Happy Birthday, Poppop!

I should have looked at the date this morning before I posted my earlier entry. Today would have been my paternal grandfather’s 112th birthday. Obviously, if I hadn’t lost him when I was 8 years old, well, we probably wouldn’t be celebrating this day together in life either way. But he was my mentor. My inspiration. My hero in so many ways. It was he who fostered my love of writing, being a writer himself. Some of my earliest memories are of watching my Poppop banging away at his manual typewriter. A little over 8 years (I was almost 9 when he passed) is definitely NOT enough time together.

I love you, Poppop!

May God bless you & keep you!

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Time…A Precious Commodity

“He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in Him, whose thoughts turn often to the Lord! Trust in the Lord God always, for in the Lord Jehovah is your everlasting strength.” Isaiah 26:3-4

I am bound and determined to create a new blog post this morning. Since going to work off the homestead full-time rather than part-time, and the two-hour round-trip commute, time has become so precious! I spend half my day with various blog posts running through my head, hoping against all reason for the chance to sit down and actually write and post them!

And finding that either I’m so dog-tired after work that I can’t string two words together to make sense, or the alarm clock has become the enemy next morning. I’ve always been an active person but, in some ways, it is like having two homesteads to care for.

Not lamenting.

Loving it.

So this a.m. I nixed my yoga practice so I could at least type a quick post. Faithful readers deserve faithful content.

There is joy in this new venture, this retreat into an earlier time period, 5 out of 7 days each week. And retreat is the operative word. It’s been over two months’ now and it still doesn’t feel like “work”, like a “job”…even a “career”. Despite working for someone else, there is little to no drudgery or routine to this gig. I am getting paid to garden, cook, bake and knit. And to talk to people about history and gardening…instead of being told to stop talking and get back to work! Every day is varied and something new. Maybe at some point in the future this will change. Maybe at some point in the future I will have learned everything it is possible to learn and the wonder will fade away.

At that point, if such a point is obtainable, it will be time to switch gigs. But, I think there is something in the air or in the water at this museum; retirees still come in a couple of days each week, either on a part-time payroll or even as a volunteer, and many who have been let go in an economic downsizing have also remained as volunteers. This living history gets under your skin, into your blood.

And doesn’t leave.

And yet, it is not all paradise…

I have made it to only one Sunday morning Mass since I started this position. That seriously bothers me. I need Mass. I need my parish. I need God.

Yes, I can talk to God anytime I want. And I do. I spend my commute in praying the rosary, or the chaplet, and then listening to contemporary Christian music…or simply driving and allowing His love to fill my heart for the remainder of the commute. But it’s not the same as participating in Mass. I miss lectoring. I miss serving Communion. I was both Lector and Eucharistic Minister at my church. I miss singing in the choir. I miss serving Him. The perfect scenario would either allow me to go in late on a Sunday, as I did as a volunteer, or else, a few more Sundays off so that I can attend services more often.

Or else, with a heavy sigh, find another worship community.

Maybe that’s what He’s nudging me to do. Maybe He has a plan for me elsewhere…

In the meantime, I will continue to praise Him for the joy that He has brought to all of my days, to the myriad skills He is allowing me to learn. And for the new yearning for a hearth in my kitchen…along with one of those beehive ovens for baking.

Not sure how that one’s going to pan out…(chuckle)

May God bless you & keep you!

Higher Education

“I, Wisdom/Sophia, give good advice and common sense. Because of my strength kings reign in power, I show the judges who is right and who is wrong. Rulers rule well with my help. I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me. Unending riches, honor, justice and righteousness are mine to distribute. My gifts are better than the purest gold or sterling silver! My paths are those of justice and right. Those who love and follow me are indeed wealthy. I fill their treasuries. The Lord formed me in the beginning, before He formed anything else. From ages past, I am. I existed before the earth began. I lived before the oceans were created, before the springs bubbled forth their waters onto the earth; before the mountains and the hills were made. yes, I was born before God made the earth and the fields, and high plateaus.” (Proverbs 8:14-26)

I love learning. Sometimes to a degree that I feel like I’ve become a Jill-of-all-trades, mistress of none. And yet, what I do isn’t usually shoddy. Again, I just love learning. And I don’t believe you can ever have too much of it.

Working at a living history museum, I am finding another aspect of this new career that suits me even better than all the other facets of this position–I’m learning something new everyday. And it’s not just some odd trivia or fact. I’m learning skills that are almost completely lost from most of society and yet, less than 200 years’ ago were known by most, if not all. As industrialization and then, automation evolved, hand skills were lost. While I can appreciate the efficiency and economy of being able churn out X-number of wing nuts per hour, I have a much deeper respect and appreciation for the craftsmanship involved with doing everything–or almost everything–by hand. I say “almost” because by the museum’s time period (1838-1840), textile mills were spread all over New England…and housewives started putting away their looms.

The enormous loom in one of the buildings is, for me, the ultimate goal. I’ve tried weaving before…brief introductions from friends and the occasional exhibitor at the local fair or craft show. It’s been enough to wet my appetite rather than the development of any skill. But that will come in time. In time, I hope to have my own loom so that I may practice at home. How cool to give someone a new shirt or skirt and know that, not only did I follow the pattern and stitch it together, but I hand-wove the fabric it was made from and set the dyes as well. Or perhaps I purchased a couple of antique chairs at an auction that needed new seats and was able to sand them, paint them and add new caned seats to them so they’re like new. Again, these are fast becoming lost arts. If I can learn some of them well enough, I can also offer workshops to teach others. And then maybe the arts won’t be lost…not entirely.

But I have to know kitchens in the 1830’s, to know how to tend the fire, to cook and to bake on a hearth before I can learn spinning and weaving. And I’m all for it.

Last week, I spent three out of four days learning cooking on a hearth, as well as the histories of two of the houses at the museum; both of them routinely have cooking demonstrations. I also milked Bonnie, one of the red Devon cows that calls the museum “home”, in the hopes of possibly becoming a milk maid. It will mean traveling in an hour earlier on the days that I’m scheduled to milk but I think I can handle it. There will be a slow training/introduction to it before they let me loose to be solely responsible for each of the cows. And, as we approach winter, they will be drying off the cows. Springtime they will calf and then the milking will begin anew. Though there isn’t a specific class or training for it, working in living history, you learn the rhythm of life that comes from working the land, working in close harmony to nature. You learn which chores are appropriate to perform in which seasons, how to schedule your day via the weather. I.e. you don’t work the earth when it’s pouring outside lest you compact the soil. And candle dipping is done in cooler months or the tapers will never harden (or firm up) in the high humidity of summer.

Sunday’s cooking lesson had me grating cheese to make potted cheese (delicious!), and mixing the spices via a mortar and pestle; kneading bread dough; tending a roast (yeah, I know…the pescetarian; I hear it was good) over an open flame; making mulled cider using a red-hot poker to carmelize the cider and spices together; heating a beehive oven and learning to test it for readiness for baking by how long one can keep their arm in it before the heat gets overbearing (this is, of course, after the fire has died down and the hot coals scooped out, the only heat being what’s given off by the bricks. I managed a full 13 seconds); fresh-squeezed lemonade and apple pie from scratch.

And, on Saturday, I sat with a group of artisans who set up an exhibit in one of the public areas and tried my hand at lace making. I also put a bug in another lead’s ear about learning how to do netting.

I’m thrilled.

And I’m itching to try my hand at everything at once. While I can appreciate my own enthusiasm, I also know I need to reign it in just a teensy bit. I don’t want to just try it. I want to achieve some proficiency at these skills so that, someday soon, I can apply them here at The Herbal Hare Homestead.

In short, along with the more “formal” education I am receiving through Southern New Hampshire University, as I earn my degree in Creative Writing with an emphasis on Fictional Writing and two minor concentrations in Environmental Science and Illustration, I am earning another sort of degree. A degree in life skills that can only serve me well for the rest of my days.

May God bless you & keep you!

Eat Your Heart Out, Dr. Quinn!

“Look at the lilies! They don’t toil and spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory was not robed as well as they are. And if God provides clothing for the flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, don’t you suppose that He will provide clothing for you, you doubters?” (Luke 12: 27-28)

I’m not wearing a corset.

And, no, this blog is not suddenly taking a turn into vulgarity or salaciousness. I mean, really, to even mention an undergarment in the 19th century–the idea!

But the corset is the one thing missing from my more formal outfits issued by my new employer, which, by the way, would have been Dr. Quinn’s mother’s–or even grandmother’s–day as the museum is interpreted as between 1838 and 1840; Dr. Quinn rolled into Colorado Springs in 1870, I believe. However, masochistic individual that I am, I am itching to have a corset made…or get really adventurous and find a pattern to make one for myself. Of course, hooks and stays are another terminology, one that doesn’t quite send most ladies screaming for the hills in an effort to escape this perceived torture. However, is it any worse than the tight-fitting jeans of today?

I’ll take the corset any day over the jeans…

Yup. You read that right. I hate today’s fashions. Whoever decided that to be treated as equals, women should also have to dress like men, in trousers, as they were called in the day, should’ve been shot.

Did I mention that I’m also a few fries short of a happy meal, too?

Of course, I’m likely not any man’s version of “sexy” in the image below but I feel sexy and attractive thus attired. Four to five days out of the week now I feel oh-so-feminine. Would that such attire not get me some odd looks if I wore it every day…even when I’m not on the job. (Albeit, I would dump the white, frilly bonnet, rebel that I am…) Although, I think the people at my local Walmart are getting used to me already. I must stop in there at least 3-4 times a week for greens, for cat food, for whatever I forgot to pick up the day before on the way home from “work”. One of my “mentors” is beloved illustrator and author, Tasha Tudor, who dressed 19th century for all of her days. And it was her fashion sense, as much as her talents as an artist and writer, that really drew me in.

Hmmm…could this be a sign?

Okay. Before the men in white coats come to pick me up, I will say one thing. Dressing 19th century is comfortable. The corset might change that, but when I don these clothes, I feel comfortable and free, like I’ve just crawled into my own skin for the first time in my life. Wearing full skirts, and petticoats, and shawls, etc., feels natural to me. Almost second nature. So, why not go with it?

Again, I’d probably dump the white bonnet and let my hair hang loose. But, otherwise, eat your heart out Dr. Quinn! You’re not the only one who can look awesome in full skirts.

May God bless you & keep you!

Life and Death

“There is a right time for everything: A time to be born, a time to die…a time to laugh, a time to grieve” (Ecclesiastes 3: 2, 4)

Last week I blogged about the addition of Pat and Shelly to this little homestead. They are both thriving, running around, jumping on Taffy’s back. As they grow, I am more convinced than ever that they are NOT Taffy’s biological children. She simply had the deepest maternal instinct to sit on them until they hatched. There are five eggs still in her nest that she’s sitting on…along with the four chicks that peep and peck and dart around the cage, driving her to distraction.

Did I say “four”?

Yes, Pat and Shelly have been joined by Kelly and K.C. More androgenous names as their genders are not evident yet. And, as Pat and Shelly were named to honor some friends of mine who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help this struggling homesteader in her hour of need, so, too, Kelly and K.C. Friend Kellie spells her name differently. The “ie” seems to be the more effeminate spelling; I chose the “Y” in an effort of neutrality. K. C. are the initials of another dear friend who has “been there” a lot lately. Again, I’m not sure how either of them would feel about having chicken namesakes but, as they’re all animal lovers, I hope they understand.

K. C. is only a couple of days old so much smaller than the other three. But that doesn’t stop her. She’s full of piss and vinegar, chirping and squawking and racing around the cage like her little non-existent pants are on fire…she might be Taffy’s biological daughter after all as that’s usually Taffy’s take on life. (chuckle)

And, in my last post, I mentioned how I could’ve sworn one of the eggs I had attempted to remove after Pat and Shelly were born peeped at me. I had carried said egg all the way to the compost bin. Taffy had kicked it out of the nest and was ignoring it so I assumed this one wasn’t a fertilized egg after all and thought to dispose of it. And then it peeped. So I put it back under Taffy. Kelly hatched by morning. And Taffy still kicked her out of the nest. I found her half-naked body tucked into a corner away from Taffy. Again, I thought “Oh, no!” and went to pick her/him up to bury her. Suddenly, she squawked and started kicking and moving about. So I dug out one of the heat lamps I use for the coop in the winter months and set it atop the cage, lifting it up upon a couple of rocks to give it more height so she wouldn’t be too warm. I also touched a few drops of water to her beak; she swallowed greedily. Less than an hour later, as her little body warmed, Kelly started trying to walk. She would crawl and roll closer to Taffy, only to be rejected again. It took about a day and a half before Kelly got her legs completely under her and began tottering, at least, over to Taffy. Finally, Taffy accepted her. And, in less than a week, you’d never know how fragile she appeared at birth; I thought I would lose her. Before Taffy finally took her under her wing and care, I must’ve checked a half dozen times to make sure she was still breathing. She’s a fighter. And she’s more than capable of keeping up with Pat, Shelly and K.C. as they explore their small, safe world.

Of course, this isn’t the most optimum time for new chicks to be born. Pat and Shelly have first feathers appearing. And, because K.C. is about a week younger than the rest, you can see how much the older chicks have grown in such a short time. But I’m putting Taffy to shame with my ol’ Mother Hen antics, worrying and fretting how they’ll withstand the winter months and how maybe there’ll be a cage set up for the four of them to over-winter in. It will be a few months before they get their full growth. And, of course, there’s the careful introduction to the other chickens as they mature. It’s going to be an interesting winter to say the least.

And, lastly, this is one of “those” posts again. I lost my beautiful Flame the day before yesterday. She was one of my older hens and had been tottering around a bit over the last week or so. In short, I’d been expecting it but hoping I was wrong. As Ruby, Amber and Rouge neared their end, they also started getting stiff in their legs and walking a little bowlegged across the barnyard. Most people I know “cull” their hens after a couple of years so rare do I come across anyone who has let them live out their full lifespan to compare notes. However, Flame also loved goat chow and, whenever I fed Felicity, Domino and Chester, she would make a dash for their bowls. Domino and Chester share nicely but Felicity is all attitude. Any chickens get too close to her supper, they get headbutted away. Despite any effort on my part to shoo them away and entice them back to their perches with their own feed, Flame was determined. In this last week, as she started stiffening up, she was unable to get out of Felicity’s way as quickly and at least once had a wing stepped on. She seemed okay afterwards but it doesn’t stop me from wondering if there was an injury after all and she was just too stoic to admit it until the very end. Mom found her in the yard Wednesday afternoon. She was still alive but was having trouble walking and Mom feared the other chickens might start pecking her, or one of the goats step on her again, so she set up another cage next to Taffy’s and brought her indoors. Sadly, she left us anyway. Again, she was an old gal and there were signs that her end was nearing days’ before. Doesn’t stop me from missing her beautiful self in the barnyard each morning.

May God bless you & keep you!

When I Am Weak

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see you good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

I snagged the dream job three weeks’ ago. And, yes, it has been that long already. It’s also been that long, I think, since my last blog post. I went into retreat mode once the new job started. For just a moment, that little voice inside that I’d sometimes like to take a machete to, told me I was in over my head. I wasn’t qualified enough. I didn’t know enough. I can’t do this!

Sounds a little like the adversary with his tricks again.

Why do I listen to this voice? God dropped every minor detail into perfect place with this position. He must certainly have a plan. And, surely, the owner of my heart knows much better than that ol’ adversary. He says I can handle it. He says I’m qualified enough. He says I know enough.

I CAN DO THIS!

But, for a few moments this morning, as I realized yet again the size of the carbon footprint I’m wearing on the earth with this commute; as I realized that I sort of had to give up my parish community to accept this job; as I realized I have less time to work on my homestead; as I realized I have much less time to write my blog, the two books I have on the fire, and complete my homework assignments, I felt a little bit of the bottom drop out from under me. These are my core values. These are the things I live for.

I suddenly longed for something familiar, that seemingly “safe” little world where I hid myself for 7 years. A “safe” little world where dinner often came from the local food pantry and robbing Peter to pay Paul became a bigger juggling act when Peter’s pockets turned up empty, too.

And I realized, that some parts of this new routine are familiar…an echo from days gone by.

Back in 2009, before I lost the corporate position, my mornings were always rushed. I kept trying to cram a 28 hour day into a 24 hour one. Of course, it never worked. And, of course, I was trying to do everything at once…perfection being my worst enemy. There’s a lesson there somewhere. It’s called time management. I may not be able to spend 2-4 hours a day writing now; working part-time at the dealership I didn’t always do so even with the time available. I discovered during 2 years of unemployment and 5 more of severe under-employment, that I am not the self-starter. I need structure. If I have too much time on my hands, if I’m only having to fulfill part-time obligations, I slack off…so much so that nothing gets done.

The female dog side of my nature told the whiny ass to shut up and keep driving.

I ran a little behind this morning rushing out the door. About halfway to work, I came up behind a school bus. Back in 2009, I always came up behind the school bus traveling down Harkney Hill Rd. and the demon called Road Rage dogged my every a.m. commute.

I can do better this time.

The early bird catches the worm…I may be back to 3:30 a.m. risings again. Or at least 4:30; that would give me a solid 6 hours’ of sleep. Then I could write a couple of hours before work.

Old habits, die hard…I’m still trying to cram 28 hours into 24. It can’t be done. I believe that’s the definition of insanity.

Eventually, reason crept back in. This is necessary. I have bills to pay off. And, though I love my little fixer-upper, I confess, I’d like to eventually purchase a bigger piece of land. If I’m ever to increase my herd of goats, and add some sheep to the mix, I need pasture. This is my chance to get back on my feet again. If for no other reason, that is the reason to keep going.

The bus stopped again.

I waited.

The bus started moving again. We rode a little further. The bus stopped again.

It may have been a slower pace than I would like to go and yet, we were still moving, still getting where we wanted to go…”we” being the line of cars stopping and traveling, traveling and stopping along with me. There’s a lesson in there, too. Baby steps…

How many times have I had to remind myself of that? One foot in front of the other. I can do this. I even started reviewing in my head the lessons learned from friend, Farnoosh, last winter in the Smart Exit Blueprint Plan. I remembered my blueprint. I mentally adjusted it to include the new, ideal position. Actually, the new, ideal position is part of the SEB plan–I needed work to financially sustain me while I work to develop my homestead (or a future one) into a working herb and fiber farm, and goat dairy. I need full-time work like this to get out of debt so the bigger homestead might become a reality. I need full-time work like this so that my stress levels over bills piling up don’t paralyze me so I can’t write at all. This is necessary!

It’s also fun. And I’ve been doing this as a volunteer since 2012!

Some part of sanity returning as I turned onto Route 20 in Massachusetts…if I wasn’t 2 and 1/2 years’ into menopause, I’d swear I had PMS with the crazy squirrel leaps my mind was doing. How did I suddenly turn into this cry baby…well, not actually crying but this feeling of overwhelm and doubt?

In myself.

In God.

The blah kind of mood followed me into the Bullard Tavern and then back to the Herb Garden. I really needed a tea. Tuesdays the village is closed…as are all the cafes. Why didn’t I pack a few tea bags? I’m exhausted. Of course, the caffeine’s not the best thing for me…

Meetings all morning. Meetings with the teachers from the new charter school going up in the main parking lot. Suddenly, as we went around the table introducing ourselves and telling what we do at OSV, and where we’d like to go with the new charter school, I felt a nudge to share some of the ideas I’ve had for the Herb Garden–an addition of a vernal pool and native plant garden bed. The children from the school could help plan and plant it. They could watch to see what sort of creatures show up. We could study the frogs and salamanders and dragonflies that might move in. In sharing this project, I could teach them the importance of biodiversity and the dangers of introducing foreign species of plants. The master gardener came out to play…maybe I’m not such a lost cause after all. Everyone loved the idea.

It was then that I realized that maybe I am staying true to those core values after all. Won’t that vernal pool and native plant garden benefit the local environment? And won’t working with 5 – 9 year old children, teaching them about the environment, plant a seed (every pun intended) for future generations of environmentalists? If that’s not staying true to my core values, what is? It’s a golden opportunity.

When I am weak, He shows me His Way. He shows me the real hope for the future. Suddenly, I’m not hiding anymore.

I can do this…and, more importantly, I want to.

May God bless you & keep you!

Pat and Shelly

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke, 13:34)

Today’s passage has very little to do with today’s blog post…except I remembered this verse from the Bible as referencing a hen with her chicks.

Last night I went out to the barn to do the usual evening’s routine of feeding all the animals, doing a headcount to make sure all are present and accounted for, replenishing water and, lastly, shutting them in said barn, safe from predators. And, in some cases, safe from each other as the ducks, if not shut in the coop away from them, continue to bully the chickens.

Except Taffy the Silkie Chicken…

Taffy has been broody of late. Taffy goes “broody” quite a lot. It’s actually a characteristic of Silkies. They are some of the best mothers and, if they don’t have any chicks of their own to mother, they will mother everyone else’s. They also like nothing better than to sit on the eggs until one hatches…or I get worried and decide I’d better remove her from the nest before she dehydrates or cripples up too greatly. I was about to do just that with Taffy…until I went into the coop last night. Taffy is the only hen that will still co-habitate with the ducks; the rest have long since decided to bunk in with the goats. Of course, for a little thing, Taffy is all piss and vinegar. Now she has even more reason to be. If you look closely at the picture above, you can just make out the two little peeps in front of her. All are gray, or silver, depending on whom you ask. And she’s still sitting on a clutch of eggs, guarding them fiercely. I brought her, the two chicks, and the clutch of eggs into the house last night, not trusting the ducks not to harm them (not so much Dixie but the two males are brutes…) and fearing, too, that they might fall out of the nesting box. It’s too high off of the floor for those fragile little bodies.

Anyway, Taffy & Co. are quite happy in their little cage. I set it in the rabbit room where it’s cool and comfortable…and less feline traffic. So far, only Ozzy got curious enough by the sound of the peeps to investigate but Taffy’s squawk sent him running in the other direction; he hasn’t returned to the rabbit room since.

Miss Taffy, however, is facing what so many young mothers experience–she’s got two toddling around the cage, getting into mischief while trying to spread her tiny self over the remaining nine eggs. Not an easy feat. She’s also trying to keep the two hatched chicks warm. Earlier today, five of the eggs must have rolled out from under her as she tried to juggle so many responsibilities; I assumed she kicked them away so I picked them up. I swear, I heard a “peep” from inside one of the shells. I could be absolutely wrong but I even went so far as to hold them closer to my ear and I heard it again–and not coming from the cage and the two hatched babies. So I put them back. And now she has spread herself out as thinly as she can again, warming both the living and those yet to be born.

The two hatched chicks have been christened “Pat” and “Shelly” after the two friends who have been such a blessing recently, being responsible for the transportation I now have at hand to get back and forth to work each day. I’m not sure how they feel about little baby chicks being named after them but it was meant with good intent…and, knowing Pat at least is a major animal lover, I’m sure she’s not the least bit offended.

I can’t wait to see how these new additions look as they develop their first feathers. Will they be part-Silkies with hair instead of true feathers? Will they all be silver? Or will some turn black? Or red? Golden or white? Many of the eggs still under Taffy are blue, which says they were laid by one of my Americaunas: Flame, Sunset, Rae or Sylvie. None of the eggs are Silkie-sized. They’re all quite large–too large to be Taffy’s, and neither Pat nor Shelly has feathers on his or her feet.

I know in many cultures, and especially earlier eras, sons were desired over daughters. But I really hope most, if not all–especially if the rest of the eggs hatch–are pullets rather than cockerels…

May God bless you & keep you!

PS Would that some vet somewhere figure out how to safely sterilize a young cockerel so he doesn’t grow up to be a rooster. Though it may not make good financial sense from a more traditional farmer’s, or homesteader’s, point of view, I would much rather remove the hormones and get a tamer bird to be a companion to the others than have to send him to slaughter simply because he’s a boy. Maybe I’ll just look into buying some extra pullets…