Wednesday, February 26, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 92

Rain every few days has really thrown my outdoor projects off course, but I’ve made a start on clearing the pollinator beds of winter growth. I left the plants as they were through the winter season so birds, insects, and other wildlife could have seed heads and shelter. A lot of the plants have nice visual appeal with interesting textures through the winter.

For the past 3 days I’ve spent some time while the dogs are romping to begin the cutting back and removing of the winter detritus. Since we have two brush piles in close proximity to the pollinator beds, I was able to put the cuttings on top, where birds and insects can still use them if needed.

Once I began cutting back I could more easily see the giant bloom of purple crocuses - lovely color with their bright green stems! And the daffodils are still going. Most of the pollinators are already leafing out at their bases, and I have a big job of transplanting goldenrod once I get things cleared out.

This week I’ll finish the clearing, and once we get some sunshine and things dry out a bit, I’ll order mulch to top off all the beds and plantings. It will be easy up front, but those things planted in Poplar Folly will take several trips with the wheelbarrow.

I also cleaned out one of the main drainage ditches that we created to help with the water run-off. It was full of very wet leaves. As the ditch got clean, the dogs got dirty! For some reason they love to walk along the wet ditches and as soon as I had it clear, all three dogs trotted over and made their way from beginning to end. Thankfully we have enough winter grass on the wildflower strip to clean them up a bit before we came inside. In retrospect, I should have held off on vacuuming and mopping floors until AFTER this farm romp!

During some of the yuckier rain time, I stayed inside and sketched out my new beds. The pollinator bed on the other side of the driveway will hopefully make big leaps this spring. I planted it in the fall, and everything has had the winter to develop strong root systems. I can’t wait to see what comes up and how it does. I also sketched out the potager plan. I need to get cracking with creating beds in there next week. I’ve decided to start the potager with mounded beds using some logs we have on hand, but not formal raised beds made with wood. I’d like to get a sense of how things do there before putting a lot of time into building wooden beds. We’ll see how it goes.

This week was a good one for writing time. For whatever reason, things kicked into high gear. I submitted my 12k short story, as well as 2 essays to 5 new places, reworked another essay for submission today. Gray wet mornings translate to good writing time, it seems.

The horses and pony and donkeys are dealing with the mud that is the dirt paddock. Thankfully I can feed them through the well-drained arena to the back pasture, which is sloped enough that it never gets too muddy. I try not to overuse it when we have these rainy stretches, but it’s a dance - any place all those hooves go in and out of is bound to be muddy in short order. Today the sun is supposed to come out as we hit 70 degrees and then a cold front moves through to bring us back down to 40s. I see a week of sunshine on the weather forecast and oh, do we need it.

For now, the fog is lifting, skies are still gray, and it’s definitely damp out. I think we’re all wishing for sunshine but until it comes through the clouds, I’ll be happily submitting my true tale of light being stolen. I’ll link here if/when it gets accepted for publication!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Snow and pumpkin pancakes

We indeed got the snow that was predicted last night, lost power for two hours, and woke up to 20s and sunshine. It was so warm before the snow began, and wet due to some early rain yesterday, the snow piled up but melted quickly on the driveway, gravel lane, and parts of the pastures. Today the sun is helping the meltdown, but with highs barely getting out of the 30s today, and another night of 20s, we’ll have it around for another few days.

Yesterday I finally roasted the large farmer’s market pumpkin I bought in November and never used at Christmas. It stored just fine on the kitchen island and with this cold weather I decided pumpkin soup would be good for dinner. I roasted half the pumpkin and used about a cup for dog dinners and the rest in a pot of pumpkin soup. My husband makes it the best - he purées the roasted pumpkin after removed the skin and usually adds coconut milk and cheese plus salt, pepper, and cayenne. For a richer flavor, we sometimes use caramelized onions puréed with the pumpkin.

This morning, happy to have power back, I decided to roast the other half and make pumpkin pancakes. We rarely make them, and I don’t always have flour on hand, but today I did. I made the batter up and added cinnamon, nutmeg, a tiny bit of clove, and brown sugar, then mixed in the pumpkin, an egg, some oat milk, and a little vanilla extract.

The griddle that came with our gas stove has never been used, but I pulled it out and wow - never made pancakes so easily in my life! I’ll definitely use it again next time we want pancakes.

I also had just enough walnuts to toast and simmer in butter, and a wonderful jug of NY maple syrup my daughter-in-law’s parents sent us for Christmas. This all added up to a wonderful snow day brunch.

The snow was lovely yesterday as it fell, and at bedtime it was very pretty out, but as it melts today it’s looking more like mush and all I can think of are the paddocks and gate areas at the barn, and how long it’s going to take us to dry out from this. Then I look up and focus on the snow still sitting on tree branches. Lovely, no mud, though the sun is melting it as the day marches on.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Happy Birthday, Redford!!

Our youngest equine turns 12 today and that is making my brain hurt. How can it be?

Redford donkey came to us as a young donkey, weaned and ready to help keep Rafer Johnson company. We’d been waiting for Redford since the day he was born, but of course we had to let him grow up a bit. His arrival was delayed when Rafer broke his leg, but then advanced again when Salina went into an estrus cycle and abandoned poor Rafer to chase after Cody, breaking Keil Bay’s heart in the process. Of course, they were ALL geldings, but after weeks of sticking close by Rafer’s side as he healed, As The Hormones Turn became the theme of the day and the black mare left the barn.

Redford arrived in short order thanks to his people, Ken and Marty, who got him here in a jiffy. He settled in and became best buddies with Rafer, put Salina into a tailspin (the look on her face when she came to the barn and found not one but TWO little donkeys!), and of course stole our hearts.

Redford is a red sorrel whose white star has turned into a white blaze as the years have passed. He helped Rafer keep Salina safe during her final years. They were often seen standing one on either side of her, and near the end when she would lie down and be unable to get back up by herself, he and Rafer would bray for us to come out and help her.

Redford is a bit shy compared to Rafer’s boldness but he’s a sweetheart and he loves the “big boys” Keil and Cody. I just can’t believe he’s 12 years old. (And as I type this, in my garret, he just brayed)

We’ll celebrate with carrots and apples for all. Happy, happy birthday, Redbug! We love you so much!

*** I’m a terrible birthday portrait woman lately - and today is so yucky out, I’m not sure I could get a photo lovely enough of Redford’s handsome self. I’ll try to get some good shots of him when the sun returns!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


A couple of months ago I was clearing the irises out of a garden bed to make room for pollinator plants, and unceremonious dumped the lot of them over the fence, thinking maybe the moles and voles would enjoy them.

There are daffodils in that same bed, and I’d decided to let them be, but wasn’t very careful in what I dug and what I left behind.

I planted two possumhaws in that space and called it a day.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I finally sat down at my desk in the garret after a full week of busyness here with no writing time folded in.

I glanced out the garret window from my seat and spied this:

It’s not a great photo, but if you look in the wood’s edge back there you’ll see what I saw in much more light and clarity: the daffodils I’d inadvertently tossed with the irises are in full bloom.

What a nice surprise! This view from my desk is not the best, what with the propane tank and Bob front and center, but now I have this little bit of serendipity to look at in the springtime. We’ll see if the irises make an appearance later in the year.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 91

I was away last week as a writer-in-residence at Weymouth Center, where I got to write all day and have meals and great conversation with two dear writer friends. In the evenings we read from our work and gave one another feedback, which is always a valued piece of working alongside other writers.

My project for the week was taking an entire novel down to a 12k word story. Not for the faint of heart, but a valuable exercise in understanding the arc and structure of your novel and how subplots function overall. The last full day of the week I got down to 11,994 words and called that a blazing success. This week, now back at home, I’ll be doing a final read/polish and submitting the piece to a journal.

November Hill got 6 inches of rain in only a few hours while I was away. The usual areas flooded, but the drainage projects we’ve done held and I think overall we’re moving in the right direction with the things we’re doing to help with run-off during these deluge events.

Now that I’m back from Weymouth and into February (daffodils are in full bloom!), it’s time to get to work on spring gardening projects:

-bring in more large stone to slow water flow in front of property
-complete terracing in Poplar Folly and plant native seed mixes
-complete 2 terracing projects in front pasture
-mulch all beds and plantings
-move bluebird houses to better locations
-set up honey bee hives in new locations
-create planting beds in Brown Bunny’s Potager and put in some summer veggies and flowers

This sounds like a lot, but some of these items won’t take much time at all, and the others simply require a concerted effort for a few hours with dear husband. I think we need a few weekends to knock this list out.

At the barn, I’m aiming to:

-remove aging exterior stall doors and move the top halves down (leaving no windows), replacing hinges and wood siding. I’d like to recycle the upper halves and when they eventually need replacing I’ll look at commercial options. These Dutch doors were hand-made by previous owners and while serviceable they have some design flaws.
-raise the barn aisle flooring using stone screenings and put matting wall-to-wall, with wood “jambs” at either end to keep everything in place
-new stall bases in 4 stalls
-new base in both shelters
-spruce up interior stall doors and stall fronts

I’m tempted to move on to another batch of projects but am stopping myself with these two lists! These are the things that need to be done before summer rolls in. If we get all this done, it’s not difficult to come up with additional projects.

Everyone is doing well. The horses and pony and donkeys are happy and healthy. Dogs and cats as well. Humans too! One thing on my mind lately is the aging of Bear Corgi, who is 10 and starting to experience arthritis. In my mind he is an eternal puppy, such a bundle of joy and energy. It’s hard to even think of him as aging and harder still to see him having pain. He’s getting chiropractic adjustment, Adequan injections, fish oil for EPA + DHA, and may go onto a pain med soon. It’s tough when a beloved friend and family member gets old.

Inside, I’ve got two rooms to finishing painting and a plan for nearly every room in the house. It’s endless, but I’m going one room at a time and making myself enjoy the transformation instead of focusing on the end result only, i.e. getting them all done. I tend to want to knock out the list and then move on to yet another list (see above) - but isn’t the joy of life, at least in part, in the doing of the tasks? Especially if you’re doing it yourself. This is my overall project for 2020. Embrace the lists but  embrace the doing of the stuff more than checking it off.

Yesterday I took great pleasure in some deep cleaning in the master bedroom and bathroom. All it took was a shift in how I thought about it as I did it. Today I’m pausing to notice the results and appreciate them.

February! I love this month and am happy to have so many good things happening.