Saturday, November 17, 2012

Major's Lesson

I love all my horses beyond words; each one has a unique personality.  Dusty’s my little rascal, Ceci’s my teacher with a big heart, and Major’s my sad good looking boy.

Major and his thick neck
At 14 hands, Major’s mostly grey with a muscular, thick neck like a draft horse.  His body is strong and compact, his handsome head has small ears, and he dons a Mohawk mane.  He’s not an elegant horse, but he is flashy with his white rump and black spots.   When I put him on the crossties, his expressive eyes make me think of Eeyore from Winne the Pooh.   He makes a long exhale and throws me a gloomy sad look as if to say, “What do you want me to do now”?
Major with his distinctive spotted rump

Unflappable, he rarely spooks and goes thru and over anything; bridges, water, rough ravines.   This all sounds really great, a flashy horse that never spooks, but let me continue.

Major has definite opinions and one of them is not moving very quickly anywhere except if it’s in the direction of the barn or food.  Every trail ride starts out as a death march only to end up flying full steam the moment his nose is turned in the direction of home.   There were a few trail rides when I watched my husband fly past me down a rocky slope hoping he would be alive when I reached him.  To my husband’s credit he would eventually get Major stopped and turned around, but it was scary and dangerous.

 "You want to ride who?" 

My husband and I did learn the horsemanship skills to correct this problem.  When riding Major you have to be in charge or he will quickly take charge.  He tends to live up to his name.  In the future, I will never own another horse named Major, General, Sergeant or any other military rank.   He loves using his shoulders and big neck to turn himself around saying, “I’m not going.”    Now you’re thinking this horse is awful-right?   Well, I thought so too for awhile.

Ceci in the field

When Ceci, our Thoroughbred mare arrived, Major took a backseat as my horse of choice.   She’s well schooled and at home in the arena.   She ignited my passion for riding and became my new teacher.  I was frustrated riding Major.  He could be stubborn, opinionated, too slow, and too much work to ride.

"Yes, I'm beautiful, smart and go away!"
While riding this summer, Ceci, who is refined but high- strung, stumbled, and I landed hard on my back.    Ceci recovered quickly, but I didn’t.  After a month, still walking gingerly, I saddled up Major not having the confidence to deal with Ceci’s nervousness.  Major made me feel calm and safe.   Over the next few months my back slowly got stronger as I continued riding Major, and I began to understand him better.

Major starring in a movie for a film that Brad Pitt?

I realized that his short neck and back meant I had to be far more balanced and solid in my riding than I had been with Ceci.  I have a much smaller margin for error on Major.  Any leaning too far forward forces him to compensate making it difficult for him to be balanced.  You learn from every horse and Major is still teaching me to be a better rider.  When I wrote him off thinking Ceci was the only horse that could teach me, I was wrong.  I guess the saying for every bad horse there is a bad rider is true.  

Major and I are moving forward.  He is more relaxed now than ever before, largely because I’m riding him better.  He's still an opinionated, pony and has discovered a new trick...bucking at the canter!  Let the rodeo begin I say.  Stay tuned for more adventures on Major.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Harvesting Honey (Part II)

How to Spin Gold

We’re hot, tired and sticky.  Yup that’s right we’re extracting honey!  What work, you couldn’t pay somebody enough to do this I thought and then it occurred to me…how would you write a help wanted ad for a Professional Honey Extractor…

Wanted Professional Honey Extractor

  • Seeking a person who has Popeye like arms and can crank an extractor or at least somebody who loves working their salad spinner.

  • Must have maintained a Bee average in school.

  • Jedi like skill in handling a hot uncapping knife.

  • Knows what an uncapping knife is.

  • Doesn’t mind the feeling of “walking around with gum stuck to the bottom of their shoe”.

  • Strong enough to lift 50 pound buckets of honey (the same amount required to send a full grown bull elephant into diabetic shock).

  • Thinks that getting stung is good for their allergies.

  • Has no allergies.

  • Understands that although honey bees fly over 55,000 miles to make 1 pound of honey, we offer no frequent flyer miles.

  • Appreciates the notion that the liquid gold that pours from the bee hive is more precious than any gold that people mine. 

Beautifully capped frame

 Taking off the wax cappings with electric heat knife

Close-up of wax cappings

Beautiful wax and honey

Honey pours from the extractor into the filter

Bountiful Harvest 

Honey goes well anywhere

Sunshine in a jar!

This wonderful food changes every year.  This year we have a light amber in the past we have gotten some as dark as molasses.

- Chris

Monday, October 8, 2012

Harvesting Honey (Part 1)


Sixty Thousand Reasons to Do Something Different… 

Summer is over and it’s time to harvest the honey.  I stand in front of a very strong bee hive.  You can tell its health because of the large number of honey bees that are whizzing around the entrance.   The hive itself vibrates from the activity inside.  I must pry the roof off but I hesitate.  There are so many other things I could be doing right now I think.   ”Just take a deep breath”; says Trisha.  She’s right.  If I stay calm the bees will respond in kind … at least in theory.  What worries me is that I’ve got no smoke.    Working the bees is easier when you have smoke.  Blowing a few puffs from a canister of burning pine needles can completely distract them.  It seems crazy but it’s really very simple.   When the bees detect smoke they think the same thing you and I do.  Fire!  Get out of the house!  Instead of grabbing the family photo album, bees grab honey.  If you’re going to leave a burning hive it makes sense to tank up.  But filling up on honey means you need to poke holes in the lids of the wax cells that act as storage containers.  What a mess this makes for the person that’s trying to remove the frames.  So they only thing that stands between me and sixty thousand stingers is a way to thin white cotton suit, vale and gloves.
I take a deep breath and with a “crack” the hive lid pops off.  I peek inside and see hundreds and hundreds of little fuzzy brown and yellow stripped honey bees staring back at me.  Suddenly somebody turns up the volume.   What started out as a low hum turns into a roar as more and more bees make their way to the top to figure out what happened to their roof? 
Trisha and I work fast.  I remove the frames and gently brush the bees off and back into the hive.  Trisha takes the frames from me and puts them into a sealed box.  If you don’t hide the frames, the bees will swarm them as they work to take the honey back.
After removing 27 frames from the hive, we guess that we will get about 75 pounds of honey.  The next step is to extract the honey from the frames, filter it and then pour it into jars.   But before we process the honey I hold one of the frames up to the sun.  The light causes the wax and the liquid it contains to glow.
The payoff will come this winter when it is freezing cold and dark.  Trisha and I will brew a pot of tea and settle down next to the wood stove.  We will spoon in some golden honey and think of summer sunshine and the flowers that the bees visited while gathering the nectar.

So if you want to do something different, I can think of 60,000 wonderful little fuzzy, yellow and brown stripped reasons that are sure to bring summer sun to the coldest and darkest winter day.
Honey = Joy

- Chris

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Growing on a Ledge

Every spring my husband, Chris, plants a garden, and every spring I give a little moan.  Thirteen years ago we fell in love with our home on a hill in Upton MA.  Each May, I watch as my husband kills himself turning the soil on this 5 acre ledge.
His excitement about the planting season is infectious.  He starts planning his seed selection as early as Christmas.  Of course, tomatoes are his love.  We debate how many plants to buy.  I think 10 are plenty, but we settle on 20 only to find  40 more on planting day.  One year he planted 80 tomato plants.  I thought he was going to blow an artery digging into the hardpan.  
Every year we kept prospecting for different garden locations: on the hillside, the front lawn, behind the house, behind the barn – the sheep ate all the tomatoes that year.
After many disappointing growing seasons, I suggested joining a CSA or community garden.   His reply would always be, “Why do we need to go somewhere else to garden”?  This answer would frustrate me, and only recently did I understand why.
We grew up watching our grandparents and our parents growing their gardens.  The saying, it’s in your blood, sort of holds true.  For Chris, his garden belongs in the backyard around family.  
I delivered my husband a blow when I announced, last fall, I wanted to build a riding arena in the spot where he planted his struggling garden.  "We're going to hit ledge", he said, as he tried to defend his anemic tomatoes.  As his anxiety mounted, I reassured him the arena was a practical use of the space, considering we have the horses.  So, we flattened the garden, took down some trees, and the arena was born.   Amazingly, we didn't hit ledge, what we did find was lots and lots of rocks. 

The piles of stone were put to good use, this spring, when Chris built a wall around the arena and back filled the edges with compost, making a terraced garden.  We planted Hubbard squash, zucchini, gourds, and nasturtium.  Near the barn we planted beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and beets.

As the growing season draws to a close, I give a sigh of  relief, the garden was a success!  The combination of good compost and new found sunlight, made all the difference. Everything we planted produced like never before.  We had zucchini and cucumbers coming out of our ears. Except for Mr. Groundhog nibbling on the tomatoes, everything flourished.  Sometimes, success comes when you least expect it.  Even though we didn't plan combining the arena and garden, it turned out to be a win-win.  I guess you can have your cake and eat it too, or in our case, your cuke and eat it too.

Joy! :)

- Trish

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pippi's Fleece

I’m crazy about wool!   I love touching, feeling, and caressing its silkiness.  I even love the smell; the lanolin makes me feel more connected to the earth.  Growing up, I remember how special it was getting that new wool coat. 

My appreciation only grew when I started to spin wool.  Every breed creates its own 
unique fiber.  Some are short and springy, others are long and curly. 

Boarder Leicester wool

 Romney/Merino mix wool

Finnish Landrace wool

When I realized every wool spins a different yarn - no pun intended- I became a wool addict, scouring fiber festivals.   In every booth I saw fleeces waiting for me to make into beautiful and unique yarns.  Boarder Leicester and Romney sheep produce some of my favorite fibers, but to my surprise the best wool came from a ewe living right in my own backyard.

Pippi's fleece

We had an old soapstone sink left on our property.    Some of our friends were remodeling their farm house.  So we traded the sink for Pippi, a Finnish Landrace ewe.   I was happy to get rid of the sink and they were happy to get rid of their ewe.

If Mary's sheep was as white as snow, Pippi's fleece was as black as coal.   Sheep, like people, can grow old and gray, and with every passing year Pippi's fleece lighten into the beautiful soft shade of silver it is now.
Pippi on left in 2004  

Pippi in 2006

Pippi in 2012

I treasure Pippi's fleece every year.  I love spinning, knitting and weaving with it.
As I was putting some woolens in the cedar chest that no longer fit the children, I noticed the color change with every sweater and scarf, and smiled knowing that Pippi's fleece has helped mark the passage of time.

Nola Fournier's  book "In Sheep's Clothing"  is a great handbook of different breeds and wool characteristics.

- Trish

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Saucy Summer

There is nothing like the sweet taste of summer tomatoes.  But finding that flavor out of season is a trick to be sure.  One of our favorite ways to capture the taste of summer is to make sauce.  Making your own sauce is as easy as 1-2-3.

We start out crushing and grinding about 40 medium sized tomatoes.  This is a whole lot of work so you might want to ask someone to help you.

As you can see we're not picky about whom we recruit.

Tomatoes crushed and ground we're ready to simmer down.  There is so much water in the tomato puree we need to reduce down to half.  We add a little olive oil, lots and lots of fresh basil, crushed garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. 

Sauce after about 3 hours of simmering on stove - yum!  Now we are ready to eat.

Dad and the kids opted for their sauce over penne.

A little pecorino romano cheese is a must.

Mom decided to have her sauce mixed with chick peas and zucchini.


We'll freeze the extra sauce so in winter we can have a taste of summer.

Bon Appetit!

Now what do we do with all these zucs and cukes?  Any ideas?

- Chris

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Let's play "What is it?"

While walking around our barn, we spotted this.  Is it black mold? 

Is it storm cloud?

Is it a swarm of locusts?  Could it be the end of the world.

 Is it an Inkblot test?  I see two porcupines sharing an ice cream cone.

Is it a skunk?  Aren't you glad this isn't a scratch and sniff blog!

Is it a constellation, Ursa Major?

Is it a satellite photo of the eye of a hurricane?

 Is it my newly upholstered couch in a Northwestern motif?

It's Major! Our Appaloosa with a classic spotted blanket.

Major came to us in 2008 from an auction in Pennsylvania. He had serious trust issues.  In time, using gentle horsemanship techniques, he turned out to be a great addition to the farm.  

- Chris