I’m not a “go south for the winter” type of gal.  My Russian-heritage instilled me with a quality = struggle outlook.  I’d feel like a weak-y taking a tropical vacation.

Bring on that sunshine!

BUT, yesterday I planted tomato, cilantro and lettuce seeds in my kitchen.

I can’t wait for spring.

Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see the beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead. – Louisa May Alcott

Happy Christmas!

Runner up to the Winter Solstice as my favorite time of the year is Christmastide.

We have fresh snow out there this morning. I enjoyed watching my kitties tiptoe about the front stoop at about 3:30, and by 5:00 their prints were filled in again.

Just finished prepping a goose which I’d bartered from “Garden of Spices” in Greenwich, NY, where I get help processing my turkeys. I rubbed it with a plethora of zest from oranges, limes and lemons, as well as various other spices and salt. My sticky-bun dough has risen, hallelujah, it has risen indeed. I’m starting to hear showers and footsteps, so there are just moments to go before this morning quiet is dispelled.

My favorite gifts? Last evening, my daughters and I presented music at our church’s candlelight service and it is always rich being able to share that kind of work with them. Old friends and new friends have been making many appearances. My kids are all home from college. The hens are laying again. The sheep and horses are frisky & healthy. There’s snow on the ground.

Advent, leading up to Christmas, is so much about hope, so much about how I live my life. Christmastide is a joyful season, and though there are moments in every day that we have a thought of a loved one that isn’t with us anymore, oftentimes, sorrow is deeper during the holidays.
So it is, a time steeped in significant sentiment. For me, I take every ponder as a gift. Blessed to have love in our lives, blessed even when we lose our loves because of how we can carry on for them, in them, with them in spirit.

Holiday greetings from all of us at the farm!







Christmas Card 2012

Frost Flowers

December Pond

Waiting for snowfall. It is in the forecast for today or tomorrow. The buckets are all frozen in the mornings, the ground is hard and noisy underfoot as I run the sheep and goats out to their pastures. The horses are frisky about having more hay, please. The pond is developing a thin layer of ice (that hopefully develops into a thick layer of ice for some holiday skating parties!)

Tomorrow I will listen to beautiful children’s voices, raised in song at the Old First Congregational Church in Bennington, Vermont. We will have candles to illuminate the service. It will be warm inside, packed with people coming together for a traditional December event here in Southern Vermont.

We’re all broken hearted for the Newtown, CT community. For some reason I just want to see things like flying birds, starry skies, blossoms on trees…December crystals will do.
Crystallized Goldenrod


Couples Week: Meet the Piggies

Root Root and Gub Gub

Innocently enough, my daughter and I were driving to Middlebury College to have a tour while we were vacationing on Lake Champlain a couple of years ago.  I almost went off the road when I saw the painted sign “piglets for sale.”  “Get that phone number!” I excitedly commanded Sarah Jane.  In less than two minutes she’d dialed the number and we were making arrangements to visit the farm.  It was exactly on our way home and we had no trouble finding it.  The little guy pictured below was a splendid tour guide and we attempted to get a word in edge-wise with his parents to talk pigs.  We arranged for two to go south with us at the conclusion of our vacation and that is the story of how we got our Yorkshire piggies.

picking out piglets

We decided on two little boars and popped them in a dog crate for the ride back to Shaftsbury.  My three kids could not agree on their names so they were Root Root and Gub Gub, or Root Root and Hometeam, depending on who you asked.

meeting Abe for the first time

They got on very well with most of the other animals.  The sheep were scared silly of them and they helped to desensitize Lunah, our Arabian mare, who had a deep fear of pigs.  We really enjoyed their aptitude, their pig-onalities, their adorable faces and physiques, but as they grew, they outgrew their habitats.  We’d tried them in the sheep pasture until they’d rooted and tunneled any turf that was there into a half-acre wallow.  They were great in my overgrown garden and of course the manure was a bonus.  But at some point they started escaping, regularly, and it became increasingly difficult to keep them.  There was even the day that some visiting tourists from Texas were walking down our road and ran into them…fortunately a neighbor that was also out walking and knew them was able to lure them back to our farm with acorns.  They trotted after she and her baby stroller while she dropped acorns every few feet.

older and proficient at garden tilling and escaping

I learned that I love pigs.  My good friend Martha told me of two pigs, Ollie & Sweetpea, at the farm that she occasionally sits at.  They have had a wedding, a divorce, and a wedding again.  I thought this was really silly when I’d first heard the story, but now I fully understand how a farm could entertain such pig-tales.

We had made plans for our two to be freezer-pigs and in the end, they were. (It was how I convinced my husband that we could/should raise them.)  I love that we are localvores and it doesn’t bother me that we “name” our food.  But after my season with them, I will never raise pigs for consumption again.  I was not just attached to them like I am to all of our critters, but Root Root and Gub Gub could’ve swapped out for my pups.  I really respected that pigs are highly intelligent and they had bonded to me in the same way that my house pets do.  Lastly, I don’t have the means to keep them because of their nature to root/uproot everywhere and I will not simply pen-raise them to keep them from escaping.  They loved, loved, loved the earth and watching them wallow in their cool mudholes could push all of my cares away, as well as theirs.

Root Root loved a good scratch

So this dear couple had a wonderful stay with us until they became Christmas hams.  Of course they were delicious.  And of course it is too late to change anything, but I have learned that if I wanted to raise pigs again, it would have to be as pets only.  This little guy, Hamlet, who lives in South Hadley, Massachusetts, is just my cup of tea:

my next piggie

I’m thinking about snow globes

Patty: Try to catch snowflakes on your tongue. It’s fun.

Linus: Mmm. Needs sugar.

Lucy: It’s too early. I never eat December snowflakes. I always wait until January.

-Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965, Charles Schulz

It doesn’t get much more whimsical, does it, when you behold a snowglobe featuring the Eiffel Tower, the Bennington Monument or some little cherub caroling, surrounded by swirling flakes of glittery, feathery snow?

We’re having a bit of a snow drought this winter.  A lot of rain, but where I live it is bare ground and this past week because of the above-freezing temps, mud. My road turned into a real quagmire.  It makes for much easier farm chores, though, and the animals can get out so much more easily.  But when we do get a covering of white stuff, it’s brighter, prettier, and if you’re a summer gal, like myself, it helps you to enjoy the fact that it’s winter.

I remember when the snowbanks were up to my Shetland!

When I was a little girl, I was confounded as to how the scenes were made in a snowglobe.  I remember thinking that it was real snow, too, that was trapped in the “Hail to the Sunrise” souvenirs that lined the shelves of the Whitcomb Summit gift shop.  And I was amazed.One year my children and I made snowglobes as gifts by hot gluing dioramas in place on the lid of baby food jars.  Of course, the whole magic of the trinket was debunked for my kids when we filled the jar with water, a bit of glycerin, and glitter.  We then glued the jar lid on and prettied it up with a bit of fabric tied round to cover the “works.”  An array of plastic moose, Thomas the Tank Engine choo choos, and Lego creations were forever entombed in fantastic swirling snowfall ever after and my kids thought they were treasures to behold.  Gifts of the heart, for sure.

more than just a jar and glitter...

The upside of less snowfall means that hopefully when our days are longer and warmer in late April & May, the earth will be happy to be tilled into gardens and the chickens will be able to run around foraging for yummy grubs and worms all the sooner.  Since my kids are half Hobbit, they’ll be delighted to ditch their shoes and go back to being barefoot out-of-doors.  But in the meantime, we’ll make do without snowmen and enjoy our skating pond, sans weekly shoveling.  If the flakes do fall, and accumulate, I’ll be the first to test their ripeness!

"Black" ice on the pond means we can peer into the frozen depths

Pizzelles, Pipes and Pond Skating

Night Skating

Yesterday morning, my daughters and I spent the morning visiting a local art teacher’s historic home.  Mrs. Link is a patron of Wing and a Prayer Farm’s eggs and chicken and I’d bartered a tour of her home after she’d ordered a Christmas roaster this fall.  She lives in a renovated mill between two creeks in our town and between the history of the mill/forge and her parent’s book binding shop that flourished for many years in the space, alongside her artist studio and many beautiful works, I knew that the girls would be as awed as I with a visit.  Not only did Kathy tour us through the amazing stone mill, but she pulled out the tooled and embossed tomes that her parents restored during the Gerhardt Gustav Gerhlach’s publishing days.  We capped the visit with a lesson in Pizzelle-making in her kitchen, just for fun.  We left feeling charmed and delighted with a plate of warm, sugary-snowflake cookies and inspired hearts.

I had a full afternoon of chores and errands but the warmth of the season continued with spontaneous visits along the way.

Then, last evening, Jody came in from the chores asking where we turn the water off to the barn.  Alarms went off in my head.

Fortunately Jim was right here and ran downstairs to turn the main water to the barn off, as I wouldn’t remember it in a timely fashion to save my life.  I have a mental block against things like that.  We had a burst pipe in our house before, many years ago, and had I known which valve to switch, there’d have been much less damage.  My tendency to question myself means that I can be overwhelmed with decision-making in an emergency situation.

An assessment revealed that the PVC pipe to the washroom is where the break occurred and it had leaked all above the sheep stalls, the tack room, and the washroom.  The goatsies were spared, thankfully, as they would’ve been so stressed, frightened and cold had they been assaulted for who knows how long. The sheep were out grazing, and I was happy Jody was out there on the early side of the evening.  Jim was able to remove the light fixture in the tack room, which was full of water, and today we have barn-swathing duties all.

Our merry band was not discouraged from our evening plans of ice skating, though, and after dinner we trooped our way to the pond.  Earlier Jim had started a fire in the skate shed wood stove and all of the skates were warm and supple for the first glide of the season.  The lights were on, the surface was nicely glazed, and the air was none too cold for our under-the-stars party.  Except that a cloud covered evening was more like it and that actually was in our favor keeping the temps quite mild.

Sarah Jane & Char’s friends who both play hockey were here to pass the puck with Jim & Jody.  I tried my hand at it for a while and got my bearings in record time.  It’d been two years since I’d been on the ice and my speed skates were like old friends.  SJ & Char were practicing their figures, the dogs hung out respectfully on the sidelines, and there was much jollity.  The ice is not so very thick as we’ve had a mild December but it is clear and the view into the darkened pond was enchanting.  Mostly the surface was clear, but an occasional scruff of bark or leaf tripped me and my long blades up enough to prevent me from confidently building my speed.  It was a good night just to get the rust off our blades and change the scenery up.

I awoke this morning from a disturbing nightmare about a tsunami engulfing me and my cats in my home.  I’ve had my international friends on my mind of late and it would seem that the combination of barn-drama and the weather disasters of Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand over the last couple of years had planted some unconscious seeds of worry.  The weather is considerably milder today, with rain on the roof as I type, and it will be a less glamorous day than yesterday with stalls and a tack room requiring an investment of labor.  Our New Year’s Eve plans are always low-key so preparation for festivities is minimal to none.

Interesting that the mild December temperatures would prevent us from getting on the ice before the end of the month, and ironic that when we could, it was the night that a frozen pipe burst in the barn.  Guess we are never so wise that we cannot learn a few lessons and enjoy beautiful moments of life all in the same day.

Happy Christmas Tales

Fireside chat on Christmas Eve?

When I delegated the tucking in of the animals on Christmas Eve to my husband and son,  I was grateful to have their assistance but sorry to miss out on my  little Christmas Eve chat with everyone.  Typically I give everyone extra carrots, hay, grain, apples, even peppermints sometimes.  I sing carols to them and tell them that tonight is the night that Santa comes and brings treats to good little ponies, and the like.  I also ask them if they wouldn’t mind letting me in on their midnight conversations and send me some sort of sign so I know it’s time.  I refer to the old legend about how Christmas Eve is the night that the animals talk…  Silly, you might think, because they talk all of the time!  From what I can only trace to early European superstitions, at midnight they are all able to speak the same language, the language of humans.

Indeed Jim  had actually remembered to give them the word!  He reminded them that it was a special night and I was relieved and delighted.

What would they be saying?

We decided the goats would be full of toddler chat and enthusiasm for Santa and the reindeer. I happen to think that the Sheep would speak with a Scottish accent and comment largely on the sparseness of the grazing material and the quality of the hay they’ve been getting and who looks good in what color and such.  There are a dozen of them now, and they have been spending time together 24/7 since Balrog went buh-bye.  (He was the ram I’d used for 2 breeding seasons.)  The wethers and ewe lambs and pregnant ewes have been dining and sleeping pretty peacefully and it sure does simplify things around here for me.  So they might also discuss their new togetherness and whether it is agreeable to them or not.

The horses would probably be engrossed in a gossip-session as they are the few animals on the farm that have gotten out and about.  They’ve gone swimming in Lake Champlain,  know the neighbors, the neighbors’ horses, pets and the geography of the area far better than the sheep.  I would guess they enjoy the night sky, also, and are on lookout for eight tiny reindeer and a jolly little elf.  I mean, really, there would be a wonderful opportunity for an exchange with the reindeer to find out what is going on in the world so it would be worthwhile to be alert.

Bean-the-bunny is in her own stall on the far end of the barn, but if the barn kitties, Wasabi & Niska, cared to stroll by, they could have a catch-up.  Seeing as Wasabi and Niska spend time in the woods and fields, hunting rodents of all sizes, including rabbits, Bean might not enjoy that they are her only companions to share with.  She’s been shorted, I realize, and so next year we’ll have to make sure she is situated near the goatsies or sheep so that she can have a less-threatening convo.

The poultry, except for the peafowl, are all of the same species so they don’t have a language barrier anyway.  Perhaps the peafowl speak a dialect, of sorts, but I’m betting the Araucanas could interpret for them.  The turkeys are now in folks’ ovens or freezers and so they’re not part of the equation.  The Indian Runner ducks are in a separate yard and have each other to communicate with also.  No need for the special gift that Christmas Eve brings for them under those circumstances.

I used to lie awake listening for, not Santa, but my dogs and cats to talk.  Now that I am an adult, I still have a smidgen of hope that I would catch them in the act!

Yes, there is room for silliness this Christmastide.  The celebration of holidays is always special and with the ups and downs, an opportunity for finding deeper meaning in life.  But you just can’t knock a holiday that has a legend associated with it as being a night the animals talk.

the lion and the lamb

Seeing the Forest for the Yule Logs

Adding the butter a tablespoon at a time…

That is my son, Jody.  He’s home from college and I am thrilled to share the kitchen with him.  I had a big week of cooking for a couple of parties and to prepare for the Walloomsac Farmers’ Market Holiday Market in Bennington this weekend.  There was a LOT of buttercream to prepare and it meant incorporating butter into 24 egg whites & sugar, one tablespoon at a time.  I really enjoyed having company and he was able to listen to his pod-casts while assisting.  It was a win-win situation as well as he admitted that the job was quite delicious.

Quality Control

I got the notion that in addition to the 25 fruit pies I was selling at the market, Buche de Noels would be festive to offer.  I get a kick out of making them once a year and they are also a feast for my eyes:  they are as whimsical as they are decadent.  I tuned in my Holiday Playlist and then pulled out the old “Joy of Cooking.”  I found my favorite recipe, tied on an apron and baked dark chocolate genoise layers, cooked simple syrup and assembled amazing ingredients into sinful buttercream.  I had a great time arranging and decorating lovely little logs to fill my kitchen and then my table at the market.

soaking the Genoise with a Vanilla Simple Syrup

6 pounds of butter later...

spreading the buttercream on the Genoise layer

roll 'em up, wrap 'em up, refrigerate 'em...

adding the melted chocolate to the buttercream

Turns out the tricky part was finding the proper containers for their transport.  They want to be handled quite carefully so as not to disturb the “bark” and little merengue mushrooms.  (By the way, making merengue mushrooms is equally enchanting.)  I decided that inserting a wax sheet of paper into the re-cycled spinach containers would make it easier for the customers to lift their desserts out with the least amount of destruction.  The customers’ reactions were positive, and so as I type, I hope that they are bringing as much joy and satisfaction to the tables in Bennington County as they brought to my kitchen this Advent Season.  

Que c'est délicieux!

a small forest of Buche de Noels

And, a final note is that this wonderful endeavor would not have happened had it not been for my hard-working flock of layer hens who, I am happy to report, are back at work after a 3.5 month vacation.  Salut aux poules!

The recession is over! Hard working hens back to work.

The Good Life

I have to say that I’m short on words at the end of this Thanksgiving Day.  I baked a slew of pies and brought them to my mom’s where she served one of our turkeys and the rest of the menu.  The turkey was exquisite and we shared a lot of laughs with the family.  

fresh from the oven - 9 pies

Mom & our Wing and a Prayer Farm turkey

Thanksgiving buffet

My mom lives but an hour away so we were able to be home in time to tend to the evening chores without worrying that the animals had to wait too long for their Thanksgiving dinners.  After the build-up to this day with all of the turkey-doings this past season, I am looking forward to some November quiet before it slips away.  I am crazy for Christmas and all that goes with it, but I’m also in no rush.  With kids to bottle feed, sheep, turkeys, chickens, ducks, peacocks, horses, ponies, bunnies, dogs & cats to tend, as well as a family whom I love to dote on, it will be nice to focus on simply that tomorrow.  

Sadly, tomorrow Jody is going back to Virginia to finish the semester, but we look forward to his quick return after finals for his winter break.  

Charlotte had put together the most adorable video to the tune of “Everybody” by Ingrid Michaelson and after watching her edit and polish, I had her permission to include it for others to enjoy a slice of Wing and a Prayer Farm.  It occurred to me that while I could fill a page with the blessings I am grateful for this year, high on that list would be exactly what she has encapsulated in a 3 and a half-minute video.  So here is a sincere hope that your Thanksgiving  was pleasant, and enjoy the tour: