Time Gets Away

Well, clearly Time Gets Away from us here on the farm. So many things happening at once that we have all been spinning. I definitely THOUGHT about writing for the blog, I really did. But time gets away from me faster than I can catch it; faster than the two grandkids now that they are both up and running around on their own. Still, we have managed to get things done, so let's see if I can at least run THAT down for you.

I hope everyone knows that most Small Family Farms actually rely in large part on income OFF the farm to support the Family part. Some farms make money, but my bet is that most don't in their first 8 years. Farmers aren't stupid and understand that a bad season can wipe you out if you don't have a backup plan. Where we are hedging our farm bet is with Maddrey busting her tail to get through nursing school - no small feat - AND she's doing great. It does mean some farm projects will take longer to develop and complete, but it also means we will be able to pay our bills more easily once she graduates. But she is ALSO getting our horses back to work and you could probably schedule a horsemanship/riding lesson if you tried. She's worth it. AND she will be producing some 100%-from-our-own-sheep roving for sale at some point soon.

Frank is developing a nice equine dentistry clientele with wildly satisfied customers. (You can message him on Facebook for an appointment). But he is also looking at another long summer of haying, which provides food for our animals through the year and some extra to sell when we're lucky - so there's a third hedge to our farm bet. He's expanded that business every year and we are always looking for new fields, if you're within tractor-roading range. 

On my end, I'm looking at a collection of Cottage Industry efforts. First, I was invited to contribute to a lovely book, recently published - actually, it's a TERRIFIC book.

Titled SisterWriterEaters, it is a collection of very personal essays and recipes, told by an amazing cast of talented women, edited by a pair of even more amazingly talented (and funny) women. Worth the bother to buy it and read it, in my humble opinion, and not just because I have an essay included in it with my mother's incredibly fabulous chocolate cake recipe. 

My second industry continues to be TetherMade baskets.

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Through the hard work of my NEW son-in-law and my daughter, we are now in about eight stores across the country, plus a few great local stores in Maine. I'll write about them in upcoming blog posts because they are really great and interesting people with adventure in their hearts!

As of yesterday, I officially have a THIRD cottage industry - I'm designing repeating prints for fabric, wallpaper, giftwrap - basically Surface Pattern Design. The likelihood of my work getting licensed by any actual company is slim to none, HOWEVER with the vast powers of the Series of Tubes we call the Internet, I am able to have my designs digitally printed onto gorgeous fabric and wallpaper and sell it myself! Amazing. What a world, right? My focus is Chickens right now, because... farm with chickens made sense to me. 

And here is my first "Chicken Happy" offering - a gorgeous little tea towel built from my little watercolor paintings.

 

It can either be purchased as a Fat Quarter (in their gorgeous linen/cotton canvas from Spoonflower and finish the raw edges yourself OR Buy a FINISHED tea towel directly from me (I'll pre-wash the fabric, hem the edges and tie it in a pretty bow, shipping included) for $25.

So, that's it - basically a giant sales pitch, but hey, we're farmers... always growing, building, making and selling something. And with any luck, this will be me Trying Yet Again to get a good run of blog posts going. We'll see, but Hope is a Thing With Feathers... right? Thanks for listening.

Pick Your Own Salad

What's Fresher than the Farmers' Market, much less expensive and open every day? Our pick-your-own salad bar! We have mixed salad greens, sage, mint, chives or rhubarb. Next week, we will get more exciting with kale, chard and radishes. Within two weeks, we will have tomatoes and sugar snap peas. And cucumbers and dill coming in at the same time for pickles. 

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And fresh cut flowers! Daisies, zinnias, Asters, marigolds, calendula, chamomile and more.

We have successive plantings in the works, so we will keep the greens coming. 

Stop by the farm today! We are pretty much always here... (because we're farmers...)

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She Was Some Chicken

June was some chicken. She was your basic beautiful Barred Rock, clucking around the hen house, until one day, she hurt her leg.

Maddrey and Frank gathered her up, brought her inside, splinted her leg and gave her a quiet box in the house to heal. But June quickly became family instead. She was calm and affectionate and had a cheerful personality. Yes, a chicken can have a cheerful personality.

She mostly just never got her feathers ruffled about anything.

She tolerated wearing a diaper, for example. And if you have never diapered a chicken, you have missed out on a life experience...

She enjoyed selfies. Clearly, she was the more photogenic of the two of us.

After she healed, she was allowed to come and go as she pleased. In the morning, she would hop up onto the kitchen counter, lay an egg, and then go to the front door to be let outside to join the other "ordinary" hens. Probably to brag about her VIP access.

Then, winter before last, June had a mild stroke. She hobbled around, dragging one wing, so she came back inside. We had an infant crawling around and didn't want him to do what crawling infants do - grab her or squash her - so she spent the winter in the basement, next to the woodstove or hiding under the fodder system. Warm and cozy. Safe and sound. Whenever we went downstairs to fill or stoke the stove, she would make a little conversational bok-bok-bok and help check the fire. Because she was June.

And sometimes she came upstairs for a visit. Just to get some sunlight or spend a few hours on the sofa with the family. 

She improved enough to go back outside when Spring finally returned. And this old girl found herself a handsome young Cock who immediately reinvigorated her spirit. She began laying again at the ripe old age of 6 1/2. She took over the entire barn for herself and her young boyfriend. It was a little "Harold and Maude" really...

June left this physical world on the day after Valentine's Day. She stayed long enough for the love, and the flowers; then she went to sleep. We will miss her.

You Know, It Gets Cold in Maine

"You know, it gets cold in Maine," is something I must've heard a hundred times when I announced that we had bought a farm and were all moving to Downeast Maine. I would feign surprise, because, duh, the northernmost New England state and it's COLD? You're kidding! Who knew?! 

Yeah. It gets cold. And our 1827 uninsulated, breezes-blowin'-through-the-walls farmhouse didn't even get indoor plumbing until 2001, but we figured Humans had survived in it since it was built, so how bad could it be?  

The first year, when only Frank and Maddrey had moved in, they installed a small wood burning stove in the living room... and spent a good part of winter huddled in front of it, hoping the toilet bowl wouldn't freeze. It was a rough winter. The previous owners had apparently closed off the upstairs completely along with a couple of the downstairs rooms and lived pretty much the same way - huddled in front of a fire.

Year One Heat 

Year One Heat 

The next year, we went about insulating where we could (basically the only place accessible was under the roof in the attic), bought a second wood burning stove for the kitchen, pulled the living room stove out and installed a larger wood burning stove in the basement.

Maddrey actually cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner on this stove

Maddrey actually cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner on this stove

The house was tolerable, but my office was an icebox and someone was checking the fires constantly (Maddrey often got up in the middle of the night to stoke fires - she was getting up anyway, because she was pregnant, but it made the job no more pleasant). I slept in flannel pajamas, a sweater, a wool beanie and wool socks, under a down comforter doubled over with a quilt on top... And we all dressed in two or three layers even if we weren't going outside. I had to admit it was quite a change from 30 years in Southern California where I was excited if I got to wear a jacket.

Last winter, we scored a gorgeous hybrid stove for the kitchen. The right side has an electric oven and four electric burners. The left side has wood burning firebox and got the kitchen so warm it was almost uncomfortable, but the perfect place to hang out on the super cold 10 below zero days - and when we lost power (like you do in Maine), we were still toasty. We also added a small electric radiator upstairs for the babies. I bought a little space heater for the bathroom and my bedroom - but we ran them sparingly. The rule was: only if you were actually standing in front of it could it be turned on. We shivered through another winter. And it was a spectacularly dismal winter, if you'll recall. It crushed me.

This year, we got some serious heat going. Maddrey and Frank have some kind of magical CraigsList karma and they found an almost-new outdoor wood boiler for a price we could afford. Maddrey jumped on it, Frank went and picked it up and they both set about figuring out how to install the thing. It is NOT a simple project, from my point of view but these two will take on anything.

If you've never heard of an outdoor wood boiler - I hadn't - it's this big thing.

It lives outside, in its own little house. Which was another project in itself as you can see.

Wood boiler house foundation

Once we had the concrete pad done, and the wood boiler in place, installation involved digging a big trench from the boiler to the barn, running some fancy insulated pipes in the trench to the basement.

Digging the trench

Digging the trench

This is the weird insulated pipe

This is the weird insulated pipe

The wood boiler itself will be wrapped in insulation as soon as we get to that part of the project. It has a huge firebox that heats water to about 180 degrees and then sends it through insulated pipes into the house, where Frank has installed two Modine heaters in the basement (like a radiator, but with a fan) and a couple of baseboard radiators on the first floor.

You can burn pretty much anything in a wood boiler - our nice neighbor Marcia said, "You can burn in a mattress in that thing" - so Frank is saved from cutting and splitting a lot of firewood. He simply chainsaws everything down to about 4 feet in length and throws it in. Green wood, wet wood, trash... we haven't tried a mattress yet, but I don't doubt Marcia's words.

It took dozens of man-hours and trips to Home Depot and online purchases of things that I only barely know the names of. It weren't cheap to install either. There was quite of bit of plumbing involved... and math... lots of math. But the result: no one is checking fires twenty-seven times a day (Frank loads the boiler twice a day, checks it a third time just for fun), no cutting and splitting firewood, no mud and dirt from lugging in firewood, no nagging the house teenager Max to remember to lug in firewood, the entire house is toasty, we don't pay for oil or electric and while we haven't had enough super cold days to really test it, it's snowing and 18 degrees outside today and I'm walking around in a lightweight sweater and my summer house slippers. And pants, of course.

There will be enough heat to warm the attached barn, where Frank is setting up his new workshop, and there are discussions about heating a greenhouse as well. So, yes, it gets cold in Maine... but we're ready this year.

Gettin' 'Er Done

We dreamed, we saved, we planned, God laughed, but we are gettin' 'er done! Our new indoor riding arena slash lambing barn slash hay storage slash winter horse barn slash children's winter play area slash event center for future classes and sales slash lord knows what else, is finally going up.  

Before (yes, that's a Chihuahua in there)

Before (yes, that's a Chihuahua in there)

We bought the greenhouse kit in May with every good intention to raise the building by maybe mid-September - knowing what we know about farm life and making plans... But even that late date was laughable, we were so sure we'd get it up sooner. Yeah... that thing about farm like and making plans?...

Some of the kit

Some of the kit

First, the building kit wasn't delivered until June. Then we got the opportunity to hay some very large fields, which would mean weeks of work (but enough hay to feed all our animals through the winter). Huge gift = Building delay.

Hay!!! 

Hay!!! 

Then I had to disappear to New York City for three weeks for surgery. Good for me, I can walk again = another delay. Then we found and purchased this new wood boiler that could heat not only the whole house but Frank's workshop, too. (That gets its own blog post). And yes, warm, cozy house in winter = Delay. Are you seeing a pattern here? This is Rule Number One for owning a farm - understand that nothing happens when or how you think it will. Ever. (That doesn't mean don't MAKE plans, just assume they're more of an outline really)

Digging the trench for pilings

Then we got the loan of a bulldozer in trade for cutting firewood! Days of work for Maddrey to create an outdoor arena (since we had the bulldozer, why not, right?) and Frank cleared hundreds of yards of trails into the woods; which means he can get in there with the tractor this winter and drag trees out for milling. Oh, yeah, milling is another thing we'll be doing in the new building because there will be a nice wooden mini-barn at either end, eventually. 

Borrowed bulldozer, Oran nonplused

Probably a dozen other challenges and delays - a surprise rain destroyed half of the sonotube before we could pour concrete, the tracks came off the bulldozer and Frank had to figure out how to put them back on (twice), getting fill delivered to create the pad (this took the right weather and a hole in the schedule of our Fabulous Excavator Leonard to deliver it - even then, the dump truck got stuck in the mud twice). 

Ummm, not good

Ummm, not good

But after each delay, Frank and Maddrey got back to work.

First trench

First trench

And some good friends helped out! REALLY good friends!! 

Frank and Josef playing in the mud, Jessie brought his COOL truck.

Frank and Josef playing in the mud, Jessie brought his COOL truck.

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Still several steps before we can install the cover though - wiggle wire, other structural support stuff. But ain't it gorgeous?!

Putting in the last of the supports

Putting in the last of the supports

 

Oh, and our crazy, harassing neighbor decided to report us to the Building Code Enforcement. So, the very nice Jackie (BC inspector) dropped in on us early the other morning and asked two questions. We had the right answers and crazy neighbor can go pound sand trying to get us in trouble. Does she really think we didn't check out all the legal and tax issues first? (if you're putting up your own buildings, be SURE to check with all the local authorities, duh)

More to come on the fabulous Wood Boiler and progress photos on the New Building, but we have to finish getting ready for Christmas!

Happy Holidays! Hug your family and hold them close.

 

If You Loan Frank a Bulldozer...

...he's going to want to tear stuff up. Although the same is true for Maddrey. So let's talk about tearing stuff up on the farm.

First, we have acres of woods that are in serious need of tearing up. The trees here are what I would call "new growth" forest, which is much nicer than what Frank and Maddrey call them: junk, garbage, trash. The previous owners had farmed the land in their youth as it had been farmed by their family before them, but as they aged and had no one interested in taking over the labor, Nature took hold and the open pastures went back to woods. Once they had both passed away, in their nineties, their adopted son had a lumber company come in and take the best trees to help pay taxes. So what was left for us is basically an unhealthy mess. There are certainly beautiful places to wander, especially near the large stream that borders the farm, but mostly the growth is Stephen King horror story lost in the woods dense.

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Even midst the young junk trees, there is enough straight pine and Hackmatack to be useful for posts, lumber and firewood. However, getting it OUT of the woods is the issue. We had plans to rent some heavy equipment, but the generous offer of an exchange was made (time with our new tiller for time with his lovely old bulldozer), and we jumped. 

Frank was let loose first, briefly, then Maddrey took a couple of half-days and cleared a new outdoor riding arena, to go with our new indoor riding arena/barn/event center/lambing shed/hay storage/winter playground for the kids building. That girl can clean your kitchen floor with a tractor bucket and not leave a mark.

Everything is still in progress, because when you're flattening out a hillside for an arena, you want to do some work, let it rain and settle, then do some more work, and so on, until it's nice. It also gives you a clear look at how the drainage is going to work. Good drainage is pretty much essential to everything. Always. Always always. Plus, in Maine, you want to make sure you have a place for the snow to go.

Here's "Before" from when we first bought the place, looking up the slope:

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And this is a couple years later, looking down the slope.

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And this is "After", looking kind of from the other side:

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Frank gets a turn next and between the thousand other chores and emergencies that always interrupt his days, here's what you get for about two hours work so far. Just getting from the trailhead to the bulldozer took me about ten minutes walking. It's going to be insanely beautiful covered in snow. And by next Spring, Frank will have run the tractor through so many times, it will be beaten down into a great walking trail.

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And with any luck, by the time the ground freezes, we will have enough trail to drag whatever we want from the woods, whenever we need it. That's rich, in my opinion.

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Winter is coming...

I don't actually watch "Game of Thrones" but I hear "Winter is coming" is a big catchphrase of theirs. But for us here on the farm, it's fair warning. Winter IS coming and that sh*t is serious in Maine.  

But it's not here yet, so we will scurry like busy mice until it arrives. Meanwhile, there is nothing like Autumn in Maine.  

Out our front door  

Out our front door  

Everywhere you look is like a photograph.  

Pie pumpkins in the greenhouse

Pie pumpkins in the greenhouse

The pumpkins are ready to be stored. Or made into pies! 

Autumn woods

Autumn woods

Every little walk through the woods is a delight.  

Wild apples load the tree

Wild apples load the tree

And the wild apple trees are loaded down. I knock a dozen or so off for the chickens every day.  

The sheep have a great view of the foliage

The sheep have a great view of the foliage

An unexpected treat was discovering this little beauty on CraigsList! We have named her G.I.Jane because she is ex-military. Who doesn't want a dump truck!

Our "new" 1968 dump truck

Our "new" 1968 dump truck

Sunflower heads

Sunflower heads

The sunflowers are cut and laid out to dry in the greenhouse.  

A boy and his mud puddle

A boy and his mud puddle

Oran has a major construction project in the works as well.  

Green tomatoes headed to become Fried Green Tomatoes! 

Green tomatoes headed to become Fried Green Tomatoes! 

And we are pulling every last bit from the garden before the freezes hit.  

Now that haying is done, and we've been able to access some needed equipment, this is the month for the new building to go up. We're hoping for help from a few good friends to make quick work of it.  

An indoor playground for the kids would make an awesome winter! (Yes, it will also house horses and more, but there will definitely be room for children to run!)

As The Days Grow Short Again

So I'm having some computer issues. We all know how super fun that is. Mercury in retrograde just beat both my computers to a pulp. But here is a post I STARTED mid-September:

Yes, I'm sorry, I went missing again, but I have a good excuse. I was in New York City for hip replacement surgery. You might have seen a few NYC photos on our Facebook page or Instagram. That was me, recuperating while Frank and Maddrey kept plugging along here and got more things checked off the To Done List!

Oh, we were on TV on the local news - if you missed our little interview on WABI-TV, here's the link

Now, here's a quick rundown of How Things Are Going:

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Our meat birds are growing huge and gorgeous and will be going to "freezer camp" once the weather cools off a bit more and we have time for processing.  We will keep some little Silkies and Barred Rocks for eggs, but these gorgeous Label Rouge chickens won't have to worry about winter, shall we say...

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The corn is as high as an elephant's eye! And it looks like it's climbing clear up to the sky! As long as we can keep the livestock out of the sweet corn, we'll have some for dinner and a LOT to share! And they'll get their turn when the feed corn is ready.

The sunflowers are taller than we can reach and should provide a LOAD of seeds.  

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Esmerelda, our little heifer, is growing and beautiful.  

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We are making progress on the new building.  

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Although we still have to put all this together! 

But what has focus right now is all the hay we need to mow and bale.  

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Frank and Maddrey (and Pippa!) have been driving in circles for days and days. Makin' hay while the sun shines - and rain is coming, so they are out till well after dark.  

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And our TetherMade baskets are now in SIX stores! But you can still order them online. 

More work updates to come.  

 

WABI TV-5 NEWS

Hey, we were interviewed by the very delightful Taylor Kinzler from WABI TV-5 News today. We gave Taylor and Cameraman/Artist Brandon (ack, I didn't get your last name, Brandon!) a tour and shared a little bit about what we do here, what we dream of doing and such.

If you'd like to know more about our farm, our horses, our riding lessons, our new indoor arena, farming in Maine, whatever, please leave a comment/question and we'll do our best to answer quickly.

If you have FIELDS TO MOW - you must be within 20 miles of Steuben, have MORE THAN 5 acres of GRASS (or mostly grass), and understand the deal: we mow or brushhog, depending on the quality, of the fields for free. Click on the CONTACT field (or the link here) and tell us where you are and leave us a phone number so Maddrey can get back to you.

If you'd like to know more about our online store TetherMade click on the link. 

 

If you're interested in our wool roving, wool yarn, dolls, knitted items, leave us a comment and we'll hook you up.

If you're interested in a writing class, let me know and we'll try to put one together. I teach creative writing "Telling Your Story" every so often, when I have a venue I like - and have worked with both adults and children.

If you'd like to get a little "Farm Experience" and enjoy hard work, want to learn, have a little bit of a perfectionist streak, take instructions well, aren't allergic to animals and have some spare time, hey, Contact us!

 

Be Careful What You Wish For...

What gets you through winter in Maine is PLANNING for spring and summer and figuring out how to make these plans and wishes and dreams come true. Our winter dreams were about building a mud-free road from the street to the lower field; building a new covered riding arena that included horse stalls at either end, but could also double as lambing shed, hay storage, event center, toddler play area and more; also planting the front pasture with corn, beans, zinnias and sunflowers; planting the side pasture as a raspberry pick-your-own and then, of course, our regular vegetable garden. Does that sound like enough? Oh, but we're not done - we hoped for lambs and kids and calves to be born healthy, to cut and bale enough hay to get through the next winter, get our new online store, TetherMade, up and running like a top and get Maddrey through her first semester of college toward her nursing degree (because she doesn't have enough degrees already...).

Well, it's August now, so let's see how we're doing with these Winter Dreams.

Dumping twenty loads of grit for the road

Dumping twenty loads of grit for the road

The new road stretches from the street to the soon-to-be-built New Covered Arena. The pad  is leveled and ready for foundation piles.

Pad for the new arena is still a work-in-progress here.  

Pad for the new arena is still a work-in-progress here.  

The main part of the covered arena building has been delivered and is sitting in huge boxes and on pallets. It was stationed by the driveway two days ago, but I looked out yesterday and Frank has magically transported everything down to the pad for assembly.

Frank unloads one of the pallets

Frank unloads one of the pallets

We've gone through the peas already. Bags shelled and frozen.  

We've gone through the peas already. Bags shelled and frozen.  

And TetherMade is getting orders!  We are in three very nice stores in San Diego in addition to our own online store. Plus, the Museums of Old York is having a "Mostly Maine" Pop-Up Store at their annual Home and Garden Tour - and we are included among the artisans in their store! (Yep, those are TetherMade baskets in the lower left on their website promotion)

TetherMade basket being useful

TetherMade basket being useful

Maddrey finished her first semester (I will brag for her) with a 99.4 (yes, we teased her about slacking off for that extra .6) and is in her second semester. Frank has hay baled and stacked with lots more to come. Josie bore a very healthy and beautiful heifer, Esmerelda. The sheep birthed lambs, the goats gave us more kids and we have 50 Label Rouge chickens growing fast - they'll be going to "freezer camp" pretty soon...

The little extras that we didn't expect include a new dairy cow, Olivia, who will be bred soon (fingers crossed),  me getting to spend a few weeks in New York recovering from the hip replacement surgery that I'll be having in August; we found a new home for my ex-racehorse, Ira (we hope) since I finally had to admit that I'd never be able to ride him and it wasn't right to let such a nice horse stand; my little dog Annie is on a foster mission for our friends' little girl (they are a military family and can't adopt a dog because they might have to go overseas and it's far too costly to bring pets, so she's borrowing my dog for a while). What else? Maddrey's oldest son is out of high school and living with us - getting up at 3:00 a.m. to go out on a lobster boat almost every day (yes, he's bringing lobster home!!!) 

Ira is willing to share a little with the geese before he goes

Ira is willing to share a little with the geese before he goes

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Another little unexpected happening - Frank challenged me to check out a website that specialized in horse-drawn farm equipment. Which I did. And I found an auction nearby, which was happening that morning and I found a piece of equipment that Frank had longed for was at this auction. So Frank hopped in the truck, drove two hours, and low and behold... A forecart with powered PTO.

Forecart with PTO. Can't wait to see it with horses!

Forecart with PTO. Can't wait to see it with horses!

So that's the latest from the farm. And for your Moment of Zen, here are some more pretty pictures.

Hello, Sheepies! 

Hello, Sheepies! 

Oh yeah, we got a few strawberries. Like LOTS of them.  

Oh yeah, we got a few strawberries. Like LOTS of them.  

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Chick chick chick

Chick chick chick

TetherMade is Also Us

So here's the thing with farming as a small family farm operation - especially one just starting out, with pretty much zero infrastructure when we bought the place and land badly in need of care: you're not going to make any money for a while. Not only will you not MAKE any money, you'll also be PAYING OUT a lot in setting things up, buying fencing, roofing, feed. So a little something on the side that brings in some dollars can make a difference.  

Which is why we have joined forces with my talented daughter and her talented man and we have created this new online store TetherMade

Utility Basket

Utility Basket

I've been busy at the sewing machine, Maddrey has been busy hand-dying some special pieces and Michael & Bernadette have been busy creating the business, marketing and online store, taking gorgeous photos, and setting us up on Instagram (@tethermade) and Facebook. 

Hand-dyed Bowl

Hand-dyed Bowl

So please, check it out and see if you might want to take one home. They're kind of gorgeous, even if I do say so myself.  

Utility basket

Utility basket

Who Has Time?!

So here's the thing, Future Farmers reading this, you're never going to have enough time. At least, that's my excuse for not posting recently and regularly. Farming isn't an 8-hour day, 40-hour-a-week job. Farmers really should get a 36-hour day and maybe a third arm. (Also mothers of young children).  

But here's some of what we have going on with the time we DO have: garden and hoop houses planted, new field planted (multiple varieties of corn, beans, peas, sunflowers), sheep moved and sheared (not all of them but that will get done this week), new horse shed almost done, goats producing enough milk for some very fine cheese AND keeping toddler grandson happy. I'm not even sure what else, so here's some pretty pictures.  

Seeding with a contraption from the 1900s.  

Seeding with a contraption from the 1900s.  

Baby goats

Baby goats

Darn nice lettuce  

Darn nice lettuce  

Finally got a new culvert to reduce the mud!! 

Finally got a new culvert to reduce the mud!! 

New management  

New management  

Three lambs born this spring

Three lambs born this spring

Strawberry fields...forever

Strawberry fields...forever

Get to work! 

Get to work! 

Long Time Comin'

Okay, I'll admit it: winter beat me. I still love winter and I still love Maine, but, Lordy, this really, seriously, crazy overly-long winter got the best of me. It started off lovely and snowy and "isn't it gorgeous," but after month upon month and record-setting snowfalls and The Worst Crud-Cold-Flu-Whatever that knocked out everyone in our household, I wanted to curl up into a tiny ball of denial when it was snowing, YET AGAIN, in April. But we have had several days of warmer, sunny weather, snow is melting (and bringing mud to replace it), and the days are long enough to get things done.

I will have to go back in time in some future posts for things that I missed (due to my enough-of-this-winter depression and illness), but for right now, I'll report on somewhat current events.

Obviously, the Most Important News is that we have a New Human - Pippa was born (very quickly) just a few weeks ago. We are all grateful that she came quickly, because we were all infected with The Most Awful Cold Ever and Maddrey couldn't even breathe.  The idea of delivering a baby, where breathing is KEY to the process, was not looking like fun. Pippa waited over a week past her due date, trying to be helpful, I'm sure, but finally arrived and was born in under three hours. Job well done. (I might be prejudiced, but I believe she is gorgeous)

And, with Spring actually here, there are other new babies! Our two LaMancha goats, Moonshine and Annie, have both delivered healthy kids. Moonie had twins - a buck and a little female - and they are both ridiculously cute. Annie followed two days later with her own little baby buck.

Our lovely dairy cow, Josie, has also given birth to a lovely little heifer named Esmerelda.

This photo is moments after she was born. The photo below is a couple of days later.

We are awaiting the sheep to deliver their lambs - which could be any minute. Or tomorrow... or in a couple days. You never quite know for sure.

Meanwhile, we have projects getting underway, new adventures for the summer and lots of Big Ideas. Stay tuned.

Sunny Day

After our last big snow storm, I convinced myself that I could "sense" Spring coming. This would be the LAST big snow storm of the winter. I was sure of it. I could feel it in my bones. And then it snowed the next day... And a bit more the day after. 

But I do still believe Spring is coming. It has to, right?

And I'm sure Maddrey is feeling the same way about the baby that is coming - due in the next two weeks, the requisite nine months in the making - it HAS to come, right? At least, that's how I remember feeling when I was pregnant - a mix of "It HAS to come" and "I'm going to be pregnant for the rest of my life..." 

But to give Maddrey a little break, some support from loving friends was called in by our good friend Diana, who created a Blessingway. Now strictly speaking, a Blessingway is a Navaho ritual, deeply spiritual, and filled with meaning. None of us had even heard of such a thing until we came to Maine, oddly. But the magic Google machine provided ideas for creating a ritual specific to our needs. The Mother was to feel pampered, cared for and fully supported. And I am pretty sure we got it done.

All serious Pampering starts with great food, in my opinion...

There are two missing pastries because I couldn't help myself... these were fabulous.

Everyone had been asked to bring a poem or any meaningful words to read, along with two beads that had special meaning. Even Great Grandma (my mother) called in from Texas to read a little poem she found and offered two freshwater pearls for the bead collection. As the words were read, handmade beads, energizing crystals, pearls, precious stones, carved beads of woman and baby, seashells with rich memories attached were each threaded onto a necklace for Maddrey to wear and draw strength from during delivery.

These are our very pretty friends.

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As each person read their offerings, they also wrapped a bit of yarn around one wrist, eventually making a bit of a spiderweb connecting us all - the invisible connection of all women. The yarn was cut and tied - and we will each wear this little bracelet until the baby is born. 

We each got a pretty little candle, to be lit when contractions start - yes, we have a phone tree set up, but I imagine Facebook will start the ball rolling. Each little flame will be spiritual energy from each of us to ease the birth. (Mom, I'll let you know and you can light a candle in Texas)

For even more pampering, Diana created a delightful foot-bath with scented oils and wove a pretty flowered crown into Maddrey's hair.

Oran was there to support Mommy, of course. He's such a guy.

Even in the dead of winter, with six feet of snow drifted up against the doors and windows, we can still have a sunny day with friends to celebrate the coming of this New Life. 

So yes, Spring AND this baby are coming. I promise.

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Storm's A'Comin'

Since 4 or 5 feet of snow apparently isn't enough for Mama Nature this winter, we have yet another Huge Winter Snow Storm headed our way tomorrow night, with the most recent prediction calling for another 3 feet... This requires a little bit of preparation. We bring in some extra wood for the fires, go grocery shopping for the "just in case" stuff, and get gas and diesel for the tractors and generators. Most of that stuff is done anyway. Bringing in more wood is ongoing all winter. 

The frustration is in having to plow and dig your way around just to get to the point where you CAN do the chores.

Of course, the geese (The Count, Duchess and Tallulah) are always willing to have an opinion and direct traffic...

 

Frank decided to put in some extra time this morning to work with one of our Haflinger ponies, Greta. He's basically RE-starting her for driving... well, for pulling, so she can help him haul logs in from the woods.

Step One is catching her, which doesn't appear to be a problem. (Greta adores him) Then we hope her 'sister' Heidi doesn't get hysterical when Greta leaves the pen (she didn't).

...and there's always an audience... Yes, that's an Alpaca.

Step Two is to simply walk Greta through the woods on one of the routes she'll be taking with the sled. There are carrots in every one of Frank's pockets as a reward for getting to one end or the other.

Walk to Point A, get carrots. Walk to Point B, get carrots. Rough life, girl.

Step Three: Do it again tomorrow... 

Craft Night, Thanks to Beth

When the days and nights both look pretty much the same... for days on end... and they look like this -- and yes, the sky was this exact color of pink, I swear -- well, you need to get out. 

So when our friend and Yoga instructor, Beth, corralled another kind and generous friend, Peg, to teach a small group of us how to make Waldorf star dolls, we were in! 

The invitation said to bring treats and/or whiskey. I chose whiskey - well, technically bourbon. Thankfully, others chose to bring treats.

Peg spent a LOT of time in preparation for this class, marking out and stitching pattern pieces, gathering equipment, etc. I am totally envious of her fabulous sewing box and if anyone knows where to find me one like it, shout out! The little doll we will be making is right there, dressed in blue.

And here's another little doll she brought that I'm also dying to make and fill the body with lavender and buckwheat.

Now Peg assured us that the process was pretty simple. It kind of is. But simple almost never means easy... it does take a while... especially when you're having fun. Since we only got as far as making the little heads on this occasion, this will NOT be a tutorial... yet. Once we get it going, we'll do that. But if any of you are like me, and look at these little dolls and think, "well, I could make THAT if I just knew how they did the head..." I'll show you some of the steps.

You'll need to buy a few things - Peg recommends this website - and that's definitely where we're going, too, because they have books and kits and many lovely things that I now want...

The first thing you'll need is this little tube of knit fabric and you simply cut off about 6" of it and tie a very tight little knot at one end and set it aside.

Next, you'll need some nice wool roving (which is basically wool that isn't yarn yet). You create a tiny little pea-sized center ball - seriously, start TINY - and wrap the wool tightly until it's about 5 1/4 inches around. (Thank you to Alana for being a willing hand model...)

Interesting bit about wool fibers - they have little barbs. When you add friction, like agitating your cute sweater in the washing machine, the barbs lock together and the wool is "felted" (and your sweater is ruined).

Using that fabulous bit of information, we take a felting needle - warning, these things are SHARP - and poke, poke, poke, poke into this little wool ball head. As you poke, the barbs will lock and the head will become smaller, and more firm. The little foam block helps you to not stab yourself. I highly recommend not stabbing yourself.

So there are several more steps to producing this little doll's head, which you can see a bit of in the rest of the photos - and if you are REALLY interested, we'll create a more detailed post, so please comment and let us know. Mostly, I like the images of all these women's hands, creating something that is unique and wonderful - each little head is the tiniest bit different. One head is smaller, one has blue eyes, one has a crooked smile. Like each of us.

Can't wait for the next Craft Night. Thanks again to Beth and Peg and everyone who was there to make a snowy winter night into something warm and wonderful.

Why Yes, It IS Still Snowing...

Yeah, so it's Maine. And it's Winter. And it's snowing. While the grandson and I are fairly cozy in the house, Frank is about to pull his hair out.

 I can appreciate the frustration of plowing out trails in the deep snow only to plow them out again the next day... kind of like doing laundry and dishes... for Giants... And due-to-deliver-a-human-being-in-one-month Maddrey is also out galavanting around in the snow (shoveling paths and doing more than your average, reasonable pregnant gal would even consider) But finally last night, I got to tag along while Frank took food down to the cows in the lower pasture - in snowshoes. The snow in that part of the pasture would be about waist deep, but with the snowshoes, we only sank to about mid-calf. It was exhausting and beautiful and I still love Maine.

Our little road stays fairly clear, thanks to the fabulous guys who drive the snowplows at all hours. The banks are a good two feet higher than this now. And we have another big storm coming tonight.

I took this photo a couple of days ago. Today, this chair is COMPLETELY covered and then some.


Yeah, that's a door... that we can't open for a while... And this is our living room window.

Meanwhile, we're still working on the kitchen redo (more photos to come). Oran has already claimed his "hidey spot" in this cabinet. Alas, the cabinet doors to come will kill his dream - or possibly make his hidey spot better... Maddrey is knitting up a storm (photos to come there, too) to prepare for the New Baby due in March, but also poring through the seed catalogues to plan the 2015 garden. 

That's what winter is good for really - planning. It's that time Nature has set aside for us to think, to slow down, to watch the snow and contemplate the beauty of it all.

A Blustery Day and Butter

The snow has been going nonstop since morning, blanketing the ground, the cars, the hoop houses in the garden... well, everything actually. It's beautiful and makes some chores easier, oddly enough, because we can drag things in sleds. (I use the Royal "we" meaning mostly Frank and Maddrey. THIS "We" stays in the house with the grandbaby).

But the cow and goat still get milked and we still need to filter the milk, scoop off the cream after it separates and jar it up. When we have enough jars, like we do today, we make beautiful, fresh butter.

We make our butter just like Laura Ingalls Wilder did - if she had a very high-tech blender...

Really, the blender is the only part where we "cheat." It's basically extremely fast churning... You still have to watch it carefully. Not too much so it effectively melts onto itself and not too little so it's merely whipped. Like right here - this is just whipped.

Where as this (below) is butter-ish. You'll see it change color just a tiny bit, from Milk White to Butter Yellow - only not the store-bought Yellow, the Real Butter Yellow. It's much more gentle.

Pour it through the cheese cloth (you'll have placed a bowl underneath to catch the genuine Buttermilk, which you will use later for Genuine Buttermilk Biscuits).

Then you PRESS out the extra liquid. Press and press and press.

Got it all pressed out? Now you rinse it with cold water till it runs pretty clear. You want to get all the excess milk out so it keeps longer, as I understand it.

Put it into a bowl and PRESS some more. See that little bit of liquid still coming out? Get that out of there.

And there's your butter. If you like it salted, now's the time to stir in a pinch. Otherwise, seal it tight and put it in the refrigerator to firm up. Or, if you're Laura Ingalls Wilder, put it in the rootcellar or the cold stream that runs near the cabin...

 

Why Maine?

We are often and regularly asked by family, friends, and new acquaintances: "WHY Maine?" Even the people I met in Russia asked, "Why MAINE?!" As in, Why On Earth would you choose to come to Maine to start a FARM? Isn't it cold there? Like crazy cold? And isn't it like really UP there in the corner, like far away from, well, everything? 

So here's my answer: first, because Maine WANTS farmers. Maddrey and Frank did a lot of research over quite a bit of time about where to start a real farm and what kind of farm. They considered about six other states and then looked at property values/costs, State Regulations, attitude toward cottage industry, the PEOPLE, climate, environment - it was a long list of stuff. And then, one Christmas when I came to visit them in Pennsylvania, they said, "Hey, want to go on a little Road Trip?" And we high-tailed it up to Maine. We stayed at two different (and fabulous) B&B's and drove all around a pre-selected area. We all fell in love. 

Because we are located kind of right on the coast, it's not actually that cold. Yes, it snows. Yes, it was minus 18 degrees the other day... But it's certainly not Chicago. Or Minnesota. Or a dozen other way more horrible places weather-wise. It's gorgeous. (I have been told that my love of winter will wear off in five or six years, which I believe because I certainly was sick of sunshine after 30+ years in California. Sick of it.).

But this week, I was reminded about How Much Maine Wants Farmers when I attended the Augusta Agricultural Trade Show

The show was three days of association meetings, lectures and workshops including everything from a multi-lecture series on raising High-Bush Blueberries to how to qualify for and receive ProBono Legal Advice. What farmer doesn't need a free lawyer for something? There were daily sessions for One-on-One Business Consulting with experts from the Maine Small Business Development Center.  I visited with Delightful Representatives from the Beginning Farmers Resource Network, Farms for the Future (an awesome program for farmers to expand their business), University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Maine Farm Bureau, Community Energy Partners, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (producers of the Very Popular "Common Ground Fair"),  and private business reps from Farm Family Insurance, Casella OrganicsCabbige (still-in-development pricing and inventory app, which I'm going to learn more about this next week) and ReVision Energy (a New England-focused solar power system contractor with some great new ideas on getting into solar even if you don't have a place for it).

I was overwhelmed by the amount of help, insight, technical advice, financial advice, tax advice, marketing - advice on pretty much everything about how to run a farm as a BUSINESS - all available through the State of Maine and affiliated not-for-profit programs. So we are living a lesson I learned a long time ago - be where you're valued and don't stay where you aren't valued. Maine wants farmers.

Plus, that maple candy in the photo? They were passing that stuff out for FREE!

Kitties' Adventure

I am certain that our two kitties - Purrrcival and Purrrscilla - would not consider their day an adventure, but they did get to travel, and have new experiences. Although they did both return home... um... "missing a few parts." Our kitties are now spayed and neutered and will have happy, safe lives and not contribute to the massive over-abundance of pets.

We wanted to thank the wonderful Staff at Community Spay-Neuter Clinic in Freeport, ME for their beautiful care. We brought the kitties to Bangor VERY early in the morning and delivered them to Pete, who was his own one-man show, juggling clipboards and pet carriers in the snow. The Clinic offers FREE transport with several pick-up points. Maddrey was admiring their suturing, but was also very impressed with the kitties' new tattoos - a little green dot on their tummy - indicating that they had been "fixed." This is genius, since you can't tell except by "opening them up" if a female has been spayed - and sadly, some animals have to endure this unnecessary surgery if they wind up on the streets (our won't!) and then in the custody of Animal Control (who are really just doing their job).

See her little green dot?

See her little green dot?

Purrrcival is winking because he feels so good even without his "bits."

Purrrcival is winking because he feels so good even without his "bits."

Please please do encourage everyone you know to be Responsible Pet Owners - this great clinic makes any excuse impossible. And if you'd like your children to witness the birth of an animal, visit a FARM! If you'd like them to have the opportunity to play with newborn puppies or kittens, visit ANY Animal Shelter - and take one HOME!

By the way, the Clinic does have a Wish List (office supplies and blankets, easy stuff to donate) and they are about to expand to cover more of the State. Check 'em out and let's support their great cause and work.