Thursday, December 31, 2009

Winter Ground

In late December, my garden sits dotted in snow. The only green comes from the few spinach plants I neglected to pluck. While I turn to the pantry and supermarket for my produce, the animals still eat from the land. I turned the sheep and pony onto their winter pastures this week. These are the places the animals may only tread when the ground is summer hard or winter frozen. I don’t want hooves ripping the sod. The animals leave the pile of hay behind, and instead choose to paw away the snow and eat the greens hiding under winter’s blanket.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Between Christmas and the New Year

From Thanksgiving through Christmas, my calendar is full of work assignments, social obligations, shopping, Christmas cards, cooking, and other obligations. On December 26, my calendar is empty. For the first time in weeks, I turn my attention to writing. For the next several weeks, when snow and cold and darkness keep me inside, when others go into their hibernation mode, I will go into that furious winter writing mode.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dewey Likes iTunes

When I return from a writing break, the calculator is open on my monitor.
As is iTunes.
Dewey also decided my novel needs a few hundred more X's.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Night

When I turn the car into the driveway, I notice the pair of eyeballs sparkling in the darkness. "Something's in the waterway," I say to my husband. It's probably a cat. The cats hunt for mice in the tall grasses of the waterway. When I see another set of eyeballs, I know it's not a cat. They do not hunt in pairs. As the car moves down the driveway, I see three, four, five, no six pairs of eyes. My husband thinks the worst. Had the neighbors cows gotten out? In the headlights, shapes emerge. Six does. Wind kept the deer from grazing the fields on Christmas morning. Now, the winds have settled, and once again, we see the Christmas deer.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Morning

On most Christmas mornings, I notice the silence. The road, never terribly busy, is quiet as people stay in their houses. The deer notice this too. In the low mid-morning light of December, they emerge from the woods. They come in twos and threes until more than twenty are grazing in the cornfield near our house. But we won’t see them this morning. Winds outside are gusting thirty miles per hour. The deer will take refuge in the woods, like we take refuge in our house.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Burying a piece of our lives

Dundee is buried next to Scuba in the pasture. My husband and I bought the two horses shortly after we bought the farm, and for the first few years, the horses lived in a run-in shed. It was a time of our lives when we had loads of optimism, and a lot less cash. Shortly after we bought Dundee, we had one saddle and two horses. But that didn't keep us from going on a trail ride. I offered my husband my saddle and rode Scuba bareback. I'm not sure I'd do that today. As with age comes a little more caution and a little less of the carefree attitude.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bookends-Part 3

Horses are herd animals and enjoy having other horses around. Like people, they like some horses better than others.
Scuba, my old mare, befriended all types of creatures – goats, cats, other horses. Dundee, our old gelding, loved Scuba. They lived together for more than a decade, and she tolerated his pushy mannerisms and neediness. They groomed one another and kept flies off each others’ faces.
If Dundee would have died first, Scuba would have mourned his death but she would have moved on and buddied up with Lily, my Haflinger mare, and been quite happy.
Dundee though was lost without Scuba. When my old mare died in October, his decline was rapid.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bookends-Part 2

Bookends-Part2 Whenever I hear Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends song, I think of Mr. Bee and Joe, two geldings I worked with during my college years. Mr. Bee, a white Arabian well into his 30s, and Joe, a 21-year-old sorrel Quarter Horse with bad knees, were part of the horse and pony string at a YMCA camp. When not giving young children trail rides, they stood head to tail and swooshed flies off each other. In that herd of horses, most got along. A few disliked each other. And a few were like Mr. Bee and Joe – two old friends who sat on the park bench like bookends.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bookends-Part 1

When I brought a kitten and an adult cat home, my first hope was that they didn't kill each other. I would have been pleased if they tolerated each other. I'm delighted that they buddied up. Louie, the adult cat, grooms and plays with the kitty and provides a warm place to sleep.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Season for Claws

As the kitten scales my jeans and sweatshirt, then perches on my shoulder, I pat myself on the other shoulder. How brilliant to adopt a kitten in winter when clothing is heavy and often layered. The kitten nips my ear. I ponder turning down the thermostat even lower and donning a hat.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Hay Hierachy

Throughout the summer and fall, hay is harvested and stored in a mow that holds a few thousand bales. Each month, we transfer 30-60 bales to the barn where we keep the horses and sheep. When doing so, I try to grab a variety -- some first, second, and third cutting. The first cutting usually has the most grasses and weeds and the least amount of alfalfa. The third cutting has the most alfalfa -- a rich forage that the animals love -- and sometimes don't need. At any given time, I have two, sometimes three, bales of hay open in the barn. The geriatric horse is served what the critters describe as "the best" -- the hay flakes with the most alfalfa. The next-best goes to ewe lambs, and then the pastured ewes. Lily, the easy-keeping pony, is relegated to the grass hay that has little to no alfalfa.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Living with Cats

Accepting a cat into your home means ceding control. I spent the morning trying to reason with a two-pound kitten who refused to understand why it was unacceptable to climb my jeans and perch on my shoulder when I was addressing Christmas cards, filling out forms, washing dishes, making dinner, writing. With kitten on shoulder, I give pitiful looks to pitiful Border collie eyes inside crates. "We could take care of that kitty," the two Border collies plead.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Home Office: The Reality

I make telephone calls. A telephone is squeezed between my ear and left shoulder. On my right shoulder sits the kitten, listening, waiting for me to do something exciting.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday Baking

I don't use the index when looking for recipes. Instead, I leaf through the cookbook, looking for the tell-tale sign of a beloved recipe -- bent pages, stuck-together pages, pages dotted with bits of batter. The banana nutbread recipe was in the blue cookbook. As I looked at the recipe, I traveled in time to when I first started making it -- before I married, when I lived in a little rented cottage in the country. I don't bake as much as I did then. Now, I have animals, husband, other hobbies to distract me. As I crack the eggs into the bowl, I note the intense yellow-orange yolks, and think this may be a Christmas first. Until the past few days, the grass has remained green and the hens have been eating it -- causing their yolks to remain the yellow-orange of summer. My holiday baking will carry an extra dose of sunshine this year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Inefficiency of Office Cats

How am I supposed to work when a kitty wants to chase the curser across the monitor? When another insists on being petted? When a wrestle-fest is going on just a few feet away?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

If spending the winter on an Ohio farm...

I'd take: 1. Mountain Horse Winter Riding Coat -- Truth is I seldom ride in it. I wear it for chores, walking the dogs, hikes. The canvas duck keeps out the wind. Its cut (below the butt) and design provide warmth and room to move. 2. Hoodie -- There's nothing like putting up the hood when the winds are a-blowing. 3. Wool socks -- Warm -- and not so cold when they get wet. 4. Long underwear -- Silk provide some warmth without the bulk on cold days. Soft wool provide lots of warmth on freezing days. 5. A lapcat. My Border collies would take: An owner that likes to spend time outdoors.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

His Name's Louie, Not Gus

Sometimes an animal will haunt you.
We went to the animal shelter to look at Gus, a big, loveable neutered male cat. I loved everything about him except that he was declawed. Because all of my cats venture outside, they need claws.
That Saturday, we left the shelter with a kitten and a memory of Gus.
The odds of an adult cat being adopted from a shelter are low. The adult cats in the adoption room were there for a variety of reasons -- owner moving, owner divorcing. Over the weekend, as we played with the kitty, we thought, "Why not give Gus a chance?"
A call to the shelter revealed he was still there. When I adopted him, the shelter worker said, "By the way, they called him Louie." The shelter staff had given him the name Gus.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Christmas Photo

What is it about Christmas that makes you dress up your animals and take their photos? One of the ewe lambs fell victim to the photo shoot this year. In years past, it's been dogs, cats, and horses. The only critter immune from the dreaded Christmas photo shoot is the llama. One year, after placing a Santa hat on him, I feared I would actually experience llama spit.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Freezing Time

The freezing temperatures change my routine. Water for the chickens, the horses, the sheep, is no longer a given. The horses are easy. More than a month ago, I cleaned out and checked the heaters for the automatic waterers. All I do now is plug them in, and keep an eye on them. The chickens require a change of routine. We have two chicken sheds -- so we keep four waterers. I fill two with warm water and give them to the chickens. The frozen waterers, I take inside to thaw for the evening routine. Sheep are a little trickier. I have one heated bucket -- and two separate flocks. One gets the heated bucket, the other gets a rubber bucket. I break the ice, empty and fill again. On the first frozen morning, the chores seem to take twice as long. In a week, they will be routine again.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Christmas Present

For Christmas time, we decided to give a cat a home... and the local shelter staff one less cat to euthanize. They say that it's common to take in 25-30 cats a day... and adopt out only a handful a week. My Border collies are quite unsure about this... He may be a little guy, but oh, he has such a scary hiss and spit!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Herding a Fly

I look up from writing and see Caeli, my Border collie, lying on the futon and staring intently at a fly on the comforter. That stare usually makes sheep run. The fly doesn’t move. A few minutes later, Caeli shows her teeth – a move that would send the sheep into the next county. The fly doesn’t respond. She ups the ante and grips it. The fly is dead.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Junior High all over again

Sheep have their family groups – or cliques. Ewes stick with their mothers and grandmothers, even when they reach adulthood and have their own lambs. Twin ewes are friends for life. During breeding season, we separate our flock. We place the five ewe lambs deemed too small for breeding into a separate pasture. The cliques remain. The two bottle lambs hang out with the flock but bonded with us when they were young. The twin ewe lambs bonded with each other – and still want to hang out with their mother and the larger flock. The fifth lamb was uncertain what group to join. Food decided for her. The bottle lambs are less afraid of people and come to the barn for hay. Number Five discovered that and hangs out with them, leaving the twin ewe lambs to stand at the fence and call for their mother.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Classifying Cold

Spend a few winters on the farm, and you learn that a thermometer does not adequately measure cold. If given a choice, between a 40-degree damp cold that wraps itself around you like a heavy wet blanket, or the 40-degree windy cold that forces icy air into crevices and pores, or the 20-degree still, sunny cold that brings the joy of winter into focus, I'll take the latter.