Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's OK To Love Your Life

Each year around now, I turn contemplative, as the date dictates I should. Back when I was editing magazines, I'd write an editorial that outlined everything I had learned that year, and the goals I had for the following year. It was an exercise in humility ... did I do enough this year? Will my readers be sufficiently impressed? Are my goals lofty enough for next year? Ugh.
The year 2009 has been a tumultuous one for me. Virtually nothing is the same in my life today as it was a year ago. And I mean big stuff ... husband, home, job, pets, friends. As one new friend cogently stated "life circumstances changed." Indeed. But I'm not writing today to whine about all my self-induced change (because that's what it was) or lament about relics of the past. My message today is that I love my life; and it's OK for you to love yours as well.
I experienced a little epiphany the other day. As I sat on the floor playing with my early Christmas present from my sweetie, a 10-week-old Cairn Terrier puppy I named Pearl, I felt a twinge of guilt. At the moment just prior to that, amidst Pearl's puppy growling and air-twirling, I felt sheer and total bliss, utter happiness. My conscience said to me ... "shouldn't you be doing something that makes you miserable, like cleaning toilets, or 'querying' editors about writing assignments?" I texted my sweetie and asked: "What's up with that? Catholic guilt or something?" Why must I feel guilty about being truly happy, for once in a long, long time? The answer is that I don't. So it's true ... I don't have a high-powered office job anymore; I take care of a few dozen animals every day on this farm; I cook supper from scratch every night; I knit and sew the things we need like potholders, curtains and wash cloths; I clean, organize and do laundry; I cheer when I see dead rodents that the dogs or cats have killed outside (and sometimes inside!); and I wait with anticipation for my sweetie to get home from the office every night because ... I love this new life we've created together. (And I love him more than words can express.) For me, it's a life full of inquiry; so much more than when I sat in an office chair every day and was assigned the tasks of creating 5-year plans, performance evaluations, competitive analyses, and the like. Each day is different--I never know what I'll find when I step outside the door and into the barnyard--and by my own choosing. 
I was chatting with MaryJane Butters on the phone last week and I shared my "epiphany" with her. She seconded my conclusion and said "yes, why can't we just sit and play with a puppy if we want to, or grandchildren" or whatever for that matter. It's OK to love your life exactly as it is, this day. Embrace those moments of clarity, silence the inner chatter, and revel in the bliss of a puppy's gentle yip or a grandbaby's smile. We don't have to feel guilty or busy ourselves with other, "more important" work because ... there simply isn't any.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Heart George

For about 6 months now, we've had a pair of Katahdin sheep at the farm: Missy, the bottle lamb, and Annie, a ewe. We were waiting until just the right time in fall to bring home our ram from Bryan Welch's farm, the publisher of GRIT, Mother Earth News and a bunch of other titles. So a few weekends ago, we loaded him up (no easy task) and into the pen with our ewes he went. After doing that thing where you squint your eyes and look at a new animal and try to decide what his name should be, I wanted to name him Ramses. He looked regal and I thought he should be named after a king. My sweetie scoffed and said "I'd rather call him George or something." Yes! That was it ... George: The perfect name for this handsome creature.
George is somewhat famous as far as we're concerned. He is the grandson of Wendell Berry's ram. (If you're unsure of who Wendell Berry is, do an Amazon search and you'll find pages and pages of novels, essays and poems, mostly about agriculture, by him.) And George, what an aristocratic ovine he is ... his big eyes, his gentle nature, his luxuriating ways. He is a quarter Cheviot, and 3/4 Katahdin; enough so that he doesn't need to be sheared. I have trained him, along with the ewes, to take molasses treats from my hand. He stares at me with his expressive eyes, sizes up whether I can be trusted, then darts in between the girls to get what's rightfully his. He smells the treat first, I press it into his lips and he gently takes it and steps back. I have no doubt that come Easter, we'll have spring lambs bouncing around the farm!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Book Club Beckons

One of the things I knew I'd miss about my life in Lexington, Ky., was my book club. Having been in one for the past 10 years (one in California, and the other that I helped start in Kentucky), it has become an important part of my life. In the past, the Modus Operandi was always to hand select a group of 5 to 7 women with various things in common--work, horses, crafting, and of course, taste in books--and invite them to join the club. You always had to be careful who you invited, because group dynamics is so important in a situation like book club. You can't have people who are too opinionated, too quiet, too talkative, too this or too that. You also can't have people who never read the book because that just irritates the other members to no end. And, you always have to put some care and thought into your book selection because you are taking 5 to 7 peoples' lives (oops, I mean time) into your hands. In other words, if the book is a dud, you'll hear about it!
So, upon arrival here in Kansas, I set about organizing my next book club with a new MO. This time, I decided I couldn't wait around to be magically introduced to the fun, fabulous and intelligent women I was seeking, so I took matters into my own hands, via Craigslist! Under the community/groups tab, I posted a  chirpy note, a la Joan Holloway (on Mad Men), recruiting cool ladies who loved to read ... the kind of books I like to read, not necessarily the ones Oprah wants us to read. I love historical fiction (like The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver or Serena, by Ron Rash) and memoirs (The Glass Castle, My Life in France) so anyone game for that type of book is in!   
I got three responses for a total of four women--a mother/daughter duo, a 27-year-old single mom, and a retired reference librarian/cob-house-builder-farmer--and we meet for the first time this Saturday. I selected Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates and I already heard back that it was hated by two members. Hee hee. I loved it ... what dialog ... what messed up people! And so much to talk about, group dynamics aside. Can't wait to see how this cold-call book club turns out ... Ladies, this will be FUN!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beautiful Bread

This past weekend I took to kitchen experimenting. After seeing a blurb about Jim Lahey's book My Bread in Saveur, I literally drove straight to the bookstore in Topeka and bought it. I read the introduction about how he came to develop such a reverance for bread and wanted to produce loaves that are truly unique and extraordinary. He worked in many bakeries, traveled Europe (Italy mostly) and experimented with many different methods before he landed on his masterpiece method--the no-knead method. Seemed straight up my alley.

I combined the bread flour, yeast, water and salt and left it to sit for 18 hours. This morning I patted it with some flour and corn meal and turned it out onto a floured tea towel to rise for one more hour. Then I heated a cast iron pot at 475 degrees for 30 minutes and baked it covered for 30 minutes (remove the plastic knob on your lid first or else it will melt at that temperature; then plug hole with a little wad of foil). Took the cover off and baked for another 20 minutes. What I have now gracing my kitchen is the most gorgeous hunk of crackling gluten. As the snow falls here in Osage county for the first time this year, I'm planning a dinner around this bread ... chicken apple-spice sausage, baked butternut squash, a red-leaf lettuce salad with vinaigrette and this. My sweetie already emailed me to ask if next I was hand-churning butter. You know, it's not that hard to do...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The View From Here

I write today from my little corner of the farmhouse in Kansas. I should be out feeding the pigs, goats and donkeys, but I've missed you all and I've missed telling my story. I'll get to them in a minute.

The last few days, ahem, weeks, have been life changing, but I believe for the best. Change is always difficult, especially for anyone who is even the slightest bit uncertain or emotionally unprepared. For me, my mind is always in a bit of hyperactive turmoil (just like Jim Lahey put it), so a new man, a new home, a new town, new animals, a new job ... wait ... can be oh-so-challenging.

But, like the horizon I snapped last night while out walking the farm, the future is vast and full of possibilities. In every corner of the land I see potential. There is so much work to be done on this farm--mainly fixing up and cleaning up--but with all hands on deck it's totally doable.

I have so many projects germinating in my mind, it's hard to decide which to focus on. It's a wonderful, blessed place to be in life--too many ideas but not enough money--because it lets one put things into perspective. It's humbling and I feel myself growing closer to God every day.

More Notes from the Nook later ... now I think I hear those goats bleating.    

Friday, October 23, 2009

Desperately Seeking ... Sage

The last two weeks have flown by as I've been packing and sorting, tossing and Goodwill-ing. And not only are the boxes piling up ... so is the tension! How on earth will I get all this done in one week?

I've got little time to write, but wanted to ask you all for tips on how to get through this stressful period. Got any tips for a 12-hour road trip in a moving truck, pulling a car trailer and three goats? Please help! And let's not forget the unloading, sorting and unpacking that will follow.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Do We (Really) Need?

With my new ultra-frugal mindset, I've been reveling in all this "simplifying." As I pack up the debris of my life in preparation for my impending move, I've begun to question my old ways. "Why did I need to buy that?" I've asked myself many times, rolling my eyes, as it gets tossed into the Goodwill box. I look around at some of my stuff with a whole new set of eyes. Things just look different now. I don't really need new clothes, new shoes, or that bauble from the Pottery Barn catalog. (I will make an exception for the Duluth Trading Company though!)
When you get down to brass tacks, what do we really need?
 The things I need are this:
     1. The genuine, honest love of my partner
     2. A roof over my head (preferably with running water and electricity)
     3. Home-raised, home-cooked food*
     4. Work to occupy my mind and satisfy my innate curiosity
     5. Wide-open spaces to commune with nature and the night skies
I'm on the road to these simple pleasures, and I can't get there fast enough! In the meantime, I'm making this delicious soup with home-raised chicken:
*Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 cup celery, diced
2 packages (4 oz. each) long grain/wild rice mix with seasoning packets
5 cups chicken broth
5 cups water
Combine all ingredients in a greased slow cooker. Cook on low 4 to 6 hours or until rice is tender.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Whirlwind Week

Over the past week I visited California to attend my aunt's wedding. She met the man of her dreams and three months later, they got married. She's the most generous, genuine person I know, so of course I was overjoyed for her. I brought my Kansas sweetie along and he met my entire family. In a predominantly female family, I think the few males were elated to have a real man's man to reconnoiter. Oh yes, conversations about hunting and ear-sniffing coyotes and the differences between cowboys and farmers abounded. (Hint: farmers don't press creases into their jeans. And, farmers wear Levis; cowboys wear Wranglers.) My California kin are decidely cowboys, and me and the Mister are definitely farmers. Glad to have that all established.
As soon as I landed back in Kentucky, before I could say "Jack Rabbit," I hit the road and drove to upstate New York, almost 600 miles. Though I can't really divulge entirely what I'm working on just yet, I will say that it's a television show. We shot the pilot among the glorious fall color along beautiful Oatka Trail in Mumford. It's a breath of fresh air learning a new medium in which to communicate: challenging, but ultimately rewarding because I can feel myself growing by being pushed out of my comfort zone. I never had to face 55+ mph winds while trying to write an editorial from my desk! Stay tuned for progress reports on the show.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extreme (Goat) Home Makeover

This morning I continued to "strip" the barn as requested by the purchasers of my farm. By now I've hauled out about 20 cartloads of spent hay, and I couldn't help but mutter under my breath about how wasteful those spoiled little goats of mine are.What goes through their mind when they eat hay ... "oh, this isn't a good piece, I'll just let that fall out of my mouth." Their wasted hay always makes the greatest garden mulch for me, peppered with little pellets of nitrogen, but since I'm moving, it just needs to be hauled on out.

Where the goats are going in Kansas, they will not be living in the manner to which they've grown accustomed. In Kentucky, they have a four-stall horse barn, individual doghouses, Cool-A-Roo beds in the breezeway and a lovely, enclosed barnyard with logs to climb. They are simply pets, and they're spoiled. Rotten. My sweetie is "Mr. Range Animal" and thinks they are absurd. I've always known this to be true about my goats, but it is what it is. So, when we arrive in Kansas soon, the three Pygmy goats will be sharing space with a flock of chickens and their housing will consist of a converted Butler building to which we've cut windows and installed screening. The goat ghetto?

I actually think it will be a lot of fun to see them in their new surroundings, reacting to chickens and nibbling on all the new plants. I still need to figure out logistical points like getting them warm water in the winter, but I know it will all work out. Adventures in livestock ... sign me up!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pickin' Up the Needles

The fall weather beckons! There is a crispness in the air and it causes me to want to knit. For some reason I always put down my knitting in spring and pick it back up again in the fall. Even though it makes sense since so much goes on outside during that time, it's actually a really poor strategy, because if I had kept knitting through the summer, I'd have a slew of Christmas gifts ready by now. But ... I've had a few things going on in my life over the summer, so knitting has taken a back seat. 

I searched for a long time for a craft that is a) cheap, b) doesn't require a bunch of obscure/expensive tools, and c) is portable. Knitting is perfect.

Since I'll be moving to the Topeka area, I found out about a great shop from friend Jenny Burtwistle called the Yarn Barn in Lawrence. They offer tons of classes and I want to sign up for the Beginner Brush-up class where you can bring in an unfinished project and they'll help you finish it and start another. I started a basic shell (tank sweater) last fall and I would love nothing better than to be able to wear it finally.

I love the idea of sitting in a yarn shop, needles clacking, putting my hands to work. Working with one's hands is so important to me. Anyone can type on a keyboard, but learning an actual skill is so much more rewarding. I loved the classes I took at the Stitch Niche in Lexington. Amy taught me everything I know and all the women working there are always happy to answer questions. I know knitting is sort of "trendy" now, but deservedly so. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

Husbanding Lunch

Today I had lunch with veterinary columnist, Dr. Dianne Hellwig. Dianne and I have been friends for a few years, and we've even spent holidays together. She raises Rambouillet sheep, Spanish goats and horses. I can't remember the last time I actually had a 2 1/2-hour lunch with someone and didn't want it to end. I had time to have a leisurely lunch! In some ways she and I are in similar places in our lives. She has just emerged from the so-called hallowed ground of academia, while I've just come out of the rat race of corporate America. What did we learn from our experiences?

1. You're never too old to reinvent yourself
2. Your work stands on its own
3. Don't define yourself by your "job"
4. There are a lot of people out there who just don't care, but we can't dwell on that

Dianne spoke about while she was in school in the 1980s, the poultry experts were trying to figure out what magic formula they could feed chickens so they wouldn't develop aneurisms and die (from growing so fast). At the time she spoke up and said, "how about we don't engineer chickens to grow so fast?" That wasn't too popular, because common sense doesn't reign supreme in American agriculture. Profit does. Instead of a common sense solution to a problem, the current rationale is that we must invent a technological one.

I'm reading Gene Logsdon's novel The Last of the Husbandmen . It begins in 1940 and ends in 1985 and chronicles the "get big or get out" model of agriculture. When I told Dianne about the book, she remarked that when she was getting her degree, it was called "Animal Husbandry." Just after she graduated, it changed to "Animal Science." It echoes the fact that during that time, animals stopped being individuals for which we needed to husband--to care for--but merely science projects to be engineered to most efficiently feed the masses. It's a good read, and an entertaining way to learn about that period in our agricultural history. I certainly hope the pendulum is swinging back toward smaller, diversified family farms.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Money-saving Mode

quiche, salad and vinaigrette for the week
For the past few months, and especially in the past two weeks, I've been in serious money-saving mode. Like clamp down, for real. You gain a whole new perspective on life when suddenly you can't really afford organic broccoli or $5.99 packages of chicken sausage from Whole Foods. 
So today is Sunday and I thought I would prepare some food for the week in real frugal fashion. The day began with me selling a tine dethatcher on Craigslist for $50. Bingo! Grocery money! So I went to the store and bought two frozen pie shells (store brand of course), a pint of half and half, conventional broccoli crowns, an on-sale bag of shredded mozzarella and an on-sale package of turkey polska kielbasa. For $9.81 I made two delicious quiches, which will last about a week and a half. Here's the recipe:

Farm-fresh quiche (makes one pie)
3 eggs (I used farm-fresh eggs from my sweetheart's flock in Kansas that I carried back last time I drove--10 hours!)
1 1/2 cups blanched broccoli
1 cup half-and-half, milk or cream
1/2 cup grated cheese (whatever you have)
pinch of cayenne
pinch of salt
9" prebaked pie shell 
1 cooked polska kielbasa, sausage or bacon (optional)

Prebake the pie shell according to package directions (about 10 minutes) on a baking sheet. Lay in the blanched broccoli, then the cooked sausage. Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, cheese, and spices. Pour the custard over the broccoli and sausage in the pie shell. Bake at 375 for about 35-40 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

I also bought the cheapest lettuce on display at Kroger--a head of red-leaf lettuce for $1.59. I never buy salad dressing at the store, so I pulled these basic ingredients from the pantry and made my own:

Versatile Vinaigrette (from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers)
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup olive oil

Whir all the ingredients together in a blender. Dressing will keep in fridge for weeks. Let it sit out for about 15 minutes before using to let the oils come to room temperature.

Now I will eat happily and well for the week!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcome to My Home Farm

My Home Farm is about life, love, and the constant change on a farm.

This is my barn in Kentucky
For the past two weeks, I've had time to think. I mean, really think. For the first time in about 23 years, I have been without a job. I've never slept better in my life! No countless emails demanding immediate responses; no managers assigning endless tasks; no surly co-workers to contend with. Just time on the farm, doing what I want to do. 

So what does a suddenly unemployed farm girl do with her time?

1. I've created this blog
2. I've made multiple batches of pesto and quiche for the freezer
3. I visited with my mom who flew out from California
4. I went prairie chicken hunting in Nebraska
5. I spent a week in Kansas at my sweetheart's farm
6. I sold my farm in Kentucky
7. And I just booked a moving truck!

Stay tuned for my adventures in moving and my new life in Kansas. There will be lots to say ...