Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last day of the year...

I woke well before dawn and toyed with the idea of getting up, but it is very cold outside, (11 F) and the bed was awfully warm and comfortable.  So I stayed where I was, and thought about the closing year.

Many people are wishing 2016 away, saying what a horrid year it has been.  Like every year, bad things happened... storms, sickness, fires. People died, there is war and terror and sadness. The presidential election was ugly and fraught with hard feelings. But there were good things, too, and I focused on those as the emerging sun changed the sky from black to grey.

My sweet daughter changed our lives for the better this spring after I fell and dislocated my shoulder. I was unable to work for many months, and she cheerfully put her own goals aside and took the burden onto her own strong shoulders while I healed.  We had a good time working side by side... three arms are better than two, and she accomplished the goal she stated early on, "I want us to look back at this time and think, 'We got through that nicely.'"

That injury also made me re-assess my physical health in general and set some goals to hopefully help me stay strong and fit as I barrel along towards my sixth decade on this lovely, spinning, planet.

Of course, Chris was a rock during the trying months of healing, too.
He picked up much of my work load around the house and farmlette.  He even got up with Bravo, our new puppy, every night from when he arrived in May until his bladder became mature enough to allow him to sleep until morning.  "You rest and heal," he said. "I've got this." And he did.

Bravo has been one of the best things that happened this year.  He is a joy to be around, and I am grateful every day for his sweet presence in our lives.

After a health scare with Chanel, the 30 year old horse, I was gifted with some epic kindness and skill in the form of team work from our large animal veterinarian and farrier.  Knowing I was unable to work they came to our aide at drastically reduced prices on behalf of the horse, and soon set her right.  She is well and happy, and cheerfully goes through my pockets every time I enter the pasture, looking for treats.

Abraham came to live at FairWinds this year.  His braying song makes me smile every time he sings it, and his funny personality adds a whole new dimension of happy to the barnyard.

Luna, my first and favorite goat, is still with us despite her puzzling and precarious health.  That is something to be gleeful about.

A book I co-authored was published and I was accepted as a blogger for Thrive Global, a new publication by Arianna Huffington.

I was the glad recipient of many kind wishes, thoughts, prayers, home cooked meals, special salves meant to ease my shoulder pain, cards and more after my injury.  And I got to meet my wonderful physical therapist, Marsha.  She made a profound impact on my life as she helped my body heal.

As I close the gate on '16, I will focus on the kindness, caring, and sweet moments of the past year. Sitting here, in my cozy house, I lift a mug of hot chocolate and drink with gratitude.  Thankful for lessons learned, smiles shared, generosity given, and love.  It is time to feed and water the livestock, breath deeply of the cold winter air and turn my face to the brightening sky, looking forward to the gifts to come in the New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

What a hero looks like...

Christmas is traditionally a busy time for pet groomers.  Today I had a full schedule.  The first two dogs were bathed, and when the third little dog came in I popped her in the tub, turned on the water and... nothing happened.  This was NOT GOOD.  The customer was waiting. In desperation I took the dog to my kitchen sink and scrubbed her up.  Meanwhile, a call was put into Chris.  He was at work, nearly an hour away.  You know what he did? He left work and drove home. This is a man that has only called out sick one time in the last several years. The man that goes to work on time and stays late most days. He just dropped everything and headed home.

 I washed the fourth dog of the day in the kitchen sink. And the fifth.  Chris disconnected hoses and drains and moved my tub and made manly grunting sounds.

Meanwhile, for some bizarre reason one of the breakers in the grooming studio kept tripping for no apparent reason. It was a grim scene.  I tried to maintain calm, and keep things jolly for the waiting customers.  It seemed to work, and I was able to keep on track with the timing of the day.

Chris ran down stairs and managed to make the breaker work. Then he ran upstairs and took the hoses off the washing machine.  In a few blinks he hooked those hoses up to the tub and voila!  I had running water.  Just in time for several larger, hairy dogs to come in for a bath and fluff. Dogs that decidedly would NOT have fit in the kitchen sink.
So if you ever wonder what a hero looks like, it looks like this guy.  Or any person who will drop what they are doing to come to your rescue when you really need them.  How lucky am I that I married a hero?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"Bossy" friend...

Last night I sent my friend Marion a general chatty email.  In it I mentioned that the two young kid goats that are here on the farm are a bit of a menace.  They were bottle raised, so are super friendly, and like to be all up in the business of anyone who enters the pasture.  Right now the pasture footing is a mix of snow and ice, and it is a bit treacherous walking about out there.  Yet, walk I must, carrying food and water and taking care of the animals.  The kids don't know anything about personal space, and stay in mine.  As I try to walk with an armful of hay the kids walk in front of me, right in tripping range.  They walk behind me, inviting the larger goats to butt them, which often results in the kids bashing into the back of my knees.  When I feed the rabbits, the kids try to swipe the food from me. In general, they are in the way and a nuisance. I explained all this to my friend and she sent me back a long email, She had some excellent suggestions for ways to make my chore time safer.  For instance, I should not carry that hay in my arms, as it impedes my vision and can affect my balance, increasing my chances of a fall. She suggested that instead I use a small sled to drag hay from point to point.  An excellent idea.  She had other suggestions, as well, including that I should let Bravo come to the pasture with me each time I go there.  She reminded me that helping with the livestock is his job.

I read her email at 5:00 AM.  Well before dawn. Then I thought about her ideas while I made my husband breakfast, packed his lunch and tidied up the kitchen.  When it was light enough to see, I headed out to feed and water all the stock.  Bravo went with me, as he always does. When I got this puppy last May, several people who are familiar with his breed warned me to be very careful of him around stock. The told me that puppies can easily get in trouble when they are around larger farm animals,and be injured if, say, a goat, were to butt them. They said that if my puppy was frightened or injured by my livestock, it might make him afraid of animals for the remainder of his life.  I took their advice to heart and have monitored Bravos contact with the stock quite carefully.  I have tried to let him be around the animals every day, but not necessarily interact with them much.

So this morning, as I slipped and slid across the frozen yard, I was wondering how, exactly, I should teach Bravo to keep the pesky kids away from me while I did chores.  I felt confident that he could do this, but not confident of my ability to show him what I wanted him to do.  Now, let me interject the following.  On the internet sites I read that are dedicated to English Shepherds, (that is what Bravo is,) people often gush about how their dogs are intuitive.  How they read their minds.  When they write things like this I know I roll my eyes just a little.  Bravo is smart and terrific and really an amazing dog, but a mind reader?  As someone who has lived with dogs my entire life, and worked with them professionally for 32 years, I wasn't really buying into this theory that my puppy was clairvoyant.

                      Here are the naughty kids.  Barley and Hops.  So cute, so much trouble.

I threw some hay over the fence in an attempt to keep the critters busy while I fed and watered the rabbits. My ploy worked for the horse, donkey, and adult goats.  But Barley and Hops left the pile of breakfast the minute I opened the gate and entered the slippery span of path I needed to navigate.  I thought, "I need to find a way to train Bravo to keep the kids out from underfoot."  And just then, out of nowhere, Bravo appeared, and tackled Barley, the larger of the kids.  He had never done that before. Usually he entertains himself by exploring the pasture, playing with a toy, or having me toss his ball to fetch. This morning,  the entire time I worked on feeding the rabbits, getting them water and treats and pellets and hay, Bravo was intently keeping Barley away from me.  It was like... well... It was like he read my mind.  Now, to be fair, he concentrated solely on one kid, and Hops, the other kid, was an underfoot pest, but dealing with one kid was much easier than working around two.

I'm going to buy a sled to haul hay. And I am going to keep thinking about how I want Bravo to keep the little goat kids away from me when I am working. Because, as it turns out, I have super smart friend AND a mind reading dog.  Life is good.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The sound of Christmas...

When I was a little girl, each December several  cardboard boxes would be hauled up from the basement.  Mostly there were decorations for the tree inside, but there was one thing I was always especially delighted to see. And hear.  Pieces of thin brass that were assembled to create what my mom called "Swedish Angels."

Four little candles fit at the base, which was a round tray.  From the center rose a  slim column, which held two little domed bells.  Above that hung three little angels, dangling strikers from their tummies.  Over all of this was a fan shaped piece, with a trumpeting angel at the top.  The candles would be lit, the heat from their flames would turn the fan, and the angels would begin to spin.  As they gained momentum, the strikers that hung from them would chime against the bells.  Clear, high, ringing notes would fill the air.  Invariably we would dim the room lights, and I would thrill to see the lovely flickering shadows that would appear on the ceiling.  This one decoration was, I think, the embodiment of happy Christmas memories to me. 

Fast forward to my adult years. Every few years I buy a set.  I am always filled with hope as I set it up, then I am consistently bitterly dissapointed.  The ones made now are junk.  Cheap, pressed metal, angels that don't spin freely or chime sweetly. Last year I went on a campaign to find an old set on line.  I was unsuccessful and after Christmas was over I gave up looking.

The other day Evans, my daughters boyfriend, came over for supper.  He handed me a small package and said, "You should open this now."

As if I were retrieving it from the musty carton that spent 11 months a year in the basement, the familiar box from my childhood was there in my hands.  The words "A Genuine Swedish Product" printed boldly in the upper right hand corner.  And inside?

Straight from the 1960's, a treasure.  I was swept back in time, to the living room of my childhood. The scent of the tree, the sounds of my siblings and parents voices,the avocado carpet and wallpaper.  All topped off with the sweet song of the little Swedish chime.  My heart swelled, my eyes filled with tears.  This was a gift with a capital "G."  A gift that showed deep thought and attention, and brought great joy. And memories.

Goat in a coat...

Luna goat has had  many struggles.  She was my first goat, and is a sweet spirit. I freely admit she is my favorite. But she has never really been well. In fact, she tends to be a bit frail, and is a constant worry.  I have learned so much about goats under her patient tutelage.  When she came here she was rail thin, with a small buckling at her side. We nursed her to health, but she often backslides, rather inexplicably.   I have read and learned, had the veterinarian out many times, and mostly Luna does pretty well. Until she doesn't. Then she loses her apatite, drops weight at an alarming rate, and makes me lose sleep. She does better in spring and summer, worse in the winter, and cold weather has never been her friend.

This week we had some terribly low temperatures, with high winds.  A most unpleasant combination.  Luna was wearing her goat coat, but was still cold and shivery.

Rachel and I have been taking sewing classes, and I decided to make a warmer coat.  So off we went, and I bought two nice pieces of soft fleece fabric.  I also bought a roll of quilt batting.  When we got home I went to work.
I took her existing goat coat, and traced it.  Then I made a sandwich with the fleece and three layers of the quilt batting, cut to fit under the goat coat.  I stitched up the edges with my sewing machine.  Rachel took some of the leftover fleece and more batting, and made a neck warmer.  I went out in the dark, with its howling wind and bitter cold. The air hurt to breath and stung the exposed skin on my face. The goats were settled in the cozy, out of the wind, with a full hay rack.  I took Luna's coat off, laid the thick new pad on her, and then covered her back up with the coat, buckling it snugly.  The neck warmer slid over her head and fit perfectly.  She took all of this in stride.

The other goats seem to do fine despite the weather. They grow thick coats of their own, and rarely shiver.  I keep plenty of hay out for them, because one way livestock like goats stay warm is through the process of digesting their food.  If they have a rack full of hay to nibble on through the long, cold, Maine nights, it helps them prevent getting chilled. I also have a big heated tub so their water stays wet, no matter how low the thermometer dips.

Here is Luna, snuggled into the straw wearing her new get up. She looks a little overstuffed here, but content.  When I slide my hand up under her coat, there is wonderful warmth.  No more shivering. A warm goat in a coat makes me sleep better when the bitter winds blow. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Finished festooning...

We have finished decking the halls for Christmas.  It's funny, in general I don't like clutter, but every year I can hardly wait to unpack 3 big boxes crammed with seasonal pillows and quilts, ornaments and nick nacks.  I love having them out. Until I don't, which is about 48 hours after Christmas is over. Then I can't wait to pack them up all again and enjoy the serene sense I get from less stuff all around.  That being said, here are the festive sights at FairWinds.

Getting the tree is always a special time for me. Sometimes we go to a local farm and cut our own, other times we go to a place close by where the trees are leaned up against a vintage red pick up truck. So cute it's hard to resist. And it was snowing when we went there, perfect!

Rachel and Evans came with me and did the heavy lifting. I like the twinkle in Evans eye here.

The Christmas tree we got this year is particularly pretty.  When I was growing up my mother loved trees that were round and full. I remember her delight when we'd find one like that, and I guess that is how my love of that type came about.  I saw a friends tree the other day, tall and thin and elegant, flawlessly decorated with vintage cards and crystal icicles.  I may need to rethink my "ideal." Anyway, when we brought our tree in and set it up, Evan's kindly put the lights on for me.  It looked so nice like that we left it that way for several days, just enjoying the simplicity.  Then we trotted out all the sweet familiar ornaments and went to town.  The ones I sewed our first married Christmas, the baby ornament for Rachel's first, and all the sweet ones made by Rachel and nieces and friends. Many thoughtful ones given as gifts over the years. There is an angel that belonged to my mother in law, and a horse that was my mothers.  So many memories come alive in December.
In the studio I have a little hutch filled up with sweet things... including a little stuffed Santa my grandfather brought me when I was 6 and sick with strep throat. It had a 6 inch elastic ribbon coming from the top of its head, and I can still remember bouncing that jolly elf up and down while I lay on the itchy green couch in the family room, covered in blankets. The elastic is now a sad, stretched out remnant of itself. 
Many horizontal surfaces around the house are covered in greens and trinkets and little lights. 

The house smells of evergreen. And cookies. I made up my first batch of sugar cookies today. 
There will be many more to come. 

And... Rachel made the most amazingly beautiful fabric advent calendar.  She had the excellent idea that we will tuck bits of paper in the pockets with our favorite memories of Christmas this year, so that next  year when we put it up we will be reminded of the high points from the celebration of 2016. I sense a wonderful new tradition starting. 

So there we are.. my mostly blue and white decor has been over ridden with red and green. And I love it. For now.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Celebrating Chris...

I got lucky in the husband department, and I know it. Today is my beloved's birthday.

Having a December birthday was hard on him as a kid.  He told me that he would want some specific toy and ask for it and when he didn't get it for his birthday his mom would say, "Christmas is coming." Then at Christmas the coveted toy did not appear, and he would be told, "You just had a birthday!"  This story made me sad. I love birthday's and like to make a big deal about them.  Years ago I came up with a tradition to celebrate Chris which he enjoys. We take the day off together, and it is all about him.  He is not a morning person by nature, but has to get up early every day to commute to work and be there on time.  On his birthday, he sleeps in, getting up only when he smells his favorite breakfast cooking.  Sausage biscuits and gravy, so bad for him I only make it twice a year, (the other day is Father's day.)  After we clog our arteries with that delicious treat, we head out.

 I squirrel a bit of money away all year just for this, and I hand him what I have managed to save.  He then gets to go wherever he wants and buy something just for himself.  He rarely treats himself to anything, feeling it would be selfish when there are bills to pay and responsibilities to tend to.

Usually he heads to Cabela's.  This year I suggested that he might want a new laptop computer. His is ancient and tired. Since he is a computer geek by trade, it seemed only right that he should have a nice new one. I would never dare choose one for him, because he knows so much more about them than I do.  He liked the idea, so we drove to Augusta and did some shopping.  He found one that made his eyes light up, I paid for it, and off we went.  We made a few more stops, then I took him out to lunch. He chose a favorite sea food place and we had a fine meal.

There should be more days a year to celebrate Chris. He is one in a million, and I am so glad he is mine.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


I like to decorate for the upcoming Christmas holiday a little at a time, and NOT before December begins.  Last week I put some decorations up in my grooming studio, because customers have begun to arrive with cards and gifts, so it the mood is festive already.
Yesterday I picked up some wreaths made by a local friend.  I buy them plain, and then do a little simple decorating myself. In this instance I added some different types of greens, winter berries and bright, happy looking bows.
Today I decorated the chicken coops. Yes, you read that right. A pleasant walk in the woods and an arm full of carefully pruned greens and I had all the material I could want to spruce things up a bit. (Pun intended.)

What you can't see is that there are battery operated candles behind the window of the little coop, and behind the wreath on the big coop.  Because, well, why not?

My last effort for the day was to arrange some roses my sweet husband brought me.
Years ago I used to love to visit a small florist shop near home.  The woman there would tuck sprigs of pine in with the roses in December, and I found to be a magically happy combination.  The shop is gone now, but I still marry red roses with white pine during the the twelfth month of the year.

This completes my first week of decorating.  Next we will go cut down a tree and put it up, and the house will be filled with Christmas cheer.

The feast continues...

Early in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving, my sister and I went through the house and took down all the fall decorations.  I had quite a few pumpkins and gourds, some I had purchased, some I had been given, and we chucked all of them over the fence and into the pasture.  There they stayed, looking forlorn and abandoned, their bright flesh glowing incongruously on the frosty grass.

Until today. I happened to be looking out the window when Luna goat, the herd queen, decided it was time to add some pumpkin to her diet. She marched over to the scattered gourds and began to sniff each one.  In a few moments she had chosen a likely candidate and taken a firm bite of it.  

She was soon joined by Jane Doe. 

And they squabbled a bit, rearing up and butting heads. 

Then the settled down to share the treat. 
Meanwhile a few of the chickens looked on, expectantly. 
Once the goats had opened up those globes for them, they joined in, pecking at the flesh and gobbling up the seeds.  There is some evidence that the seeds aid in removing intestinal parasites in some animals.  I don't know if that is true, but I do know that the animals are enjoying autumns last fruits. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

So much to be thankful for...

Chris and I have hosted Thanksgiving in a variety of homes, for a wide array of people, most every year since we have been married.  We've gotten pretty good at it.  The most we have ever cooked for was many years ago in Memphis, when 27 people graced our table.  This year our not-very-large house was happily filled with 19.

I handed my niece Aimee my camera and asked her if she would take a few shots while I was getting the meal together.  When I looked through the pictures today I was delighted. It is a treat to see our home through another's eyes.

Rachel and I prepared much of the feast the day before, so on Thanksgiving day my sister Deb and I had time to decorate the tables and pretty things up.  Deb brought some large canvas bags with table linens and other things.  Flirt hopped right in and had a snuggle while we fiddled about.

Chris brought me a dozen yellow roses.  They are a nod to my mother, who hosted many an epic Thanksgiving celebration.  She always like to have a bouquet of yellow roses  on the occasion.
We had to do a bit of re-arranging to fit enough dinner seating for everyone.  Our normal table seats 8.
I trotted out my grandmothers silver and a variety of fun china plates I have collected over the years.
Niece Emily gifted me with a bunch of fabulous napkin rings, the frosting on the cake of our table decorating.
Chris smoked a turkey, and I roasted one, as we often do.  We bought locally raised birds and they were both pretty terrific.
I bought a fun new shirt for the day... pretty color, soft fabric, comfy. But it has funny  holes in it that I didn't quite "get."
Chris took one look and discovered their purpose...

Deb and I made a veritable VAT of gravy. We like to have leftovers.  I make the stock from scratch, and with Deb's expertise we manage to whip up some tasty stuff.

We lit a fire in the outdoor fire pit, and people gathered there to chat.  One small guest was quite entranced with the livestock. The livestock were fascinated by her, too.
We had a LOT of food.  Here are a few of the dessert offerings.
Home made pumpkin bread, cranberry nut bread, corn bread and biscuits (not pictured) were available.

After the cleaning, the decorating, the cooking, the serving... there is always one crystalline moment for me.  The moment when I pause and let my senses take it all in.  The house is warm and cozy. The air is perfumed with the sweet and savory scents of a feast... from turkey to pies, all the delicious smells of Thanksgiving.  Most of all it is the sound... soft music playing, and voices.  Voices lifting up in pleasant conversation. Silver clinking on china as the food is eaten.  Laughter.  Lots of laughter. 

These people I love... what a blessing it is that they want to be HERE.  Here with us, eating our food, patting our pets, filling our humble walls with their wonderful presence.  They help create the day by contributing delicious dishes and fascinating conversation. They all chip in to create the experience.  We are beyond blessed, and have so very much to be thankful for.