Tuesday, December 11, 2012


The illustration on the directions was of a happy cow, wearing a cape, and a woman wearing a crown, proudly displaying a tray of cheeses.  My kit stated that mozzarella was the easiest of all the cheeses for the aspiring home cheese maker to produce.  I was encouraged.  I could do this.   

I read the directions repeatedly and watched the accompanying video a half dozen times.  I practiced some visual imagery of lovely curd formation and shiny pulled mozzarella.  I studied my cheese making book and decided to take a careful, scientific approach to this.  I would keep meticulous notes, wear an apron with an air of professionalism.   

I brought the milk to temperature and added rennet, then waited for the chemical reaction of curd formation.  This took about ten times longer than the directions optimistically said it would.  Then I carefully cut and drained the curds and reheated them, pulling the whole mess like taffy to get it smooth and elastic.  With the first batch I went old school and used the hot water bath method to heat the drained curds.  It was a loser.  I don’t think the water ever got the cheese hot enough to stretch properly.  It turned into a rubbery ball that any dog in the neighborhood would fight for.  And it was, to me, bland. 
Um, no.
Larry cut a slice off of the mutant white blob and popped it in his mouth.  “That’s good!” he said.  “What’s wrong with it?”  I hadn’t gotten the cheese salt into it and it took on the consistency of bathtub caulk.  Grade: D 

Undaunted, I tried another batch a week later.  The curds took an inordinate amount of time to form, again.  But this time I used the microwave method to heat the cheese to stretch, and it was working well – in incremental sessions it was taking on that coveted shiny, smooth baby-bottom texture – until I got greedy and nuked it a few seconds too long and it suddenly turned mushy and grainy, disintegrating in front of my very eyes.  I stirred it and poked at it and swore at it, and proclaimed it ricotta.  As mozzarella, I gave it an F, as ricotta, B+.  Larry used it in some homemade eggplant parmesan, where it served us well.  A good tomato sauce covers a multitude of sins. 

Larry hit up a dairy farm friend for a gallon of his unadulterated milk, fresh from the cow.  Wiser now, I laid out all my tools in order of need, purchased some different rennet, approached the curds with an air of authority.  They formed in a shorter time and better structure.  I got some salt in it and heated it in the microwave in microscopic segments.  It stretched and formed into something almost resembling two logs.  The texture was pretty good and the taste not bad.  Grade:  B 

Encouraged by these moderate successes, I was jonesing to try some easy cheddar, something that had to be pressed and formed, something that required equipment not yet in my arsenal.  So I went back to the big cheese making book and looked up directions for fromage blanc, an uncomplicated soft cheese akin to cream cheese.  It required a culture which I purchased (I went from “guest user” to “welcome back, Beti!” on the cheese supply website) and some temperature finesse.  It had to sit in the pot “at 72 degrees for 6 hours.”  I wasn’t sure how to do that in a drafty farmhouse heated with wood.  The woodstove is not exactly a steady temperature generator.  I spent the next 6 hours moving the pot from location to location in the house, a digital thermometer tied to the lid, trying to find a spot that was reasonably close to 72 degrees and somewhat consistent.  Much to my surprise, the curds formed beautifully, which I then cut and wrapped up in cheesecloth.  Now it had to drain at 72 degrees for 12 hours.  I finally hung the bag from a living room rafter, low to the floor, above a pot, about three feet away from the woodstove.  It was as reasonable as I could get, and it would have to do.
In the morning, the bag had shrunk by about a third, and opening it felt like Christmas morning.  The curds at the top were a little dry, but the bottom was a little wet, and when mixed – voila! – a beautiful batch of fromage blanc, which I think is French for creamy and tasteless.  But I learned that this is a base from which wonderful things occur – you can add sweet, you can add savory, you can make it whatever you want.  Larry and I heaped it on crackers, on toast with some jelly – and as its natural flavors began to come on, I grew more fond of it with each passing day. 

I may have to add a cheese press to my Christmas list.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Grateful Is As Grateful Does

The Butterfly Posse - Debbie,
Annie and myself
My dear friend and fellow Bona Fide Butterfly Annie Gregson attended a workshop a couple of weeks ago by life coach Jennifer Louden. The day after she was back, Annie left me an adorable blank journal on my porch. On the inside cover, she wrote a touching and inspiring note that, in essence, was to remind me of what we are all capable of doing if we just believe in ourselves.

I am a stationery junkie and as a result have innumerable notebooks, binders and journals scattered about the house, many of them with the first several pages filled in before I move on to something else.  I think I have some sort of papyrus ADD. But this book was so cute, just the right size (and LINED! she knows me!), I had to come up with a special use for it, and something that I would continue to use. 

So I made it my Gratitude Journal. This is not a new idea, but a new idea for me. At the end of each day, before bed, I jot down 5 things I was grateful for that day. No big explanations, just a quick five things. It gets easier with practice and I highly recommend it. It makes you feel good, and who couldn't use a little more of that in their lives? Here are a couple of my favorites from my pages: 

1) Good November weather. Normally the dreariest month, November has been uncharacteristically sunny and dry. Highs in the low 40’s, lows in the 20’s, the sun and lack of wind has made the chill tolerable.  And who couldn't benefit from some extra Vitamin D?
2) Finding my necklace (a gift from Larry) that I feared was lost in a horse stall. It was on the rug in front of the woodstove. 
3) Warm socks. In the morning, I put my socks on the steam dragon on the woodstove. (He was retired from steaming because he didn’t hold much water and filling him was a pain in the neck, but he holds an honorary position on top of the stove.) The socks warm up quick, and then you put them on… heaven!

4)   When the dead whatever under the kitchen cabinet that I can’t get to finally finished decomposing… and stinking. 

5)  Not having to bring in firewood.I love it when Larry gets home early.
6) The view of the lake on my way to/from work every day. Depending on the weather, it can have fog rolling off it, or a purpley sunset reflecting off it, or some other fantastic natural scenic phenomenon. How many people get to see that every day? Which leads me to...
7) Living in an area with no billboards, the scourge of the countryside. Put one plus mark in the APA's column.
8) Having my health, in all its increasingly creaky glory. I see so many folks with ailments, limitations, on a dozen medications, etc. I'm grateful for being as sound as I am at 49 and for the physical work I'm able to do. Although the flexibility thing could use some improvement.
9) County fairs. Okay, this one isn't recent, but there's nothing like a good county fair. They're the epitome of summer country living. This year I took my friend Judy to her first county fair, and her enthusiasm and excitement were infectious.  We ate ourselves sick and laughed ourselves silly.
10) Justice. Sometimes it takes a while to see it. But here's a prime example - a line at the MEN'S bathroom, at the fair.
Wishing all my readers a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with lots of love, laughter and gratitude!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Meanwhile, in the real world..."

Two recent articles in the newspaper, refreshingly non-election or extra-marital affair oriented, caught my attention.

The first was about an ox which was euthanized at the agricultural Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. This is a school with a working farm whose emphasis is on sustainable agriculture. As a matter of course, the school turns its livestock into products which are served in the dining hall, which is what the words "working farm" and "sustainable agriculture" are all about.

The ox, named "Lou" (first mistake), had a hind leg injury that was continuing to deteriorate. The decision was made to put the big boy down and have him serve his last purpose as a natural food product. Animal rights activists went into a tizzy, going so far as to finding a sanctuary where Lou could live out his days as opposed to becoming the lunch lady special.

The article didn’t elaborate, but I’m assuming that Lou made his way to the dining hall, on a plate. I’m fine if you disagree with me, but the activists’ time could be better spent trying to improve the conditions of large animals processing facilities where inhumane practices run rampant. "How we treat the meat we eat" is the tag line for the Animal Sanctuary, and that’s an important thing to think about. It’s also part of the driving force behind "free-range" and "natural" meat products, and I have no problem eating something that I know had a decent existence on earth, hence the over-used phrase "happy meat." I’m also happy to eat hot dogs and chicken wings and things that, I know, didn’t have a very good (albeit brief) existence before it became packaged in the store, ready for me to buy. It’s the way of the world. But we can do it some honor if we remain mindful of what it took to get there.

Whether he knows it or not, Lou did the right thing.  He honored the college's values of farming and sustainability.

The other story of interest was about a monarch butterfly that was a day late and a dollar short when she emerged from her chrysalis after her brethren had already migrated south for the winter. Fortunately for her, her coming out party was in the butterfly gardens of a self-proclaimed "Butterfly Lady" in Ulster County. "I knew if I just let her go, she’d die," Butterfly Lady said. "But she’s so fabulous she deserves to be in Mexico with all of her millions of brothers and sisters."

This resourceful Butterfly Lady called Southwest Airlines and told them the butterfly’s plight, and they agreed (seriously) to fly both Butterfly Lady and the butterfly to San Antonio, where apparently all the other butterflies have a lay over until their final push to south of the border.

But Butterfly Lady also had to get a permit from the US Dept. of Agriculture to transport a butterfly across state lines. This normally takes months. She got it in two days.

A couple of thoughts. If butterfly was a late bloomer, and didn’t make it south before freezing, that, my friends, is called natural selection. It’s important. It matters. Now, butterfly’s procrastination gene will be allowed to carry on, possibly to the detriment of the entire species (did Butterfly Lady think of THAT?). There’s a reason the slow get left behind/eaten/stuck in tar pits.

I’m glad Southwest Airlines has this kind of disposable income. Yes, it’s good press in the name of "environmental awareness" (gag).  Remember that the next time you’re paying an exorbitant price for airfare. If I can find a squirrel who is pining for a trip to Disney World, maybe I can get a free ride to visit my parents in Orlando.

And let’s not even get started on a governmental agency, that normally can’t get out of its own way, that managed to issue a permit in two days. Remember that the next time you see a New York farm for sale because the owner could no longer rise about the suffocating bureaucracy to make it work.

Just some thoughts.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jive Turkey, Anyone?

We have seen a bumper crop of turkeys this year. Charley Hill Road should be renamed Turkey Hill Road, but for the birds and not the ice cream. The fall turkey season is but a blip on the radar in our part of the country, lasting a mere 19 days. The spring season is the one of bird high anxiety as it lasts the entire month of May.

We often see flocks crossing the road, usually farther down from our house, but this year the gals have been everywhere, and large flocks, too. One flock hung out in our Pasture A for a couple of days in a row. The horses seem nonplussed but Augie wasn't quite sure what to make of them. They have also been hanging out in the neighbor’s yard across the street and march right down the middle of road to the beat of their own drummer.

Turkeys can, and do, fly. Much like the chickens, they won't be denied their freedom of flight but, also like the chickens, they aren't very good at it. Driving home one day, a turkey and I spooked each other and it started flying, barely getting up and over the roof of the truck. I freaked out because where the heck are you supposed to go when you see that? Far worse is if they actually do hit your vehicle; Cherie hit one with her Tahoe last year and it did several thousands in damage to the front end.

Larry did get a turkey this year, out in Pasture A. I felt very Little House on the Prairie as My Man cut off appendages (of the bird, not himself), gutted it in the field, then brought it back to the house. Larry pulled off what feathers he could while I got a big pot of water boiling, then we dunked the carcass and were amazed at how the feathers came right off. My first dose of reality was that, once stripped of all its feathered frippery, it didn’t look very Butterball. No huge, white meat breasts, no huge turkey legs. It also smelled slightly funky, but I suppose if someone had just gutted me, I wouldn’t smell too great, either. (It made me wonder where do they get those massive turkey legs for Renaissance Fairs, anyway? Is there some mutant turkey farm somewhere?)

The most notable thing about this whole process, from the first exciting sight of the bulky bird pecking about in the field to when it was ready for the freezer, was how small it kept getting with each step. It looked pretty darn big in the field. Once it was dead, it didn’t look that big hanging limply from a fence post. Without feet, wings or a head, it was barely recognizable as a turkey. Without feathers, it was beginning to look a lot like our molting chickens (who, needless to say, were watching all this a bit anxiously). Totally cleaned and ready for the freezer, it was a lot of work for what appears to be a relatively minor amount of eating material. Larry proudly declared, "There’s Thanksgiving dinner!" It’s hard to deny him his enthusiasm, and it’s certainly more than I could have done. I just hope we don’t have to feed too many people on Thanksgiving. Extra helping of stuffing, anyone?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Going, Going...

A couple of weeks ago, Larry and I went to an auction at the defunct Bark Eater B&B in Keene.  Auctions at places that have gone out of business are a bittersweet experience.  It’s a bit like pawing through someone’s dresser drawers.  You feel like you’re being nosy and seeing personal things that are really none of your business, yet it’s exciting.   I love checking out all the furniture, dishes, brick a brack, barn stuff, tools, jewelry, an amazing array of things that were once important to somebody.  The sadness of an estate auction hits you, though, when you realize that this is happening because a) somebody died, b) somebody went out of business, or c) a and b.  You’re essentially picking over the carrion.   

Augie testing the new rug
But to put a positive spin on it, not only is it often fascinating and a great chance to get something you need on the cheap, I think it’s good karma to recycle and reuse this way.  In the case of the auction at the Bark Eater, while it was sad to see yet another Adirondack business bite the dust (a long-established, family business at that), I hope there is some good mojo in two of their beautiful space rugs filling a long-desired need in our own house. 

Larry isn’t a big auction lover like I am.  He gets bored sitting in one spot watching things go up one at a time.  But the Bark Eater’s action was a roving event over the grounds and barns of the B&B, which had one of the most spectacular views in the Adirondacks, especially on Columbus Day weekend.  The auctioneer walked around the grounds chattering into his headset at the speed of sound, selling this lot and that grouping, as the crowd followed him around like some sort of pied piper.   

The nostalgia of an auction can be fun but can drag you into melancholy if you let it.  The best example of this was the Frontier Town auction some years back.  I went to the first day of the two-day event, which was all of the movable stuff (the second day was on the actual park grounds, which I kicked myself for not attending).  I got there early for the preview, and five minutes into it I was bawling my head off.  It was like looking at my childhood, dusty and waterstained and loaded into boxes.  But it was also great fun at the triggering of memories.  While I would have really liked to score a stagecoach or marquis sign, I was ridiculously happy with my arrow-shaped sign directing patrons to the stagecoach rides, in both English and French.  Nothing at that auction went cheap; it was a packed house, with many people like myself, wanting a piece of their own childhood memory. 

The Frontier Town auction tied with the Gaslight Village auction for bittersweet.  I wanted something – anything – to serve as a tangible reminder of those great days at a park I had adored.  The auction was a very long, tiring day, where I hoped fiercely for something to stay in my price range, but nothing even came close.  It was fun sitting in the square again, seeing the shadows of those days past and hearing echoes of the Keystone Cops and the Opera House.  Again, there were a lot of kindred spirits in attendance.  As the sun started to go down and I obviously wasn’t going to be able to get anything, I took one last quick walk around the grounds, knowing it would soon all be gone.  I went past the empty pavilion that had housed the bumper cars, and spied a small yellow, hand painted Exit sign, in that distinctive handwriting that was a signature of Gaslight Village and Storytown.  I looked around; not a soul to be seen, everyone was in the Cavalcade of Cars.  I gave the sign a quick twist and the ancient screw that held it on the post snapped.  I tucked it under my coat and walked through the rusted turnstiles with my prize.  A few years later, before the buildings were razed, I squeezed through the iron fence and grabbed another, bigger Exit sign (is there some meaning there?) from the main entranceway.  That sign, along with my Frontier Town sign, grace the inside of our barn.

Okay, so maybe I hang onto some childhood memories a little too fiercely.  Everyone should be so lucky to have such great times to look back on.  And I do like my tangible reminders of those days.  I have my touchstones throughout the house that remind me off my girls growing up.  I also know that I am making memories with Larry now, on our little farmstead, that I’ll be reminiscing about in a couple of decades. 

And if it sounds like I steal a lot of signage, well, I do.  It runs in the family.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

6 Take-Aways of Summer

We recently returned from our big vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and one thing always strikes us.  When we leave, usually Labor Day weekend, summer is still in full swing, green and hot.  When we come home, a mere 7 days later, it’s suddenly chilly and leaves are falling off the trees.  Just what happens in that one week we’re away?

As another growing season winds down, it’s time to take note of the most prominent lessons learned:
Some of our butternuts
1)   You only need to plant about a fifth of the amount of squash plants that you think you’ll need.  This also applies to zucchini, pumpkins, anything that grows on a vine.  We have zucchini the size of Louisville Sluggers and plenty of them.  Along with the pumpkins, they filled in their fenced-in yard and then proceeded to go over, under and through the mesh to prove their point that they could.  Likewise, the butternut squash in the front garden also took over real estate much like something in a B horror flick, intertwining with cabbage plants and smothering the lettuce.  The way they spread and sprout, a lot of world hunger could be relieved by the planting of a mere three zucchini plants per continent. 

This year's new perennial bed
2)  Newspaper mulching is a winner.  We tried it on the raspberries and basil, with delightfully weedfree success.  It all but eliminated the need for future weeding and is well worth the initial time investment.  I did learn to not attempt to do it on a day with the most remote of breezes, as you will spend equal time chasing newspaper across the yard as putting it around the plants.  The depth of the mulch is important, too, or else the weeds will poke their way to the sunshine and eventually the newspaper will begin to show through, waiting for the first stiff breeze to go for a ride somewhere.  But with a good layer of mulch, it looks great and does the job.  And, in the late fall, it can just be rototilled under.  It sure beats weeding every week.  (Thanks to Annie Gregson for the idea!)
3)  Don’t be afraid to improvise.  After lots of searching online for ways to braid onions, and not really understanding any of them, I sat on the porch with some twine and just tied a bunch together, trying to keep them tight so they look neat.  Hey, it works.
4)  Trial and error is a good thing and, with a good bottle of wine or two, can actually be fun.  We continue to learn the finer points of canning.  Larry did a quasi-successful and then a successful batch of canning beets.  Personally, I’ve become a fan of blanching veggies and we did about 25 pounds of tomatoes.  You boil them for two minutes, put them in freezer bags and into the chest freezer they go.  Quick, easy, done.
Bring on winter!
5)  Never underestimate the power of the right tools for the job.  With our dandy new (to us) tractor and woodsplitter, we were done with all our firewood by our target date of Memorial Day weekend.  There’s nothing like looking at those killer stacks of wood all summer, seasoning beautifully, knowing that you’re  done with the job and you’ll have fantastic heat all winter.
Gotta love that man!
6)  Never give up the ghost.  My thoughtful husband just spent two weekends on the outhouse renovation project, accomplishing what I could not – securing the little building in a reasonable modicum of squareness and replacing the roof.  I know there were other projects he would have much rather been working on, as a falling down outhouse is not a high priority (unless you need to utilize it as an outhouse, which we do not).  I pulled it out of the ash tree it had been leaning against several years ago and braced it somewhat, but it was a poor band-aid at best.  Larry knew I’d been wanting to fix it up for years, bracing it and hoping the next winter wasn’t the one that would bring it down, and bless his heart he jumped on it and did a wonderful job.  We’ll put cedar shakes on the roof and somehow finish off the base of it with stones.  Our neighbors, who keep insisting “Ye Olde Crescent Moon” is a historical structure, will be very happy.  And no, we will not be using it as an outhouse.

I’m sure I’ll think of more things but I think I’ve rambled on enough for one post.  Thank you to everyone who has commented on how much they like my blog and ask when I’ll be posting something again.  I promise to be better about keeping all of you in the loop.  Until next time, happy homesteading!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Nothing Says "Love" Like a Dead Chipmunk in Your Shoe

If you’re going to live in the country, you can’t be wimpy about animals – alive or dead.  Especially when the live ones bring you dead ones.

It’s a matter of perspective.  While most people don’t appreciate something dead brought into their house by a cat, I do realize it’s a sign of affection.  I would be alright if they didn’t love me quite so much, though.

The other day was a new level of love.  I found a dead chipmunk in my shoe next to the table.  Later that day, Larry found a dead mole in his.  We are assuming it was Bella, as Augie tends more towards birds while Bella favors smaller mammals.  Thanks guys, but come on already.

The sound that makes our ears pick up is the cat door swinging open.  The cat door is in the door leading to the basement, where the litter boxes are.  The basement leads to the outside world for the cats during the day, as we leave the hurricane door open a crack so they can come and go during the day and close it in the evenings so the cats stay in.  They may be mighty hunters during the day, but once the sun goes down, they move down the food chain significantly.

The sound of the cat door swinging means, about a third of the time, a cat is coming in with something.  I was doing dishes when I heard the door swing, and a few seconds later something went thud on the floor.  I looked to see a very large, very dead squirrel lying in the doorway, Bella sprawled under the table looking at me like “Tah-dah!!”

Not all gifts are deceased, however.  I was on the telephone with stepdaughter Bonnie the other night when I heard the cat door and a minute later heard “Bwaahaaap,” which is not the sound a tortured mouse normally makes.  ”Bwaahaaap” it went again, and I turned to see a frog come hopping out from under the table, Augie keeping a slight distance which said “That really didn’t taste too good.”  “Bonnie, I gotta go get a frog away from the cat,” I said as I hung up the phone and raced to get the frog before he went under something and became unretrievable.

Bella is the snake catcher in the family, and I have taken numerous small snakes away from her and tossed them back outside.  (For all of you who ask, no, I never did find the faucet snake.)  I’ve also come home to a dead fieldmouse, on its back, all four legs comically in the air, right smack dab in the middle of the couch cushion.  The only thing missing from the picture were little x’s in its eyes.  And let’s not forget the drowned chipmunk I found floating in the toilet.  I grabbed Augie and showed it to her; she peered into the bowl with a look of “What’s it doing in there? 

The wildlife in the house does get old.  I came in last Saturday to see Larry lying on his stomach on the floor on one side of the woodstove, Augie on the other.  “Um, whatcha doing?” I asked.  “What do you think?” Larry said, and at that moment I saw a chipmunk run out from behind the woodstove towards the open door.  Augie made a halfhearted move towards it which sent it running over the back of Larry’s legs (he gave new meaning to the word “flail”) and under the chair. 

Augie had a chipmunk behind the woodstove, which started to run up the bricks behind it, then jumped in the window to the right of the woodstove.  I opened the front door, which is next to the window, figuring I could shoo him out the door.  Instead, the chipmunk ran past the open door and dove into the shoes, while Augie ran outside on the porch and looked around for it.  I am dealing with idiots.

For as good the cats are at catching things, once they turn them loose in the house they absolutely suck at catching them again.  Then it’s me who has to catch them.  My success rate is better than theirs, but not perfect.  Sometimes I have to wait until the prey has been worn down before I can help them.

Indoor sports - waiting for the mouse
to come out from under the chair
One night the cats were in mild pursuit of a chipmunk they had brought in earlier, but I could not catch.  I left them to their own devices and went to bed.  In the morning I went into the kitchen and saw it in the cat’s food dish.  I stopped – had they killed it and put it in their dish?  I looked closer and it looked up at me, its cheeks full of cat food, exhausted, with a look on its face of “You would NOT believe the night I’ve had!”

One of the good things about winter is that most of this nonsense ends with the cold weather.  But for now, when I come home, I take a quick look around before I step too far in the house.  Right by the front door where we keep the shoes seems to be the dismembering area, and I have found heads, innards, wings, legs and other innumerable body parts on a regular basis.  Our late cat Rocky used to leave us chipmunk tails on the porch.  Larry pinned them to the doorway. 

We have a feral cat who comes a visitin’ now and then, whom we have named BoyToy.  A beautiful black and white male, he is friends with Augie (who’s our social butterfly) while Bella keeps her distance and glares and growls at him.  He keeps a very healthy distance from us; there is no getting up close and friendly with this guy.  Larry keeps hinting to put food out for him, which I have managed to discourage him thus far.  There’s plenty of wildlife for him to sustain himself without help from us.

Meanwhile, like the toddler who picks a dandelion and presents it proudly to a parent, we’ll keep thanking our cats for their own displays of affection.  It is love, after all.  Gag reflex aside.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Fear of (Im)Perfection

This weekend my sister-in-law and her boyfriend (Lee and Don) are coming for a visit.  They have never been to our place, and I haven't seen Lee in almost two years. I'm truly looking forward to the visit.

Now my pesky house gremlin begins its work.

I think anyone who comes over is looking at everything in my house with a critical eye.  Every cobweb, layer of dust, ball of cat hair, speck of mold on the bathroom ceiling because we don't have an exhaust fan, I am going to be judged by it all.  This time of the year, most surfaces are covered with muddy cat paw prints and shedded-out horse hair.  Then I go spastic over the yard and grounds.  I want people to see the place the way I see it in my mind's eye: gardens beautifully kept, lovely walkways, neat woodpile and whatnot.  Instead, I see the stack of cinderblocks that pass for back steps, peeling paint on the house, the leaning ancient outhouse which I SWEAR I will fix up this year, the chicken poo that someone will inevitably step in.  I do warn people of that last item, but it still happens.

And yet in my logical mind I know this is all ridiculous.  People really don’t care all that much.  But I do.  I think it's some reflection on me AND I want people to see how fabulous I see this place to be.

My mother was the white tornado.  Every Friday night was go-through the house night for her, cleaning everything (this was in addition to spring and fall tear-throughs).  I admit it was nice to live in a clean house but, honestly, it was lost on my father and me.  My mother did say that the year I got a horse, a broom grew out of her right hand.  I now find myself doing the same thing with my husband almost every time he tracks mud into the house (Gasp!  It’s true!  You DO become your mother!!!).  While I have never shared my mother’s penchant for fastidiousness, I have, over the years, developed my own fairly laid-back tolerance level of clean vs. dirty.  When it bothers me, that's when I clean it.  And that normally works pretty well for me.  I remember once my mother looking with scorn at my oven, which was less than clean, and she said, "It's a self-cleaning oven, you know," to which I replied, "Well, then it didn't do a very good job, did it?"

Except when company's coming.  Then I worry about how things will be perceived, seen, interpreted, insert angst here.  I looked out the window at the side yard the other day and thought, I should do this, do that, put this away, rake up that, trim that bush, yadda yadda.  Then I was like, oh for God's SAKE, stop it!  This isn't the freaking Shelburne Museum.  Larry doesn’t worry about ANY of this stuff. 

So this morning when I went out to do animals, I took a look around and though, you know, it’s actually pretty damn nice around here.  Last week Larry did a beautiful job of thinning out the raspberries and rototilling the gardens.  And I’m happy with the way the outside looks because, duh, it's the outside.  It's a little farm, for cryin' out loud.  You’re NEVER done doing stuff.  And you know, anybody who's ever come to visit always says how warm and cozy the house is, and how cool the grounds are.  Yes, it will look nicer in the summer than now.  Why do I worry about it so much!  Then I went in the house and did some dusting and tidying up (I still need to wash the floors) and thought, this looks pretty good, too.  Done.   

My friend (and boss) Cherie Indelicato said it best when she said to me, "You know, people don't care what the house looks like. They're interested in spending time with you."  That really stuck with me.  And fellow Bona Fide Butterfly Debbie Philp also had a moment of clarity when she had Annie Gregson and me over to do some brainstorming work and was comfortable with having people there without feeling she had to have everything tidy and ship shape.  I know I didn’t care.  Besides, she was baking cookies that we got to share so I was willing to overlook pretty much anything.  I'm trying to take a page from her playbook. 

Q: What's wrong with this picture? 
A:  Nothing.  Nothing at all.           
Larry and I work, off the homestead and on.  We’re busy with lots of cool extracurricular activities.  Life's a work in progress.  I'm going to enjoy the now more and not worry so much about other's perceptions.  It’s a waste of energy that could be better spent with the people who come to share our home. 

My mother-in-law is coming for the weekend in mid-May. She hasn’t been here in several years.  I should have all the cat nose-prints off the windows by then.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The New Kid on the Block

The morning of the day I went to Adirondack Foothills Equine Center to look at some horses for sale, Cass’ picture fell off my bookcase.

I’m not saying it meant anything.  I just found it interesting.  Take it as you will.

I’d been pursuing the online Want Ad Digest, Craigslist and Whinny.org in recent weeks looking at various horses for sale.  My heart was somewhat in it, but I was also very nervous about looking and riding and possibly making a bad decision.  I hadn’t ridden in any sincere form in several years; Cass and I just walked around the property and down the road a bit – but his feet had bothered him so much that even that had been limited.  Thunder had been allowed to goof off all summer as we got sidetracked by work around the homestead and other excuses.  But now a seismic change had occurred in our little barn with the loss of Cass and, along with other things that had lined up in the past six months or so which would allow us more time for fun stuff (read: riding our horses), a huge opportunity presented itself. 

It was time for me to get back in the saddle, literally and figuratively.  And, Thunder was lonely. 

Looking at all the horses online was exciting and exhausting.  I had an open-minded good sense of what I wanted and how much I had to spend.  It seemed like everything out there was too green, too old, too expensive, too questionable or too far away (I refused to go outside my area code).  Like Goldilocks, I was looking for one that was juuuuust right.  I saw two on Whinny.org which took me to ADK’s website and a listing of others they had for sale.  I emailed them, Jessica from the barn called me, and I made an appointment to go to Fort Ann for a couple of test rides.  Larry had to work so I recruited my non-horsey friend Judy to go with me.

We arrived at their beautiful facility – wide open, fenced-in paddocks and indoor ring - and met Cliff, an instructor/trainer and shower of horses for sale.  As we followed him into the barn, he asked, “So what kind of horses are you ladies looking for?”  Judy said, “Oh, I’m not looking for a horse, she is.  I’m looking for a boyfriend.”  Cliff said he’d see what he could for both of us.

Ironically, the two online that had somewhat interested me, I didn’t even ride.  Instead, he first put me on a beautiful mare named Nifty.  She was five, a little younger than I was looking for, but calm, pleasant to work around, well started and a dream to ride even if she was a little young, and as sweet as the day was long.  She also knew her job and expected me to know mine.

Next I rode a gelding named Legend.  He was a little older and wiser, and needed a little more “getting behind” to make him do what you wanted him to.  Still, he was well trained and it felt comfortable and familiar, because he reminded me of Cass in temperament.  I rode him much longer than I rode the mare.  Even though it felt great to be in the saddle again, I felt awkward and uncoordinated on both horses, like I was bouncing around and not giving clear cues.  I was in a Western saddle, not my usual English tack, and I was trying to remember and ride the differences.

I had told Judy that I was not going to make any snap decisions about buying anything that day.  This was purely a shopping expedition.  If I was going to buy something on the spot, I would have bought Legend.  He reminded me of Cass, and I thought, I know how to deal with this type of horse.

I asked Judy which horse she liked better.  She looked at me like I had two heads.  “The girl horse was much sweeter,” she said.  “All she wants to do is please you and be with you, and she’s absolutely beautiful.  The other one, he’s okay, but if you ask me it’s no question.”

The drive home was one of introspection.  Judy listened patiently as I basically justified why I wanted the gelding instead of the mare.  He was a little older, a little mellower (not that the mare was the least bit high-strung, just different), I knew his personality, he was a lot like Cass, I knew how to deal with it.  I was talking myself into it, but something felt weird.  I kept thinking about the mare.  Judy came right out and said she didn’t understand my attraction to the gelding, given how lovely the mare was, but being a good friend, she said “I don’t know anything about horses.  You’ll know what’s best for you.”

In my deepest heart of hearts, I was feeling like I didn’t deserve as nice a horse as that mare.  I’d ruin her.  She was a better horse than I was a horsewoman.  I’d gotten what I deserved with Cass, good and bad, nothing against him, and to think I deserved better was selfish and unreasonable, and disrespectful to his memory.

As I mulled all this over, I equated getting the gelding to being in a relationship with a certain type of man.  Even if the relationship wasn’t great, you knew what to expect and you tolerated it.  Then, getting out of that relationship, and jumping right into another relationship with the same type of man.  Did that make sense?  Why would I do that to myself?  Have I not learned something after all these years?

I was feeling pretty philosophical with myself and called Judy later that day.  “Do you think the mare liked me?” I asked, sounding rather sophomoric.  I told her about my analogy.  She said, “You know, the mare was so sweet and just wanted to be with you and work with you and be a partner.  Why wouldn’t you want to have the same kind of relationship with your horse that you have in your marriage to Larry?"
She pulled the rug right out from under me with that one.  I promptly started bawling because I knew she was right.  I was still grieving for Cass.  In a way I felt like I was being disloyal to him.  But she was right.  It was time to be kind to myself, to give myself this incredible opportunity to have a fabulous horse.

I'm A Nifty Jag (Nifty)
I did deserve her.

Three days later Larry and I went to the stable to look at her again.  I rode her for nearly an hour.  Cliff showed me how to communicate with her under saddle based on how she’d been trained, to get her listening and bending.  I felt much more comfortable in the saddle.  I quieted my logical mind and listened to her, felt her, gave her every reason to trust me.  I bought her.

Nifty now resides in the stall where Cass lived out his days with me.  The day she arrived she was in her stall, calmly taking in all her new surroundings.  With a teary face I took Cass’ nameplate off the wall, and she nuzzled my hand as I took out the screws.  When I put my hands on her, the trust is like a current between us.  My level of horsemanship has changed.

In two weeks, the stable is holding a tack swap.  I figured I’d go and liquidate some of the extra gear I’ve accumulated over the years.  Judy’s going to tag along.  Maybe we can find her a boyfriend.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Me and My Old Man

In Corinth, 2003
On January 8, my horse Cass was euthanized due to a severe bout with impaction colic.  He was 31 years old; he had shared my life for 26 years.

He was my Divorce Horse, a clever turn of phrase that first came out of my mouth while Dr. Goldwasser and I covered his prone form on the floor with blankets, draping one end over his beautiful face with the wide white blaze.

He was spoiled, bratty, and could have definitely benefitted from round pen work to work on his, um, “respect” issues.  He was a nightmare to get on a trailer and would catapult himself over any type of stream or brook to avoid stepping in it.  My long-suffering farrier, Dennis Briscoe, dealt graciously with many a yanked away foot and dancing around during trimmings.  His successor, Lisa Howard, was tolerant to a fault with her kind and patient manner.

Cass was also kind, tolerant, funny, surprisingly sweet with little kids, and had the neck of a giraffe when he wanted something.  He figured out stall door latches and, after letting himself out, went to Ginger’s stall and let her out, too. 

In Schroon, 2009
He was a gorgeous shade of chestnut with a wide white blaze, three white socks, and a tail that had a natural ripple through it, so beautiful I wouldn’t braid it for shows.  He was sleek and shiny in the spring and summer, and turned an incredible shade of red with his winter coat.  He placed well at shows, which was additionally satisfying since we weren’t affiliated with a stable or trainer – it was just me and my backyard horse holding our own.  A quarter horse, he made a lovely hunter type (even if his neck was a bit inverted), and the judges loved him.  Unless we did some glaringly obvious gaffe, like picking up a wrong lead, we usually pinned.  He carried my unsure and tentative self over little jumps, even when he himself was unsure and tentative.  We made a good pair.

He was a sight to behold galloping around in Corinth, where the paddocks were wide open and he could really open the carburetor.  Here in Schroon, the footing proved more of a challenge, especially with his increasing age, but having him in the backyard was a fair trade off. 

Larry and Cass, having a
meeting of the minds
Before you go thinking he was Mr. Wonderful, allow me to balance his many wonderful qualities with some of the not so great:  He had the aforementioned respect issues, primarily kicking under certain circumstances, although he only connected with me once in 26 years.  He almost took off my ex-husband’s head (apparently Cass knew better than me at that point), has taken swings at various kids and stepkids, and his crowning achievement – sent Larry sailing through a gate early in our relationship.  The fact that he did not blame the horse and, in fact, kept coming around, showed me Larry was a keeper.

Hot and dusty show
in Ballston Spa,
mid 1990's
Trailering was not fun with him, although Dad and I did manage to wrangle him to numerous shows on our own with our own truck and trailer.  One memorable show in March had us absolutely unable to get that damn horse loaded in the trailer to go home (after a particularly lousy day).  It may take a village to raise a child, but that day it took an entire horse show crowd to get a horse on a trailer.   Dad and I had oh so many adventures going to shows – he was my groom, horse holder, boot shiner, lunch grabber, and all around good sport as we bungled our way around the local show circuit.  Those are some of my best memories.

I was fortunate with Cass in many ways, one of them being that he was an “easy keeper.”  It didn’t take much to keep him in good shape, and it was only about two years ago that his age really started to show.  His tooth surfaces had pretty much worn down, giving him trouble with eating and digestion and maintaining a good weight, and putting him on beet pulp helped.  He also had a bout with white line disease at age 18, which resulted in his having a significant part of his foot resected.  His chances for recovery were fair, but with the help of my vet and farrier Dennis, who modified shoes for him as the foot regrew, he rebounded completely.  He was rarely lame and only colicked once before, right after I moved him to Schroon.  Larry started calling him Yahtzee, because of the way his joints cracked and popped when he walked, "He sounds like Yahtzee dice," Larry would say.  I called him my bowl of Rice Krispees.  We both also got our first grey hairs at the same time - him on his face, me on my head.

Cass and Thunder,
Summer 2011
Cass always had his herd of one – first pony Tiffany, then Ginger, then mini Katie, and then his world REALLY got rocked – the addition of Thunder a year ago.  Cass went from being alpha male to being literally kicked down the food chain, in what was a horrible altercation to watch.  But once the dust settled, Cass (who still looked at Thunder like “Go f___ yourself”) and Thunder were pasture buddies to a point.  Cass was no longer king of the hill, but I think he came to terms with being dethroned.

The night he died, Larry had just left for an appointment in Long Lake right before I brought the horses in.  When I saw Cass was sick and how bad it was, I didn’t try to track Larry down because, for one, there really wasn’t anything he could have done, and two, if this was it, then it was meant to be just me and my boy.  In a sense, I had been waiting for this.  Dr. Goldwasser came out about 10:00 p.m. and after evaluating our options, he let me make the decision.   That horse didn’t owe me a damn thing, and I owed him everything, so I did what I felt was right by him.  That is our privilege, burden and responsibility as animal owners.
A young man, the
year he came to me, 1986
I once said to Jackie Burnham, who did the occasional horse sitting for me in Corinth, that I felt I had not brought Cass to his full potential – he could have been a really great show ring hunter if I had worked harder.   Jackie said, “You let him be what he was supposed to be – a horse.”  In the end, I suppose that’s the best we can try to do for our equine companions.