Friday, October 30, 2015

Happy surprises...

It has been a busy week in my little grooming studio. Today is Friday and I had appointments back to back all day. I also had two amazing surprises.

The first one startled me a little. I was bathing two little dogs, listening to music and not expecting anyone for two hours, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a very tall man at my door. My heart skipped a beat before I recognized it was one of my regular customers. He had brought me the most amazing loaf of freshly baked artisan bread... crusty and fragrant, pretty much the most delicious bread I've ever tasted.

The day progressed on, and as I was checking out a customer the mail lady backed into my driveway in her white Jeep. She honked her horn, then came up the steps to hand me my mail, with a large, flat package. The package was wrapped in heavy brown paper, and taped with duct tape that boasted sporty Scottish Terriers marching across it. And it had the return address of a customer that I am extremely fond of. She is the kind of person that I meet once in a while and feel an immediate connection to. I look forward to her visits and time she is here flies past as we chat and laugh. She is an artist, and shares photos of her work on Facebook. I have thought, on more than one occasion, how much I would love to buy one of her paintings. They have a wonderful, happy, magical, energy to them.

The woman I was checking out was clearly fascinated by the package the mail lady gave me. "Want to wait and see what is?" I asked, "YES!" she said, "Open it up!" I did... and my eyes filled with tears at the same time a huge smile split my face. It was an odd sensation. I was so glad there was someone here to share with.

An oil painting... of MY HOUSE! Every detail, right down to the arbor, my business sign, and a moon that if you look carefully, has a suggestion of a sweet smile on its wide face. And snow! I love this cozy house in the snow, and this painting captures the whole joyful feel of the place.

I've been spending a lot of time feeling grateful lately, and the gifts of bread and paintings gave me so much more to be thankful for. I am blessed.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Memory lane...

When I was a little girl, our kitchen was long and narrow. The shape of it created an odd "corner cupboard" on one end. It opened up to a fairly large space behind the door, and was prone to being a bit of a catch all, where things got lost. One day when my mother was cleaning it out, I slipped in. It was a marvelous spot, and I immediately claimed it as my own. I was a chipmunk, and it was my cozy den.

My mother was a patient thing, and let me call that cabinet my own for a long time. Once in a while she would hand me a bright M&M candy and tell me it was an acorn. This thrilled me beyond all reason. I would clutch the wee candy in my fingertips and nibble it with my front teeth. I thought acorns tasted fine, indeed.

I became entranced with chipmunks at an early age. I was fascinated by all animals, and these little striped creatures, with their cheery voices and big eyes were plentiful in our yard. They would dash in and out of the stone walls, race through the gardens, and best of all, vanish into the little hole my father made at the bottom of a set of brick stairs near the basement to vent air from the clothes dryer. I would often see a chipmunk scamper down those mossy treads, with its cheek pouches full to bursting, then, with a flick of the tail, poof! down the vent hole. How I loved to think of a whole family of rodents down there, with a larder full of food and warm air from the dryer keeping them toasty through the long New England winter.

To this day I find them rather magical. When we first moved to this house I rarely ever saw one, but now there are a few making themselves known. One, in particular, is quite fearless.

She finds the birdie buffet I put out each day to be a treat.

Getting down from the feeder proves a challenge...

I rather doubt this one has a den with a built in heater, but it makes me happy to think her pantry will be full. Maybe tomorrow I'll put out a few M&M's.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Yesterday we went to a Halloween party in New Hampshire. Lots of favorite family were there and an excellent time was had by all.
And I got a present!
Niece Aimee and her precious mother-in-love are conspiring to make these super cute snowmen. Donna, the M-I-L, is making a whole flock of them for the upcoming holiday season. Aimee is knitting the sweet, wee, scarves. Donna got the idea from something I posted on Facebook, so she sweetly gifted me with her first effort, telling me I "inspired her." How cool is it that I inspired someone?

This little dude is made out of a sock, and stuffed with rice. He makes me smile. I think he's totally adorable and wanted to share the cuteness and the kind sentiment.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Congratulations, it's a....

I bought a new flock of laying hens this summer. They arrived in a box via the U.S. mail, little yellow fluffs. They grew and and grew some more, and soon lost their baby down and began developing adult feathers. They went through a rather awkward stage that lasted a while. Just lately I've been looking at them and thinking they are very pretty. I chose a breed I have not had before. They are called Light Brahma's. This is what the hatchery, Murray McMurray has to say about them:

"The Brahmas are a very old breed from Asia, probably originating in India and brought to this country about 1850 by Yankee sailors on their return from trading in Far Eastern ports. Because of its massive size, full feathered shanks and toes, and striking black and white plumage pattern, it has always been one of the most interesting varieties to work with. Brahmas are exceptionally quiet, gentle, and easy to handle. Their small pea comb, great size, and heavy plumage make them almost immune to cold weather. The hens are good layers of brown eggs, especially in winter, and will also set. Baby chicks are creamy white, but some have shades of gray on the back."

I liked the look of them, and the fact that they are tolerant of cold weather is a bonus here in Maine. So I ordered 12 pullets, which would grow up to be 12 laying hens. I did NOT order a rooster. I have not had good luck with roosters and it makes me cranky when an animal that I feed, shelter and care for attacks me. At the time that I ordered these chicks I also ordered some chicks for friends and neighbors that wanted just a few, and didn't make the cut for the minimum order. One friend ordered 2 Barred Rock hens. The hatchery, as it sometimes does, tossed in a few "bonus" chicks. To my horror, one grew to be a Barred Rock cockerel, which would grow to be a rooster. My friend did not want any roosters, and that meant I was stuck with one, and I was not so happy about it.

He grew to be a large, handsome bird,(and so far he has not developed a bad attitude) but he looks very incongruous with the the flock of Brahmas.

With their striking coloring, eagle-ish expressions...

Floofy feet and...

sumptuous petty coats.

So far I really like these birds, and one little part of me was wishing I had bought a rooster so I could breed them and have MORE chickens. Because what do crazy chicken ladies want? MORE CHICKENS! The Brahmas run everywhere they go, so they are a bit hard to observe, but this morning I took time to hang on the gate and just stare at them a bit. I find I've been peering expectantly into the nest box lately, hoping for the first eggs. The girls are just getting to the age where they may begin to lay, and I am anxious to have home raised eggs again. So I gave them a hard look, checking for signs of maturity. They are big, and well feathered. They all look very healthy and pretty. This breed has small combs and wattles, but I was looking to see if they were beginning to turn red. On a young pullet ready to lay, the comb and wattle turn from pink to dark red. I noticed that one bird's comb was turning red. I also noticed it was a good bit bigger than the other birds. And its feet were HUGE! And then it stood still a moment and I realized it's neck and saddle feathers were very different from those of the other birds.

Because... it's a ROOSTER. My little secret wish came true.
Congratulations, Mrs. Conner! It's a BOY!

Now I really need to find a home for this guy...

Because when they figure out they are mature and both boys, the feathers will fly.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

And now for something completely different...

Back a generation or two, when many people kept chickens, the older hens were put in the stew pot when they ceased to lay eggs.
Fast forward to today, and the chicken we buy at the grocery store is a special breed of bird that grows very fast and is ready to be butchered at 10 or 12 weeks of age. These birds are tender and delicious and what we all now consider to be "normal."

For the past few years I have raised chickens to put in the freezer. My birds "free range," which means they are raised where they can eat plants and bugs (along with chicken food.) They have room to roam and take dust baths and be in the fresh air and sunshine. They taste like chicken, only better.

A few months ago my friend had her older laying hens butchered, and offered them to me to feed my dogs. I fed some to the dogs, and saved one to cook up for us. I have read, many times, that the flavor of older birds is far superior that of the meat we are used to. Apparently, if the bird is older, the meat can be tough, but is intensely delicious. So, today I took that old hen out of the freezer and popped it into the crock pot with some cold water, an onion, garlic and some seasonings. It cooked low and slow all day, filling the house with the most delicious scent. I tasted it, and I admit, I was a little hesitant. The flavor was very, very good, and the meat was not tough like I thought it would be.

I chilled the broth so I could remove the fat, and cooled the meat while I diced up carrots, onion, garlic and celery. I was going to turn this old bird into chicken and dumplings. The ultimate meal on a chilly, drizzly, fall day. Here is the thing that I found interesting. This bird was a laying hen, not a meat bird, so the meat to bone ratio was less that what I am used to. There was a lot of dark meat, and the bones were large and very hard. The tendons were extremely strong and tough, and the fat a deep yellow, unlike any I have seen on a younger bird.

We all agreed. This was my best ever batch of chicken and dumplings. The broth and meat were simply delicious. Those people who said that older birds taste great? They were right. I was struck to think that few people living now have ever prepared or eaten chicken that was more than 3 months old. This meal hearkened back to a different time, deliciously.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Notes on goats...

The goats, in the 4 or so years that I have had them, have been mostly trouble free. The last few months, however, there has been much illness and woe.
First Luna, losing weight and pathetic, for such a long time. The vet saw her often, and finally, after many other efforts, treated her for an internal parasite called liver flukes. She responded well, is gaining weight and seems happier than she has been in forever. She has even been running... a sight that thrills me.

Just as the herd was all well again, Celeste developed mastitis (an infection in her udder.) The infection became systemic, and she became very ill, the vet and I both doubted that she'd live. To my joy, she did, with some intensive care. She never really bounced back though. I am extremely fond of my vet, but really, I have been seeing her too often. She came again, and left me with a huge bag of needles, syringes, and various medications. Morning and night that poor Celeste goat is a pin cushion as I shoot her full of antibiotics and vitamins. Then there are oral pain killers ("hidden" in applesauce,) various supplements designed to enhance her health,serious wormers in case parasites were causing some of her woes,and more. She has had severe neurological symptoms, difficulty walking, staring at the sky, curving her spine to the left like a horrible caprine comma. My vet sent her case into her veterinary college professor to gain added insight. He found the symptoms to be perplexing as well.

I am hesitant to say, but I think we may have rounded a corner in the last 24 hours or so. I was delighted to see Celeste (in the blue bandanna) sun bathing with the rest of the herd, chewing her cud contentedly and looking, dare I say? Happy.

My goats bring me joy. I had no idea I would ever fall in love with goats, but I have. They are smart, funny, affectionate and produce delicious milk. They keep my horse company and provide me with endless entertainment. They have taught me much... and I am hoping that we are nearing the end of a few rough months. Please keep a good thought for Celeste, and hope that she regains her regal good health. I'd like to be done with needles and vets and medication, at least for a bit.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Laughter in the kitchen...

Sister Deb came to visit this weekend. She asked Chris if he might cook his amazing fried chicken. Beyond that cooked by Colonel Sanders, her fried chicken experience has been limited. I was a bit surprised that she asked for this particular meal, as she avoids eating fatty foods normally, and what is fattier than fried chicken? Chris, however, was delighted to fulfill this request, he is very fond of that recipe and likes to share it with people he loves.

Deb jumped in to help create the feast. As dinner preparation progressed, I stepped out to milk goats and do evening chores. When I came back inside I was greeted by the magical scent of dinner cooking, and overheard the following conversation. "You are cutting off some of the skin," Chris said. Deb was washing the chicken pieces and seasoning them before the batter was applied. "It's the fat," Deb replied. "It's the SKIN," Chris protested. "Here I am, adding as much fat and calories to the meal as I can, and you are cutting off the best bits!" Deb looked at the vat of hot, bubbling grease and realized the truth in his words. The music of laughter filled the house.

Dinner was lovely...

The chicken was crispy, hot and juicy. Deb seemed suitably impressed.

Of course there were home made biscuits, too.

And more laughter. It's delightful when family visits, (and Chris cooks!)

Sunday drive...

The day almost begged us to take a Sunday drive. It was chilly, and blustery, and the autumn leaves, at their peak just yesterday, were blowing off the trees with emphatic gusto. So we followed the urge and buckled up. Flirt, the toy poodle, implored to join us.

We drove scenic routes 126 and 213 along Damriscotta lake, past beautiful homes, stunning foliage, enviable farms. The road took us into Damriscotta, with it's spectacular marsh and ocean views. We stopped for a cup of hot clam chowder. Flirt was shivery, so Chris tucked her up in a cozy spot. She approved.

While we waited for our food I walked out on the nearby pier.Looking down I saw crumbling pilings, floating kelp, and one, bright maple leaf.

The gulls,apparently bereft from the lack of summer visitors and their cast off food, posed for me, hoping I had bread in my pocked. I found myself, as always, magnetically attracted to them.

We meandered back home, our senses sated from a day rich in visual beauty. It has been a lovely autumn.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Full Circle...

Many years ago, before we moved to Maine, I bought a pretty little Standard Poodle and named her "Dazzle." About a month after she came to live with me her breeder called and asked if I'd like to buy her litter mate brother. I didn't want or need another dog, so told her "no." The woman said, "No one has bought him and I live in a condo, he spends almost all his time in a crate." I looked at active, bouncy, Dazzle and felt very sad for her imprisoned brother. But I held firm. A week later the woman called again, "You can have him for free," she said, "but he really needs to go." She told me how depressed he was. I caved, drove 4 hours to Nashville and brought him home. We named him Tango. My plan was to introduce this beautiful dog to friends and customers, and surely someone would want him. Unfortunately, he was poorly socialized and had some behavior problems, and no one wanted to make him their own. What he loved the best was to ride with me in my mobile van while I worked. He was in his element there.

He liked it when we moved to Maine... there was the big field to run in and the large fenced yard. He ran and bounced and barked. A lot. He missed going to work with me since I wasn't doing mobile grooming any more. I had a lot of dogs at the time, and never felt that Tango and I had bonded. It occurred to me that he might be happier in a different home. With great hesitation I reached out to the mobile grooming community to see if anyone might want a poodle. A nice woman responded, and in no time she and her husband drove to Maine from Connecticut to claim him. This ended up being a wonderful union, Tango loved her and she loved him. He had a long, happy life with her.

My friend contacted me recently and said she was going to be in Maine and had a favor to ask. She had Tango's ashes and wondered if she could sprinkle them here, in the meadow where he loved to run.

She brought the wooden box containing his remains and we walked out into the pasture, with the horse and goats and dogs that are still on this earthly plain, and my friend sprinkled him where he used to love to explore and do his pretty poodle dance. He came full circle. Welcome home, Tango.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Out of the rain...

It was not raining when I did chores this morning, but the forecast warned that rain was coming. Still, I opened to doors to the chicken coops. I need to learn better. When it rains, the Silkie chickens must stay "cooped up."

This afternoon, when I walked out with dogs to check on all the animals, I found the silly Silkie chickens huddled, damp and miserable, under the small overhang of the garage. Their clean, dry coop was across the yard, but rather than be there with plentiful food, water and warmth, they sat, sodden and complaining. I scooped up the chicks, which are normally nearly impossible to catch, and one hen, and stuffed them in the coop. It took three trips, squishing over the wet grass, holding unhappy birds, before I got them all where they should have been. They seemed cheerfully surprised to see the full bowls of food, and the fresh water. Their brains? Not so big! It's pretty sad that they don't know to come in out of the rain.

Meanwhile, the new layer flock alternated between running about and eating, and hanging out in the hutch in the pasture. They have a warm coop full of food as well, but they like to be out foraging. And their sleek feathers repel water better than the fluff the Silkies wear.

The ducks are in their glory when it rains.

The two little brown hen ducks are at different stages in their annual molting, (when they shed their old, worn feathers and grow beautiful new ones.) Notice the bird in the back of the top picture looks rather bedraggled. The other one has finished her molt and looks so beautiful. If I could carve wood I'd like to carve a duck that looks like her, with all those lovely, subtle shades of soft brown. These ducks have had rough feathers ever since I bought them at auction in the spring. I have been looking forward to seeing how they'd look with bright, fresh plumage, and I am not disappointed.

The goats flatly refuse to go out in the rain, thank you very much.

They are content to stay in the shed, with a rack crammed full of good hay to nibble on. Chanel the horse wanders in and out. Rain does not bother her.

As for me, I have a pot of stew bubbling away in the kitchen, and a fire in the wood stove. I am content to watch the rain outside, and see the wind toss autumn leaves damply about. Unlike the chickens, I know how to come in out of the rain.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Gift of peace...

A month or so ago one of my customer/friends was mentioning that she and her husband had a cabin way up north, deep in the woods. She said they often see moose and deer and other fascinating wildlife when they are there. Apparently I looked a little wistful, because she spontaneously said, "You and Chris can go spend a weekend there any time you want!" So this weekend we did.

The weather was fine, and the foliage lovely. We drove a long ways on dirt roads before we came to the camp.

It was cozy and snug... even the outhouse was charming.

Ziva said there was something of interest under the deck.

She was right!! A wee weasel was under there, and quite bold. It would pop its head up and squeak with indignation, then vanish under the boards, only to reappear a few feet away. This game kept Ziva entertained for a very long time.

Once settled we took a nice walk, then got comfortable in front of the big window to play several rousing games of checkers.

My father taught me to play when I was a kid, and we shared many happy hours over the checker board. He played ruthlessly, even when I was little, never letting me win. I had to earn any success, which made it all the sweeter. I wasn't sure that I even remembered the rules of checkers when we set out to play this weekend, but I did! The wood stove warmed the little camp, the sun set beautifully over the firs, and we had such fun. There was no television, no internet, no music, just the two of us together, peaceful.

Before turning in for the night we walked outside. All around was total silence; not so much as a puff of wind made a sound. The sky overhead was awash in stars.

I was up well before dawn,hoping to see a moose out the window. Sadly I did not, but I did see moose EVIDENCE... about 4 feet from the front door.

Our friends have a game camera mounted to a tree not far from the camp. We took the card out and looked at over 300 pictures taken over the past few months. Big moose, little moose, a huge bull moose with an impressive rack, a mama moose nursing her calf. Moose lying right there in the yard, moose eating, gazing into the camera, staring off into the distance. It is moose hunting season right now, so they may be staying tucked up in the trees, but clearly this place is rich in ungulates. There were lovely photos of deer in the game cam, too.

Ziva and I went out for a walk the moment the sun was up. It was 27 degrees out, and the thick frost that coated every surface sparkled as the rays illuminated the world. I ran out first with bare feet, but changed my mind and ducked back inside for boots. The evidence of our being there was left behind, however...

Ziva enjoyed a couple of pork chops for breakfast.

Then we headed back out, exploring a new route on the way home. We felt energized, happy and so blessed to have been given the gift of time in this special, peaceful, place.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Dusk on the farmlet...

We had a stunning sunset last night. It started out pretty and became more exquisite with each passing second.

As the days are getting shorter, more of my chore time is spent in low light. Soon it will be dark when I milk and feed. Tonight, when all the animals were taken care of, the sun had set. It was dark enough that I wished I had brought a flashlight out with me. My last job was to lock up the chickens to keep them safe from predators. I heard a sound and noticed that Ziva froze, staring towards the tree line at the edge of the field. I stopped to listen. It was a pack of coyotes,very nearby, singing the day to sleep. Ziva roared at them in protest, and the "song dogs" went silent.

Inside the wood stove was glowing and the house felt warm and cozy as I shut the door against the dark.