Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Christmas Story

Two years ago I was flying out to Seattle in July for the annual conference at Earthues. I always have one stop from New England and on that flight I booked from Hartford, CT to Detroit and then on to Seattle. It was hot and humid on the East Coast and the flight from Hartford to Detroit was a white knuckle ride due to turbulence. I was seated next to a man who offered great support as we both held on for the ups and downs and jiggling. I am not a fan of flying and neither was he but I was thankful he was my neighbor instead of some air savvy traveler. It was one and a half hours in the air and it felt like forever. But we landed safely in Detroit and for the brief layover I refused to worry about the next leg.

When I boarded for Seattle a pleasant looking woman, who I'll call Sue, came down the isle looking for her seat and I thought, oh, let her sit next to me, she looks like someone I can connect with. And she did! We settled in and awaited takeoff. We quickly spurted out our fears of flying and I knew we were in great company! We took off and once we started breathing again, we started to talk. For four and a half hours and a few glasses of wine the stories flowed; some were personal and heart-wrentching. She was travelling to Seattle to have a vacation with her two sisters. And then she would return to her home and family in the greater Detroit area. No real hope for a lasting friendship, or was there?

We walked to baggage claim together and her sisters greeted her. I got a picture of them, we swapped email addresses, hugged and went our separate ways.

And so began our friendship. After we each returned from the Pacific Northwest we emailed back and forth, here and there. Like so many of us it might just be a "forward" but I have come to understand that when someone sends a forward joke or other generic email, they are thinking of you, even if they haven't got time to write a personal note. Our lives are all very busy and sometimes just a silly joke or YouTube movie can break the crazies! But Sue and I also wrote little notes to each other about our lives and days. We continued to share to each other what was happening in our daily transgressions.

On our flight together, Sue shared that she loved to create art through wood-burning. She had done a number of pieces (plaques) the past few years but life got in the way and she had to set the art aside. She sent me a picture of one particular piece she had done that hung in her livingroom. It was a drawing of a deer in the brush, alert and listening. I was so astonished I asked if she would consider creating something similar for me to give Jack for Christmas. Of course I would pay her. Nothing came of the discussion until a package arrived a year ago Christmas. I opened the box and I held a wrapped present. The tag said "To Jack, with love from Nancy". It was placed under the tree and on Christmas morning Jack opened the package to reveal the exact wood-burned plaque of the deer in the brush that she had in her own living room. Not a duplicate. But that exact personal piece.

Unbenounced to Sue I had sent her a scarf I had knit for her to keep her warm in the cold Michigan weather. She always said she felt warmer when it was wrapped about her head and neck.

Another year passed, more emails here and there and then less, she finally didn't write at all. On my birthday, this past November 30th, I got an email from her. I will never forget the moment. It was a long note and from her heart. She had come to a crossroad in her life and over the summer and fall had decided to make a major change in her personal life. She had moved out of her home after many years and managed to find a temporary but suitable living circumstance and a job. I won't go into the particulars but her note cut me to the core. She is an incredible woman who had endured more than she needed to for longer than she should have and she finally said enough is enough. As I read the email to Jack for the first time I burst into tears for her struggle and fortitude.

Of course the first thing I did was email right back. But her note to me had shared that she didn't have a computer and was at a library working on a public computer. So I knew she wouldn't see my message for days.

Within a week I realized there was one thing I could do for Sue to perhaps make a difference. I had a laptop that I had "retired". I had upgraded to a new model but still felt the older laptop could be put to use somehow so I had hung onto it. I took it to my technician to have it cleaned off and he reloaded Windows XP and a free anti-virus program. I wrapped it up in ribbons and bows with a Christmas card and sent it to Sue mid-December. It felt wonderful to know she could work on it, email on it, take it with her as she went to and fro and mostly use it in the privacy of her own space. That, to me, is a crucial gift when the chips are down, privacy in the chaos.

The day the package arrived I got an email from Sue. It said the following:

I LOVE YOU!!! Nancy, you are unbelievable! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. thank you..........!!!!
I was bowled over by your generosity and thoughtfulness. My eyes are wet with tears...I'm on cloud nine! I don't know what else to say. I'm speechless!
Thank you.
God bless you.

This is the true meaning of Christmas. The gift of love. Without qualification. Without condition. And it all began on a hot day in Detroit, on an airplane, with a stranger.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Early training

This morning Luna took a longer look at the flock. She barked a little, trembled a bit and stared a lot!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Meet Luna

We picked up Luna yesterday and she is everything I hoped for. We met the foster parents half-way between our homes as the winter storm made their drive from the coast of Maine risky. Luna is a love, stares deep into my eyes, loves hugs and kisses, doesn't bark too much, is into everything and minds her Ps and Qs nicely! I also have to give high honors, though, to Sidney, our lab. He is not fond of other dogs unless they "belong" to him. We brought Luna into the house and had Sid on a leash until they sorted it out, took them for a walk across the fields and by the end of that walk they were bonding.

Today I walked them both, Luna off the leash and she had a ball, letting Sidney show her the trails, chipmunk holes and mouse nests.

She came with a couple of leashes, one retractable, and her game is to take the cord in her mouth and do the leading!

I can't give enough praise for Kennebeck Valley Shetland Sheepdog Club Rescue in Maine and Luna's foster parents, Holly and Chuck. To say the least, we adopted a prize Sheltie. She has had some instant challenges to greet these past 24 hours, from leaving her foster family to meeting us, meeting a huge black lab, a huge Chartreux cat (who is afraid of nothing), to one hen and I introduced her to the flock but after 2 minutes this morning she'd seen enough of that! A bit overwhelming. For her first day out of the gate she's doing just great. She and Sidney are asleep in the kitchen on their beds, and Luna is home.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New day

Sleep knits the ragged sleeve of care. Our sole hen, Bianca, made her way out and about the farm today. Not a really pleasant day weatherwise, but this chicken stands to be the last one standing. She is one tough hen. We feed crackers at the house shed and Bianca was there to get her fair share this morning. Schedule as usual. Late morning she found a patch of dirt in the drive and got to dusting her feathers, happy as a clam.

She was quickly thwarted by another round of heavy I gathered her up and put her in the coop for the rest of the day where it's warm and dry, solitary for her, but at least she's safe and cared for.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Damn it to hell

We lost another hen, Penny, to death tonight. I am sad.

These hens have been our friends, day in, day out. They "got it". Since this spring we have lost 5 out of our 6 hens. We have one left tonight. I can only surmise that the cross breeding stinks, Buff Sex Links. We have raised many flocks of hens and this flock has had issue after issue this year. Except for one, which was taken by a predator, the rest have just died across the summer/fall. Our coop is cleaner than you can imagine, the feed is clean and we change out the water daily. If I weren't so bloody conscientious, I'd blame myself.

I knew Penny wasn't well this past week, slowly seemed to be going down, just like the others did. Quietly, gracefully. We have had a nasty cold snap, like much of the nation, this week, so I have kept our last two hens in the coop this week. I checked on them this evening only to find Penny on death's door. I picked her up and held her for the longest time. I put my face to hers and loved her. Knowing she was dying, I decided to bring her to the house for the night. Why? I guess she just deserved that extra measure of care. I got a box, filled it with straw, went back down to fetch her (all within 5 minutes) and she had passed away. Gone.

Death sucks. I've seen too much of it these past few years and I am tired of the training.

Tomorrow will come. Tonight I am sad.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snowbound and excited

Today we are snowbound and I am loving it! We have about 10" on the ground at 2PM and the wind has started to pick up. It's still blowing out of the east and I am waiting for that to turn to the west. I kept the sheep in today as their way out faces east and it was way to snowy in the barn this morning. So they are hunkered down with plenty of room under cover, hay and some classical music on the radio. Actually it was Christmas carols when I departed this morning. Maybe they were having a sing-a-long, who knows. Looking into the barn from the west end...looking cozy.

I got a wonderful surprise for my combo birthday/Christmas gift from Jack...a lamcam! Shout out to Manise! I have wanted one for years but they are pricey. Well, Jack thought it up all on his own, no pretty pleases from me! There it is, up in the right corner, hooked up and ready to go. It is an audio/video camera with ultra-violet light for the nightime hours. It transmits to our bedroom television. So during the night hours in lambing season I can now turn it on anytime during the night to check on the ewes without disturbing them or us, unless it is actually "time". Wahoo!!!

And lastly, we have been working on finding a new Sheltie to join us here at the farm. We lost Shelley last November and it is now totally time to have a new pup on the farm. So here she is! We don't have her yet, she just went to foster care 2 days ago, but the foster mom says she is a love, no issues and is ready to come to us! Double wahoo! She is 2 years old, a sable with a bit of blue merle on her face and one blue eye! That blue eye that Shelley had also will melt your heart. I am soooo excited..she should be here for Christmas. I will post more when she arrives!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Once a year

I am 56 years old today. I don't tend to talk about my birthday but my dear friends and family remind me each and every year just the same! I could write a book about my years so far, but who has time, so much to do still, so much to learn, so much to live! Here I was with my two older brothers, I was happy!

Here I am after high school graduation. I could write a number of chapters between age 3 and age 18. It wasn't all good or easy. That is what builds a good life though. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At this point in time I was on the way to adult life with solid footing under me, thanks to the love of my family and friends. I chose this little gravestone when we took the photos....little did I know I would ever have my own flock one day!

I am a happy, thankful woman today. With a beautiful family, a flockful of loving sheep, regular work and the love of friends and family. That's what it is all about, that love. This me and Jack with our dear Faith and the love of her life.

And here I am not too long ago, photography by Marti Stone My life is still opening, evolving and challenging. One of my favorite quotes that came from the book Fortitude by Hugh Walpole is "It's not life that really matters, it's the courage you bring to it."

And today, among other special gifts I received this pastel of me and Ashley, done by our dear friend and shepherdess, Katie. You can see the photo in the prior post. She is so talented, so special. What a special gift she gave me today!

Thanks for stopping by...I'll raise a glass to you tonight!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Celebrate the harvest!

Ashley and me; thankfulness in a huge nutshell.

Marti Stone Photographer

As we celebrate Thanksgiving remember that in 1621 the Colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an Autumn harvest feast which has come to be an American tradition evermore. May you enjoy the bounty and be thankful for the blessings in your lives.

And if you want to test your knowledge of the Thanksgiving tradition click


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bea and Neville

Our November mornings have been simply beautiful this month. We get a hard frost overnight and come morning all is coated in a soft white yielding to the sun's warming rays. My morning field walk with Sidney captures fall palettes so rich with color.

Bea and Neville rose up in the frosty morning. Yet another capture in the night. A lamb or two, for sure, come spring.

My beautiful Bea, the leader sheep, strong breed genetics. She is the queen of the flock for protecting and guarding. Nothing misses her wary eye.

Bea and Neville spent more than a day together moving about the field, grazing, resting and creating.

Second and third from the right, they spent the afternoon with the others, enjoying yet another lovely late fall day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Della's day

Neville and Della found each other....and it was a beautiful sight. I walked out to the field to do morning chores and found them rising up together in the frosty field, separate from the flock, together. It was stunning to see them in the early sunshine, oblivious to routine. They tumbled down to join the rest of the breeding group for breakfast, together.

They had the most lovely mating...and I know I tend to be pretty personal about my sheep and their comings and goings. But this is also the beauty of watching over a small flock of sheep. I get the opportunity to be up close and personal with them.

Later in the morning, while the other sheep settled down for some digesting, well, Della and Neville danced.

And they spent the afternoon like this. It was truly the most lovely mating I have witnessed. I adore Della. We brought her to our farm last summer and I have not regreted one lovely moment of her presence.

This love affair is short lived...maybe until tomorrow morning. But even so, life is sweet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Let the games begin

Breeding time has begun at Long Ridge Farm! The weather has been quite nice for November. It's been reasonably dry and not too cold and frosty. We had the remnants of Ida yesterday which left things pretty soggy but that has passed and we are in for another nice dry stretch. Neville is a handsome CVM ram from our sister farm, Crooked Fence Farm in Putney, VT. We drove over and picked him up on Thursday. Our farms are just about opposite each other across the Connecticut River, but because there is not a bridge handy it takes about 25 minutes to drive up to Westminster Bridge, cross in to VT and then down the Vt side of the river. Coming home, Neville rode very nicely, taking in the scenery and the farm smells along the way. We pulled the truck into the field and he popped out picture perfect! He looked around and then he saw them. A flock of ewes awaiting.

Meet and greet is always a flurry while everyone smells everyone. It's quite a dance really.

No one was particularly interested in Neville but he had his eye on Charlotte right off. At first she wasn't interested at all. This is her first breeding. But I went to check on them in a few hours and he was all over her, snickering and ultimately mounting her, over and over.

This is a familiar, not so handsome, but awfully funny look during breeding season. Neville has just gotten a scent from one of the ewes and is smelling it on his lips to determine how ready the ewe is to breed.

While he was working away at all this stuff he needs to do, the ewes decided they needed to eat.

Here is a group of ewes pretty much telling it like it is is...nope we're not ready! Meanwhile out of view, Neville continued to romance Charlotte.

They finally settled down overnight and in the morning Neville turned his eye to Memphis, Charlotte's dam. And by midday they were like one big happy family, sort of!

I am already excited to see what the breeding will bring forth. I am hoping Della, our white Romeldale, will give one beautiful white ewe lamb!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Nine lives

Whenever you see a flock of sheep at the door upon arrival with the deer in the headlight look, something is amiss. I came down to do chores and as usual, let the hens out first. As I glanced over at the barn lot, I saw Ashley, flat out on the ground. She looked dead. I raced into the barn out and into the lot. Of course everyone scurried as I flew through the barn. And that made Ashley start to kick her legs. She was alive! I got ahold of her and helped her to her feet. I massaged her legs and hips, gave her some loving words and let her recover while I got the rest of the flock fed. As before, she had laid down at a bad angle, and in this case,when she wanted to get up she was facing an upward slope and couldn't get her legs under her.

This is the third time we have found her this way, one time earlier this summer on pasture. Ashley is old now, 14, and we are very mindful of this in all aspects. We treat her daily with grain to give her extra energy and fat. She gets her own place to eat. Darned spoiled, really! Here she is, coming around.

What is always amazing to me is how the other sheep will come by to check on her afterward. I have never seen them when the sheep is cast, as it's named. When I get there the rest of the flock is not near her at all, they almost appear scared. So when she arises once again, one by one they respectfully come and touch noses and smell her face. Fascinating. Here is Georgia, checking in.

Within 20 minutes Ashley was back to eating and doing what sheep do. Later in the morning I was pleased to see her laying in the field, chewing cud, all systems normal.

Crystal is the only other sheep this has happened to for us, but it is a real concern for all sheep and shepherds. Within a matter of an hour, if not on their feet, the sheep will die. I was just grateful that this time, once again, I arrived in time.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Tricked and treated

Early on a shepherd learns how to use trickery to get the natty tasks done. We don't have border collies to do the task of round-up so we use treats to lure them into the barn where we can take care of tasks from de-worming, hoof trimming, coat changes to vet calls. We have a well trained flock and so the task of trickery is easy. They are weak when it comes to a good treat like an alfalfa cube or an apple slice! This weekend a few of the sheep were bursting their coats. They have a fleece growth spurt this time of year. During morning chores I scanned the barn and like the judge at a dog show I pulled out 5 sheep to the winner's circle that needed to be tricked into the inner barn for new coats. Trinity was certainly she is, new coat going on. Look at the difference between the coated fleece and the weathered fleece at her neck/head and tail end! Stunning fleece it is.

That's the fun part of coat changes. I get to check the growth and staple length, see the crimp, make sure the fleece is uniform. And then just sink my fingers into it! Here are a couple shots of Georgia. Look at those spots! And her fleece is looking mighty fine also. But without her coat on, she too looks like it is a "new coat".

After they were set free, I tossed a few apple slices into the field and any of the sheep smart enough came to the gate for a handout. Here is Jackie, game and ready.

Yes, indeed! Please, please, please.

Pawing the gate for just another slice.

I took to the pasture to do a few handouts and here comes Peach for hers.

Treats are the best reward!