Monday, December 31, 2007

Bird Grass

There is a variety of perennial grass growing in several parts of the pasture, which I've heard called Purple Top. It grows in clumps, about 3' tall, and the sheep seem not to like it at all, at any stage. This encourages it to spread. This summer I began to wonder whether it's something I ought to be trying to get rid of, before it totally takes over. What's it good for, anyway?
Today I found the answer. There are tiny bird tracks all around each clump, and scattered remains of seed heads on the snow. In several places, I actually found feather marks where a small bird had pressed its widespread wingtip in the snow when lighting or taking flight. Many other food sources for these little birds are covered by snow, so the stiff stalks are a valuable resource for them.

So while I may try to control the spread of Purple Top, I'll tolerate it to a certain extent as a low-input way of feeding the birds during winter snows.

Bird Tree Day

What a fun afternoon! Four adults and four younger folk toured the farm, then diligently made decorations for the Bird Tree.

Type A: Sewing thread knotted in a loop through the corner hole of a stale soda cracker. Spread cracker with peanut butter, sprinkle with an assortment of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, and colored Cream of Wheat. (To color CoW, put CoW in a small plastic bag, put in a drop of food coloring, and mix thoroughly. Keep in freezer from year to year. Millet (for cooking, from the natural food store) also colors well).

Type B: Popcorn (home grown by our neighbor Harry Cook, $2.50 a bag) strung on sewing thread, interspersed with dried cranberries and orange (actually clementine) peels.

Eating clementines, drinking hot chocolate, and snacking on broken popcorn are part of the whole process.

Several latecomers helped with the decorating of the tree.

When the tree was small, we had to protect the decorations from the dogs with a wire cage. Now that it's getting so tall, I wondered how to get the top decorated. Not a problem for the younger minds among us--they just flung strings of popcorn towards the top of the tree, and they caught neatly on the spreading branches, higher than we could have reached even with a ladder!

Yes, I took pictures. But with the new program that handles my pictures, Blogger doesn't understand that I've rotated the picture 90 degrees....Grrrr! Anyone out there want to volunteer as Pinwheel Farm's computer coach, and help me out?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Snow Again

After several thawing afternoons erased a large part of the last snow, we got another inch or so today...a fresh white blanket over the muddy remains.

Again, as I work through the evening's chores after work, I relish the contentment of having kept up with the "right ordering" of so many little things. Nothing significant is iced over or lost in the snow. Chores are routine, not frustrating. I can enjoy the peaceful beauty of the fresh snow gleaming in light of the low-hanging snow clouds all a-glow from the full moon above and the city lights below.

The last chore tonight is bringing in firewood. After a snow, the first step for this chore is clearing the walkways.

Like everything else on the farm, attention to little details and niceties learned over many, many years makes a huge difference in this task.

My first rule of snow removal: promptness is everything. The less it has sat, the less it has been stepped on, the easier it is to sweep or shovel away. This is why, no matter how tired I am, I deal with the snow before bringing in the night's wood. I will be frustrated with myself if I stomp around on the snowy walk, then try to shovel it in the morning when the night has fossilized each footprint.

Second: Let nature help. By clearing the walks as soon as possible on a cold night, a lot of the residual ice/snow will "sublime" before morning. "Sublimation" is when ice changes directly to vapor, without turning to water of the wonderful unique characteristics of water that makes life on earth what it is. How important is sublimation? It's what allows laundry to dry on an outdoor clothesline in the winter when it never gets above freezing for a month! My January baby wore cloth diapers thirty years ago next month!

Whatever ice has not sublimed overnight has a far better chance of thawing the next day if the reflective layer of snow has been removed. Even partial removal will allow the sun's rays to reach the dark concrete or wood underneath, and the dark material will absorb enough heat to melt the snow even if the temperature is barely hovering above freezing. In the kind of marginal freezingweather we're having these days, the walk will clear itself if I give it a head start by brushing off most the snow; otherwise, it stays solidly frozen.

If there is stubborn ice, and a thawing or traction aid is really needed, my first approach is to use local materials. Ashes from the wood stove are very effective; a cardboard box the width of the desired path makes it easy to sprinkle an even dusting. They absorb heat from the sun, melting little holes that roughen the ice. Wood chips, bark, etc. help, too. With all these materials, I try to use them away from the house so that they don't get tracked in to damage the floor. I also try not to use the ashes in areas the dogs frequent--drying to paws. But for paths across the lawn, the ashes serve as fertilizer.

Next: Always assume there will be more snow before this one melts, and remove the snow to such locations as will permit removal of that future snow. I did that last time, so that the extra space I cleared then meant plenty of room to put this snow.

And: Think about where the water from the melting snowpiles will run and freeze, so that walkways aren't made into skating rinks. This makes everything safer, and minimize the need for ice melting chemicals.

In rough, unpaved areas, I generally don't shovel unless the snow is very deep. Rather, I pack the snow into a path by frequenting the same trail from house to barn, for example. Sometimes I drag the snow shovel behind me to compact a broad path without actually removing any snow. If the snow on lawn and lane areas stays relatively even, then it thaws more evenly, and there aren't ridges of snow laying on some parts longer. Healthier for the lawn, less much and better footing overall in the long run.

Then, of course, there are all the considerations of ergonomics, pacing of strenuous excercise, switching from left-handed shovelling to right-handed to balance the muscle building, etc.

And finally, the significant burning of calories during snow removal and woodbox stocking must be balanced with extra caloric intake. Time for ice cream by the woodstove!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Ann Arbor

Christmas happens, whether we are ready or not.

Kind of like life. Kind of like weather.

One holiday season when we were fairly young...I was maybe in 3rd grade, meaning that my youngest sister was in kindergarten...the family went on a short trip just before Christmas. Some sort of work-related trip for Dad, I think. It was just supposed to be overnight, from Cleveland, OH to somewhere in Michigan.

Alas, weather happened, whether we were ready or not. And so Christmas Eve found my parents checking three confused, cranky kids into a motel room in Ann Arbor, MI, in the midst of an unexpected blizzard (not sure they had invented weather radar yet in the mid-60's...pocket calculators were still some years off, and e-mail probably hadn’t even been imagined).

HOW WILL SANTA FIND US? OUR STOCKINGS ARE AT HOME! You can imagine the wailing, gnashing of teeth, pleading and placating of parents....

"Santa" was pretty concerned, all right. All "Santa’s" best-laid plans were hidden in a closet hundreds of miles away, and where are those pesky magical reindeer when you need them most? Rudolph was good in fog, but what about a blinding blizzard?

This was the era before convenience stores, let alone Walmart/Walgreens/supermarkets open 24 hours a day. AND it was Christmas Eve. All the stores had sensibly closed early, so that families could be together. AND whatever might otherwise have been open was closed due to weather.

My ever-resourceful parents did their best. Christmas morning dawned on knee socks from our scant luggage, hung along the motel room dresser. They were filled with whatever could be scrounged from the motel vending machines, front desk, under the car seat, anywhere. Just so there was something there on Christmas morning. Under the circumstances, I don’t think my sisters and I really blamed Santa for not putting on his usual (fairly modest and practical) show.

The real Christmas story here is that I don’t even remember the ordeal personally, though I’m sure it was traumatic for all of us at the time. This account is fictionalized from brief recounts told by my parents on rare occasions. Life, the universe, and everything go on, even when it feels like the end of the world to us at the moment. The winds of time send the sands of a million everyday moments to submerge that one horrible moment in vast shifting dunes. It might by chance be seen again, briefly, now and then, but only as a tiny part of a vast landscape.

In the words of Julian of Norwich,

And all will be well
And all will be well
And all manner of things will be well.

And isn’t that the real message of Christmas, anyway?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Full Moon and Snow

Alas, I cannot convince my digital camera to record what my eyes see outside tonight!

So plan a trip to the nearest Public Library and check out a copy of the children's book, "Owl Moon," and spread it open next to your computer screen as you read this entry. If the library doesn't have it, give it to them for Christmas. It shouldn't take much convincing.

Tonight looks like that, doing chores near midnight. And it feels like that...esp. sneaking out without the dogs or a jacket to try to snap a few pictures. And it even sounds like that--I heard a great horned owl, just once, in the distance, while I was feeding sheep.

This morning we had a special training at work--scheduled for 4 hours, 8-noon--back to back with my regular driving shift, 12:45 - 8:16 p.m. About 10:30 it started to sleet a little, then pellets more like hail (or ball bearings, on the road). Thankfully we got off an hour early...and it took that full hour to slither home in my not-sufficiently-weighted rear-wheel-drive pickup for dryer socks and warmer boots. I rode back with my housemate in her front-wheel-drive car.

Precipitation continued all afternoon, shifting to fine then fluffy snow driven by a sharp north wind, keeping it up until around the time we finished...close to 9:00...with a total of about 6" on the ground. Extensive blowing and drifting, extremely poor visibility at times, slick roads with inches of mud-like snow on top. Awful driving! The 30' busses I usually drive do pretty well--they are heavy with a lot of weight in the rear. But I was driving one of the smaller busses, which acted a lot like my pickup, and there were 4 times I got mired in deep areas and really wasn't sure I was going to be able to get the bus moving again. Finally DID get stuck in the bus yard, when directed to back into a narrow spot filled with a snow drift.

As I crept around town, terribly behind schedule, I kept thinking, "The only thing that makes this day unpleasant is that I'm trying to get somewhere. If I didn't have the time pressure--the obligation--if I wasn't in a motor vehicle--it would be a lovely day, in its own way. I could relax and enjoy it."

At home, the sky was clearing. I went out and shovelled the entry area and porch for awhile by the light of the full moon. Though it was cold, I was soon opening the door and flinging my jacket and hat inside, much to the surprise of my shivering housemate. (She's moving to Texas tomorrow. Really.)

I've liked shoveling snow at night for as long as I can remember. Go figure. I guess it's always so peaceful when it snows--the traffic is at a bare minimum, and the snow seems to mufle sounds anyhow. This is even more so at night. The little sounds--the hiss and clank of the snow shovel, the rustle of the broom, the distand owl, a dog barking on a far street, the ram's bell, a stick snapping in a Border Collie's mouth--stand out as brightly as the stars that twinkle in the vastness of the night sky. And shovelling the snow before people walk on it is always so much easier than when it's been backed down by tromping boots.

Later I suited up again and went out to feed the sheep and close up the chickens for the night. It's the sheep, in part, who really taught me to accept weather as it comes, by their example. As I throw flakes of mixed grass/alfalfa hay over the fence to them, they eagerly gather around. The snow is thick on their backs--their fleeces insulate them so well that not enough body heat can get out to melt the snow. They have sheds to shelter in, but the snow on their backs shows me they have spent a lot of the day outside. Caring for them, over time, I've learned to stand tall in my own version of a "fleece"--Carharts, or a leather jacket--and let the weather be as it may. If I relax into the particular rhythm of snowiness on the farm--the light playful slithering of the sled hauling the hay to the sheep, the unique weight of each individual snowfall against my boots, the slight impediment of many layers of clothes--then it is a fine dance we do. Not at all like the tense, alert focus of driving.

In this weather, I truly appreciate the fruit of the many little things that have become absolute routines for me at the farm--routines I try to inculcate in everyone whose path runs near them. Things that make others roll their eyes, or worse, at my "compulsiveness", my "unreasonable insistence on doing things my way," my "controlling," my "nit-picking".

Because of these little habits, tonight it was a pleasure, in the sparkling beauty of the moon on the snow, to take the bucket off the hydrant, slip the hose off the top of the fence and hook up the quick-connect, and lift the hydrant handle to listen to the robust splash of the water into the stock tank. The sled for hauling hay was in the barn, not "somewhere" completely covered with snow; the pull rope wasn't frozen in yesterday's mud. I didn't need to use the headlamp--just did everything by moonlight--because, among other things, I knew there were no hidden loops of loose baling twine to trip me up. The plastic placed "just so" kept the snow out of the feed barrel when I stocked the hens' feeder. A hundred other little details that make life easier, if not actually simpler.

Waking the fire in the woodstove, however, I reached for a handful of kindling from a box packed this fall by someone who had scornfully disregarded my plea to "please don't pack kindling until I show you how I do it." Instead of a neat little handful of twigs, just enough to efficiently rekindle the fire, with no lose sticks to fall out of my hand--I ended up needing both hands to wrestle loose a clump that took up half the stove firebox. Little twigs went sproinging off in all directions across the wool rug in the living room. One stringy, twiggy branch of a species that is about as snap-able as stiff rope--a species I avoid for this use because of that charactersitic--had been folded several times and placed in the box, then covered with other sticks.

I'm looking forward to some peaceful hour tomorrow, snapping neat short kindling twigs of the best species from the brushpile that came with the new barn. Maybe I'm OCD. Maybe I've just learned a thing or two over the years, about how to make some of the little things in life easy and pleasurable, in their own small ways.

It's those little things that make up the mosaic of a complex but "simple" daily life that I find incredibly rewarding.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Upcoming Event: Bird Tree Day

Bird Tree Day, 2-4 p.m., Sunday, December 30

Here's how we keep the spirit of a Christmas Tree without spending money and energy on a disposable, plantation-grown dead tree covered with electric lights, non-recyclable tinsel, and decorations made in China! A longstanding winter tradition at the farm is to gather kids of all ages to help make edible decorations for the birds and decorate the locally-grown fir tree we planted a number of years ago. Take home a few decorations to start your own tradition! Materials provided. Fueled by locally-grown popcorn (what doesn't get strung) and hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Please RSVP if possible for planning purposes, and bring your own cup for refreshments!

Our primary goal in offering these events is to provide opportunities for people to participate in activities in sustainability-focused settings, to gain ideas and skills for making their own lives more sustainable. These events are free of charge to keep them accessible to everyone. Voluntary cash or in-kind contributions are always appreciated as tokens of your recognition of the effort it takes to build and sustain Pinwheel Farm as a community teaching and gathering place.

For detailed directions, more information, or to RSVP, contact Natalya at or 785-979-6786.

A brief history of Bird Tree Day:

A number of years ago, a friend gave us a small live Christmas tree--a little Douglas Fir--that he had grown. It has thrived in our front yard, now reaching perhaps 12-15 feet tall.

I've never been a big fan of Christmas lights, so we never did conventional decorations on it even though we thought of it as our "permanent" Christmas tree. Christmas lights cost money (remember how hard we scrimped back in those days to come up with the down payment for the farm?); tended to come from overheated, overcrowded noisy stores full of rude harried customers and grouchy exhasuted clerks; were annoying to string, keep working, unstring, store, untangle, etc.; used electricity for no practical purpose (I was raised in a family WAY ahead of its time in energy conservation and environmentalism)--what's the point? I'd rather enjoy the sparkling night stars for FREE...reflect on the splendor of the universe that they evidence...and then of course there's other people's Christmas lights to enjoy. Let them have the fuss, bother and expense!

But we wanted to somehow mark it as our Christmas Tree each year.

One year a friend and kids stopped by on a "snow day" from school. We got out the hot chocolate and circled around the wood stove...but after awhile that was a bit boring. I didn't have many supplies for entertaining kids at that time. I racked my brain. Then I got the idea of making decorations for the little tree. I had peanut butter...soda crackers that the moths had gotten into...various other odds and ends in the kitchen that birds might eat. We popped corn to cranberries (they cost money, too good for the birds anyhow--and this was before cranberries had become quite so popular and were more seasonal in the stores)...but wait, we're munching on oranges, we could use bits of peel to add color to our popcorn strings! And I'll donate a few raisins to the wildlife feast we're creating.

I strung cotton sewing thread through corner holes on the crackers, and the kids spread them with peanut butter. Then they sprinkled dry Cream of Wheat on them, dyed with food coloring, to make little diamond ornaments to hang on the tree.

When we got bored with making decorations, we hung them on the tree, which didn't take long--it was only a couple feet tall. It looked pretty good. We went in for another cup of cocoa.

After awhile we went to the window to see if the birds had found it yet...just in time to see the dog making her next selection of holiday snack from the tree! We rushed out and crafted a "guard" for it out of a scrap of welded wire fencing.

Since then, it's been a tradition to decorate the Bird Tree each year. Sometimes it's on a Sunday afternoon, sometimes on a snow day from school, sometimes we do it several times by popular request from the kids (friends', and my grandchildren). It's a relaxing social gathering that takes virtually no shopping or other preparation, and that everyone enjoys.

We hope you'll join us this year, or maybe next year. Or stay home and make decorations for one of your own trees (it doesn't have to be an evergreen), and begin your family's walk away from the stress and waste of frustrating, expensive, energy-consuming, imported "conventional" decorations.

The best part is, there's no worry about undecorating the Bird Tree!

Midnight in the Barn history, and Solstice Blessings

A brief history of the "Midnight in the Barn" event:

For many years, I did a neighbor's chores while she travelled over Christmas. I also took a live lamb to First Presbyterian Church for their Christmas Pageant--what fun! After the bustling pageant, after taking the lamb home and getting it settled back in, I would drive up to my neighbor's to feed the horses. It was always the high point of the evening, of all of Christmas: To simply sit on a bale of hay in her barn, in the dim light, listening to the horses munch on their feed, the small sounds of roosting chickens, the howl of a far-off coyote, my own breathing. Smelling the good, familiar barn smells, the livestock and hay. Seeing the sparkle of stars in the crisp night sky. The contrast of my warm coverall-ed body to the frosty air on my face.

As I waited for Caro, the Holsteiner, to finish methodically chewing his grain, I would imagine a weary, fulfilled young mother settling into blankets spread on the hay after giving birth, a snuggly-wrapped baby sleeping nearby in a feed rack. Despite the upheaval of travelling far from home and not being surrounded by family and friends, it must have been a peaceful and nurturing birthing place compared to the glaring, frantic, uncomforting delivery room that "welcomed" my daughter not quite 30 years ago. How many lambs, calves, kittens, and foals had been quietly born under that same stable roof? What better place for the "Lamb of God" to be born, to lead us towards peace?

I always returned home relaxed and refreshed, no matter how long and busy the day had been.

Some cultures hold that the animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve, and give them special food treats. I've never heard them speak English, but they always teach me something about simply BEING, and what's really important. Even as little as I participate in conventional Christmas traditions such as shopping, decorating, gift-giving, special baking, etc., taking time to appreciate the deep quiet of the barn at night is a welcome respite from the season's often frantic pace.

I invite you to join me in experiencing that special peace, as a new tradition at Pinwheel Farm. If the scheduled time conflicts with your other Christmas Eve activities, of course you are welcome to come earlier or later, just contact me ASAP so I know ahead of time. Your feedback on this year's event will be considered when planning next year's.

And today, take time to reflect on light--the return of lengthening days as we cross the year's longest night--the Winter Solstice--into official "winter" (then what have we BEEN having?????). Today begins the turning of all plants and livestock--all things connected with the natural world--towards new growth and fruitfulness. Let us welcome that quickening energy of hope, enthusiasm and growth into our own lives, remembering that we are unavoidably part of that natural world. We can let ourselves be rested, energized and nourished by the seasonal rhythms and harmonies of all of God's creation, starting in this moment.

Be blessed!

Upcoming Event: Midnight in the Barn

Midnight in the Barn, 11 p.m. - midnight, Monday, December 24

Instead of expensive organs, fancy heated buildings, glaring electric lights, and fancy clothes, experience a sustainable & spiritual Christmas Eve in our mostly-recycled barn. Hear the sounds of munching sheep and rustling bedding, smell the hay, experience the environment into which Jesus was born. Dress for outdoor (but sheltered, and we may have a bonfire outside) conditions. Hot drinks provided.

Please RSVP if possible for planning purposes, and bring your own cup for refreshments!

Our primary goal in offering this and other events is to provide opportunities for people to participate in relaxing activities in sustainability-focused settings, to gain ideas and skills for making their own lives more sustainable. These events are free of charge to keep them accessible to everyone. Voluntary cash or in-kind contributions are always appreciated as tokens of your recognition of the effort it takes to build and sustain Pinwheel Farm as a community teaching and gathering place.

For detailed directions, more information, or to RSVP, contact Natalya at or 785-979-6786.

Directions to Pinwheel Farm

PLEASE RSVP by email ( or phone (785-979-6786) if at all possible for all Pinwheel Farm events, so that we can be prepared. If you are not sure of the directions and have a cell phone, bring it so you can call if you get lost (about 1/4 of first time visitors, so don't feel bad...we are well hidden right in plain sight!

To get to Pinwheel Farm:

From Lawrence/points south: Go north across the Mass. St. bridge onto North 2nd. Go through 2 stoplights. Look for O'Reilly Auto Parts on the right, and turn onto the street just BEFORE O'Reilly's (North St. a.k.a. N. 1700 Rd.). Go about 4 blocks east. Just past the trailer court (on the right) you will cross N. 5th St. (also on the right). The farm driveway is just beyond 5th Street on the LEFT.

Alternative side-street route for walking/biking: Come across the walk on the east bridge, and turn right onto Elm St. At Third St., turn north and follow 3rd as it jogs, east on Locust and north in front of the grain elevators and across the tracks. Take any preferred side street before or including North Street (I like Perry or Lincoln) east to 5th Street, turn left on 5th, and go to the end of the road. Jog right then left into the farmhouse drive, or go straight ahead into the drive for the new barn.

From I-70: Take the East Lawrence exit. At the light after the toll booth, turn LEFT onto N. 2nd/ Hwy 40/59. After passing the concrete "LAWRENCE" letters on the left, road will veer to the right. Look for O'Reilly Auto Parts on the left, and turn onto the street just AFTER O'Reilly's (North St. a.k.a. N. 1700 Rd.). Go about 4 blocks east. Just past the trailer court (on the right) you will cross N. 5th St. (also on the right). The farm driveway is just beyond 5th street on the LEFT.

From points north (Hwys 24/40): head south into Lawrence. After passing the concrete "LAWRENCE" letters on the left, road will veer to the right. Look for O'Reilly Auto Parts on the left, and turn onto the street just AFTER O'Reilly's (North St. a.k.a. N. 1700 Rd.). Go about 4 blocks east. Just past the trailer court (on the right) you will cross N. 5th St. (also on the right). The farm driveway is just beyond 5th street on the LEFT.

For Midnight in the Barn, and possibly Bird Tree Day, parking will be in the driveway and in front of the new barn, but the circle drive between them isn't finished. We'll mark the path from the new barn to the old one. Please help one another park and back out safely. Those in the house driveway may have to back all the way out. Walking or carpooling is recommended.

For scheduled events after January 1, 2008, we should have signs out indicating where to park. Hopefully our new circle drive will be functional soon! Our tree trimmer has prioritized ice storm damage ahead of our parking area, but we don't mind--just grateful that none of our trees (or vehicles, buildings, etc.) were damaged!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Circles in the Snow

Snow, thaw, ice, thaw, more snow, more thaw.

Deep frost every night, down to the single digits, black nights of incredible twinkling stars...then muddy, springlike 40-something afternoons. Dizzying weather. I loved winter in Winnipeg at 26 C because you KNEW the weather was going to be just like that for the next several months, not all over the chart in a single day.

Tracks in the snow, tracing various lines and loops of blue shadows in the frosty sun of morning chores: coyote (doglike, in a pen where the dogs can't go), skunk, racoon, rabbit, little birds, cats....

But no cat prints in the yard. And I've seen strange feral cats lurking in the barn and out on the pasture. I have a sinking feeling that my beloved Ambrosius has found a new home--whether earthly or heavenly I may never know. It is a great loss that is sinking in only slowly: he's long had a habit of week-long hunting trips to the wilderness area, followed by bouts of demanding attention every minute I'm available. But he has never allowed other cats into his domain. I hope I'm wrong about his status, but I fear I'm right. He will be sorely missed, an irreplaceable longtime friend, companion, and co-worker.

The skunks claimed some more chickens a few weeks ago, through a small dig under the back of the coop before the ground froze. One night I actually saw the culprit eating the evidence...on returning with the camera, he had ducked under cover that obscured a clear photo. We're down to 18 hens, from nearly 80 a year ago. Depressing. I'm not operating an egg business, it's an expensive wildlife-feeding program. Probably would have come out ahead financially if I'd just butchered them all for the table before the critters got them. But--I do admire the beauty and grace and unique characters of the skunks, coyotes, and hawks I've seen this past year.

On the bright side, the anti-predator light in the chicken house has tricked them into thinking it's spring, and they are laying better each passing week. I'm starting to contact old customers for an egg purchasing rotation as they become available.

Awaken, feed the fire, breakfast, morning chores, feed the fire, drive the bus, feed the fire, evening chores, dinner, feed the fire, sleep at last. Slight variations as I'm tending a friend's home and cats during her travels, so some days end and begin there. A routine, though never quite the same. Hay deliveries some days. Lunch with a friend. Working on firewood. Helping my grandchildren learn how to ride the city bus to school.

The little details of this season deceive even me, even after so many years. Yes, each one DOES take time and space, no matter how little. And that time and space adds up faster than seems reasonable, leaving a puzzling lack of time for anything that feels like actually accomplishing something. Instead of just lifting the handle on the water hydrant to fill the stock tank, I have to first lift off and set aside the inverted bucket that keeps sudden ice storms from rendering it unuseable. Then use my hand to thaw the frozen residual drip on the brass quick-connect fitting. Then connect the fittings, pushing and pulling to be sure of a proper connection. Try to route the stiff, frosty hose without kinking it. Then finally turning the water on. When done, disconnect and drain the hose, shake off residual drips, hang it where a surprise snow storm won't bury it, make sure the ends aren't in mud or snow that will freeze to them, replace the bucket over the hydrant. Any missed detail is a gamble, likely to bring grief and frustration, sooner or later.

Each and every task is like this.

Not simply taking the twine off a bale of hay, but taking off gloves in order to take off the twine, then putting gloves back on. Brushing off hay that clings to gloves, sweater, coveralls, socks. Sweeping hay up off the kitchen floor anyhow. Hanging gloves to dry. Finding another pair to wear that's already dry. Alas, have I actually finally lost the dear pair of leather mittens that found me in Winnipeg, three years ago, or will they turn up in an unexpected pocket? Finding hay in my lunch box?!? If only I COULD eat alfalfa.....!

The world of Christmas lights and harried shopping seems remote indeed, illogical, alien.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Winter/Spring 2008 Events (tentative)

The first 60 folks we talked to at the Farmer's Market Holiday Sale this morning got the summary version of this tentative calendar in print. So here it is online, for those that didn't get the print version, and more details, for those who did.

Longtime farm friends will recognize many of these events as ones that have been held regularly for years. This year, we're just doing a little better at getting the word out (thanks to the marvels of modern technology) and doing them up a bit bigger...Good Lord willin' an' th' creek don't rise. Having the circle drive and a bunch more off-street parking, as well as a whole new barn, will really improve our ability to host events like these at the farm.

We'll do our best to get detailed information about each event posted here on the blog a week or so before each event, when possible. Some events are a bit spontaneous, like the Winter Wonder Walks--please call or e-mail a few days ahead to confirm.

All events are free; however, your purchases and/or voluntary contributions will help us to continue and expand our educational, recreational and spiritual programs. We want the farm to be accessible to everyone, but taxes, insurance, utilities, etc. all cost money.

Midnight in the Barn--Tuesday, Dec. 24, 11 p.m.- midnight. Informal reflection on the real meaning of Christmas, with the smell of hay and the quiet sound of sheep munching contentedly nearby. Hot drinks and snacks.

Bird Tree Day--Sunday, Dec. 30, 2-4 p.m. Every year, we make edible decorations for the fir tree in the front yard. Fueled by hot chocolate, of course!

Knit Nights–2nd and 4th Thursdays, 7-9 p.m. Gather in front of the wood stove to work on fiber projects, share skills, and visit. We've had requests for this from several of our fiber fiends(oops, I mean FRIENDS). There also seems to be interest in an earlier time for young folks with early bedtimes, so if we hear back from them we may add an afterschool kids' fiber day on a regular basis. This is my excuse to try to get myself sat down to do some knitting again.....

Winter Wonder Walk--Almost any Sunday with snow on the ground–call to inquire–then come visit the farm’s wilderness area and tall grass prairie at one of its most magical times! (This gives us a good excuse to take a break and walk with you--something we do far too seldom.)

Sheep Shearing Day--Saturday, Feb. 23, 10:00-noon? The shepherd's Christmas--we get to unwrap the sheep! This marks the start of the 2008 farming season.Watch the sheep get haircuts, and learn about wool. Having barns with roofs will really help us pull this together into a great event this year, after several years of always wondering whether the sheep will be dry enough. We're hoping to have fiber art demonstrations and product available for sale. Volunteer helpers are always welcome as we bundle, weigh, and label each fleece. Potluck lunch following at the farmhouse.

Lamb Viewing–Call to schedule during March and April. Want to see lambs being born? We’ll keep a list of people to call when it’s happening!

Egg Dying Sunday--March 16, 2-4 p.m. What better place to dye eggs than in our solar barn, where mess doesn’t matter? We’ll have regular and natural dyes–bring your own hard boiled eggs, and wear old clothes.

Easter Sunrise Service--March 23, 1/2 hour before sunrise. We gather in the parking area, walk in silence to the tabernacle on the pasture, and wait for the sun to rise. Contemplative Taize songs and scripture readings focus our thoughts as we meditate. Breakfast following at the farm.

Potato Planting Days–April
Farmer’s Market Opening Day–Mid-April.
Tomato Planting Days–May

Umpteenth Annual May Potluck and Jam Session, Sunday, May 18, 5-? "The Queen of the May" turns 50 this year--no black banners, please! To me this is a wonderful milestone & cause for jubilation! I'm only half my living grandmother's age, and I'm living my lifetime dream of having a small farm! This is just the beginning of many more joyful years!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Picking Up the Pieces

Not recovering from a sudden catastophe, but just the flotsam and jetsam at the end of the active growing season.

It's been awhile since I've written. No particular reason, just daily life swirling about like a busy river, encountering some interesting passages.

Thanksgiving was great, one of the best. In classic Manney family style, lack of significant advance planning flowed into a fabulous low-key, informal feast at the farm, something like 16 family members and friends seated at my farmer's market tables in the living room. We ate off of Great Aunt Molly's Wedding Rehearsal Dishes, which are pretty plain but--there's just something particularly sweet about inheriting the REHEARSAL dishes. They don't really even all match in shape--but there are a lot of them, the same off-white color, and that's what counts.

We splurged and bought a locally grown turkey this year, from one of my Farmer's Market friends. It was delicious. Just to be sure no one went hungry, I also roasted a leg of lamb. Here's my special method:

Peel a bunch of (homegrown) garlic and cut the cloves into slivers, the size of almond slivers. Poke holes in the thawed leg with a knife and insert garlic slivers in them, all over the leg, about 1" apart. No such thing as too much garlic, esp. when cooking lamb. Put the leg in a roasting pan. Next, wash a lemon and slice into paper-thin rounds. Plaster the top and sides of the lamb with the lemon slices (you can use garlic slivers as pegs to hold the side pieces on if needed). Then sprinkle dried rosemary leaves (not ground) over the whole thing. Bake at 325 until the meat thermometer says it's done. Slice and serve.

We had fresh salad greens--lettuce, mizuna, tat soi, spinach, etc.--from the garden, along with salad turnips, green onions, dill, and cilantro. Other folks brought mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, olives, pumpkin pies, cookies, etc., and I made stuffing. Since my granddaughter is a vegetarian, I also cooked up lentils with rosemary (that's all it is: just lentils boiled with rosemary--fabulous!) and a blend of wild rice and basmati rice.

Most of the preparations were little things, bringing the tables in from the garage, purchasing the various off-farm ingredients, tidying here and there. The dishes were done in shifts (to air-dry) throughout the rest of the day and evening, a pleasant tasks while visiting with folks hanging around picking at the odds and ends of leftovers. Then the arduous clean up task of eating leftovers for the past week, washing those containers as I went. Not much stress, and a good time was had by all.

This past week has been filled with the many small details leading to this coming Monday's milestone event, the closing on the property next door. Insurance. Utilities. Loan details. More loan details. Finding out at the last minute that some obscure rule prevents the bank from refinancing my house for the down payment, because I've refinanced it before. But wait...more smoke and mirrors, and lo and behold they CAN structure my financing as I had originally hoped to do, a new loan for the new debt to keep things simple at tax time, which originally they had said they couldn't do. So it all worked out the best way possible, at the last minute. Meanwhile, I didn't even panic! Getting an orientation from the seller on the abysmally bad plumbing, the location of sewer cleanouts, warnings about easily freezable pipes. Yikes! What am I getting into?

During all this, a new point of view: I'm learning to wear glasses all the time now, except at the computer: that's what my natural vision is best at these days. Maybe if I didn't spend so much time at the computer I wouldn't need bifocals for everything else? Hm, not worth it.

With a spell of very cold nights last week, the garden is about done for. Some lettuce remains under cover, and the spinach is frostbitten but surviving. What is the cold weather champion? Cilantro, of all things!

This is the time of picking up for the winter, for remembering that things on the ground can be hard to find (or easy to trip on) under a blanket of snow. That it's time to get in the habit of draining hoses after each and every use, because soon the afternoons may not get above freezing. Time for pulling any t-posts that need pulled before spring, time for digging any last holes, time for setting posts, time for moving anything that might freeze to the ground. Time for dumping water out of things and turning them upside down so that the incredible force of freezing water doesn't break or distort them. Time for mulching things, for cutting up firewood and putting it under cover, trimming things back, making everything tidy and ready to pick up in the spring.

A lot of progress has been made this year. Next year will be off to a great start, if I keep chipping away at the little things I can over the winter.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rustling Leaves

That's one of the "hats" I wear during this season: leaf rustler.

On beautiful sunny Indian Summer Sunday afternoons, people all over town rake leaves and put them in bags out by the curb. The city has a yard waste collection and composting program, so on Monday morning the trash trucks canvass the city picking up the leaf bags.

On Sunday evening, the leaf rustlers--I know I'm not the only one, I've scoped out a likely pile and found it gone before I can get back with the truck--do their work. Monday mornings are good, too, if you can beat the city trucks. So far I haven't been organized enough to try to actually research their routes, but I'm sure it would make me an even more effective leaf rustler.

My "new" ladder rack (acquired second hand a few months ago) is great for hauling leaves. When I let down the side panels that I installed for hauling sheep, I can stack the bags higher than the cab and still not worry about losing them. Leaving a trail is the sign of an incompetent (and criminal) leaf rustler.

Why collect leaves? They are one of the main sources of organic matter and mulch on my farm. They are especially good for "germination mulches" for small-seeded crops like carrots and greens, because they are light and shade the soil well. They also nestle down in between small seedling nicely...I can sprinkle them over the top of a bed, and they'll work their way down. It's also easy to mulch around individual plants in densely planted beds, such as garlic or onion.

I also use leaves as bedding for the chicken coop, and as a short-term solution to particularly muddy chicken yard conditions. Chickens love to scratch around in a pile of leaves! They will shred them in nothing flat.

In recent years, the city has mandated that only leaves in compostable paper bags (or trash cans) will be picked up. There are always a few folks who don't realize this and bag in plastic anyhow. I especially treasure these black plastic bags of leaves. I place them in the bed lanes north of overwintering beds of green such as spinach, and they create a mild microclimate for the bed. They block the north wind, and the black plastic absorbs a fair bit of heat during the day. It's also possible to lay a panel of lexan over them to create an informal cold frame environment. Then in the spring, when the protection is no longer needed, the bags of leaves are right there ready to mulch the bed.

My stockpile of leaves for next season will also provide some insulation along the north side of the barn this winter. I've erected a cattle panel about 6' north of the barn, parallel to the wall, to form a leaf bin. Much better than previous years where I've just pitched them out the side of the truck into one of the fallow garden blocks...then ended up with a lingering mess of torn and decomposing bags to clean up in the spring before I can plant those beds.

I try to empty out the paper leaf bags into the bin as I haul them home, and neatly refold the bags. I give the bags to folks that don't have a lot of money to spend on expensive leaf bags...especially those who'll let me know when and where they've just raked a yard full of leaves. One leaf rustling partner is a homeless man who's just started a yard raking service. Riding the bus back downtown after his first job, he mentioned to me that he'd just found out about the paper bag requirement AFTER bagging the entire job in he was going to go back and rebag them the next day. I was happy to save him the effort. I'll be taking him the paper bags from tonight's haul...30 good ones, and 2 with only small holes from sticks.

I happen to attend a meeting every Sunday night on the far side of town, so on my way home I drive through the best leaf-rustling neighborhoods, where I know I'm mostly likely find good leaves conveniently placed....

Hah! You thought leaves were leaves, not much to it!

I don't want leaves that were picked up with a lawn mower--you never know what lawn chemicals have been used.

I don't want leaves from yards with dogs--dog poop is yucky--or yew hedges--yew clippings are toxic to livestock.

Some trees make better leaves than others--sycamore (especially), catalpa, and cottonwood leaves are so big they are annoying for mulching small plants. Oak leaves don't crumble very well so they can blow a lot, but they break down slowly. Elm, maple and ash are my favorites because they crumble nicely, pack down, and decompose well.

Some include too many annoying seeds or pods, like sweet gum or sycamore balls, catalpa pods, etc. Redbud leaves are great in many ways, but then I end up with so many baby redbud trees in the garden, and it always bothers me to kill them because redbuds are pretty much my favorite tree, but I have to kill them because there are just so many..... Elm, ash, and maple, on the other hand, inflict their seeds on the community early in the year, so there generally aren't many mixed in with the leaves.

I look for groups of bags that are placed near the curb in neighborhoods where the houses aren't too close to the street...I don't want to make folks nervous that I'm right up near their house. And I never go more than a few feet into someone's yard. That tempting pile of bags behind a tree near the house might be reserved for someone else. I only want unwanted leaves.

Quiet, well-lighted side streets with plenty of vacant curbside parking are good. I don't want my truck to be rear-ended, but I like to turn the lights off so as not to disturb neighbors. I always try to park legally and politely.

Unfenced yards are good--I'm less likely to disturb a dog who will drive me or its owners crazy.

Ritzy neighborhoods are more likely to have lawn services come rake; the companies usually haul off the leaves themselves. So even though yards are big and promptly raked, there may not be many leaf bags to rustle.

What about my own leaves, the leaves from all the trees at the farm? It depends.

The sheep vacuum up a lot of the leaves in the areas they graze. They love fall leaves!

The front yard is increasingly dominated by a sycamore that grew from a seed about eight years ago. So one last lawn mowing mulches up the huge (up to 14" across, I kid you not!) tough leaves and they enrich the soil in the yard. Today, a friend looking for exercise came by while I was gone and worked this wonderful transformation in my absence...a relief (releaf?) to have that off my "to-do" list, though I would have enjoyed the task whenever I'd found the time.

So about the only raking I do rake is the driveway and patio/porch area, where the leaves otherwise build up into messy drifts that later decompose into havens for next spring's onslaught of elm seedlings. And I generally wait until all the leaves have fallen (so I only have to do it once), and the ground is frozen, and it's too cold to do much else...which sometimes means I do the raking with a snow shovel.
But only because I don't have time. I like raking leaves. But usually, this time of year I'm too busy rustling others' leaves to rake my own.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Chicken Heaven

When we moved the portable chicken house to the garden and set up a huge pen all around the dead tomato plants, I thought I was creating a "chicken heaven" where they could scratch and eat and rummage to their hearts' content, freely ranging within a safe 6' chain link fence. I ordered nearly $100 worth of netting to cover the coop to discourage the hawk that's already eying his new buffet.

And the chickens were, for a few days, very happy indeed.

But what an odd sight greeted me as I opened up the chicken coop this morning...four chicken carcasses in a row, evenly spaced along a bed lane in the chickens' new run in the tomato patch. A quick search revealed three more carcasses and a pile of feathers that I know were formerly attached to the rooster, Beau, who was nowhere to be seen.

I suspect a skunk.

As members of the weasel family, they share a propensity for gruesome mass murders like this--apparently killing for joy, and eating only the heads. One head was severed but near the body, most of the other heads were missing entirely. Who needs TV?

My method for disposing of chicken carcasses like this is to let "The Community of Life" finish what it started. I think of it as a midwestern version of "burial at sea": I take the carcasses out to the far end of the pasture and throw them over the fence into the tallgrass prairie of the CRP/wildlife area. And I speak to the creatures out there, all invisible but nevertheless most likely aware of my presence. And I tell them:

"All you predators! All you skunks and coyotes and foxes and raccoons and oppossums and weasels and badgers! Listen! I'll bring you the parts that I can't use. But I buy the feed, and I need you to let me have the ones that I can use. You are welcome to them when they are back here but stay out of my space."

Which somehow is at least a teensy-tinsy bit comforting. And, you never know. I've learned through working with Toss and the sheep that animals really DO pick up a lot of one's intent from spoken words, somehow. So it MIGHT help. It probably can't hurt, at least.

They are invariable gone within a day or two, just a few feathers riffling in the breeze, caught on a tuft of grass.

The walk back from such a "burial" always has a strange, unburdened feel that seems unjustified, undeserved...perhaps a glimpse of what true grace might feel like. There is nothing more for me to do for the dead. Nothing at all. I have given them back to their Creator for His own purposes, relinquished them to His care.

On the way back, I look at the grass newly sprouting on the north pasture (is there brome? is there wheat? I can see both wheat sprouts and wheat seeds, but the brome I see looks mostly like annual downy brome ("cheat" grass), not the desirable perennial smooth brome. But, it's hard to tell at this stage (and without my reading glasses. Bifocals are on order and should be in later this week, hurray, I'm really looking forward to renewed efficiency in reading and other forms of close observation).

Though it's so cool this morning that he's moving pretty slowly, I catch the slight motion that tips me off to a dung beetle. This species cleverly looks like a couple nuggets of the sheep dung it's diligently trundling off to its stash. I don't see them very often, but I know they're always hard at work on the farm.

Looking at the dung beetle makes me aware of the numerous small diggings in that area. These little angled excavations, not much larger than the dung beetle, are probably the work of Mr. Skunk. Not finding the hoped-for worms or grubs, he decided to raid the coop.

It's a hungry season. The Easter Freeze seriously affected the crops of nearly all wild animal foods...nuts, acorns, fruit of all kind, and I see it reflected in the wildlife around the farm. The squirrels are the hardest hit, and the biggest problem. They have now devoured three plastic trash cans that I used to store a corn/soybean mix for the sheep, the first somewhat slowly a few weeks ago, the other two just overnight in the past few days. I've never had a problem with this before, only with them harvesting my apricots and english walnuts before they're ripe.

They are a tough adversary, powerful little beasts. "Tree rats", one friend calls them. Their aeriel agility makes them an especially difficult foe.

I've set a couple live traps in the barn, after purchasing several galvanized trash cans for feed barrels. I'm also considering the pellet gun option, though I don't think I have a lot of time to devote to hunting them. I do entertain fantasies of eating them, if I ever catch them. After all, they're eating my expensive grain, not to mention the trash cans.

Why not just trap and release? Isn't it cruel to trap and eat them? The cruelty was the Easter Freeze, destroying their food supply, creating this famine that drives them to seek unnatural foods. The reality is that there is currently a huge gap between the number of squirrels running around, and the amount of resources available to support them. That situation will improve, in this season, only by me purchasing feed for them (which will just explode the population next year, and recreate the same situation next fall even if we have a good nut year) or by the population being reduced. If nothing is done, they will continue to desparately try to get at any perceived food source, chewing through incredible (and expensive!) obstacles to get at it. Then they will die of starvation, exposure, disease brought on by malnutrition. Somewhere in there they will devour the buds and strip the bark of the trees in mid-winter as the sap begins to flow. But nevertheless, despite their damage to facilities and depredation of trees, many will die.

It seems kinder, less violent, better stewardship, to simply and quickly take their lives before they are starving to death. Then those that remain (trust me, there will be plenty!) will be more in balance with their habitat.

Yes, I am playing God in their lives, deciding when they should live and when they should die. And I'm really a bit uncomfortable that I get to have that power. But somehow I was born a person, and they were born squirrels, and that's the luck of the draw. And I fear we're really a pretty good match for one another. My victory is far from assured, despite my opposable thumbs.

So what about the chickens? What is my role as God there? I can do what I as I am by circumstances. There is often no one home to close the coop up at night since the visiting Christian brothers and sisters left; hiring someone would be prohibitive. Perhaps I should find new homes for them...but predators may claim them there, as well.

Life is fragile and sometimes too short. No matter which side you're on.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


My wonderful current housemate will be leaving probably in December, no later than March.

Sigh. Time to write housemate ads...again....

Time to put myself and my values and my quirks and my way of living under the spotlight of applicants' questions. Time to balance prudence with being vulnerable and honest. Time to ask a new crop of applicants the same old questions, hoping this time I'll be able to discern the honest answers encoded in their carefully-worded responses. Time to reassess my expectations of the people who reside and/or work at the farm. At what point do I mention that I identify as bisexual, since my current situation of unrequited love is likely to be long-term? How hard and fast IS the media ban? Is it OK if someone agrees to just smoke outside? Could a vegan and I really cohabit peacefully long-term?

It's always a growing experience--every ad-writing, every conversation, every interview. It always gives me a new understanding of my way of life, the farm, my values and beliefs, and mostly my ever-increasing separation from "the world." I genuinely enjoy getting to know the various folks (and their various children, animals, significant others, etc.) even though they decide it's not quite what they're looking for...or if they think it's what they're looking for but decide it isn't, after all, after they've paid their deposit and I've pulled the ads, but before they move in.

But it's always frustrating. The people who would thrive here are few and far between, and even ads with the scary "No TV" plainly stated seem to draw a lot of responses from people who just don't "get it." "But that doesn't include sports games, does it?"

What I really want is to find people who are willing to commit to living "in the world but not of the world" here with me longer than a few months. At least committed enough to stay for more than a year. People who aren't plugged into the media OR the unsustainable fairy-tale way of life that the media promotes. People who want to live simply, who value cooperation and communication, who can "live and let live" when faced with the little irritations that are bound to arise between folks who share time and space on a sustained basis. People who are willing to be changed and challenged by living here, who are ready to take a bold leap in their lives and set out on a path that includes some of the stepping stones that I've already laid over the past 10 years of seeking an increasingly sustainable lifestyle here at Pinwheel Farm.

I would just like to someday go through two years at the farm with the same cast of characters, and have a break from the relentless training!

The thing is, it takes a whole year to get a feel for the system of living in this house on this farm, because it's so different in each season and it's so different from most people's experiences in the that rat-race world out there. The first season is necessarily a HUGE learning curve...but then after that it really IS easier, the various routines and seasonal transitions become woven into a familar, comforting, reasonably predictable way of life.

Because it's different, there is a lot of just outright training at first. Sadly, many folks never make it through the initial training. They run away shrieking about how bossy and controlling I am. But what else can I do but teach, teach, teach? Here is how the high-efficiency front-loading washing machine must be operated (or it voids the warranty). This is why you should check with other residents before doing more than one load of laundry on a rainy day (there is limited clothesline space in the basement, and no one's clothes will dry if it's overloaded). The towels fit in the drawer when they are folded this way but not when folded that way. The basement door needs to be latched so the dog won't sneak in there and get stuck (she won't make a sound to let anyone know she's there, and I'll spend hours searching for her at chore time, meanwhile she'll be beside herself because she wants to obey my summons but can't). This is how the woodstove must be operated (to minimize the risk of chimney fires). This is how firewood must be managed, to be able to operate the stove properly in extreme conditions. Trash must go out for Monday pickup, and if it isn't picked up for any reason it must be brought back in or the City will pick it up Tuesday and we could be charged for fraudulent use of City services (don't ask me why their employees can't distinguish between bright blue trash bins labelled "Honey Creek Disposal" and big forest green trash bins labeled "City of Lawrence"). Parking is only in designated areas to keep farm access clear (no matter if you're just going to zip into the house and back...the feed truck is coming down the street NOW and he's not going to want to back all the way down the driveway to let you get out of his way...and yes, the fire trucks did need to get back there once when I wasn't home). How the recycling guy wants us to prepare recyclables (hey, he's doing this for barter, let's make it easy on the guy).

That's the most basic level of training. For so many folks, it goes much deeper. They have to learn how to hang laundry effectively, how to tie certain knots, how to work garden hose quick-connects, how to build a certain type of fire given certain materials, how to manuever the trash cart on a gravel surface rather than concrete, how to wash dishes by hand, how to sweep a floor clean.

The reward is a satisfying, increasingly self-sufficient, affordable way of life. A way of living that is less likely to be upset by power outages, lost jobs, truckers' strikes...let alone global warming, peak oil, economic depression, etc. A way of living that is often overflowing with a certain type of wealth that money can't buy and words can't adequately describe...a wealth that is rooted in right relationships with God, with His children, and with His creation.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Real Estate

I've had the sheep flock enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapie Identification Program for a number of years now. It requires a modest amount of recordkeeping, and provides me with free ear tags. Plus, I know that I'm doing my part to help eradicate this devastating prion disease (similar to "Mad Cow"). And, it gives a certain amount of credibility when I sell breeding stock, which I occasionally do.

The system gives my flock a "status date" which marks the earliest date at which all ewes in the flock began to be recorded, inspected and found free of symptoms of Scrapie. Buying a ram from off the farm doesn't change my status date, but buying a ewe would change my status date if the ewe were from a farm that hadn't been in the program as long as I have. Follow that?

Earlier this week I faced a real dilemma.

A neighbor who has been one of my best friends and extraordinary sheep mentor ever since I bought my flock decided to take a break from raising sheep for a year or two, to catch up with other things in her life (like her pretty new quarter horse colt). Her small flock of pretty-much Suffolk sheep has been carefully selected for meat production and mothering ability for the 18 or so years she's had them, and before that they were selected for many years by some older folks out near Alta Vista, Kansas, whom it turns out I know pretty well from Contra Dance activities (it's a small world). A few weeks ago, I sold them a side of lamb descended from their middle-aged daughter's childhood flock.

My friend keeps a closed flock (as I do), and we both have tested for most of the nasty "hidden" sheep diseases like Ovine Progressive Pneumonia. So we don't worry much about biosecurity when we go back and forth between the two farms. I do her sheep and horse chores for a couple weeks every year, and she's been a great help at lambing time and on the rare times I've needed to go out of town for a day now and then (prior to my sabbatical). We figure whatever germs one farm has, the other probably already has them.

I've often bought a ram lamb from her to use just for one breeding season, as a "terminal sire" with ewes from which I wasn't planning keep replacement ewe lambs. Her ram lambs throw great, growthy market lambs when bred to my ladies. I've kept back a couple of the resulting Suffolk cross ewe lambs over the years, and have been pretty pleased with them though they tend to be a bit bigger than I like for handling.

One year, quite a while back, her ram died suddenly right before her breeding season (which is a little earlier than mine). Since biosecurity wasn't a concern, we hauled my registered California Variegated Mutant ram, Donatello, up to her place for a few weeks. He was delighted, needless to say.

I consider Donnie to be the foundation sire for my this point, I only have one ewe that doesn't have Donnie blood. He not only had good conformation and a wonderful fleece, he had an excellent disposition and was easy to handle. He moved well for the dog (unlike one of my current rams, Dudley, who acts like a stump and refuses to move even when Toss "grips" his nose). He had a mild distrust of human beings and always tried to keep a few ewes between himself and me (unlike my other current ram, Buddy, who has tried to kill me at least 4 times in the last few weeks).

To avoid excessive inbreeding, Donnie made a one-way trip a number of years ago. His beautiful, soft, multi-tone gray tanned hide lives on my favorite rocking chair. But he is still very much alive at Pinwheel Farm. Many of my best younger ewes go back to Donnie on both sides--line breeding is when it works; inbreeding is when it doesn't. I've done a lot of line breeding in the Donnie line.

I brought home two lambs from that cross of Donnie onto her Suffolk ewes: Corrie (short for Corvus, since she was black as a lamb, and there was already a "Raven" in my life at the time), dark gray and a great milker, who became a foundation ewe for the folks who bought my best dairy sheep when I went on sabbatical; and Sitting Bull (he literally sat like a dog when we tried to lead him to the truck to transport him to my farm). Sitting Bull was a disaster of a ram. Every lamb he sired was hard to handle--excitable and jumpy. You could actually tell who had sired a given lamb that year just by picking up the lamb--if it fought like the dickens while you held it and ran away when you put it down, it was Sitting Bull's. If it just sat there patiently while you vetted it, then stood there a minute before walking away, just to be sure you were really done, it was Future's. In S.B.'s second breeding season, it turned out that he was determined to savage his ewes--not just typical jostling and butting, but violent repeated lunges that seemed likely to end in serious injuries and/or a structurally damaged barn. That line has been "de-selected" from my flock, as I find that temperament is often largely inherited...the above-described paternity test was an important cornerstone of that realization.

My friend kept two ewes from the Donnie/Suffolk crosses: Magpie (named for her black-and-white ears...we now refer to any ears with that pattern as "Magpie ears") and Little One. Both had far nicer wool than the typical short, somewhat coarse Suffolk wool.... I've brought Magpie's fleece home from Barb's shearing on several occasions. Blue Jay and Stellar, Magpie's daughters, were eventually added to her flock. A third, unnamed Donnie granddaughter was also kept.

(By now you are really wondering about the title of this entry....)

I got an email from my friend the other day. She would be taking the last of her ewes to the sale barn in a few days. Did I want any of them? The Donnie line, perhaps? At sale barn to nothing for older ewes like these. She'd even discount them, since she wouldn't have to pay the sale barn commission.

I know they're healthy, in great condition, ready to breed to the ram of my choice. They'll live long lives and produce mostly twins and triplets. But...the catch is, my friend isn't enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapie Identification Program. So purchasing these ewes would basically throw the past 8 or however many years of recordkeeping, inspections, etc. out the window. My "on-paper" status as a reputable breeder of healthy livestock would be lost. I'd start from Square One.

On the other hand, if I didn't disregard the VSIP rules and buy the ewes, the Donnie line from her farm would be lost.

And I almost didn't buy the ewes. I almost let the artificial rules of the program, the temptation of that long-held status date, send my friend's carefully selected Donnie line to the sale barn.

But I stopped to think about what's REAL.

The truth is, even though my friend has never filled out the paperwork or had the State vet come out to her farm, her flock is just as healthy as mine. I've been there. I've cared for them year in, year out. They show no odd behavior, they have no visible signs of the disease. They live long, productive lives before they are culled to make way for younger ewes. I've bought her cull ewes to augment my own culls that are made into the fabulous mutton and pork summer sausage that I sell from the farm and at Farmer's Market, and the inspector at the processing plant has always passed the carcasses.

And the ESTATE that was at stake? The genetic heritage of the Donnie line, an inheritance that, once lost, could never be regained.

A choice between my reputation on paper as a breeder, and my competence in the sheepfold as a breeder.

I chose to invest in the real estate. My VSIP status date is now 11/5/2007. Magpie, Little One, Blue Jay, Stellar, and their nameless companion who insisted on being part of the load are now in my barn yard, complaining bitterly about their change of circumstances and waiting for my friend to come get them. Seriously, they know which gate they came in and they want BACK OUT that gate. It's crossed my mind to see if they'd find their way home if set free (it's only four miles) but there are some nicely landscaped (i.e. tasty) yards and some busy highways between here and there....

If I can just remember during daylight hours, I'll post a photo of them soon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Culture Clash

I received a promotional mailing from one of my credit card companies the other day.

It got my attention, all right. And I didn't just pitch it in the trash, as I generally do. But did the marketing staff get their money's worth from this campaign? Not from me, at any rate! I've been glancing at this letter for several days now, and every time I just have to shake my head.

Apparently the Chief Executive Officer of this company thinks it worth his while to send a "personal" letter to me just to tell me that I can choose from "more than 150 free card designs." That was worth the environmental cost of an envelope, a piece of paper printed in , and postage--not to mention his time, and that of his secretary, staff, and ad agency.

So I can "find the one that's just right for me."

This "will make using my _____ Card more fun!"

Either the CEO or I, or both of us, have gotten really out of touch with some sort of reality.

I've never EXPECTED using my credit cards to be "fun." Nor "exciting" nor anything but expedient. Yes, there are times when having a credit card makes it easier to do something ELSE that's fun, like have a roof over my head in Vancouver. But it is simply a means to an end. The physical act of using it is pretty neutral, unless circumstances or the environment (a sullen clerk or a frigid night at the "pay outside" gas pump) make the overall experience unpleasant.

How on earth would a fancy picture change my credit card experience? Am I going to take it out of my wallet and admire it from time to time, instead of looking at my grandkids' photos? Heck, I don't even do that (I do have ancient school pix in the front of my little pocket calendar...but I hardly ever even look at the appointments I write in there, let alone look at photos. I can see my loved ones perfectly well in my mind's eye, including their endearing gestures, AND hear their voices).

Would a fancy picture impress the computerized pump at the gas station? Would I thereby get an extra $.02 discount per gallon like I do when I show it my grocery store discount card? Hmmm...don't think so.

I guess the occasional live clerk might see it--but mostly it seems like I'm expected to "swipe" (when I was young, that meant to steal) my own card in an upside-down-and-backwards position where only the post of the check-writing shelf could possibly catch a glimpse of my fancy card. And generally, the clerk and I are looking mostly at each other, smiling and chatting. If the clerk looks at my card, it's to examine the signature...which is on the side of the card without the pretty picture!

I just don't get it.

Maybe people want fancy pictures on their credit cards to somehow communicate something about who they are (or think they are, or wish they were) to the rare clerk that actually looks at the card? Is a fancy credit card a new, subtle way of flirting with the waitress when I pay for a meal? Does a personalized credit card add to someone's sense of identity? My personal sense of identity and self-image is grounded in who I am inside, the relationships I have with God and with others, and the big, long-term goals towards which I use my time, energy and money.

Maybe some people find fun in spending money they don't have, or in buying things they don't need?

A lot of my reaction to this letter is related to my "take" on the word "fun." "Fun", in and of itself, simply isn't a big motivator for me. Lots of things are "fun" for me, but the "fun" aspect is a fairly insignificant part of why I do them. I do things because they are meditative, like sweeping up the flaxen curls of wood shavings from a friend's workshop floor. Or physically and mentally challenging, like rearranging all the fences and gates in the sheep handling area in the barn, so that everything fits around the posts, all the gates swing in practical directions, the space can be converted to easily accessible lambing pens, and the sheep will want to move through it according to my wishes. Or necessary, like switching out summer's automatic stock tank water valves for winter's tank de-icers and short fill hoses with "quick connect" fittings so they can easily be drained with each use. Or because the end result is something I want, like baking bread pockets stuffed with blackbeans and pork, or building a fire in the wood stove.

What makes these things "more fun" to me? Certainly not a fancy credit card! Things like choosing to do the stock tank changeover on a gorgeous, relaxed, warm Indian summer afternoon, instead of a cold blustery one when I'm in a hurry. Having a good sturdy broom for the sweeping, nice pans for the bread so it doesn't stick. Talking out the details of a project with a clever friend, or the Border Collie, when I'm building something.

Thankfully, very little of my hard-earned money was spent on this credit card promotion. I virtually always pay my balance in full each month, to avoid paying finance charges.

Avoiding finance charges: I guess maybe that's the part of using a credit card that I find the most "fun."

If you got the same promo letter, I'd love to hear your point of view, especially if it made any sense to you. For me, it just made me feel like a stranger in a strange land...but then as a dear friend once bluntly stated, I'm "just not American." Somehow I've just quietly drifted away from my native culture over the years. The farm has a lot to do with it, but then so does being a radically conservative Christian. Over the years, I've thought a lot about how my daily choices, actions, words, purchases, etc. either reflect or contradict my real values. And I've increasingly made choices based on my values. Over time, it adds up to something rather remote from the "norms" that the media reflects.

Come to think of it, having lived most of my adult life with minimal influence by the media (TV, radio, and magazines especially) might have something to do with it....

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Expensive Leap of Faith

Photos: (1) Pinwheel Farm driveway and "Industry" (white--the current farm house). (2) The "Two Little Houses" which will eventually end up with proper names. (3) The "Brown Barn" in Embers Woods, with glimpses of Pinwheel's "Green Barn" and other outbuildings through the trees.

After talking over the fence since the mid-90's, and negotiating by mail, phone, and in person since early 2005, Bob and I finally signed the contract for me to purchase his property to the west of the farm.

This more than doubles the amount of debt I'm carrying.

It only adds an acre to Pinwheel Farm.

It will drastically increase the unpredictability of my cash flow and work load, since it includes two very run-down rental houses with histories of BAD PLUMBING.

So how does this deal make sense, anyhow?

But no matter what the out-of-pocket cost to purchase this property, it is cheap compared to the consequences of someone else purchasing it. A nice little subdivision next door, while perhaps more attractive in a magazine-picture kind of way, would inevitably create problems at the farm. First, the loss of the grove of trees--hence to be known as Embers Wood, after the man who planted the trees--would significantly change the microclimate of the farm, increasing summer evening temperatures at the farmhouse drastically since the trees proves several hours of late-afternoon shade. Then "city-folk" neighbors would inevitably find something to complain about from my operations...the rooster's crow, the barnyard aromas, the clutter of a working farm. Security lights would interfere with photosensitive beings' natural rhythms. Spray drift from chemically manicured lawns would affect my tomato crops. The pressure for me to be incorporated into the city--something I want to avoid at all costs--would increase.

Aside from avoiding the nightmare of a housing development next door, the acquisition of this property opens up some really exciting possibilities for Pinwheel Farm's future.

First, a circle drive will be put through, extending the farm's existing driveway through Embers Wood and back out to North Street on the west side of the rental houses. No one will ever have to back down my long, curvey driveway onto North Street again! Deliver truck drivers will rejoice.

The property features a nice big metal building, the "Brown Barn," at the back, just a few yards from my main lambing area and existing "Green Barn". The expanded area for hay and feed storage, animal housing, machinery, etc.--with easy access for delivery trucks--will be an immediate asset. In the long run, part of it will be converted to a horse barn, an critical step towards my long-time dream of farming with horses.

Embers Woods will be a lovely place for visitors to park in the shade, have a picnic, let the kids play on the playground that will be built there. Better parking will make on-farm retail sales more convenient for everyone.

The two rental houses open up many possibilities for a small intentional community to arise "around" Pinwheel Farm in the future.

Buying it is a huge leap of faith--the next few years will be intense, as I work off-farm to pull this off, and concurrently build the farm business AND renovate the rentals. But the rewards should be great, for the future of the farm and its entire community of life, especially our human residents, visitors and customers who support the farm in so many ways.
Your suggestions, ideas, prayers, energy, business, and support of any kind are welcome as we embark on this new journey in the life of Pinwheel Farm.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In Passing Time

As vague as fog that veils/unveils
A once-familar place, we change.
As shadows cool an autumn trail,
As branches warm and stretch in rain,
As frost ferns bloom and fade on glass,
As fields grow tall with crops and weeds,
Like joys and failures that we cast
On summer winds like chaff and seeds--
We harvest all the good we've known,
What our experience has shown,
How through adversity we've grown,
Our seasonal moves
In time wear smooth
Our rolling stones.....*

A few months ago, God sent a troupe of angels to the farm to make things right again after the destruction wrought by my sabbatical tenants. They rebuilt the derelict barn, cut and split firewood, mowed the lawn, planted the fall garden, moved the chickens to a new pen, washed the windows, scrubbed the walls, sewed lovely clothespin bags and potholders, suggested a dozen little improvements around the house and farm, and a thousand other little and not-so-little helps. They delighted my housemate Emily and I with footrubs, fresh bouquets, delicious meals, cheerful encouragement, sweet hymns, scripture reading, Christian fellowship.

A friend and I made a quick overnight trip to Manhattan (Kansas, about 90 miles west of Lawrence) to visit my parents last weekend. I returned home Monday afternoon to find that the angels had packed up and left.

Hindsight's always 20-20: Ezra's complete avoidance of me for the past couple weeks, the others showing little enthusiasm for plans or little improvements to our living arrangements this past week, a flurry of washing sleeping bags and tents, eager anticipation of one of their fellows coming to visit, a thinning out of their possessions....clearly this had been planned for some time. They chose to leave like thieves in the night, behind my back, no goodbyes. It hurt.

The notes left all around the house gave clues to a variety of issues that evidently had troubled them, issues they never discussed with me, issues where I feel sure we could have reached some understanding. I was too insistent on things being done my way (yes, because they had always made clear that they were unable to make a committment to stay any definite length of time, and critical systems like firewood needed to be kept in the order I'm accustomed to in case I were suddenly alone again). I was too "fastidious" (yes, I insist on the bleaching of buckets to be used for harvesting salad greens, not wishing to make my customers sick nor to open myself to a lawsuit). They felt I should have provided more food (they didn't eat much of the lamb and fresh vegetables I gave them, so I didn't offer them more). I expected too much work of them (the original agreement was 2 hours work per person, per day, in exchange for shelter, use of tools and materials, sanitary facilities, laundry facilities, and some; the farms and retreat centers where I volunteered during my travels expected 6-8 hours a day for room and board).

And the clincher, the thing they absolutely couldn't live with: They had reason to believe I'm involved in "promoting gay rights."

The issue of homosexuality had simply never come up in our conversations. I felt reasonably sure that they didn't "believe" in homosexuality, just as Ruhamah told me she didn't "believe" in women wearing pants (she therefore wouldn't remove my laundry from the washing machine or clothesline, for fear of touching a woman's pants), just as they didn't "believe" in remarriage after divorce. I figured that if the topic of homosexuality came up in their ministry work away from the farm, they were probably anti-gay to some extent or another. But, why should that matter within the household? They have their ministry, I've got mine. At the farm, our focus was on living together in Christian fellowship, sharing the work of daily living, encouraging one another in our faith journies. What we did away from the farm, I figured, was our own concern.

They knew from the beginning I've been married three times, but that didn't interfere with them accepting my hospitality gladly in their time of need. Why would they would respond differently to realizing that I've never been strictly heterosexual? It's just such a moot point these days...I've been entirely celibate for well more than 3 years. THE love of my life doesn't love me, but my love for my beloved continues undiminished whether it's returned or not. Unless a miracle occurs, I'll be celibate the rest of my life, not because some religious sect requires it, but because God seems to refuse to take away this deep, abiding, unrequited love that I offer to relinquish daily, and I can't imagine any other love eclipsing this one. So it's hard for me to see why my sexual orientation should have been any issue at all within our composite community of celibates. I wasn't looking for a "special relationship" with any of them, regardless of anyone's sex.

Yes, I do promote "gay rights." Just as I promote equal rights and individual freedom of choice on pretty much ALL issues (including my right to wear pants--to counterbalance Ruhamah's condemnation of my refusal to wear skirts, I've had to defend my right to wear pants without a men's-style fly, at my bus-driving job). That includes Ruhamah's right to not risk touching my pants--which I always respected even though I found it quirky, illogical, and not particularly scriptural. I'll let God be the judge of what's sinful and what isn't. And I'll let Him decide whether judging other people is more or less sinful than loving someone of the same sex. As I read it, the Bible's WAY more clear about judgment than about homosexuality.

In this odd transition time, there are moments when the house seems unbearably empty, the farm seems so oddly quiet. I put something down on the kitchen counter, and it is there the next day, untouched. I come home, and there is no tempting plate of food awaiting me. The floor wants sweeping for the first time in months. Toss and Ambrosius are puzzled by the vacancies, and demand extra attention from me. Far larger than the hurt stirred up by their resentful notes, their false accusations, their choice to leave without saying goodbye--is my sadness at their absence, and my gratitude for their presence here, even if it was far too brief to suit me.

So I roll my stone along, alone now...harvesting the rich goodness of our short, aborted friendships, reminiscing about the wonderful experiences we shared, suspecting that in God's time we will all find so many incredible ways that we've grown through all our experiences together.

It's a good time for such a transition, all in all...just at the shifting of the farm from summer to winter rhythms and routines. Everything was about to change, routines for the woodstove, the livestock feeding and watering, the storage of freezable things. In another season, I hope that some of these angels, or their fellows, will come this way again, like a migration.

And I have to wonder, with not a little trepidation...

...Nature abhors a what WILL God think of next? This visitation of angels will be hard to beat, but things have just kept getting better and better since I really and truly turned my will and my life over to Him a few years ago....

*Written as a poem, "In Passing Time" by Natalya Hall (now Lowther), ca. 1984. Later this became the first verse 1 of Natalya's song "In Passing Time", part of the repertoire of the Manhattan, Kansas, womyn's chorus Women of the Heartlands: Singing Our Lives.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Leftovers for lunch

We've been trying to trim as many trees as possible lately, while the leave on the trimmings are still green. The sheep love them, and will even strip off the bark and eat smaller twigs. The sheep also eat the fallen autumn leaves, but I suspect they aren't quite as nutritious as the fresh green ones. Still, it's entertaining to turn them into a fresh paddock and watch them criss-cross it like a competitive vacuum cleaning team, eagerly grabbing up every leaf they can see.

Favorites include elm, mulberry, and sugar maple. I also feed them black walnut in modest quantities when I can. It's an ingredient in some herbal anthelmintics (wormers), so I suspect they're self-medicating this way. Willow, which contains salicylic acid (similar to aspirin), is another favorite of theirs.

The joy they demonstrate when they see a fresh branch coming over the fence quickly erases any thoughts of scratched hand, sore arms, general weariness, etc. Farming with livestock makes even a thankless chore like trimming brush into an interactive, heart-warming activity. Someone always cares what I am doing. It is hard to hang around on the "pity pot" too long, thinking, "no one ever appreciates all the hard work I do". Every little thing matters to someone.

If I could just figure out a way to make the fencing and transportation simple and efficient, and deal with a few discouraging city ordinances, the sheep and me could start a lawn service, offering mwing, fertilizing, leaf disposal, happy hearts, and lamb chops. Yeah, in my vast and copious spare time....

Ingenious insect

Really, it makes me want to take up ceramics again.

I was fine-tuning the fancy "new" (courtesy of Habitat for Humanity's ReStore) entry door for the "retail area" in the garage. The door had originally had a deadbolt, but I didn't want to fuss with another house key. So I found a cover plate for the extraneous hole, part of an escalating effort to winterize the farm.

During the summer, we put a piece of tape across the inside of the lock hole to keep the bugs out. When I removed the tape, I discovered that one enterprising insect with an artistic flair had found the bolt tunnel to be a nice sheltered place for a nest.

It's not often that I find a potter's wasp nest on the farm, and they are always a source of pleasure when I do. It just seems so wonderful that a tiny insect would take so much trouble to make such an artistic vessel for its larva. In this case, not just the fact of the little vase-shaped clay pot, but the regular-but-random surface texture and the whole tableau seemed to transcend the usual whimsy of these little nests.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Goaled Rush

Today marks the one-week point in my three weeks off from the bus. Little by little, I'm ticking off some of the things on the list, and working hard not to add very many.

Last night was the first frost. I had gone out to the barn in the early evening, knowing the temperature was supposed to reach the lower 40's. I wanted to get plastic up on the unfinished door and gaps in the south wall, so that the barn will stay warm as the weather chills off. I'm hoping to plant fall greens in there soon.

It was a nice night, with about a 3/4 moon beaming in through the plastic roof. I puttered at a nice easy pace and got a lot of little details worked out. Somewhere along the way, one of the lights in the double halogen work light went out. Then later the other winked off, and I was left working by pure moonlight. How peaceful and beautiful! And so quiet....

I walked outside. Oddly quiet. Then I realized the crickets had stopped singing. And I realized that there was frost glinting on some ground cloth laying outside the barn.

THE NIGHT had arrived. Even though things were soaking wet from yet MORE rain (at least 7" in the last couple weeks), I knew they would freeze by the morning. The stars twinkled above me in the clear, dark depths of the universe that was waiting to absorb whatever meager heat it could from the earth.

I kicked into high gear. My first thought was for the basil. Even if it doesn't quite freeze, basil wimps out somewhere around 36-38 degrees. Looking around for something to cover it, I grabbed a couple rolls of lumber wrap we picked up out of the dumpster on a recent venture to the lumber yard. It's great stuff: strong, lightweight, and large. One piece covered half of a bed of basil. In the morning, the basil underneath was black wherever it had touched the lumber wrap, but the rest of each plant was ok. Oddly, the basil that didn't get covered at all looked ok, too. Go figure....

Next, the tomatoes. I started out with a bathroom break and fresh batteries in the headlamp. Emily smiled from her cozy chair in the living room, knitting serenely under a nice quilt. "First frost!" I announced. "I'm from Texas," she stated firmly. "Too cold."

I actually do like the crisp chilly weather of fall and winter, though I sympathize with my friends from California and Texas. I've learned how to dress really well for cold weather, and find it exhilerating. "It's actually really beautiful out," I said as I headed off towards the tomato jungle. The plants have really put on a growth spurt in the last month, and there are a lot of good-size green ones hiding under lush foliage.

I picked tomatoes--red, orange, yellow and green and everything in between--for about 2 hours, as fast as I could pick, never mind the vines. I filled almost 6 of my big bulb crates, probably close to 250 or 300 lbs. all told. Emily came out and helped for awhile, and confessed that it WAS really pretty--just too cold. Of course, she wasn't wearing Goretex from head to toe, which I was because I knew how soaking wet the vines were. I didn'tmind the wet, just dressed for it, because I knew it was serving a purpose.

By the time I got back to the house, my fingers were totally numb. The rest of me was comfortable. Wow did that hot shower at about 2 a.m. feel great!

Apparently all the water on the leaves worked its little miracle, because despite a lot of visible frost on things this morning, the tomato plants don't appear to have been damaged much. Water gives off heat as it changes from liquid to solid, and this heat can be enough to keep the plant tissue underneath the frost from freezing. Fractions of degrees make a real difference in the amount of damage to the plant. Thus water sprinklers are commonly used to protect against frost in high-value crops like citrus.

So maybe the tomatoes could have stayed on--maybe my dedicated rush to harvest them was "in vain". But there comes a time when it just needs to be OVER for the season--no more having that impending frost hanging over my head; just get it over with. I never really mourn the passing of the tomatoes. I'm usually tired of picking them by frost time. In fact, the annual frost night is often a welcome milestone in the gardening year.

Today, we rearranged the furniture in the barn--entirely dismantling the old system of pens and gates, and roughing in a new layout. Another rush to meet another goal...tomorrow morning a load of lambs goes to the meat processing plant. I was pleased to find that the new handling layout, building on memories of reading Temple Grandin's books, does encourage he sheep to move through more easily, even when full of scary shadows at night. It's also set up so that Toss can help to move the sheep into the chute, which she did very well. I ran the sheep through several times to get them all sorted out. Each time, she followed the last sheep into the chute, then sat there grinning at me--something she's never done with the former arrangement.

In a few hours, after a bit of sleep, I'll rush off on my next mission. Little by little things are taking shape. It's a good feeling. The visible progress motivates me to keep going, despite the scarcity of time for sleep.