Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Snacks and cold...

When I stepped outside at 6:00AM to milk and do chores the soles of my boots made a loud squeak on the deck snow. I breathed deeply and the air was cold enough to be uncomfortable in my lungs, so I glanced at the thermometer to tell me what my boots and respiratory tract had already told me, it was cold! The thermometer clarified my findings with the report of -4, very cold. I was glad I had put two coats on my Luna goat.

After chores I came inside to thaw out, and tackled my first "big" project of the day; taking down the Christmas tree. This is a chore I dread each year. It is sad to remove that glowing, happy symbol, and it is just not a pleasant job. I vowed to get it over and done with swift efficiency, and set a timer to gauge my progress. To my surprise I had ornaments removed, neatly packed, lights rolled up and the tree hauled out of the house in approximately 26 minutes! It seems to be a lesson I must learn and relearn, the tasks that loom so dark on the horizon of my day really take up a very small amount of time. I tend to spend far more time fretting about them than I do accomplishing them once I begin.

Once the pine needles were swept up, I put on my winter clothes and went to check on the animals again. When the weather is this cold I try to give frequent snacks and make sure the water is thawed. The chickens and ducks appreciate a handful of lettuce, an old apple, or a handful of sunflower seeds. The pony adores a ginger snap, and the goat...

Likes to eat Christmas trees!

One of the wonderful Christmas gifts I received this year is pictured here, the bag hanging from the gate. It is called a Nibble Net, and is a specialized hay feeder. You see, animals like horses and goats stay warm, in part, by their digestive process. They eat hay, and their body produces heat as they break that hay down into usable nutrients. Most horses, and especially mine, will eat every scrap of food left out for them, pronto! This means that during the long cold night, or the days I am away from home at work, the horse polishes off the food I leave her, and then has hours with no food available to her. To leave enough food to last her all night or day would mean that she would become even more overweight than she already is, not a good plan.

The Nibble Net is a solution to this worrisome problem. I can cram it full of hay, and the horse can work at it to get small portions out at a time. This means that she has food available to her and I can worry less. And less worry is a good thing.

Please note that the horse whiskers are coated in frost... it is so cold that her very breath freezes. She does not seem to mind. She has hay!

And speaking of snacks, we are going to our friends house for supper tonight to celebrate New Years Eve. We celebrate together most years, and have developed a nice tradition... supper around 7, and then we are in our respective homes snug and cozy no later than 10. We agree that we are fuddy duddy's and we don't care. My contribution to the meal is what I consider to be a rather fancy dessert, Tiramisu. I've never made it before, it seemed a daunting recipe, but I gave it a whirl today. I made it from a recipe I found on Epicurious. It involved things I do not normally cook with like Marscapone cheese and dry Marsala wine and lady fingers. I snuck a fingerful as I assembled it and it tasted quite good. It is chilling now on the porch, and I have high hopes that it will be well received at the celebration. This sort of cold weather makes everyone appreciate a nice snack.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Date time for goaty girls...

It is time. The doelings, born 3/31, are almost 10 months old. They are big and sleek and today we put them into the back seat of the pick up and skated towards a date with destiny.

When the sun slipped out from behind the clouds,it set all the ice along the way into millions of prisms. Gasp worthy!

The roads had quite a lot of snow and ice on them, and we drove carefully. It took just about an hour to arrive at our destination. The girls rode calmly, making the occasional quiet little bleating sound. No potty accidents occurred. GOOD goats.

This big, beautiful, old barn belongs to my friend Joy. She has quite a few goats, and raises Sables. This is the farm where we bought the mother of our doelings, and it was a sweet sadness to bring them here to (hopefully) continue her bloodline.

The girls were curious about the new surroundings, but walked calmly on leashes into the big barn.

We introduced Celeste and Novella to the buck. There was some canoodling.

And some discussion about manners.

The girls will stay a while and hopefully be bred so we can have some sweet new kids in June.

Back home, Luna goat and Chanel pony are looking everywhere for the doelings. I wish I could tell them that they are safe and cozy and will be back soon.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in the dark...

We had an ice storm last Sunday. We made preparations in case we lost power, but all was well. On Monday morning I was at work and my neighbor called, they had lost power at 9:00 AM and wondered how we were. I put the thought out of my mind until I got home and found that our little house was shrouded in darkness.

Luckily we have plenty of oil lamps, candles and flashlights. We put them to good use.

Our daughter arrived that night to a dark neighborhood and lots of Central Maine Power trucks working on our road. We woke on Christmas Eve to find the umbilical cord that attaches our home to electricity was still lifeless. Rachel and I tidied up the house, I cleaned out the pony stall and the chicken coop, then we went into town and grabbed a bite of lunch and did a little last minute shopping. We wore our flashing Christmas ornament earrings, and walked hand in hand, wishing everyone we met a Merry Christmas. It was great fun.

Then we got home and did what everyone does when they have no electricity. We had friends over for supper!

The house was pretty warm with the wood stove going, and we so many candles burning that a neighbor called to ask if we had our power back on because our house looked so bright when they drove by. And Chris cooked the most amazing meal. Here was the menu: a standing rib roast of beef, a locally raised ham, sauteed mushrooms, baked potatoes, garlic bread and asparagus. We cooked everything either on top of the wood stove or on the grill outside. That roast? Magnificent! We had a lovely, laughter punctuated meal with our friends.

The thermometer dipped down to 5F during the night, and I was very worried about our pipes freezing. Chris to the rescue again... he put a propane heater in the basement. Christmas dawned extra cold, but the house was cozy and warm. I milked the goat by the light of my trusty flash light.

Outside the world was awash in rainbows and crystal.
Inside... still no electricity.

Not a problem! Pancakes and left over ham (from the night before) on the wood stove.

And then... the knights in armor on orange trucks were outside. Again. Next, the lights were on, the water running, the heat working. A lovely Christmas miracle!

Arctic blast and no electricity? Not a problem. We were warm, cozy, well fed and happy at Christmas. It was a wonderful holiday.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ice, ice, baby...

The weather people called for ice and they were not kidding.
I woke at 5:00AM (thanks to a dog with a potty urgency issue.) I lay a moment in the dark and quiet, and heard the unmistakable pinging of ice on the windows. Then I heard the rumble of the sand truck and saw its lights pass by.

Once up, dressed and down the stairs I ushered the dog in question out into the weather. She was not amused, but took care of business. We were both glad to go back to bed for a while. At 6:00 I rose to do chores, but before I stumbled blearily outside I dug into winter storage drawer and found my ice grippers. These were a gift from my friend Liz several years ago and they have no doubt saved me from several uncomfortable dances with gravity.

Outside, in the dark, the thermometer registered 32. Icy rain pattered down. Our cars were uniformly coated in at least a quarter inch of the stuff, the light from my headlamp showed that everything in sight was glassy.

I made my way gingerly down the deck steps, and went to the garage where I store animal feed and milk the goat. The door was frozen shut and it took several firm hip checks to coerce its opening. Inside the air was chill and still and smelled of summer hay. I scooped feed into the bucket of the milk stand, then some into a bucket for the horse, and more into the old metal scoop for the kids. The path over the snow to the pasture was a shine in the light of my lamp. I walked in the deep snow to the side, making exaggerated marching steps and trying to stay upright. The horse met me at the gate, impatient. Starving, really. She pawed the iron ground and nickered her message, "Feed me. Hurry!"

Like the garage door, the gate was quite frozen. We fasten it with a tight elastic cord that we loop from gate to post. For some dumb reason I had not worn gloves outside, and by the time I got to the pasture my fingers were terrifically cold. I struggled with the elastic cord, peeling it from the frozen pole. The pony "helped" by rubbing her warm lips over my hands, "hurry, hurry, hurry" she urged. My fingers throbbed and ached and were repeatedly jammed between the frozen post and cord. In a fit of determination I finally managed to peel and prod and shove it up and over. Cuss words were involved, I am ashamed to say. The horse and goats jostled joyously around me, urging me to the shed where they well know food will be delved out. The routine is that I pour feed into the blue pony bucket fixed on the wall first, and the goats jam into their little room and call plaintively to me until I empty a scoop of food in their black rubber pan. Then I grab Luna the dairy goat out of the little herd and take her back through the pasture, through the back yard,and to the garage where she has breakfast and gives milk. She was quite unsure of the footing. Goats do not like to get wet, and it took a good bit of encouragement, (and dragging) to get her to our destination.

As soon as I turned her loose, she hustled back over the glare, stopping just long enough to get a long drink from the heated water bucket. Then she tucked herself into the goat room, safe from the stuff falling from the sky. There she stood in clean, deep bedding and helped herself to the plenty of hay that is kept there. The kids prefer to eat the horses hay,but now that the weather is bad I find all of the goats snuggled up in their cozy room quite often.I am so happy to have that space for them!

It took several more trips back and forth to fill water for all the animals, and top off food containers. The Runner ducks came out of their shelter while I topped off their pan with warm water and tossed seeds and grain for them to scavenge. They do not like the snow.

There are very few cars going by the house today, showing that my neighbors are wise. I will stay here, too, and admire the glaze from this safe vantage.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December storm...

Oh in the Memphis years I yearned for a storm like this. Soft, deep snow, blanketing the land. The world outside my windows is all shades of grey and white...

The bird feeder is wildly popular; chickadees, junco's, nuthatches and more whir through the air and help themselves to the sunflower seed smorgasbord.

I was out the door at 6AM, as usual. To my sorrow the snow was deeper than my sturdy boots are tall, but I soldered through and got good and cold for my efforts. I was delighted to see that Luna goat was quite cozy in the new goat room, wearing her coat and chewing her cud. The cold bothers her terribly, but despite the 10 degrees registering on the deck thermometer, she was not shivering in the silver dawn.

Everyone got some grain, the hay feeders are stuffed full, and I hauled a bucket full of hot water laced with molasses out to them. Two out of three goats sucked it down happily, and the pony took her share then gave me some grateful nuzzles. It's important that the livestock drink enough, and the goats, especially, don't like to go out in the snow even to sip from their heated bucket.

There was more trouble with ducks (see previous post.) When I got home last night I found they'd escaped the calf hutch and were huddled miserably in the cold and dark under the coop. We managed to prod them into the small duck house, where I knew they'd be safe for the night, but not without some effort. This morning I opened the door there, put in a heated water bowl and a bowl of food. The poor brainless things then floundered off into the snow, looking very unhappy. I was cold and frustrated and left them to their silliness. Once chores were done I decided since it was Sunday and I had no plans for the day, I would treat myself to decadence. I crawled back into my warm bed and spent a few hours there feeling very cozy.

I got up just in time to enjoy pancakes and bacon that Chris had prepared. Delicious! I told him of the duck problem and he strapped on boots and headed out into the storm.

He found the ducks huddled in the calf hutch. A good thing! Sadly for them,however, there was no food or water there. Chris solved that problem, so now I am cozy in the house knowing all the critters are cared for.

And in the house is where I want to be. The snow is still coming down, making a thin, crystalline pattering sound on the windows and mounding high on everything.

The dogs have the right idea. I think a day spent wrapping gifts here in front of the fire is a fine plan.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ducks and snow...

According to the calender, winter is a few days away, but according to the world outside, winter is here and feeling fierce. We had a dusting of snow on Monday, and frigid temperatures since. It has been in the single digits at night, and below 20 during the day.

Temperatures like these make livestock keeping a bit more challenging. The water hose and faucet are frozen solid, so water must be hauled from the house morning and night. I fill 2 five gallon gasoline cans (clean and new, or course) with water and keep them near the wood stove. First thing in the morning and as soon as I get home from work I carry water to the hoof stock, (horse and goats) and the poultry, (chickens and ducks.) The hoof stock and the chickens both have electrically heated water containers. The poor ducks, however, had better get their water while it is still liquid, because within an hour or two it is frozen quite solidly.

The Muscovy ducks are pretty sly, and when the weather is very cold or stormy, they put themselves into the chicken coop where food and water is plentiful. (Point of interest, the chickens are free to come and go from coop to yard from dawn till dusk, but when the weather is this cold they stay quite firmly in the coop. Who says chickens are brainless?) The Indian Runner ducks,however, have found this cold, snowy weather to seriously cramp their style. Normally they are all over the property, foraging for seeds, bugs and whatever else strikes a funny ducks fancy. This week they have been quite forlornly hanging out in the barren space under the chicken coop during the day. At night they put themselves into the small wooden duck house. They look quite dejected all told. Hard water, no bugs, cold feet. It's a sad time for ducks.

We have snow coming, big snow if you believe the forecast. I've been fretting about those Runner ducks. So today I hatched a plan. I decided that tonight, when they went into their little house, I would catch them and lock them in the calf hutch. The calf hutch is like an enormous fiber glass dog house. Its original purpose was to house dairy calves, but at my wee farm it has sheltered chickens, pigs, goats and turkeys quite nicely. I have it next to the chicken coop, in a fairly sheltered spot, and filled with about 12 inches of dry bedding. So this evening, when dusk fell and the ducks were in their house, I set the calf hutch up with a nice pan full of clean, warm water, and big bowl full of food. I fastened a grate over the door, opened the side window and knelt on the icy ground in front of the duck house intent on catching birds. It was darkish outside, and real dark with my head and shoulders in the duck den. The ducks were startled to see me there, and began to leap about in alarm. I paused, pulling out of the low hut to think how to best accomplish my goal, and decided that seeing well was a must. I pulled my trusty iPhone out of my pocket, activated the flash light app and once again stuck my head in the doorway. The male duck dove over my hair, scrabbling wildly and tried to get past me. I snagged his long neck in my hand, prayed it wouldn't break and clutched him to my chest. He was not amused, flapped and scratched and made heroic efforts to escape. Since I have opposable thumbs and a brain someone larger than a small duck, I prevailed. But then there was the next problem. I have crummy ankles, tendon troubles in both, and getting up from kneeling is never graceful for me. Getting up on ice, clutching a terrified duck and an iPhone was less graceful still. But I am nothing if not determined, and I managed. I carefully skated across the icy hen yard, and placed the drake inside his new digs. Then it was time for round two. I carefully got down, aimed my light into the house, and grabbed for the hen. She dodged. She darted. I reached. I grasped. I did a face plant in the shavings. I was glad I had recently cleaned them.

Once again I struggled, gracelessly, to my feet, slid to the hutch, and inserted the unhappy hen inside with her mate. I shut and locked the window and felt most pleased with my efforts.

Now, how does one remove large quantities of (mostly clean) pine shavings from hair that is the texture of Velcro? These are questions I never had to ask before I lived with and loved livestock.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The best gift...

This photo is of my husband, Chris, when he was a cute little boy. Now he is a cute big boy. He was born on December 11, which means that as I write this, it is his birthday "eve." And this gets me to thinking.

The first thing I think about is the story he told me about having a birthday so close to Christmas. It is heartbreaking, brace yourself. He told me that for his birthday he'd get one or two small gifts; things like new socks and underpants. His parents would say, "Christmas is coming." Then at Christmas he'd get a small toy and a sweater, and if he was disappointed his parents would admonish, "You JUST had a birthday!" I've spent the last 29 years trying to make his birthday a little special. I'm not sure if I have succeeded or not, but I digress.

The real purpose of this post is to say that 55 years ago Chris' parents created for me the most precious gift imaginable. I am certain they had no idea, when they looked down at his new little face, that he would someday mean the world to someone. Some Yankee woman still unborn. But that is what they did, they created the man that would become my husband.

And that has been a gift they never planned to give. Let me tell you a few things about this boy they raised. If it snows, he cleans off my truck before he goes to work. Every Sunday after he takes our refuse to the transfer station, he stops to fill my truck up with gasoline. I literally don't remember the last time I put gas in my vehicle. He does all our grocery shopping, because I hate to do it. He wakes up every morning, looks at my wild haired, aging self and says, "You are so beautiful." He cooks. Really well. And he eats my cooking with no complaints. I am not lying when I tell you that in the 3 decades we have been together he has never once raised his voice to me. Patience? He embodies it.

When I dream up something I want to do or create, he plants his size 13 shoe on my backside until I make my plan come true. He works hard to support his family, and has had a lot of really horrible jobs that he went to every day for years with no complaint.

And let me tell you what a sweet father he is. He took our little girl on "Daddy/daughter dates" for years when she was small; opening doors for her, treating her to her every hearts desire, conversing with her like the young woman she was becoming. I can't find the words to convey his sweetness with her as she grew. And beyond.

The baby born 55 years ago has grown to be the most wonderful man. Smart, kind, funny, hard working, creative, thoughtful, romantic, cuddly, sweet, generous and just in general fine. Every December, a bit before Christmas, I am reminded that I have the best gift ever. The gift of sharing my life with Christopher Kevin Conner. I thank his parents often for the blessing beyond measure. I have the best gift.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Swapping heirlooms...

One of the things that makes me proud to be related to my siblings is this; when my parents died and it was time to split up the possessions that represented the memories of our home and childhood, there was no fighting.

My brother took our dad's funky old typewriter, the one he typed thousands of business letters on, (always in green capital letters, with impossible abbreviations.) I was a little sad that it didn't come to me, but never said a word. Years later my brother packed that trusty machine up and shipped it me.

I took a large pewter rooster that hung on the wall in our family room. It looked fine in my farm house. One day my visiting sister gave it a fond glance and said, "I wish I'd taken that." I wrapped it up and gave it to her for her birthday that year. So it goes, we happily enjoy the things we treasured from our parents, then share them if the opportunity arises.

This wonderful shelf was one of our mom's favorite things. She changed out the items inside it often, and it was a fine showcase for little treasures. It stayed in the family house when my sister Debra bought the place. Until now. She brought it to me last month and my brother in law carefully hung it for me. I love to see it now, hanging in my living room.

I think our parents would be pleased to know that not only did their brood refrain from squabbling over the things they left behind, but that we continue to actively enjoy those items and share them amongst ourselves. Maybe they wouldn't be surprised, though. I'm sure it has a lot to do with how they raised us.

Decking the "halls..."

I had a funny Jewish friend when I lived in Memphis. Every year around this time she would look around my home and wryly say, "It looks like Christmas came and just thew up all over your house." I think of her every year when I "deck the halls."

Daughter Rachel wanted to help select and put up the tree, so we did that while she was home over Thanksgiving weekend. She voted to do a "theme" tree this year, and we went with white lights, crystal and prism drops, white snow flakes and little white ice cycle ornaments. It is quite simple and lovely. Chris says it needs more color.

Our illuminated star tree topper refused to work this year, so we put a little fabric angel on the top, then I found this wonderful thing on sale cheap and snapped it right up.

When Rachel was in grade school one of her teachers made these wonderful elves. They were expensive, but I scraped up the money to get one and he is a favorite of mine. I hate to pack him away each year, but am delighted every December when I get to find him a spot to perch through the holidays.

It seems I have acquired a bit of a Santa collection. This year I put them all on my sweet baking cabinet, and they will supervise cookie baking.

One of the things that I love best about decorating for Christmas is the memories that come tumbling out of the bins and boxes as I unwrap each treasure. When we moved to Memphis, the very first friend I made was a woman named Kathy who lived one street over. She made me this wonderful ceramic nativity set and precious singing angels one year. I treasure the memory of that first sweet friend, and the times we had together as much as I cherish this lovely set. (And check out that sleeping baby angel. So dear!)

And then there are these... Rachel made them in high school for a history class or something. It was originally a mobile, but I took that apart and turned these lovely figures into Christmas decorations. I love that she put little roses around Jesus' manger, and the colors she chose are wonderful.

There is so much magic this time of year. The house is filled with memories of all the Christmas' past and the people that made each one special. I play my favorite music,evoking even more happy thoughts of the past. There are the efforts made to be a little kinder, more caring, more thoughtful of those around us. And then there are the comforts of the fire in the wood stove and delicious winter foods and long,warm cozy nights here in the place that I love the best. I believe!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Of preparation and feasting...

On Thanksgiving my family always comes here to Fair Winds farm for the feast. It is by far the "biggest" holiday of the year for me, as Christmas tends to be just the three of us here alone. So for weeks before Thanksgiving I am in preparation mode. I wash curtains and slip covers, I polish silver and wash china dishes and bowls and platters. I clean things that I normally ignore. I plot and plan and decorate. My husband helps with big projects, too, and our focused energy gets a lot of things done that we tend to put off. More to be thankful for!

With a little luck everything comes together and on the day before Thanksgiving I am able to spend the day arranging flowers and cooking and happily checking things off my "to do" list.

When the big day arrives I love to look around and see everything in order. The pantry full, dishes laden with delicious food covered and ready to be heated up and served. I get up early, as always, and take care of the animals, then pop the turkey in the oven and tend to all the little details of putting the meal together. Soon enough people begin to arrive, and the driveway is filled with cars. There are warm greetings and hugs, and pile of coats begins to mound up by the door. Sometime after that is when the magic happens for me. I stop and listen... and hear the walls of this old house echoing with happy voices and laughter. This year there seemed to be extra laughs, and it filled me with great joy to hear it. This is the moment that makes the cleaning and shining and cooking so worth it. It is the sound of love all around me.

I have lots of help in the kitchen, and everyone brings something to share for the meal. This year niece Aimee made me beautiful napkins, adding different patterns of stitching on each one. They were the frosting on the cake of our pretty table!

We have two turkeys most years, I roast one and Chris smokes one. His comes out the most amazing shade of mahogany!

When the feast is over some people go for a walk, some drape themselves about and some even nap, but through it all there is still happy chatter, and soon they rouse themselves to check out the dessert table.

Some guests spend the night, and others disperse to go home, still more go to local hotels. In the morning most come back to heap a plate with left overs. Some of us entertain ourselves by decorating ginger bread structures.

And then the holiday is over and we are left with turkey for days and a pile of happy memories. Much to be thankful for, indeed.