Monday, January 29, 2007

Winter Day in January

Brrrrr....at 4:30 a.m. the F temperature was 4 above zero; at 7:00 a.m. it was 7 above zero and at 11 a.m. it was 14 above. I'm not sure it got above freezing today, sure didn't feel like it. The wind wasn't so bad, only 10 to 15 mph but wind of any speed chills to the bone and sucks out what little warmth a body might have or hope to have.

Last night, the bedroom was frigid even with the small heater on medium and the mattress pad on high and the ceiling fan swirling. A two dog night if you know what that means. There's a clock thermometer combo in the bedroom and it read a little above 50 degrees. Again, not so bad except for the wind and the wind was howling last night. Wind chills were well below zero and the curtains were kept flitting most of the night.

The Workhorse battery died and we went to the farm equipment store to purchase a new one. We did call first, they assured us they had the battery in stock and charged, ready for installation. So...I hurried through chores (so cold, so very, very cold) and we headed to Lebanon only to find out, nope, wrong battery after all. So the owner's son calls around and after we decided to not jury rig the battery in stock, he finds a battery that could be delivered to the store tomorrow. I really dislike jury rigging anything, but especially a piece of equipment that, should something go wrong, will leave me with no options other than to discard it and start over. That's money, time, energy and effort wasted and for naught when the job could just as easily have been done correctly the first time.

There we stand. The right battery is due to be delivered some time tomorrow and by tomorrow night the Workhorse should be up and running again. I use the Workhorse on a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day, to carry and deliver hay to the horses and sheep, to check hay supplies in the pastures, to run fence lines, pick up trash, etc.
When we got home late this afternoon, I had to move horses from one pasture to another, lock them in, get out the tractor and move a round bale of hay. Round hay had to be put out for the mares and gelding and that meant riding on an open tractor, being in the freezing, below freezing really, cold, wind and snow and being frightfully careful because it's so icy and slick. I put the dogs in the farm truck to keep them from under wheel, turned the engine on to keep the battery charged and off I went. That particular chore took almost two hours of outside work.
The mares and gelding are now in the alfalfa field, side pasture where I placed the round bale of hay and they have access to the back pasture. They have plenty to eat but I'm concerned about their getting enough water. When it's so cold, the water freezes where there's no de-icer and it's harder to drink icy water than warmer water. By warmer water, I mean water that's not frozen. So...tomorrow I'll switch the stallion out to another pasture, turn the mares loose so they can get to the "warmer" water...it's a never ending battle of "switch the horses". Hopefully, some folks are sending a check for one of the stallions and, in a month or so, he'll move to his new home. That means no more playing "switch the horses". Right now I've two stallions and they must be kept apart or they fight; not good at all.
I'm hugging on HayJ, the American Curly x Percheron stallion and Danny Boy, his sire, is to our right. Everything was fine in "Eden" until, two years ago, mares were delivered to Danny for breeding. Gosh, did that ever change life on the farm forever! HayJ was an unproven three year old and by the time the mares left, he'd figured out why he had the equipment. He and his father fought then, fight now and all I can see in their future is a lifetime of fighting. Which, as you might imagine, makes it a trifle dangerous for anyone caught in the middle. As I can attest as I've been caught in the middle twice now. Fortunately, these are Curly horses and they listen well.
Once in the afternoon when son and father were fighting across a fence, all I had at hand was the shirt on my back...literally. So, I whipped off that shirt and started waving it between them to break their concentration. After a hard fought few minutes, they decided to stop fighting and I was able to lead Danny back to his pasture. I had left a gate open because I, stupidly, thought Danny would stay in his pasture if he had his nose tucked into some hay. And so he would have, if he hadn't smelled some mares in season and then he was off!

The second time they fought, HayJ managed to pushed down a fence and a gate and make his escape. That morning, at 1 a.m. I'm standing in the road with shawl in hand, nightgown and slippers on my body, and telling HayJ, "go back to the barn NOW you black beast! NOW, I SAY, NOW!" Thank You, God...HayJ listened. I'm not sure how cold it was that morning but would venture a guess of around 40 F above. Cold enough to get my attention but not cold enough to do serious harm.

So...anytime anyone asks what it is I do on the farm I'm, frankly, at a loss for words. How do I tell someone of the adventures, the perils, the misadventures? How do I explain to someone this life is the only one for me, the only one I've ever wanted and known so since I was six years old?


How do I explain racial memories...of baking bread, of delivering lambs, of tending a garden, sitting at my spinning wheel, knitting...so many things that are simply right for me and this life; knowing God has given me this gift, this desire of my heart...this Thistle Cove Farm. Knowing I am living the life He designed for me; having spent bitter tears in years wasted, years the locust had taken but seeing His promise delivered to me. He has given me the years the locast has taken, He has added life to my years, He has blessed me beyond my deserving and all He asks is my miserable life in return.
We both think we've gotten the better end of the deal and we're both right.
Bless God. Bless His holy name.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Winter Cold

Winter is here...finally! and Baby, it's COLD! At 7:45 this morning it was 23 degrees F above zero and two hours later it was 19 degrees F above zero. There's snow on the ground and we're expecting four to six inches before stopping. The poor Earth doesn't know what to expect nor what to do. Trees are budding, flowers are beginning to bloom and now cruel cold.

Oh, it's not bad and, in fact, welcome when in due season. But, out of season just makes it cruel. I'd rather winter be here Dec, Jan and Feb with a teaser in March and spring in April. But, I'm not in charge and who asked me anyway.

Sheep and horses have shelter, food and warm water. Water tanks have de-icers and that makes for warmer water which means animals drink more which means less chance of colic. Colic, as you might well imagine, is a bad thing...a very bad thing.
I didn't make it to church today; the only place I did make it was to the barn but I was dressed in church clothes. I thought I'd do my chores then head for church but it was so icy & it wasn't worth hitting black ice and spinning out. So, I headed back to the house and stayed in for the most part.

Supper tonight was lovely...pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes with garlic and cheese, green beans, fried applies and biscuits. A neighbor feasted with us and we all over-indulged. It's hard not to when it's good home cooking!
Back to knitting my lovely purple wool shawl and hope to have it ready for wearing by the end of this week. I've still to finish putting the top, middle and bottom of my quilts together so I can begin hand quilting.
There's Fiber Femmes and FF blog work to be done; a meeting with Leslie...the week is looking full. Now, let's hope the weather cooperates and I'm able to do those things and more.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

middle of January

When we moved to Thistle Cove Farm, it wasn't officially named. It was called by the name of the carpetbaggers who moved here after the War(Any Southerner worth their salt knows which War) whose name was "White". The White family bought a two-story brick house and stable, barns and other outbuildings for $300, the sum due to the county for back taxes. The White's owned this farm, including a few hundred to a thousand acres, until 1948 when a man named Gillespie bought it. I don't know how much he paid for it but, over time, the acreage was sold off until just the homestead and 28 acres were left. That's what we bought in 1995.

Names are important and powerful, as are words. I try to be careful, some times more than others, on the words I use and how I use them. I believe, against what some call "reasonable doubt" that everything already has a name but I have to figure it out. All the animals here have names that are specific to them; they also have nicknames specific to each animal. Naming the farm was no small deed.

Dave and I worked on it for a couple of months and had many names we liked but didn't ring true. Until "Thistle Cove Farm" came to mind. We had a bodacious crop of thistles, we're in the toe of the Cove and it's a farm...bingo! It fit then and still does and we love both the name and the farm.

People have told me it "sounds like a fairy farm", "it sounds warm and cozy", "I want your life" and they do want my life...in the summer.

When I talk about chores in winter, my life becomes less appealing. Breaking ice and carrying water are hard tasks but necessary for the survival of the animals. Right now, Lightly has a mild case of founder; she's such an easy keeper it's hard to keep weight off her. Like humans, the more weight, the more health problems so she's in a "short dry lot"...all of which means she's getting a smidgen of hay each day and all the fresh, cool water she can drink. The thought is if she drinks a lot of water, she'll flush the toxins from her system. Please God, let this be so!

When chores allow me to return to the house, I settle in with knitting a purple wool tri-shawl. It's the basic dishcloth shawl but with some extras thrown in to make/keep it interesting. I enjoy simple design work but it has to be something I can pick up and put down easily enough. On a farm, emergencies seem to crop up frequently and randomly so knitting, sewing and other hand work need to be kept simple.

My Turning Twenty quilts are coming along nicely. I'm sewing strips of squares together today and have the backings and battings for both. By Thursday night's Quilting Bee, I hope to have everything ready to be pieced together so we can meld top, batting and bottom together.

I've been reading the biography of Norman Vincent Peale and enjoying it greatly. He was such a positive man and had a huge impact for good and God during his long life. I'm also reading Mason Dixon knitting and getting some good design ideas bouncing around.

The weather is cold, windy, snowy, icy - a good day for staying inside warm and cozy; a pot of soup sound like just the thing to round out the day.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Quilting and Sewing Machines

My Quilting Bee group, graciously, allowed me to bring home one of their sewing machines to sew my quilt squares. I'm working on two "Turning Twenty" quilts, already have them cut out and need to sew the squares so I can piece the quilts together.

It's been decades since I've touched a sewing machine and my sewing machine is a black Singer model that sews a straight line but it can do it in reverse as well. I've been trying to finish a camera lens holder (for Deborah and I'm only a few months behind schedule...but that's a whole 'nother story) but can't figure out how to make the machine work. By that I mean, I can't figure out (neither can Dave) how to get the back off it so I can thread the needle. Apparently, this newer model (newer than my fifty year old machine) has to be threaded "inside" the body, over the needle. Therein lies the problem...how to get the cover off so I can thread the needle.

sigh.

I'm going to have to go to Quilting Bee tonight with NO sewn squares! I told Dave, "you know what this means...I'm either getting my sewing machine repaired OR I'm buying a new one!"

Anyone have comments on what kind of sewing machine to buy? I'm convinced that any machine made in the last twenty years is going to be smarter than I.

Why oh why did I tell my family they were getting quilts for Christmas this year!?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Snow and Seeds


The first major snow storm of the season is falling and we've a couple of inches on the ground. Vision is a few feet, only double digits, and we're expecting six inches...depending upon neighbor, television, radio or computer. More than likely, one of them will be right.
The deer we saw on Cove Creek at the other end of Tazewell County. Dave's family owns land there and it's a good place to see wildlife, pick dye materials and enjoy a good view.
It's got to be winter because seed catalogues are arriving. One of my favorites is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, in Missouri, a rare seed catalogue. They have some wonderful seeds, both native to the USA and from around the world. I'd love to attend their Heritage Days, the first Sunday of each month, April through December; looks like it would be great fun, informative and educational as well.

A couple of years ago, I met Jere Gettle of Baker Creek, he's an impressive young man who is doing his part to change the world for the better. He's a proponent of locally grown food using sustainable methods; none of that gene-altered or mass produced food in his catalogue! He married last year and I wish he and his wife, Emilee, many productive years and happiness. I share my prayer with you...may God give you the strength to do the work He has set before you both.

Another favorite catalogue is Stark Bro's also in Missouri. Daddy has been buying from Stark Bro's for years and they have fine fruit, nut and landscaping trees. I'm eyeing the Northcountry Blueberry bushes, Arkansas Black Apple and Northstar Pie Cherry trees. The Barcelona Filbert/Hazelnuts look good as well as do the butternuts, chestnuts and pecans. Everything will produce in zone 6, where Thistle Cove Farm is located. I think a persimmon tree would do well here and the Prok American Persimmon looks good.

Bountiful Gardens, out of California, has heirloom, untreated, open-pollinated seeds. They say radiation in the harvest is reduced by 30% when biointensive composting and double-digging methods are used. Their catalogue isn't as flashy as the other two but, still, some good and useful information.

All the sheep and horses have been fed for the night; everyone has shelter from the storm. It's best not to brush the snow from the backs of the animals, snow acts as an insulator to keep them warm. Winds shouldn't be heavy tonight, just 10 to 20 mph, everyone should be fine. Barn cats have wooly fleeces to sleep upon and they curl up together so no troubles there.

There are three loaves of bread rising in the oven and we'll have creamed chipped beef over home made bread for supper. I make the bread what I've got...today I used wheat, rice, white and bran flour with all sorts of seeds, nuts and grains added. It's a wonderful, dense, chewy bread and popular with friends and neighbors. When used for fried bread and topped with butter and fruit, honey, jelly or maple syrup it makes a fine breakfast.

Stay warm and safe; may God give you the strength to do the work He has set before you.

Monday, January 08, 2007

January 2007

This is the view coming in from Rt. 19, Wardell. It's lovely and I always pause to admire God's handiwork and thank Him for the blessing of living in the Cove.
This is an agriculture area, mostly cattle with some sheep and horses. I believe I've got the largest flock of colored sheep in southwest Virginia as well as the only herd of rare, hypoallergenic American (Bashkir) Curly horses. All my animals are raised to be companion animals; I'm too old to waste time in hospital because I've broken a bone on a peckish horse. It's imperative my horses be gentle and calm. A few weeks ago, HayJ, the son of Danny Boy, broke out of his pasture, just after midnight, and was pestering his father over a gate. I went outside, clad only in a nightgown, slippers and shawl and spoke sternly to HayJ. "You! HayJ! Go back to the barn, stop this nonsense NOW!" He turned to look at me, I flapped my shawl at him a couple of times and he turned and walked back to the barn.

By the way...HayJ is a Curly x Percheron, about 18 hands and almost 2,000 pounds. See what I mean about raising companion animals? They must be raised and trained to bend their will to mine; there's absolutely no way I can "make" an animal that large do anything they don't want to do.

There used to be turkey drives in our valley - no kidding...but now it's only cattle, sheep and horses. We have a very small farm, the smallest in the valley and our neighbors all have acreages of one thousand acres or more. Not all their acreage is contiguous and they move animals from pasture to pasture as needs dictate. These cattle were being moved from a pasture to their barn lot where they would be vetted. Most people around here do their own doctoring and only call in a vet when it's a huge emergency or the last effort.

Thursdays nights are reserved for my Quilting Bee; a fine group of women who gather together to help one another, share stories and touch base with each other's lives. Most of these women have known each other for decades but they have made me feel very welcome. They helped me finish a small block lap quilt and we took photos, signed a card and are sending it to a service person who needs remembering.

I cut material for two quilts at a time; makes it easier and it's no more trouble than cutting for one. I've cut enough material for two quilts and materials already purchased for the next two after these. I've decided to give quilts for Christmas this year as friends/family members have a knitted scarf and/or hat. It's time for something different and a "Turning Twenty" quilt is easy enough for my limited skills; at least, I've been assured this is true.

It's time for a HOT shower; my back feels like it's seizing up...probably because of the large rocks I moved today. They were in the way of where I wanted to put the truck. Danny Boy's has a run-in shelter but he likes standing in a spot where there's no wind break on one side and, silly me, I like to think he's not suffering when the cold winds blow. So, that meant moving the rocks that were blocking the path of the truck; now that means a hot bath, ibuprofen and muscle rub.

Dave thinks I'm crazy for working as hard as I work but I love it. I count it all joy to live here, to work here and to be a steward of this piece of heaven on earth.

Happy New Year - may the worst of 2007 be from the best of 2006!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

6 weird things & Fiber Femmes

Leslie has a 6 weird things about me thing going on at her blog and I've decided to join in. I had to look up weird though; wasn't sure I knew, exactly, what it meant. Weird comes from Middle English, wyrd, and means fate, destiny, magical, unearthly, mysterious, odd, unusual, spooky, eerie. Hmmm...not sure how that applies to me but here goes.

1. I'm an 8th generation shepherd and farmer living in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of southwest VA at Thistle Cove Farm.
Daddy's family came to this country in the mid 1600's and made their way to, what is now, WV and settled. Myrich heritage includes shepherds, farmers, preachers, teachers and lawyers.
Well! this answers how weird applies to me...I don'tmuch believe in fate but I do believe in "God things". For example, it's a God thing I'm a shepherd. I've wanted to be a farmer since I was 6 years old but didn't find out my Daddy's people were shepherds until years after I'd become a shepherd.

2. I read, almost, too much. I've gotten into the habit of reading before sleep...in fact, I almost *have* to read before I turn out the light and go to sleep. Sometimes, if I have to get up in the night I'll read a chapter or two before going back to sleep. (At least it's not checking e-mail!) Speaking of sleep...I have to have eight hours or I can't function; less than eight hours and I'm just about worthless.

3. I love having a clean house but I hate housecleaning...I'd much, much rather muck out the barn than run a vacuum. I'd rather do almost anything than clean house and will take it in small chunks in order to try and keep up.

4. I love to travel but would rather be home than any place on earth.

5. I've developed some pretty spectacular recipes - shortbread, bird seed bread, soups and am a dab hand around the kitchen.

6. I read the Bible through every year and, what's more, enjoy it.

We've been working on the latest issue of Fiber Femmes and it's pretty darn great! Leslie just keeps coming up with some wonderful ideas to make it even better. I've enjoyed my Fiber Femme partnership with Leslie and am looking forward to many more years of Fiber Femmes.
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