aireborn every few hours and thinking very healthy thoughts. My friend Carol stopped by my house today to pick up something I had left for her. She called me and said, "I left you some homemade chicken soup for your cold." This was the most welcome of surprises! I came home in an icy downpour and got drenched taking care of the animals. When I came inside, dripping wet, I put the soup on the stove before I changed to dry clothes. And soon I was snuggled up with a cup of kindness that warmed me in a variety of ways.
I love snow. Particularly in December. That whole "white Christmas" thing makes me undeniably happy. This snow is nice because it is quite cold out, so it is light and fluffy, easy to shovel!
The poor chickens don't like the snow, no matter what month it arrives. They huddle about dejectedly in the coop. This one ventured out, hated it, perched on the gate and stayed put until I scooped her up and carried her "home."
I am listening to Christmas Classics on Pandora,something I have very much enjoyed this season, and baking sugar cookies while the snow comes down. I heard someone outside and looked out to see a stranger plowing my driveway. I am not sure if they were confused or if they were practicing a random act of kindness, but I am most grateful!
Before the sun sets I'll go out and fill the livestock water buckets, top off the wild bird feeders and make sure everyone is snug and well fed. Then I plan to finish off the day by wrapping some presents. December snow days agree with me.
A man I went to college with recently put the following post on his Facebook page:
"Tell ya what. If you ever forget how much you're loved, just start unpacking all those Christmas ornaments people've given you over the years. Oh my God. Life is good."
And so it is. My tree was semi-naked for about a week. I had lights on it, and a few of the crocheted snowflakes pictured in the previous post. It was so simple, so pretty, I nearly left it that way. But I was rummaging through a box of ornaments looking for one I wanted to attach to a wreath I was making, and the memories began to scroll through my brain like one of those grainy 1950's home movies.
There are a handful of decorations from my childhood,one from my long ago boyfriends grandparents,a few from college friends who have long lost contact with, a small box full from our first married Christmas. Then the "babies first Christmas" ornament, a wee bassinet with a blond baby in it that was gifted to my by sister Deb when our daughter was born. The ones from customers whose dogs I groomed nearly 30 years ago,(and still remember!) ones from neighbors at various places we have lived. The hand made ones from my precious friend Betty Sheetz Rohrbacher made me stop what I was doing to go get a tissue. She died too young and I miss her too much.
There are hand painted kitties made by my niece, and a coffee filter angel created by my daughter in Montessori school. My favorites are hand crafted, some by new friends here in Maine.
So, my very simply decorated tree is now a jumble of ornaments gifted over the span of 3 decades. It is a glowing reminder that I have been well loved, and that yes, life is so good.
I like old stuff. I like to use old stuff in new ways.
At a junk store I unearthed a box of prisms that once decorated a chandelier or something similar. Now they decorate my Christmas tree. They reflect the little lights so sweetly.
I delight in unwrapping the ornaments tucked away all year. I bought these crocheted snowflakes many, many years ago. They look so pretty on the green boughs. This year I am decorating the tree slowly. Lights and a few ornaments up last weekend. I'll finish up this weekend. I've never done this before, but it feels nice, to stretch out the pleasure and the beauty.
My good friend and co worker Beth died last week. She was fine on Tuesday. We chatted about Christmas, shared some laughs like we did every day, and as I left work I saw her run to her waiting husbands truck. She flashed me a huge smile and gave a big wave. And that was the last time I saw her. She never woke up Wednesday morning.
None of us were ready to say goodbye. Beth was smart, funny and wickedly creative. Her patience was epic. She left a lot of heart broken people (and pets!) behind. I should be able to write something better about her. Something memorable. But I am just too sad.
The thing I find the hardest, and have since my grandmother Waters died when I was 5, is that a very important person can die and the world doesn't even slow down a little. The sun keeps rising and setting, chores still demand attention, meals must be cooked. It has always seemed to me that there should be some sort of cosmic pause. Some kind of global recognition that a momentous thing has happened. A good heart has stopped beating and a huge void has been created.
But that is not how it works, of course. The world does not stop. But I still think it should.
It is with mixed sorrow and relief that I tell you the pigs have gone off to "freezer camp." I miss them. When I go out to the pasture I look down to where their large pen was and am startled not to see their dark, hulking forms. I listen for their companionable grunting to each other and only hear the wind over the winter grass.
I would have told you that I could never, EVER raise an animal and then have it butchered. I've loved animals all my life, and could not imagine becoming attached to one, then eating it. But my perspectives have changed. Much of this is due to the
influence of my friend Marion. She got me to thinking about raising animals for food one day while we were riding our horses together. I may have blogged this before, but will repeat this bit. Marion raises wonderful beef cattle. She loves her cows, takes excellent care of them, and enjoys having them. I told her I didn't understand how she could see a calf be born, all innocence, big eyes and wobbly legs, then know it as it grew, then eat it. She is German and precise in both her actions and dialog. She simply said, "I know my animals have had a wonderful life, with just one bad day."
When one looks at the food system in our country, it is clear that most of the animals that end up in tidy packages at the grocery store did NOT live a wonderful life. Marion's words got me to thinking. This was all several years ago. Since that time I have raised chickens, lambs and now pigs for our table.
I can tell you this. It is an awesome responsibility to raise livestock for food. I have spent hours reading up on the proper care and feeding of these animals. I have been up at dawn carrying food and hauling water in the dark of evening, and we have spent more money than I really care to think about to provide proper food and housing for each critter on the property. I take great pains to make sure that their physical, social and nutritional needs are met, and that the short lives they have are happy. I also take pains to make sure their end is swift and humane. And when I sit down to a meal that originated from here on my tiny farm, there is a reverence, respect and gratitude for the food that I never felt when I bought it at the local market. And if you are curious, I will tell you that home-raised chicken, lamb, beef and pork do taste different from any you ever bought at the grocery store. The flavors are intensified somehow, the texture more firm. The experts tell us it is better for us, too.
The relief I mentioned in the first line of this post? Getting the pigs to the butcher was a bit stressful. Marion kindly brought her livestock trailer to our house several days beforehand. She parked it in the pigs pasture, so they could get used to the look and smell of it. The plan was that I would feed and water then in the trailer, so it was not a scary thing. The girl pig hopped on moments after it was parked, eager to explore a new place. The boy pig was wary. I fed them there, and if he hopped on I never saw it, until the day before they were to take the "big ride." Then he clambered up and ate his breakfast, and I figured we were home free. But that night he refused to go in for his supper. I spent a sleepless night fretting and worrying. If he would not get on in the morning we'd have a problem. He was too big to muscle, and one reserves a butcher date months in advance. Besides, my friend and her trailer were reserved for this specific date, I didn't want to inconvenience her further. To my delight the boy pig did hop on, after a few heart stopping moments. But then there was an episode of truck and trailer being mired in the mud. Mud! In December! In Maine! It is practically unheard of. But in the end the pigs rode calmly, unloaded easily and didn't seem to be the slightest bit upset. This weekend we'll bring home boxes of home raised pork and try to fit it in our freezers, which are already crammed with beef, chickens, ducks and lamb. And I will mix in some feelings of pride and gratitude to go with my sorrow.
One of the things I like to do to decorate our home is to fill antique bottles with flowers and put them all over the place. I place them on random window sills, in the bathroom, on the table, in the hall, wherever strikes my fancy. In the summer I use wild flowers that I pick, in the winter I buy roses or simple mixed bouquets from the grocery store. I get a lot of mileage out of flowers this way, and it makes me smile to see them all over the house.
When my husband was going to the grocery store a few days ago I asked him to please bring me some red carnations. I like carnations because they last a long time, and are simple and cheerful. I wanted red because I thought they would be nice and Christmas-y. My sweet husband did as I asked and brought me a big bunch of happy carnations. Pink ones. My first thought was that pink was NOT a Christmas color, and I was a bit chagrined. But I gathered up my bottles, went out to the woods and cut some pine boughs, and set about to arranging the little bouquets. They looked very pretty when I arranged them, and I got to laughing at myself... I almost got stuck in "perfect" mode. My pink carnations are not what I had in mind, but they are just lovely and I am enjoying them so much. I am also enjoying the lesson that things don't have to be "perfect" to be wonderful.
A light, fine snow came down all day on Saturday. It would have been the perfect day to go pick out our Christmas tree. But I worked, so that was out! Sunday, as we went to our favorite place to pick out our tree, a cold rain was drizzling down.
The experience would have been so much more picturesque if it were snowing, but we had fun despite the lack of "perfect" tree buying weather.
The little sign on the window was perfect though... I love to live in a place where this is possible. I wish for you some lovely imperfections, too.