Tuesday, December 30, 2014


   There are large projects we all undertake, which, when completed, provide great satisfaction - whether we did the job ourselves, or facilitated its completion.  For example:  re-roofing our house.  It had to be done.  We were the lucky winners in the game of homeowner's roulette who HAD to  put a completely new roof on.  There were three layers of shingles on this place, including the original cedar shingles from 1920.  We know the date, because when he was stripping the house, our roofer found a shingle with the original builder's writing on it, including the date of his work.   For nearly two weeks we had this loveliness to look at, before it was complete.

    There are other, simpler things that I am finding to be small gifts.  Yesterday we broke down the temporary pen in the barn, where we were holding the ewe we were not breeding this year.  The hay that she had used as bedding, etc, was fairly compact, even though it was just over a month of her staying there.  The act of cleaning that out and spreading it on the garden area, and seeing the barn returned to more order is one of the little gifts of farming.  There is so much we cannot control, but these little things we can, and there is satisfaction.  
Temporary holding pen for Rosie - baling twine has so many uses!
     It seems we have made it a habit of doing holiday walks on the farm. That is when we are all relieved, temporarily, of our responsibilities to jobs, school, and "have tos" and we can just be.  The day or two after Christmas was warm, and sunny, and after chores, we all took a ramble through the fields to the high pasture, then into Fangorn Forest, and the day was perfect.  I found some lichen patches to experiment with - making a leaf envelope to carry it home in.  
The dogs got a nice romp in, and we were all able to soak up some sunshine, so rare here in the winter.

the "Gate Photo" a new tradition!

 There were moments of doing nothing - just sitting, warmed in the sunshine, not worrying about whether there would be burrs in our sweaters, or ticks on the dogs. This is one of the greatest "little" satisfactions.  The ability to let go of the worrying, the concerns, the stress, and just BE.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shopping Christmas Eve.

     I am not a shopper - let's establish that from the start.  I go to a store with a list, a plan, and a desire to leave as soon as possible. You will never catch me near a mall on Black Friday or the weekend following it.
   I do, however, love to shop on Christmas Eve.  There is a different feeling the day before the gifting frenzy takes place.  Everyone is a bit more:  more friendly, more helpful, more sheepish at the lateness of their endeavors, more willing to go out of their way to  lend a hand.  It is what I think we should be doing all the time, but I often do not see it until right before Christmas.
    Examples:  my husband and I went to the  Walmart this morning at 8 a.m.  I was in the  fabric section (big surprise!) looking for some thread, and an elderly gentleman with a completely empty cart was looking lost.  He caught my eye and asked for help locating stick on letters to  put his grandkids' names on a go-cart.  His wife had sent him and he had no idea where to start.  I suggested the craft aisle and  the aisle with mailboxes.  Another lady added that the scrap booking aisle might have them.  He smiled and thanked us and he felt better, we felt better, and the day had a good start.
     We ran to the local bookstore, only to find it was not yet open, and as we turned away, debating about buying coffee next door, the owner of the shop popped his head out and told us he was now open.  He had seen us through the window and rushed over to open a few minutes early.  Cynics might say he just wanted a sale, but I think he was being a good person.
     Later, taking the kids to a different store, we saw a lady who made my 5'3" look tall, trying to find the right size thermal underwear for her 93 year old dad.  All she could find were extra tall, XXL, all too big.  My daughter spend 10 minutes dragging display boxes off the shelf that was over this woman's head, helping her find the right size.  There were smiles, a little background on her chilly dad, and more good feelings.
     So Merry Christmas to all of you.  Remember why we celebrate.  Give your loved ones that little extra bit of your time and attention.  Life is precious, people are good and we can all spread joy, even by doing little things like holding a box, or opening a shop early.    Much love to you all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hopeful Farmer: Eating Snowy

    Ding! Dong! The rooster is dead!  Snowy, the wicked rooster, who terrorized my children and plucked half of the hens naked, is now history.  Right around Thanksgiving we decided it was time.  We had the time and  a tutorial from  Youtube, so what more did we need?
    To start with, we needed to catch him.  Snowy was a pretty smart bird.  My husband almost caught him with a snare, twice,  but the darn thing escaped.  Trying to go into the  run and actually catch him outright would have meant much bloodshed on our part - and I will admit, I was scared of that rooster!  In the process of trying to  catch him, both Snowy and one of the hens escaped the run.  Now shooing the hen back into the  run was easy.  Snowy was free and he was going to stay that way.  He ducked under the car, and literally crawled to the other side. I never knew chickens could crawl!  My husband grabbed an old blanket out of the car and began chasing the  bird around the barnyard.  That is when it got funny.  The rooster  squeezed through the fence - Drew had to go over it.  He  flew, and ran as Drew chased.  Eventually, the blanket won, and the bird was strung up  in the shed.
     There are many ways to actually kill a chicken.  Drew slit its throat. We are not certain we did this correctly, because it took an awfully  long time for the  rooster to bleed out.   It was getting dark, so we took him home for the processing.
   It got more silly as we tried to  scald him for plucking, and the  bird did not fit in the pot.  We got a larger pot, more water, and a computer, and things got going.  With Drew  doing the actual work, and me reading the steps off the laptop, it was eventually done.   I would read a step, "Okay, you are supposed to scrape out the lungs"  and Drew would respond with, "What do the lungs look like?"  I would show him the photos and he would search for the proper looking things to remove.  It was a weird experience, probably best done in the daylight, not by patio lights in the cold of winter, but the deed was done.
     When he was  ready for cooking, that bird was a 5 1/2 pounder!  He became Coq au Vin, and he was delicious.
     Now, the hens are getting their feathers back.  We can open the coop or go into the run without arming ourselves with shovel or rake.  I do not care how pretty they are, the new rule is:  no more roosters!

Don't mess with dad, or he might put you in the soup pot!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Hopeful Farmer - on Dyeing

    Yesterday I posted about death, so it seems fitting today be on dyeing.   I have been working on  dyeing using a variety of local  dyestuffs.  Here is an example of  the wool I dyed with wild grapes  using an alum mordant. I will have to wait to see how  fast the colour is.
natural wool yarn - I forget what type of sheep it is from - I spun it a while ago, heating in an alum mordant

This is the left over pulp from making wild grape jelly, and I hated the  idea of  wasting it, so I experimented

The colour in the pot is very different from the colour on the finished wool

a nice earthy purple

 I also tried dyeing some yarn using poke berries.  I have a poke weed in the middle of my currant patch which  seems a permanent fixture.  I have tried chopping it,  pulling it - I cannot eradicate it, so I will try to utilize it.  I know that poke berries stain things, but the color has been deemed not fast by many  dyers.  I found one book in which a dyer  found that using a vinegar mordant, AND adding vinegar to the dye pot makes the colour fast.  SOooo, I went out last weekend and cut off all the poke berries remaining on my huge weedy interloper.
The berries were past their prime, and next year I will work earlier in the fall to obtain more, and juicier berries.  After gathering the berries and picking them off the stems, they are mashed and set to simmer at 160 - 180 degrees, with vinegar added.  Meanwhile for about half an hour, the wool was simmering at 160 degrees in  vinegar water.  

After about 30 - 40 minutes, strain the  berries out of the  dye bath because there are MANY tiny little black seeds in poke weed berries and they get caught in the yarn.  Add the yarn and simmer for at least an hour, it you can let it sit overnight after that hour, do so, but with the heat turned off and a lid on the pot.  I was expecting to get a reddish yarn, but after the first hour, I had a nasty, muddy tan.  
     After about an hour of  resignation,  I remembered our fish tank.  What??  What does that have to do with dyeing.  Well,  every time we had to change the fish tank water, we had to adjust the ph. A lot.  The package said add 10 drops of "ph up" to each gallon to reach neutral, and we would have to add 40 drops.   So, I dumped another cup of vinegar in the water, and almost instantly - pink! After an evening in the dye pot. It came out red.  Very pretty.

 Now, I am a frugal soul, so I thought I would try running a second batch of wool through the already used dye pot to see if it would come back somewhat lighter.  The dye still looked red, but apparently was nearly exhausted.  What I got was this golden colour- after following the same mordanting process.
 This is what they look like together.  I really like it, and  I am eagerly awaiting  next year's poke weed to fruit!
          I have begun a several month long process of creating a dye using ammonia fermentation on lichen.  I really am flying blind here for one reason: I am certain of the process, but not what lichen I am using.  I need a friendly mycologist to help me out.  I may ask a friend who heads up the biology program if he or any of his colleagues have expertise in this area.  
            This is the lichen I am using.  I took it off some small trees that had blown down in our forest.  My husband and son cut them out and got them off the road, bringing them down the mountain with the intention of burning them later.  I saw tons of gorgeous lichen and  grabbed a knife and removed it from the logs.  After a long time on the internet and with several library books I learned two things: #1  mycology is an under represented area, and #2 books and internet photos are not very helpful in identifying lichens.  I need a  nature walk with an expert!
    When working with lichens, patience and care are very important.  Harvesting the lichen takes time - I was on my knees for an hour or two collecting what you see in the bowl.  It is a slow growing, yet important  part of our planet, so harvesting ALL you can find is an ethical no-no.  I  did not feel guilty taking everything off the logs that are going to be burned after having fallen, but I would be much more frugal about harvesting it when it has good growing conditions. The fermentation process will take several months, and even then, if I have the wrong lichen, I may end up with a brown dye rather than the magenta that I am hoping for!  I'll let you know in February how it turned out!  I love how nature teaches us not to rush.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Hopeful Farmer - on Death


"Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, "King under the Mountain". Oh, but I'm forgetting; you don't have a mountain, and you're not a king, which makes you...nobody, really."
—The Great Goblin taunting Thorin Oakenshield of his title
He was not King Under the Mountain - but he lies buried at the base of one.  It has been a couple of weeks, and I  finally have time to write about Thorin.  He was the gentler of our two llamas, with a friendly demeanor, a goofy face, and the habit of leaving a piece of hay hanging out of his mouth - reminding us of the old Joe Camel advertisements.

Thorin vs. Joe Camel

He taught us a lot - unfortunately one of those lessons was that just because we were giving him medicine, it did not mean he was completely protected from menegial worms.  By the end, he was no longer able to stand - his back legs kept collapsing under him. We knew the end was near one evening when my husband went out to  check the barn one last time for the night and found Thorin had fallen and was laying across the board separating the run-in from the outside.  How long he had been there we do not know - anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours were possible.  It took three of us to get him on his feet, and all the while, his back legs kept giving way.   It was bad.  We had to admit he was not getting better. 
    The next morning I found him down on his side.  I sat with him, put hay near him,  and he ate a little, but drank nothing.  Later that day, our youngest son and I managed to drip some  water into his mouth and get him to swallow.  It was the weekend and my husband managed to get him up into a kush position, and he ate more and drank from a bucket.  Great to see.   Sunday, he was down again - always on his right side, and his eye was swollen from rubbing on the hay on the barn floor.  We got him in a sling, and indeed, without it, there was no way he was getting up.  We put him back in the kush, and  braced him with hay bales.   He was  still as sweet as ever, but  there was no sparkle.  He was unable to move, but seemed to take comfort in having us around.  We told the children to say goodbye.  Our daughter and youngest son were very reserved and matter of fact about it.  I was a mess.

 The ewes kept checking in, perhaps curious why he was just lying  there, and not chasing them around the pasture.
     My husband and I were there Monday when the vet came.  She had us sling him and she confirmed what we knew, and she got her bag.  Sedative first and several doses of a bright blue potion to put him down.  He took a while, but was gentle to the end.  No great death rattle, no fighting, just kushing  while we held him in position and talked to him and the vet gave him the shots.
      This is the part of farming I do not like.  This is the part I do not think I will ever be good at.  When I feed and care for a creature - talking to it, petting it, I become attached.   The death part was a kindness - it was necessary as llamas are meant to run and bounce.  The burying part was horrific.  We had our contractor  did a big hole near Bald Mountain, but we had to get Thorin in the back of the truck, drive him up the pasture,  and put him in the hole.  My adrenaline was practically in overdose amounts as we pushed him in.  I was going to throw up and pass out and shake - but I mainly just shoveled a lot of dirt into the hole.  This was not necessary as Brian was coming up the hill with the bulldozer to cover him, but I was not calm and I needed to do something, and my darling husband just let me shovel.
     There is a silver lining.  The other llama, Elrond, is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing and bonding with the flock.  He is on pasture with the ewes, and  sleeps  just outside the rams' pen, in the doorway to the run in.   He will keep the sheep as safe as a llama can.
     No folks, I am not good at this death thing.  I do much better with the living.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

More visitors!

     This weekend we have Drew's dad and step-mom up for a visit.  We went to my daughter's swim meet Friday night.  The girls  swam well; the other team was much smaller, and our team won easily.
Our girl at the end of the meet.
Hanging with Pop pop
This morning we took them to see the farm.  Thorin, our sick llama, had a rough morning.  He was lively, but fell  out in the field.  He got up eventually, but you can see how unsteady his posture is.
    We spent a bit of time in the barn as the rain spat down.  Rosie seemed to think Pop pop smelled familiar - perhaps it was his sweater?   
Soon all the girls wanted to hang out with him!  

Judy went out into the  pasture, but the llamas did not  come in.  Alex, in the background, went to try to coax Thorin, but no, neither he, nor Elrond, were interested in meeting new folks. 

   After a trip around the farm, we had a warm lunch and this evening, they are off to see my husband in the last weekend of his marvelous show, Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown.   It has been so nice to have friends and family able to join us an see our small holding and spend time to visit with us. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A good weekend

   The university has a mid-semster break built into the schedule, right around midterms.  This weekend was that break.   We had visitors for a bit of that time.  The friend I have known longest in this world (outside of family) came for a visit, with her mother.  My mom came out as well, so we were all able to catch up.

 We went to see my  husband's show - very good.  And we spend some time in Cooperstown, looking at architecture, taking a ride on the Glimmerglass Queen,  and enjoying perfect Autumn weather.

a small tower best seen from the water

  After our guests left, I got caught up on some chores.  We spent yesterday setting some hay by for the winter.  We loaded and unloaded about 50 bales - the first of many trips to our local hay farmer.  We also harvested good number of wild grapes from the farm.  Although this has been a terrible year for apples - too many late frosts, I think, it was an excellent year for grapes. I got a nice crop from my  concords in the back yard as well.
wild grapes from the farm.
concords from the garden
    Last night I began the sorting process and started  the juice bag for the concords which became jelly this morning.    I have so many wild grapes, I may make a batch of jelly and make some  wine as well.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

  It has been a busy summer into autumn.       
A quick catch up:  
The sheep are growing.   

I occasionally baked a pie.

This llama - Thorin - is sick.  He contracted menegial worms, which  mess with his spine, and could  end in death.  We are working hard to prevent that, with lots of meds,  and vet visits.  His back legs still drag or he bumps his hind feet into things, even after  two major rounds of Panacure, and Ivermectin.

We have had large yellow lawn ornaments in the pasture most of the summer.  We are now on the last phase as the guys finish up turning one side of the marsh land back into a pond.

 The children are already looking forward to  winter skating - as am I!

 I designed a lot of shows for Chenango River Theatre, like Unnecessary Farce

The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns


Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown

and Design For Living for SUNY Oneonta, for which I currently have no photos.

Our little man celebrated his 9th birthday.  I would love to say that  his big present elicited this response, but, no, it was the packages of Pokemon cards

We are all keeping busy: sabbatical for my husband,  various sports, plays, and riding  lessons for children, and I just started rehearsals for Into The Woods, in which I shall be Jack's Mother.  
More later...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

When Rabbits Scream and other things you don't want to hear.

     Mom was visiting this weekend but needed to be leaving by 7:15 a.m. today.  So after awakening at
6:30 a.m. - I popped up and started the morning routine.
6:32 a.m. - make the coffee
6:33 a.m - let the dogs out
6:34 a.m. - change the cat's water, feed...wait, why are the dogs growling and barking?  That is the wrong timbre for play.
     Hear a God Awful scream of terror
6:34 a.m. - look out the window and see them chasing something - see it try to escape and get stuck in the fence.
6:35 a.m. - race outside in pajamas and slippers and start yelling at the dogs (as quietly as I can so as not to wake the neighborhood) to, "Drop it, stop, let it go," and other useless sentences, as they had no intention of letting it go.
6:36 a.m. - get to the fence and find a wild rabbit half way through the  chain link fence, with my larger dog, Annie, trying to pull it out.  She was certainly not trying to be helpful to it, so I grab her collar and start hauling her up the hill to the house.  Meanwhile, Libby, our little dog, is investigating the smell, but not trying to get at the rabbit.   After much pulling, yanking, dragging, and a touch of cursing, I get the dogs into the house.   Meanwhile  Mom is in the kitchen asking what is going on and if she can help.  My only thought, and thus only directive, was to keep the dogs in the house.
6: 40 a.m. - I go back to the fence, and the darn bunny has moved and made things worse.  It tried to escape out of another section of the  fence - which had the same size diamond shape openings as the rest of the chain link.  It managed to get its head shoulders and ribcage through, but was stuck at the hips.  I try pushing, nothing.  I try stretching the wire - I am not that strong.   After about five minutes I go wake up my husband.
 6:46 a.m. - With my husband at the head, and me at the rear, we try manipulating the poor animal's limbs to see if we can twist it or change the width of its muscles to scooch it through.  No go.  This rabbit is not moving.  We discover that the rabbit (possibly in combination with the dog's teeth and trying to squeeze through a too small opening) has lost a  section of fur, and is bleeding.
6: 56 a.m. - My husband gets some tools.  By this time we have wrapped the front of the rabbit in toweling so it won't flail as much.  I am holding its front end and talking to it as my husband starts dismantling the fence; first unclasping it from the tension wire at the bottom, then one woven wire at a time, shifting and unfolding the  "diamond" openings, all the while trying not to accidentally add any extra pressure to the rabbit's abdomen. Eventually we get it free.  Mom is up on the patio asking how things are going, as she has to leave.
7:15 a.m. - Carry rabbit to the garage - stopping to show Mommy - and put it in a box to examine it.  This  thing is in shock,  but aside from the loss of fur, seems okay.  A bit of discussion and we decide it will be best to let it go, rather than try to rehabilitate it in the garage.  (Certain death, if you recall our chicken rehabilitation episode and later debacle).
7:18 a.m. -  Mommy calls goodbye and heads out as we head to the lower forty to let the bunny go.  After being unwrapped and just laying still, it suddenly pops up and scurries off, down the embankment to its warren.
7:20 a.m. - wash hands and get a well earned cup of coffee.

I really hope this rabbit will now think twice about playing "Peter Rabbit" and sneaking under the fence into our version of Mr. MacGregor's garden.