Monday, November 30, 2009

Horses and Marriage

When we built the horse barn, I said, “Even though we have two horses, we need four stalls – two for horses, one for tack and one for the goat.” I thought, “When these two retire, I’ll need a stall for a third horse.” When we moved hay this weekend, he said, “The weather is nice, let’s move hay and fill the spare horse stall with it. What he thought, “If we leave the stall empty, she’ll get another horse.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cutting the Christmas Tree

Although we'd shed our coats while moving hay, we were still sweaty when we, dressed in sweatshirts and jeans, climbed into the truck. Outside, the grass, still green, soaked in the afternoon sun. "We need Christmas music," I told my husband. "But it doesn't feel like Christmas," he said. We traditionally cut our Christmas tree on the weekend following Thanksgiving. Over the years, we've walked the tree farm in biting wind, rain, sunshine, slush and snow. "Remember the time when the snow was falling in big flakes, the ground was blanketed, it was in the 20's, and there was no wind?" he asked. I nodded. The radio played Silver Bells. I rolled down the window a few inches, hoping the 50-degree air would dry the sweat from my face.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Green Thanksgiving

As I walk by the raised beds, I marvel at the dark green spinach, the green and purple lettuce leaves. When I planted the spinach and lettuce seeds in August, I didn't expect them to last this late into the year. But we've had a warm fall, and so they, along with the grass remain green. I continue to watch the weather forecast, trying to determine the last day to pick them before the freeze of winter extinguishes the green.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving Thanks: Lunch Hour

I am thankful for those days: When I can step outside at noon and feel a cold that requires a jacket, but not gloves. When I shovel fifty pounds of manure from stalls, and take the dogs for a walk through harvested fields. When I try to convince nine ewe lambs to go into a stall, and only the two pink-nosed bottle babies oblige. When I bring out the Border collie, who is thankful to work the sheep during my lunch break.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Looking for Gold in the Corn Field

I took a short cut through the corn field and stepped into my childhood. Burlap bag in tow, I walked through the harvested field, looking for ears of corn the combine missed. I stepped on husks, hoping to feel the hard cylinder of corn instead of the pillow of cob. After what seemed like hours, I dragged the bag of corn home. Twice a day, I gave the horses their corn on the cob, and watched in delight as their teeth zigged down the ear, leaving only the cob behind.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A November walk

When the grey, cold and damp blanket of November settles across the land, I put on: My wool socks Heavy jeans Wool long underwear Turtleneck Hooded sweatshirt Windbreaker And dare it to keep me inside.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ewes are my Canvas

My ewes look like they've been attacked by a three-year-old and a box of Crayolas. They have red, orange and blue streaks on their heads and backs. Grease sticks are a temporary way to mark sheep that have been inspected, dewormed, trimmed, sold, etc. When looking at a blanket of white backs, it's much easier to see a red stripe down the back than to read a numbered ear tag. It's also a lot of fun to add color to the flock.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Sheep Mosh Pit

It was deworming time today, and I was on my own. So I packed a dozen ewes in the six-by-eight foot stall, grabbed the deworming syringe and grease pencil, then stepped among the sheep. Catching sheep is easier when they're packed together. You just wade toward your victim, grab her head and push her to the wall. There's no quick getaways because she has nowhere to go. Except for the speckled ewe lamb. She leaps and swims on the backs of others until she falls into a space and lands on the ground again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Certain Friends

Live on a farm, and you learn to edit stories about farm life. Only certain friends will understand and appreciate some of the farm experiences. When the Border collie eats one-third of the lemon meringue pie cooling on the counter, I know that certain friends would find it acceptable to eat the part that's not been touched by dog tongue. I tell the story and share the pie with them. Certain friends will want to know about the critter found in the basement, and how we disposed of it. In exchange for these tales, certain friends will tell about the bat and rat that found their way into their houses. And together, we will laugh and commiserate about farm life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

When Fear Trumps Hunger

My pony mare was born with a voracious appetite, insatiable curiosity, and a fear of mountain lions hiding in grass. This means she won't venture into the front yard, where the grass is lush, unless accompanied by another, braver horse or, like on this morning, when the sheep are grazing in an adjacent pasture.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time for the Times

When a fellow writer on Monday mentioned an article in the Times’ Sunday Styles section, I felt a touch of envy. It takes days for me to read the Sunday Times, and I wouldn’t get to that article until mid-week. It’s not that I’m a slow reader, but that a farm and its critters demand my time. But as I throw a Frisbee across the yard and watch my Border collie leap into the air to retrieve it, As I bury my fingers in the ewes’ coats, As I watch the chickens play keep-away with an apple core, I feel gratitude.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Comfortable Lawn

We don't use herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertilizers on our yard. So the yard – a natural mix of grasses, clover, dandelions, weeds – looks lived in. Underneath the surface live worms, insects, moles. Above it, walk dogs, cats, humans, the occasional chicken and horse -- all attracted to its wild mix.

Monday, November 9, 2009


It is mid-morning, and the ewes have returned from the pasture. They are lying in the paddock, their heads tilted slightly upward, chewing on their cuds. It's a moment of absolute contentment. I wonder if I could achieve that if I were given several pieces of grape Bubblelicious.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Places I Seldom Go

Because our house sits in the middle of a 75-acre farm, I must walk a quarter-mile to reach some of the farm's borders. Yet I've been to those borders more than I've been to places just feet from our home. In the front corner of our yard sits a group of trees and a lily bed that I pass when I mow the grass. This weekend, when the temperatures soared into the 60s, I ventured to that spot to clean out the lily bed -- a task I haven't done for a few years. I was amazed at the vegetation that invaded during my absence. A few briars and saplings so big they required a saw. And I took a break from cutting and pulling weeds to admire the solitude and beauty in a spot I seldom go.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Harvest Sounds

Diesels engines drone into the night. A wet fall delayed harvest. Now, during the first week of November, the sun emerged, drying the fields and giving farmers a window of days to harvest fields before the first snowflakes of the season arrive. At night, when darkness falls, I see those lights lumbering through the fields and hear the combines picking corn and the trucks carrying it away. During the day, I drive by the grain elevator where trucks and grain wagons are waiting in line to deliver the harvest. I look at the weather forecast and see the activity will come to a stand-still in a few days.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Capturing the Sun

At this time of year, I rush to complete my work, so I can walk the dogs and ride my horse in the harvested fields before the sun disappears and leaves me with hours of cold, hours of darkness.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Side of Beef: Part 3

When I picked up my frozen, processed lamb, two men were picking up beef. I stepped inside the office area and waited my turn. The butcher brought trays of packaged meat from the freezer and sat them in the lobby area where the guys took them and transferred them into boxes in their SUV. With each trip into the lobby, the guys had comments, like: "There's more?" "Where are we going to put it all?" "Another tray?" At which point, I asked if they had bought a half or a whole beef. They were picking up a whole beef plus a quarter (probably close to 600 pounds of beef). The trays kept coming out. The comments continued. "We should of brought the truck." "We should have brought the livestock trailer we brought the cow in." I walked outside and saw the vehicle was squatting. Not bad. But squatting. The guys were falling behind and the trays of frozen meat were stacking up in the lobby. The butcher turns to me and ask what I'm there to pick up. A lamb, I say. I bring in the cooler, load it with 40 pounds of meat, and walk out, and smile at the guys who are still trying to fit packages of beef in the back of their vehicle.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Side of Beef: Part 2

Ask how many pounds of packaged and processed meat is in a steer, a hog, a lamb, and you'll get that vague answer: it depends. Obviously the size of the animal makes a difference. It also matters how you have it processed. Are you getting a lot of cuts with the bone or having it deboned? But, let me give you a hint. If you're ordering a whole beef, you'd better have an extra freezer, and you may not try to haul the beef away from the butcher in your car.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Side of Beef: Part 1

I grew up in the age where chicken came pre-cut, packaged and wrapped -- in breasts, wings, thighs and drums, where steaks came two to a pack. Years ago, I joined the local-eating movement and tried to limit my meat to what we or the neighbor raised. My chickens are killed and plucked at a local butcher and returned to me whole. Another butcher slaughters and processes our lamb and beef. I've learned that chickens aren't all breasts, that lambs aren't all chops, and steers aren't all steak. In other words, I've learned where the cuts of meat come from on an animal -- and that there's a limited supply of prime cuts. But as I've learned to make chicken and dumplings with chicken legs and thighs, to cook roasts, and to assemble stews, I've also changed my definition of prime.