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.