Monday, May 30, 2016

The view from the Jade room (Porches Writing Retreat, Norwood, Virginia)

This is the view I've had this visit to Porches and it's been a wonderful way to feel the sense of farm and home without having the daily chores and distractions of November Hill.

I've gotten so much done writing-wise, and feel the blessing of time and space dedicated to the creative process. This is my second visit here and I am already looking forward to the next one. 

Highly recommend for writers and artists. You can find the website online if you need a retreat! 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

November Hill farm journal, 7

Warm weather has finally arrived. We hit 86 degrees here yesterday afternoon and it's forecast to be. 91 today. I went out at mid-day to clean stalls and feed Keil his lunch tub, and to top off water buckets. It was warm enough to offer showers to horses and the pony and all three appreciated the cool water in the shade of the oak tree outside the barn.

We're starting to dry out from all the rain last week. The arena and the pastures are at a perfect point between wet and dry right now, offering a slight cushioned give underfoot that I think might feel good to a horse's bare hooves and to their joints.

I'm pleased to say that dear husband cut the weeds down in the flower beds and I have a grand plan (even while my last grand plan lies still unfinished in the form of saplings cut and still waiting for my fence project) to put down layers of thin cardboard topped with half soil/half compost. This should help with knocking the weeds out and claiming new areas adjacent to both beds that would give me much more room to expand. As if I need it! But it will cut down on the weed eating that has to be done in those areas and prepare the beds for something new. I'm thinking pollinator garden modeled after the one outside our local co-op.

We have a wild muscadine volunteering in the back yard. I have ideas about building a simple structure to give it space to grow without tangling along the fence.

In the vegetable garden I'm seeing the first yellow crookneck squash. The broccoli is ready to harvest and we still have lots of lettuce and rainbow chard. There were some kind of greens in the back of the chard and broccoli bed that got totally eaten by unknown insects. I admit I became mildly obsessed with the pretty lacy pattern that formed as the insects munched and so I did nothing to deter them. Each morning a bit more had been eaten away. I figured if I let them have those leaves maybe they would leave everything else alone. That either worked or they only eat the mystery greens anyway!

And though I know these were insects I can't help but smile thinking of fairies or little garden trolls out there snipping away with tiny scissors, making lace for dresses or to sell at the fairy farmer's market.

Everything else is growing steadily. Now that the heat has come we'll need to get back into the habit of watering. 

I also found tiny oak seedlings which I considered transplanting to the sunny corner of the barn. I ponder - shade in a very hot spot during the summers and shelter from wind and rain, but more leaves to rake and acorns to clear out. And then remind myself that these tiny oaks would have many years to go before that becomes an issue.

Lest it seems all I did yesterday was create new projects for myself, I promise that I spent some time sitting in the red chair in the grass paddock watching the trees and letting the sun turn my arms pink. I walked to the mail box and stopped along the way to admire the wildflowers along the way. 

I even stood and waited and sent thought requests to Keil Bay to walk to a spot in the barnyard spotlighted by the late in the day sunshine. And when he did I called him Sunset Bay.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016

Home is where the heart is/ a momentous time on November Hill

This popped up in my Facebook feed as a memory this morning and I read it with awe - this blog post written 4 years ago.

Here's the link if you'd like to read it again as well:

Friday, May 20, 2016

A few words on the writing life, the reading life, and hope for a multiverse

For most writers publication takes time - often a long time - and generally there are many rejections along the way. 

It's a blessing when a good book finds a home out in the world. Every time I read a great book I think about the author and how glad I am that book got to me. 

For those who write, the writing life is a journey that I think we have to embrace for what it is: at its core, doing the work and finding joy in the words and the sentences and the stories. 

And making that the "dessert first" - then if the work makes a splash out in the world, whether for one reader or one million, that is icing on the cake.

If you're a writer, spend some time reveling in the work you do. The words on the page, the way they sound when you read them out loud in a quiet room.

If you're a reader, take a moment to look at the author's photo and bio and maybe look them up online and see if they have a website and other books to read. If you loved a book, let the author know!

And if you're both a reader and a writer, you probably have writing to do and stacks of books to read. Join me in the multiverse where I am reading every book in my piles all at the same time while I write like a mad woman too!

(This was prompted by a conversation on Facebook today but I thought I'd share these thoughts here too.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Silent Pool gin

Yesterday something prompted me to do a Google search for gin and tonic. Maybe it was all the rain. Possibly the upcoming writing retreat at Porches. My usual gin is Bombay Sapphire and I had no reason to even consider any other kind. But the idea of a new? Fancier? Different mixology? gin and tonic while on writing retreat grabbed hold of me and had me searching. The images popped up and I saw the above and became obsessed.

The bottle! The GLASS! The actual gin and tonic!

Had to have it all.

Alas, I learned that Silent Pool is distilled in the UK and won't be available in the States until August or September. (Yes, I emailed the company, after emailing my wine merchant neighbor first)

I aim to head back to Porches in the fall with a bottle of Silent Pool, a fancy glass, some Schweppes tonic water, and limes. Oh, and my novel-in-progress, of course.

Meanwhile this is a pipe dream. Something to look forward to. Marketing at its best.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

November Hill farm journal, 6

They (the ancients) knew, as all honest people know in their bones, that in any true sense there is no such thing as ownership of the earth and that the shadow of any man is but for a time cast upon the grass of any field. What remains is the earth, the mother of life as the ancients personified the mystery, the ancient mother in her robes of green or harvest gold and the sickle in her hand.
-Henry Beston, Northern Farm

Today I worked in the back field, under the cloudy damp sky, wet but not raining. I mucked and set up the jumps the donkeys knock down on a regular basis, wondering when it might be that anyone actually sails over these poles and barrels again. But I like the possibility and so I set them back as they should be. On occasion I see a horse or a pony or even sometimes a little donkey free jumping these obstacles and my heart leaps with joy. It's worth it for that alone.

Today I had to clear branches from the fences where they were tangled in the tape. All the while I was working I heard a tiny bleating sound which I wondered about, cupping my ears to hear it better, never sure exactly what it was. My guess is a young animal in a nest. 

The area behind the back field is quickly becoming jungle-like again, as it does in the late spring and on into summer and fall. It's too late to do the work I wanted to do behind the fence line but fall and winter will roll back around again and I'll have another chance. Meanwhile the muscadines are growing like wildfire and carry my mind to fall when the grapes will be ready to eat.

It was satisfying to get things tidy: manure picked, fallen branches raked, chairs uprighted. The donkeys love tipping things over - jumps, chairs, dressage markers. If I am ever bored with nothing to do I will teach them how to set them right again.

I looked for tracks but found none. The horses and pony and donkeys were up in the barn, happy to get into stalls and eat hay even though it's cool today and they don't need the fans.

Mostly I enjoyed the physical work and the sense of completion of a task well done. The back field is private and quiet and when I'm there I feel as if I'm on the edge of things, a mysterious between-place where elves and trolls and November Hill deer live. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Rain rain rain


What would I give for this day we had late last week when I was sitting at the end of the arena thinking it was a great day to ride?

The arena needs harrowing but look at that sky! It was perfect.

I just mucked stalls and cleaned water buckets and filled them and served hay in stalls while Keil Bay and Cody stood in the rain at the hay tent munching on a bale Keil pulled off the stack and to the front of the tent (over the locked gate). 

Ready for sunshine and dry ground.

Friday, May 13, 2016

November Hill farm journal, 5

The chromium millennium ahead of us, I gather, is going to be an age whose ideal is a fantastically unnatural human passivity. We are to spend our lives in cushioned easy chairs, growing indolent and heavy while intricate slave mechanisms do practically everything for us as we loll. 
-Henry Beston, Northern Farm

To get to the barn and the farm at large I must first pass through the well-guarded back gate:

Pippin extracts a belly rub from everyone who passes.

This week I have spent time raking fallen branches and twigs to the base of the trees from which they fell. We've had windy thunderstorms and the trees are shedding the weak and dead branches in much the same way the dogs and cats are shedding fur. The fallen wood mulches down fairly quickly and the larger pieces are good for kindling for the wood stove and also for my garden fencing project if I ever get to it.

While I rake I take any stones that have made their way to the surface and stack them by fence posts. At some point when I find holes I retrieve the stones again and use them for filler. Sometimes I think on a farm much of what I do is move things from one place to another and back again. Horse manure, compost, sticks and branches, stones. There is always too much of something that needs moving and then later is needed again. In a way these are chores of maintaining balance, which is probably why I don't mind doing them.

The vegetable garden is doing very well and with all the rain we haven't needed to water in weeks. We are eating big salads nearly every day and have enough rainbow chard and other greens to feed a small army. 

The various squash and pumpkin plants are blooming, the blueberry bushes are laden with tiny blue berries, and the garlic and onions are doing their thing too. The tomatoes and cucumbers are growing, and the herbs as well. Broccoli and cabbage are growing taller. I haven't yet looked to see if the heads are forming yet. 

I still have a few things to plant. Sunflower seeds, chamomile seeds, catnip, and I need to pot a Meyer lemon seedling and lemon grass to summer outside and come in each winter along with the house plants.

There is still some weed-eating to be done and fence maintenance. After this next rain moves through today and tomorrow it will be time to harrow the arena again. 

We also have a very young tulip poplar that volunteered at the edge of the vegetable garden. It has come back from the frost which killed all its leaves and needs to be transplanted to a more suitable location. We'll need to protect it from deer and equines but since we have lost two huge tulip poplars in the front field to marauding horses and donkeys I'm grateful for this young one that might grow and replace the foliage that gives us so much privacy each spring through fall.

This week I have been able to walk the farm and note what needs doing without going into a panic about how much there is to do and how far behind we tend to be. There are always things that pop up needing attention that pull us away from the ongoing work of keeping things in order. 

Again, the issue of too much and not enough and finding ways to balance it all so that what needs doing gets done, what can wait does, and sometimes the things I think need doing take care of themselves without any intervention at all on my part. That's the beauty and possibly the real lesson of living on a patch of land. It's alive and has its own mind and way of being. If you stop and pay attention, especially to the things you think you need to do but don't quite get to, you learn about how the earth and the animals, the wind and the rain, and the process of natural decay often do these chores for you. 

It's May on November Hill and it is so green and beautiful!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

garden envy and some ducklings!

I was in Durham yesterday for an appointment and stopped by Duke Gardens to enjoy the afternoon. The gardens were a favorite spot when I worked at Duke and studied there, it's where my husband and I got married, and it became a favorite family destination for years when we lived in Durham. We try to visit several times a year. It's a gorgeous place.

Yesterday we bought some lunch and ate it by the duck pond. The ducks, swans, and turtles were all clustered nearby and I ended up with a duck friend who came within inches and then settled down in arms' reach for a nap. The two swans came on the shore a few feet from me to groom. It was lovely. I took photos of all of them but this is one of my favorites:

There were two duck families on the pond but these were the younger ducklings. They were quite independent and giving their mama a hard time. They all hopped up on this rock and stayed there, even when she swam a little away and called to them to join her. She had to come back and just hang out with them. Then one of the ducklings took off on his/her own and mama had to keep an eye on the brood while going after the wanderer. Minutes later they all hopped off into the water in different directions. I can't imagine! It was so much fun to watch them.

Later we wandered to the formal gardens and I literally shrieked with delight. The foxgloves and allium are all at peak bloom and were simply gorgeous. 

This photo doesn't do justice to how lush and beautiful it is there right now. Sometimes I wish I had time to create a formal or cottage garden and keep it manicured to look like this. As it is, I have beautiful things growing and blooming but there are grape vines threading through the roses, weeds in the beds, and nothing looks as lovely as it could if I were out there keeping it up. Sigh. 

But thankfully I can visit Duke Gardens and enjoy the fruits of others' labor!

My husband and I got married in the pergola some 21 years ago. At that time it was totally covered in wisteria and remained that way until last year when they removed the wisteria vines. I wish I'd taken a shot yesterday of the long walk up the middle aisle through all these terraced beds that my dad and I took during the wedding march. It was a glorious place to have a wedding and I love that we can visit whenever we want.

It's odd to see the pergola so bare but I see they have something (maybe the same wisteria?) climbing up already. It won't take long to cover the structure again.

This morning I looked out at the red roses and the tiny white primroses and several goldfinches flew into the garden to add their color. There are purple irises and even with the weeds it was pretty spectacular. A few hours of weeding, a load of mulch, and maybe I can get the November Hill gardens in shape. 

Monday, May 09, 2016

simple pleasures of the mid-day

Around noon I head to the kitchen to begin the haven of chores that mark the middle of the day for me during the week. 

Elevenses for the Corgis, a snack and vehicle for the joint supplement and fish oil and vitamin E they get. This week I'm clearing the freezer so they had their supplements mixed in with some chicken stock and chicken meat we put away and forgot to use.

On to the laundry room to soak Keil Bay's mid-day meal of Timothy balance cubes. I switch out the laundry while the cubes absorb the water, then grind half a cup of flax seeds to stir in to the mix. Back to the kitchen to mix up his HA gel to set up in the fridge. 

While in the laundry room I noticed the pile of half chaps and riding gloves looked like they needed cleaning so I wander back and get the sponge and saddle soap and spend 10 minutes rubbing the leather clean and making a nice stack of chaps and gloves by the back door, easy to grab on the way to the barn for a ride.

The Corgis have finished their snack, noted by the sound of empty bowls scraping around the kitchen floor. I load up the dishwasher with dirty dishes and then go put the clean laundry piled on the chair away.

I don't know why this grouping of chores has become such a blessing in my day. I like doing things that nourish the animals and I enjoy having the little bits of time while I wait for the cubes to soak and the gel to gel to fill with quick irregular chores that make me happy. 

Some days I use that time to clean the living room windows where Bear Corgi has smudged them up with his nose. Some days I pick a spot in any room and do some cleaning with a bright blue rag and some Murphy's oil soap. There's always something to be done and thankfully enough chores that make me happy that I can easily avoid the ones that don't.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Sun Kings

They later became the Rain Kings again but for a brief time this morning they were soaking up the sun.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

the writing life and ideas that bloom

Yesterday I met a good writer friend for coffee and then lunch so we could catch up on what we're both working on. We'd intended to maybe do a little writing work while we were there but of course the conversation and catching up expanded itself and we didn't get to the work part.

One of the most valuable things a writer can do with other trusted writer friends, especially those who know your work, is to bounce ideas off them and do a little talking about the projects in process. Some people say that talking too much about a writing project drains the needed energy one has to have to actually WRITE it, and to a point I agree with this, but there is absolutely a place for casting the seeds of ideas out and letting your writer friends help you water them to see what sprouts.

I'm editing one of the Claire novels right now, and am on the third full pass through it, looking at structural issues and trying to sort out the best way to lay out the book.

[ As is the way of the writing life on November Hill, as I was typing this post the thunderstorm I've been watching rolled in quite suddenly and I had to leap up, shove my feet into muck boots, and dash to the barn to let the herd in. There's nothing like a quick stall-by-stall muck, bringing a bale of hay into the feed room to feed from during the rainy day ahead, topping off water buckets, and listening to whinnies from the shelter as the equines wait to be let in! All while the winds whip up and the thunder cracks and you know the rain is going to fall very soon. ]

But now I'm safe in the house again and back to thinking about writing and writer friends and ideas.

I'm also working on a special project for the Magical Pony School books. 

And I'm keeping my hand in with short pieces of fiction and nonfiction these days. As I was describing the piece I'm working on in an effort to entice a certain literary journal, my friend said something about that being the prelude to a novel. She said the words, I stopped and thought about them, and that little seed she cast out on the table between us got watered as we talked it over. By the time I left I had written it down, expanded on it, and did the same again when I got home. It definitely sprouted. 

The discourse, the banter, is what led to that sprouting. I highly recommend it. Whether you're a writer or a fine artist or a photographer or a horsewoman needing inspiration, make a lunch date with a like-minded friend and see what happens!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

November Hill farm journal, 4

Nature must never be anything else than an alliance.
-Henry Beston, Northern Farm

Rain. We've had multiple days of it, interspersed with high winds, hail, flashes of blue in the night sky, thunder both cracking and rolling.

November Hill is of course situated upon a hill. Wisely the barn is on the top spot and then the house is next, and while huge amounts of rainfall in a short time can create a wash of water into the barn shelter and a temporary pool in our driveway, for the most part the rain drains away quickly and we have come to love the seasonal stream that runs through the front field.

When we get huge rains several days in a row there are a few areas where the water will pool and sit, but it generally soaks in after an hour or two.

The thing about rain is that when we don't get it, we long for it, and when we get too much, we long for dry earth, solid underfoot. A reminder for me that what we all want and need is balance. But at the same time, we long for the extremes.

Yesterday I had muddy horses and muddier hooves, a messy barn strewn with hay and needing mucking several times. The stalls now need fresh shavings but it's too wet in the barnyard to drive the truck up to unload bags of extra fine pine.

Fortunately these rains have been punctuated with a few sunny hours each day and the horses and donkeys and the pony have been able to get out just enough to prevent total grumpiness.

Another result of the generous rainfall this spring is lush pasture and we've had to put one donkey in his grazing muzzle and it's likely the other one and the pony are soon to follow.

This morning I watched as the sun came up behind the thick screen of oak trees. The sunlight pierced through in places and reflected on the rain still sitting on the oak leaves. It looked like diamonds were growing in profusion right by the barn.

I enjoy walking the farm after a rainfall, cataloguing the paths the rain made and noting where there is work to be done. Planting our vegetable garden in the sunny side of our backyard has stopped the huge flow that used to come from the barnyard toward the house. French drains outside each barn door have helped avoid mucky messes there. A trench from back of barn to front field directs the water away from the barn and house. But there's one place on the grass paddock side of the house where the water flow needs to be diverted and another where the water from the 11-acre field next to us is now rushing down one side of our driveway, washing the gravel away. We'll work on these this spring and try to put things right.

Meanwhile I'll look for mushrooms and fly blooms and hope those tiny fly predators hatched out and lived to feast on fly larvae.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Equine dentals, done! (after my nightmare about castration)

This weekend all five of the November Hill equines had their dental exams and three were floated. Although we've never had bad experiences with dental work here, I have a long history of having bad dreams the night before my own dental cleanings and dental procedures. This year I had a nightmare before the HORSES' dental exams!

In the dream all five geldings were in fact NOT gelded. Somehow they had all lived to their current ages as stallions and jacks and the dental appointment transmuted in my dream into an appointment for five castrations.

"It will be bloody and dangerous," the vet said. "Be prepared."

I woke up in a state of horror.

Alas, the dentals were quiet and easy and I'm happy that I can check them off my list for this year!

The human mind is a powerful thing.

Monday, May 02, 2016