Thursday, March 31, 2016

Spring Progress

Photos up this morning and I planned a time to add words and then maybe to get on with typing notes for my current genealogy research.
Time at my desk didn't happen but I did fairly well with the rather ambitious list of tasks I set myself for the day.
There are always the puttering chores which must be done to keep us reasonably tidy--most of those don't require great application of brain and I tackle them in the morning.
I've been feeling that I need to diversify a bit rather than spend hours at one thing--whether it be reading on a specific subject [as in preparing a study presentation for church] hours of squinting at digitized vintage newspapers for family news items, and then pondering half the night attempting to sort generations and relationships; even the making of a quilt can become so focused that it is less a pleasurable achievement than another 'job' to be finished.
It could be said that once launched I don't do things in moderation!

For the past two years much energy has gone to the renovation of houses: the Bedford stone house which we thought might be our 'retirement house, then the unexpected acquisition of the two Amish farmhouses requiring upgrades for 'Englisher' lifestyle.
There is satisfaction in the accomplishments--but it was a long haul of climbing on stepladders, crawling about to 'cut in' paint along baseboards, clearing up dust and debris behind the 
resident renovator.
Getting here required two moves within a year!

There are a few things left incomplete in both houses but Jim has now turned his attention to machinery overhauls in anticipation of work on the land.

This leaves me wanting to regroup and sort myself.
I do not yet have a finished sewing room such as I envisioned. The room is painted and one light fixture with one electrical outlet installed. Until the small closet in that room is repurposed with decent shelving I can't unpack my fabrics and sewing tools as I would like. 
For the foreseeable future I will continue to set up my sewing machine at the table in the alcove off the kitchen--not a bad arrangement as it keeps me near the hub of things, but frustrating in that I must delve into big rubbermaid bins to find my fabrics, stash my tools in the dining area hutch.

With curtains made or altered and hung at the windows these many months, I want to return to quilt making--not so much to cover beds as to explore different stitchery techniques in smaller, more manageable projects.

Garden plans need to be reconsidered--both because we have a location with less easily worked soil and because I no longer wish to spend hours on my rickety old knees digging and weeding.
I'm not ready to give up gardening but it needs to be done on a different scale.

So--with the idea of working in less punishing shifts--I planned my day.
Breakfast made and the kitchen tidied, bedroom and bathrooms tended. 
No laundry today and no baking.
I brought out the instructions for a whimsical small quilt, considered the fabrics I chose more than a month ago, set some aside, refined my selection.
Two hours went by as I pressed, measured, cut.

A few minutes at my desk, then outside armed with my small pointy trowel and an old cushion for a kneeler. I weeded the perennial strips in early November when I hastily set in the last of the plants which had summered on the front porch.
Most of the little plants rooted in and took the winter well.
So did a new crop of weeds!

Jim roared out with the lawn mower, swerving dangerously close to my plantings while I lept in front of him, waving my trowel in defense.
He needed a quick lunch as there was an appointment with a friend, so I scrubbed dirt from under my nails and presented him with a hearty sandwich [home made bread!] a large mug of canned soup and a glass of milk.
I served the cats their 'tea.'

With Jim on his way, I considered turning to the genealogy notes, but jettisoned that part of my plan to continue digging in the garden.
There is the possibility of rain tomorrow which would only encourage the weeds.
The sun had gone behind clouds and the wind was up. 
Bobby, Nellie, Charlie and Willis joined me in the garden.
Nellie felt certain that I had prepared the area of newly turned earth for his purposes.

I was pushing myself by then, uncomfortable in spite of the cushion for my knees, feeling the urgency of the rising wind, glancing along the strip at the space yet to be weeded rather than focusing on the bit in front of me.
Unwittingly, I disinterred two small phlox, damaging one of them beyond help.
This is when I get into trouble: determined to finish a task when both energy and 
attention have waned.  
The sky was darkening with early dusk when I lumbered heavily to my feet, carried my tools to the porch. I scrubbed my hands again, thought of a mug of tea, but postponed that in favor of a walk.

The young goats were in their grassy enclosure and set up a clamour when I walked down the lane.
They are irresistible, so I turned up the lower farmhouse drive and went through the open gate to stand at the fence which bounds their outdoor nursery.
Seven bony heads thrust up to be patted, small hooves braced against the fence, bouncing, milling about, bleating for attention.
I was happy to oblige them, stroking soft warm flanks and velvety ears, laughing at the eager nibbling of my old jacket, telling them what beautiful babies they are.

Suddenly, all seven goats pivoted, fixed their attention on the outer pasture.
At first, peering through the grey-green dusk I couldn't see what had startled them; seconds later I spied Willis slinking across the grass, belly low to the ground.
He came to me, eyeing the goats with disdain.
B's recently neutered young tom-cat stalked from the barn, tail arched, fur on edge, singing the classic battle song of the feline tribe.
Willis, his own hackles rising, strode to the fence corner, rumbling dangerously.
He seemed to declare, 'This is my pasture, my barn.  I was here first!'
He plonked himself down by the fence post, wary, defensive.
The grey and white cat, Shadow, minced closer, ears back.
I stood between the cats, intrigued, wondering if I was about to witness a full-blown battle.
Soft darkness came down. 
From a far ridge came the sound of a dog barking--or was it a coyote.
In the woods beyond the creek an owl hooted--a great-horned owl.
The small goats pressed against the fence, intent on the cats. 
From the corner of my eye I registered a pale shape advancing from the stable to pace toward the two growling male cats.
It was one of the white with calico sisters, heavily pregnant but undaunted.
She added a low warning hum to the cat drama.

'You might as well get over it!' I announced to the cats.
'Yes, Willis, it was your barn fist, but now it is the territory of the goats and their cats.'

One of the little goats lined along the fence gave a sharp squeal and I turned to look.
When I turned back Shadow-cat had disappeared, melting into the night.

B. in the kitchen was holding a nursing bottle for one of the goat triplets who are three days old. 
She handed me the tiniest one to cuddle while she prepared the bucket of milk for the older kids.
Tucking the tiny goat into the nursery pen with her siblings,
I trailed out to watch the evening feeding.
My favorite of the young goats--a brown girl--was outside the pen, standing near the gate.
B. handed me the bucket of warm milk for safe-keeping and unceremoniously hoiked brown girl back into the pen.
Brown girl immediately bolted over the low electric fence, struck a hoof against the wire and bleated in surprise and momentary pain.
B. working by the light of the small head lamp worn over her wool hat, heaved the goat back in the pen, grabbed the milk bucket and joined the babies in the grassy pen.
I was content to lean on the gate, watching.  With the milk greedily consumed, the goats bounced around B.  They were 'letting off steam' in one last romp before returning to their 
night pen in the stable.  
They trailed B. into the barn, but forgot the drill of filing into the pen.
I caught the two smallest and pushed them into the pen, braced the door shut with my knee as B. cornered 4 more, one by one and popped them in. 
The last little girl danced about in front of the pen, distressed that she wasn't with her mates, but reluctant to be captured.
The dogs barked, several nannies stood on their hind legs, the better to see what was happening.
B. dished out grain and the  youngsters turned their attention to the feeders, clambering over one another to get to the treat.
B. needed to put away milk that had finished the pasteurizing process; I needed to go home.
We bade each other 'good night' and I trudged down the drive to the lane.

Overhead a cluster of stars shone around the waning moon,
Wind hummed through the nearly bare branches of the trees.
I had gone only a few yards up the lane when Willis popped silently from the hedgerow.
By the time I reached the house I had collected four cats.
Bobby flung himself at my feet and I hoisted him to my shoulder before he had a chance to do his usual evening runabout.
I made tea, dumped rice krispies and yogurt into a bowl. The phone rang--my son and his wife.
Jim arrived home.
I sit here at midnight, determined to finish this last task of the day.
Had I not played with the baby goats I might have accomplised the entire list which I set for myself.
Tomorrow I will sort myself again--what needs to be done, what would I like to tackle, what will be dictated by weather or unexpected opportunities?
The miracle of spring brings renewal, offers fresh choices, the chance to reassess and refocus.

Little goats in their pasture on Tuesday--their second outing in the big world outside the barn.

Grain is served.

A line-up of knobby knees along the trough.

J. spends a few moments with the goats.

A hedge of Bradford pear trees in full bloom on March 20th.

Vinca blossoming along the porch wall.

Iris hastily planted last June in the rough garden spot along the lane.

A brilliant tulip by a spruce tree.

The tulips were planted by one of the Amish women who lived here before us.

Full moon last week, seen through branches.

Nellie stops part way along the lane to watch water bubble into the culvert.

The greening of the pastures.

Willis taking a suspicious sniff--of what?

Redbud  in bloom on a grey morning.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Catching Up With Myself

Sunday, March 13th brought us grey skies, drizzling rain and the upset of daylight saving time.
The cats have adjusted more gracefully than we have to changing the clocks--they are happy that I am apparently downstairs an hour earlier.
They have also been demanding their 'tea' without regard to the clock.
It will take us all a few weeks to settle in.
With rain expected to be with us all day, I put on boots and heavy jacket to deal with litter boxes and once outside decided to take a walk.
I had been out and back into the basement once before I noticed this small creature pasted to the glass of the door. I fetched my camera and took this inside shot which makes him appear as if attached to the porch roof.

The 'tree frog' from outside, splayed against the misty glass.
My late mother-in-law called these 'rain crows'--perhaps a New England appellation. 

I walked through the mist and approached the big pond at the edge of the meadow. 
Across the width of the pond I spied a flock of wild turkeys. 
 I crept along the hedgerow, sheltering my camera beneath my jacket.
Predictably, the turkeys burst into straggling flight just as I came round the hedge. 
They flew across the meadow and landed at the edge of the creek, scuttled off in the grey mist.

I plodded back, squelching through standing water, intrigued by the raindrops clinging to winter-worn stalks along the fence.

By the time I gained the road my jeans felt damp, wet strands of hair had escaped from my hood.
It was time to go inside, find dry clothes, make a mug of tea.

There have been sunny days--time to poke about in the dooryard.
The special orange daylilies have expanded in their space by the side steps.

 Willis materializes as I twitch out a few weeds from the clumps of lemon thyme.
"Something" has scuttled into the crack beneath the steps, I think a large spider sort of thing.
Willis investigates.

Willis tends to lurk wherever one of us is working, supervising.

Jim, his shoulder mending well, borrowed a rig from a friend to haul home the bulldozer he intends to renovate.

Supposedly this hulk of machinery has great potential. 
I am waiting to be impressed.

In order to work on the machine in comfort, an overhead door needs to be installed in the shop
This meant taking down an outside staircase that led to the attic, removing a 'man door,' taking out part of the wall and bashing out concrete.
It didn't seem like a moderate return to activity for someone who had nursed two displaced vertebrae for over a month!

Newly planed boards--from trees harvested on the property--are becoming framing for the new door.

Willis has been deprived of the outside staircase which served him as a handy vantage point.
He must now supervise from the splintery 'bed' of an old utility trailer.

I haven't many visible accomplishments for the past two weeks.
The baby quilt has been finished and delivered.

I have visited the goats next door.
This baby was only two hours old.
I was allowed to hold her after she was cleaned and fed.
I stood with her folded in my arms, instinctively rocking her gently.
I felt her relax, going softly limp.  Her long-lashed eyes closed and she settled to sleep, almost sliding from my arms in complete and contented exhaustion after the business of being born.

It has been too wet to kneel in the garden, but standing outside the retaining timbers I could reach in to tweak out a few weeds and stir the soil around emerging plants.
I had 'help'--of course.

A few days of warm sunshine has encouraged the perennials--as well as the weeds.

I have practiced music for church; 
I've made food to share with neighbors;
I've kept Jim company on errands.
I pruned the butterfly bush and the clump of catnip--again with helpful companionship.
Small domestic putterings, indoors and out, more hours of genealogy, names and dates running through my head.
And so the days have passed, quietly and un-remarkably--except that every new day is one to be treasured.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Goats Next Door!

Last spring, several months into our relocation to the Amish farm, our pastor and his wife stopped by on a gloomy Sunday afternoon.
They own a home several counties away and had been commuting to a rental in our county.
The rental home [a beautifully renovated house which had formerly belonged to an Amish 'bishop'] was now in the process of being deeded to new owners.

We were asked if we would consider a five year lease on the lower farmhouse with its 
barns and pasture.
I remember sputtering in surprise, "But--you do know we haven't yet installed electricity or modern plumbing!"
We all walked through the empty house with its two large downstairs rooms, eight [!] bedrooms upstairs, a pantry, a large back entry.  Our footsteps and voices rang in the dim unfurnished spaces.
 An agreement was reached and shortly Jim transferred his attention to making the lower farmhouse suitable for 'English' living.

The large space on the end of the house toward the barn was divided to become a kitchen with adjacent dining area. 
The pantry was best suited for conversion to a downstairs bath and laundry room.
The room down the hallway was designated as a 'study'--light and pleasant with windows to south and west. The 'living room' remains as a large rectangular space on the north-east end of the house, facing our lane.
Rooms upstairs were reconfigured to provide a spacious master bedroom and walk-in closet, a large bathroom, a library, a guestroom.
There are still several unfinished small rooms ranged dormitory fashion along a hallway which runs the entire upper length of the house. 

Pastor F. valiantly 'camped' there several days and nights each week while the installation of kitchen cabinetry and appliances, bathroom fixtures and electric lights, went on noisily around him.
When he could spare the time, F. changed into his 'work clothes' and very capably gave a hand with laying out water lines, pulling up flooring, whatever needed done.
I was recruited as a painter.
By the time winter set in, the bulk of the renovating was accomplished.

Soon after the holidays F and B's youngest daughter was able to take time off from work to spend several days assisting in the conversion of the stable to accommodate B's small herd of dairy goats.
The stable originally was designed with roomy box stalls for the Amish owner's horses and previously a cow or two.
Now there needed to be separate arrangements for two billy goats at the far end of the stable, three pens for the nannies and their attendant Pyrenees guard dogs, a milking area, a safe space for the kids.
Finally all was ready, a moving date was set.
The January storm blew in and on the scheduled day of arrival this was the look of the farm!

As soon as the roads could be safely traveled, B and daughter H set out for the farm, each driving a pickup truck with its covered bed loaded with the goats and three Great Pyrenees.

Jim strokes the babies in their warm 'pen' near the kitchen fire.

Several of the goats were heavily pregnant, so there had been concern to have them safely moved and comfortably installed in their new quarters.
At the other end of the move, F and friends wallowed through mud and melting snow to load a rental van with furniture and endless boxes.
It was after dark when the van finally lumbered in and Jake Miller and two of his strong sons came down to off-load the household goods.

F and B had a few days to settle in before the first of the nannies gave birth.
We were called down to admire the twin boys!

This little girl was born later in the week--a single birth.

Over-used adjectives come to mind: 'darling', 'sweet', 'adorable'.
My favorite descriptive term for these cunning small creatures is 'winsome.'

Twin 'does' the color of cafe au lait soon joined the nursery.
All five babies were moved to a pen in the stable last week.

Taking photos of goats is challenging!
Someone always wiggles or bounces at the crucial moment.

There is considerable competition for attention.

If B is in the barn when I happen to walk down the lane I detour to enjoy the goats.

On a grey afternoon last week, plodding along the lane, I became aware of excited clamor coming from the barn.
The Pyrenees often give a 'woof' or two when they hear my feet on the gravel, subsiding as I pass down the lane.
On this day I realized a great volley of mad barking was nearly raising the roof.
I stood still at the edge of the driveway, wondering at the uproar.
Bleats, bellows, hoots and snuffles were adding to the commotion of the dogs, along with an alarming intermittent clatter as of objects knocked about.
The sliding front entrance doors of the stable were closed, but the racket was deafening.
I could hear the patter and skitter of many hooves on the concrete floor.

I walked round to the side of the barn, its opening into the stable blocked with a wire mesh panel.
A calico cat gave me a wary look from her perch on a shabby chair, but she seemed unconcerned by the cacophony inside the barn.

I reached the wire panel in time to catch it as several nannies skidded wildly around the corner of the main aisle and bounced against the panel.
Escape foiled, the ringleader, a large brindled doe leaped onto a bale of hay, kicked her hind feet at the wall, trumpeted loudly.
All she needed was pompoms!  She pranced and bounced.
I imagined a cheerleader: 'Go, girls, go!' 

B slid around the corner, propelled on a wave of goats.
She collared one, wrestled open the door of a stall, hoisted the nannie inside, using her knee to block those surging against the gate.
The dogs barked deafeningly.
Two more goats were intercepted and hauled into the milking area to be snibbed to the hooks where feeding buckets dangled at goat face level.
As she dashed by again, snatching at another goat, B managed to explain that she intended taking 4 of  the pregnant does out the back door to a small fenced area where they could have fresh air and a nibble of grass. 
Several other goats had rushed the gate, raced up and down the main aisle of the stable, knocking feed buckets and grain containers aside.

B propelled two more goats into the milking area and fastened them.
From the other side of the partition came a clamor of frustrated caprine vocalizations, punctuated by stamping hooves, the jangle of feed buckets being slammed against the wall.
In their secure pen the baby goatlets added high-pitched bleating cries to the hullaballoo.

One of the bearded billies suddenly stood on his hind legs to look over the gate of his pen.
He let out a thunderous bellow of disgust.  [I could imagine him inquiring in the tone of voice my Dad sometimes used, 'What the hell....???']

Still bracing the wire gate in place I had a fine view of the uproar.
One by one the recalcitrant ladies were nabbed.
The din began to subside, bleating and shrieking fading to muted mutterings and snorting. 
B cautiously slid open the door at the far end of the stable, clipped a lead to the collar of the 
Pyreness, Munchkin, sorted out the four nannies, now meekly ready for their airing.

A black and white cat slid cautiously out of the shadows to curl on the hay bale which had so recently been a platform for the excited 'cheerleader.'
I pushed a cement block against the base of the wire panel to keep it in place and trotted around the barn to 
join the outing.

I am not surprised to find that goats have distinctive personalities and quirks.
I knew that they are filled with curiosity, inclined to mischief.

I am delighted to find that hand-raised goats are very sociable, clamoring for attention.

The three dogs also want attention.
This is Munchkin.

The dogs have managed to 'photo-bomb' my attempts to take photos.
This is Aneto, named for the highest mountain in the Pyrenees.
She is the mother of Munchkin and Blue who guards the goats in the third pen.

Another pair of twins was delivered last evening.
I went to meet them this morning.
F and B [Kentucky Gothic in their farm garb] hold the squirming babies for photos.

The little buck--about 14 hours old.

B is the surrogate mother, hand-feeding the babies, caring for them in the warmth of the kitchen for a week or more until they are ready to join the older kids in the stable.

Little sister, fed, wiped down and needing a cuddle.
The new babies were brought in last night, rubbed dry, fed their dam's colostrum, tucked into the clean bedding of the pen.

The little buck settled quickly to sleep after the exhaustive process of being born, but the tiny girl cried pitifully.
B. pulled on a large T-shirt of her husband's, rolling the bottom up to improvise a sling. She tucked little girl goat into the shirt, snugged her against her front and went quietly about her evening tasks, while the baby, lulled into calm reassurance, fell asleep.

F and B are good neighbors.
Having goats next door as well is a delight.