Monday, December 22, 2014

The Christmas Card Standoff

I don’t know when I started paying attention to such things, but I’m beginning to scrutinize my Christmas card list.

Once upon a time, when my address book overflowith with relatives near and far and an
overabundance of friends, it would take several boxes to get out my yearly sentiments.  Nowadays I’m more discriminating as to whom I send out cards, basically because I’m cheap and a little lazy.

But it’s also that as I’ve gotten older, I pay more attention to who really matters in my life.

Older aunts and uncles always stay on the list.  I love them, they’ve been fixtures in my life since childhood, and it’s respectful.

Cousins for the most part stay on the list.  Over the years, a few have dropped off, as our lives went into different orbits and we finally realized we no longer had anything in common.  Card sending was a formality that we realized was no longer necessary.

But friends are the real wildcards.  Some stay in your life forever, others just pass through, others are friends but don’t rise to Christmas card level (and only you can determine what that threshold is).  This is the group of recipients that most often play the Christmas Card Standoff game.

For example:  A certain friend has been on my list for years.  I worked with them umpteen
years ago at a job that I barely remember.  At the time, we were good buds – doing lunch together a lot, commiserating together about the boss, sharing little kid stories.  But I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually saw this person.

If the last time I actually saw this person, shoulder pads were in fashion, it’s time to cut them loose.

I made the conscious decision to not send them a card.  I debated, but I made the call.  Now I’m waiting to see if I get one from them.  If I don’t, I know they felt the same way, and thank goodness.  I don't take it personally if I've rotated off their list of recipients.

Sometimes you get lucky and the card you sent to them comes back as undeliverable, unable to forward, whatever.  Hey, you tried.  If you run into that person in Price Chopper months later (after unsuccessfully trying to avoid them by ducking into the cereal aisle), you can say oh, I tried to send you a Christmas card, I figured you (moved, went into the witness protection program, died, fill in the blank).

Every day at the mailbox now is like spinning the roulette wheel.  Checking return addresses for people deliberately left off your list just adds to your holiday stress.  And if you see an address of someone you didn’t send a card to, damn!!  Now you have to get one off to them ASAP if not sooner, so you don’t look like a schmuck. 

It’s three days before Christmas as I write this.  I know who I didn’t send cards to.  I’m hoping they didn’t send cards to me so I can be relieved of this particular holiday guilt.  It’s the Mexican Standoff of the season.  Aye carumba!  Merry Christmas to all!!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Beauty in Necessary Evils

There is never enough time to get things done on the homestead.  You wonder where the time went.  We spent all summer painting the outside of the house.  This meant power washing the exterior and watching pieces of paint and wood go flying all over the yard.  It looked like a ticker tape parade had gone through.

Next was spot scraping and repairing siding and molding from whence said pieces of wood went flying.  Then hitting bare wood with primer, and finally painting.  What we optimistically thought would take a couple of weekends (oh will we ever learn) took the entire summer.  That’s what happens when you're trying to get a major project done on weekends, and half the time you get rained out or some other commitment crops up.  You can only get so much done after work on the weekdays.

But we toughed it out.  It seemed like the never ending project, especially in the face of other things we wanted to do to get the house marketable.  We focused on getting the front done, so we could take pictures to put online.  Larry also put new metal on the porch roof, to match the rest of the house, which was done last year. 

It was a long, slow and sometimes painful haul, but we finally got it done.  We stood at the end of the driveway and thought, wow, the house looks fantastic!  Why did we wait so long to do this? 

Larry also built some sweet steps off the back door.  We’ve been using a variety of slippery, shifting cinder blocks for take-your-life-in-your-hands steps since he bought the house.  Getting the stairs built was a revelation.  It was a thrill to be able to open the back door and step out onto a platform.  It was awesome.  Again, we asked ourselves, why did we wait so long?

It wasn’t a matter of waiting.  It was a matter of prioritizing, of working on what we felt was the most pressing thing each season.  We’d spent almost ten years working on clearing pasture, dropping trees, fighting weeds and trying to get a good grass stand established, and working on gardens.  This year, with no horses and just five low-maintenance chickens, we let the pastures go, which was probably the best thing we could have done for them.  They grew in thick and lush, with not nearly as much weed action as we feared.

Larry also planted almost exclusively pumpkins in the gardens.  He wanted to do something low-maintenance, and they were just the ticket.  He also planted a few cabbage plants (which
the deer enjoyed immensely, thank you very much) and some basil, but the pumpkins became The Thing That Took Over Charley Hill.  They were a huge return on investment in volume.

It’s a sad truth that you get the home improvements and repairs done when you are getting ready to put the house on the market.  The whole thing is bittersweet.  But with no serious buyers at the moment, we get to enjoy our work for a little while.  It's a pleasure to pull into the driveway and see the fresh paint, the new lattice, the beautiful metal roof.  The house smiles.

And we'll take away the lesson - as we said to each other while enjoying cocktails on our newly painted porch – of not waiting so long next time.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Weekend at Watkins Glen International Raceway

I’m still a little dizzy from the fumes inhaled at Watkins Glen International Race Course this past weekend, where Larry and I spent two days watching the U.S Vintage Grand Prix.  

It was a blur of MGs, Corvettes, Porsches, Jaguars, Mustangs, Ferraris, in every variation imaginable, and a ton of other cars I couldn’t identify.  Some went faster than others, but they all had one thing in common – the dedication and enthusiasm of the people who drive them, take care of them, and follow them around the country to various events.

Car racing has no real appeal to me.  This was a weekend for Larry.  WGI is probably most well known for its annual NASCAR race, but they have numerous other events throughout the year.  (Check out their schedule here.)

Not your typical race track, WGI is 3.4 miles long (for the long course) and includes a variety of turns.  Bleachers were stationed at various points, so you could go traditional at the front stretch grandstand and watch pit row, or sit at a corner and watch everyone brake into a turn (much like the Northway going into the twin bridges at rush hour).  

The stars of the weekend were the vintage cars.  It was a bit like stepping back in time to watch them, many from the early to mid-part of the 20th century, revved up and racing around the track.  The races were broken up into groups by vehicle:  small displacement production sports cars, pre-1973 formula cars, pre-war (which war, it doesn’t say, but I’m guessing WWII), GT cars, and a slew of acronyms that I never figured out over two days.

Brummmm! Brummmmm!
WGI is an expansive facility; our tickets were all-access, so we were able to go pretty much anywhere we wanted.  It meant we walked miles – miles – each day, but it was worth it to see how much Larry enjoyed himself.  We also hiked the equivalent of Mt. Marcy in bleacher stairs.  

Not being a NASCAR race, there weren’t tons of fans in the stands.  But the folks who were there, well, they love their cars.  Participants ranged from a few true backyard hobbyists to racers sponsored as much as Dale Ernhardt Jr.  From the classic car show to the motorcycle expo to the random string of classic VW buses, people were there to enjoy and share their passion.  Even in the garage, where drivers and mechanics were busy with all the intensity of a NASCAR event, folks took the time to chat and explain things and share a story or two.  

Garage row
One of the fun games to play, particularly in the garage area, was “Is That His Daughter or His Girlfriend?”  You get to use all your powers of observation and deduction to get to the right answer.  Sometimes an unassuming chat with one or both parties is necessary to come to your conclusion (Larry was particularly good at this).  Even then – who knows.

By the time we left Sunday, I had seen enough.  While Larry had me take his picture with every Porsche we passed on the way out, I was ready to stab myself in the eye with a spork.  But it was so worth it to see him enjoy himself.  

It reminded me of when dad and I would go to horseshows (as spectators, not competitors) all the time.  We dragged mom along once, and afterwards she said never again.  “You two have to stop and look at every horse, every bucket, every bale of hay, every eye hook in the wall,” she said.  Dad and I said, “Well, yeah.”

Payback is, well, you know.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's (Gonna Be) the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

This year Larry decided we should be pumpkin ranchers.

In search of a garden goodie that would not take a ton of maintenance yet yield an easily
salable product, he planted all pumpkins in the front garden.  Their leaves have now exploded, literally filling the garden, and blossoms are visible.  

The blueberries out back, after doing squat the last few years and being afflicted by some sort of creeping crud last season, are bearing beautiful fruit.  Larry also planted a few beets, cabbage for his sauerkraut (oh, the humanity) and basil because what’s summer without fresh basil and mozzarella salad?

This past winter’s long, icy grip is a not very distant memory.  When the sweat is running down my back, I remind myself of how I couldn’t get close enough to the woodstove last winter.  I will not complain about the heat this year.  Not once.  It’s become a personal challenge.  Anyone who hears me do so has my permission to slap me.

Our big news is that we’ve put the house on the market in anticipation of Larry getting a job transfer and moving to warmer climes.  In an effort to look more mainstream, we mowed our yard this year.  I admit, it does look nice.  I left a few pockets of wildflowers, where they were actually in greater population than grass or weeds.  They provide pretty bursts of color.  I wouldn’t exactly call what we have a lawn, more like evenly cut green stuff, which, from a distance, could pass for a lawn.  To my dismay, it all grows pretty fast.  I’ve gotten back into the lawnmower groove, which is good exercise.

The front of the house has been power washed, scraped and repainted, and the porch has been reroofed to match the rest of the house (kudos to Larry for working like a dog on all this).  Rehab projects take forever when you’re chipping away at them on weekends.  The painting of the porch seemed like the never ending story and I wouldn’t wish painting lattice on my worst enemy.

When it was done, though, Larry couldn’t stop admiring how much better it all looked.  “We should have done this years ago,” he said, and it was hard to disagree.  We didn’t because we were always too busy working out back on pastures, which have gone by the wayside this year.

And we still have our Final Five chickens.  Tough old broads, they are.  They’ve become fixtures, following us around and gracing us with one to three eggs a day.  

I’m enjoying the yard more this year – futzing with my perennials and doing small yard projects I haven’t had the time to do before.  I don’t have the niggling guilt in the back of my mind that I’m not doing enough with the horses, because they’re out of my equation.  I’m getting the itch to ride again, but it’s not a burning desire.  At least, not yet, not here.  I’m not sure where I’m at with that right now.

Meantime, we’re enjoying our summer immensely – watching the gardens grow, giving the house some long overdue sprucing up, enjoying our time together right here, right now.  And oh yeah, we need to cracking on firewood.  So I can huddle up to the woodstove next winter.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Visit to the Adirondack Meat Company

Big doings around town lately has been the opening of the Adirondack Meat Company, a processing plant (slaughterhouse) in Ticonderoga.  Local producers of local meat have had to go to Eagle Bridge or other fairly distant locales to have their animals butchered for sale.  AMC provides a much needed service in our area.  

Their primary focus is threefold, according to owner Pete Ward:  Humane treatment of the animals, sanitation and profitability. 
AMC processes beef, pork, goats and sheep.  To butcher buffalo, elk, etc. they need an exotic animal license, which they don’t have at this time.  They also don’t butcher poultry, so my girls are safe for now. 

It’s wonderful to see how a new local business is taking off, and what they’ll provide to the community in the way of jobs, and a delicious end product.  A retail store is in the works as well. 

Larry and I took a tour of the facility during their open house and received a valuable lesson in processing.  Before taking the tour, I had a broad understanding of how the animal gets from Point A (animal) to Point B (barbeque).  And here is, I believe, the opportunity for real learning.  

In brief, the animal comes in from the holding pen into the kill room, where its dismembered and gutted.  It then goes to a cooling room when the carcass temperature is lowered to approximately 39 degrees.  From there it goes to an aging room, where it stays for an average of 7-10 days. 

At that point, the carcass is cut into specific pieces parts and packaged.  Some is turned into ground meat.  It all ends up in the cooler for either pick up by the customer or for direct sale to the public. 

While it was awesome to understand the entire process, I found the kill room the most interesting.  Here’s where things really happen.   

A participant on the tour asked if someone could be in the kill room when the action was taking place, say someone who brings in their animal for their own personal consumption, and wants to watch the process.  The answer was no; only the processors and the USDA inspector are allowed in the kill room.  Understandable.   

But this is the opportunity to really educate people.   

I would like to put in the Suggestion Box that AMC install a viewing lounge adjacent to the kill room.  Bring in school groups for field trips – particularly little kids, educate them early - and let them see how this part of their nutrition pyramid comes to fruition.  Call it “Meet Your Meat Day.”  The permission slip sent home for parents to sign could have a smiling cartoon hot dog and hamburger on it, symbolic of some childhood innocence about to come to an abrupt end. 

Before it was a hamburger or hot dog, it was a critter on four legs coming in from the holding pen, none the wiser.  Then it becomes a hanging carcass, with its heart, liver and lungs on one tray and its head on another, to be inspected by the USDA.  Its hide is skillfully peeled back so as to not contaminate the meat, its hocks removed and innards eviscerated and put in a refrigerated holding tank, to be collected for rendering.  

I’m reminded of one of the few episodes of Duck Dynasty I’ve been exposed to. Phil Robertson graphically demonstrates for a group of elementary school kids how to dismember a duck.  Later, as he recounts the event to his wife, he says “And that’s when the little girls started to squeal.” 

I imagine there would be a lot of squealing going on in the viewing lounge at AMC.  Some of it would probably be coming from me.  But that’s okay.  Nobody ever said reality was pretty.  It is tasty, though.

Click on this link to learn more about the Adirondack Meat Company.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When All Else Fails, Wait for Mom

Chicken tracks in the snow are adorable.

It looks like little dinosaurs have traveled around your house, which isn’t so far from the truth.  

The girls seriously dislike the snow.  I can open the door to the coop in the morning after a snowfall and they look out with an attitude of “Yeah, well, no.”  Only after I have cleared or packed the path a bit will they start to come out.

One of their favorite hangouts is underneath the porch of the house.  There the dirt is sandy, loose and begging to be dug into.  In the summer it’s a great spot because it’s cool.  In the winter its appeal is that it’s loose dirt amongst nothing but frozen ground and this annoying, cold white stuff.  

With the weather we’ve had this winter – some snow, lots of rain that becomes ice – the chickies have stayed around their coop.  Over the summer they kept me company as I convalesced on the porch, by hanging out in the front yard, working their way up the porch steps until I yelled at them, and roosting on the pioneer fence.  They endeared themselves to me on a whole new level.  Because they were only five of them, personalities became distinct. 

We still have Wheezy, the chicken I nursed back to health after a weasel attack several years ago.  There’s Broody, the only one out of the original flock who has shown any inclination to set on eggs.  She’s the smallest and Queen of the Coop.  There’s Spot, named only because she has a dark spot on her lower eyelid that’s noticeable. The other two are indistinct – sorry – and nameless.  They're all hale and hearty and coming through the winter in great condition.

A few weeks ago, the girls started coming down the path through the snow and going under the porch again.  When I came home for lunch, I’d hear them coo under the stairs and sometimes they'd stick their heads out looking for a treat.  The other day they got the motherlode of my failed attempt at King Cake, devouring it with great relish.  I know I'm supporting negative behavior with positive reinforcement (pestering me for treats and getting cake for their trouble), but I’m beginning to feel sorry for them given the winter we’ve been having.

One day last week, as dusk was approaching, I looked out the kitchen window and saw three chickens by the woodpile.  It was an odd place for them to be hanging out.  Usually by that time of the day, they have instinctively put themselves on their roosts in the coop for the night.  I threw on my coat and went outside.

It had snow lightly but constantly all day, and the ground was covered with about four inches of very light, fluffy snow.  I saw a set of chicken tracks come out from under the porch, pick up the path, and make the left turn between the trailer and woodsplitter to go down the path to their coop.  But these three birds somehow – maybe snowblindness, maybe the depth of the snow threw them off – missed the turn and continued straight just a few more feet, to the other side of the woodsplitter, and ended up in a dead end area by the woodpile.

Even they knew they were in the wrong spot.  They just couldn’t figure out how to get to the right spot.  

I was going to herd them around the corner and down the path.  But as I approached them, they didn’t move.  Two things had happened:  the magical chicken bewitching hour where it’s bed time and they stay wherever they happen to be for the night, and (I think) they had gotten very cold, up to their chicken thighs in the snow, as they all had one leg curled up underneath their bodies like little black and white flamingos.

So I had the opportunity to do something very rare.  I reached down and picked up Wheezy and tucked her under my arm.  She didn’t put up a fight.  I picked up Broody, who flapped for a second but then gave it up, and tucked her to my midsection, holding her against Wheezy and me with my arm.  Then I reached down and one-armed a No Name and brought her to nestle with the other two.  I officially had an armful of chickens.  For a second I thought they would do their usual chicken freak-out at being held, but then I realized they felt content.  They were warming up.  They relaxed.  They felt secure.

I carried my load of poultry to the coop and gently put them on the floor.  The other two chickens (who obviously had the smarts to find their way back earlier in the day) were on the roost and looked at them like “Where were you idiots?”  Wheezy fluffed up her feathers.  Broody got something to eat.  No Name gave me a blank, tilted-head look.

Lots of people laugh at chickens’ goofiness, and all animals have their amusing moments.  But when you have animals in your life, the moments that really have meaning are when you have those times of connection, of when you know they trust you.  I've had many with horses over the years.

Chickens aren’t particularly cuddly, at least mine aren’t.  But having that opportunity to “rescue” them (and there have been others) and hold them to me for a few minutes was a reminder of how the universe is a sum of its parts, and to appreciate those moments.

It's nice to help out when someone takes a wrong turn.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Let Go or Be Dragged

Hello 2014, you shiny faced little pixie you. You have no idea how happy I am to see you here. Your predecessor 2013 was a little harsh, and not just on me. Lots of folks had a rough year. On the 30 Acre Wood, she lulled me into a false sense of security for the first five months of the year, and then let loose with the big smackdown.

I’m won’t say it wasn’t necessary, but it was a little heavy handed. Yes, she got my attention. After the pain subsided and I was done being an angry bee and the pity party was over, I began to see the point she was trying to make.

Ignore your deepest feelings at your own peril.  I had been fighting the feeling that the horses weren't working out for us, but I refused to recognize it or acknowledge it. 

When you’re stuck on being identified with or as something, even if it’s just in your own mind, giving it up can be a mental impossibility, which turns into a physical impossibility. But the universe knows better.  And the universe always gets her way.  If you’re not paying attention, she drops the subtleties. And the next thing you know, you’re lying on the trail with a broken leg and your horse is gleefully galloping away from you.

Sometimes you need to let go, even if it’s wrenched from your hand. What once filled your soul may not be working for you anymore, for whatever reason. If you’re holding too tight to something, even if it’s no longer serving you, you can’t hold anything else. That can be self limiting at best and mentally crippling at worst.

Life After Horses has been a major adjustment, but it’s beginning to feel alright. Larry and I have had the opportunity to do more things and travel more freely, and that feels wonderful. The universe pried my hand open to make me let go, and now that my hand is beginning to uncramp, I’m able to hold other things.

This spring we may get some beef calves, to keep the pastures from going feral and to fill the freezer in the fall. A new batch of chicks may inhabit the coop. I’m looking forward to finally tackling some of the yard projects I’ve been trying to get to for several years now, without feeling guilty for taking that time away from the horses. And who knows – horses may very well indeed be in our future. Sometimes you need to take a breather to come back to something with renewed passion and joy.

What do you need to let go of, that’s no longer serving you? Join the Bona Fide Butterflies at their "Letting Go" retreat on January 24-26, 2014 at the beautiful Glen Lodge in Warrensburg, to explore what you may need to release in your life and how to move forward.  Best of all, it will be in a playful, friendly and relaxing weekend with kindred spirits. Trust me, it’ll be easier and a lot more fun than breaking your leg.