2015 Reflections/2016 Goals

Each year about this time I reflect on the past year’s successes and failures. Doing this helps me be in tune with myself for a moment. Time goes by so fast and days blur into weeks. It’s important to take a step back from time to time and reflect; to see what worked well and what didn’t.

We resolved to build our farm in 2015 and that we did! We added three sheep and five goats along with nine chickens. Our ram will be going in the freezer soon and we’re going halves with friends on a pig, which is being raised up the road. We built a nice coop and added a room for the goats on the back. Eventually the boys will head out there permanently, but for now everyone lives happily in the barn.

We expanded our garden and are still enjoying the bounty. We love to cook and try new recipes and 2015 was a banner year for that. We made all kinds of new things, tried all types of new recipes and canned, jammed and froze a bunch of yummy stuff.

I wanted to be published by now, but quite frankly growing and maintaining a farm was a lot more work than I had anticipated. I am working on my second manuscript but it isn’t even close to being complete. I’m okay with this. I have been writing for our local paper on behalf of the Agriculture Commission, which has been fun. I’ve stepped down as president so I can focus more on my writing and farming, but I am still active in the organization.

I’m now blogging on our new farm website along with this blog and I’m finding that while I am writing, I’m not writing my novel.

What I did accomplish was having fun. The whole year of 2015 was magical. We brought home two two-week old baby goats in April and had the best time of our lives. They are amazing and even though they have grown up so fast, they will always remain our little ones. They were so much fun we had to add more.

We raised our chicks and now get tasty eggs every day and sell enough eggs to pay for their food and upkeep.

The ewes we bought in March should be pregnant now and we are expecting babies this spring. That is if the ram did his job. Apparently, it’s hard to tell when a ewe is pregnant until they are almost ready to give birth.

We also met new people and made new friends. Our neighbor who helped us with Jack this year has become a good friend. We met many farmers in the area who we have started doing business with. We met another goat farm just five miles down the road and we hope that we will be fast friends with them, too. We met many people who we purchased animals from and who we would be willing to buy from again. Let’s just say our social circle has widened.

For 2016, our big goal will be to build a barn. Using the barn attached to the house to keep the animals isn’t working for me. Every time we open the door I can smell the barn. We also track in a lot of hay and dirt. While it does allow us to check on the animals without having to trudge out in inclement weather, a detached barn out in the field will be much better. It won’t be big, but it will be practical.

I may put this blog on hold for a while and focus on our farm blog and my writing. There is only so much time in the day. This blog has really helped me work on my writing skills and has allowed me to try new things. I love it. But a girl can only do so much.

I am very much looking forward to 2016. I am hoping it will be just as good as 2015 with lots of fun, food and baby animals! At the very least, it should be interesting. With all the plans we have already have scheduled I can tell you 2016 is going to go by too fast. January brings the farm expo and February there is a goat breeding and birthing class we want to attend and I would love to go to the beekeeping classes and start a beehive. Late March should bring the baby lambs, June and July should bring baby goats and learning how to milk. And let’s not forget the garden. We will definitely be expanding that again.

We are planning on taking cheese and soap making classes this spring. The AG Commission will be hosting a hands-on chicken-processing clinic in June, which we will also participate in. We have also become members of the Small and Beginner Farmers organization in our state.

On top of all this we both still have our “full-time” off the farm jobs. Phew!

So, yes, 2016 will be busy, but very very fun!

 

 

 

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Another Christmas

I’m stressed…the holidays do that to me. Every year I tell myself this is the year I will get excited. This is the year that will be magical. This is the year I will enjoy my friends and family. That we will get out and enjoy all the fun things going on.

This year I had to really push myself to even put out decorations, but I knew if I did not, then I would never get in the spirit.

Perhaps it is because no matter what relationship I’m in (or not in), the whole process falls on my shoulders. Would we even have Christmas if it wasn’t for women?

I finally got my better half to bring down the tree from the loft. Yes, a fake tree on a farm. But with everything going on it is just easier and I don’t have to worry as much about the cats knocking it down.

In addition to being in charge of decorating the house, I am the one who sends out Christmas cards, shops for gifts, wraps and bakes and who ensures that everyone gets the same amount.

There are so many things going on this year, and many that I typically attend. My better half is a bit of a home body and trying to get him out lately is a chore, so I’ve missed a lot of the fun.

Each year, the city of Concord hosts a Midnight Merriment where the stores on Main Street stay open until Midnight and there are lots of sales. It’s a lot of fun and even somewhat romantic with the lights and music and party atmosphere. But we didn’t make it this year.

I did get to have dinner and drinks with a couple of friends. That was nice and I would like to do more of that. Staying in touch with friends is hard under the best of circumstances.

The warm weather and lack of snow isn’t helping much either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining; but, well, what’s a New Hampshire Christmas without a little of the white stuff?

We are still working out the details of Christmas, but it looks like we’ll be spending the better part of the day at home. We plan to cook a nice roast, which I’ve already ordered from the local beef farm down the road. It should be very romantic with Christmas music, good wine and the fun of cooking together.

Once the holidays are over, I’ll feel better. The New Year always brings with it a sense of reflection and renewal and that is what I need most of all.

November!

We live among rolling fields fenced by stone walls and old sugar maple trees.  In October the air shimmers with misty hues of red, orange and gold.  The air is crisp and clear, but still retains a certain warmth.  Old logging roads and wooden paths beckon you along their winding way enticing you with what may be hidden just around the corner.  Ducks and geese call to each other as they fly by on their way to warmer climates.  Days are shorter and nights are cooler making for perfect cooking weather, for this is harvest season and fresh food abounds.  In the evenings, you may catch the hint of wood smoke in the air coming from a chimney or two, as families sit by the fire chasing off the slight evening chill.

Just one month later the vision is drastically different.  November brings shorter days, cooler temperatures and that hint of snow in the air.  The only leaves left on the trees are brown and dried.  Forests now reveal hidden stories that were once concealed by fresh green leaves.  The skies are a cold steel gray most of the time, but even the sunny days do not bring much warmth.  The only sound you hear is the howl of the wind, which can bite right through you.

If it wasn’t for Thanksgiving, November would be a very bleak month indeed.  While it can snow here in November, it often just threatens to, spitting down a flake here or there almost as a tease to those hardy skiers.  By now, most people have their homes winterized, wood stoves are going strong and anything related to summer has been stowed away until next year.

What we eat and how we cook changes drastically.  Outdoor grills are replaced with indoor crockpots.  Fresh vine vegetables have been canned or frozen and now replaced with heartier squashes and root vegetables.

Instead of meandering down wooden paths and taking in the beautiful scenery of October, we now stay indoors, watch football and keep a look out for that ever promised snow so winter sports can begin.

Despite November’s dreary appeal, it has its place on the seasonal calendar.  We become so enamored with October that we might well forget that winter is just around the corner.  November is here to remind us.  She is stern and unforgiving, raw and cold, but there is beauty in her starkness.  Because of her, we give ourselves permission to stay indoors wrapped in a warm blanket with a good book and a hot beverage.

As we come up to Thanksgiving and we look for things to be thankful for, perhaps we should be thankful for the month of November.  After a hectic summer cramming every outdoor activity possible into a few short months, November allows us to slow down, take a breath and rest a while.  It’s that deep inhale and exhale before the holiday season begins and the craziness jumps into full gear.

This seasonal break between summer and holidays doesn’t last long up hear in the north.  Give yourself permission to take a few moments to just breathe.  Now is a great time to refresh yourself.  It is also a good time to take a look at the world around us and appreciate it for what it is.  Not dressed in her seasonal best, we should accept nature at her worst when all her scars are bared to us and she prepares to blanket herself in snow.

Our Newfoundland, Elli, checking out the field after a November frost.

Our Newfoundland, Elli, checking out the field after a November frost.

The Adventures in Raising Goats

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When we set out on this little adventure of ours we thought we were prepared for potential setbacks. Because we care very much for the animals we raise, we made sure to create our own “first-aid kit” for farm animals. In it we included iodine for animals, a large bottle of peroxide, a tube of thick antibacterial cream, a bottle of Corrid, probiotics, baking soda, pedialyte, minerals, Epsom salt, various syringes, measuring equipment and probably a few other things I can’t think of off the top of my head. Okay, maybe we went a little overboard, but best to be prepared, right?

This little stash of goodies has come in handy this past summer as we have had a round of Coccidia, haemonchus and (believe it or not) surgery.

The first round of Coccidia went through three of our animals including our poor little ram who needed a bath almost daily. For whatever reason, it is more difficult to get rid of this pesky parasite in goats than other animals, so the ram was quicker to recover than our Nubian doe or our Nigerian wether.

We finally made it through all of that, when one night we let the “girls” (our three doelings) and our wether out to romp in the barn together. Our Nubian doeling decided to take on the older but smaller Nigerian wether. Much to our little guy’s chagrin, the Nubian won…and poor Jack had a broken horn.

To take a step back, all of our Nigerians were disbudded at an early age. However, Jack (as it turns out) had unusually large horns and the disbudding didn’t work perfectly. He ended up with 3-4 inch horns that were thinner than normal and we had a feeling that the wrong hit would take them out.

The broken horn fell off the following day exposing raw skin and blood. In the heat of the summer, flies are very attracted to wounds. We were also concerned that leaving him with the one horn would just create more trouble. After speaking with the vet, we decided to have his horns removed.

Now some people would object to this procedure to an animal at five months old. Others thought we were just spending money needlessly. After discussing the potential alternatives (other horn breaks, both horns grow back, repeat steps 1-2) we really felt that the effort and money were worth it to make things easier for everyone (including Jack) down the line.

As I mentioned earlier, we discovered that Jack’s horns were unusually large for his little head and when he came home from surgery the poor little guy had two gaping holes. Fearful of flies getting in there, possible infections and a warning from the vet that he needed to be kept either separate from the others or with someone who wouldn’t want to head butt him all day, we decided that Jack needed to sleep in our spare room.

We set up a large metal dog crate (the type with bars, not the plastic enclosed carrier type) with some shavings, hay and a water dish. He didn’t like being up there by himself and made quite a bit of noise, but just like most kids, he settled down within a few minutes and slept through the night.

This all took place just before Labor Day weekend and I had already planned on taking a few extra days off to get some stuff done around the house. Silly me. Instead I spent most of the time taking care of Jack.

Then, on the first day of my vacation, Pearl, the Nubian doeling, had the runs…again. Does this ever end?

So, another stool sample and a half day wasted running around and we found out she had haemonchus. This little nasty parasite attaches itself to the inside of the stomach and sucks the blood of its host. We knew something was wrong when Pearl (our normally noisiest goat) was quiet and not eating. All she wanted was to be cuddled. Again, just like a kid, we knew something was not right.

The hard part of this parasite is that the goat has to fast from 6-12 hours before AND after taking the medicine. Not fun when you are talking about an animal that pretty much eats constantly. To keep Pearl from being stressed, we brought in all three girls and locked them in their stall without food. They weren’t happy, but within less than 24 hours, Pearl had her medicine and we could already see an improvement in her behavior. Within a few days, Pearl was back to her noisy, mischievous self.

Jack’s head is still taking it’s time healing. We’ve been putting a warm cloth soaked in Epsom salt and water on his head at night and slathering him in fly cream during the day so that he can be outside with the others. He has healed enough that we are comfortable with him sleeping back out in the barn. (That and we were tired of waking up to a yelling goat right at sunrise. Goats clearly do not get the concept of Sunday morning.) During the day he is out with the other goats where it is wide open, but we have still kept him separated at night. We tend to be over cautious.

Some of our farming friends just shake their heads at us. After all, a wether isn’t really worth anything. Many times people almost give them away. So to spend money removing horns was something most people wouldn’t do. But Jack is, well, our Jack. He’s cool. He has beautiful blue eyes and a “I can take on the world” attitude. He loves adventure, but also will just sit in your lap for a while and nap. In a way, I think he thinks he owns us and not the other way around. We wouldn’t trade him for the world.

As the cooler weather settles in, we’re hoping we are over most of these maladies. Though we said that last time, too. This fall doesn’t seem close to slowing down any and I still have all those things around the house I wanted to get to before. But first and foremost we need to make sure our animals are healthy and happy.

The True Meaning of Life.

I know what the meaning of life is. No really, I do. Maybe it’s because I have reached that magical age. I’m not really any special age, but perhaps this is that magical age. Maybe it’s everything I’ve seen and done and been through in my magical age years. Maybe it’s not so much where I’ve been but where I am right now.

Regardless of this, I am very sure I know the meaning of life and I’m very happy to impart this wisdom to all of you. Not because you’re special (though you are), but more because I am NOT special and something this important should not be kept a secret.

The meaning of life can’t be easily described. It is a feeling and it’s not an easy feeling to achieve, trust me. I fear it might be like that saying, “I could explain to you what death is like, but in order for it to have meaning you would have to die and come back to life for me to explain it.” I’m hoping it won’t be that hard.

Let me start at the beginning…

It was a warm sunny afternoon…late afternoon to be exact. You know that type of afternoon where as the sun starts to head a little lower into the afternoon sky, it gives off that warm “sunshiny” glow. I was out in our field with three of our goats who were lazily grazing. As I turned towards the sun, in the glow I could see hundreds of dragonflies dipping and weaving as they gobbled up those pesky little “no-see-ums” as my boyfriend calls them. Those tiny gnats that somehow seem to find their way through the tiniest mesh.

The site took my breath away. It was magical. The glow of the sun, the almost otherworldly look to the huge dragonflies, the stillness of the air and the quietness that surrounded me was just mesmerizing. I thought for a moment I had died and gone to heaven and someone had forgotten to tell me.

One of the dragonflies flew right up to me and hovered just beyond my reach. For just a few breaths it stared as if trying to figure out what type of bug I was and if I would be worth tasting. Then, just like that it was gone, blending in with all the others.

On another bright sunny morning I was home and my better half was leaving for work. It had rained the night before and everything had that “fresh washed” feel and smell. The sun was just breaking through the trees and glow from the morning dew and the bright blue of the sky just screamed to be photographed. I took out my small camera and through my little lens I captured my big orange sunflowers smiling up at the morning. For just a moment, all I wanted was to be one of them. To be able to stand right there with my toes in the moist earth and my face smiling at the sun.

Later that afternoon, I was inside doing some cleaning. I have two bird feeders I hang out front and I could hear this amazing singing. Two goldfinches were having a contest to see who could sing the happiest tune. They really outdid themselves. I couldn’t help but smile and stop what I was doing. For a few moments, it was as if the whole world just stopped to listen.

The other night, after my better half and I got home late from work, hot and tired with little desire to cook, we broke down and ordered take out from a little Greek restaurant down the road. On an impulse I picked up two pieces of baklava they were selling when I picked up our dinners. Later that evening, I took a bite of my piece and let it linger on my tongue allowing all the buttery, nutty, sweetness to envelope my whole mouth. Baklava is pretty much the perfect food (right after pizza). It has the creaminess of butter, the sweetness of honey, the salty-crunchiness of nuts and the tangy gooiness of pastry all rolled into one.

If I think back through my life there are definite moments I know were put there to show me the meaning of life. I was just too busy (or inexperienced) to understand what they were. The day my son was born, comes to mind. The single moment when after all the labor and pain and craziness of delivery, we were alone in the hospital room and I looked down at the pink, wrinkly little thing and thought, “I made this perfect little human being. Me…little ole’ nobody me made this amazing wonderful tiny person.”

The point to all this is we are here for a reason. We are the most intelligent species that we are aware of. We were given senses not so we could ignore things. This whole world is full of these amazing sensations and we are here to sense it all.

I absolutely refuse to believe that man’s purpose on this planet is to sit in a climate controlled cubicle crunching numbers and worrying about the bottom line or quarterly spend or stock market crashes. Man has created a world in which we are unable to experience what life is really about. In other words, we really are our own worst enemies.

When you really stop to think about it, the fact that we are even here at all is truly amazing. The fact that we are such amazing creatures with the ability to think and understand and feel all of our surroundings is incredible. Why we aren’t more amazed and bewildered and overjoyed at life in general every day is proof that we have stopped trying to understand why we are even here.

The meaning of life IS those simple moments that make you pause and smile and help you remember why we are all here in the first place. We are not here to work a nine-to-five job or to go grocery shopping or clean bathrooms or fold laundry or put up with people who break their promises or break your heart. That’s all the junk that we allow into our life.

The real meaning of life is the beauty that exists that we have absolutely no control over. It’s those simple moments that we catch almost by accident as we go about our crazy lives. It’s those little things that just take your breath away.

I have found that as I have begun to simplify my life, I am encountering these moments more and more and each time is just as amazing as the last.

Somehow, some way, we need to capture those moments if we can, either by photographing them or just by writing them down so other people can experience them through our words. Whatever it takes. Someday, as our life nears its end, we aren’t going to look back and say “Wow, I did a great job on that report that day at work.” Nope. What we will remember and what we will take with us when we go are those moments that for no special reason just took our breath away.