Monday, December 14, 2015

Why Are We Here?

     As we drove up to our farm yesterday to  wrestle our new (old) sickle bar mower off the truck and into the shed,  we passed the now empty house next door.  Apparently the folks who had rented it have moved.  We  only knew two of the children, who would stop by the farm whenever we were there, to play with the lambs,  follow us around as we did chores, or play with our youngest son.   Most of the time, this was no big deal - kids are kids.  However, I admit to sometimes thinking, "why don't they ever stay home?"
     One day sticks out in my memory.  We drove up and the one child was standing at the corner of the fence to the front pasture.  They were very good about minding the rule - "no playing at the farm unless we are there."  The child was wearing their backpack and waiting.  I looked at my husband and rolled my eyes,  and may have actually said, "Why do they not stay home sometimes."  We pulled in and the child came down to the barn asking if they could  stay at the farm until the police left their house.  We said yes, and were told the police were helping the child's mother with some sort of dispute over her business.  The child said they did not like the police.  I said the standard parental type thing about police helping us, and how they were there whenever there was a problem - they were the good guys.  The child replied that they did not like the police because the last time they came,  the police took them to the hospital in handcuffs.  (This child suffered from mental illness.)
     Talk about feeling guilty!  This young person, who had been through a lot more horrific things in their life than I had ever dreamed of, came to us and the farm for solace, and a safe place to be;  to forget for an hour or so all the hard realities of their life, and just feed the sheep, or  run in the field with our son, or tag along with my husband and I, talking about their day, or their family, or anything.  And I had selfishly wished they had stayed home.
     It's funny how sometimes we are put in a place for a reason, which may not be apparent to us at the time, but really teaches us something over the long term.  I hope that for the year or so they lived near us, the child did  find a safe place at our farm.  I hope, for a little while, they were able to forget the hard parts of their life, and just laugh while playing with the lambs, or playing superheroes with our son in the pasture.
    As we drive by the empty house next door, I find myself wondering if they have stayed in town or are off to a new place.  I hope they continue to find the people and places that make them feel safe.   I hope I remember the lesson I learned from this child - that I am and always have been blessed with a loving family, stability, security,  and if I can give this to a child who needs it, the inconvenience of not having my own "quiet time" at the farm is a small price to pay.
PS:  Tonight, when you hit your knees, please include this child and all those like them, in your prayers! Thanks

Monday, November 23, 2015

The bears we hold dear

      Most of us have had one.  Some of us still do.  A teddy bear - someone we cuddled with at night when we were sleepy.  Or cried all over when we were sad.  Or squeezed tightly during times of fear.  Mine has been with me all his life and mine.  I have no idea who gave him to me.  He has seen me through childhood, helped me survive first love and break ups. He has been to college with me, travelled to the UK for a year, and is the bear I hold dearest in this world.  His name is Fuzzy, and he is now anything but.  He was eviscerated one summer when we were on vacation and our dogs ripped him apart in protest of just having a dog sitter and not  family for two weeks.  In my childish, un-trained way, I stitched him back together, and always swore I would make him a jacket to cover the scars - he is still naked 43 years later.
      I was reminded of the longevity of teddy bears today, when I was wishing a college friend happy birthday.  Her bear, Claude, popped into my head and I asked about him.
He is still with her. I remember talking with Claude when I visited this friend in London nearly thirty years ago. He is a wise bear.  He is a gentle bear.  And he is still imparting smiles.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"We're gonna need a bigger...barn"

   I always loved that moment in JAWS when Roy Scheider looks at Robert Shaw and says, "we're gonna need a bigger boat."  So understated.  This week we put the breeding  groups of sheep together and realized that if each ewe only has twins - Finnsheep are known for throwing litters - we will add an additional 14 sheep to our flock in April.  If Rosie harkens back to her dam's  breeding style - she alone could give birth to 6 - yes, 6 lambs.  Our barn is not set up for this.  We can handle things through the summer, but we have got to find a way to add onto our current barn, or  build a second building so we can split the ewes and the  rams and  house  some of the hay that is currently in this barn in another place.
   So they are still getting used to being in different pens with different sheep, but hopefully by mid next month all will be bred and we can go back to our regular penning system.   Then come Spring - lambs!  In the meantime, if anyone wins the lottery and wants to make a charitable donation - we could really use that barn!

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Hopeful farmer: Of chickens and raccoons and rats

    We own chickens.  We  are neither chicken fans, nor chicken haters.  We just own them because when we first bought our farm it had  an RA40 zoning, and our realtor advised us to get animals on it, so it would not be deemed recreational, but agricultural.  Okay.  You have heard the rooster saga - Snowy,  was a bully, and eventually became coq au vin.  Yummy!
    Over a month ago, one of our Austrolorps was getting picked on by the other chickens.  She went from being a pretty black chicken with iridescent feathers to this

Her back was raw and bloody from them picking at her.  I put a blue cote antiseptic on it, hoping they might lay off if they did not see the red back.  No such luck.  So we took her out of the coop and let her free-range.  We figured she had a better chance against the occasional hawk than she did with her flock.  We dubbed her Raggedy Ann and crossed our fingers.  She promptly settled herself on the highest  bale of hay in the stack, and was quite happy.  She would come running up to the car as we pulled in at feeding times (why we did not hit her, I have no idea!)  and she contentedly wandered around the coop, as if taunting her flock mates with her freedom!
    Of course,  we had to put down some food for her, as most of the insects are gone at this time of year.  This allowed the rat that I knew was somewhere on the farm (I saw it last summer) to become bolder.  We saw it drinking from the ewes' water bucket, and every night it dragged raggedy's pellet bowl under the pallets  in the hay  shed.  Not good.  Then a few days later,  all the chickens in the coop were  sitting out  in the run - even though it was cold.  I opened the coop door to change the water, and the rat was sitting on the feeder chowing down on pelletized chicken food.   It looked at me, then took off.   Many friends made sweet references to Templeton, but I assure you, there is nothing sweet or romantic about a rat in the coop.   The next day we had set rat traps.   After two days we had caught  (and killed) one rat,  and two field mice.  We have seen no others, and the traps remain baited but not sprung.  So Rat Abatement Complete.
    A week or so later we had a dead, headless chicken.  Damn!  Raccoon?  Weasel/mink?  Time for research.   We returned the next day to three more dead chickens, only two missing their heads, the other just mauled.  Pretty certain it is raccoons.  We had one in the barn last year, and as adorable as they look, they are vicious when it comes to the flock.   We have been much more vigilant as we  have entered the dark season to be certain to close them into the coop at night,  and check carefully for signs of climbing or digging by the predators.  
      We are down to six chickens from eleven (one died of natural causes), so we thought, let's try putting Raggedy Ann back in the coop.  Things were fine for  a week, but yesterday, as we were checking the sheep, there was a hullaballoo from the coop, and Raggedy was getting chased again - even though she is full feathered and healed.  So back out she came, and up on her hay bale she perched.   I just hope there is enough insulation  in the bales for her to stay warm as winter approaches.  
     I do not understand  chickens.  They are not unlike humans.  "Oh, we have a predator senselessly killing us.  Instead of banding together, let's pick on the outsider."  Stupid birds. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Walk Down Memory Lane - Theatrical Design Work

     I have been updating my portfolio and realizing that a lot of the shows I documented by shooting on slide film!  Now, as I am trying to find images to put on my website, all I see in the pre-digital photos are fuzzy images as I tried to convert slides to photos.  Argh!   If any of my former students or colleagues have photos of some of the shows we did together and would like to share, I would welcome the extra images.
    In the meantime, here is the link to my other site showing some of my work, and sharing a lot of memories of the wonderful actors, and directors, and designers, and producers I have been so lucky to work with.  Design Portfolio

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

So many things to catch up on - No.1 A Hobbit Party

   A long time ago - back in August, our youngest son turned 10.  He wanted a birthday party - his first sleep over party - and he was not sure if he wanted a "theme" or just to have some guys over.  Theme won out and it was a hobbit party.  We incorporated some of the  characters/adventures from Tolkien's The Hobbit - a life long favorite of all in our family, and some of the essence  of The Lord of the Rings.
  Here is what we did.  Preparations:
  • made  "lembas bread" - a sweet sort of biscuit, sort of short bread 

  • made paper "leaf wrappers"  as they had been wrapped that way when given to the Fellowship by Galadriel of Lothlorien
  • created a map of Middle Earth to  help these hobbits follow the quest to gain troll treasure, vanquish orcs,  escape spiders, and obtain the Ring of Power
  • made sign posts and posted them all over the farm to  give the questers points on their map to find
  • bought candy with gold wrappers to create the troll treasure 
  • Bought glow stick  daggers to simulate "Sting" - so they had to glow blue!
  • made walking sticks from  straight branches
  • Made backpacks for our trusty hobbits to carry their bounty in
  • printed  orc faces and tied them to trees in Mirkwood
  • filled water balloons
  • made spiders from balloons and crepe paper
  • made golden rings of power from locking washers from tractor Supply and some gold spray paint
  • placed water bottles to cool in the stream in Mirkwood for the hobbits to drink at the end of their hiking
  • iced a cake on which I was requested to  draw Smaug, Gimli's ax, Legolas's bow, the staff  of Gandalf (the white),  Sting, and Sam's frying pan!
  • Strategically placed the back packs,  daggers, walking sticks, the treasure, the orcs, spiders and Rings
  • The boys started out in The Shire and then followed their maps until the ultimate goal of the Ring was achieved.  

    Starting out from The Shire

    With backpacks, walking sticks and Sting -
    Map in hand, they were on their way
    Climbing the hill to the Trolls Trove
Entering Mirkwood as dusk fell - what lies ahead?

Are those SPIDERS?
Well, sort of!  (Abi and Alex, pre-party,
hanging "spiders" from the trees in the clearing.) 
These can be killed with Sting.  No lazy lobs here!

In our Middle Earth, the only way to kill an orc is with water balloons
pass through all the challenges and take a Ring

Successful hobbits heading back to the Shire

Our fellowship!

Sting, staff, axe, bow, Ring, Smaug and frying pan - only somewhat soft due to the heat!
After the quest was completed, our hobbits (along with another party goer who arrived after the farm fun)  were ready to  roast hot dogs over the fire and have tater tots ("Potatoes - boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew"), fruit and of course the requisite s'more.  They then played night games - capture the flag and such, racing around the darkened yard with their daggers glowing.  Finally, bedded down in the living room with their sleeping bags and troll treasure, they watched the Hobbit movies - or at least  most watched the first and two stayed awake through the second.  
     Since they were stuffed after all the food that night, we had cake for breakfast along with eggs and bacon.  Over all, a lot of work, but the boys had such a good time, I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

making mistakes, making changes

      We are not farmers from a long line of farmers.  Well, actually, that is not true.  My dad grew up on a farm, my grandfather was a farmer, and many of my cousins are farmers.  My husband's father spent several years as a child on his grandfather's farm, and my husband's grandmother and her people were farmers.  But we are removed from it.  We are learning from books, and blogs, and trying to keep things running as best we can.  We make mistakes.  We read.  We make changes as we learn.
   Today we are dealing with a chicken  who is getting picked on so badly she is bloody.  I have painted her wounds with Blue kote - antiseptic that makes her back purple. I am tempted to remove the wounded chicken from the coop, but I have not got a separate place for her that I can keep warm, and from past mistakes we have learned we cannot bring birds home where our dogs will want to "play" with them.  I think we may be over crowded in the coop.
      We need to expand our barn, or build a new one, for the sheep we are going to breed this year will double, treble, or possibly even quadruple the size of our flock.  We have ten sheep - seven of whom are female - and most of whom, we wish to have progeny from, to increase said flock and to sell some of them to others who enjoy their lush, soft fleeces.  Building a barn would be optimal, however, one must have money for that, and as anyone who knows farmers understands, most of us do not have funding for more than feeding our animals.
      After research and reading and classes, I see we need to  plow up several acres of  pasture and replant - our farm has exceptionally poor forage right now. Brassicas are in our future, as are some warm season grasses.
    The first two years have been about getting organized, gaining some livestock, and hiring  contractors to help tame some of the springs on the farm, and learning all we can.  They have also been about exploring our land.  Sitting and watching fireflies, and fireworks, and listening to the coyotes sing, and the sheep chatting in their pens, and the hens gossiping. Next year will be about change - and maybe, if we are lucky,  growth.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Great Zucchini Invasion

    It's that time of year again.  You look forward to it, and yet, in a tiny corner of your heart, you fear it.  The time of the zucchini.  We plant it, we eat it. We make zucchini bread and muffins (because they freeze well), zucchini parmesan, because  the cheese and spices can only help the blandness that is zucchini, and then we grow sick of it.  Here are a few recipes to help us get through this time of bounty with our taste buds intact.  I have asked friends to give me their recipes/uses for zucchini.  I make no guarantees about these recipes except that someone uses them.  Now, go forth and gather the plentiful harvest of your verdant gardens without fear or anxiety - we've got you covered!
squashes I have known

Actually larger than my calf 
Pasta with Zucchini, Tomatoes and Creamy Lemon-Yogurt Sauce
Adapted from Jillian Michaels’ “The Master Your Metabolism Cookbook”
Serves 4 (calories: 303 per serving)
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook about 9 minutes, or according to the package directions. Remove 1/4 cup of the cooking water, and set it aside. Drain the pasta. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the yogurt, Parmesan, lemon zest, and salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, and cook just until wilted, flipping them over occasionally with a spatula. (The zucchini will be soft and somewhat see-through.)
4. Use a spoon or spatula to push the zucchini aside so a space on the bottom of the pan is clear. Add the garlic, and cook for 15 to 30 seconds, until golden but not really brown.
5. Mix the garlic into the zucchini.
6. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
7. Transfer the zucchini mixture to the yogurt mixture, and stir to combine. Add the drained linguine, and toss gently to combine. Add the reserved pasta cooking water a tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to thin it. Divide among four bowls and serve.
Nutritional Info (Per Serving): 303 calories, 7g fat, 14g protein, 49g carbs and 255g sodium.

Another friend suggested adding zucchini to your soups,  and dice it into your marinara when making pasta.


PREP TIME   20 mins
COOK TIME  25 mins
TOTAL TIME  45 mins
Packed with Quinoa and Zucchini, these Fritters are super delicious and very easy to make!
Serves: Makes 12 to 14 Fritters

2 cups grated zucchini         1 cup grated fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese
½-teaspoon salt                    1 cup panko crumbs
1 cup water                           salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
½-cup quinoa                       3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg                                    Optional; yoghurt, Sour cream,  soy sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
½-teaspoon dried oregano

Place zucchini in a Colander and toss with ½ teaspoon salt.
Let stand 10 minutes then wring zucchini dry with paper towel.
In the meantime, prepare the quinoa.
Combine water and quinoa in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.
Reduce quinoa to a simmer; cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, fluff with fork and let stand ten minutes.
Place zucchini in a large bowl.
Add quinoa, egg, garlic, oregano, fresh cheese, and panko crumbs.
Season with salt and pepper; mix until thoroughly combined.
Heat olive oil in a skillet.
Shape zucchini-mixture into 2 to 3-inch patties.
Working in batches, add zucchini mixture into skillet, flattening slightly; cook until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes per side.
Transfer fritters to a paper towel–lined plate.
Serve with yogurt, or sour cream, soy sauce, etc...

Serving size: 4 fritters Calories: 122 calories per fritter Fat: 7.3 grams

Zucchini "chips"
Cut a zucchini into thin slices and toss in 1 Tbsp olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Sprinkle with paprika and bake at 450°F for 25 to 30 minutes. Using paprika not only to flavor this healthy snack, but also to boost your metabolism, reduce your appetite, and lower your blood pressure.

My trick is to slice zucchini thinly and dehydrate it, hen it is easy to store. All winter I throw handfuls into stews and chili.  To sneak a veggie into a picky eater's diet, try shredding it and mixing it into meatloaf.


Mom's Zucchini Pancakes 

Prep - 20 min   Cook - 10 min
 Serve with a small dollop of sour cream. 

1/2 teaspoon baking powder                  1/2 teaspoon salt  
2 cups grated zucchini                            1 pinch dried oregano
2 large eggs, slightly beaten                    1/4 cup vegetable oil,
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Blot grated zucchini with paper towels to remove moisture. Stir zucchini, eggs, and onion in a large bowl. Mix flour, Parmesan cheese, baking powder, salt, and oregano in a separate bowl; stir mixture into zucchini until batter is just moistened.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drop rounded spoonfuls of zucchini batter into hot oil; pan fry until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain pancakes on a paper towel-lined plate.

Good Morning Healthy Blueberry Muffins made extra moist thanks to zucchini and applesauce.

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (or honey)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (any milk will work)
3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray or line with muffin liners. Either way I recommend using nonstick cooking spray. This guaruntees that they muffins will not stick to the liners or the pan.
In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside.
In a separate medium bowl, combine the following wet ingredients:zucchini, maple syrup, vanilla and almond extract, olive oil, applesauce, egg and milk until well combined. Add to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold in blueberries.
Even distribute batter among muffin tins, filling about 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 19-22 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffin comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes then remove muffins and transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Makes 12 muffins.

Muffins can be frozen; individually wrap muffins in ziploc bags or store them in a large freezer bag. Reheat for 30-45 seconds in the microwave or simply thaw them at room temperature.

To make vegan: Use a flax egg instead of a chicken egg.

Here is another contribution!  Zucchini rounds - looks pretty simple.

I found this on  It looks pretty good, but in our house, lactose intolerance is a problem, so i might modify this a bit.  For example - use plain yoghurt instead of sour cream, margarine instead of butter- you get the gist. 

Zucchini Fudge Bundt Cake with Chocolate Glaze {or} Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Zucchini Fudge Bundt Cake with Chocolate Glaze is so moist and decadent, nobody 
will ever guess that it's concealing a pound of zucchini and 100% whole wheat flour! 
If you prefer, you can bake it in two loaf pans and leave off the glaze to call it 
Chocolate Zucchini Bread instead.
    For the cake: 
  • 1 pound zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • For the glaze:
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    For the cake:
  1. Adjust rack to center position of oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously coat a 9- to 10-inch (12 cup) Bundt pan with baking spray (the kind that includes flour).
  2. Using a box grater or food processor, grate the zucchini (you should end up with approximately 3 cups). Stir in 2 tablespoons sugar and place in a large colander set over a bowl. As you prepare the rest of the batter ingredients, the sugar will draw the moisture out of the zucchini. Occasionally press down on it to squeeze more water into the bowl.
  3. Finely chop unsweetened chocolate, place in a bowl, and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds; stir. Heat in additional 15-second increments, stirring after each one, until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Allow to cool.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together whole wheat pastry flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to blend together eggs, sugar, melted chocolate, melted butter, applesauce, and vanilla until smooth. Mix in drained zucchini. Turn mixer down to low and stir in half of the flour mixture, followed by all of the sour cream and then the remaining flour mixture. In a small bowl, toss mini chocolate chips with tablespoon of flour. Add to batter and mix until just incorporated, taking care not to overbeat.
  5. Evenly pour/spread batter into prepared pan, place in preheated oven, and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cake from the oven and allow it to rest on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before turning it out onto the rack to finish cooling.
  6. For the glaze:
  7. In a small pot, melt butter over low heat. Remove pot from heat and add chocolate chips, stirring until they are melted and combined with butter. Stir in corn syrup and vanilla until smooth. Immediately pour glaze over warm cake, gently spreading it so that it trickles down sides. Allow cake and glaze to cool completely before slicing.

Zucchini boats, hollow out some of the middle and put rice, meat, cheese, sauce, anything you want!   

So there you go, a few to start the ball rolling.  I will periodically add a few more as folks submit them.  Enjoy your zucchini! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Feathers, fungi and toads

    My sons and I went on a hike up our mountain today - just to have lunch and see what we could see.  (Think of the song, "The Bear Went Over The Mountain" and you'll get the idea of how much planning went into this - none.)    We saw toads galore, and  had hot dogs roasted over a fire. This made the hot dogs, the BEST  EVER, according to my youngest - since they were  cooked and smoked at the same time!
   We saw a bunch of toads, and  several newts - which we did not touch due to the bug repellent we were wearing.  We meandered.  We looked at different paths we  did not usually take.  We found an owl feather, and what I suspect is a turkey feather, but my son swears is a feather from a falcon.
    We saw LOTS of fungi making me wish, once again, I had a degree in mycology.  I took photos of some of the fungi we spotted. I am always stunned at how beautiful some of them are!  If you know what  they are - please feel free to comment.  I would like to know what is  safe/poisonous to touch or eat.  If anyone knows of a  class being offered in mushroom and fungus identification, please let me know.  Thanks.
These are fungi
very delicate, very beautiful
A gorgeous grouping - wish I knew what it was

The  just poked up through the leaf mould

Many specimens had been nibbled on
the feasting gave us lovely, textural views
The probable culprit for the gnawed fungi
This is a gentle cup shape
one of my favorites - so elegant 

these are a knobby dark brown - they look grayer in the photo

This is pretty small - the bright colour kept it from being trod upon.

one of the many coral-like fungi we saw

Another coral type

What ever ate this loved it so much it chewed a little heart right down the center!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Hopeful Farmer: Berries

     Ah, July... the lilies are blooming, the roses are doing their rosy thing, and it is berry time around here.   Whether it is the currants and gooseberries I planted when we first moved in, or the black raspberries and red raspberries that were gifted to us by some friendly birds, or the blueberries that are still a bit green, we have a yard full of Nature's bounty.

    As with many things, we have some adjustments to make - I want to move the gooseberry bushes to the farm as the  chipmunks living in our rock walls tend to get the just before they are ripe.  (And they have taken over the upper garden - the bushes not the chipmunks.  Well...maybe the chipmunks, too!)   But today we had the perfect day for berrying - and tonight I will be  starting the  process for currant jelly - our favorite.  In a month or two we will make the grape jelly/preserves, and have some apples pressed for cider and  save some for eating.  But now is berry time.  Nothing is sweeter to me than seeing  children  with purple stained fingers and faces, after eating warm berries from the bramble.  
    Where ever you are, I hope you find some bird gifted berries on your rambles and are not afraid to pop them in your mouth, unwashed, still warm form the sun.  Happy summer!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Hopeful Farmer - the Japanese Knotweed edition

    Here on Rivendell Farm we have inherited Japanese Knotweed.
 To inherit this means you have been given a never ending supply of it.  This invasive plant was imported to the US from Great Britain, after having arrived there in 1825 from Japan for use as an ornamental garden plant.  It has its ornamental side, and the flowers are well liked by bees, but just try to keep it in a garden! Like bamboo, which it resembles in height and segmented stems, knotweed  sends rhizomes underground, forming a dense web of roots which all have the potential for sending up more shoots.  Any bit of root left in the ground can start the entire growing process.  It is difficult, if not impossible to eradicate this plant. In Japan it has fungus and  animals which keep it in check, but this is not the case in its new host countries.  In the UK there are actual laws about it - if it is in your property, you must report it, and work on getting rid of it.  It will creep up through  your lawn, through pavement - and there are documented instances in the UK of it growing up through the foundation and into people's houses!
working its way into the lawn

Apparently there are chemicals (Roundup) that can help - but even with cutting and applying these chemicals to the cut off plant, it can take three or four years to kill it - and EVERY stem must be treated!  Every time it is cut back, it has to work harder to come back to full height.  Cows will graze on it, I am told, as will goat (but only under duress).  I want neither chemicals nor cows, so I am working on other ways to control it.
     Ater two afternoons of cutting out a five foot section of the invader, and disturbing  a bird with nestlings

(a problem when changing the habitat - even if it is to remove invasives), I decided I needed a different approach.
A very distressed bird

the reason for her great distress
     Knotweed is hollow, and very fibrous.
 Although I have taken a few year hiatus from it, I have been making paper for quite some time, and why not try this "weed" as a fiber source for it?  Being a plant that is very sturdy, I am trying different ways of breaking it down to get to the fiber.  I gathered a bunch of the dead stalks from last year, chopped them up and started soaking them in a bucket.
really nice fibers, once I remove the pith
 I also took some of the newly chopped stalks and did the same.  I suspect both methods will work, with a great deal of time for the rotting process.  I will also try to more expedient method of  boiling some of the new stalks, some with  soda ash, some without.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes.  The outside of the  stalks are green with a purply red streaking - I wonder if I can make dye from it?  hmm...
     Knowing how long this process may take, I am looking at other  methods of using this plant - like eating it.  I have eaten it very young, it is like s lemony asparagus - very nice - but my stand is too woody at this point.  So I have been looking at other ways to fix it.  Apparently if I peel it then boil it and puree it, I can use some of the mature stalks.  I have found recipes for pies (and I do make a mean pie!)  and crumbles, as well as savory methods of serving it. It is supposed to be a healthy tea, if made from the roots.  I tried this - it tasted rather like dirt - and honey did not help that much.  I think boiling the stalk itself for a lemony tea may be the better course of action.  I will keep experimenting and researching.  So if you come to my house for dinner, do not be surprised if it is on the menu!
knotweed root

Japanese knotweed root tea - 

Friday, May 1, 2015

You are beautiful!

    I can't keep quiet anymore.  I recently read a friend's post about how she might wear a sleeveless shirt this summer despite her "arm issues."  I hear my students saying how they are too fat,  too short, hate their skin, etc.  You are beautiful.  If we all looked the same, how boring this world would be?   Who has the right to tell you what you should look like?
    I know there are things we may all want to change - I would like to lose a few pounds.  So I'll lay off the ice cream for a bit and walk the dogs or  work  on more fencing at the farm - exercise and less calories, and I can achieve the change I seek.  But you know what, even at my current weight - I am beautiful.
     I teach a Stage Makeup class, and since my students must look in the mirror for every class, we begin the semester by looking at ourselves and repeating, "There is nothing wrong with my face."  Any time they whine about, "I hate my nose, (chin, skin, forehead - add the appropriate facial feature) I tell them to repeat it again - there is nothing wrong with  my face. If I say something negative about myself - usually my "bad hair days", they will throw it back to me - there is nothing wrong with your hair!  The best thing that happened this term was when one of those students had her photo on the campus web site and someone asked about the photo, which was not complimentary  She replied that she had no idea why they used that photo, "because it is a bad  picture, and I AM PRETTY!"   What a victory to hear a young woman say that and mean it!
     I constantly see photos of pathetic celebrity women who have bought into the Hollywood ideal that to be successful you must be young and wrinkle free.  They have  destroyed their natural beauty with plastic surgery, Botox, and silicone injections, and they look sad and unnatural.  What a shame.
     Embrace each wrinkle - they say, "I have smiled a lot.  Squinted on a sunny day.  Worried about someone.  LIVED."
     You are beautiful.  Believe it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Babies at the farm

    The delivery of the lambs from two ewes has doubled our flock.  We are now the proud caretakers of ten sheep, (and thinking we were quite right in not breeding our third ewe).  Maxine gave us twins, and last Wednesday, Arwen dropped triplets, as we suspected.  The twins are male and female.  Thankfully, the triplets are all ewes!  The idea of culling our first babies was hard to swallow, but no farm needs a lot of rams. The trick with the trips is that they are white like their mom and dad.  Pippin has one defining mark - a small black dot on her hip.  Merry and Galadriel are both white - just white.  I am hoping one develops a slightly dustier looking nose or something allowing us to identify her without having to read her ear tags.
     Yesterday, we let the lambs and mamas out on the pasture for a bit - they loved it.
first steps outside the barn

I have an oak leaf!
      A few of neighbors stopped by to see the lambs, and Ted, an old shepherd himself, warned us to watch out for the eagles.  This had never occurred to me.  We have at least one mating pair of bald eagles living near by.  Ted said he has always been more worried about the eagles stealing his lambs than the coyotes.  We know the llama will help stave off a coyote insurgence, but what would he do with an aerial attack?
Time to rest for the 3 day old lambs

The big kids on the block playing King of the Hill.
      Babies on the farm come in all shapes and colours, including the new chicks.  We had our youngest go to pick out half a dozen new chicks (pullets all - NO MORE ROOSTERS!) and they are now in the basement in their brooder.
So Spring is happening as it should on a farm - new arrivals, some plowing, some planting and hopes for the right amounts of sun and rain.  As our friend, Ted, said when he saw the lambs, "You're in it for real now."