Oh how I miss this place...
September has been so very busy! Shearing, harvesting, photo-shooting, article-writing, homeschool-prepping, traveling (Mother Earth News Fair with Taproot magazine!), kids' sport practice transporting, fiber-dyeing, Common Ground Fair-ing...and we're only half way through the month! I am utterly exhausted, but trying to get through and remain healthy.
I'm feeling like my poor garden got the short end of the stick this summer, and I am missing it sorely. Of some things we have plenty, but many others we have none. Successive plantings did not happen, blight caught the tomatoes for the first time, the weeds took over, and plenty of insects had their way this year.
Well, I suppose we can only do what we can do. There is always next year!
This sweater is fresh off the needles, knitted up in our 40% Mohair 60% Finnsheep worsted weight yarn, hand dyed with cochineal and madder root. It's knit with a loose gauge, making it swingy and sweet. Come and see it, and other samples, this weekend at the Common Ground Fair!
I have a complete and total infatuation with all things Scotland. And no, not because of the Outlander series (although that did reaffirm some of my reasons for loving that great, beautiful, magical country of kilt-wearers).
My family has strong ties there with our Scottish heritage being very directly linked to both Clan MacKenzie and Clan Hamilton. It is the only place I have every traveled to where I feel like I am home. Like I belong, and not only that, like I have belonged for hundreds of years. Like these are my people, and this place resonates so deeply within my soul that I would drop everything and move there in a heartbeat.
Scotland calls to me when I am not there, and when I am there, I cry. I weep because it is the place I feel as if I spent my entire childhood searching for. It truly feels as if every trail leads to a magical portal, every stream to a fairyland, and any moment a unicorn could come stepping through the fog.
I realize that those of you who already read this blog are probably Taproot readers as well, so maybe this isn't much of an update or surprise. But, the most recent issue contains an article that I wrote and photographed, and I'm going to mention it here because it was probably the best time I have ever had working on a piece. Beautiful light, wonderful people, and amazing subjects.
So, if you don't already receive the magazine in the mail, order it! If not for this article, then for the many other lovely articles and contributions from folks like me.
Also, if you are interested in learning more about me, my farm or the article itself, head over to the Taproot Journal page for a little interview about it all!
I think I write about this every year, but as any farmer or gardener will tell you, its kind of a monumental thing. Somewhere near the end of July, there comes a distinct tipping of the scales that has nothing to do with temperature, the name of the month, or even the proximity of the start of the school year for some. It is the very slightest and faintest whisperings of autumn. It's just a whisper, a murmur, at first. Eventually one cannot ignore the signs of fall, but this is different...it's not just feeling it, it's knowing it in your bones. It stops me in my tracks; the way the wind touches my face, the way the light comes through the woods at the end of the day. I envision, quite literally, a scale, and it has begun to lean a little heavier to one side.
It can bring me to my knees, the sudden instinct to hold dear all of the memories of warmth and sun. This season is so fleeting in the North East, and there is something quite magical about the light in August. That hazy, warm evening glow is something I miss all too dearly come February, when you know you still have a solid two months of winter remaining.
I just returned from Connecticut with a huge and lovely batch of freshly processed yarn! Although I am excited about doing a lot of natural dyeing in the upcoming two months, I often find myself just sitting and staring at the natural colors piled in the living room.
All of this beautiful fiber will be making its way to the Common Ground Fair this September, where I am thrilled to have a tent! The Fair is a special place, and holds a very large and important space in my heart and childhood memories. It feels so special to take part in this MOFGA organized event, and I am truly honored to have a presence there. If you are coming, please stop by and say hello!
This summer is passing more quickly than any in my memory. It's been so very busy around here, in mostly good ways, that we have not even made it to the beach save for this one day on Chebeague Island at the beginning of June. And then, swimming was out of the question because the days (and water temp!) had not warmed up enough. Last year we only made it to the ocean once as well, and I mustn't let that happen again!
I keep imagining of ways to achieve the colors above with our yarn dyeing...I think I would call it "Chebeague". Pretty original, eh?
By the way, the above picture was taken at Maine Fiddle Camp. This was our first year attending, and it was magical. Beck and Cora have been playing fiddle/violin for almost 5 years and 3 years, respectively. For a nine-year-old just stepping into his own independence, this weekend could not have been better for all of us. He could check in with me whenever he wanted to, but felt so safe and self-confident that I barely saw him!
I recently held a six hour natural-dyeing workshop for eight kids. It was so gratifying. They were all "oooooh" when they got to wash the dirty wool, and all "aaaaaaah" when they watched the magical color change that occurs when fiber emerges from an indigo vat. In short, involving kids in these fiber processes is wonderful, as their natural curiosities shine when they are allowed to get their hands dirty. We only need slow down to their pace.
And so, in that spirit, I am offering a series of fiber workshops for children.
Whew! What a month! We are officially done with lambing and kidding for the year, which feels like a relief at the moment. Everyone is healthy and doing well, and I feel as if I learned a monumental amount in this first season of births here on the farm. In total, we ended up with 7 lambs and 6 kids.
- May was a lovely time for kidding...lots of green grass, and no heat lamps or sweaters needed!
- Note to self: have some kid sweaters ready to go...just in case.
- Need more lanterns.
- Hand and feet warmers really were lovely during those evening hours of waiting and watching.
- Sympathy births really are a thing.
This list will grow, as I think of things. I just learned today that the ear tags actually are mandatory, as in illegal not to have them...who knew? Maybe everyone except me?
Cora insists, by the way, that shoes are not necessary when entering the barn and pasture. I pick my battles. Also, we've had lots of rain. This has been good for the garden and emerging flowers, but not so good for bare feet in manure.
Lots of yummy stuff coming out of the ground, both wild and cultivated. Cora has proclaimed that fiddleheads cooked in butter and garlic is her favorite food; "even better than ice cream". And I made a ridiculous nettle, potato and leek soup that is my new springtime staple.
I must admit, the poor garden right now is suffering a bit. I'm behind because I did not start seedlings this year. I was afraid that I would not have the time to water and care for them as I should, with the baby animals arriving. I just didn't know what to expect. As a result, I'm scrambling to find tomato seedlings, and throwing stuff in the ground willy-nilly. I have to remind myself that it's okay if I need to back off from that right now, but boy it's hard.
I hope, friends, that this Spring has been good to you.
I've always learned better, in general, with a hands-on method. Getting my hands dirty, so to speak. And that is just the way my foray into Caprine Midwifery began.
I tried to stagger the breeding this year so that not everybody would lamb/kid at once. It worked out well, and with Angora goats being a bit more susceptible to Pneumonia, I was grateful that their deliveries were to come in warmer weather. Honestly, I hadn't meant to time it such that anyone would arrive on Mother's Day, but I think there is something lovely and symbolic about the idea that they possibly could.
As it turned out, nobody did arrive on Mother's day, but rather the day after. And It was quite the experience for both myself and the mama goat. Her water bag appeared around 9:00pm, and I called for my mother to come over, if she wanted to watch. But, around 10:30 we began to wonder if everything was okay. Her contractions had stopped, and she was laying down, with no pushing. Juno, the mother, had been very uncomfortable for most of her pregnancy, being a Pygora bred (not intentionally!) to a full sized Angora buck, so I had suspected it may be a difficult birth for her. For the last month, her vaginal walls had been residing outside her vulva in plain sight. As the vet said, "when they run out of room, something's gotta give, and that's the first to go." Ouch.
I lubed up and gently felt just inside the opening, where I was met with the nose of the first kid. So we waited a little longer, and decided around 11:00pm that it was time to call the vet. She was amazing, and asked me if I was comfortable reaching in and adjusting the kid, as she suspected that some body part or another was not in its proper position. I said I did, and she proceeded to talk me through the entire procedure.
The poor little one had tried to come out with its legs back, instead of forward, like a dive, next to its nose. So, after getting my arm in through the cervix, which was still not very dilated, I managed to hook my finger first underneath the right leg, then the left. In order to do this, I had to push the head back in. Once I had everything positioned correctly, the vet instructed me to just pull it out, as the baby had been in the birth canal for some time. This was not easy, as the poor mother was in agony, and there had to be room for my hand to come out at the same time as the head and legs.
He slid out, and we rubbed him vigorously to get him breathing and moving around. Once he was able to breath, we stuck him in front of his mama, and reached in for the next one. At this point, the vet wanted me to just go in and get any remaining kids out as quickly as possible. The water bag was still intact on the next one, and so I had to pop it in order to be able to feel which body parts were which. I thought what I felt was a hind end, and so I grabbed the legs and pulled. When he finally came out, my mother, husband and I all thought it had no head. Seriously. It lay there with two sets of legs, and what looked like two butts. Then it moved.
It did, actually, have a head. And it had come out front end first, with its head to the side, under its body. But he was alive. (For the first two days after his birth, he walked around on his front knees because I had pulled ligaments in his legs with the strain of getting him out! This went away and he is just fine now.)
Then, the shocker was that there was a third, right behind the second, already coming through the birth canal. She slid right out without any problem, and for that I was grateful. After going in one more time to make sure there were no more, we continued to rub down the triplets and care for the mother. All three babies are identical in size, weight and color.
After it all was over, and the vet hung up, I finally realized that my heart was racing and I had hardly breathed. I was covered with bodily fluids of all types, and was grinning from ear to ear. How often do we get the opportunity to save a life? Or two? Or three? In one go? It is likely that had she gone into labor during the night, we would have lost the lives of at least one of the babies, if not all, and possibly the mother too.
The instinct to mother doesn't just go away when we stop having children. In fact, I think living through motherhood merely strengthens our understanding of the birth process, its pain, the struggles and the joy, across any species.
Warning: The following images contain extreme levels of cuteness. I will not be held responsible if the viewer melts into a puddle, or suddenly finds themselves impulsively purchasing massive numbers of sheep.
They are here! Well, some of them anyhow. Meet Angus and Astrid. Their mom is a Shetland, and father is a Finn...and we are in love. Maple completely surprised us when I came out one morning to find she and her lambs happy and healthy. She had them overnight, without any sign of labor the evening before. In truth, I thought Maple's mother, Emma, would go first. I love surprises!
So. Much. Snow.
I feel as if today was the first day in a week that I haven't been out shoveling...paths, gates, more paths, hay cribs, roofs, cars...
But is has been beautiful, and it feels kind of okay because Spring is coming. The sap is starting to run. The sheep's bellies are starting to round out with lambs. Early seeds are being started. And the days are longer.
All that being said, this is our first season lambing and kidding, and because I am honestly not sure about the full extent of what that entails, I am a little apprehensive about taking on the full load of responsibilities that I usually do in the Springtime. Starting seedlings may have to wait (or not happen at all) in the event that the greenhouse is needed for extra room, and tapping the maple trees just doesn't sound all that appealing right now with four feet of snow on the ground.
We'll see. When the first warm day arrives I may just change my mind...
For Christmas, my family gave me a trip to visit my brother and his family in Maui. At first, I felt guilt at knowing how very much the children would enjoy it. And then, I was excited beyond words. I had no idea what I was going to do with myself, and realized that I actually did not know what two weeks felt like on my terms. The passage of time when you have children is measured by appointments, meals, chores, practices, lessons, needs, weather, etc. I had no memory of what one week, let alone two, felt like when it was spent on my terms.
This trip has been more of a gift than I could ever have imagined. Maui is a very special place, and I'm not sure that this time would have had the same effect if it were spent elsewhere. I have hiked, biked, slept, read, walked, gone swimming, knit, run, sat and eaten as my body asked. It turns out that my self has been neglected for quite some time now; waiting patiently and quietly for me to return to it. As most mothers know, we tend to lose a bit of what makes us us in the beautiful process of becoming more than we were.
Having children has made me a better version of myself, but I discovered here that every so often I need more than just a day, or even a weekend, to remember what makes me feel good about my own being; my own human-ness. Watching families on the beach here was beautiful...naked children and dogs played together in the waves, and they could just be. There is a general feeling of ease here...ease with ones body, children, life, friends...
The beauty is everywhere you look, and affects every one of the senses. Last night I walked barefoot down the sidewalk after dinner, in the dark. It was warm, and the breeze was sweet and earthy. How often do I allow myself to do that at home? Well, actually, I am frequently outside after dinner doing animal chores in one form or another, but the act reminded me to do it more often. And to pay attention to the necessity of the action in regard to its effect on my soul, rather than its function.
After that respite, that period of self care, I feel as if my capacity for love and the ways in which I show it to others, has changed. I am more patient, flexible, and giving of my love. My tank has been refilled, and I realize now how very empty that tank was. Mothers must take care of themselves and each other. I see only now that occasionally spending time apart from our children and families (especially if you are of the homeschooling crowd!) makes us better parents.
What a gift from those I love, and I am so infinitely grateful for it.
Today we are hunkered down, celebrating this first steady snowfall, among other events, with baking, drinking chai and hot chocolate, decorating and general merriment. It's beautiful, this white blanket, and these unexpected snow days mean that suddenly the schedule is clear. Clear of all commitments except those of our family to enjoy these slow days.
We are also celebrating two new arrivals to the farm. These Shetland ladies are not necessarily a planned part of our flock expansion, but they needed a home, and how could we say no to these faces?
Mother and daughter, they have both been bred to Finn rams, and so we'll have more lambs to look forward to in the Spring. They came to us as 'Emma' and 'Maple', and I think that suits us just fine.
They are both very shy, as compared to our outgoing Finns, so I've been trying to be near them as much as I can these past few days.
I do hope that you all are enjoying this day as much as we are. I am feeling so very grateful for all we have in our lives...the ordinary, and the extraordinary. They really are the same thing, are they not?
I have thought, for some time, that what I was doing was "enough". That working closely with the earth, providing food for my family, shopping locally, being careful with our precious resources, honoring our ancestors...that doing all these things, and more, and teaching the importance of these actions to my children, was not only just a basic requirement of my mothering instincts, but "enough". Today, I feel differently. Today, and recently, my sadness for our earth and its protectors has overwhelmed me. How can I simultaneously be so filled with frustration, sadness, fear, longing, anger and love? So very much love, for those brave people who in many cases have risked or given up jobs, school, families, and more for this calling. Though the immediate case may be to protect their indigenous rights and spiritual spaces, they have time and again been the ones to stand up for what is truly right for our entire earth. And have time and again, had taken what is rightfully theirs, despite promises and treaties.
I realize, there is hope in all of this. An opportunity for many people to come together for a common cause. And I see it. It's tangible, this collective concern, about an issue that affects every single one of us. Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day, but quite possible in my lifetime, and most certainly my children's. This dependency on fossil fuels, combined with ignorance and greed, will eventually cost us all our lives as we know them.
And here I am. Overwhelmed by grief and love, and this urge to be there helping. And anger that other people aren't angry; people that have the means to do more than I. No amount of knitting can help this cause right now, or calm me down, and every able bodied person could be doing at least one more thing to help preserve the very essence of what we are made of.
My dear friends, I have decided to have a little giveaway in thanks to everyone who has supported and continues to support myself and other small farms. I will be giving away one free skein of our "Phinela" yarn, which is a luxurious blend of 40% Kid Mohair and 60% Finn Sheep from our Naturally raised Angora Goats and Finn Sheep. This yarn is truly soft enough to wear next to your skin (my daughter was the true test of this!), has beautiful luster, takes dyes beautifully, and it won't pill like merino or alpaca.
I am only asking that you share. Share my website and let me know in the comments below, share my Instagram post about the giveaway and let me know over there. Do this by 9:00pm on Thanksgiving day, and I will share with one of you a lovely skein of my yarn. Thanks, Blessings and Love to you all.
P.S. If you have any knitters or fiber lovers in your life, consider heading over to my Etsy shop for Holiday gifts!
*Giveaway is for one skein of yarn in color "sand".
I am sitting here at 11:30 at night, listening to the steady beat of rain outside my window. I am still feeling like I'm not quite sure about the proximity of winter; ready for rest and reprieve, but not really relishing the thought of being stuck inside a tiny space with stomach bugs, colds, and bitter temperatures. So, naturally, my mind has already begun to wander toward springtime. That's maybe a little bit crazy, but it is what gets me through.
While visiting the Robert Frost Place this fall with the children, I came across one of his poems that I had never heard before, and fell in love:
Putting in the Seed
- Robert Frost
Meanwhile, I am doing my utmost to enjoy the Autumn light, while planting garlic (400 bulbs!), braiding onions, making elderberry tinctures and fire cider, baking bread and keeping everyone on fresh pasture daily while the ground remains thawed. And finding some time to knit too, of course...
I am struggling to find the words for how I have felt today. I surprised myself by crying alone in the car on the way into town, and then have continued to do so throughout the day; even now. My instinct has been to go and be in the garden, and tell my children how much I love them.
But today, my heart felt so very very heavy. Elections come and go, but this...this. This felt like someone had pulled the rug from under me. I believe most mothers around me with young daughters, and sons, are sharing the same feelings as I...anger, hurt, confusion, fear and many other emotions.
My feelings of utter sadness and sorrow are also linked with a tremendous amount of love for the many others who are sharing in this experience. I have a daughter...a smart, sensitive, loving, courageous daughter to whom I must explain this situation. And it hurts. It hurts to try and keep from projecting my own thoughts and feelings onto her. It hurts to look at her and think that any man, let alone a supposed leader of our country, could make her think or feel that she is anything less than amazing and wonderful.
I keep waiting for that moment when the tiny spark of hope in my soul becomes bright enough for me to recognize it, as it always has. I know it will, but for now, I will love my family, and utter prayers of thanks for all that I have, and prayers of love to those whose lives and beliefs are now threatened. I will keep bringing my daughter close and teaching her that in no way, under any circumstances, is another human being allowed to talk to and treat her the way this man does to others.
As my daughter fell asleep beside me this evening, I held her, and cried again, praying for she and all the young women of our country.